They’re Insidious… and You’ve Got ’em

You know all those vaguely little things in the back of your mind that you know you should be doing, or want to do, or perhaps have already started doing but haven’t finished doing…

Those are what I call… Incompletions.

Incompletions include all of the things we keep in our short-term memory that, point blank, we haven’t “handled.” And they pull on us. They nag us. They’re in the back of our heads, nudging our consciousness, pressuring us to attend to them.

Now you may think I am talking about pretty major things that we have been putting off for one reason or another – like confronting a business colleague about something gravely important, or updating your will and trust, or scheduling that medical procedure you’ve been avoiding.

This can be everything from returning that package to Amazon, to cleaning out the downstairs hall closet, to re-polishing a resume, all the way to confronting a business colleague about something gravely important, updating your will and trust, or getting your home on the market.

The insidious thing about incompletions is that we don’t realize how much they sabotage us.

Or rather… it’s our lack of “peace” about them that sabotages us. We keep this running to do list – about which we’re falling short — in the RAM of our brain and in truth, it makes us anxious and irritable.

Yep. Irritable.

How else would we feel when there’s a voice in there telling us how behind we are, reminding us incessantly how much is weighing on us… the result of which…. well… weighs on us.

Here are some tools to deplete the power out of your incompletions

1.  Get them conscious. A lot of the things we feel guilt that we need to get done aren’t even conscious. They float our there just outside of our awareness. Sit down and do a brain dump of all of the things that are somewhere in the back of your head that you know you have been avoiding, big or small.

2.  Write them down. This is already likely happening in step one above. But the value of this is that we get all of this gunk out of your head and onto paper. We no longer have to keep it bouncing around in your RAM, nudging you, bubbling up and then being pushed back down.

3.  Make a decision. Is this something even worth doing in the scheme of things? Is it important given your priorities? We only have so much time in the day – and energy. There is nothing wrong with saying “I declare this complete,” which means I’m actually NOT going to do this thing, and I fully release myself from any guilt or preoccupation about it. It’s gone!

4.  Choose the timeframe. If it is something that has to happen – or that you want to happen – what is the timeframe? How urgent is it? When would be the best or most graceful time to schedule this into your life? If it’s something you choose that you are going to do – but not until (insert timeframe here) – then you get to mark down some kind of reminder and then fully let it go until the time arises.

5.  Consider delegation. Is there someone else who can do this task for you? A spouse, a personal assistant, an administrative team member? For me, I actually delegate quite a bit of stuff to our nanny. For example, she does all of my grocery shopping and takes back all of the returns I constantly have – she can do this with the kids, so why not? Discern between the stuff that mist be done by you personally, and the stuff that may be able to be given to another.

6.  Leave some things in the “someday/maybe” pile. Time management expert David Allen has a wonderful category for incompletions called the “Someday/Maybe” pile. If you’ve decided you do NOT want to “declare it complete” (i.e. decide you’re just not going to do it and that’s OK) but it’s not time to do it now, this is a place to capture the reminders but without the mental guilt and pressure. Just giving it this title makes it an optional rather than a should.

I encourage you to take the time to think of all of the incompletions in your life right now. Do a brain dump. Get it out of RAM. See what you’re facing and categorize so that you take conscious control of these things that have that sneaky, unconscious pull on you.


Barb Wade

Barb is a Speaker, Author, and Coach, who has been on the leading edge of Transformational Coaching for over 15 years. Barb works with high-achievers who, despite external accomplishments, are finding themselves yearning for more freedom, joy, and meaning in their lives. Barb herself knows that “hole” of quiet desperation that can exist even though achievement is high.

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