What To Do When Nothing You Do Is Working
What’s that sound?
Oh that’s just me banging my head against the wall.
Whether you’re a freelancer, business owner, or creative hobbyist: when you’re not making any progress with your creative work, life can feel rather frustrating.
Frustrating almost to the point of making you want to quit.
I’ve been there.
I’m someone who craves direction. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!
Give me the instructions to put together a desk and I’ll go at it.
But we all know it isn’t quite as simple as reading the f*cking manual.
How many times has an IKEA purchase resumed in a temper tantrum and tears before bedtime?
It’s not just about knowing what to do OR even doing what you know: not when there’s a piece missing out of the box.
If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, getting nowhere fast and are at the point of throwing the unfinished desk out the window: please keep reading!
I’m not trying to say there’s an easy, simple, quick cure-all for whatever problem you’re facing: but I do happen to know this 7-step checklist is something that has really helped me get unstuck in those sticky times.
Since pinning these steps down, and tweaking them again and again… I’ve come back to them repeatedly at the darkest of times in both my business and personal life: and I’m finally confident enough to share them.
So if you feel like you’re doing all the things and still aren’t making the progress you want or expected: give it a whirl. You’ve tried everything else, right?
What To Do When Nothing You Do Is Working
Step 1: Congratulations!
But I’m failing horribly and feel like crap!
That’s exactly why we start with congratulating ourselves.
Chances are, when you’re in the depths of murky frustration, you’re not exactly feeling too cheery, and your self esteem could be suffering as a result.
Mindset is always my first point of action because I know I can’t move forward from a place of negative self talk or when I’m in a fixed mindset.
So, start by congratulating yourself for coming this far.
The point of this post is to help those who have already tried a bunch of stuff, and given whatever challenge they’re facing a good shot.
Acknowledge what you’ve done so far, and accept that everything you’ve tried (even if it doesn’t feel like this) has led you to where you are right now.
The journey to whatever your goal is, is not as straight as the crow flies.
I’m not saying everything in her has to be a struggle: but I am saying achieving something great is usually not a direct path. There are plot twists, wicked witches presenting us with shiny apples, and lots of unforeseen events we simply can’t control.
What we can control is aright here in this present moment. Our perception of our actions and circumstances is always in our control.
So take stock of what you’ve done and what you have: may be make a list of what you’re grateful for.
This could be relating to your business, career, your relationships: then give yourself a pat on the back for doing everything to have all of what you have right now.
One common pattern I see over and over in the biographies of the famous doers, thinkers, creators of our time is: trial and error.
I watched a documentary about Walt Disney recently and had no idea until then how resilient that man was. Possible Nazi leanings aside: he was a freaking machine when it came to falling off and getting back on the horse. Kudos Mr Disney.
So: remember that great things aren’t achieved by simply going through the motions.
Greatness is a result of getting back up on the horse, and having the guts to try again.
Step 2: Record
This is the most tedious of the steps, but trust me: it’s an absolute eye-opener.
For one week (or as many days as you can manage) record all the tasks you do.
Regardless of what you’re working on or what challenge you’re facing, write down every thing you’re doing, even if it’s seemingly unrelated to your goal.
I like to set my phone to remind me to do this on the hour (I just use the Chime app) and make a quick note in my Reminders or Notes app to jot down what I’ve been doing.
Even after a day, you’re likely to be far more conscious of where your energy is going – the first step in troubleshooting.
(Oh and be honest!)
Step 3: Rate
This is the follow up to step two, now we have our data we can give it a rating.
You can use a notebook or a spreadsheet for this, but basically you’re making three columns.
Column 1 will be the first actions you recorded of your day or week.
Column 2 will be a rating from 0-10 – how much impact does that task have on your goal?
This is tricky because not all actions will be directly impacted on your goal, but will still have a knock-on effect.
For example if one of actions was going to the gym, you might not see an immediate effect on your goal is it’s to get more illustration commissions.
But, if going to the gym makes you happy, feel more energetic and lists your mood, then it likely is having a significant impact on your ability to do work in order to get those illustration commissions.
Conversely, if you’re spending a large chunk of the day on instagram ‘for business’ you might assume this is moving you towards your goal. But is it really? What does a dozen new followers and heart emojis really do to get you more illustration commissions?
If you’re not sure, experiment. We’ll dig into this more in step four but a great question to ask yourself is: ‘what if you didn’t do this task?’
I used to spend almost my entire weekend setting up my social media schedule and preparing posts for the following week, as well as commenting, liking and following others… until a holiday forced me to take a break.
Did my world fall apart?
