Finishing the Unfinished Things (or getting off the hamster wheel)



One of my personal, biggest joy suckers is my ever growing list of unfinished projects. It’s almost an addiction for me. While I love the sense of accomplishment I feel from making my lists of things to do, it’s also a continuous reminder that I am not “done.”

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. It was always important to me to be “productive.” So I’ve kept busy. I am always looking to make things better. I’ve always had a list. I’m always adding to it. Whether it’s fixing the bathroom tub, painting the fence, or pulling weeds, it’s “on the list.” Some of these are legitimate things for home maintenance, or because I really enjoy doing them. Others are spur of the moment filler items. It’s almost like my list is getting done too early, so I have to add that one more thing.

Greg is the opposite. He works hard but takes great pleasure in relaxing when he gets home. His activities are fun related. Don’t get me wrong, he does an awesome job of helping with the chore type things, and he does get them done. At the drop of a hat, he will get up and help me do whatever I need. But, when it’s done, he morphs right back into his “relaxing” mode.

I really envy that in him. But I don’t know how to be that way myself. Greg keeps telling me to relax and not to work so hard.

Truth be told, I don’t really love the lists. I don’t like feeling like I’m never done. I don’t like feeling like I’m not finished. I don’t like thinking that 30 years from now, I’ll still be making a list. Right now my lists can go out 3 months, to the next season for gardening chores.

So why do I keep doing this to myself? I’ve asked myself this a number of times. This is what I’ve come up with. Well, so far, anyway.


Keeping Up With The Joneses.

I hate to admit it, but  I kind of care about what others think. My lists frequently contain projects that aren’t necessarily necessary, but are more focused on showing the neighbors that I’m right on top of improving my home. I’m just human, I guess. Even though we live in a rural area, I try hard to make sure that the place looks nice, or that it at least looks like, that whoever lives here, cares to make an effort ( and do it on a budget). But I also know that my neighbors don’t really look how well trimmed my bushes are, or stand and stare to see if all of the weeds are out of the driveway. They care that I’m there for them when they need a hand, that we’re willing watch their home, or that we’ll make sure their dogs get back in the yard if the gate gets left open. And they in turn will check to make sure we’re okay, or that the problem with our car is fixed. Even so, it’s easy for me to get sucked into that feeling of pushing to be equal. It’s reasoning that truly makes no sense. Our choices for our lifestyle work for us. The things we do or don’t do, bring us joy. When I start to put too much stock in what the neighbors are doing, I lose focus on the great life I have with Greg.

Here’s a case in point: Years ago, one of my neighbors, an older, rather unhappy woman, would stop by regularly to chat. About half way through the visit, she would start to talk about what things I should be doing around the yard. How this needed a new coat of paint, or that I really needed to remove the sagebrush from the yard and put in a proper garden. By the time she left, I felt small, unworthy, annoyed, and angry. It turns out, this was just her habit. She would do this same thing with whatever neighbor would listen. Eventually they would get angry with her, cut ties, and she would wander off to find her next victim. When she ran out of neighbors, she would simply bake something, and head out to the first person she had annoyed, to make amends and this making her rounds about the neighborhood. The cycle repeated itself like that, for years, until she passed away. She got away with this behavior, partly because she was intimidating and authoritarian, and partly because she had the best yard in the neighborhood. She worked diligently on it, keeping everything maintained and was really focused on how perfect everything had to look.  One day, 5 years ago, she passed away. Her son lives in the house now. The yard is filled with cars and weeds. The grapevine is dying and old mattresses are propped up against the pump house. It’s the same place, but it looks so very different now. The son places a very different value on the property, than did his mother. But he isn’t a happy person either. It’s seems she did pass something on to him: discontent.

I’m not advocating trashing your yard, or ignoring repairs, but it’s all about perspective. My neighbor might have had a great looking house, but her life was a mess. She would validate herself by making others feel bad. Her children rarely spoke to her, so she focused on creating a perfect home. When she left it to her son, he just saw it as the place where his mom made him feel miserable.


Doing a lot of things, doesn’t necessarily mean you are  productive.

I’m always feeling rushed with my list. Sometimes for the sake of finishing something “today,” I’ll rush through an item. I’ll mark it done, even if I’m not quite happy with the results. Later on, I’ll find that I’ll have to come back and do it again. So really, just how productive am I, really?

On top of that, even if I am productive, is it the stuff that really matters? Sometimes I can’t even remember what is on my list. Then I go and check it. I find that some of the things don’t even register in my mind and I have to figure out why I even thought they were important in the first place!

When I was a distribution manager, my work life was governed by goals, statistics, and budgets. We had charts everywhere, that were updated weekly, and sometimes daily. We knew what was going on and where we stood, at all times. There was a good reason for having these things at the forefront. It kept us looking at what we were doing and how we were doing it. What was impacting us that day, that week had to be examined, and checked to see what could we do to make it “better.” If my department didn’t make our goals, I had to know exactly why not, and be able to not only explain it, but have a plan to change it.

And while statistics and graphs tell you a lot, they don’t tell you the whole story. They don’t explain the happenings of life. I remember one New Year’s Eve where my team and I came in in the middle of a blinding snowstorm to pick and load orders on a truck that wasn’t going to be leaving for two days. Why, you ask? Because our company’s sales department counted orders as “in transit” and “completed” once they were on the truck. It was the end of the month and they wanted a big ending number of orders shipped, so they could get a bigger bonus. In truth, my team was not getting much done. The snow was blowing into the areas we were working. The building’s heater wasn’t working right and all we could think about was how we were going to get home safely. You aren’t productive if you aren’t rested, can’t focus and are worried about other things. I called the plant manager and asked if we could call it a day and go home. He said I needed permission from the higher up’s. I called our home office in Wisconsin and called the distribution head boss, who asked me why we were still there, when the storm was so bad. I explained the situation. A few minutes later, he had the CEO, on the phone with me, who said “I’m giving you permission to shut it down. Go home, drive safely, and I will take care of this.” And he did. He pulled all the VP’s into a meeting the next working day and told them they to get their act together and stop inflating the ship dates. We never had to stay over to load trucks going no where after that. My team never forget how someone 2000 miles away cared more about their safety, than their own plant manager did, and it stuck with them.


My list pulls me out of the “now.”

With my list, I’m either thinking about what I will be doing in the next hour, or day, or week; or I’m thinking what I didn’t get done yesterday. I’m not thinking about how much I’m enjoying the project. I’m not even present minded with the project. I’m also not even thinking about what’s going on around me, in the real world.

When I’m focusing on the now, on the current, I’m much happier. I’m enjoying it. It’s exciting and I feel invigorated. Whether I’m working on an Arboretum tour booklet, visiting with a friend, I’m light hearted and spontaneous. So I have to ask myself, is it really worth missing out on a trip to the park with Greg and the dogs, or coffee with a friend, so I can vacuum the house and finish the list?


My finished list still leaves me feeling unfulfilled and lacking.

You’d think it would be the opposite, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I’ve programmed myself to have something on the “list.” When it’s finished, I feel like I have to jump ahead and see what other stuff is out there that I’ve missed. Then I feel like I’ve failed, when I find it, because I should have seen it earlier. What a hamster wheel that is!


I’m tired of this silliness.

I’m going to try and get off the hamster wheel and finish some of my projects this month. I’m tossing the list (well, for now, anyway) and just working on the fun things. Whatever pops into my head at the time to do, is what I’ll do.  I want to enjoy my free time. I’m going to let my creativity loose and see what happens.

Who knows, maybe even this old dog can learn a new trick or two.

Whichever way things turn out, I’ll post the results.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s