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.