Slaying a Personal Zombie in Getting One Writing Task Done

by Judy Stone-Goldman on December 12, 2011

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End-of-year gray weather is a good time to complete the To Do list's undones

I am late to writing a blog today. I had locked myself away until I finished writing a short piece that has been unfinished for weeks. It shouldn’t have been that hard—just a very short essay for a professional journal, a personal piece, something I expected to simply whip out.

But I didn’t whip out, dash off, write in a flash, or even complete anything slowly. Whatever I wrote didn’t please me, so I kept putting it away then coming back to it. Then today, when I finally had something I thought was going to be good enough, I discovered the piece was 25% too long.

First I got irritated with myself that I hadn’t checked the length requirement more carefully. Then I cut out 100 words and brought it down to size (surprisingly easily once I parted with the entire introductory paragraph and a few choice phrases). Now, with relief, I am saying I am done, and I can cross this off my list.

Some things outstay their welcome on my To Do list. Sometimes the reason is perfectionism, sometimes it’s distaste for the task, sometimes it’s a deeper, personal meaning within the task that makes it uncomfortable. And in the case of writing, sometimes it’s because that’s the nature of writing: you have to mess with it, struggle with it, wrestle it into different shapes. Then, like a cat pretending to be disinterested in prey, you have to walk away for a bit, giving yourself time to refresh your eyes and plan the next attack.

But no matter what the reason, I find that once something stays too long on the list, it takes on a different life, creates a different pressure, its own kind of imbalance. It’s always there, always reminding you that it is not yet done. It becomes the old-but-not-yet-moldy food that you hesitate to throw away from can’t bring yourself to eat.

I am giving these long-incomplete tasks the label “the undone” (I am a new fan of The Walking Dead, thus the slight zombie reference). The undone are not simply things you need to do; they are frustratingly resistant, particularly onerous, carrying with them the guilt, shame, annoyance, and mystery of tasks that elude you, tasks that invite avoidance and then linger to mock you.

As I face the remaining weeks of the year 2011, I am committed to finding the undone that have infiltrated my life. I plan to slay them, erase them, and swear I will not let them reenter my life. Of course, even I know that the undone are never permanently eliminated. For every one vanquished, there is a new one waiting to be born. Knowing this does not lessen today’s pleasure from completing my small writing piece. As with writing, so with life: no matter the struggle, it’s worth moving through it to the next thing on the list.

Questions for Reflection: Are there any tasks on your To Do list that have been there too long? What reasons keep you from completing tasks as you wish? What would you most like to complete before the end of 2011?

Writing Prompts: “When I can’t finish a task, it usually means ______” (then keep writing); “The biggest problem I face in getting things done is ______” (then keep writing); “I am going to commit to completing ______ before the end of the year” ((then keep writing).

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Irene Turner
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Wow…yes, I am guilty of having the “undone” on my lists. Not the little things, but the big things, mostly revolving around writing and business. I’ve been in a bit of a void lately, not really sure what I want to do. I’ve given myself through the holidays to not face it and to simply enjoy the spirit of the season with my family and friends. But the first of the year…no more procrastination. I find that setting a time goal usually works well for me. And if it is on the list, I can let it go and face it at the time I need to. This is a first for me. We’ll se what happens.
Happy Holiday’s to you and yours Judy

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Hi Irene, If just setting a goal works for you, you are both lucky and effective! I have been known to bail on my own goals, especially when the zombie state hits me! Please do enjoy your holiday season–regardless of the undones that may be lurking! Best to you and your family.

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Susan Berland
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Oh my yes. There are many things on my not written to do list that have been there too long! Last week I spend the better part of a day cleaning my desk and I created a to do folder. My goal is to empty it or mostly empty it before the end of the year. And the things on my list on my desk are the more urgent ones – the ones I’m supposed to do today and haven’t gotten to yet!

Susan Berland
A Picture’s Worth
http://susan-berland.com

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Susan, More power to you–clearing out the list by year’s end! Glad you found time to play Blogger Monday nonetheless. I find there has to be balance for me–I can tackle the undones, but I still have to leave room for other, more daily activities. I’ll look forward to seeing a post when your folder is empty.

