Creating Forward Movement - ​When You're Stuck at the Start


For the month of July I've been wrestling with a blog topic on how to create forward movement when you're stuck. Ironically, it's now August meaning I missed my monthly blogging goal because I was stuck on this topic! Getting stuck is clearly not uncommon, however it can be a real hindrance when attempting to launch a business, especially in self-employment where there's no one to help you get past a block. 

From working with clients, I've observed how effective it can be to realize *why* you're stuck and that tends to be the first step in getting unstuck. Over the next couple blog posts I plan to tackle some common reasons why people get stuck and how they can find their way back to forward movement. This post is going to focus on when you're stuck at the start.

Being Stuck at the Start

This article is for all those situations where you know what you want the end result to be, or the direction you want to go, but taking that first step just seems impossible. You generally know what to do, you know it's important and it's something you want to do, but it's still not happening. There are no big decisions or public announcements that require courage getting in the way; the only thing that really needs to happen is for you to complete the task. But the muse is just not appearing and you're starting to doubt if you truly have a "work ethic." Avoid that doubt rabbit hole, and join me to find forward movement again! 

Complexities Are Not Your Friend

Some goals are simple and straightforward. Others are not. If you're trying to start one of the latter, then you might want to take a minute to contemplate the complexities and get a lay of the land. What areas need to be worked on? How do they inter-relate? This isn't a master to do list, but rather a set of headings that tasks would fall under.

For example, in writing this series of articles, the topic was complex and rather nebulous. I started writing, but quickly got stuck. I grabbed a pen and paper and jotted down all the big ideas, with many scribbles and interjections. I got all the thoughts on a piece of paper, then came up with an outline. By having this game plan, I was able to move forward.  

Often times the game plan is not so clear as an outline. As another example, if you had a marketing plan where you were trying to build connections with lawyers, parts of your game plan might be "design a brochure to give to lawyers" and "call lawyers to set up meetings" and "meet with lawyers and give them brochures." But another part might be only a question, such as "how can I make connections with lawyers?" or "what needs to go in the brochure?" Knowing all these pieces, AND the questions, makes knowing how to proceed more clear. (But not always crystal clear!) 

When the Path Forward is Not Clear

Sometimes you map out that game plan and end up with more questions than answers. The game plan might not be a complete picture because there are so many questions. It might be unclear as to which thing to start with. Do not despair! I have two mantra that will get you through this:

  • "Something" is better than "perfect."
  • All movement is progress.

Something is Better than Perfect

Perfection is the biggest hindrance to progress. Stop thinking anything you ever do will be "perfect" especially not the first time around. Start on things knowing they won't be perfect. Make a draft. Make a first attempt. Try and then revise. We cannot learn without doing.

In business, often times having something that's not your +A work is SO much better than having nothing. Think of a business card. If you're out in the world and someone says "oh wow, the work you're talking about is so interesting! I'd love to learn more about what you do! Can I have your card?" Being able to hand them a white piece of generic card stock that has your name and email address printed in a plain font is fine. Sure, an immaculately designed carefully crafted piece of marketing in the form of a business card would be better. But a simple card is already leaps and bounds better than scribbling your email address on the back of a crumpled receipt. But even THAT is better than not talking about what you're doing simply because you don't have business cards yet.

Do something. It doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be a final answer. All of life is a work in progress, so embrace where you are right now and work with what you have now. That will make movement possible.  

All Movement is Progress

Often times people get caught up in the size or direction they want for movement. We want everything to be a straight line connecting here to there and we want to be able to take steps large enough that we'll get there now, not tomorrow. We don't want to waste time with a long, circuitous path. 

Now clearly, if you know the straight path, by all means take it! But if the path is unclear then there are unknowns and learning is necessary. And learning is rarely a straight path. Give yourself the patience to go on this learning journey, and in this case that means starting somewhere, anywhere, and doing something. Even if that brings you back to the same task, you will have learned something on the journey which means progress happened. 

Even small progress is progress. I like to think of Brunelleschi and his dome in Florence. He was able to build that dome without scaffolding from the ground, because it was entirely self-supporting. Unlike a traditional dome where you need something (scaffolding) to hold all the pieces in place until the keystone is placed, the dome in Florence is designed as a series of interlocking spirals that support each other at every step along the way. By merely cycling around the dome laying bricks in the herringbone pattern, the dome was able to be built. So the next time you feel you're going in circles, maybe you are making progress... upwards!   

Execute, Execute, Execute

The opposite of "stuck" is "doing"! The name of the game needs to be all about execution. Yes, you also need to have time to plan, make decisions, and reflect on past plans/decisions, but that needs to be 20% of time spent working on a project. The other 80% needs to be execute, execute, execute!

When it's unclear where to start, pick anything and start working on it. Even if you don't know what to put in that brochure for the lawyers, start making it. Put what you do know in. Even if you don't know how to get in touch with the lawyers you want to know, get in touch with the ones you do know. When you get in touch with your first lawyer you'll probably learn something and can adjust your game plan as to how you're going to find the lawyers you're really after. Once you meet with a lawyer, review your brochure and see if you have any new insights in what to put in it. Make incremental progress in an area and then move on to another area until your path becomes more clear. Nothing you do to start will be perfect, and that's ok! When you're trying to get unstuck, execution more important than outcome. Practice executing to get use to executing that 80% of the time, and to escape perfectionism. 

You're Not Stuck at the Start if You Did Something

The magic of doing "something, anything" is that it means you're no longer at the start. Sure, you didn't make much progress, but some forward movement did happen. And a series of small forward movements has a tendency to snowball into really noticeable forward movement! 

In my next blog article I'm going to dig into making forward movement happen when a decision is getting in the way. Stay tuned!