About CoachShannon

When you’re struggling to get work done, the hardest part of any project is the start.

Whether you’re just starting a new project, or you’re trying to get restarted, all too often, procrastination rears its ugly head.

So, there you are: stuck.

Knowing you need to be working on that project.

Feeling guilty you’re not getting work done.

But unable to get yourself to sit down and tackle that project.

In my research on what makes some people productive and others not, I have found that procrastination comes in as many flavors as ice cream. And just like ice cream, we each have our own favorite flavors.

I’m not saying that that all procrastination is bad. Sometimes it can be helpful. In fact, my father calls it “just-in-time management.”

A little procrastination can give your brain the space to think about a project; to get a jump start on creation. It can also prevent you from wasting valuable time on a project that is a priority one day and a dead issue the next. But, in many cases, procrastination makes you less effective, less successful, and more stressed.

If you don’t need more stress in your life, the good news is that there are some simple solutions to help you break through procrastination.

Your Brain’s Drive for Closure

In my book, Brain Power, I wrote about seven principles of how your brain operates and how to use them to focus, create, and get work done. One of the principles, the Drive for Closure, is important to understand when you’re trying to break free from procrastination.

Have you ever been reading a story and just could not resist the urge to peek at the last page, because you just couldn’t wait? The principle of Drive for Closure explains this urge by saying that our brains strive for a sense of completion or a definitive answer.

Your brain does not like the experience of limbo, when there is no clear direction or ending. So, it races toward the finish line. Even when you know you would be better off by waiting to make a decision or by taking time to consider other information, you will still have the urge to close the open loop.

The principle of Drive for Closure explains why people find it difficult to resist buying something immediately, whether it’s an electronic toy or a pair of new shoes. Once you feel the urge to acquire, your brain is in limbo, waiting for an answer. It is not until you make the purchase, or you decide you’re not going to make the purchase, that you give your brain the closure it wants.

The interesting thing about Drive for Closure is that it doesn’t only happen when the answer to the question is of practical value or urgency. You can feel the Drive for Closure in relation to something as inconsequential as the end of a movie or book, even though there is no practical need to know and no actual urgency involved.

What does this principle have to do with procrastination? You can use your brain’s Drive for Closure to start or finish a project. Strategies that use the Drive for Closure hinge on this idea: if you can get started on a task with a modest goal in mind, your brain will help you reach that goal.

Bribe Your Brain: The 15-Minute Bribe

When you just can’t seem to get yourself to sit down and focus, you can bribe your brain. The 15-Minute Bribe helps you get started on a project when you are procrastinating.

Here’s how you use it: Begin by promising yourself that if you work on the project for just 15 minutes, you can turn your attention to something more pleasurable or less stressful.

Why 15 minutes?

First, because it’s such a short period of time. You can tolerate almost anything if you know it’s just for 15 minutes. And even if you have a packed schedule, you can find a 15-minute window somewhere in your day.

Second, because you can actually accomplish a significant chunk of work in 15 minutes.

Because of your brain’s Drive for Closure, once you start, your brain will beg for completion, which means you may find yourself working longer or accomplishing more than you expected.

Using the 15-Minute Bribe, you can make real progress on your project. You may even surprise yourself and complete it.

Are you wondering just how many times you can bribe your brain before it catches on and the 15-Minute Bribe no longer works?

Don’t worry.

Remember the Peanuts Thanksgiving cartoon with Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football? The one where Lucy convinces Charlie Brown to kick the ball and just as he does, she pulls it away and Charlie Brown goes flying through the air and lands flat on his back? For your brain, the 15-Minute Bribe is just like that. Your brain will fall for it every time!

Use It Now: The 15-Minute Bribe

What are you having trouble starting?

Choose one of your tasks and try out the 15-Minute Bribe. If you only have a few minutes, try out a mini version, the Five-Minute Sprint, by working on your project for just five minutes.

You’ve decided it’s time for a change. But, in today’s social media environment, how do you work on a job search if you don’t want your current employer to know that you want to make a job change until you hand in that resignation letter?

A stealth search is the answer for you.

Stealth job search woman

What is a Stealth Job Search?

A stealth job search is conducted a little differently from a normal job search.

In a normal job search, you apply openly for jobs, ask your contacts to keep an ear open for relevant opportunities, and although you might not tell your boss or employer you are looking, you do tell other people.

In a stealth search, you are only going to tell a limited number of people you are looking for a job. Those people might include: close friends or family if you choose, contacts you can trust to keep it quiet, and the people you need to have prepared to be a reference. Anyone else, you simply say that you are interested in building a new skill or learning more about the people who are successful in your chosen career.

In a normal job search, the more people you tell, the better. In a stealth search, the less people you tell, the safer.

Stealth Search Preparation

You need to prepare for a stealth search, just as you would for a typical job search. Before you get too far in, you need the following:

Stealth Search Email Address
Message System
System for Tracking Contacts
LinkedIn Profile
Elevator Pitch

Your Stealth Search Email Address

Even if no one else reads your email at work, do not use your present employer’s email address for your stealth search communications. The best strategy is to set up a free email address from a service like Gmail, specifically for your job search.

With a new address you can set it up with a conservative name (such as yourname@gmail.com) or something that is descriptive of your target career (such as annesmithpmp@gmail.com).