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Laurie Hurley
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Judy, I love “the undone” very good label for those things we put off for a long time, but don’t want to totally delete. When I don’t finish a task it’s usually because I am either bored with it (invoicing my tutoring clients, mundane!) or still have some brain work to do (writing my blogs). Before year end I am committed to finishing the half dozen blogs I have started, totally revamp my desk organization and finish a template I am working on for my new business. PS I love your writing style! Happy Holidays!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Laurie, You may have undones sitting around, but I can see they are going to be vanquished! You have the energy of a doer (very refreshing). A half dozen blogs that become completed will certainly jettison you forward. I know how busy you are with your new business, so all the more impressive that you are going to catch up with yourself on other tasks as well. More power to you!

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Cory Zacker
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Much like the zombies on “The Walking Dead,” the undone tasks can only be finished by attacking them head on. (Big fan of that show as well, Judy!) Thanks for the reminder to go through those undones on my list and try to tackle them before the end of the year. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by a long list of undones, I make a point of finishing one or two a day. My instinct is to tackle them all at once, but breaking it down into smaller units is far less stressful.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Cory, You came up with the metaphor I was trying to find–tackling things head on! (I’m new to The Walking Dead but definitely I’ve been bitten!) I agree with you–smaller units are easier than trying to finish everything in one fell swoop. I really do better doing one task at a time, then taking a break and moving on to something else. Multitasking doesn’t help me clear out those undones.

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Jane
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 6:51 pm

OMG yes I have things on my to do list that I haven’t done. I think your reasons are probably the same as mine except for I would add that I have a fear of finishing things… not sure why but I am trying to come to terms with it.

Glad you got your task done.

Hugs:o)
Jane ~ mom to Nicole, 17 yo, VSD, PAH, Eisenmengers, BHJS
“If you don’t like something change it, if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Hi Jane, I actually can understand a fear of finishing things. I’ve dealt with that in some concrete situations (fear of using things up) and in some psychological ways as well (who hasn’t ever been afraid of finishing some major life event, like graduating school or moving on from a job?) Good luck with whatever remains to be done–I know you have a busy life!

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Laine D
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Indeed my friend I am undone by the things I have left undone! They lurk like the monsters under the bed, in the drawer, in the car and on every scribble pad and scrap of paper and yet … remain unfinished.

It is not that I’m blocked or do not have inspiration. In fact frequently the complete opposite I have too much inspiration, needing only clarification, a unifying phrase or simply time to feel coherent and translate the scribble into order. I know the words are each part of my journey to be dealt with in a certain sequence and that in itself becomes pressure.

I love the analogy of the walking dead, functional except for a missing part. Although whether the ‘undone’ would apply best to the writing or writer I’m unsure. Who would have thought that notebooks of inspiration can become a lodestone!

Maybe its time to drag them out into the light and see if any want to be complete? Hmmm…

Laine D.
http://www.ThoughtsfromABroad.net

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Laine, As we share more of ourselves, I can see we both relate to the undone within us. As for notebooks and lodestones–oh my goodness, I have boxes of them that could sink me to the bottom of the ocean if I really thought about them! Here’s to bringing our undones into the light and helping each other create from them. (Your comment is just fabulous, I must say. Please do copy it for yourself so you can look back on it again…)

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Maureena Bivins, PhD
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm

My doctoral dissertation became by big “undone” for 7 years. There were several situations that arose within that time period which created serious delays. But there was also the “personal” piece, where research is actually “me-search.” I was immersed in the process which was exciting and burdensome. In the end, it is a beautifully crafted piece of work. However, the next step is to print out two copies, 400 pages each, so that I can send them to be bound . . .
Maureena Bivins, PhD
Acupuncture & Somatic Therapy
http://drmbivins@gmail.com
Curious. Committed. Compassionate.
What do you look for in a health care provider?

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 12, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Maureena, I know about that particular undone! My dissertation did go from undone to done, but the journey that took me there was no small matter. Congratulations not only on making it through but coming up with a fine piece of work. I wish I could say that was the last long-standing undone in my life, but hardly! It was over 20 years ago, and I still manage to create the new undones.

Good luck with your printing.

