Feeling Stuck? Try This
If you’re involved in any kind of creative work, you and inertia are probably well acquainted.
I wish I were an exception, but no—inertia and I are mortal enemies. Every day I get up and fight a battle against that beast. Sometimes I win; sometimes I lose.
Sometimes we get “stuck” in something and have a hard time figuring out what to do next. If you’re feeling stuck, try one or more of these ideas.
Initiate instead of responding. Move the ball forward. Somehow, do something to advance the cause. Review existing projects and find one single action you can do to keep things moving along. If that doesn’t work, start something new.
Don’t be insane. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same things over and over while expecting different results.” For different results, try something new. Ironic, isn’t it? Inertia loves doing the same things over and again.
Continually question the status quo. Are things good enough? No? Then see the previous idea. Could they be better? Change it up! Do something completely different.
Carry a notebook everywhere you go. One of the most important principles of GTD as I practice it is, “Write everything down.” I don’t actually write long blog posts and manuscripts when I’m constantly on the go—I find it hard to concentrate in short bursts of a few minutes. But I do outline, and I do write everything down.
Give up. (Temporarily.) Step away, purposefully. Take a meaningful break. Think about what really needs to be done, then step back and do it.
Put on the running shoes. There’s an old saying about running and motivation: “50% of running is putting on your shoes and getting out the door.” I’m not sure it’s a full 50%, but hey, it’s something. In other words, resistance prevents us from getting started. Once we’re underway, it’s a lot easier.
If nothing else, help someone. I wrote about this during the Annual Review and a lot of you liked it: if you get up in the morning and can’t think of anything to do, spend your time helping someone. What that looks like depends on who you are and what you do. It sure beats reading the online news over and over while waiting for emails to arrive.
Do something that creates a deliverable or outcome. Productive online tasks include:
- Uploading photos to Flickr
- Writing a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn
- Leaving comments (non self-promotional ones) on someone’s blog
- Listing something for sale on eBay
- Writing a note to your newsletter
And so on… if those don’t apply to you, think about what does.
Apply for a scholarship, competition, or contest. Someone has to win all of those awards. The old Wayne Gretzky advice applies here: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Therefore, take shots.
When considering different opportunities, don’t wait too long to decide. Should you learn Spanish or Chinese? Well, if you think about it for a year, you’ll have lost a year’s worth of learning. If you really can’t decide between two options, you can either a) flip a coin, or b) find a way to do both. Better to start, then change later if you want.
Set a $100 hour. I’m grateful to Barbara Winter, one of our group and a fabulous author with her own tribe, for this concept. When you set a $100 hour, you spend as long as you need (up to an hour) brainstorming different ways to make $100.
Yes, I know that life is not all about making money, but if you’re an entrepreneur or otherwise self-employed, you have the imperative to bring in the funds. Also, once you figure out how to make $100 from a new source, you can probably increase the amount with less effort. It’s a fun exercise—learn more here.
Just as we all fight inertia in some form or another, we all get stuck. When it happens, the choice is to waste a workday (or more), or find a way out. Let’s not waste any time. Let’s get out of being stuck!
Feel free to add your own tips, and I’ll update the post to reflect any especially good suggestions.
Happy New Year’s week, everyone.
I love the idea of the $100 hour!
I tend to do something simple – like washing the dishes or clearing my computer’s desktop – to get that small sense of accomplishment. It’s amazing how a little boost from something so small and easy can give you the jump-start necessary to tackle much larger projects and problems.
Happy new year everybody! Do something crazy to start off 2010 right!
I was just pondering how I’m stuck in the blogging department, so this post comes at the perfect time. I needed to be reminded not to be insane… so often we keep doing the same things and expect different result. Or at least I do! Thanks for the reminder! 🙂
One thing that really helps me overcome inertia is changing my environment. If I’m experiencing writer’s block at home, I grab my netbook and head to the bookstore for a while. Changing the scenery really clears my head. I also get the side benefit of physically distancing myself from the distractions at home.
Thanks Chris!! I just want to add, please excuse me if I repeat some concept, but I truly believe that in these cases is very useful to not spend a lot of time reviewing things that We did in the past and to try to fix things that We have already done. Instead of this, We need to be aware about the importance of the present and to think forward and ahead the time We are living in.
Sometimes the most important thing I do when I’m stuck is let myself be stuck.
I find that when I am stuck actually there is a huge amount of processing & creativity & downloading from the universe that I’m doing. And I have to just be okay with that. My friend Sandy Grason calls it “marinating” … that you have to just be okay w/ doing nothing & making no progress for a while before you can take brilliant action.
And let me tell you, usually after 3-4 days of being in that state … I write an epic blog post or create a new program or launch a new website. In the period of like a few hours. Typically in the middle of the night after not sleeping or eating for all those days.
As much as I complaint about it, it’s part of my creative process. ::sigh::
Lovely thoughts, Chris.
Here’s a tip that works for me – find a different place to work. If you have spot where you normally do your regular, ‘processing’ work, it can be useful to have a spot for the more creative, ‘unstuck’ work. I have two tables in my office – one with my computer, and one which is (most of the time at least) uncluttered – where I tend to do my thinking, writing, creating.
And of course, there’s the coffee shop…
This was a nice reminder for me today, especially… “don’t wait too long to decide”.
I have two new projects I want to start. I am super excited about both, but have been struggling to decide which one to choose. I end up doing nothing and days keep slipping by. Thanks for the reminder that I don’t have to choose A or B – I can do both.
PS Barbara Winter is one of the best!
Yay Chris! More useful and spot-on words to keep! I also like what readers have written above about ‘marinating’ and working somewhere else. Just last night I had great success with a big writing project that I’m working on by moving AWAY from the keyboard; after feeling stuck for 2 days I started moving scraps of paper around on the kitchen table and that did I for me. The gears started going immediately 🙂
Also, getting my shoes and running clothes on and actually leaving the house is about 90% of the work involved in running – and I do half marathons too!
Thanks again for existing Chris – Happy New Year!
Just a great post — and exactly what I needed right now. Nice work.
Timely article Chris, thanks for sharing!
I don’t know what it is about this time of year, especially around X-mas, I most always hit a wall. You mentioned many great ideas on how to handle this, and there are some great ideas in the comments too. One that I would like to add is don’t beat yourself up over having a creativity dry spell. Don’t shame yourself saying “I should be doing this, or that!” Just step away and enjoy the break, be open for any new ideas, and like you said, be sure to write them down as they come in.
It’s tough working at home too, get out some, walk, hike, run, bike, or drive. Take some time to refresh yourself.
Keep up the great blog, I always look forward to it.
“For different results, try something new.”
Sometimes these blindingly obvious points are priceless. I hadn’t realised what a rut I was in until I read that. I hadn’t even realised it even though I’ve taken on the Copyblogger ‘5 Smart Things’ challenge the last week of the year.
It’s happening, though. I’m doing different things, *and getting different results.*
How very odd.
One simple – and productive – thing that helps me get unstuck is baking or cooking. There is something about getting your hands dirty and physically stirring or creating a dish that helps free my brain to think about other things.
When I don’t have a kitchen to work in on the road, I try to find something I can create or do with my hands. The process of concentrating on what I’m physically doing allows other parts of my brain to relax and flow.
Carrying a notebook everywhere I go is something new that I started a few months ago and it’s done so much to relieve the fear of forgetting an idea.
I could be having a great conversation or relaxing somewhere when anidea pops into my head and if I don’t have an outlet for it, I start getting really tense and ruining the moment because I’m afraid I’ll forget it.
The notebook is a quick way to get it on paper for later processing so that I can go back to enjoying myself.
On the other hand, this type of thinking (for me anyway) is a bit misaligned with the idea of abundance. Tom Petty always said he never bothered to write down a song until he had to because “there’s always another one.”
One other thing I’ve found really helpful is similar to Colin’s comment. When I’m having a hard time getting started on a big project, I’ll look around and do a few things that I know I can finish in a few minutes (the house always needs some tidying) and that usually gets the ball rolling.
Well talk about quilting me into a comment with that post (Do something that creates a deliverable or outcome.) I have to remind myself to think small. I tend to have my ideas explode out of control until I become freaking paralyzed. Once paralysis begins to thaw, I try to go back and start with something really small, just to get the idea train moving.
