What to do about unfinished projects

Gdansk, Poland // own photo

 

I have quite a few unfinished projects. You know, the ones that you start and never quite complete. These include a half-finished crochet bag, a partly-knitted cardigan for my daughter, a drafted article for a magazine, and many others. Every time I come across any of these projects, or even begin to think about them, I start to feel guilty. I feel guilty about not being able to find the time and the energy to complete them. I feel guilty about the time I have already invested and the resources I have already used. And the fact that I start to perceive myself as unaccountable doesn’t make the situation any better.

Every time I am confronted with my unfinished assignment I promise to myself that I will find some time in the nearest future to complete it. This helps for a while. This helps until the next time I come across my unfinished work, and then end up in the same loop: the guilt – the promise – the temporary relief – the oblivion.

I have decided that I need to do something about all these uncompleted assignments. Not only do they take up space in my house but they also clutter my mind. And so my new quest has began: to find a way to deal with them once and for all.

What to do about unfinished projects

The most important thing is to identify them. I did two things: I made a list of the ones I could remember, and I decided that if I came across any other uncompleted work, I would deal with it straight away.

The list is a living document that I often refer to. The first time I made it, I went through every item, considered it and either kept it or removed it. I am dealing with the items on my list on everyday basis and tick them off once they are completed (and what a good feeling that is!). The list is kept in the notes on my phone for easy access.

I decided not to think about the projects that I remove from the list, and, in this way, to unclutter my mind. If they are tangible projects, I physically get rid of them, nevertheless the stage of completion.

How not to feel guilty about getting rid of unfinished work

Sometimes it is still difficult for me to throw away a partly-done project. I think about all the hours I spent working on it, about the money I invested, and about what it could have become. I don’t like waste, and getting rid of something that could be of any use seems like a crime. On the other hand, if I wasn’t able to complete a particular job in, let’s say, the past two years, there is hardly any chance I still will.

What helps me not to feel bad about getting rid of a partly-completed project is considering what I will gain by doing so. And what is my gain? A peace of mind and a cleared space; a space that could be used for moving forward with a new idea.

Why are we so attached to our unfinished projects?

Have you ever felt that you should not give up even though all signs say that your project is not going to be a successful one? You might be a victim of ‘sunk cost fallacy’. This is when an investment, a financial or an emotional one, becomes the only reason to carry on. You might have invested a lot of money, energy or effort into something, and you just want to be consistent. My advice? Take time to reconsider, evaluate pros and cons of continuing, and make a well thought-through decision. You might get an injection of energy or you might decide to discontinue. But don’t carry on just for the sake of consistency.

How to set up a reasonable framework for completing unfinished project

If you decide to keep your project on you ‘to-do’ or ‘to-be-completed’ list I suggest that you start working on it as soon as possible. What works best for me is assigning a time slot every day to finish off my project. It could be any amount of time, really. I think that 5 minutes of a regular daily effort is much more than nothing. And this is how I completed my crocheted rug project; a project that I did in 1/3 and left untouched for about 1 year. Surprisingly, even to me, I completed it in 3 days.

I am not a huge fan of deadlines so I collected all my unfinished jobs and started to work on them, one by one. If you, however, like deadlines, you might want to give yourself a specific time frame. If the project is still unfinished after that day, just remove it from your life without any remorses.

 

Your challenge: do it now or forget about it without feeling guilty and move on.

 

To read more about ‘sunk cost fallacy’ refer to chapter 5 of ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’ by Rolf Dobelli.

 

There will never be a better time so what are you waiting for?

A note found in Copenhagen // own photo

 

Why is it sometimes so difficult to get started with things? Why do you often keep on thinking about doing something but never actually do it? Why do we often think it is better to wait for a better time? What if this better time never comes?

There are probably a lot of things that you would like to explore, learn or do. You might be considering getting a new hobby or you might want to change your career path. You might be thinking how good it would be to learn a new skill. Or while browsing images on the internet you might be planning that one day you will redecorate your bedroom so that it will eventually resemble the one from the pictures you dreamingly look at.