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June Sockol December 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I have too many undone tasks. Some days I get started but I’m easily distracted. I find if I’m better about writing them down and organizing them by what has to be done now, in the next week, next month, etc., I’m much better about getting them done.

You’re blog is a good reminder that I need to get off my butt and get them all done by the end of the year so I can start 2012 fresh!

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Abigail Gorton December 13, 2011 at 9:58 am

How true! The undone on the list. You are so right about how their drag on your conscience and consciousness is greater than their weight or how long it would take you to just get them “Done, Already!” I will remember this post for a long time.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Abigail, Let’s hope I can remember too–while I am getting those undones done! Here’s to freeing our consciousness from these burdens.

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Jean
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 10:50 am

Judy, I’m a list maker myself and there occationaly an “undone” that get transferred from list to list. Its usually something I’m unsure of how to do so I let that prevent me from getting started at all. Oh and you’re right, they do mock, and even wear me down to a point where some I have just quit putting on my list.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hi Jean, Sometimes I get really tired of moving those undones forward on the list! When I browse back through my lists (which I keep in a notebook), I occasionally find one lurking that didn’t get moved forward but never got done either. It gives such power to a task to leave it undone…

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Vicki Dello Joio
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 11:13 am

oi. The greatest undone for me, a subterranean scary critter, is a letter that I need to finish to someone who was once a teacher and with whom my relationship ended badly. It breaks my heart, makes me mad, feels unjust and generally keeps me wrestling with my demons of not-enoughness and victim mindset. I keep setting deadlines for myself but somehow when I reach them just don’t feel Done. Maybe by the end of the year…

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Vicki, Definitely oi (or oy!) Those tasks with layers of emotion are such trouble makers. One hint I offer (which you are free to accept or ignore!) is to just write about your feelings, and somewhere begin responding to the prompt, “If I were to write this letter that I haven’t written, I would say ____” and just write freely without the burden of it “being” the letter. I’ve done that when I can’t get something started, and by the time I’m done, I have a core that I can work with. Regardless, I wish you the best in finding your way through to the end of this undone.

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Julieanne Case
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Oh, yes, I have those tasks. One of them is over 10 months on the list and I still don’t want to do it. No heart for it, it’s tedious, onerous and I just don’t want to do it. The problem is it must be done. So it sits and I think about it and keep wishing it would just disappear!

Julieanne Case
Always from the heart!

Reconnecting you to your Original Blueprint, Your Essence, Your Joy| Healing you from the Inside Out |Reconnective Healing | The Reconnection| AgeLoc Skin Care | Pharmanex Supplements

http://thereconnectivehighway.com

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Hi Julieanne, I thought for sure–since you’ve said you aren’t much of a list person–that you would be free of this burden! Of course, you are just proving you are human (which I suspected all along…) When you say “no heart for it,” you’ve captured perfectly the essence of these dreaded undones.

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Candace Davenport
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Ahhh Judy- you have made me feel bad… No, of course you have not. But your reminding me of my “undones” has once again beat me over the head. I have 3 MAJOR undones that have been sitting around for several years that have to be dealt with. But every time I decide to done my undones, I manage to find something else to do. I will commit to you now, that I will work on 1 undone this week, get the ball rolling and then work on the next one next week. I guess I needed your reflective zombie to actually make a commitment. Thanks!

Candace Davenport
http://www.ourlittlebooks.com ~ Little Books with a Big Message

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Candace, Well, I admit I’m happy that I am not alone! These undones realy hurt, don’t they? Today I took care of one that was 11 months old–hooray! (It’s not exactly done, but it’s as far as I can go without submitting something. It’s not even writing, which would be more exciting…) I guess we need a zombie support group. Good luck with your first of 3!

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Rowena Starling
Twitter:
December 13, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Unfinished tasks are sort of piled up on me now. I’ve stopped looking at the whole pile because it immobilizes me. I simply carve out a few to do each day. None are particularly hideous.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Rowena – The fact that none are too hideous is encouraging! If you can work systematically day by day, you will make your way through in no time. More power to you!

