Q: Help I Feel Stuck in Low Gear

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

It’s not uncommon for an entrepreneur to feel stuck in low gear, falling behind both the competition and their own plans for progress. Here are some suggestions for how to keep calm and carry on.

Keep Calm and Carry OnQ: Help I Feel Stuck in Low Gear

Q: I really feel stuck in low gear; I am afraid that I am not moving my startup forward as fast as I should be.

Many of my good friends feel stuck from time to time, some frequently. some occasionally and a few rarely.

I think some folks are more naturally on an even keel but even they have their bad days and weeks.

We set goals for ourselves and fail to achieve them.

Perhaps the goals are unrealistic, perhaps we could have tried harder or worked smarter.

Often it’s a mixture of both and most of time it’s like looking for something you have misplaced: if you knew where to look you would go there. Learning how to search and be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity is unfortunately a larger part of our adult lives–in my experience.

I work with many people who seem to always be on an even keel–some but not many are founders. Like many others I know I have my ups and my downs.

I do know that trying to work harder above some threshold simply leads to illness and lower–often dramatically lower–output when averaged over a 2-4 week period.

Important Indicators to Track

I think it’s important to pay attention to:

  • regular sleep
  • reasonable meals
  • moderate alcohol consumption
  • moderate stimulants — e.g. coffee and tea
  • regular exercise — walking, workouts, sports
  • reading
  • time alone for reflection
  • time with friends

Feeling Stuck is OK  If It Encourages You to Make Necessary Changes

“Suffering is a moment of clarity, when you can no longer deny the truth of a situation and are forced into uncomfortable change. Inside suffering is the seed of change.”
Naval Ravikant

Entrepreneurs suffer for a variety of  reasons. One of the most common for me when I fail to live up to what I believe my potential is: the clarity that ensues can trigger a re-assessment of my true capabilities–or frustration with my lack of willpower–and the need to make improvements. Another common source of suffering to fail to follow through on my commitments to others–cofounders, employees, customers, business partners, friends and family members. The clarity that ensues has led to much more care in making commitments, taking more care not over commit, and letting others know as soon as I realize it that I need to renegotiate. I don’t mean to make this sound easy at all, but planning for iterations  can allow you to survive small failures and gain the clarity to succeed.

Focus For Effect and Measure Progress in Small Steps

When you feel a lack of traction I think it’s important to “zoom in” and just focus on a 2 hour or even 30 minute period of time. Pick one thing that’s important that you can move forward and set a time limit. I was often guilty of cleaning my office or cleaning up my disk or doing something else non-essential for hours instead of making small steady steps forward.

When you feel like you are not moving forward focus on a small “done list” of what you accomplished in the last 2 hours or day or two days and work to take small steps and steady progress. some things won’t get done and it’s best to abandon them as soon as you realize it instead of leaving “men on base” for months before ultimately scrapping a 1/3 or 1/2 finished project where the efforts for the most part are a dead loss. In the alternative, break it up into smaller milestones where there is some level of accomplishment.

I hope this helps, I will tell you that many people I know well, myself included, feel stuck and behind and failing at least some of the time, perhaps in my case more often than not. The trick is to persevere, put one foot in front of the other, and believe that even if you cannot get what you want you will get what you need.

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