05/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Resolve It, Then Dissolve It

We've got to learn to declare things DONE. Especially when they're not. Not completed, that is, to the level of perfection or result that we initially visualized or committed to.

The world changes, and our creative focus changes with it. So do our standards. We will always maintain some inventory or backlog of projects to complete, of things to do. But if we're not careful to take responsibility for unhooking from those projects that have outlived their seat on our real list, they can easily constipate our creative process.

I have spent more hours than I can count holding a focus for people while they purged tons of undone, incomplete "stuff" that has been lying around their life. The most difficult exercise I lead teams through is their "disengagement" strategy -- what do we need to stop doing, in order to stay focused on what we have to accomplish? And how long did it take me to realize that I no longer am a 33"-waisted person???!!! And that I don't like jeans that are too tight????!!!!! (Some standards change in spite of ourselves!)

Maybe this difficulty with letting go of things that we have outgrown stems from the admonition so many of us grew up with to "finish everything on your plate before you get dessert." Maybe it's because of our proclivity to attach to materiality. Maybe it's just psychic entropy.

In any case, it's wise to maintain a "Someday/maybe" list very close to your "Projects" list, so it is easy to slide things from the latter to the former, to relieve the pressure of the undone. (I was tempted to write: the UnDead, but I'm glad I didn't.) It's smart to shelve in your library all of your books but the one you're reading right now. And valuable to purge your closets and drawers at least every season, knowing where the local Salvation Army clothing drop is, along the route of your regular errands.

It's a lot more comfortable living life with an inventory of things that fit.


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The David Allen Company is a professional training, coaching, and management consulting organization, based in Ojai, California. Its purpose is to enhance performance and improve the quality of life by providing the world's best information, education, and products in the fields of personal productivity and work/life balance.