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A New Definition of “Completed”

Last updated on June 7, 2021

apples on the tree
I see the apples, I want the apples, I don’t want to stop until I get the apples. How many apples do I need to eat?

I’m Attached to Completing Things

At first, this seems like a good thing. In fact, I’ve been praised my whole life for my willingness to stick with the job until it’s done. I remember my grandfather telling me that when I was 10 working with him in the yard. 

Completing things gives me a feeling of satisfaction. I’ve always felt I could rest after completing something. And the converse has also been true for me: that I can’t rest until the job is done.

This obsession with getting things done is helpful up to a point. But here’s where it breaks down: when there is too much to complete at one time. This can be due to too many different jobs coming at me at once, or it can come from a long job that can take weeks, months, or years to complete.

I’m Pretty Good with This Last Type

This is why I like routines. I can be very disciplined. If a job will take years, no problem. I set up a routine that allows me to do a little bit every day. There is a slow, but steady, sense of progress, and I am satisfied. 

I do The Work this way: just 30 min/day, no more no less. I study French this way: about 30 min/day. I play pickleball this way: 3-4 times/week, no more or less. I meditate this way too.

In fact, I do a lot of things this way. And when I look back over time, I can see how far I’ve progressed in each area. And it is enough. It satisfies me. I don’t have to reach the end goal to be happy.

But What About Too Many Different Things?

This is where I get stressed. Running a business, taking care of my health and my spiritual development, and being in a relationship are all time-consuming things. In fact, any one of them could be a full-time job.

When that many things are coming at me to do and hold each day, the idea of routine work little-by-little over years breaks down. There comes a point where my time can become so fragmented that I only have 1 min per day for each long-term project. 

Yes, I’m exaggerating, but that is the extreme limit my schedule begins to approach. I mention it just to make a point: even with the use of the long-term daily practice, too many daily practices can still water down my attention. The result is that progress becomes too slow with any one project to be satisfying. It feels like I’m stuck on the superficial, and I like to go deep.

So I Stop Paying Attention to My Routines

When too many ongoing, long-term projects fill up my life, I crave time to go deeply into just one of them. And I do. I overrun my schedule and indulge in deep work. 

This is satisfying, but I throw everything out of balance. Most often, it’s my work life that spills over into my personal life, my meditation time, even my sleep time. And so I feel like I’m always juggling. It’s unstable. And one misstep can bring it all crashing down.

What Is the Solution?

I’m experimenting these days with a new way of managing my time. It is not easy for me. My attachments still drive me, but I’m working on them. 

What I’m playing with is this: containing my workday. I’ve always wanted to work from 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM and have zero work to do in the evening or early morning. While this has been my wish, it has rarely been a reality because the prerequisite for relaxing outside of work time for me has always been to complete everything on my to-do list that day.

But I’m questioning that belief. And I’m finding a new definition of “completed” that works for me. “Completed” means “time is up.” This is not “Completed” with a capital “C”. This is “completed” with a lowercase “c”. It’s completed enough for today. 

This is giving me some breathing room. It means when time is up, I’m “allowed” to quit. I’ve done the job for today. I’ll reevaluate and continue tomorrow.

Ironically, This Has Been Stressful at First

I have felt irresponsible, unable to relax outside of work, thinking about the unfinished work, and fighting myself to go back and finish it. Sounds like an addiction, doesn’t it? It’s like going through withdrawal. 

But I’ve stuck with it, as I tend to do, and I’m finding a new normal for myself. Now that my work is contained with firm boundaries between 9:30 and 5:00, I have to rethink how I spend my time at work. 

It’s no longer possible to spend hours on something just because it’s important. I have to keep in mind all the other things that are important too. I used to push emails and other smaller tasks to the evening or around the cracks of my day. But now, I don’t have evenings for that. Those jobs have to have some actual time budgeted in my workday. 

This Time Budgeting Is Harsh but Good

Because time is so limited now, because I’ve contained my day and don’t catch-up after work hours on email or other jobs, I now have to get realistic about my time at work. This feels like finally becoming conscious of just how much I’ve been trying to do. 

Bringing this to awareness (to my calendar) is allowing me to make conscious choices about how I want to use my time. I am now putting soft 15-minute jobs from my to-do list into my calendar too. As a result, I can see in the planning stage of my day that I can’t do it all. The illusion is breaking up. I can only do so many things. Which ones shall I do? Now I’m making that choice in advance.

Anyway, I share this just to demonstrate how life always has a way of bringing challenges that make us rethink everything. These challenges expose our attachments and weak points so we can begin to become aware of them and work with them, and even transform them. The habit of questioning my stressful thoughts, helps me to be open to new ways.

Self-Awareness Is My Favorite Thing

If you’re interested in expanding your awareness in any area where you feel stuck, join me to do The Work of Byron Katie, an amazing process for questioning what you’ve always assumed to be true. Join us for a 9-week online course.

Have a great week,
Todd

“For people who enter this inner world, the world of inquiry, jobs become secondary. Freedom is everything. Jobs come, jobs go, companies rise and fall, and you’re not dependent on that. Freedom is what we all want, and it’s what we already are. And once you have inquiry, you can be as ambitious as you want in your job, you can shoot for the moon, because you can no longer fail. You realize that the worst that can happen is a concept.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World

Further reading: The Trap of “I Need to Do an Amazing Job”

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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