Thanks, Chris. These are some great actionable items… that can make a difference in anyone’s life.
Love the $100 hour brainstorming session. I never heard of that and being an entrepreneur, I am excited to test it out, bout to do it right now.
Also, only recently have I started carrying a notebook around. It is a really tiny pocket notebook, but allows me to quickly jot down ideas. I used to use my Blackberry, but feel that writing it down is quicker and helps me to add more ideas.
I’ve got to try the $100 hour… I keep dreaming of entrepreneurship, yet I do nothing to work towards it. Though today I bought two used books that I hope will help me with freelance writing.
For me, I always have some sort of project that doesn’t take a *ton* of effort all the time. Next year I’m doing a 365-day photo project, it’ll be totally worth it, but it won’t take a ton of time daily to do it either. I get something ambitious done, but it’s not too overwhelming that it won’t get done. Sometimes getting one thing done gives you the motivation to get other things done.
This is a great kick in the pants, definitely good to have. Thanks! 🙂
Thanks for sharing the tips! I’ve been freeing up some time and trying to complete some commitments so that I can gear up for some new creative opportunities.
I like the idea of giving up. It’s like letting yourself relax when a missing word, idea or message is on the tip of your tongue and you’re frustrated that you can’t remember it. When you stop banging your head against the wall, POP! the answer shows up.
In a related vein, my husband has harangued me for years to wash dishes – and I continue to resist, because, uh, I don’t like washing dishes. But recently, I’ve found that washing dishes, especially with lots of bubbles, and taking my time to go through the pile without rushing – generates ideas and breakthroughs. Dang.
Thanks for the suggestions Chris. They came just at the right time as I am in the midst of wondering how to initiate a breath of fresh air into my business. Most likely a small step in a new direction will unleash somthing that will point the way.
I will be doing every single one of these things this week, one by one. Yes yes yes. And thank you. Times infinity.
These are just great and, as others have said, perfectly timed for me as well. My twist on the carry a notebook idea (when even that seems like “too much” for my stuck self) is to make voice memos (either on my cell, my iPod, wherever). Like others, I too, clean or tidy something no matter how small (the junk drawer, sink) to get that jolt of accomplishment.
Thanks for another great post! The link to Barbara Winter’s site at the bottom was awesome as well – great advice that I’m starting right now!
Try heading over to wikiHow and improve an article on a subject that you are interested/passionate about.
Sometimes, seeing how someone else approached a topic can refresh/stimulate your own thoughts, (Thats why there are always two ‘cops’ on all those detective type shows, batting ideas backwards and forwards allows you to get the plot across!).
………I know, I know, Columbo was on his own……but didn’t he talk to himself all the time…….?
I loved the film ‘Finding Forrester’ about the young aspirant writer who accidentally meets the old, famous author. The boy does the notebook thing but can’t get motivated when it comes to actual writing with a typewriter. Forrester gives him two tips.
The first is to just type, doesn’t matter what you say, just write, everyday. Eventually something will come. The second is to start copying something already written and eventually your own words will take over. This causes problems in the film but is seen to be a great idea. It’s sort of like the WikiHow idea.
As you say in 279 you set a target of writing 1000 words a day, but it doesn’t matter what they are, just keep writing.
Thanks, Chris for the great advice.
I’ve all of these techniques, and they all work sometimes.
The most important for me – and the hardest – is “Give up. (Temporarily)”
Taking that step back seems so difficult when push comes to shove.
I’m fighting that battle daily to post a picture for my project365. It becomes harder and harder to pick up the camera to go take shots, and to find new things to shoot. I am also writing a blog post a week, and that is hard for me too. I’m still working on figuring out my writing style. Reading other blogs is helpful, since it provides material that might spark an idea or two.
What is it about this time of year that seems to provoke bouts of creative inertia in so many creative spirits? I find motion, action – a walk, window shopping, a simple change of scenery – help me the most in combatting inertia.