Your e-mail address is part of your first impression, so it is very important that you don’t use funny, cute, or suggestive addresses.

Of the free email providers, I suggest Gmail. It’s simple to set up on your phone, check from anywhere, and unlike a provider like AOL, Netscape (or even Yahoo) it doesn’t create the perception that you might not be tech-savvy.

The other benefit of creating an email account specifically for your job search is that you are less likely to accidentally send the wrong email to a job search contact or to have your job search contacts receive a spam message from you if your email address gets into the hands of hackers.

Your Message System

You need a reliable way to get phone messages that are private and cannot be accessed by anyone at work.

Your greeting should be suitably professional and include your name, so an employer can be sure they have reached the correct number. Also, make sure you have a way to check your messages at least twice a day from wherever you are.

Your System for Tracking Contacts

Whether you use an app, a spreadsheet or a low-tech paper system, you need some kind of system for tracking applications, conversations, interviews, contact information, and so on, and for reminding you to follow up on your contacts.

These are the types of information you will want to track:

Organization Name
Contact Name
Email Address
Phone Number(s)
Mailing Address
Date of Contact
Date to Take Action or Follow Up
Description of Action or Follow Up

It’s especially important to keep track of anyone who helps you in your job search, so you can circle back and thank them when you do land that fabulous new job.

Your Resume

You don’t necessarily have to have your resume ready before you begin a stealth search, but you won’t want to wait too long and then have to scramble to get it ready if you haven’t updated it in a while.

Make sure your resume is tailored toward your target job, with keywords/phrases that are used in job postings for jobs that are similar to what you want.

You can also ask people you meet in your field to take a quick look at your resume (after it is updated, of course) and provide you with feedback. But, be sure you don’t make a big ask like this one until you’ve built a relationship or done something to earn their time.

Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is a great tool for both networking and job search, as well as a good place to do research.

You don’t have to have the perfect LinkedIn profile to start your stealth search, but having the basics will help. And the more complete your profile is, the higher your profile will show up in search results when recruiters are looking for candidates like you.

The most important areas to complete are your title, summary, current job experience, and education.

Your title and summary are the most important areas. Here are a couple of tips for making your title and summary count:

1-Your LinkedIn title does not have to be your job title (and shouldn’t be unless your job title contains all of the important keywords for your chosen field).

2-Your LinkedIn summary should not be the same as your summary/profile at the top of your resume or your first job detail bullets. You can use the information from your resume to create your LinkedIn summary, but it’s better to introduce it with something more personable.

Think of your LinkedIn summary as how you would tell someone about your professional experiences and expertise if you met them at a professional event, and they asked you about your professional background and philosophy.

When you are working on a stealth search, you will have to make a decision about whether or not to use LinkedIn’s Open Candidate feature. The feature allows you to signal to recruiters that you are open to opportunities. It does not show up in your profile; it only shows up for recruiters who pay the fee for that type of account.

The benefit of Open Candidate is that your profile will show up higher in search results when recruiters are searching for candidates like you.

The drawback is that there is a possibility that a recruiter connected with your organization could see your signal.

LinkedIn does say they try to shield your Open Candidate signal from recruiters that are officially part of your organization or are affiliated with your organization. However, if an outside recruiter is working on searches connected to your organization, or is trying to get business from your organization, it is possible that your “Open Candidate” status could filter back to your employer.

So, you need to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of turning on the Open Candidate signal based on your particular situation.

In addition to filling out your title, summary, and experience, you will want to build your skills endorsements and recommendations. Recommendations carry more weight than endorsements (and obviously, take more work to get). You will want to get at least three recommendations from former bosses, co-workers, vendors, or others who can speak to your professional credentials.

Work on building your network by connecting to people you have worked with or had professional experiences with. Be judicious about the people you connect with at your current employer during your stealth search.

Also, join LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your job and profession. Begin participating in the group by commenting and answering questions where you can, and connecting to people you “meet” in the group through your participation.

*Important note on LinkedIn stealth job searches: Be sure to turn off profile edit notifications while you are making ANY changes to your LinkedIn profile. You don’t want your boss or people or other people in your company see you making lots of changes to your profile; a sure sign someone is job searching.
(Settings & Privacy => Privacy => Sharing profile edits).

Your References

Even in a stealth job search, I recommend you line up at least three professional references early on in your search. Obviously, your choices for references may be different than those you would choose for an open job search. You might not want to choose someone from your current job unless you are sure they can keep your request confidential.

When you embark on a job search (stealth or otherwise), you always want to check with your references to make sure they are okay with it, and send them a copy of your current resume so they have your experience and expertise handy when needed.

Generally, to provide a reference list to a potential employer, you will want each person’s current title/organization, phone number, and email address.

Your Stealth Job Search Elevator Pitch

The idea behind having a prepared elevator pitch is to be ready in case you have an unexpected opportunity (if you find yourself riding in the elevator with a VIP, for example) to tell someone about your product (you).

The pitch also helps you in conversations at career-related events such as professional meetings, during informal/informational interviews, and when your friend’s friend—who happens to work at a company you are interested in—asks you about what you do.

Here’s a simple formula for putting together your elevator pitch.

1) Your name and any affiliation you want to mention (including the name of the person that referred you, when appropriate).

2) A two or three sentence highlight of your work experience.

3) A one or two sentence explanation of the career area you are exploring (or specific information gap).

