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:
- 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. 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 my marketing plan is complete and I am fully prepped for my upcoming interviews. 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.
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.
So if you are in a situation where you feel overwhelmed and don’t know what course to take, just follow these three steps and do the next right thing.
Question: What do you do when you feel overwhelmed and uncertain?