I have been stuck this whole past month, and it’s not because of the holiday; I had some personal reasons not being able to move forward that easily. So I did what Elizabeth suggested in her comment – I gave myself a permission to take as much time as I needed. I didn’t work on my blog or anything else. Instead, I decided to use this time to do some organization around the house, I sorted out all kinds of areas of house to make things look neater, sorted out all the piled up biz cards, caught up with Money (software we use to keep track of money), sort out pictures in my computer and created back-ups….Some of them are mindless work, I know, but I think it’s actually helping.
I like the idea of writing stuff down. Sometimes good idea comes but if I don’t write it down, it goes away and I might not remember them later on. I’ll focus on doing that this week while I continue with my organization frenzy.
In the northern hemisphere, the combination of economic hibernation and gloomy weather seems to amplify the traditional year-end angst into varying degrees of paralysis.
Every single sunny day, I get out and go for a walk or bike ride, or the very least, sit in the sunniest spot in the yard with the full sun on my face (I listen to RadioLab podcasts with my eyes closed so I don’t even wear sunglasses.)
I think where many minds are fueled by caffeine, my operates on sunshine and fresh air.
I am feeling pretty stuck at the moment – stuck doing something I don’t think my heart is in anymore but not sure what to do or how to get unstuck… So this article has been very welcome to my eyes!
Thank you for this, both the article and comments have given me hope and ideas!
And I never go anywhere without 3×5 cards and a small Moleskin. And two fountain pens; my really nice one for autographing books and making notes I intend to archive, and my cheap nice one for scribbling notes on the 3x5s.
Writing keeps my head clear and makes the ethereal real.
I was once given incredible advice from a mentor who told me to “write for the trash.” This has allowed me to overcome many issues with inertia as I was no longer tied to the end result and began enjoying the activity once again….
I also think that literally putting on your running shoes is beneficial because physical activity is one way of creating clarity in your mind which leads to ideas on the paper…
If I am stuck I usually try to do something small: clean up, tackle an easy to do task on my to do list, go for a walk, do dishes.
For some reason those small actions get me going again and I become active again full of newly found energy.
One thing that I have been really stuck at is not having a job, but this one is just going to require much more effort and time and continious reminder to myself of why I am doing this.
Sometimes, we forget why we are doing something and we need a way to remind ourselves of the purpose. I found that to be the most motivating thing for me: remember why I am doing what I am doing.
If I cannot answer that question in a sensible manner then I probably should reconsider the actions that I am taking.
Thanks for the other great tips!
Thanks again Chris! Wonderful way to end 2009 and inspire us for 2010.
Great ideas! I always end up posting my photos to Flickr when I’m bored and can’t think straight. It’s a nice way of reflecting on various trips from a while back, and then writing captions gets me back into the creative spirit.
I like to “give up” temporarily. I’ve found the only thing that really works for me when I get stuck, is to take a step back, let my mind wander and have a good break
Thanks so much! I am about to start thinking of ways to make $100! I might outdo myself and aim for $101! Thanks
Thank you so much for an amazing post full of great ideas and wonderful inspiration! And the idea to set a $100 Business Hour is brillant. Safina 🙂
Avoid avoiding–when I’m stuck I tend to run off to something easy or mindless. Sometimes you just gotta stick with it and work through a difficult spot.
Banish procrastination disguised as perfectionism. You’ve discussed this before–sometimes you get unstuck by just doing it, even if it’s not perfect.
Hi Chris, Hi Everyone,
Thanks for this article. My way of dealing with being stuck is to remember that “It is only temporary. This too shall pass.”
When I do remember it, it helps a lot because it takes the pressure off from performing in a way that I can’t in that moment.
May you all have a wonderful creative year.
Thanks for the inspiration. When I am stuck while working, I tend to read blogs… like yours! Better get back to creating things…
Have a happy new year everyone!
What a great post for the perfect time. Inertia and I are well acquainted. In fact, there are times I think I’m married to inertia, and My Hubby is my bit on the side. 😉
I love the $100 hour! One of my goals this year is to monetize my writing somehow. But I have no idea how. I think there are going to be some $100 hours coming up in my life.
The don’t wait too long to decide I needed to hear. I do that a lot. I need to decide and do instead of sitting on the couch thinking I’ll decide after this Food Network show is over.
