All images from Bettie Newell
You probably know the feeling. That paralysis that comes when you have so many things to do that you can’t seem to accomplish even the smallest task. That moment when you start ignoring the piles and the emails and immerse yourself in cute cat videos on the internet. And the next thing you know, 30 or 60 minutes have gone by and the piles are still there and there are even more videos. Then you start chastising yourself about procrastinating. And then you tweet about how much you are procrastinating…And then it is dinner time or bed time and you still didn’t do ALL THE THINGS.
One of the perks about being your own boss is that no one is standing over your shoulder telling you what to do. Of course, one of the worst things about being your own boss is that no one is standing over your shoulder telling you what to do! This isn’t a problem if you are completely focused and motivated and on top of everything. And some people are like that. But most creative people I know struggle, at least some of the time, with keeping themselves moving in the right direction.
Whether it is an inability to make a decision or a big leap for your business or a completely blank mind when you sit down to make your art (a condition my friend Jenna lovingly coined “creative constipation” in a recent email exchange), the result is the same: you don’t seem to move forward. If you find yourself spinning in circles or standing still instead of making progress, here are some ways to help get yourself unstuck.
Call for Backup
I like to think of myself as a “fixer.” I’m very good at solving problems for other people but sometimes I have a hard time turning my logical objectivity onto my own struggles. That’s when I know it is time to lean on some of the people that are there for me when I can’t seem to move forward with something.
One of the biggest challenges for a small business owner can be asking for help. It might be that you simply need someone to take something off of your plate (delegate!) or it might be that your need is more cerebral or emotional. In that case, most definitely allow yourself to be vulnerable and speak your fears to someone who’s got your back. Sometimes the mere uttering of the words is enough to make you realize that you can accomplish things.
Write it all Down
I think many of us can agree that lists are essential , so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about how much I love (and hate) them. I can’t deny the catharsis that comes when I’m feeling overwhelmed either by all of the things I need to be doing or all of things I think I should be doing. At those times, I take myself to a quiet place, open a fresh page in my notebook and do a brain dump. If a task seems too big, I write down all of the small steps I need to take to make some progress. If a problem is perplexing me, I journal out creative ways to solve it. If my mind seems too full or busy, I release some of the anxiety by getting it all out on paper. Even if it is redundant, even if I’ve written the list 100 times it always helps give some clarity on what I can be doing next.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People
We all know how easy the internet and social media have made it for people to pursue their passions. You can have an online store front, raise funds via crowd-sourcing and market to huge and captive audiences of your peers all for a nominal cost. We can reach out to people all over the world with very little effort. But the internet is also a giant reflecting pool full of reminders that there are other people out there that have accomplished more in their art or business than you. Someone else is living your dream life, one maybe you didn’t even know you wanted before the internet existed. That can be really motivating for some of us. We use sites like Pinterest to build mood boards or the ideal studio space. But it can also leave you feeling really deflated. I know some very successful women who suffer from this.
If you find yourself feeling jealous or snarky or frustrated after hanging out online, it’s time to turn off your computer, put your phone down, and re-engage with the real world for a while. I took an ecourse with Kate Watson last year. From week one she encouraged us not to look at other photographer’s websites or blogs while we were working through our own brand and style. She pointedly asked: how can you hear your own voice when everyone else in the room is already talking? I loved my internet-free space so much that I spend much less time online then I ever did before. When I’m feeling stuck or unmotivated, I don’t lose myself in other people’s pretty pictures. I grab my camera and head outside for fresh air or I sit down with one of my girls and turn my full attention to them. Anything that helps me remember that I am on my own path and that it doesn’t look like anyone else’s.
Make Yourself Accountable
Remember that part about being your own boss? If you need someone to breathe down your neck in order to keep you on task, recruit someone. Today. It can be a spouse, friend, business partner, anyone who will gently (or not so gently) check in with you to see if you are doing the things you said you were going to do. It can be as simple as saying, “I’m going to accomplish x, y and z this week” and that person asking you (nagging you) to make sure it gets done. If you have a strong online presence and are someone who shares personal struggles on your blog or personal Facebook page, you can make your accountability more public by using that forum to track your progress.
Accomplish at Least One Scary Thing a Day
That big brain dump/step by step list you made up above? There are probably many tasks you’ve written down that aren’t getting done because they seem too scary. Sound familiar?
I’m a big believer in forward motion. When things are hard, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other is sometimes as much traction as we can get… So make a deal with yourself. Take one of those tasks that you’ve been putting off, no matter how small, and just do it. Do it first thing in the morning (or whenever you start the productive part of your day). And when you get up the next day, knock another one of those things off the list. Repeat as necessary. Once you start getting some of the daunting things off of your list, you may find that you have some momentum to move forward.
I’m curious, what things do you do to help yourself get unstuck?
Bettie Newell — Little Paper Cities
Bettie is a business lawyer and a self-taught photographer living in Portland, Oregon who just started selling her prints and notecards in her brand new Etsy shop. Bettie eats tomatoes like apples, hangs out in thrift stores, and collects knee socks and red shoes. You can find her blogging about life and DIY over at Little Paper Cities or hanging out with her two daughters and two ridiculous little dogs.Share on Facebook