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How to get a project unstuck

Have you ever gotten stuck in the middle of a project and not been able to figure out what to do next? Usually when you start a project, excitement and momentum is high. After a while, the momentum slows, newness wears off, distractions have become priorities, and your project slows to a crawl or even stops completely.

This can happen quite easily when priorities change. Some other thing comes in and steals your attention for a while. Eventually though, that first project will become the hot thing again. Then you’re wondering why you aren’t further along with it after all this time.

Is it possible to keep both priorities moving forward? Possibly, but both will suffer. It’s just our natural tendency to ignore what isn’t a more immediate need.

Ideally, this won’t happen to you, but this article isn’t about preventing that. It’s about what to do when it happens. Here’s what’s worked for me.

  1. Take stock of where you are. Review documents and notes from before (you did organize and save everything, right?). Talk to your team and stakeholders, just to restart the conversation.
  2. Organize what you know. If you left things in a bit of a mess – with notes scattered across 10 different files and applications – gather all that together and organize it in a way that makes sense for you.
  3. Write down anything you know you need to do yet. Write it down even if it’s vague or an assumption. Just write it down somewhere – don’t worry about putting it in your task manager or Kanban board yet. You can do this step while you’re reviewing and organizing, or afterwards.
  4. Write down any questions you need answers to. Write it down even if it’s vague, or you’re not sure if the question is exactly the right one.
  5. Organize your tasks and questions that you wrote down. They can be separated or combined into one list, depending on what seems best. Put related items together.
  6. Write down how get an answer to each of your questions, even if you’re not sure if it’s right. Just take your best guess. For example, you may need to ask a stakeholder if they know the answer, or if they know who may know the answer.
  7. You should now have a list of actionable tasks. Put them in your task management system of choice. For tasks that are vague or you’re unsure about, just start somewhere with your best guess. Adapt the task or create a new one once you learn more.

That’s it. Not fancy – just a method I’ve used a few times to turn disorganized thoughts and questions into tasks that are actionable. Don’t worry about doing exactly the right tasks. The important thing is that you know you need to do figure out something in that area. Just try what seems best, or ask someone for help.

This process will take some time, even after you unscramble your thoughts into an actionable task-list. I always feel a pressure to hurry up and get the project back on track, but the reality is that you can’t just stop and restart something that quickly.

So, if you’re feeling a little lost or stuck on what to do next, give these steps a try. You may figure out a better process along the way – listen to your gut and don’t be afraid to adapt.

Brian Hoops
Brian Hoops

Slow thinker.

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