You got your massive cup of coffee, your bagel with schmear, the keyboard and mouse are charged up, and the screen is clean. You sit down at your computer for a heads-down session of solving users’ problems and creating new workflows that are guaranteed to make your users more productive with less friction. They’re gonna love you.

You raise your hands like a concert pianist and…..nuthin’. 

Instead, you find yourself reviewing the never ending list of things that need to be done, scrolling from one task to another, unable to settle on any one thing to start. You’re stuck. Unmotivated. Indecisive. Not your usual self. And now your inability to get started is turning into concern about your competence (see Imposter Syndrome) and, holy cow, why are you spinning out here? How did you get to this point? 

Let’s explore getting stuck and, more importantly, getting unstuck.

What Happened?

Life was good. You were tooling along until today. What suddenly changed? 

The real answer is that (probably) nothing changed. Suddenly, that is. Small changes over time, however, can amount to a seemingly sudden change if you’re not paying attention. So let’s examine some of the little things.

Managing My Work

If you’re like me, you have a list of things that need to get done. My list isn’t very organized, but it’s still a list. It’s kept in my sprint board (which, btw, I was dragged into kicking and screaming but now would be lost without it) and I sort it by due date. Most of the time, I can work on the “next up” method where I simply do the next due task. But other times, that won’t work. Maybe there’s a project that’s bigger and has to be started earlier in my sprint in order to have enough time to get it done. 

It’s really important for me to keep that active list to a manageable level. Having too many items to pick from, for me, can be paralyzing; making it hard to start on anything. So I have to make decisions at the beginning of my sprint about what I will and won’t work on over the coming days/weeks. That keeps me from overloading my decision-making process.

It’s the Little Things

It is no secret that it’s rarely just one big thing that stops us in our tracks. It’s that annoying list of little things. That growing list of one-off tasks that is just too long or too “all over the place” or too “I really don’t like doing <xyz>” to tackle. Those items that you know would help you feel better if you could just muster up the interest to do them.

And that list grows. And that growing list ultimately becomes so long that you can’t decide which task to complete first because now you’re suffering from analysis paralysis (iow, you’re stuck).

When this happens to me (and, oh yes, it happens – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows over here), I do one of two things:

  • I pick the task that I can complete in the shortest amount of time. That way, I can feel successful faster.
  • I pick the task that’s been on the list the longest. That way I can feel good about finally stepping up and conquering something I obviously don’t want to do.

But what if you’re not being stumped by a straw breaking the camel’s back situation?

It Might Be Other Things

It is very possible that it’s not you or your task list at all. It might be something completely different and unrelated to your actual work. But how do you figure this out?

Time to get out a notebook (because this is going to be an exercise you don’t necessarily want to do on your work computer) and start writing. This is the right time to step away from your work and figure out what’s been bugging you. It’s time for introspection. It still might be external forces working against you, but introspection will help you figure out how to fight back.

It seems counterintuitive to propose adding to your long list of to do’s, right? I get it. But here’s the thing: this is the exercise that will help you break through the wall that’s stopping you from growing or being productive. This is one of those “take time to make time” kind of activities. It’s all about laying the groundwork for growth and, honestly, you’re going to have to just push yourself to do this. Fight the fatigue and pick up the pen (alliteration ftw)… you got this.

Put on some exhilarating, uplifting, stimulating music, or a calming soundscape – whatever motivates you – and think (by “think” I mean write, of course) about the following questions:

  • Are you bored?
  • Are you unhappy:
    • With work? 
    • With home?
  • Do you need a vacation or a few mental health days (remember, mental health is health)?
  • Do you need a responsibility change? 
  • Do you need a job change?
  • Are you frustrated:
    • By your responsibilities?
    • By your manager?
    • By your company?
    • By your colleagues or co-workers?
    • By something unrelated to your work?

These are only a smattering of examples of the kind of thing that can build up and leave you feeling stuck, uninspired, and unproductive. If you can freely write about these things, you might just find the needle in the proverbial haystack. You might find that working on one or two of these issues will free you up enough to get you moving again. 

I will say that I have some opinions on how to resolve these issues, and as a natural helper type of person my instinct is to solve the problem with you. As a blogger and someone who believes that self-discovery is a worthwhile journey, it’s taking every bit of self-control for me to keep my opinions to myself. 

That said, I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments. What other things have kept you stuck? How did you shake it off and get productive again?

Published on 3/30/23 –

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