4) Your specific question for that person (if you have one):

“My work experience is in marketing, training, higher education, and coaching. During my career, I have worked in government, small business, a global ad agency, and in my own business. I’m very interested in the consulting field.”

“Are you familiar with the trend of X in consulting? What do you think about it?”
“What do think are the most important skills and experiences for someone working in consulting?”
“Could I talk with you about your experience working for X firm?”
“Could I ask you about your career in consulting?”
“I’ve heard it is very difficult to get your foot in the door. May I ask how you got your job, and if you have any advice for someone wanting to get into consulting?”

The Tactics of a Stealth Job Search

The tactics of a stealth job search are heavily dependent on networking and being visible among other professionals in your industry or field.

If you thought, “oh, no!” when you read that word—networking—you are not alone. In my work with hundreds of professionals on career issues, I have found that the vast majority either dislike or downright detest networking.

It is unfortunate because networking is the one of the most powerful tools you can use for career success. And it is an essential part of any job search strategy, stealth or otherwise.

Networking Mistakes

In my experience, there are three fatal mistakes that keep people from networking and keep them from doing it well.

The First Networking Mistake: Expecting Too Much, Too Soon

Networking is about relationships, not about transactions. And relationships are built a step at a time.

The mistake of expecting too much, too soon, is especially prevalent when someone is networking to find a new job. What happens is they focus on asking about jobs instead of asking for information and advice. That kind of networking (the transaction-based kind) makes just about everyone uncomfortable.

So, what are the appropriate expectations for networking when you are attending a professional meeting, for example?

Should you expect to leave the meeting with job leads? No.

Your goal in this type of situation is to meet some people, have a few minutes of conversation, and leave with their contact information. The real value for you will come in the follow up after the meeting, when you contact someone you met, and have the opportunity for more one-to-one conversation.

If you attend a professional meeting or event with the intent of networking, focus just on meeting people, having a short conversation, and getting their business card or contact information.

Focusing just on meeting people can relieve the pressure that many people feel about networking. You may even find yourself having fun!

The Second Networking Mistake: Assuming the Negative

People are reluctant to network because assume the experience will be negative. They assume that the person they are trying to contact will not want to talk with them or give them advice.

This negative assumption is a natural human reaction. Our brains are actually primed to lean toward the negative when confronted with an uncertain situation. It is a holdover from the days when fight or flight was a necessary instinct for survival. In those days, if you assumed the negative – that the rustling in the bushes was a predator – you survived.

I call this the Principle of Bermuda Triangles of Information, given a black hole or lack of information, our brains are compelled to fill that hole with negative conclusions, usually conclusions that are far more negative than reality.

Once you understand the Principle of Bermuda Triangles of Information, when you set out to network, you can fill that blank space with more positive expectations.

It is not unlikely that the person you contact will be more than happy to help you with the information or advice you are seeking. They could be flattered that you would ask them. They might be having a tough time at work, and need the ego boost that comes with someone looking to them as an expert, with advice to share. Or, they may just enjoy the opportunity to help other people.

The Third Networking Mistake: Failing To Be Persistent

Most people who fail at networking fail because they do not follow up or they give up too easily when things do not go their way.

Research shows that it can take five to seven attempts to make a connection with any one person. But, most people make one, or at the most, two attempts, and give up. They become the victim of a Bermuda Triangle of Information, assuming that the person they are contacting does not want to help.

The key to successful networking is what I call, “polite persistence.” When you are politely persistent, you make a contact, give the person a few days to a week to respond, and if they do not respond, make another contact.

In today’s environment, it can be tempting to expect someone to respond to your voice mail or e-mail immediately. However, if you put yourself in the shoes of your contact, you will realize that even if they have the intention of responding, other priorities may get in the way. Waiting a few days, or even up to a week, gives them an opportunity to respond, and also shows you respect their schedule and priorities.

Get Your Networking Ask In Gear

Some people do not like to network because they are uncomfortable about asking.

But when you do not ask, you miss out on opportunities.

When you do not ask, you tend to fill the blank with negative conclusions because of that Bermuda Triangle of Information.

When you do ask, surprising things happen.

You might learn about a trend in the industry, a new idea or an opportunity that would otherwise slip by.

You may also be surprised at how willing other people are to help you, if you just put your ask in gear.

Who Do You Ask?

One objection people often raise about networking is: “I don’t think I know anyone in a position to offer me a job.”

Remember, networking is not about asking people you know for a job!

Research shows when people find out about job openings through networking, it is not through close friends—those people they think of when they say “I don’t know anyone.”

Instead, the opportunities come through acquaintances or people they see occasionally or rarely, or through friends of friends or contacts of contacts.

This is often called the “strength of weak ties,” based a 1960s study by a Harvard graduate student, Mark Granovetter.

I think these “weak ties” are particularly relevant in today’s web and social-linked world.

The strength of weak ties means that a person has weak ties with a big universe of people.

The Strength of Weak Ties

Studies show that an individual has a close relationship with about 11 or 12 people. An individual has a more distant relationship with around 150 people. And the average individual is acquainted with between 500 and 1500 people.

So, if you are acquainted with 500-1500 people, and your acquaintances are acquainted with 500-1500 people, just think how big a network potential you have!

Six Degrees of Separation

Do you remember the Will Smith movie: “Six Degrees of Separation?”

