This week I’ve stumbled across something so profound that it has already changed my life! Thanks to David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity I’m finally getting things done, feeling more energized, and all my inactivity is explained. It’s so simple that I don’t know why I haven’t considered it before. Yet, when sharing this with friends and clients, most people have the same “aha!” moment I did. Are you ready for it?
Finish the things you start.
Yup, that’s it. Let me explain.
How many things do you currently have on your to-do list that you haven’t completed? What projects have you started but not finished? How many ideas have you thrown out, but avoided taking action on? How many things have you committed to, but didn’t follow through on?
That number could be in the tens, hundreds, or thousands, but basically the higher the number, the more energy is being drained from you. And here’s why: Your brain constantly reminds you of these things throughout your day. Your memory is trying to be helpful, but really it’s just annoying. And until you get it done, the thought, “Oh I need to get that finished up…” is going to continuing littering your mind, stealing focus, and taking up valuable thinking time. This is probably sounding familiar now.
Think of it like a ratio: The number of things started in relation to the number of things completed. The closer that number is to one the better. Why is it better? Completing something gives you the energy and momentum to start something else and the cycle promotes productivity, and in all honesty, a lot of peace of mind. You just feel good when you follow through from start to finish.
Here’s three easy tricks to this simple secret:
Get it all down on paper, or in your phone, or on your calendar.
- Somehow capture all the information that’s floating around your head into a collection, so you can stop thinking about it and start taking action to do it. This way you only have to think that nagging, “Remember to call Jen back” thought once. This allows your mind to clear so you can actually concentrate during that meeting or yoga class.
- Analyze and organize the information. Take a look at your collection list (of all those thoughts), and recognize what really needs to be done in the next couple days (do it now), what can be put off for later (let this simmer), and what needs to be tossed all together (not worth your time and energy). These three lists will be your new best friends, and your new friends know how to get things done.
- Maintain and evaluate your system’s effectiveness. Keep things moving, and don’t let anything sit for too long. Items from the collection need to be sorted into one of the three categories. Avoid letting things get stuck in the “simmer” category by placing dates on them, and then either moving them up to the “now” or over to the “toss” list.
If you are ambitious and driven like me, you probably take on a lot. But within your busy schedule, it’s really easy to let things live in that “not quite completed” stage. You probably also love the sense of accomplishment you enjoy from a job well done, but are frustrated by the fact that it seems impossible to finish anything when new things keep getting piled on. Use the three tricks above to avoid having a to-do melt down. Keep things simple, and always try to finish as many things as you started.