What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Early in my career, I was the marketing director for a book publishing company. Because of my workload and the on-going pressure to produce results, I felt overwhelmed. I was certain that it was only a matter of time before my boss discovered that I was in over my head.

Thumbtack in Map

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com/alephx01

This produced uncertainty. I was afraid to act. Instead, I worried and spent an inordinate amount of time thinking through worst-case scenarios—something I am pretty good at.

Frustrated, I went to a wise, older colleague and poured out my soul. He listened patiently, then said something I will never forget:

“Mike, just do the next right thing.”

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Yep. That’s it,” he replied. “You’re over-thinking it. Just do the next right thing. It will be okay.”

That simple concept simultaneously gave me relief and clarity. I have used it time and time again in moments when I have felt overwhelmed and uncertain.

Here are the three steps I take.

  1. Forget about the ultimate outcome. The truth is that I probably have less control over the outcome than I think. I can undoubtedly influence it, but I can’t control it. Besides, before I ever get to the final destination, many of the variables will change. Projects and deals have a way of unfolding over time. There will be problems—and resources—I can’t see now.
  2. Instead, focus on the next right action. Since worrying about the outcome is unproductive, I try to think about the next actions that will move the project forward. This is far more accessible than something in the distant future. For example, as an author, I can worry about whether or not my book will become a bestseller or I can make sure that I am fully prepped for the interview I have scheduled today.
  3. And do something now! This is key. Something is better than nothing. Too often, we think that we have to have clarity about how it will all turn out. In my experience, I rarely have this. But, as I move toward the destination, making course corrections as necessary, I experience clarity. Therefore, it is important to get off the sidelines and into the game.

So if you are in a situation where you feel overwhelmed and don’t know what course to take, just do the next right thing.

Question: What do you do when you feel overwhelmed and uncertain? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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