The Blog.

What to do when you don’t know what to do

23 Nov 2015 | Clarity & Focus

Ever found yourself floundering – knowing that you could be really productive, if only you knew what it was you were supposed to be doing? That you have the drive, focus, skills, ability and know how to succeed, you just don’t know what?

Especially if you’re used to being a goal-getter, it can be the hardest thing when you feel like you’re raring to go with nowhere to go.

What do you do, when you don’t know what to do? Here are three suggestions:

Look back before looking ahead

I spoke to someone this week who felt like she was floundering. She was having a lot of fun, but felt she was lacking focus. Which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but she wanted to feel more on purpose, less aimless, to have a sense of cohesion and purpose.

I remember having a similar conversation with my church pastor about six years ago, telling him all the different things I was involved in, describing myself as a chameleon, able to turn my hand at most things, enjoying the variety but feeling fragmented and aimless.

“I’ve never fitted neatly into one box” I told him, but as we spoke, as I described all the different roles and projects I was involved in, he picked up on a thread. “You’re an encourager” he said, and he was right. It was blindingly obvious once he said it – whatever box I was trying to fit myself into, that was what I brought to the table every time. That was my thread, and that thread has guided me ever since.

Our thread is personal. We weave it as we go along. As another speaker said this week sometimes “clarity comes from engagement, not thought” so even when you feel like you’ve been floundering or going off on all sorts of tangents, the chances are you’ve already been weaving your thread. You just need to look back to see it, and then let that guide what’s next.

Reverse engineer what you don’t want

Someone else I spoke to recently was feeling frustrated and grumpy – angry even. Angry because she knew that she could succeed at whatever she turned her hand to, but she felt like she was going through the motions. She didn’t know what she wanted, but she knew what she didn’t want. She was angry because there was something about the way things were being done in her industry that didn’t sit well with her. And she was angry because it wasn’t like her to be angry!

As someone who generally has a positive disposition, I get how hard this can be. I thrive on focusing on the positive. That’s what motivates me. I hate dwelling on negatives.

But perhaps there are times when we are called to be revolutionaries. When the thing we want doesn’t exist yet, and we are simply convicted that it shouldn’t be like this. These are the times when we need to confront what’s wrong instead of avoiding it. When the thing we seek is on the other side of what’s wrong, and we need to face the injustice, the frustration, the thing that riles us head on, in order to get to the other side. I often wonder how many times Martin Luther King must have gone through “we have a nightmare” before he got to “I have a dream.”

Identify the questions

My husband is quoting for a job at the moment. It’s potentially a big job, in a completely new field. He feels like he’s not making progress. On one hand, he just wants to ‘do the damn quote’. On the other hand, every corner he turns reveals something new to investigate. What started off as a single task has become a project that unfolds at every turn.

Often when we’re embarking in new territory, we have more questions than answers, but sometimes we can be so focused on finding the answer, we forget to clarify the questions. “How much should I quote?” might seem like a straight forward question, but if you find you can’t answer it, chances are there are many other questions contained within that question.

Instead of “what’s the answer?” try asking yourself “what questions do I have?” and map them out. When we are navigating new territory, it’s often our questions, not our answers, that create the map.

Over to you. If you find yourself struggling to figure out ‘what to do’ or ‘what next’, take one of these strategies: look back and track the thread you’ve been weaving; confront the problem and face it head on; or give yourself a break from the answers and focus on the questions.

And if you’d like to another pair of eyes and ears to bring a fresh perspective, take a look at how you can work with me directly.


Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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