THE BLOG
05/02/2016 05:27 pm ET Updated May 03, 2017

Want to Dramatically Reduce Frustration? Focus on Beginning, Not Finishing

This past weekend, I got SO excited about the fact that I had open time in my schedule and could tackle some small house projects. I was thinking about repairing a pillow, organizing some shelves, and doing a deep cleaning of the dishwasher, but my main objective was to reline all my kitchen shelves. I was so thrilled about the opportunity. (sexy I know ;)

Even though I travel on a frequent basis and do many interesting things, I find that having time to do these little activities that aren't that "important," but bring beauty and order to my life are very personally fulfilling.

Since I saw myself as having a relatively free weekend, I didn't plunge into the shelf lining project until Saturday morning when I started to call around to find out where to buy the contact paper. After a few attempts, I found a store, bought the paper, and got to work. I made some progress before heading to a friend's home for dinner. I resolved that tomorrow, I would finish off the project.

Well... on Sunday between getting some extra sleep, going to church, and doing various other life activities, I made some progress on the shelf lining, but not nearly as much as I wanted to make. By the afternoon, I was palpably agitated when I realized I would not only not finish the shelf lining but also not get to any of the other little projects I had in mind because I needed to move on to must-do activities.

How did this happen? How did I go from seeing a weekend as a wonderful gift and celebrating the opportunity to work on little house items to one of total frustration that I didn't get done what I had in mind to do (even though completing the whole project in one weekend, really wasn't necessary)?

I realized that the problem was that I was focusing on getting things done, instead of doing things. I have an enormous amount of respect for David Allen and his iconic "Getting Things Done" system. But this past weekend, I realized that the emphasis on coming to completion instead of reveling in the process can be completely wrong in some situations. Wanting to "get things done" spoiled my mood and turned a great opportunity into a frustrating experience.

You may or may not feel the way I do about home projects, but my guess is that you have experienced something similar to what I described above when it comes to a free day at work where you wanted to finish a long-neglected project or maybe a day when you were hoping to work on writing or art and it just didn't turn out how you hoped in terms of "finishing."

Because I'm always learning alongside you and want us all to feel a greater sense of peace and control, I took a couple (well more than a couple) of deep, slow breaths to calm myself down. Then I thought through what caused the situation and how I could avoid it in the future. Here were my discoveries:

1. Unrealistic Expectations: Just because I had a relatively free weekend, doesn't mean I could all of the sudden do four projects. As I talk about in chapter 5 of my book, reality always wins. I think if I had only focused on one project, I would have made more progress. I also needed to keep in mind that it would take time not only to do the lining but also to shop for the materials.

2. Sense of Entitlement: I really value things working and working smoothly. I can sometimes get to the point of thinking that nothing should have to be fixed (unrealistic I know!) so I get incredibly annoyed when it does. One of the diversions this past weekend was spending hours of quality time with our Internet customer service reps. Not fun, especially when I wanted to line my shelves! However, I realized I need to come to terms with the fact that installing things, maintaining them, AND fixing them are all part of the process of life. The better job I do of accepting this fact, the more peaceful I will be.

3. Impatience: I tend to be very patient with people, but very impatient with inanimate objects. This is why I'm a coach, not a mechanic or engineer! I don't think I would have felt nearly as agitated if I had simply enjoyed the process of making progress and told myself that however long it takes to reline the shelves is just fine. There's no need to rush or be overly focused on the "getting it done." I can focus on doing life, not stressing myself about getting life done. After my reflection on the situation, I was able to accept this point of view and decide that I was happy with what I accomplished and would move forward again at the next opportunity.

My guess is that I'm not the only person who needs to watch out for these pitfalls to joy in our activities, especially since a few of my time coaching clients were learning the exact same lesson over the last week.

If you struggle with never being satisfied with your progress or performance anxiety about whether you can complete something keeping you from the fun of even starting, I highly encourage you to analyze your mindset. Also, consider doing what one of my time coaching clients successfully put into practice last week:

1. He recommitted to general time blocks of his day, sleep, work, family time, etc., and decided on what sorts of activities he wanted to fill those times.

2. He came up with a list of activities "to begin," during his work block. He could put a check mark by the activity when he started it. This made sure that he focused on important activities and didn't feel anxious about whether or not he could finish them.

3. He gave himself permission to stop at the time he had set in advance, even if he didn't get something done. This increased his sense of control and peace that he could start anew the next day.

This commitment to being faithful to invest time in doing certain activities gave him a lot of freedom and joy in a way that constantly trying to decide what was the best thing to do, and the most efficient way to get it done hadn't.

If you're struggling with feeling discouraged, try out focusing on doing life and see what happens!

About Real Life E
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also encourages Christians to align themselves with God's heart through Divine Time Management.

McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Harvard Business Review published her second book How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox.

Find more at ScheduleMakeover.com.