Do you have more than 10 unfinished tasks? Do you feel how the more unfinished tasks you have the more your productivity drops?
In March 2015, I had no less than 164 tails.
And yes, in case you are wondering, I am human (at least I look like one).
The “tail” in this case is what Russians call any unfinished task, postponed business or delayed project.
In my college days, the “tail” meant that you had a past-due paper or a project to complete. “How many tails do you have?” was a very common question among students.
I still use this word today to describe any undone task, because it represents the essence of all unfinished projects…
- They are those things that drag behind.
- Sometimes light and bugging.
- Usually heavy and annoying.
- Occasionally dreadfully irritating.
- Never full of bliss and anticipation.
You know what those tasks are: incomplete projects, unanswered emails, unreturned calls, adventurous items on your to-do list that travel from one to-do list to another.
They are those goals you set every January, 99 percent of them the same as the previous year. Rarely do you see a new one on your New Year’s resolutions list.
Have you ever counted how many tails you have?
The most irritating thing is not that they are buzzing all around your head…it’s that they suck an insane amount of energy out of you in any given second!
In 1927, Bluma Zeigarnik noticed something interesting while waiting for her order in a restaurant: the waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served. When completed, the orders vanished from their memories.
Zeigarnik decided to study this phenomenon deeper, and she published her findings in “On Finished and Unfinished Tasks” later in 1927. Since then, the effect of remembering the unfinished task is often called the “Zeigarnik effect.”
David Allen calls them open loops – the unfinished tasks and commitments that spin in our minds as if in orbit of our consciousness, popping into our thoughts at the most inopportune moments.
Here is a great video featuring open and close loops example:
But no matter what you call them, they can cause the following destructive effects:
- Low energy (All open loops and unfinished tasks take up resources. They create a friction in your mind so that you can’t get through the day as smoothly as you’ve planned. What is interesting is that even if you don’t consciously think about your unfinished projects, they are all still spinning in your subconscious mind, waiting for the opportunity to remind you about them. By having too many unfinished tasks, you are leaking energy every day, causing you to feel tired, sleepy and apathetic.)
- Feeling of overwhelm (Every now and then a random thought will pop up in your mind, such as “Oh, I still have to do that” or “I must remember to complete this thing!” Thoughts like this create tension and cause a feeling of overwhelm. If you have too many open loops, they can cause paralysis of the mind – a state in which you don’t know what to do next because you have so many tasks to complete.)
- No time (What comes next is the chronic lack of time. You start wishing there were 26 hours in a day. I sometimes dream about the magic wand that could manage the time-space continuum. No matter how busy you are, you just can’t get it all done. Unfinished tasks continue to pile up. By the time you finish one task, three more magically appeared on your to-do list.)
- Procrastination (That’s when the queen of all evil enters your mind. You start to procrastinate by postponing the tasks, waiting to do them at the last moment or not doing them at all. You can call it laziness or a lack of motivation. You can even fancy yourself as the best procrastinator in the world. But the end result is the same – tasks remain unfinished.)
- Low self-esteem (All of the above will lead to a feeling of being unproductive, ineffective or unsuccessful. You will label yourself as lazy. Or, even worse, you will blame yourself, which will gradually lead to diminishing self-esteem and self-respect.)
- Can’t start and stick to new things (The lower self-esteem you have, the less energy you have to start new tasks and reach new goals. You will have no energy to take consistent action. First, you form the habit of not finishing what you started, and then you simply stop starting. “What’s the point?” you ask yourself, when you know that you will likely drop it halfway through.)
- Can’t reach goals successfully (It only makes sense that in this state of mind you can’t possibly reach any long-term goals. Your only hope is in the magic of the law of attraction – the thought that maybe the universe will hear your wishes and somehow make them a reality without you having to lift a finger. It won’t.)
- Apathy and depression (By this time, depression is one step away. Deep inside you know you are born to grow. You are born to reach new heights, to live fully and joyfully. But the reality is that everything becomes worse. The more loose ends you have, the worse your relationships with others will become and the less money you will have. You will forget what you should be focusing on. The feeling of helplessness will creep in.)
- Low quality of life (Nothing stays constant in life. It either gets better or it gets worse. And with every new unfinished task, it will only get worse. Your quality of life will diminish in all aspects, such as work, family, business and health. And it’s all because everything takes root in the quality of your thoughts.)
- Don’t know what to do (You might reach the point where you simply don’t know what to do anymore. Where do you start? Is there even a reason to start? Everywhere you look you see chaos. It all feels hopeless.)
