Once many years ago a stranger told me the key to good mental health is not to have a lot of unfinished tasks staring you in the face every day. This person described them as unfinished circles. Anytime you finish a task, he told me, you are closing a circle. Happiness is closing all your circles.
I totally get his point. If I have a nagging task in front of me, like writing this column, and I put it off until the last possible minute, I’m constantly thinking about this important thing. My mind stays agitated because I know the task I am avoiding has to be completed by a certain time. Until I do it, I worry about it. Once I finish the column, I close the circle and the anxiety dissipates.
If you’re a list-keeper, closing circles is the same as checking items off a list. Feels great, doesn’t it? In my case, having deadlines encourages me to finish tasks. For example, I absolutely have to complete laying out this magazine in order to send the pdfs to the printer on time or else I will miss my printing slot. The truth is I love deadlines. I can only procrastinate so much when there’s a really motivating factor keeping me focused on my goal.
But what about the other unfinished circles, the ones that end up on the back burners of our lives? Do you have any of those? Most of us do. Maybe it’s meeting an old friend for lunch, something we’ve wanted to do forever and can’t seem to fit it in. Or perhaps it’s doing volunteer work or cleaning out a closet. Yep, if we look around, most of us can easily find numerous unfinished circles. What can we do about them?
The easy answer is close them. Tackle one unfinished circle a day and do as much as you can to complete the task at hand. Even if you don’t get ‘er done, you are at least making headway. And guess what? With a little more effort, you can close that circle.
Of course, life being what it is, we will never be completely free of unfinished circles. Every day brings more, right? Like emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash. But even completing these menial tasks gives us a feeling of satisfaction. That’s why diving headfirst into some of the bigger projects we’ve been avoiding will help us feel even better mentally.
With spring here, it’s the perfect time to think about how we can make ourselves happier by finishing circles/tasks/projects—whatever you choose to call them. Instead of procrastinating, take action steps toward completing your goals. If they seem insurmountable, then just pick the easiest one first. Check. When that’s done, move to the next task. Check.
Feeling better yet? The best part of completing unfinished business is once you do, that heavy load that’s been preying on your mind and weighing you down will evaporate. Gone. Done. Over.
I was in my 20s when I got this advice. I’ve never forgotten it. I’ll admit I always have a few unfinished circles waiting in the wings—they never really end—but every time I finish a task, I feel better, and the more I finish, the better I feel.
Try it. Take a deep breath and close those loops. I promise you will feel energized, happy, and proud of yourself. You can do this!