Stop making excuses

But you never actually do anything, Instead, you come up with excuses or conditions. You say that you don’t have enough money to buy a new camera and so you have to put your interest in photography on hold. Or you allow yourself to start learning a new language on condition that you complete the course you are currently taking. Or you promise yourself that you will start jogging if you find a reliable jogging-mate. The thing is that if you continue thinking this way you will never do the things that you want to do.

Stop waiting for a better time

You cannot keep on waiting for the perfect time to start a new chapter of our life. What if this time never comes? So stop imagining the perfect moment and start acting because the best moment is now. Had I waited for ‘the perfect moment’ and for the time to feel 100% ready, I would have never started this blog. It was a new and unfamiliar territory that I have been exploring along the way. I have learned a lot by doing. I wouldn’t have learned a lot by waiting and reading about ‘how to’.

Take action now

Think about the future and how grateful you might be to yourself for taking the action now. Don’t postpone whatever it is you want do. Some preparation is always needed but, in my opinion, we learn best by action and by trying things out. And even if you are not successful, see it as a valuable lesson. At least you have tried your ideas out and don’t live in a ‘what-if’ land.

It is ok not to feel ready and it is ok to start things even if you don’t feel you are fully prepared. Be braver and forget about the urge to be perfect. Stop thinking ‘I wish I could’ because you can if you really want to.

 

What has been the best thing you have recently done for yourself?

 

Why I already failed at keeping my New Year’s resolutions

Winter morning in Göteborg // own photo

 

I have already failed at keeping the resolutions I made for the year 2017, and January hasn’t even ended yet.

In one of my previous posts (here) I wrote that I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I also wrote that I believe that any time of the year is great for making changes. However, this year I decided to do something different. I changed jobs at the end of December and I thought that I should start the year in a more powerful way. You know, ‘the new and improved me’.

My resolutions

These are the two resolutions I made:

  1. I will not buy a single piece of clothing for myself in the month of January.
  2. I will stop eating meat completely.

Why I failed

And I failed beautifully at both… And I think I know why:

  1. The new job is a part-time one which means a lower salary so I needed to rethink how I spend my money. I thought that I should just cut on buying clothes. Yes, it is a very smart decision to limit your expenses when you work less and earn less. It is also a good idea to rediscover your wardrobe and use already owned clothing in more creative ways. But I already am a conscious shopper and I am good at decluttering. I regularly go through my clothes and get rid of the ones I don’t use, usually by selling them via eBay. On the other hand, I really like clothes and am interested in fashion so making such a resolutions seemed like a real sacrifice. However, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. And so I failed. About two weeks ago I bought a leather jacket on sale. In my excuse I can say that on the very same day I sold an old leather jacket I didn’t use any longer. Well, I did feel a bit guilty about this but then the thought that I used my old ‘one in, one out’ rule made me feel better.
  2. In my family we already eat very little meat. Most of the meals I prepare I meat-free. I thought it would be a great move to stop consuming meat completely. I knew that I could live without meat because I had had two longer vegetarian/pescatarian phases in my life. So what I thought I did. And I failed, and now we have meat in the fridge and the freezer. Why? My daughter was reluctant to eat my meat-free dishes every day.  She wasn’t ready to switch and simply missed the meat. After preparing two or three vegetarian alternatives nearly every day for two weeks I gave up. I realised that for her the change was too sudden. I should have taken it more slowly and first make her like vegetables more before she was ready to stop eating meat completely.

Conclusion

  1. I should not be too strict with myself. If something truly gives me joy, why should I resign from it? Why should I restrict myself to not buying anything and feel guilty if I do so? So I am still going to follow my well-established shopping rules. Maybe I will be more reflective and think not twice but three times before I purchase anything. And I promise myself not to feel guilty!
  2. My plan to change our eating habits needed some revision. From now on I am going to try out new vegetarian recipes and introduce more vegetables to my daughters menu. I hope that by doing so the amount of meet she consumes at home will be gradually reduced to… nothing.