The theory of six degrees of separation is based on the belief that any two people are linked through a chain of about six other people.

Now, six is not always the exact number.

But the point is: experiments have demonstrated that any person can be reached through a limited number of other people.

Which means that if you have a particular job or company you’re interested in, networking can get you to the right person, with (give or take) six contact points.

Let’s put this into the context of a job search.

If you were to make three contacts a week, in about two weeks you would connect with the target person on the other end of that chain.

Of course, in the real world, there can be time gaps between conversations or meetings.

But even if you just completed that chain once a month, over the next year, you would have made at least 12 target connections.

How to Get Visible to Recruiters and Employers in a Stealth Job Search

In addition to direct networking, becoming active in your professional community is a very effective tactic for getting visible in a way that will ramp up your chances of getting contacted about job opportunities.

Take a Workshop or Seminar

Taking a workshop or seminar will give you the opportunity to meet other working professionals and to learn a specific skill or increase your depth of knowledge about your field or industry. Every person in the workshop or seminar can be a potential contact for you in your stealth job search.

Get Active in a Professional Association

By joining the association, you will have access to the organization’s materials, including the newsletter, journals, and other educational materials. As a member, you can attend their events, such as conventions, monthly meetings, seminars and webinars, and use those events as an opportunity to learn more about the field, to make contacts in the field, and sometimes even to hear about job opportunities.

When you join an association, you also generally receive access to the membership directory, which gives you a ready source of networking contacts. And as a member of the organization, you have a natural connection to use when contacting other members.

You can also volunteer for a working committee or to help organize local chapter events for your professional organization, which will put you in contact with a wide range of people working in your industry or field.

Attend a Conference

Attending a professional conference in your field will give you the opportunity to enhance your knowledge of the current trends in the field, as well as to make contacts. It also has the advantage of putting you in face-to-face contact with people, so that when you follow up with them after the conference, the connection is much stronger than if you had just “met” them through social media or via e-mail.

If a professional conference is located in your area, you may even be able to volunteer to work the conference in exchange for a discount or complimentary registration. Large, national conferences often look for volunteers who can help out during the conference, and allow them to attend sessions as compensation.

By volunteering at a conference, you also have the opportunity to get to know the leaders of the organization, who are serving on the conference planning committee, and the staff of the organization who are putting on the event.

Volunteer in Your Community

Volunteering for a local not-for-profit organization that you are passionate about is another indirect way to meet people and raise your visibility in your community. Even if it’s not related to your target career, it can be a great way to make contacts.

Applying for Jobs in Your Stealth Search

Running a stealth job search doesn’t mean that you won’t also be simultaneously looking for job postings and applying when you find an opportunity that interests you.

There is no shortage of sites to find job postings, but generally your time will be better spent on more specialized, industry-specific job boards, than on the big, general job sites.

You can set up search alerts (and have them sent to your search-specific email) on many job boards once you know what job titles and/or keywords to target. This is the most efficient use of your limited job search time.

In addition to the big, general sites like Indeed.com, you can use LinkedIn to search opportunities, use industry-specific sites with job boards, and keep an eye on specific organizations. Depending on your industry and level, you might also check recruiting company web sites or work with recruiters.

There are several ways to find job openings on LinkedIn. The most obvious is to click on the Jobs tab and use “Update preferences” to set up criteria like industry, location and experience level (for job opportunities LinkedIn will show you and send you), and use the advanced search to actively review job postings. Make sure you don’t limit this search to your current job title because different companies use different titles. Another way to find jobs is to check the jobs tabs in your groups (this is different than the Jobs tab in your main menu). Also, you can check specific company pages on LinkedIn to see what is posted.

Industry-specific sites include organizations and associations that are specific to a profession or industry (usually a membership organization), and job sites that are specific to one industry or profession.

Why would you want to go narrow when there are big sites that do the work for you?

First, there are job opportunities that do not get posted on the big boards. Second, there are job postings on the big boards that have closed or have been withdrawn by employers that are still visible on the big boards. So you can miss valuable opportunities, or waste your time if you are relying only on a big aggregator site for postings.

Tip: When you do see a job posted on one of the big sites, try to find the post at the specific employer’s site to make sure it is still available, and when you find it, apply at the employer’s site, not on the big board.

Seeking Out Recruiters

If you are at the executive level or in a profession where there is a lot of demand, you may choose to seek out and connect with professional recruiters. However, keep in mind that recruiters work for an employer, not you. Contacting an unknown recruiter can be risky in a stealth search, unless you know the recruiter or know someone who can vouch for them

If you or one of your trusted friends/colleagues has had contact with a recruiter in the past, that would be a good person to connect (or reconnect) with.

Tips for Keeping Your Job Search Secret

  • Don’t use your work computer to search job sites.
  • Don’t create, print, or copy your resume at the office.
  • Don’t use your work email to contact recruiters.
  • Don’t confide in your colleagues, unless you are absolutely sure they will keep your secret.
  • Don’t suddenly change your work schedule, take your personal photographs home, or change other behaviors that might signal you are looking.
  • If you don’t normally wear interview clothes at work, don’t suddenly wear them on the day of an interview.
  • Don’t follow other companies on LinkedIn (they show up on your profile).

Ready to Get Started on Your Stealth Job Search?

