Sometimes the status quo has been so bad for so long you no longer even notice you're struggling. When awful is the order of the day, it's easy to lose sight of a real need to step back and regroup.
Maybe you're a business owner whose company is failing. Maybe you're a manager who is overwhelmed and no longer certain you have or can even find the answers.
Or maybe you're an entrepreneur who no longer believes in your idea.
No matter who you are, if any of the following strikes a chord, take action. If you don't, your problems will get worse before they get better:
- You avoid answering your phone. Not because you're too busy but because you use voicemail to protect yourself from angry customers, pissed-off staff, or the need to explain why you messed up. When things are going well, phone calls are welcome distractions; when you're struggling, you hate the phone and everything it represents. And you love caller ID.
What to do: Simple. Answer the phone. Every time. Sure, it will suck, but each time you'll have one less problem to dread. (And your damage control skills will improve. Win-win.)
- Your to-do list is depressing, not energizing. A to-do list should be fun. Completing tasks, knocking off projects, taking care of business... all fun -- or at least fulfilling. Until they're not. When you're struggling it's easy to put aside larger projects to focus on the tasks you can complete, no matter how irrelevant those tasks may be... just so you can feel you accomplished something.
What to do: Step back. Re-prioritize and rewrite your list. Pick the highest priorities -- like what might jeopardize your job or a major customer -- and put everything else aside. Your desk can wait.
- You talk more about what you would like to do than what you are doing. Ambitions are great. Dreams are wonderful. Hang on to them. But when all you talk about is what you would prefer to do, you're lost.
What to do: Taking care of today is a requirement. Dreaming about tomorrow is a luxury you earn. No whining or fantasizing until today is in the can.
- You feel your only hope is "the big idea." Watch gamblers before the last race of the day at a horse track; if you think desperation is invisible, you're wrong. When we're in trouble big ideas are in short supply and rarely viable.
What to do: Small ideas and big efforts can turn desperation into triumph. Ninety-nine percent of the time you already know what you need to do -- you just don't want to do it. Tough. Do it.
- You value forward projections more than day-to-day results. I have a friend who loves creating sales forecasts, five-year plans, estimated cash flow projections... but refuses to look at weekly operating statements. He hates current performance reports because they're awful. So he ignores them. What to do: Every day check out financial reports, productivity results, key performance indicators... whatever drives your business or your life. Knowing where you stand so you know exactly where to go is the only way to make a bad situation better.
- You focus on "how" rather than "why." A sure sign you've lost control is when process matters more than results, because when results are in question the only thing you may feel you can control is the process. When you argue more about how something should be done rather than why it should be done, you're struggling: To maintain control, to maintain your identity, to maintain some sense of self you feel you've lost...
What to do: Let go. How is interesting; but why is all that matters. If you feel you can't let go, ask someone for advice and follow their advice. Not to go all zen on you, but often the best way to regain control is to let go.
If you need help, definitely ask -- but with one caveat. Never spend more than two or three minutes describing the situation to a friend or family member. Whining, complaining, and even commiserating never helps. You only end up feeling worse, not better. Instead focus the conversation on ways to make the situation better.
Then, when you've dug out of your current hole, decide if being in a better place is enough. If it's not, great -- you can make changes from a position of strength, not out of weakness or desperation.
Photo courtesy flickr user Venturist, CC 2.0