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  • Writer's pictureAmii Barnard-Bahn

How To Break The Block

Updated: May 13, 2020

If you’re like most people, it’s been challenging to focus these past several weeks.

Did you know you can get more done by simply starting a task or project?

Whether you’re challenged with constant interruptions, procrastination, or low energy and memory retention (all normal responses to stress and change, BTW), here is a cool lifehack you can use to get more done, and with better results — not only in the COVID19 world, but anytime you are facing stress from prepping for a board meeting or going in for that career-shifting review. 

Here’s the deal: Our brains are wired to abhor an unfinished task. So, the best way to overcome that awful feeling of mental paralysis is to simply start. Even if it is a small step.

Half-finished tasks cause our brain to keep working on the problem, even when we’re not consciously focused on it. So, if you’re working through a problem that seems stuck between two equally unattractive options, jot down some notes or create a beginning draft email, record your best thinking, andconsider that a successful accomplishment for the day. 

After you make some productive progress, no need to keep pushing; sleep on it. You’re more likely to wake up and find a path forward now than if you’d plowed through to the end.

This is called the Zeigarnik effect, based on studies that demonstrate that we remember uncompleted tasks better than completed ones.There’s a strong investment we make in unfinished tasks, and the cognitive tension pulls us back to resolve the problem.

For one of my favorite examples on breakthrough gains to be had by committing to an end result without knowing how you’re going to get therecheck out my video on the story behind the construction of one of the greatest architectural masterpieces, the Duomo, in Florence, Italy. Though I’ve yet to design any buildings, I use this productivity hack all the time to squash procrastination and reframe. For example, I redesigned my team effectiveness workshop for corporate clients from onsite to virtual and online using the starting/stopping technique.

At any given time, I have about 30 half-written emails sitting in my draft folder. I love using the dictation function on my iPhone to capture the outline of initial ideas, to be picked up later with fresh eyes and an enriched perspective. 

The next time you have a thorny problem to solve and you feel blocked, take a little time, and get your best thinking written down. Don’t search for an “aha” moment; just take some small steps in a direction.Then put it away for at least a day. 

Even though you’re spending your time doing other things, part of your brain will still be working on the problem. It’s amazing when you come back and see the problem with a new layer of knowledge that seems to magically appear.

Let me know how this works for you or if you need more tips and tricks on this common challenge. Though we can’t yet get together in person, I’m here to help you stay focused and strategic during this time. And there are still many virtual events happening. My list of current speaking engagements and virtual appearances is here if you are looking for professional events to participate in.

Wishing you and yours all the best. Take care.

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