Two Deeply Unsexy Magic Ingredients to Get Unstuck and Build Momentum

I recently held a mini-retreat for myself (more on that to come, but it’s less grand than it sounds…) to try to gain some clarity and direction. While I was unpicking the last 12 or so months, reviewing what I did, what went well, what didn’t and, most importantly, WHY, I stumbled upon the two ingredients that I had lacked over the past year. What were they? A plan and structure. More specifically, a plan and structure at the same time. Unsexy, right? I did warn you. It was a bit of a surprise — after all, they seem, on the surface, to represent the old-school career I wanted to escape, to be the antithesis of building a life on your terms. I craved independence and autonomy, not the rigidity of old school business. Yet these things are not incompatible. Perhaps for some people, lack of planning and structure works. If you’re super-motivated and spontaneous then read no further, but for the rest of us, they are essential for making progress and defeating Resistance.

I left employment without a plan. At the time it was what I had to do. I knew I needed the headspace that would come once I walked away. I didn’t have a firm idea of what I was going to do, I had lots of half-baked ideas and so I intended to experiment — to try lots of different things — alongside some freelance work in my old line of work. Somehow, I thought I’d be able to easily segue from the life of the 9–5 into a life of spontaneous experimentation and following my curiosity. How naive. It was a surefire way to find my life to be dominated by freelance work I didn’t really want to do, while I spent far too much of my experimentation time torturing myself to do something useful in front of a computer from 9–5.

Early on, between employment and freelancing, in a rush of good intentions, I decided to try out some strategies for productivity and focus. I read How to Be A Productivity Ninja (highly recommended) and set up good structures for myself, inbox zero, master to-do lists, weekly review and scheduling slots. Ultimately, they all faltered because I didn’t really have a plan to follow. I could put in place all the structure I wanted, but I didn’t really know what I was structuring. At times, I did sit down and try to make a plan for myself, but by then, my structure had gone down the drain and it was a struggle to make any progress.

In the past few weeks, I’ve finally turned a corner. Once I’d realised what had been missing from my life for the past 12 months, I set out to rectify it. I now have a plan. Taking the time to really reflect has helped me to set a path to follow. While nothing is set in stone and I know I can change the plan if I need to, right now I know exactly what I want to achieve in the next 5 months. However, the plan is useless unless I have the right structure in place to follow it. I’m still experimenting with the right strategies for me, but for the time being, setting a daily intention and scheduled 45 minute blocks of focus are helping enormously. (Thanks Suzi Butcher for the inspiration!) and I‘ve got a large (and only slightly geeky) accountability spreadsheet to chart my progress. I’ll report back in a couple of months but, for the first time in a while, I feel like I’m gaining momentum in building something I can be proud of.