Stop, Drop and Roll
I am often asked to provide coaching for an employee or business owners who are feeling stuck, overwhelmed and unmotivated in their work. I refer to this common syndrome as "in the weeds", a phrase from my days as a waitress slinging heaping plates of seafood and onion rings at a restaurant with an endless line of tourists in Rockport, MA. A waitress (yes, that's what we were called back in the day) was "in the weeds" when the kitchen was yelling your name to pick up orders, you just got two new parties seated, another party was waving for their check, the guy in the corner wants a heat up on coffee, the hostess is hollering for you to clear the table in the window and you are walking through the restaurant with a tray of food and can't remember where you are going. Oh yes, and someone steps in front of you and the tray falls to the floor. And the thought runs through your mind, "I want to just walk out and yes, let the door hit me on the backside on the way out". That is in the weeds.
You can identify an in the weeds co-worker or even yourself by the glazed over eyes, frequent loud sighing and loud, unproductive shuffling of papers. My strategy for dealing with this syndrome in the workplace is quite simple...I call it "stop, drop and roll".
Stop. Most people who are in the weeds are surviving because they are simply dealing with whatever is on the "top" of the pile. And within the many piles, they deal only with what is most interesting to them. Unfortunately the middle and bottom of the pile frequently is full of things that colleagues and clients are waiting for so they can do their work. STOP picking up papers. STOP doing tasks. STOP being busy without making progress.
Drop. Drop everything (see STOP) and do a brain dump. This is a process, and I highly recommend a partner who serves as a scribe and coach, where you pick up each item in the piles and record it onto a list. You then put the item into one of 4 piles - Immediate; Important; File; Toss (I recommend the toss pile be the recycling bin). As you put the item in the pile it is listed on the to do list. Your partner can ask you important questions, "How urgent is this?", "Can you delegate it?".
During the brain dump your partner records all the "to do's" swirling around in your head. You know, the ones that keep you awake at night... "Oh and I have to download that form for the foundation report". Get it out of your head and Write it on paper!
Roll. When everything is listed, it is much less overwhelming then before. Simply begin taking one item at a time and doing it. Get some easy things done first. As each item is completed, check it off or cross it out. Nothing feels better than crossing things off the list. As new items come in, instead of dropping what you are doing and working on it, get them on the list. Don't be afraid to ask, "When do you need this by? Currently it looks like I could get to it on Wednesday." And you will be on a roll! Make sure to put a date at the top of each page so you can track when the new task came into your system.
When everything on a page is completed, cut of the corner of the page so you know never to look at that page again. It is completed! And you can roll on over to the next page. You will get to the point where nothing feels better than cutting that edge off that page. You will begin ROLLING through your piles and heading back out into the open, untangled from the weeds.
Over time, you'll acquire several notebooks with corners all cut off. I date the front of each notebook indicating when I started it and when it was full. Then I keep them in a box. They are a great reference.
Of course, this plan requires maintenance, so when you feel yourself slipping back into the weeds, grab a partner and say, "Can I borrow you for 20 minutes to help stop, drop and roll?"