What to do if you’re struggling to make progress

I just finished a major deliverable that was due today and I have to say I feel great. The feeling is 2-fold – I completed it on time and I’m quite proud of how it’s turned out. You know what, I’m now motivated to do the next task!!!

It’s funny the effect making progress has on spurring us on to whatever is next. Conversely, a lack of progress can have the opposite effect and even demotivate us. So, what is it that helps us stay in the productive zone? I have an approach that tends to suit me, but I tried a bit of a different tactic today and let me share what happened.

Today wasn’t all that different than any other, it was always going to be quite busy. I had 2 important pieces of work (Task A and Task B) I had to fit in around the usual meetings and interruptions. Of the 2 priorities, Task A was more important and complex than Task B, but both needed to be completed TODAY. My plan was simple, action Task A before Task B because Task A was the more important and harder to do. I’m a morning person so I’m usually better at doing my heavy thinking work while I’m fresh.

I sit down and start working on Task A and it’s just not happening – I’m struggling with it. I have all the information I need to do it but I have a mental block and now I start thinking about everything else I need to do today. In other words, I’m getting distracted. I don’t believe I’m procrastinating on Task A, but I’m just not making sufficient progress. To refocus I go to my trusty fall-back of making myself a cup of tea (for some reason I associate a cup of tea with helping me to concentrate on work) but that doesn’t help at all.  

Normally I’d just push on through with Task A but I decided to reassess my priorities and switched to Task B (which is the easier 1 to complete). I soon get going and finish it. I’m feeling better (at least I’ve achieved something) but what’s more important is my clarity has improved significantly. I return Task A and the thoughts just start to flow. Now I’m unstoppable because I’ve got a rhythm going and I get to complete the task on time.

By switching tasks the thing I noticed that changed for me is I went from feeling frustrated to feeling like I was effective. Fundamental to this was the commitment I had to completing both Task A and B today. Otherwise, I’d be demonstrating procrastination and miss my deadlines. Therefore, if you want to try this approach then I cannot stress enough the significance of being totally committed to reaching your deadlines.

If you find yourself in a similar situation where you’re struggling to make progress, 4 aspects to consider are:

  1. What’s stopping you? - what are the blockers? Do you need help (if so seek it) or is it a case that you’re unable to focus?
  2. What can you do differently? - what can you change with your work environment? ie. the location you’re working from (can you work from a different desk?), the time you action the task?
  3. What can you do to get into a groove? - like an athlete warms up before competing at their optimum level, does it make sense to action a simpler task if you find it hard to start on the complex task?
  4. What will it feel like when you have finished? – never forget what it feels like to be a winner. There’ll be a light at the end of the tunnel so picture how you’ll feel when you have achieved your goal and use this as a form of motivation. 

One of the biggest differences I notice about high performers is they execute better than everyone else. (Research indicates high performers can be as much as 10 times more productive. Source: Recruitment agency Monster). Some say high performers are more gifted but I don’t agree because they’re just ordinary people doing an extraordinary job. That doesn’t mean they find everything easier to do, they just find a way to get it done.

Think about the techniques you need to deploy to achieve outcomes in less time.