Are You Stuck or Are You Procrastinating: 4 Brilliant Ways to Get Unstuck
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“Stuck-ness” is distinct from procrastination.
Procrastination is waiting to act on a decision that has already been made. Being stuck is the inability to make the decision at all.
Being stuck negatively affects productivity and leadership effectiveness.
Leadership requires the ability to make decisions. What limits a leader’s effectiveness is the experience of feeling stuck. Should I or shouldn’t I? If I do this, then that might happen, but if I do that then this could happen.
Four ways to get unstuck:
1. Be willing to be wrong
Give up the need to be right if you want to move forward.
Ask yourself if the fear of making a decision is related to the need for other people’s approval or the desire to avoid judgment.
2. Seek additional information
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you just need to know smart people.
Other leaders have faced similar situations. Stay out of arguments with yourself and with others by seeking facts and expertise.
3. Take one small action
Get off the merry-go-round. Your one action might be to schedule a meeting, even without having all the information. Your action might be to invest 45 minutes searching for a relevant piece of information.
4. Set a deadline
Use a timer for small deadlines when you feel overwhelmed with tasks. For example, if I have an article to write or even a bigger project, I set my timer for 30 minutes to see what I can accomplish in a short time.
Focused time helps you execute and move forward.
The better your decision-making, the better your leadership.
Being stuck is a sign of internal resistance.
What’s your takeaway from Marlene’s guest post?
Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker, and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011), “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015) and the forthcoming book From Conflict to Courage (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn or at MarleneChism.com
Taking one small step is the game changer for me. It shifts me to an empowered place. When stuck, I can just ask myself one clean question… “What would I like to have happen?”
I thereby reclaim myself.
Getting off the merry go round is also the way forward for me. When it seems difficult to act in any way, that one small step ends the problem. Sure, there may be further decisions to be made ahead, but at least I’m no longer going round the same circle.
Needed this today!!! Several things that I am stuck on…Encouraged and excited to move forward. Loved the timer idea!
If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first. – Mark Twain
Putting things off that we don’t like doing is another excuse to procrastinate and “save” it for later, and later, and later …
Just starting can be the biggest challenge. Rather than writing a full fledged report, I typically jot down ideas or use a mind map to help sort out the path forward.
What is perceived to be procrastination can sometimes be confused with “incubation,” where one is simply doing in the mind what others may put to paper.
These steps are good to keep in mind. Through covid decisions were made in an uncharted map. Thanks for the tips.
I wonder about the phrase, “procrastination is waiting to act on a decision that has already been made.” I also wonder if procrastination could also be waiting to act on a decision that has not already been made. I wonder if “stickiness” and procrastination could be synonomous. Thought-provoking article and great nuggets to consider. Thanks for sharing.
I liked the distinction between procrastination and being stuck. It’s true we procrastinate on decisions that have already been made. I think for me asking for help is crucial but the hardest. It is very difficult to be vulnerable and let people know that you need help. It appears as weakness but is actually a sign of strength.
Yes! Loved reading this as I am earning my admin endorsement!
Being willing to be wrong is probably the most difficult for me. These are great steps and things to think about. Surrounding yourself with smart people is the best!
The fear of failure resonates with me. If we are out there being brave, we will fail sometimes. However, if we have the best information and are consulting with those that matter, then we will be okay. Surround yourself with others who are smarter than you and take the steps! Not doing anything is and of itself a decision. This book sounds great! Cant wait to read it.
Procrastination and stuck – we may be miserable in our situation, but there is comfort in familiar surroundings and situations. Change of the unknown can be unsettling, but needed whether a job, a home or living situation. I myself have procrastinated in moving out of home of 26 years, though I have been unhappy here for the last 10 years. I’ve used every excuse in the book to stay, but I need to make that step to find the peace I need for the remainder of my life.
I find myself using steps three and four a lot. Thanks for sharing!
I had not really thought about the important difference between being stuck and procrastination! I recently took on a coach to help me get into the right mind set for setting up a new business. So stopped procrastinating but I have just paused the sessions as getting stuck! Need to get back on the 🐎
This sounds so much like what I go through every day. Thanks for writing this.
Nice and to the point post. Fresh tools for the toolbox; #1 and #2 not too much an issue for me, but #3 & #4 are exceleent nudges! Thanks!
Imagine how much good work we could do if we could eliminate stuckness!
Giving up the need to be right and be willing to be wrong is a struggle of many Leaders. The Perfectionist is a big Saboteur for many Leaders and is always hammering at them that they can’t move forward until everything is perfect. Meanwhile they have excellent processes and very strong skills that they’ve honed for years. Fear of Judgement partners with the Perfectionist and freezes them.. I’m looking forward to reading Marlene’s book. Certainly a subject that hits home for many in Leadership.
