What to do when you don’t know what to do

We’ve all been there: frozen in place with no motivation because we don’t know what to do next or how to do what we know we need to do. Here are four tips that help me. 

What’s within your control? 

Turns out those ancient Stoic philosophers were pretty smart! They are often misunderstood as promoting a detached, emotionless approach to life, sort of like an outsider looking in. Their real philosophy, though, was one of identifying what is within your control and what is not and focusing energy on the former while ignoring the latter. When you’re stuck, overwhelmed, or unmotivated, this is the best place to start: what is within your control, and what can and will you do about it? 

What do you want to be true and how will you make it so? 

This second tip can build on the first or stand alone. In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen discusses the two fundamentals of productivity: outcomes and actions, even calling them the zeroes and ones of productivity. What should we do with these fundamentals? Answer two questions: 

  • What do you want to be true about X? (Outcome) 
  • What is the next physical, visible action you can take to move closer to that outcome? (Action) 

When we answer these two questions, we empower ourselves to move forward because even a “stuck” brain can look at a simple next action and say, “I can do that!”  

Pro tip: you must identify the most specific, simple, next, physical, visible action to overcome resistance. 

What’s your plan? 

We often think of planning as a long, involved process. Some is and should be. Frequently, though, “back of the napkin” planning is all you need to get off zero. The third tip is to make a plan, and a great place to start is to write it down. Two of my favorite and most underrated tools are pen and paper. Our brains are great at organizing, reviewing, and choosing from options, so making a simple plan can easily start with writing a goal, a series of concerns, a set of actions to address those, and a choice about what to do next. 

What are you measuring? 

Too often when we’re stuck, we just act. No plan, no checking to see how we’re doing. Then we’re shocked when we find ourselves stuck on the same problem again later. The solution: measure your progress and correct course in real time. What gets measured gets managed is an old adage. Great tools for this include habit trackers, simple calendars with a big X marking completions, or even more complex spreadsheets. Just be sure you don’t spend all your time planning instead of actually working. 

Four simple tips to get un-stuck: 

  • Focus on what is within your control 
  • Define outcomes and actions 
  • Make a simple plan
  • Measure progress and correct course in real time 

Try some or all of these the next time you get stuck. See what works, evaluate, and repeat. That’s forward, proactive progress. 


There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. 

-William Shakespeare 


Want these blog posts delivered straight to your inbox each week? Click here to subscribe.

Follow us on social media at the links below.

Craig A. Escamilla
Craig A. Escamilla
Craig Escamilla helps you find solutions before problems exist. With fifteen years of consulting, teaching, and senior management experience, Craig brings a wealth of practical expertise to helping others work on rather than in their businesses.

Read More