What my unpainted walls taught me about completion

I recently found myself getting increasingly bothered by the state of the walls in my stairway at home. It was covered with fingerprints from our three kids, scuffs and dents. Several times a day I’d notice them and immediately feel annoyed, thinking ‘I really need to paint’. This went on day after day…. see the wall, get bothered, talk to myself and then go about the day.

This is a classic example of what I call an ‘incompletion’. Anything that’s stealing your attention, no matter how insignificant, is an incompletion. An overflowing inbox, not getting to the gym, forgetting to prepare for a meeting – are all incompletions. And they all have the same impact on our experience; we worry, struggle to concentrate, are less productive, and rarely feel a sense of accomplishment.

When I realized the impact of all these incompletions on my experience and performance,  I needed to do something. Then I hit upon this idea: instead of trying hopelessly to just get it all done, I looked at how I could experience my to-do’s as “complete”, now.

I know what you’re thinking: something’s not complete until it’s finished right? Try this on: when something is experienced as complete, there is nothing to do about it and we no longer have attention on it. I found that I could create the experience of completion for myself with a simple tool we all use every day, my calendar. Instead of making endless lists or just hoping to remember, I started scheduling adequate time to deal with anything that’s incomplete. Once it’s scheduled, even if it’s weeks into the future, it’s no longer nagging me because there is nothing more to do about it. I can experience it as complete. Now my calendar is a rolling list of completions. Pretty cool!

But what about interruptions, emergency meetings or personal time? Like you, my day might not pan out how I schedule it. That’s why we need to be flexible and treat scheduling more like an art than a science. Here’s a couple tips that might help:

Account for interruptions by scheduling them. It may sound crazy but if you work out how much of an average day is taken up dealing with the unexpected you can allocate that time. Then when they happen you can deal with it without worrying about it setting you back.

Schedule 50% more time for a task than you think it will take to finish. This helps us avoid getting to the end of a day with a half-finished list and no sense of accomplishment.

Back to my walls; I finally took two minutes to schedule all the time it would take to get them painted. As soon as I did this, they were no longer bothering me. A week later I had newly painted walls!

So where are the unpainted walls in your world? Can you identify the incompletions that might be robbing you of your peace of mind? What will it take for you to experience them as complete?

I’d love to keep the conversation going! Comment using the area below.

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