I got an insight from talking to my sister-in-law about wedding preparations that will stand me in good stead if I ever have to plan a wedding-or any other function more involved than a trip to the supermarket. What you do is visualize the outcome and work backward. This simple practice will make the most formidable assignment doable.
When I was hired to manage the little café at the local seminary years ago, I was afraid to the point of paralysis until one day my mother said, "Look at it this way: Your goal is to make a decent sandwich."
This advice not only put my job into perspective in the grand scheme of things (something less important than the Napoleonic wars and more important than plucking my eyebrows), but it also concentrated my mind on a concrete image (a ham and Swiss on rye) rather than some amorphous looming menace. The paralysis suddenly lifted and released a burst of productive energy: "To make a decent sandwich, I will need meat. OK, where do you get meat around here at a good price?"
Without a clear goal-without being able to "see" the as yet unseen-we stumble around in a cloud of vaguely nagging uncompleted tasks. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says that a lot of the worry we carry around comes from a mental traffic jam of "inappropriately managed commitments." He writes, "Your mind will keep working on anything that's still in an undecided state."
So to clear the decks of worry about unfinished business, it is good to step back now and then and identify what is bothering you. If it is an action that needs to get done (e.g., forgive Harry), then do it. If it is an involved project (clean the garage), then find out what the obstacle is that's blocking its completion (e.g., I need a ladder).
I was hagridden for months by letters that needed to be written. I finally decided to simply do the first step-find envelopes, paper, and stamps, and get them all to one spot. But once that was accomplished, it seemed silly to not just sit down and write; the job was half done. One finds that when one breaks a project into steps and does only the first step, the others fall like dominoes.
A clear goal is of first importance, and we should review our activities periodically to see if these make sense from the standpoint of our goals, the overarching goal being to glorify God. David Allen says, "I'm often stunned by how many people have forgotten why they're doing what they're doing."