January 27, 2022

How do you make progress when overwhelmed?

Most of us have more than enough work, including conflicting and competing priorities.

We know each day we need to face the unholy trinity of chaos, friction, and resistance. Guaranteed the ‘Tyranny of the Urgent’ shows up, too.

Don’t forget the endless meetings and constant distractions.

We still need to get things done and, ideally, solve the right problems to deliver value.

Where do we start?

In our stressed and overwhelmed state, we convince ourselves that any action is good. I don’t agree and often find that action — even with the best intentions — leads to friction. The same friction that erodes value, destroys trust, and burns people out.

If we lack the time to get our work done, we really don’t have time for wasted work and rework.

Sometimes doing nothing is the better bet, but that doesn’t let us make progress on delivering value.

Consider this progression: Directed action > action > motion > stuck

Our goal is “directed action,” the intentional pursuit of value.

The way to take directed action is to figure out and take your Best Next Step: a small, discrete action that moves you one step further on your journey and one step closer to value.

The phrasing is deliberate. It’s not the ‘next step’ or the ‘next best step’, suggesting it’s the least worst of the alternatives. You identify the best step to take next on your journey, making it your best next step.

It’s tricky to get it right at first because we underestimate required effort while overestimating our capacity and capability. It’s easy to get carried away… and then we’re tackling a small project, not taking our best next step.

The key to focusing on a single step and not a series (or the entire journey) is setting a short time constraint of 10-15 minutes. This works because most of us can find 10-15 minutes to take directed action, and that usually means a single step.

Figuring out your Best Next Step is a three-part process:

  1. Where are you heading? This sets your intention.
  2. Where are you now?
  3. Out of your available options, what is the best next step to advance?

Then take the step.

Make progress even in uncertain environments experiencing rapid change – with less friction. You’ll see that consistent best next steps you take compound quickly into proof of value.

As an added benefit, you get the chance to evaluate each step and learn how to do better.

Paradoxically, you end up moving faster and with more confidence.

Try it out and see how it works for you.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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