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Trish
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 7:05 am

Oh, Judy! So many “undones.” I am a list person, too, but sometimes tasks (big & small) are left undone. You are so right about them taking on their own persona, almost delighting in torturing me for not having finished them. Part of the problem is time. So many (both necessary & unnecessary) tasks find their way into my day that the list cannot always be finished. If we could all get a bonus day to do just what’s on our list — ahhh, relief!

Will you tell us what journal you wrote the essay for or perhaps link the article for us? You know how I love your writing!

Trish
http://www.robertssister.com
caregiving. family. advocacy.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Hi Trish, I know I tend to put too much in a day’s list, but my worst undones stay there because I can’t/won’t face something about the task. Nonetheless, I’m making progress just since writing the blog! (I do believe writing helps me break barriers.) I’ll certainly let you know when the piece is published – it’s a very small piece, but meaningful to me.

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Jennifer Peek
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

There are a few too many “undone” tasks on my list. Each of them has taken on a life of its own just as you noted – the guilt, the frustration and the growing out of proportion energy drain that they have taken on. It is just as frustrating that many of them are not that difficult! Thanks for the zombie reference – that really makes me want to take action!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Jennifer – Pretty funny how talking about zombies can get us into action (a bit paradoxical!) The fact that some of the undones aren’t that difficult is what makes it so crazy–they become difficult by staying on the list so long! Thanks for your comment. Hope you get something crossed off the list soon!

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Robbie Schlosser
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Thanks, Judy. What a wonderful expression, “the undone”. I’m haunted, too, and I regret that they burden my ToDo list. It’s a persistent problem: Long ago I developed the habit of prioritizing ALL the things I’d ever want to do, and then tackling that list every day, knowing full well that most of those items would still be there when I fell asleep that night. Like you, I should work to slay them, one by one, and my first strategy will be to slash the list into the few most important short-term goals and leave the rest for later.

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Robbie, I confess that I promise myself I will work through according to priorities, but somehow I “demote” certain items because I don’t want to deal with them. Then they turn into monsters! But I’m happy to report I’m making progress. Good luck with your own list.

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Donna McCord December 14, 2011 at 5:45 pm

To do lists have always been a big part of my life, and having the undone things on there drives me crazy! Why are they undone? usually because they are too hard, or unpleasant, or have been on the list so long, they are no longer viable To Do’s. I have a to do list right now with items unchecked, so your post is inspiring me to look them right in the eye and get them gone!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Donna, Yes, looking them in the eye helps! Of course, if something becomes so outdated I don’t need to do it anymore, that unfortunately reinforces my procrastination! But I firmly believe it’s possible to clean up our lists, so I’m really working on it.

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Shayla Mihaly
Twitter:
December 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm

The undone walks among us! There is definitely a drain on my energy as I look at the list and feel… undoneness. They are the things that I feel I have to do but have not found a joy in doing them. Like everyone else, my list in long, and somehow, I just don’t make it around to these. I hope the undone doesn’t do me in!

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Brandy Mychals
Twitter:
December 15, 2011 at 6:16 am

Love the “undone” list…I’ve written blogs in the past where I reference my “to do” list and my “to desire” list. By saying “to desire” it becomes more positive (I want to do it vs have to do it) and have the option of not doing it…too often I found the “undone” items were simply not needed or not important. Although, sometimes they just needed to be tackled – LOL!
Brandy

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 15, 2011 at 10:08 am

Hi Brandy, I think blogs about To Do lists keep popping up, and there’s a reason! We love them and also get stuck in them! Unfortunately, my undone items are often very important, and so their power tends to grow. But I have to say I’ve made progress even this week since writing the blog!

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Kathryn Strong December 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

What great description of what we all go through with our incompletes! Your metaphors are so adorable, and true!!! For me it’s more like slaying the dragon!

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Judy Stone-Goldman
Twitter:
December 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Kathryn, Dragons, zombies, vampires–I’m sure our undones take many sinister forms! What counts is how we vanquish them. Glad you related.

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Darcy September 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I always find out that it is those little tasks that you put off into the ‘to do later’ pile that always come back to haunt you in the end. It’s almost as if they grow larger when we’re not looking so, when we return, we’re faced with a monster project that’s daunting to even think about. I’m pleased to hear you slayed your personal zombie in this particular case, though :)

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