Be honest. How many times have you drawn up a to-do list, intent on completing them all only for your determination to gradually wane? Months later, when the whole list should have been done, most are still undone.
If you're like me, then the answer is "˜many times', facing an in-tray of neat ideas I've yet to start and old plans I'll get to eventually. Yes, the in-tray is ALWAYS stacked higher than the out-tray, and the fact so much is still not done stings like an open wound.
Now, don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with making lists. It's just that very few of us end up paying them the attention they require once the actual writing part is done. According to one study, carried out by LinkedIn, 63% of professionals around the world use lists, but just 11% actually complete them.
In some places, incomplete tasks are known as "˜tails', but they are not exactly modern. In 1927, after an extensive study of memory, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that incomplete tasks stick in peoples' memories whereas completed tasks are quickly forgotten.
Today, the Zeigarnik Effect refers to that mass of must-dos racing around the mind and causing no shortage of anxiety.
Elsewhere, tails are known as "˜open loops', a term coined by international productivity consultant David Allen in his book Getting Things Done: The Art Of Stress-Free Productivity. Why? Well, these undone tasks are gaping holes that continuously nag you.
Damaging Your Health
Perhaps most worryingly, though, is that research shows these open loops can really damage on your health, the main 6 being:
Lowering Energy "“ open loops take time and effort to actually close, so they can eat away at your energy levels, leaving you exhausted, sleepy and apathetic.
Overwhelming You "“ the more unfinished tasks you have to think about, the more overwhelming the situation seems. And the fact you can't find the time to clear the backlog can hit your confidence hard.
Promoting Procrastination "“ the worse the situation becomes the more difficult it is to focus on a solution. And since procrastination means you put off doing things you should be taking care of, the situation only goes further downhill.
Lowering Self-Esteem "“ with lower energy, falling productivity and a general feeling of being overwhelmed, you start to feel pretty useless. Self-esteem plummets, you become highly self-critical and begin to want to give up.
Causing Depression "“ because you're surrounded with unfinished tasks that won't go away, the situation can seem to be hopeless and depression and set in. These days mental illness awareness is global concern, so the impact here can be hugely damaging.
Lower Life Quality "“ life has its up and downs anyway, but the damage open loops do can lower your quality of life. Worrying creates stress, which in turn can lead to very real health problems (between 75% and 90% of all doctor's visits are said to be stress-related ailments).
Drop The Tail And Close Your Open Loops
So how can you close these open loops and get your life back? One of the most successful techniques is the Drop the Tail Method, which involves just 3 simple steps.
Step 1: Find The Tails
The first step is to identify the open loops causing all the trouble. In the Drop the Tails Method, you write them down on strips of paper "“ one per strip. Don't hide from those awkward loops that cause the most embarrassment or anxiety; include everything from every area of your life – professional, financial, family and health.
Get everything out of your head and into a tangible form, down on a strip of paper in front of your eyes.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Tails
With those irksome tails now on strips of paper, they become easier to control. But you still need to categorize them. Generally, they fall into 3 categories:
Bunny Tails which are the least troublesome, like finally making that doctor's appointment you've been avoiding or booking a flight to visit that friend you've not seen in years. Usually, they account for the greatest number of tails, but they can also be dealt with the most quickly.
Onagadori Tails "“ a cryptic name, so let me explain. Onogadori is a specific breed of Japanese chicken with extremely long tails. Magnificent longtails if I'm honest! In the Drop The Tails Method, Onogadori Tails represent the bigger tasks that typically take a long time to work on and complete "“ in some cases weeks or months. Wanted to write a book? Get down to it. Wanted to build a new home? Start planning.
Lizard Tails "“ some lizards discard their tails to escape a predator. So, this category is populated by open loops that don't matter anymore, like that plan you had 5 years ago to take Spanish lessons. Your energies should be directed towards more important things.
Step 3: Build A Chain of Achievement
With every open loop now categorize, you can finally get down to clearing them. But it's best to create a visual marker as you do so, a symbol that tells you each tail is complete, done with and gone forever. That's why the Drop The Tails Method has you write each task onto a piece of paper.
Starting with the Lizard Tails, take one strip of paper detailing a task to discard and glue its ends together. Then, do the same with a second tail, but link it through the first loop.
Continue this way so that, gradually, a Chain of Achievement grows before your eyes. Then move on to the Bunny Tails, adding them to the chain as you get through each one.
As the chain grows, loop-by-loop, you should begin to feel better and better. Your confidence will return, as will your energy levels and sense of control. In fact, with each new loop stress will lift and anxiety ease.
Gradually, you get your life back, and with it the REAL you returns!
By the way, keep the chain in plain view to serve as motivation. This is important as you tackle the last and most time-consuming category; the Onagadori Tails.
To do so, you'll need to apply a focused technique to ensure you don't drift midway. But with the chain as a gauge, and a little bit of patience, you can work your way towards and easier and healthier life.