You don’t have to put your current job at risk to explore new job opportunities. You just need to use the tactics of a stealth job search instead.

The secret to accomplishing big goals is to set and achieve small goals.

Did you decide that this is the year to make a big change? Maybe get a new job, change careers or start a business?

If so, you’re not alone.

Have you made significant progress on that change?

If not, you’re not alone!

The Myth of Bigger is Better

One of the biggest hurdles to accomplishing goals is the myth that you have “aim high” or “think big” which leads to people believing they also have to act big to accomplish their goals.

It’s not surprising since many of the famous self-help gurus preach about the extremes.

And no one working in the business world has escaped the concept of “stretch goals.” The idea that by shooting for larger than life goals, or those that you are unlikely to achieve, you will work harder and achieve more.

Believing that the one big gulp will get you to your goal may be what’s holding you back.

Instead, science has shown that setting small goals is actually more likely to get you to your big goal.

Small Wins Make Winners

Have you heard of the idea of small wins? It means setting yourself up for smaller, more frequent successes, rather than taking massive action that requires a much longer period of time before you achieve a goal.

This works because of the way your brain works.

Your brain rewards closure, or completing something. When you tell your brain you want something and you take (even itty-bitty) small steps to accomplish it, and each of those little steps is a small goal in itself, you release feel-good chemicals in your brain. These chemicals cause you to feel good about yourself and encouraged about your accomplishments.

So, when you take your big goal and break it into tiny pieces, those small wins cause a constant dose of pleasure chemicals.

And it becomes an infinite loop of accomplishment.

You want to feel the way you felt when you accomplished that small win again.

So, you keep moving, bit by bit, inexorably, toward that big goal.

Good Things Come in Small Packages

There are plenty of studies that show breaking a big goal down into smaller, more achievable goals leads to a much higher success rate.

Rather than waiting for months or years or five years to be successful, you are rewarded with encouraging daily or weekly success milestones.

Also, when you are rewarded more frequently, there is a much greater likelihood you will stay on the path to achieving your bigger goal.

Want to make massive change in your life? Make it one small goal at a time.

Are you waiting for perfect to accomplish your goals?

perfectionist cutting grass with scissors

It’s a common block to getting it done: perfectionism. When you set rigid expectations or standards of performance for yourself (and others).

We live in an achievement-oriented, competitive society that holds perfectionism as a high social value. We believe that if we can be perfect in some way, then good will magically come our way.

The problem is that perfectionism causes paralysis. Blank spaces. Stuckness. Procrastination.

Blank journal on table with coffee

Fortunately, perfectionism is a learned behavior. We are not born with it.

That’s good news because it means we can learn to overcome it, work around it, and break through it.

Break Through By Doing It Badly

Whether you are a perfectionist or just suffering from a bout of perfectionism, there are strategies that can help you when you are stuck because of perfection.

One strategy I call: Do It Badly.

Do it Badly? What?

Stay with me.

There might little gremlins in your head whispering (or even shouting), “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well,” or “Always do your best.” Or, “If this isn’t perfect, people will think I’m incompetent. (Or stupid. Or sloppy.)”

Desk with messy papers and phone

Let’s face it, that’s the internal commentator that keeps you from doing what you need to do. It can drown out even the best idea or strongest motivation. That fear of being judged and found lacking prevents you from starting, from creating, and from getting work done.

To outwit the commentator that criticizes each time you even think about beginning, instead of shooting for a masterpiece, allow yourself to just do it badly, and then revise and rework.

Make a Mess

For example, my development process is messy and chaotic. I have had to learn that not only is it okay to let the mess and chaos exist, it is a necessity. It took me years to learn that, because it’s not what most experts teach, especially in the field of writing.

I have never been able to start by writing an outline, in spite of the many teachers who have urged the technique. If I try to create in that linear fashion, it is a laborious, painful, and often, fruitless process.

Perfectionist businesswoman sitting at her desk with blank notebook and crumpled paper

If instead, I let myself follow my tendency to start writing in a messy, circular, jumbled process – to do it badly – without expectations of linear transitions or the perfect words, I can eventually write my way to a product I can point to with pride.

Sometimes it is just a matter of re-labeling something to give myself permission to start out messy. When I use the words “draft” or “musings” in the early stages, it makes it easier to accept the messy or disorganized beginning and get my creative thoughts on the table (or on the screen).

Another way I write “badly” is to write a draft that is a combination of paragraphs, phrases, and single words, knowing I can go back and fill in the blanks on my second pass.

puzzle with last piece almost in place

Obviously, Do It Badly doesn’t mean I do a crappy job and just leave it. It means I give myself permission to do a (very) rough draft and then go back and revise and polish.

What Can You Do Badly?

What project or task have you not accomplished because of perfectionism? Pick one project or task from your list, and give yourself permission to do it badly.

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One of the common reasons people postpone work or procrastinate is because the size or complexity of a project makes it intimidating. Every time they think about working on the project, they are overwhelmed by how much work is going to be required or how many different parts are involved. Or sometimes, they’re overwhelmed because it’s a long-term project and they can’t easily visualize the end result.

When faced with a too-big project, it’s easy to feel you should wait to start until you have a big block of time, or until you are sure you can make significant progress, or until you have all of the information.

Why do anything if you can’t do everything?

It’s called, “all or nothing” thinking.