Did I lose all my followers and clients?
In fact… all my accounts continued to grow at the same (slow but steady) rate. And I had a f*cking fantastic weekend.
Step 4: Remove, Reduce or Ramp Up
Remember that third column?
Column 3 is for noting down which actions can be removed, reduced or ramped up.
As a rule of thumb, actions that score lower than 5 will be in the remove or reduce category.
It’s unlikely you’ll want to remove grocery shopping for example, but there’s a chance you could reduce frequency. It’s also unlikely you can reduce time spent editing your blog posts, but you might be able to remove it from your task list and outsource it.
As for ramping up, this is the action to consider for the things that rate more than 5.
Again, some tasks will not apply, but for others – the things that you do feel have an impact on your goal – you might consider how you can double down.
For example, this year I’ve had an influx in people telling me through lovely emails or joining the LCI tell me they found me through podcast interviews I’ve done. Result!
So, I knew that one of my areas of focus should be: go on more podcasts. What are the tasks I need to do to be on more podcasts?
Researching podcasts, listening to them, finding out more about the interviewer (I won’t go on a podcast if l don’t feel I can connect with the host) and finally writing a well crafted email.
Time consuming? Yes. But the ROI is better than 80% of everything else I’ve done this year to grow my business. Therefore, I ramp it up.
Another lesson here is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel… just identify what is working, what isn’t and if you aren’t sure: find a metric you can track to show you what effect it has.
Step 5: Shift perspective
This is one I’ve nabbed from my own coach. There’s nothing quite like a shift of perspective to tackle a challenge or just boost creativity.
l’d also say it’s particularly important for us introverts to do this: we can easily get lost in our head; replaying the same thoughts over and over and get nowhere fast.
But! The good news is we’re still very empathetic and can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
It’s worth setting aside some time to journal this through – please don’t rush and assume you know the answers (I’ve done that so many times it’s painful to let anyone else do the same…)
Some questions to consider:
Q1: What would Zuck do?
Yes, I do mean Mark Zuckerberg but you can pick any person you deem wise and successful – the important thing is to imagine what they would do if they had your challenge.
May be they run your business or come in as CEO: what would they do differently?
Q2: What would your competitor do?
Similarly, if there’s someone in your field who is a competitor or at least shares a similar goal: what are they doing you’re not?
This is a great way of highlighting blindspots or getting you to question why you might be avoiding something.
Q3: What is your avatar struggling with right now?
By ‘avatar’ I mean your ideal client, customer or fan. Whoever you’re serving: this question will realign your actions with their needs.
NB: If your sticking point is related to your personal goals-relationships etc, I might skip this one and move onto the next…
Q4: What would future you tell you?
Nope, we can’t predict the future, but just suspend reality for a moment: if the ‘you’ of 10 years from new was getting interviewed by a wrinkly version of Oprah, asking what you would tell your younger self to have done differently, or given a try – what would their answer be?
The point of questions like these aren’t to get you to come up with the actual answer: again, no one’s claiming to be Nostradamus here.
But they do have a creepily powerful effect in getting us to see what we might be missing or subconsciously avoiding.
Last summer, I had an online course launch that didn’t do as well as I hoped. For a little while (OK, a long while) I was in denial about what I’d tried.
I told myself, “I tried EVERYTHING! Why didn’t it work?”
The truth is, I hadn’t tried everything.
I hadn’t surveyed my audience. I hadn’t tried webinars. There were a bunch of steps I glossed over; thinking I knew better.
It wasn’t until I took a perspective shift (hindsight is 20:20…) that I realised I had been missing some vital ingredients.
Step 6: Ask for Help
Asking for help is something I delayed for far too long. I have my suspicions about why it took me so long to ask for help (and why introverts struggle so much with this) but I’m not dwelling on it.
I’m making up for it. I have a mentor, a coach, an accountability buddy, I pay for training courses and events.
Yes it’s a balance: I’m not recommending becoming too addicted to help from others or being reliant on them: but I do know that one of the fastest ways to dig yourself out of a hole is to ask for help.
Brainstorm: who can you ask for help today? Send them an email.
Step 7: One day at a time
If you’ve gone through these steps, you might feel even more overwhelmed than you did at the start.
You’ve gone from thinking you’ve done it all and you’re off the hook (time to through in the towel!) but now you’ve got a list of to-do’s to tackle.
The journey is just beginning, and you might as well enjoy the ride.
Know that even if this goal of years or whatever it is that you feel stuck in doesn’t work out the way you originally planned – you’ve learned something.
If you do decide to throw in the towel: that’s ok too: there are plenty more journeys to go on.