Many years ago, in my first corporate job (the one where I sold my soul to the devil so I could afford to buy toilet paper and have health insurance), I shared cubicle space, a hard drive and many job responsibilities with someone we shall call Renae. That much closeness bred friendship.
One of the things Renae quickly noticed about me was my urge to finish something before moving on to the next item. Once she pointed this out about me, I was fascinated by the difference between us. If we agreed to go to lunch at 12:15, she'd stop typing mid-sentence and get her coat. 3 minutes later I'd still be slogging away at my paragraph trying to come to a good stopping place. She dubbed this personal trait of mine "completion complex."
I think almost daily of Renae as I notice moments of completion complex. Turns out crochet feeds my complex like crazy. Because of my temperament I want to finish the row before moving onto other projects that need my attention. However, I find it confusing to restart from the end of a row, the middle area of a row is easier. So I choose to move a little into the next row for ease of picking up later, but then I desperately want to finish the row. Of course, I don't like to stop at the end, so I start another row....
Many other things set my completion complex off: it is hard to for me pick up without cleaning the entire house, having the kids start a project without finishing it makes me twitch, practicing a song on the guitar should go on until I have all the notes under control. Starting a new book when I haven't finished the one I'm in the middle of is sacrilegious in my world. I even tend to finish one food on my plate before starting the next (swear to g-d).
As a childless adult completion complex was interesting and fun and at work it could be a useful tool. Fortunately I always worked places where they handed out overtime like candy. As a parent, completion complex can be devastating. Trying to force kids to clean until I think the house looks done or setting them up with school work that turn out to be way too long creates giant power struggles. Similarly, ignoring them for an hour while I "just work out this one song" never reaps anything but whiny, angry children.
Over the years, I've developed some coping skills to at least quiet my drive to finish everything. While browsing the parenting section of a book store, I came across the title Parents Who Think Too Much by Ann Cassidy. Theo was a baby at the time, and I know I read the book cover to cover (that completion thing again). My memory of the author's point is that our kids need us to relax, let them make their own mistakes and be realistic role models. One of the chapters went something along the lines of "it's good to suck at something." And I truly understand how much my kids learn from watching me and seeing how I handle learning something completely new. I haven't looked inside it since, but just having the book on my shelf where I can see the title helps me remember to relax and just coast sometimes. For me, this means walking away from 1/2 done tasks.
About the same time as I found Cassidy's book, FlyLady came into my life. Her assertion that we can do anything for 15 minutes is usually meant to get us out of inertia and start working on an overwhelming task with baby steps. There are many times, though, when I use the timer to achieve just the opposite. I set it for 15 minutes of cleaning because that is all I honestly think it is reasonable to ask my little ones to do. Theo's handwriting only lasts for 10 minutes no matter whether he finished the line and sentence or not. 20 minutes of guitar practice everyday actually does yield lots of progress when I show up for my next lesson.
In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore helps keep me focused on what is important. While it is not a book about leaving tasks undone, the reminder about living my life mindfully and using my time to create connection helps me release the frenzy of doing so much. Which in the end means fewer things to complete.
Funny, I just googled "completion complex" to see what came up. First up was a link to "Women of Ideas and What Men have Done to Them by Dale Spender". She (?) defines completion complex as "the incomplete nature of a woman without a man." Fortunately, I do not suffer that version of the complex.
Here's another version of completion complex. I like my interactions and stories to have a tidy end. I seek clean completion in my relationships. So I've spend the last 15 minutes trying to figure out just the right way to wrap us this post, when I could be downstairs chatting with my dear husband. So just for kicks, let's try this....