When I say NUTs I am not referring to some of the crazies my clients tell me are hanging around their workplace. I mean Nagging Unfinished Tasks. You know what I’m talking about, those things you are going to file (electronically or physically), the calls you should make, the networking you should do, the recertification courses you plan on taking, the upgrades, clean-up and ramp-ups you have on some list or swimming in your brain. They are not complete and truthfully driving you nuts.

Why do we have so many Nagging Unfinished Tasks? Don’t know all the answers but do have a few insights and tips.

  1. We insist on doing everything when delegating is the solution.
  2. We overestimate the time it’ll take to do something and put it off waiting for an hour or day or some other exaggerated time frame.
  3. We see the end product but have trouble breaking jobs down into manageable tasks.
  4. We want perfection and that takes time, concentration, and energy.
  5. We believe stupid tasks are for someone else to do, yet it’s on our desk, in our closet, or sitting in our inbox.
  6. We can’t imagine the completed job having a home or finished, so it kind of floats around.
  7. We see tasks as disjointed or unrelated, so we act confused.
  8. We lack the necessary tools to address the task.
  9. We refuse to hit the delete key.
  10. We say “yes” to too many people and things.

Here are plans of attack I share with my coaching clients when we’re addressing these challenges.

It often takes overwhelm to ask, tell, or suggest someone else take on a few tasks. Having designated delegates--people who expect you to give them work--helps. They can be an assistant or virtual assistant (I have both), a direct report, housekeeper, relatives (kids count), a neighbor you barter with, or maybe a colleague. Whatever you call them, they are a member of your “task team.”

Jobs we dislike always seem to take longer but not as long as you imagine. My trick is a prize at the finish line. The gift can be a break, time on a fun website, an edible treat, whatever, but it has to be something that motivates action and reduces the anticipated pain. Responding to two hundred e-mails, cleaning the garage, or writing a chapter in a manual may just be too much to take in. But what if you initially answered only all of the “A List” e-mails, or just cleaned off the floor, or only outlined the chapter, would that reduce the distress? It’s worth a try.

Good ole perfection paralysis prevents many of us from getting tasks done. Realizing “good enough” is often good enough and that searching for perfection is generally a stall tactic lowers the hurdle.

Resenting a task can make you crazy. “Why should I have to…?” Often you’re right; maybe you shouldn’t take on the work of another. At other times it’s an inflated view of our worth or sense of competition. Whatever the obstacle, the time and energy spent ranting and resisting it is generally equal to the amount necessary to get to completion.

We often know what we don’t want but are not always sure what we need. Because of this, we hold off and tolerate annoyances hoping for a solution. Assume you know the answer, push yourself to find space, time, the missing link needed, and move on.

For those of us with many responsibilities at work and home (and who doesn't fall into that category?), the things on our “To Do” list might not seem to have anything in common. Aim to find some common ground. Do five of them require a phone call? Do them together. Many a commuter knows that getting to and from work is the best time to get some serious professional reading in, give yourself 15 minutes of personal time a day and make those appointments, order that gift, and confirm a date.

The lack of the right tool--hammer or charger--can often get in the way. Here I find duplication to be the best answer. I have two chargers for my equipment, basic tools at home and work, back-up note cards in the desk at home and the office in case I have to send a compliment, condolence, or congrats. The cost is minimal and savings exceptional. Plus, you never find yourself with the time and no implement.

There is a point at which you need to admit you’re not going to read the article, contribute to the chat, or visit that website. Let it go. If it’s someone or something really important, I promise they’ll contact you again. Anyway, when it comes to information, there is so much redundancy it’s likely you’ll come across the point in another form on another day.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.