Do you find yourself stuck in the minutia of the day-to-day—checking items off a to-do list without any feeling of accomplishment? When you feel this way, do you describe yourself as ‘busy’, yet cannot articulate what you have been busy doing? Do you feel like you’re always in the middle of something—never reaching the end? Have you taken a step back to examine what could be going on here?

I’ve spent some time with Dan Pink’s page-turner When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing and it’s fascinating, so I thought I would share some of the learning around timing and what it could mean to busy coaches and consultants. And I have also taken a step back to examine some of the questions above in my own work too. Here is what I have discovered that may be of help to you:

  1. It’s easy to get paralyzed by fear, uncertainty and doubt (otherwise known as the FUDs), and find solace in the mundane everyday to-do’s instead of facing those fears, uncertainties and doubts.
  2. By recognizing the emotions attached to the FUDs, you can activate yourself and do something about them—like embrace them and even move beyond them.
  3. Finding more beginnings and endings than middles (I’ll explain this, I promise) helps you get clarity on what’s next and helps you take chunks out of those FUDs.

Fears, uncertainties, and doubts creep into our heads and hearts as we embark on new adventures, including in our businesses. A few examples could be pivoting your practice to work with a specific niche of clients, adding a new measurement tool and having to learn how to integrate that into your client work, adding or firing a team member or client, envisioning the next 5 years of your life including your business, or even something as simple as switching service providers for your internet service.

So instead of jumping in to work through any of these concerns from beginning to end, we find ways to move them to another day, or put them out of our minds until we ‘feel’ like doing them. Basically, we keep ‘busy’ to avoid facing the unknown—facing the questions we have to ask ourselves and fearing that we will not have all the answers, and come up short in the estimation of ourselves.

Here is where I say ‘embrace the fear, uncertainty and doubt’. Write down specifically: what is holding you back? Do you feel unqualified, or that you don’t have all the information to make those decisions? Will you fail? Write down what could happen if you fail—both worst case and best case scenarios. Will it hurt emotionally, personally or financially? Does even thinking about it feel overwhelming, to the point where you don’t know where to start? Why are the other things that keep you busy suddenly more important than this?

You may not be able to eliminate the fears, uncertainties, and doubts, but at least by articulating them, you can sit with them and let them be what they are—guardrails to help you be true to who you are and what you deem is your purpose.

So where do beginnings and ends and middles fit in? Right here.

After reading Part 2 of When, I started to pay close attention to when I got stuck. Stuck in a project, stuck with a commitment, stuck with a goal…and I found that every time it was in the middle of the challenge (and when I was in the middle, I was usually questioning my methodology, or my intelligence, or my commitment—a myriad of head-trash type statements). Not the exciting beginning, nor the energizing ramp up to the finish—I was stuck in that murky middle.

When you first make a commitment, start brainstorming a new idea and mapping out the bones of the project, or are just ramping up with a new fitness routine, the possibilities are energizing. Starting is fun, exciting, invigorating—and then we need to do the work, the heavy-lifting of investigation, research, answering tough questions, finding the time to do the next phase of the plan. We find ourselves in the middle.

According to Dan Pink, “middles are muddy,’’ and “sometimes hitting this midpoint numbs our interest and stalls our progress… Midpoints can bring us down. I call this the ‘slump.’ But they can also fire us up. That’s the spark.” (When, page 116)

Pink adds a great deal of color and data to support this information. By concentrating on midpoints, I started to notice the changes in myself. Midpoints or the middle of a project cause me more ‘slumps’ than ‘sparks.’ So I have started to tackle that by creating a new beginning—I need that spark!

I’ve picked up a few tricks to help me reframe the murky middle as a new, and exciting, opportunity to start:

  • Give myself clearly articulated project milestones so that the middle feels less muddy, and I can start each new phase with more energy.
  • Start a new fitness routine each week (mind trick, I know! Definitely helps to beat back the boredom).
  • Plan monthly reviews to see what I have wrapped up as well as what I have started. I’ve just started this, but I hope to find trends in learning, accomplishments, and what got me past the middle.
  • Picture the one person my work will help. I’ve taken this exercise from Adam Grant, Wharton Professor and author of The Originals and Give and Take. This helps me reconnect to my purpose, and remembering that my practice exists to help people always motivates me.
  • Pause. Take a breath when I feel I am hitting the slump and ask myself, why am I stuck here? This usually causes me to reach out to a colleague or my BFF to unload and then feel refreshed and ready to start again.

What I have found is that this simple reframing to starting again, from being stuck in the middle, helps me go forward. That’s just me, although it could work for you.

Next time you find yourself stuck in the ‘busy’, and cannot articulate what that means you may be finding yourself in the middle, stop. Check in on your emotions including your fears, uncertainties, and doubts, and try one of those small steps to get out of the middle to conquer them. At the very least, recognizing where you are—start, midpoint or ending—is usually enough to get you moving again.