A good example of procrastination is filing taxes. I’ve made a “decision” to get them done, but I put it off to the last minute. We know we have to do certain things we don’t want to do. We’ve decided to do them, but we wait because we don’t like how doing the thing we need to do makes us feel. The decision has been made for us regarding the necessity to file taxes. We usually aren’t stuck about what to do, we are just procrastinating the inevitable.
The quotation: “Procrastination is waiting to act on a decision that has already been made. Being stuck is the inability to make the decision at all.” seems to resonate with me.
I’ve never thought of it like this.
I’ve classified “the inability to make a decision” as procrastinating the decision. The key is the moment of examination to see if the decision I am not doing at this time is one that I am able to make or not.
A decision I am unable to make, can then get a plan to help it be made, and one I am just not wanting to do can then be scheduled into a future day’s activities.
I’m pretty confident in my skills for items 1, 2, and 3. that I think the problem is more the real procrastination vs the inability to make a decision. I can get those to move forward.
However when I have “other things to do” to take up my time over the jobs I keep putting off, then I probably should be examining priorities and either committing to doing the tasks or get them off my list.
Thanks for making me think about this.
Would love a book!! Great article.
I love what Redge Shepherd said,
“What is perceived to be procrastination can sometimes be confused with “incubation,” where one is simply doing in the mind what others may put to paper.”
I do this a lot! And my inner critic gets after me telling me I am procrastinating, any sometimes I might be – but I do some of my best work when I let things marinate in my brain a while. I get up and move, go for a walk or jog. I play things out in my head, and sometimes all the pieces come into place and I will sit at my computer for a long stretch and get it all out.
While this sometimes works for me, I am going to try the 30 minute timer. Try to get quick work knocked out a little at a time.
I also liked the distinction between procrastination and being stuck.
Thank you for the reminder – movement forward. Setting a timer for focused time is an excellent strategy.
In my experience, effective leaders or those who “get things done” exhibit much of what is covered in this post – thanks Marlene. Leading often means being the first to take action and we need to be able to accept “failure” or when things may not work out as planned and use those opportunity as learning moments. Leadership is a delicate balance of risk-taking, risk aversion, luck, and, most importantly, having the right people at the table with you. Overall “success” doesn’t happen on an island, it happens in the trenches alongside your people. Live daily life with them and lead with your authentic self.
I am list maker and then I cross off as I accomplish tasks. Each week I make a new list carrying over anything left on the week before I try to start with those items as it’s clear I likely procrastinated on getting those done. Thank you for these tips!
Set a deadline for tasks and using the 30 minute timer stuck out for me. Going back to in-person from remote working has brought many tasks that seem huge and overwhelming. My mind is constantly thinking of “big” ways to achieve those big tasks. I believe that setting the timer and just thinking about a task will be beneficial to me. Thank you.
I feel like I am prone to both. Sometimes I get stuck and when I finally unstick myself, I procrastinate to act on my decision. I have really struggled with this as I have gotten close to retirement and tried to decide what comes next or do I keep on with my current position for a while longer….and then there is the matter of the thousands of decisions we make everyday. Decision fatigue is real. Maybe being “stuck” is your subconscious telling you enough is enough for one day?
Good list of ideas. Always room for more perspective and learning.
If it’s gonna be, it’s up to me!
Great topic today. Thanks,
Excellent article. I especially appreciated point 1 about giving being okay with being wrong. This grates at the crippling tendency of perfectionism in me. I’ve discovered that sometimes I’m unwilling to make a decision if I can’t know for sure that I won’t fail. What a great freedom to move forward on a we stop being so afraid of failure. I’ll put that to practice today!
Being wrong is typically how you galvanize people to act. When they have something to improve upon they’re more likely to speak up, rather than offer their own ideas initially.
It seems I am terrific at procrastination! I love the idea of setting a timer to see how much I can get completed in 30 minutes. I’m going to try it today!
Jotting things down with due dates to hold yourself accountable can make a big difference. I used to think how stupid it was until I did it. It works. Great read! Thank you.
Being willing to be wrong is so hard at times. It really can hit that ole pride. I know though how it can help you and the team. Showing the team that the leader is willing to take a step and be wrong. Then the important thing is to show it is ok to be wrong and to adjust. Indecision is a decision that should rarely be made. Great post as always.
I am sometimes a procrastinator, but I am more often stuck. Self-doubt and fear of spending money on a bad decision are the most common factors for when I am stuck. When I’m procrastinating, setting a timer, challenging myself to get three small things off my to-do list, and thinking about how my procrastinating is affecting other people is what can get me moving. I’m currently in a stuck place on a big decision, so this article has come at a good time. I am going to set a deadline for myself to make this decision today. Thank you!
Wow, never realized the difference between being stuck and procrastinating. Interesting and helpful! Want to learn more about this!
Fear of judgment-for me still somewhat of wanting people to like me. As a leader I continue to push forward knowing I may not always make the popular decision, but I can stand behind the decision I make
This post resonates so true for me! I have been stuck in this rut for quite some time and have been listening to podcasts to help! This is the second time in the last 24 hours that I have heard the suggestion of setting a timer for 25 to 30 minutes. I need to do this!
Love #2 and am so thankful to know a lot of smart people that are willing to help me in my times of need.
If one does those activities again and again after many years ( yes it takes years) one will get in the habit ( based on experience) of not really facing any questions on getting things done. It will just happen.
“Focused time helps you execute and move forward. The better your decision-making, the better your leadership. Being stuck is a sign of internal resistance.” This truly spoke to me. Thank you.
We have to look in the mirror when we are stuck. The timer is a strategy I have used and helps move forward. I wonder how the book connects to courage.
I really liked the idea of setting a timer. I often get overwhelmed by all the steps or process. I believe this would help me get some action which fills my bucket.
Great points on getting unstuck! And recognizing the difference between procrastination and being stuck.
Setting a timer and indulging in “focused” time, even if just 30 minutes, can be a lifesaver! Try it out!
Being stuck is something I am wrestling with in my personal life as I help my mother navigate life as she ages. There are no simple answers to many of these questions – a messy balance of finances and quality of life, safety and a healthcare system that seems optimized for everyone but the patient.
The consequences of getting it wrong are enormous — for her. Which makes it harder for me. If we take the wrong turn, she is the one who faces the consequences and not me. Which certainly advocates for procrastination–I don’t want that responsibility!
Unlike other areas of my life, the right answer is not clear. There will be no perfect choice. But a choice still has to be made. I have to give up the need to be right or perfect.
I’m not sure I have any words of wisdom, except perhaps that of faith. Do your research, make as many small choices as you can, recognize that your intent is good and in the end, we don’t control the outcome. We can only hold hands and step off the cliff together.
I feel as long as you put in the work and have done your due diligence you have earned the right to take the next step. Regardless of the outcome you have gained experience. “Keep Calm and Carry on”
Great post! Taking one small action is a key step for me.
Great reminder! I find that sometimes, a little procrastination can be productive, but more often, it’s an excuse.
Very helpful reminders and steps to avoid procrastination and frustration both in the workplace and life!
I love the idea of setting a time. I think it could really help me. Lately I’ve been feeling stuck quite a bit and I just need to move forward on a few things.
I think I read it in a previous post: “Procrastination is the assassin of opportunity.”
“Being stuck is a sign of internal resistance.” Great statement. Understanding why and deciding to move is the beginning of positive change.
Liked an interesting post and its contents! Procrastination is the result of an unorganized mind and wrong priorities. It also reflects insincerity, less accountability and carefree approach. One needs to have a strong determination to complete the tasks on time with professionalism and organized approach. Once decided and acted, it would earn the respect and yield the desired results.
All successful leaders smartly avoid procrastination in their business/professional lives and ensure the best productivity.
It is true that you do not have to be the smartest person in the room as long as you know the smart people who can help. However, you must also know the right questions to ask. If not, you may be asking the smart people the wrong question.
Prolonged stress, like the continuous stress we have experienced through the COVID journey, undermines confidence, sense of control and our world view. Many professionals feel stuck and while we read about how to move forward, many lack the ability to move forward. Knowledge gives us the HOW, community and coaching can give us the power, encouragement, belief to actually move—now—without looking back. It is a process worth recognizing and investing in. So many amazing, brilliant, influential professionals are hungry for this work to begin for them. I’m excited to be on the journey with them through our PQ coaching practice. Thank you for writing this book and bringing greater awareness to it!
Quoting: “Give up the need to be right if you want to move forward.” It is impossible to have all the pertinent information in order to understand any situation perfectly (perfection being an ideal) no matter what resources we have access to, including time utilized. Therefore we will take missteps, make mistakes from time to time. The good news these mistakes are opportunities to learn from them, make refinements, and move forward toward an improved outcome – in a timely manner, even with the time expended on the missteps.
Required information incomplete above
I hope to win the book Conflict to Courage to read. I get stuck trying to make good decisions all the time “Give up the need to be right if you want to move forward.”, I want to move forward. I will make mistakes.
Thank you for clarifying “stuck” vs “procrastinating”. I am currently working on a major work project, and I am definitely stuck. Thinking about the 4 ways to get unstuck, I definitely need to learn to accept being wrong. I often get bogged down in thinking that I need more information when in reality the answer for me is take one small action and/or be willing to be wrong. Thanks so much for sharing! I will definitely be creating a mantra (or 2) out of this!
thank you so very much for this much needed content!
for some of us the pull to avoid vs lean in is strong.
Decisiveness is one of the key characteristics of admired leaders. Consequently, the ability of recognizing a bad one, owning it, and then altering course is a sign of humility-another key characteristic of admired leaders. Avoiding getting stuck will help us strive to both of the above. Thanks for the thoughts today Dan!
Take one small action. Do the next right thing.
Great article, and thanks for the 4 points. My personal favorite from my own history (as someone who has struggled with stuckness): #3 – Take on small action (…and I’ll add) In the direction of a solution.