“Almost done…”

How many times have you said this in the past week? Is there an email you need to add a line or two to? Do you have a few slides that need updating in that presentation you’re giving? How about at home…a room or desk that is “almost” finished? In this article, I’m going to give you permission to say, “I’m done!” a little more.

It’s a curse, really. For all of us who make things happen, serve others or have a job that we want to be our best at, there is an ever growing (or is it never ending?!) list of things to do. For many movers and shakers, it’s more important than ever to know when to call something complete.

And, this isn’t just a good idea, there’s neuroscience behind it. Do you feel stressed? Are you overwhelmed? How about your memory? Do you ever forget things you should remember? Or, have you ever gotten up from one room to go to another, only to arrive and not know why you’re there? If you’re nodding your head as you’re reading this, you’re in the right place.

In the 1920’s, Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist Bluma Ziegarnik studied our ability to hold “multiple ideas, simultaneously.” Specifically, she wanted to know what happened to our focus – and our short-term memory – during the times that you were working to finish something. Her research pointed to the fact that we have a tough time thinking creatively or thinking new thoughts while we’re working to complete what we’ve already put in motion.

Ok, that’s not a surprise to you, is it?

There just aren’t enough hours in the workday (or even the work week!) to accomplish everything on our to-do lists.

Worse yet, when we finally do get going on a productivity roll, there always seems to be a distraction (or two or three) waiting in the wings to throw us off course.

The reality is that we could accomplish a lot more each day if we would learn to recognize and acknowledge when we’re done with what we’re doing.

One of the biggest time wasters we all face is spending too much time on those things that don’t require it.

When we do so, we lose the time we actually should be spending on more difficult or time-intensive tasks. But when you learn to recognize when you’re done with a task, you’ll have valuable minutes and maybe even hours added back into your day.

It often seems that we put off the most important things on our to-do lists until we feel like we have the “time” to work on them. When you learn to recognize when you’re done with projects, big and small, you’ll immediately find that you have a lot more time than you thought you did. Time you can use to focus on those things that truly matter.

Here’s more about how to know when you’re done:

Stop majoring in the minors.

Many of us spend a lot of time on those projects and tasks that are easy for us. Then, we convince ourselves that we “just didn’t have enough time” to get to the harder stuff. But when it comes to knowing when you’re done and freeing up time during your day, completing these easy tasks quickly and efficiently is essential.

Before you start your workday, think about what your high leverage activities are and what your low leverage activities are. For the low-leverage activities, force yourself to move through them as quickly as possible. With these tasks – for example, writing an e-mail to a colleague – perfection isn’t necessary, and there’s no need to waste time wringing your hands over every word. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you’ll have the time you need to do those major tasks justice.

Don’t overwrite e-mails.

Much of your time – probably too much – each day gets eaten up by e-mail. Make a conscious effort to keep your e-mails as short and sweet as possible. Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the recipient know what needs to happen before the e-mail is even opened.

While long e-mails waste the time it takes you to write them, keep in mind that the person receiving the e-mail doesn’t want to have to spend so much time reading it either. Chances are your boss doesn’t want or need a three-paragraph rundown of how your client meeting went. She wants to know if the client is happy and will continue to do business with your group or company.

Quit over-staying at meetings and on conference calls.

Often meetings and conference calls will take as long as you’ve allotted for them. Set an hour for a meeting and you’re sure to go the full hour. Pay close attention to how much of your session is spent focused on the important stuff. If you spend 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning or end of the meeting discussing your co-worker’s golf game, then next time reduce the amount of time allotted for the meeting. And always know the meeting’s or call’s objectives before you begin. That way you can get them handled as effectively and efficiently, as soon as you start the conversation.

Set your own deadlines and stick to them.

It’s easy to get distracted or sidetracked by things you think you should do or things others think you should do. Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions. If a colleague calls you about a non-urgent task, you can let her know you’ve got a 3:00 p.m. deadline that you have to meet. There’s no need for her to know that it’s self-imposed!

Know when it’s time to ask for help.

Have you ever been stumped by a certain project or task? When was the last time you “raised your hand to ask for help” and suddenly gained momentum and finished what was stuck? Sometimes you’ll realize you’re “done for now” and it’s time to ask for help. When you can’t take a project any further, look around. Ask around. Find help. You might not always have the right expertise to finish something; you’ll need to ask for help. And that’s okay.

Wasting time on something you’re never going to be able to figure out is much worse than asking for help!

When you put in place steps to help you know when you’re done, you’ll be surprised and pleased with how much, well, you can get done. It will truly free up time in your day that you can use to focus on areas where it’s needed. As a result, you’ll have a more gratifying work day, and you’ll be happier overall.