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

3 Steps to Follow When You're Tired of Feeling Uncertain

Early in my career, I was the marketing director for a book publishing company. Because of my workload and the ongoing pressure to produce results, I felt overwhelmed.

I figured it was only a matter of time before my boss discovered that I was in over my head. This produced uncertainty. I was paralyzed and afraid to act.

Instead, I worried and spent an inordinate amount of time thinking through worst-case scenarios—something I am pretty good at.

I could see this would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I struggled to move. But the more I focused on the struggle the less traction I seemed to get.

The Advice I Needed

Frustrated, I went to a wise, older colleague and poured out my soul. He listened patiently and 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 overthinking it. Just do the next right thing. It will be okay.”

That simple concept simultaneously gave me relief and clarity. It’s been decades now, but I have used it time and time again in moments when I have felt overwhelmed and uncertain. How?

3 Steps to Follow

Here are three steps I follow to put it into practice:

  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. That leads to Step 2.

  2. 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 best-seller, or I can make sure that my marketing plan is complete and I am fully prepped for my upcoming interviews. Which brings us to Step 3.

  3. 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.

    Clarity involves knowing and doing. When you can’t read a sign you can: think more about what the sign might say; scrunch up your eyes to change your focus; buy high-powered glasses; or ask a friend to read it to you.

    But the best and easiest way to get more clarity is just move closer to the sign. Clarity comes when I move toward my destination, making course corrections along the way.

What situation has you feeling overwhelmed and uncertain? Just follow these three steps and do the next right thing.