The Perils of All or Nothing Thinking

Have you ever promised yourself that as soon as you had a free afternoon or a couple of unscheduled hours, or a whole day, you would tackle your project? Congratulations! You have been the victim of all or nothing thinking.

All or nothing thinking happens when people believe that until they can do everything, there is no point in doing anything. All or nothing thinking blocks people from all kinds of projects and goals: beginning a new initiative, looking for a new job, starting or marketing a business, or writing a book.

I see all or nothing thinking quite often in clients, especially when we are talking about a big project with lots of different parts.

One of the problems with all or nothing thinking about a project or task you need to tackle is that it creates a state of paralysis. You can’t get started until you believe you can do it all, and right now you can’t do it all. Therefore, you can’t get started.

Realistically, we rarely have the block of time we think we need to finish a whole project at one time. Especially in today’s digital world.

Instead, slice off a small piece and get it done in a small window of time.

Cut Your Project Down to Size

When you are stuck and just can’t get started on a project or task, use a tool I call Chunking It Up.

When you chunk it up, you break a project into smaller, more manageable pieces.

The pieces may be steps like simply making a list of tasks for the project, organizing your notes or research materials into a folder or notebook, starting an outline, or brainstorming a list of ideas.

When you break your project into smaller pieces and complete them, you give your brain what it is begging for: the satisfaction of closure. That satisfaction, in turn, motivates your brain to want to tackle and complete more.

Let’s say your project is to write a new blog post. Here are some smaller chunks you could start with:

  • Brainstorm topic ideas for the blog post.
  • Brainstorm keywords for your post.
  • Make a list of points you want to include.
  • Brainstorm examples you might include.
  • Research additional material, such as statistics, quotes, or images you might include.
  • Brainstorm titles for the post.

What if even those small chunks feel like too much? Try even smaller chunks:

  • Brainstorm one possible topic idea for the blog post.
  • Brainstorm one keyword.
  • Write down one point you want to make.
  • Write down one example you might include.
  • Research one statistic, quote, or image you might include.
  • Brainstorm one possible title for the post.

Chunking It Up breaks through that all-or-nothing paralysis, and it helps you create the momentum to keep going.

Leverage the Power of Small

Sometimes people are reluctant to use this strategy because they don’t think taking small steps is enough. They underestimate the power of many small steps and overestimate the need for “massive action,” as the gurus like to call it.

Taking many small actions can be even more effective than trying to do it all.

No doubt you’ve heard the business improvement term, Kaizen. The philosophy of Kaizen is that small, continual changes add up to big improvements.

Chunking It Up is similar to the concept of Kaizen: small steps add up to big progress.

Kaizen is the antithesis of all or nothing thinking. All or nothing thinking expects you to eat the entire elephant. Kaizen asks only for a small bite.

What Project Can You Cut Down to Size?

Pick a project from your to-do list and chunk it up. Break it into very small, easy-to-accomplish pieces. To make sure the pieces are small enough to begin with, use a 15-minute execution time (or even less) as your guideline.

How do you keep working toward your goals when you have setbacks and things go wrong?

It’s easy to feel good about your goal when you’re humming along, and things are going well.

It’s a lot harder when you run into bumps, obstacles and setbacks.

The journey to achievement of any goal is going to have bumps and problem, like when a step you take or decision you make doesn’t turn out quite like you expected.

Maybe you set yourself a goal to get a new job this year. And you’ve been faithfully networking, searching, and applying. And nothing is happening. You feel like you are spinning your wheels.

Or worse yet, you had an interview for a job you were really excited about and you didn’t get an offer.

When you work hard and don’t get results, it is frustrating and discouraging.

You might feel like giving up on your goal. Setbacks can do that.

Don’t Make a Setback into a Failure

For most people, failure is a scary word. For most, their mental map on failure is loaded with negative connotations and fear.

Your mental maps are groups of mental shortcuts. We all have them. In fact, we each have an entire atlas of maps. We build them for things like driving, going to school, living in families and working in companies. And these maps contain unwritten rules and assumptions that once learned, we rarely question.

It’s important to recognize that many of these unwritten rules and assumptions you did not even consciously choose. You learned them from other people–parents, teachers, coaches, and friends.

The failure map often says that failure is not just a bad thing; it’s a personal flaw. Only winners have worth. Only winners are good. Winning is their reward for doing all of the right things.

On the other flip side, this same map says that if you fail, there must be something wrong with you. Failure is a judgement of you and your worth. It’s the opposite of winning. If you fail, the map says, you must have done something to deserve that failure. You must not be good enough to succeed.

So, if you turn a goal setback into a failure, and your mental map says failure is a judgement on what you deserve, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to pick yourself up and keep pursuing that goal.

No Plan Survives Full Contact with Reality

Setbacks happen. If you’re not expecting them, you’re not thinking realistically about what it’s going to take to achieve your goals.

A better way to handle goal setbacks is to not just accept that they happen, but expect them to happen. Make them part of your plan.

Think about the last time you learned a new skill. Or when you learned how to ride a bike, ski or skate. The first time you attempted the new skill you were likely pretty awful. In fact, you might have been awful the first few times. You were also very likely afraid, not only before and during your initial attempt, but also before and during each subsequent attempt, again for quite some time. You might have fallen, or even hurt yourself.

So, learning any or all of these new skills was, in the beginning, a series of setbacks.

