MRO Magazine

Stuck with a problem?

ou've been putting things off: a few large projects or maybe a pile of work in general. Or you've got a repair job you just can't get your head around. The strange thing is that you want to get moving...


September 1, 2003
By Richard Ensman, Jr.

ou’ve been putting things off: a few large projects or maybe a pile of work in general. Or you’ve got a repair job you just can’t get your head around. The strange thing is that you want to get moving on your backlog, but you just can’t seem to get started.

When you feel frustrated or stuck, it’s time to invoke a few lift-off strategies. Any one of them — and 10 of them follow — can stop procrastination dead in its tracks and move you forward on that pile of important tasks.

1. Reduce. Tasks that seem huge or imposing can be tough to begin. So resolve to get one piece of your task started, and then move on it. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as a result, and obtain the momentum you need to keep going.

2. Switch. If you feel tired, or uncertain how to attack a problem, move to a different task or project — something you pull at random from your pile of unfinished work perhaps, or a task that feels fresh in your mind.

3. Think. One of the reasons you have difficulty getting started may be that you’re not sure how best to go about the task. So pretend you’re a consultant peering in at the problem you’re trying to solve. How would you recommend someone else attack it? The result of this simple exercise might be a fresh perspective on the problem and a new strategy for attacking it.

4. Walk. A brisk walk around the plant or around the block gets the oxygen flowing to your brain. An ordinary walk can result in a burst of new energy.

5. Sequence. If you don’t know the order in which to attack the items on your plate, it’s easy to feel immobilized. The solution: Take a half-hour and sort the things you need to do into lists: “A” for top priority; “B” for medium priority; and “C” for lower priority. Then sort each of the tasks within each category. At the end of the exercise you’ll feel confident that you can address tasks in priority order — and you’ll probably feel more motivated to start.

6. Surf. The World Wide Web can be a time waster, but it can also be a time booster. Not sure how to handle a project? Look up a few of the search terms relating to the project on the web. Browse the content. This information might give you some new ideas.

7. Talk. When you feel blocked, it’s perfectly acceptable to call a friend or colleague and talk about the issues at hand. Someone looking at your project objectively might be able to quickly suggest timesaving strategies or give you insight into how tasks might be efficiently started. If no one’ s around, try carrying on a conversation with yourself.

8. Write. On your notepad, begin writing about the problem: random thoughts and ideas, lists, free associations with other projects. For many people, the act of freewriting creates a burst of energy, and gets the brain thinking about the task in new ways.

9. Compress. Set an alarm for a half-hour or hour from now. Resolve that, until the alarm rings, you’re going to work on the tasks at hand with tremendous concentration. And then go for it. You may be amazed at what you accomplish. And chances are, you’ll feel ready for a similar exercise tomorrow — but maybe spanning several hours.

10. Play. When you feel unduly blocked in your ability to begin a task, maybe it’s time to get away from your desk or the workplace. It may be time to shoot baskets, work a crossword puzzle, help your seven-year old create a tinker toy house, or work in the garden. Sometimes a change of pace — for a few minutes, an hour, or a few days — is all it takes to renew yourself and get charging ahead. MRO

Richard Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment .