The Energy of Incompletes

I am consumed by the many projects I have started and never completed. Everywhere I turn in my office and at home, I am reminded of these incompletes.


I am consumed by the many projects I have started and never completed. Everywhere I turn in my office and at home, I am reminded of these incompletes. I feel drained. What can I do?


You are not alone. Everyone has works in progress, and yes, they can be exhausting. Incompletes can run from a half-hearted attempt to clean out the clutter in your office, to a painful conversation with a loved one that still needs closure, an employee manual that needs updating, or chart audits that always seem to linger at the bottom of the to-do list. You can only focus on so much at a time, so when these incompletes crowd your space, they rob you of the energy necessary to live your full life.

Your goal is to complete tasks. Where do you start? Write down each project or to-do that is on your incomplete list. You can make two lists: one for professional and one for personal incompletes. Free up space in your busy mind and get your thoughts onto paper.

With your list in hand, explore the reasons why you have not completed each of these tasks. See if any of these explanations are a fit for you:

  • You don’t really want to do it. Whose voice is saying you must complete this? It might not be yours. How meaningful is it to you to finish this? Give yourself permission to say “no” and not feel guilty.
  • You are not clear how to proceed with this project. You lack the knowledge, systems, or skills to complete it, so you do nothing.
  • It is a project or task that involves a difficult decision. Perhaps it is painful for you or affects people you don’t want to hurt. You choose not to struggle with the issue so you leave it hanging.
  • There are so many ways the project can be completed that you become frozen in your choices. Do you want to change the style or color, scrap it and start over, make it bigger or smaller, and so on? Too many decisions, so you make none.
  • It has to be perfect. Dentists strive for perfection in most aspects of their lives, and this is no exception. You’re halfway through a project and it’s not turning out the way you’d like, you’re frustrated, and you put it aside. Out of sight, out of mind. Not quite.
  • You have bad work habits. You’re lazy, easily distracted, lose parts of the project, have a cluttered work area, and you procrastinate.
  • Something better catches your eye. At least you think it’s better, and you’re running to something new.
  • You have poor time-management skills and never find the time.

Next, remove any of the projects that you first thought you had to do and now realize don’t need to take up any more space in your mind or life. Be rid of them or delegate them to someone else. Don’t look back.

Prioritize the remaining items. Rank them in order of meaning and importance to you. What needs to get finished first, second, and so on?

Start with the top three incompletes. Look at the reasons for their unfinished status and write down what it will take to complete each task. Do you need more information, clarity, or help? Do you need to lower your expectations, schedule the time for it, or just need to do it? You will not be able to move forward if you skip this step.

Break each task into smaller ones. Gather the necessary tools and then set a date to accomplish each one, then do them. Schedule a completion day (use one of your buffer days and involve your team if needed) or weekend and involve your entire family for projects around the house. Put your focus on completion. Three projects completed are more freeing than none and better than 20 incompletes.

Your list will change as life happens. Keep working the system described to reap the rewards. You’ll have positive completeness energy rather than the draining energy of incompletes. You will also notice that when you complete, you allow the “new” into your life because you’ve created physical and mental space for it. Now, that’s invigorating!

P.S. Your checklist will look similar to the one above.
© 2007 Stephanie Houseman, DMD

Stephanie Houseman, DMD
Dr. Houseman practiced dentistry in St. Louis for 25 years. She is married to a dentist, has two grown children, and understands all too well the demands we place on ourselves. She now works with dentists who want to simplify their lives so that they can enjoy themselves again. She is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute, creator of the 7 Steps 2 A Balanced Life Program, and author of “The Balance Beam,” a weekly e-newsletter about balance and life. Reach Dr. Houseman at or (618) 639-5433.

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