Then, something unexpected happened. You started to master the skill. You went from stumbling and awkward to graceful and swift. You felt exhilarated. You succeeded.

If you had let your fear, awkwardness, or embarrassment stop you when you were learning, you would have missed out on the success you ultimately achieved. Instead, you persevered. You learned to treat your setbacks as part of the journey to success.

Bring that same mindset to your current goal setbacks.

Being able to endure setbacks, and even expect them, will go a long way towards making the journey of achieving your goals faster and easier.

Updating your resume is a chore that often gets put on that “Someday” list.

It’s tedious, requires a lot of heavy thinking, and takes up time you would rather be using to do something much more fun.

One of the best ways to get a project done when you don’t feel like working on it is to break it up into small chunks and reward yourself when you finish each piece.


Getting your resume updated while binge-watching your favorite show is the perfect way to use this principle.

Here’s how.

Ground rules

First, the basics.

  • Turn off auto-play so you can create your own timeouts in between episodes.
  • If you want to get your resume done faster, shorter (half-hour) shows work better than longer (one-hour) shows.
  • You can break this into several evenings or days of binge watching. Breaking it up can actually be more effective, because it allows time for your brain to marinate and come up with better ideas.

Let’s get started!

Watch your first episode.

Step 1 (first timeout): Find your resume.

During the first timeout, find the most recent version of your resume, save it to a new file, and print it out. You can do this work on screen if you prefer, but it is more difficult.

That was easy, wasn’t it? On to the next episode.

Step 2 (second timeout): Mark up your resume for revision.

During the second timeout, mark up your resume, either on paper or on screen. Circle, underline or highlight everything you need to change, update, or delete. Don’t make the changes yet, just mark them for later.

These are the areas that frequently need updating:
•    Contact information
•    Current job title
•    Most recent work experience
•    Summary/profile missing keywords or significant recent experience
•    Older experience that’s no longer relevant that can be deleted or minimized

Once you’ve done your markup, you can start the next episode.

Step 3 (third timeout): Write a bad draft.

Time to go to work. Start with the most difficult piece to tackle. This is usually updating or adding your most recent work experience.

Begin by writing a bad draft of the new information.

What’s a bad draft? A bad draft is when you don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or the perfect words. Just get your thoughts down, even if it’s just a few words for each thought or a note to yourself about an experience you want to highlight.

For example, let’s say you are currently working on a new project that isn’t on your resume. What are the one or two skills or experiences you want to showcase from that project? Write your bad draft without worrying about the perfect wording.

Once you’ve tackled the most difficult piece, move on to writing bad drafts of the other pieces you need to add or change.

When you’re done with your bad drafts, reward yourself with another episode.

Note: If you have a lot of sections that need rewriting, you can use more than one timeout to finish your bad drafts before you move on to revisions.

Step 4 (fourth timeout): Polish.

Now, rewrite your bad drafts using action words and (where possible) numbers to quantify your results.

Polish up your drafts until you’re happy with them.

Enjoy another episode.

Step 5 (fifth timeout): Finish the revisions.

Make the rest of the changes you marked earlier, updating and changing the easy parts, such as contact information, titles, dates, etc.

On to the next episode.

Step 6 (sixth timeout): Proof your resume.

Proofing your resume is critical!

You can use spell-check, but that’s only the first line of defense against errors. You need to proof your resume manually word-by-word to ensure that you haven’t typed “there” when you meant “their” or something else that spell-check won’t find.

The easiest way to do this is to read your resume out loud.

Enjoy another episode.

Step 7 (seventh timeout): Send to a friend.

Email or give your updated resume to a friend or relative and ask them to proof it for you.

No one can effectively proof their own creation. And a resume is one place you cannot afford a typo!

Ask your friend to look at it and respond within the next few days.

Step 8: Celebrate!

Crack open your favorite beverage, sit back, and enjoy yet another episode of your favorite show as your reward!

But, what if your resume needs more than a simple update?

If your resume is more than a year old, or you need to make bigger changes, you might need an entire weekend (or a few weeknights) of binge-watching to get it done.

When someone asks,”What are you doing?” You can say, “I’m updating my resume.” 😉

What better excuse to hunker down for a weekend of no-guilt binge-watching?

Are you struggling to get work done? You might be a victim of perfectionism.

Perfectionism happens when you set rigid expectations or standards of performance for yourself (and others).

When you set standards too high, that perfectionism can cause paralysis.

So, sometimes getting more work done requires deliberate imperfection.

For example, a lot of people constantly strive to be organized. But one of the stumbling blocks to being ‘organized’ is the need to do it perfectly.

The desire to be perfectly organized, with the perfect container system, the perfect filing system, the perfect to-do list, and the perfect scheduling tool, often keeps people from being organized at all.

The solution? Go for imperfection.

Some people think that because electronic systems exist, or because their electronic system holds all of the information they might ever need, they should give up a paper-based system that works for them. The problem is that most electronic systems were developed for a specific purpose by a specific person (or team) and they may not suit your needs or your way of working.

I use the usual electronic systems for my schedule, contacts, and deadlines, but I use a paper to-do list. The electronics can hold a lot of information, but they don’t give me a holistic picture of my week or month, broken into the categories that work for me to function effectively. So I pair the electronic system with my own paper system.

But isn’t using two systems in your work inefficient? Not if it works.