I could continue with this list, but it is depressing enough. Let me show you how you can eliminate all of your tails with my “Drop the Tails” method for ultimate productivity and unlimited energy.
“Drop the Tails” method to conquer all your unfinished tasks for ultimate productivity and unlimited energy
Step 1: Finding all the tails
This step is obvious. In order to get rid of something, we first need to figure out what we want to get rid of. Look your life in the eyes and find all those tails.
To do so, write them down on strips of paper (I will tell you later what we will do with those).
Keep the paper and scissors handy in case you need more than you had expected.
For every task use one piece of paper. Take a deep breath and start writing. Some examples of tails could be:
- Any projects you started and haven’t finished.
- Calls you haven’t made or returned.
- Emails you haven’t answered.
- Promises you have broken.
- Goals you haven’t reached.
- Tasks you left unfinished.
Think about every area of your life: family, work, health, finances, friends, hobbies. Zoom out of your life and see it from a bird’s eye view. Here you can find the cheat sheet of anchor phrases that might help you remember new items.
Write until the point of exhaustion. This step can be unpleasant, especially if you have dreadful tails that cause you to feel guilty or anxious. But you have to list everything that is on your mind. Don’t keep any of it inside; bring it all out.
After you feel you’re done, wait a couple of minutes and see if something else comes to mind. I often remember forgotten tasks a couple hours after I finish the exercise.
Step 2: Not all tails are created equal
Now that you have a nice pile of paper strips that represents all of your tails, it is time to sort them into categories so you can start getting them under control.
First, let’s sort them into piles by size.
Let’s try to find two-minute tasks that you could complete right now, such as changing a light bulb, setting a doctor’s appointment or sending a quick note? Those are little bunny tails that take just a couple of minutes to complete, and which you can finish right now.
Do you know there are peacocks with 10-meter tails? In Japan they are considered sacred animals; you aren’t even allowed to sell one. The oldest peacock, 15 years old, is the proud owner of 13-meter tail. And it keeps growing every year!
What does that have to do with our unfinished tasks?
Nothing really, except that I call those monstrous project items the onagadori tails. Between tiny bunny tails and mid-sized tasks, you will find several giants. Those are big projects you wanted to complete or big goals you set for yourself. They are items that will take weeks or months to finish.
Some lizards can shed their tail if they need to flee. They just drop it and speed up for safety.
So can we.
We don’t have to finish everything we have written on our strips of paper.
Some items can be safely dropped.
We often take projects that are not truly ours in the moment of fleeting inspiration. Look at each item and honestly ask yourself, “Do I really need to finish this? What will happen if I just let go of this task?”
I once wanted to sew my oldest son a nice pair of jeans pants I saw online. I had the idea in May, I started working on it in June, and in December I had those strips of half-sewn fabric cluttering the window sill.
They were already covered with dust and sun-colored on one side. One morning I came to my senses and said goodbye to this project. I thanked it for the nice inspiration it gave me and for the lesson that sewing is not really my thing. It was time to say goodbye.
Do you have similar projects in your life?
We often take projects under the influence of others, projects that are not in line with our true values and inner beliefs. We need to let them go and keep only those things that are important to us, that will take us closer to our goals.
Step 3: Create the chain of awesomeness
Now it’s time to take full control and start creating your personal chain of awesomeness. Take the pile of lizard tails, the ones you decided to let go. Pick one strip and connect its ends with paper glue, forming a circle.
Connecting the loose ends represents the act of completeness, the act of finishing.
Make a chain of all the lizard tails by inserting each strip through the previous circle before gluing the ends together.
Once you are done with the lizard tails, pick up the bunny tails. Complete these short tasks, and after finishing them, add them to your chain. Watch it grow and notice how you feel.
Do you feel more in control? More confident? More liberated? Do you feel the energy starting to move inside you?
Place the chain somewhere visible. Each time you complete an open loop, add one strip to the chain.
To finish the mid-size tasks and large tasks, you will need to implement a solid planning system. To learn more about the system I use, you can register for the free video training – “How To Effectively Finish What You Start”
If you try my “Drop the Tails” method and you absolutely love it, please send a personal email to your three closest friends and send them a link to this article. Only if it truly helps you should you share it with your friends.
This simple system helped me a lot at one point in my life. It allowed me to take control of my life, enabling me to make a major breakthrough toward reaching my long-treasured goals. That is why I want to share it with as many people as possible. Please help me spread the word about my “Drop the Tails” method, and good karma will definitely come your way! 🙂