Chris, thank you for the time you put into this to give us wonderful resources. I know I lurk more than I comment, but I have gotten some great things on this blog the last year, and I really appreciate how willing you are to share.
I am typically struck with inertia when I am faced with a project that makes me anxious, like something especially challenging or new. I learned my most successful strategy for overcoming this from my experience with art where I overcome creative blocks by taking charcoal or pen and drawing without any pre-conceived purpose or direction. Inevitably, to my constant delight, something emerges, if not on the paper, then in my mind. So with my work on the computer, I sit down to a blank screen and start writing in a general direction without any pre-conceived ideas. I always exprerience a blush of shame for thinking that my silly method is going to actually produce something, and then WHAM, my fingers start flying.
Continuing to be back and forth between initiating and (temporarily) giving up…thanks for bringing it to the forefront of thought. HNY!
This was an awesome article. I get blocked every few months. I mean, really blocked. Like not-writing (or insert art form her) for months blocked. I will try any number of things, which I have found work for me:
decluttering. I mean spring cleaning-scale decluttering. This worked for me back in the fall.
spiritual work. I broke a 10-year streak of not painting by taking a class on dreams and trance work. Out of that class came not only the painting I’m currently working on, but the spark to start my current business.
shifting media. If I don’t want to shoot, I work on crafts. If I don’t want to craft, I try to write. If I don’t want to write, I make a purse….etc.
When all else fails, I simply unplug, get out of the studio and chill out, watch movies, play with the cats and my boyfriend, and just take a mini-vacation.
Happy new year, everyone!
Hey Chris – Happy New Year to you! It’s funny you wrote this – I’m at an adventure retreat right now that focuses on mindfulness. One exercise we did today involved experimenting with task, how we feel (inertia was one of the feelings) and if our approach was working for us. For me, it wasn’t so we talked about how I could do it differently. People came up with 5 ways and I tried one. And it worked. We’re definitely programmed in certain ways – it’s just human nature, I think – but remembering that there are different ways to do things can get us unstuck. Or at least it did for me today.
when I’m stuck, I often try to do what Elizabeth Potts Weinstein advocates up there: nothing.
This is, of course, counter to my impatient nature. And when you’re under the gun doing work for other people, it doesn’t always fly.
Some of our greatest leaps can come after extended times of silence and calm. We leave room for creativity to blossom.
Thanks for the swift-kick-in-the-pants post. I was looking for something to motivate the first Monday of a new decade and you nailed it.
The Spanish-Chinese dilemma speaks to my current situation. Flip a coin or find a way to do both – spot on.
Great website design BTW.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a great idea and not written it down. Poof! There it goes into the ether, perhaps seeking out someone in the universe more inclined to act on it. I’m trying to get into the habit of writing more of them down. Now, I just have to remind myself to go look at my notes!
I was feeling stuck until I read this. So I went and fixed a backup problem here at work that I had been ignoring. I feel much better now.
Another great read!
I agree with some of the other comments – getting physical really helps me get out of my mind and into my body for a little bit – it’s a good break. I may clean dishes, straighten up some clutter, put on loud music and dance… or play with my cat. Getting dressed and going outside is even better but I find it soooo hard to do most days, unless I absolutely have to be somewhere.
I like your suggestions to help someone else if you can’t think of anything else to do, and your short list of productive things to do online. I’ve got to check out the $100 hour exercise too.
I fight this battle all the time… including right now.
Ok, though, I just have to share this: You said “Should you learn Spanish or Chinese?” and then said either flip a coin or do both… I was faced with that exact dilemma, and I did both. I love little coincidences like that.
Just read this post again, Chris. And it made me feel as awesome as it did the last time. Thanks again for the suggestions; they make lots of sense for an entrepreneur. Now to start cracking away at that inertia…
Chris, thank you so much for writing this (and similar) articles. As a person who finds herself frequently “stuck,” your small, yet actionable ideas really help take the anxiety out of the equation.
Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Taking the
time and actual effort to produce a good article…
but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.
Your comments are welcome! Please be nice and use your real name.
If you have a website, include it in the website field (not in the text of the comment).
Want to see your photo in the comments? Visit Gravatar.com to get one.