I attended a thought provoking talk by Lynnea Hagen (@LynneaHagen) on “Getting Unstuck” at PATCA and decided to check out her slim “Stuckness” book that offers 140 tips on getting unstuck. I picked these eleven as the most useful for bootstrappers.
Getting stuck can feel like a lot of things. It can be revisiting ten seconds after you make it to reconsider. It can be a mental game of rock-paper-scissors where you pick one choice and then realize a second is a superior choice, only to see that a third option is better than the second, before returning to your first because it’s better than the third. Getting stuck can also be so many ideas or so many problems you don’t know where to start.
Clarity on priorities is always energizing. Merlin Mann said it best in his Inbox Zero Notes, “We procrastinate when we have forgotten who we are.”
Set a Short Deadline
Timeboxing and the Pomodoro technique offer similar advice because it works. At some level if you are truly stuck in inaction then doing something on your list, even of lesser importance, at least gets you moving and breaks the paralysis. You can try timeboxing at any time to resolve a deadlock but the best time to plan the day is at the close of business the day before, that allows you to hit the ground running first thing in the morning.
I think this is a better formulation of the “5 Why’s” model. This is a good way to jiggle your mind out of rut, but if you are stuck because you face a torrent of ideas then this will only make things worse. I think the key is to pick a single problem or question to pursue, not to jump around.
Cultivate a Peer Support Group
This has a number of good effects and is one of the reason we facilitate several Mastermind groups for entrepreneurs:
- The act of preparing to explain your situation to peers will naturally help you organize it and clarify it in your mind.
- Writing your goals down gets them out of your head; committing to them with peers makes it even more likely you will stick to them.
- Peers can offer other perspectives and a reality check on your situation and plans.
- Often you can see your problems more clearly when a peer explains the same one.
- It’s not uncommon to give a peer a piece of advice only to realize, “Hey, I should be doing that (or stop doing that) too!”
Rhythm of Focus and Relaxation
I think you can vary the times depending upon the activity but a natural cycle of 90-120 minutes of focused effort and relaxation seems to work for many. If you are really feeling stuck you can make it 15 or 20 minutes of work and a ten minute break as long as you finish a discrete step or task. Relaxation can take the form of a walk outside, meditation, reading for 20 minutes, calling a friend. If you spend most of your workday staring at a screen, find ways to take a break and get away from the keyboard at least once every two hours.
Sharpen the Saw
- Focus Days: you work with undivided concentration on key business activities.
- Free Days: time you spend to relax and recharge with family and friends, no business activity.
- Buffer Days: time you spend cleaning up, preparing, running errands, and otherwise make your focus days more effective.
Taking the time to kill or complete half-finished tasks will make your focus days more effective.
I think “I’m sorry” works best in person but writing (and sometimes re-writing) a candid email or letter can also help clear your mind. I will often write a draft of a difficult email in a morning pages entry and let it sit for a day or two–the inspiration of anger can create some incredible productivity but needs to be reviewed when calm. Martin Luther apparently felt the same sensation: “I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.”
When in Doubt Cultivate Gratitude and Share Your Appreciation For Others
One thing I really enjoy about working with Scott Sambucci–in addition to his energy, expertise and willingness to prepare and rehearse to improve shared performance–is that he sends these handwritten thank you notes to everyone involved on a project.
Don’t Lead Yourself Into Temptation
Don’t check E-mail, Slack, news sites, etc…except for a few times a day. Treat your focus time as if you were already in a conversation with a customer: what interruptions would you actually allow? Be careful that the act of plucking “low hanging fruit” may be closer to “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” than working on key priorities. Often the best place to store a low priority task is a trash can.
Related Blog Posts
- Zoom in for Traction, Zoom out for Impact
- Step Back to See Yourself in the Problem
- Doing Less with Less
- Focus Needs Buffers and Free Time
- Ten From Paul Zappias “29 Ways to Stay Creative”
- Record to Remember, Pause to Reflect
- Nuts, Bolts, and Jolts by Richard Moran
- 3×5 Cards
- Maintaining Perspective on the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster