(By Elizabeth Grace Saunders)
“If you’ve attempted to avoid a project for months or even years, thinking in detail about the entire scope of the project can leave you discouraged instead of encouraged. Here’s how one of my time coaching clients described it: “If I look at the end goal, it’s the equivalent of staring at a mountain’s summit. Instead, I need to look at the few next steps ahead.”
But in reality, you can’t move forward professionally until you get out of your head and into action.
If you find yourself feeling like a victim to a creative project, follow these steps to empower yourself. I’ve seen them work with time coaching clients around the world, and I believe they can help you break the inertia and see real progress—starting now.
Take ownership, and stop the blame game
When you feel like the victim of your circumstances, you spend copious amounts of time blaming everything and everyone around you. Although it may feel good to vent about your stupid computer or annoying degree requirements, this attitude won’t get you anywhere.
Instead, you need to go back to the point at which you did make a choice such as when you signed up for the masters program, took on the client project, or decided to pursue an artistic career. Then accept the fact that whatever project you need to finish now is a natural consequence of your decisions, not some unreasonable burden placed upon you. (Except for a few instances of extreme familial pressure, almost everyone can trace back their current situation to some point at which they did make an autonomous choice.) After you’ve come to terms with the fact that you are responsible for where you find yourself now, you can stop brooding and replace the thought, “Woe is me!” with the question, “What can I do to move forward?”
Acknowledge avoidance and focus on moving forward
Once you’ve shifted your mindset from that of a victim to that of a self-determining individual, you need to do something about your actions. People operating in the victim mode have a tendency to fill their schedules with everything but what they say is most important. This avoidance through busyness allows them to justify their lack of progress.
Common traps include seemingly “productive” activities like maintaining a spotless inbox that gives you a surface-level feeling of control and some quick positive feedback but is a thinly veiled cover up for the fact that you have huge gaps in your effectiveness. If this sounds like you, get honest about how you spend your hours so that you “don’t have time” for what you actually need to do. Then start to either eliminate or limit the time investment you make in these less essential activities so you have space for the important.
Chunk your tasks into smaller steps
If you’ve attempted to avoid a project for months or even years, thinking in detail about the entire scope of the project can leave you discouraged instead of encouraged. Here’s how one of my time coaching clients described it: “If I look at the end goal, it’s the equivalent of staring at a mountain’s summit. Instead, I need to look at the few next steps ahead.”
Let’s say the dreaded project involves completing your portfolio so you can apply for new jobs. Your next few baby steps could include: Finding the slides you’ve already made, gathering your other work, and looking over the projects to pick which ones you’ll include. Once you’ve done these three steps, the next few will become evident. Focus on small, easy wins to keep the project from feeling insurmountable.
The initial process of accumulating even small, easy wins will require a great deal of courage because you’ll likely need to break through a thick wall of guilt, fear, and regret. One of the best ways to make it to the other side is to enlist people who will give you loads of positive feedback for any action steps in the right direction. This affirmation along the way will increase your motivation to progress toward your goal even if the final completion and the accompanying rewards still stand a long way off.
De-prioritize results and acknowledge progress
Once you’ve taken ownership and begun to make meaningful progress toward your goal, you may still face some internal resistance. This often stems from the fact that despite all of your rhetoric to the contrary, you do care very deeply about this project and really want it to turn out well. When you start to notice yourself worrying about what people will think about your finished product, you can tell yourself these truths:
- Doing something is better than doing nothing.
- This is only a draft—I can always come back and edit it.
- I can’t know whether or not people will be happy, but I can focus on doing what I know how to do well.
By focusing on the process instead of the results, you’ll create a safe environment for gradual progress toward your ultimate goal.
How about you?
Have you found yourself stuck on a must-do project?
How did you breakthrough the inertia?