How can you get work done by trying imperfection?

Power up your motivation to get unstuck and get work done with your own theme song.

Hip hop dancer power up your motivation richworkzone.com

When I talk with people about procrastination, and what gets in the way of them getting work accomplished, one of the reasons people give is a lack of motivation. They don’t tackle something because they just don’t feel like it.

When you just don’t feel like it, even a small chunk of work can seem as daunting as tackling Mount Everest.

Threatening yourself may work, but sometimes even cracking the whip does not.

There are reasons that cracking the whip over yourself (or another) is not the most effective strategy for getting work done.

Using Fear to Motivate Makes Work More Difficult

The first reason is that fear constricts energy. It also creates stress, which over time, decreases your brain’s ability to function effectively.

So, if you are using fear to try to motivate yourself to accomplish something, you could be making the task even more difficult.

boy hiding behind pillows on couch

Another reason is that because of conditioning, when you use negative motivation over and over, you create a negative connection related to that task or set of tasks in your brain.

What is conditioning?

If you saw the movie, Seabiscuit, you might remember that early on the horse is hesitating instead of breaking out of the starting gate. Because of the hesitation, Seabiscuit was already behind when he started a race.

thoroughbred horse race

The trainer decides to make use of conditioning to change the horse’s behavior. He tells the jockey to brush the horse’s flank at the exact instant when the starting bell rings.

Horses have an instinctual response to jump when being unexpectedly touched on the flank. It is a survival mechanism, in which the horse’s brain assumes that touch on the flank signals a predator.

Over and over during workouts, the jockey linked the brush on the flank to the ringing of the starting bell, until the two become connected for the horse.

So, in the next race, Seabiscuit leaps out of the gate when he hears the starting bell.

I realize you are not a horse, but you also have conditioned instincts and responses. Some of them help you and others hinder you.

Repetition Required

The good news is that you can deliberately create your own conditioned responses to motivate yourself by using one of your brain’s operating principles: Repetition Required.

Repetition is a key part of your brain’s learning process. When you are learning something new, your brain is actually building new physical connections between neurons. Repetition grows and strengthens the connections in your brain.

colorful brain

Sometimes it takes multiple repetitions to build those connections. Each time you repeat, it helps to strengthen the connections, so that after numerous repetitions, what was once difficult becomes easy.

You may not know it, but you already use repetition and conditioning. Is there a smell or food that evokes memories? A certain song that puts a smile on your face?

Those are conditioned responses, created through repetition, and made even more powerful when they are linked to an emotion.

Whistle While You Work

Walt Disney showed kids how to get motivated to get their work done in the movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Just whistle while you work.

With a theme song, you too can use the power of conditioning to feel happy, motivated, energetic, or confident whenever you want.

happy woman singing

To use this action tool, pick a song that is (or will be) your conditioning stimulus. Make sure the song has a melody you can sing or hum, and words that have special meaning for you.

If you already have a song that makes you feel this way, you’re ahead of the game!

If you don’t already have a theme song, you can build one by singing or humming the song (or singing along) at least three times a day. While you are singing or humming, think good thoughts. Think about what makes you feel happy, confident, successful, joyful, powerful, optimistic, grateful, and so on.

After a short time of practicing this conditioning, you will be able to trigger those powerful feelings just by singing or humming your theme song.

Ready, set, sing!

Want more tips for getting motivated and getting work done? I’m sharing my six favorite tools for breaking through procrastination, overwhelm, and time poverty in my new FREE guide: “Get Unstuck, Get It Done.” You can download it HERE.

Ready to Get Unstuck? Get Your Free Guide


Three tips for keeping a New Year’s resolution or promise to yourself.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year? Maybe you made one of these popular 2017 resolutions (according to Google):

1.    “Get Healthy”
2.    “Get Organized”
3.    “Live Life to the Fullest”
4.    “Learn New Hobbies”
5.    “Spend Less/Save More

If you did make a resolution, chances are you already broke it.

The consolation? You’re not the only one!

Why is it so difficult to keep a New Year’s resolution?

One reason we fail at resolutions is that we resolve to make too big a change.

With that new year/fresh start mindset, people mistakenly believe that a resolution must involve a momentous change (which is the most difficult to accomplish).

Another reason is that we don’t have the emotional leverage needed to survive the transition.

The good news is that it’s never too late to start again. And this time, to keep your promise.

How to Keep a New Year’s Promise

Ready to start again and succeed this time? Here are three tips:

Be the Tortoise, Not the Turkey

Except for significant addictions, cold turkey is not the way to succeed.

Making change gradually is less of a shock, plus it allows your brain to physically change its pathways.

Gradual change also lets you make mistakes and still move toward your goal. When you aim for all-or-nothing, you leave yourself little room for learning how to change.

2-How Do You Eat an Elephant? One Bite at a Time.

Break your oversized goal into easily-accomplished chunks: this quarter, this month, this week, today. Then celebrate accomplishing each of these small goals.

Breaking your elephant into small bites lowers the bar as well as the intimidation factor.

And celebrating small wins gives you positive reinforcement to help you keep on track.

3-Why, Oh Why?

Ask yourself why you want to make the change, and then find a tangible object to symbolize that reason.

I call them touchstones, and they can be as simple as a penny or as complex as a collage. Whatever helps remind you of your emotional commitment to your chosen promise.