Do you ever find yourself with a problem or project that you just do not know what to do to move forward or resolve? We all have these ‘dilemmas’ from time to time, and they can cause a lot of stress, inaction and procrastination.
Over the years I have come up with a few questions that help me to move these forward. Often the problem comes from a deeper area. Usually, a fear. A fear of failure, or being laughed at, or the fear of some consequence our unhelpful brain has devised and convinced us will happen.
This week I want to share five of these question that, when applied to a particular area, can free up your mind and start moving stalled projects and issues forward.
What’s the next action?
Possibly, the most powerful question you can ask whenever you come across anything you find yourself stalling on. The power behind this question is its simplicity. You see, you only need to know the very next action to move anything forward and that action could be a simple email, a text message or a phone call. It could be to write a paragraph, or create a slide.
The key to this question is the one step. You are not thinking about all the steps that will be necessary to complete the project or solve the problem, all you are thinking about is the very next step. One thing. When something is broken down into the very next action, it becomes much easier to do that one action.
And, of course, that one next step will often lead to the next and then the next until you have made significant progress on whatever it is that was stalled.
What’s stopping me from doing this?
This is one of my favourite questions because it almost always uncovers a fear of something. A fear of failing or a fear of upsetting someone, for instance.
The power is once you have uncovered the reason why you are not doing something, you can then reevaluate whether you want to do the task or project.
If you have “write a book” on your plan for the year and as the year goes by you keep seeing the task and keep postponing it, you need to stop and ask this question. It could be the way you have written the task is stopping you. If you see a task that says “write a book” your brain will resist because the task is far too big.
When you stop and ask “what’s stopping me from doing this?” You would identify this is too big a task. It is a project. Once you set this up as a project you can then ask “what’s the next action?” That could be to sketch out an outline, or set up the project in your notes app. At least once you have identified what is stopping you, you can then break the task down and start.
What am I afraid of?
I love this question because I know the most common reason why I don’t do something is because of a fear. A fear of fighting with someone on a phone call, or a fear of failure.
Recently, I had to tell a client company I could no longer work with them because my schedule was full. I kept postponing doing this and I knew I was postponing it because of a fear. So, I stopped myself and asked; What am I afraid of? The answer was simple. I did not want to upset the company.
This then allowed me to reinforce my reasons why I needed to do this and I set a deadline. I told myself that I was going to resolve this by 11:00 AM on Monday morning which meant I needed to make the phone call first thing Monday morning. I made the call and although there was a discussion with a very persuasive HR manager, I managed to achieve my outcome and do so without upsetting anyone and also leaving the door open to work again with the company in the future.
It was a satisfactory result. And that leads nicely on to the next question you can ask…
What’s the worst that could happen?
Left to its own devices, your brain will come up with the most horrific scenarios and convince you that the worst thing that could happen would be the end of the world. The reality is that the worst is never going to be as bad as you fear.
The trick here is to write out the worst-case scenarios onto a piece of paper and see what they are. When you look at the worst-case scenarios written down, most of them will be ridiculous, others will be very unlikely and most will be manageable.
In my example above, the worst-case scenario I came up with was falling out with the company but as I no longer could work with them it was not going to be the end of the world. It would not be a nice outcome, but it would have been acceptable if it did happen.
When am I going to do this?
We all have tasks in our to-do list we keep kicking down the road. We want to do it, we feel we should do it, but we never do it. With a task like this ask yourself “when am I going to do this?” Often you will find you know you are never going to do it. In these cases delete the task. The action of deleting a task like this gives you a sense of freedom and you can move on.
If you really do not know when you are going to do the task, you only know you want to do it someday, then you can add it to a someday / maybe list in your notes app and forget about it.
Alternatively, give the task (or project or goal) a date and commit yourself to doing it on that date.
Tasks like these often need you to apply some of these questions to really uncover why you are not doing them, but if you really don’t know, then delete it and free up your mental space to focus on things you know you are going to do it.
Having these questions in your armoury of productivity tricks can destroy procrastination, fears and hesitation. They help you to uncover reason why you are not doing something you feel you should do, and they can unstick stuck projects and goals.
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