General thoughts on introducing changes to your life

  • Have a genuine reason for a change. Wanting to prove something to yourself might not be a reason strong enough to keep you motivated.
  • Don’t be too strict to yourself. Be more forgiving whenever you stumble and give yourself second chances.
  • Don’t feel guilty about your mistakes or stumbles. Guilt is a negative feeling and doesn’t lead to anything productive. Instead, see your mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Be realistic with your resolutions and with what you can achieve within a specific time frame. Go for smaller steps to give yourself a feeling of success or accomplishment, i.e. instead of deciding not to but clothes for the whole year start with one week. Perceive a change as an evolution, not a revolution.
  • Before deciding on introducing any changes think about how the ones around you might be affected and always take them into consideration. How will your resolutions affect your closest family and friends? How will the changes you want to implement affect your relationships with others? What can the others do to support you?

 

What is your best tip to keep yourself motivated when going through a change?

 

Are you in your flow?

Varberg // own photo
Varberg // own photo

 

Time flies when you’re having fun.

I am sure that every once in a while each of us experiences a time when we are so engaged in an activity that the surrounding world does not seem to exist. We are enjoying what we are doing so much that we forget about the passing time and hours feel like seconds. This is how being in flow feels like.

What is flow?

Flow is a state of total immersion in an activity. It is also referred to as ‘being in one’s element’ or ‘being in the zone’. Flow occurs in different situations for different people. Some of us experience flow when we practise sports, some – when we use our creativity to produce a work of art, and others – when we try to solve mathematical problems. But what all these moments have in common is that we use our skills and our energy to the utmost.

When we are in a state of flow our thoughts are focused only on the current activity and we do not waste our energy on thinking about anything else. We don’t think about everyday matters and problems, and can raise above our everyday worries. What is more, we might even forget about our physiological needs; we don’t feel hunger or thirst, and going to the bathroom seems like a waste of time.

How to experience flow?

According to Mihail Csikszentmihalyi*, a psychologist who recognised and named the concept of flow, it is impossible to reach this state without putting any effort. Flow is a reward for taking initiative and for engagement. We experience flow more often when we are actively engaged, not when we spend time on passive activities. So instead of watching sports on TV we should start practising them, or instead of watching adventure films we should search for excitement in real life.

Csikszentmihalyi also thinks that there needs to be the right balance between skills and challenge. Challenge needs to be achievable yet not too easily. If there is too little challenge we soon start to feel bored and unmotivated. For example, some of us might find answering work e-mails extremely unchallenging and therefore will never be ‘in element’ when writing e-mail responses. On the other hand, if there is too much challenge, we feel anxious, frustrated and even defeated. This is how I feel when I try to solve a higher level of sudoku puzzles.

The challenge also needs to involve our skills. We might use the skills that we already have and concentrate all our knowledge and energy on a given task. Or we might expand our existing knowledge and reach another level of know-how.

Examples of flow

I am ‘in the zone’ when I write my blog posts. I really stop paying attention to time and to my needs, and am often surprised when I look at the clock. The other time when I experience flow is when I coach. I love meeting my clients, love the conversations we have, and it happens that we go overtime without even realising it. I can also totally ‘zoom out’ when preparing to coaching sessions; designing activities for my clients, searching for new coaching tools, reading articles or researching put me in my element.

People can experience flow not only when engaged in activities requiring highly developed skills but also when engaged in everyday activities. Some of us will be happiest when cooking, gardening, meeting friends or spending time with a family. Others will be in their element when writing a philosophical essay, giving a presentation at work or preparing a sales report.

What to do to be in flow more often?

If you, like me, would like to experience being in your element more often, try to engage more in activities that you are skilled for and that offer a pleasant outcome. Stay curious and be open to new experiences. Remember that flow is a reward for your engagement, creativity and attention.

If you unsure which activities give you greatest pleasure, start observing yourself. Identify the activities that make you feel accomplished and fulfilled and which give you a lot of energy. Then make sure to assign some time every day for these activities. The more often we experience moments of flow, the happier we feel. No one wants to fall into apathy.

 

When was the last time you experienced flow? What did you do? How did it feel?

 

*To find out more about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concept of flow refer to this TED talk:

https://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?