What do you want to accomplish?

Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How many times have you heard the statement, “I don’t know where to begin?”

I often ask the same question to myself.   When I hear or state that question, I am now responding with “What are you trying to accomplish?” If we don’t know what the end goal is, most times it is pointless to start. Usually when asked this question, almost immediately we can come up with an answer. The answer usually is solve problem x. At this point, we should then be able to determine our next action.

A magnificent structure in St. Petersburg, Russia. What to accomplish was decided. I wonder how long it took to get the first column done. After that I am sure everything else was easy.

I don’t know what I am trying to accomplish, but I know there is a problem

In those situations where we don’t have an answer, we should only have one starting action. Figure out what success would look like is your first starting action. Here are some ways to accomplish this first starting action:

  1. Create a timed brainstorming session. I have found that 3 minutes is usually enough. List whatever comes to mind about the issue or problem.
  2. Create a list of pros and cons about the problem. I usually find that by identifying the opposite viewpoints get me to a starting place.
  3. Research - Has this problem already been solved? Don’t reinvent the wheel.

I now know what to accomplish, but the problem is so big

The list of clichés can go forever when it comes to figuring out how to take on an enormous problem.   I have found success by utilizing the following methods to get started:

  1. Don’t procrastinate - Create a forcing function to make progress. This will lead to building momentum. You can’t move forward if you are at a standstill.
  2. Find the highest value, lowest effort win - When you find this win, it will show to yourself and others that the problem can be chipped away at. Some people talk about this as getting the low hanging fruit. Success in small things, makes for increased success in bigger items.
  3. Think more, do less. It may seem counterintuitive, but more often than not when you thoroughly think through a problem, new and innovative answers and solutions evolve.
  4. Prototype a direction - Don’t be afraid to throw your work away if it doesn’t pan out. Prototyping helps you understand what you are trying to solve better. In software development we sometimes call this action a spike.

The great thing about knowing what you want to accomplish is that no matter what starting action that you take as long as it is focused on getting to the end, it will be a step forward. Are you working on challenges or problems without knowing what accomplishment looks like?