Conquer Lingering Tasks

Like many people, I have absolutely no trouble starting projects. I get inspired by an idea, buy all the supplies and dive in full of confidence. Sometimes, if the project is short or free of complications, that inspiration carries me through right to the finish line. More often, I come up against a difficulty or get bored and the project gets pushed aside for a shinier, more inspiring project. It is easy to start projects, but so much harder to finish them.

Tossing aside difficult personal projects wouldn’t be much of a problem, except that the growing “work-in-progress” pile starts to haunt me after awhile. I start to feel guilty whenever I pull out the materials for a new project. Then, of course, there is the clutter factor: the ongoing projects start to spill out of the closet and suddenly there is no more room in the boxes under my bed. Over time I’ve tried many different ways of forcing myself to finish these projects, including posting my “Pile of Shame” on this blog. Each idea or technique motivates me to finish a few more projects, but I never get down to a level I’m happy with, and soon the total number starts to climb again. This time, I’m trying something a little different.

The title of this post comes from Gretchen Rubin, author of the book The Happiness Project, among others. In one book (I can’t remember which) she describes how “conquering lingering tasks” is one method of boosting your overall happiness. That idea really resonated with me, so in 2016 I set myself a year-long goal of reducing my backlog of unfinished projects by more than half. Because I love graphs and spreadsheets, I have been tracking my progress all year:

Gretchen’s inspiration, and keeping track in a spreadsheet, has really helped keep me focused this year. It is also possible that all the reading on Simple Living, and all the practice from previous attempts at simplifying is finally paying off. Maybe I’ve even built up enough of a habit of finishing to keep momentum going when it gets tough.

On the other hand, I’ve also found that focusing solely on the numbers hasn’t always been helpful. About mid-year I realized I had left several projects off the list that I had been keeping track of elsewhere; adding them made my numbers closer to reality but also felt like it negated all of my recent progress. More recently I removed the projects that were “younger” than 6 months and started tracking them separately. This lets me add new projects (like knitting Christmas presents!) without taking a demotivating hit to my totals. Staying flexible with the tracking system means I can use numbers and graphs to keep on track and keeps the system relevant as the year progresses and I learn more about myself. Of course, a flexible system means the graph at the end isn’t quite as clear as it could be.

I’ve finished so many projects in the last half year of “blogging silence”, and I truly miss sharing them in this space. I’m working on getting back into a more regular blogging habit, and to get started I’m going to share the finished projects I’m most proud of. If I can keep the blogging habit up then I’ll share the rest of them soon too! Weirdly enough, the projects I’m most proud of finishing didn’t actually yield a finished product; these were projects “in reverse”.

Projects Finished: Reclaiming Yarn

I have a very hard time giving up on projects that just aren’t working. I’m a sentimental person and very much inclined to become more attached to a project the more time I have put into it…even if I no longer like what I’m creating! Several of the oldest projects in my list were lingering precisely because I invested so much time in them to begin with. It’s hard to let go of that time spent.

However, in the last year and a half I’ve been working my way through the the KonMari decluttering process (see my “Making Space” posts: Clothing pt 1, pt 2, pt 3, pt 4 and pt 5, Books, Paper, and Kitchen. Update on my current progress coming soon). I’ve been getting much better at letting things go, and at the same time this process is making me better at letting projects go. It has been a welcome change, and it has helped me tackle two of my oldest, most difficult lingering projects. Both are knitting projects, and both had been lingering for over a year, sulking in the back of the closet and glaring at me whenever I pulled out other, more exciting yarn.

The first piece of knitting I frogged (read: unravelled) was my attempt to knit an Anne Elliot’s Fichu out of brown handspun alpaca from Peru. My rough estimate of yardage turned out to be way off, which I only discovered after knitting up more than 1000 yards of yarn! The pattern was designed for a true laceweight yarn, and this yarn fell into some kind of middle ground between laceweight and fingering, which meant that the project was ultimately doomed. Unravelling this project took awhile, and the result was a loop of crinkly yarn, with a very entertaining bounce to it.

2016-07-19 19.26.30

A quick bath and a night drying under tension straightened out the yarn, and it was ready to be knit again. I’m now knitting it up into a Peppermint Bay shawl, which has appeared on several Yarn Along posts. I feel confident that the second incarnation of this yarn will turn out much better than the first.

The attempt at Anne Elliot’s Fichu can be seen in these posts: Yarn Along 6, Yarn Along 15, Yarn Along 17, and the Peppermint Bay re-knit can be seen these Yarn Along posts: Thinking With Alpaca, Big Shawl, Slightly Bigger Shawl, Same Shawl, Same Shawl Again, Neverending ShawlNeverending Shawl Again. It’s been on the back-burner while I finish Vivid but I’ll be getting back to it soon.

The second knitting project to hit the frog-pond was actually a completely finished Ribbed Lace Bolero, started back in 2014. The whole project was a pain from the start. I used superwash yarn, so the bolero block out larger than I had planned, and the yarn was too heavy for the kind of fit I wanted. Determined, I stubbornly knit the whole thing, blocked it, wove in all the ends and seamed the thing before finally admitting I just don’t like it. The bolero doesn’t fit me, and it doesn’t look good. By the time I gave up and unravelled the whole thing I didn’t even feel a pang of regret. Mostly I was just relieved that the bolero wouldn’t end up sitting in my drawer, unworn, for years.

You can see see my progress with this project in these posts: Yarn Along 52, Yarn Along 54Yarn Along 60, Piles of Stuff

Once unravelled this yarn held its “memory” even better than the alpaca, making for a skein of very crinkled yarn.

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It looks almost like an old-fashioned telephone cord. As soon as it hit the water, though, the yarn completely relaxed. You could almost hear it sigh with relief.

2016-08-03 23.25.32

Once it was dry I wound all the yarn into neat little balls and tucked it away in my yarn stash. I have a few ideas of what I might knit with it in the future but for now it is waiting patiently. I have far too many projects on-the-go as it is, so I’m fine with letting it sit.

Generally I’m very determined to see a project through to completion once it is started, but I’m learning that sometimes it is better to give up and move on. I’m improving as I go, even if this is one lesson I may have to learn over and over again.

This blog post has been another lingering task, and this time I’m glad I didn’t give up on it and that it is finally ready to post. This will be my first blog post that isn’t a Yarn Along since May, and I don’t want to take another 6 months to write the next one. I’ve missed documenting my crafting projects and attempts at decluttering, and after all this time I have a long list of potential post topics. So, stay tuned to this space for more finished craft projects, decluttering updates and whatever else happens to inspire me in the moment. Thanks for sticking with me through the long drought 🙂

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