Podcast 126: Quick tips for tight spots

This is podcast 126 and it’s about quick tips to get you out of tight spots. Things you can do when you feel a bit panicked that things are out of control and you don’t know what to do next.

I had that feeling the other day when several situations seemed to be going off the rails at once. It happens. All those situations had lots of moving parts that I needed to keep track of and I felt overwhelmed. On top of that, they all felt stalled. In each case, I was at a point where I couldn’t control what happened next. I had to wait for something. I don’t like to wait!

So I used Tip #1: Tackle just one thing on your to do list. Find one next to-do for a project. Note that you are shifting your attention from the higher priority tasks that are dead in the water for whatever reason.

Choose something on your list that you CAN do, now. There’s always something. This way, you get to be productive despite not making progress on the bigger stuff. It all needs to get done, right? And you’re in the mood to get things done so capitalize on that by knocking some lower level items off your list. That’s Tip #1.

The next two tips are about organizing your stuff. If you have a lot of organizing to do; a whole house, for example; there may be some times when you feel discouraged, or overwhelmed, or as if you really aren’t making any progress. Lots of my podcasts are about how to avoid this problem or solve it, but here I’m offering just quick tips to get you past the stuck spots.

Here’s the first one. Tip #2: Organize one little spot. It could be your desk, a corner of your desk, the kitchen counter, the coffee table or any other smallish spot that has gathered a bunch of stuff that you need to deal with, or at least have out of the way. Again, this isn’t high level stuff. But it’s a task you can focus on right now and see results from. That in turn can either energize you to go further, or put your mind at ease that you’ve done something. You did a thing!

I once suggested that a client who was stuck organizing her home office focus just on one corner of her desk. In particular, the far left corner. This was the one in her line of vision to the doorway. One reason she felt a bit stuck was that family members often stopped at her door to chat or ask a question.

She didn’t want to discourage them, but didn’t want those interruptions to derail her. She could see the small organized section whenever she was talking to someone and then could let her eyes focus on it after they left. That way, she was reminded of the progress she’d made and that the rest of the office would soon look like that corner. It was a little microcosm of order to soothe her.

Tip #3 is a variation on that theme. It’s to organize and put things away for ten minutes. With this one, you focus on a length of time rather than a physical space. Start wherever you are. For so many things we do, where you start just isn’t that important. What’s important is the starting, the getting into action.

Also, for both these tips the goal isn’t to finish anything. It’s merely to inch things along. This is a stopgap till you can get back to your big projects. Set a timer for ten minutes. This is important because you need to have that alarm relieve you of working any longer unless you really want to. You can do another ten minutes later if you wish. Similar to the Pomodoro method where you work for 25 minutes and then take a break. These tips also involve moving, which leads me to the next one.

Tip #4: Move! Move your bah-day. Sit in a different chair, look at a different view, do something to change up your current physical experience. Leave the room and walk somewhere. Doesn’t matter where. Getting into motion can shake loose that icky train of thought that has you stuck. Moving your body can also help defuse nervous energy that is gnawing at your attention.

Sometimes people get stuck before they even try to do anything. They don’t even get out of the gate. In this case, try Tip #5: Do a brain dump. You need to get things out of your head and onto paper to clarify your thoughts. It doesn’t mean you’re going to do all those things but at least you have collected them so you don’t have to keep obsessing over them and get back to focusing.

This might be a long list. A really long list. We don’t care about that because you’re not going to do any of these things right now. I’ve written many times about how much relief you get simply from putting things down on paper. I personally prefer paper, but digital can work too.

David Allen has written about this too. He says that any uncaptured (meaning not written down) tasks and thoughts are like hamsters running on a wheel in your brain. They keep running and running and making that awful squeaking noise just when you’re trying to concentrate. Once those items ARE captured in a safe place, meaning a notebook you can find again, your brain can let go and set those hamsters free.

My last tip, #6, is to ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen if I am stuck on this project? When you take time to think about it, you’ll realize that the worst is really not that bad. As Woody Allen says, 80% of life is showing up. If you’re doing something, anything, you’re doing something.

What you can do right now: choose the tip that feels most doable to you and try it right now. Or file it away for future use.