Photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash
“The dishes in my mind: the very knowledge of them, what needs to get done, keeps me from cooking something new.” — Nuar Alsadir, Fourth Person Singular
This article gives you a simple but effective recipe to publish uncompleted writing projects in 90 days or less — or, alternatively, delete them and make space for new ideas.
Because let’s be honest:
How many article drafts do you have in your backlog?
Your uncompleted projects slow you down.
They create “open loops” in your brain that make you feel guilty and steal your attention.
The “90-Day Open Loop” method solves that problem.
It’s based on three rules:
- open loops need to be closed fast, within 90 days or less
- you need a simple system to decide if you’ll finish the project, or delete it
- you need to unblock the negative emotions from open loops
Below is a step-by-step guide to do that.
Why “open loops” slow down your brain
Researcher and psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that uncompleted tasks — open loops — occupy our brains more than completed projects. That means, we waste time thinking about what we haven’t done.
Our brains can’t let go of unfinished writing projects. The bigger the backlog, the slower we get.
Here’s the mechanism:
- your subconscious engages with uncompleted tasks
- that creates mental load and distraction — you keep remembering what’s still to be done instead of focusing on something new
- you get blocked on your current writing and feel guilty and overwhelmed
- you may even use your unfinished projects as an excuse to procrastinate on new writing — and lose your flow altogether
As a writing coach, I have had many clients with writer’s block due to open loops.
Here’s the worst-case scenario, based on a real client of mine.
The “open loop” bottleneck
I once coached a top journalist who published in high-profile newspapers and magazines. He came to me severely blocked.
In our first session, he showed me an excel sheet with long-term projects that he had promised to different publishers (e.g. long essays, articles, and book chapters). As a comparison, this was the equivalent of at least 60–100 unfinished Medium articles.
He couldn’t concentrate on new ideas because he felt guilty about the backlog! But also, these old projects were not exciting anymore, so he didn’t want to finish them.
The “open loops” became his bottleneck — and created massive block.
We discussed that the real writing flow will only come when he either commits to finishing at least one project or deletes the backlog. He didn’t want to do either and stopped coming to the sessions.
Here’s the devastating email he sent me later: “I will not call myself a writer for a while, I’ll just edit other people’s work for now.”
Can you imagine giving up writing because of “open loops”?
Don’t get paralyzed. Use the “90-day open loop” method instead.
The “90-day open loop” method
With this method, you will learn to:
- close open loops within 90 days or less — only for priority projects
- apply a simple system to decide if you’ll finish a project, or delete it now
- unblock the negative emotions in your body to fully let go
Here are the steps:
1. Take stock
- Make a list of all the places where you save drafts and uncompleted projects. Include anything in your notebooks, digital folders, Medium drafts, etc.
- Go to these locations and count how many “open loops” you’ve got. What’s that number?
- Emotional tip: Take a breath – be self-compassionate if the number is high. There’s nothing wrong with having many ideas — you’re a creative, after all! It’s just impossible to finish them all.
2. Pick your drafts to complete in 90-days or less
- Pick 3 projects from the backlog that will help you become your Future Self. Use my Goal Filter if you’re unsure which one to keep or drop.
- For each of the projects you want to finish, create a 90-day timeline and milestones (use the goal roadmap template in The Write Habit planner). Prioritize them in your calendar and go all in — start today.
- Mark a day in your calendar (e.g. in 14 days) where you’ll check if you did indeed work on completing these projects. If no, you’re not fully committed— drop them off your list.
- Emotional tip: If you struggle, imagine your Future Self — and how free and elated you will feel when you remove the backlog from your life. You’re only 90 days away from that vision!
Don’t make the mistake I’ve made in the past:
Do not delay any of these “to save” projects by slotting them in later in the year. You’ve already done that. By delaying them, you extend the open loop and make it even bigger. If you can’t commit to the project now, you never will!
3. Your freedom ritual
Most of the unfinished projects on your backlog list are a clear “no”. They aren’t your priority. Here’s a ritual to let them go and gain freedom right away:
- Take a deep breath, and then delete them, one by one. For example, go to your draft folder on Medium, and click delete. Rip out notebook pages, or cross out these projects on your lists. Throw away your post-its. Remove them from your excel sheet.
- If you feel massive resistance, move these unwanted projects to an “archive” folder out of your sight.
- Emotional tip: With each “delete”, feel the dopamine hit from freeing yourself. You’re doing your Future Self the biggest favor possible! Take a deep breath and feel the expansion in your body. Do a high-five in the air — whatever makes your mind and body mark the moment of freedom!
Do these prompts if you still struggle
Let’s figure out why you’re holding on to an uncompleted project. There are often hidden emotional attachments. Set a timer for 3 minutes and journal about these prompts:
- This project once meant to me…
- If I let this go, I would lose…
Now, think about how it would feel to keep that loop open, yet again:
- If I kept this project on my list, I would feel…
Feel the gratitude of letting it go now:
- If I could let this project go, I would be free to work on …
- If my Future Self was in the room with me, it would ask me to…
There’s a reason you didn’t finish that project. Deep down, you know what that is. You might be emotionally attached, or you may be scared to move on to new projects.
But consider this:
Every old project helped you get to where you are now. You learned new skills, tried something out, and gained insights. It’s done its job — time to let it go.
When you follow the steps, your slate is clean — what will you write next?
Download The Write Habit 2023 planner to close open loops & finish your writing projects in 90 days or less.