How to make a success of that piece of work you don’t really want to do

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Liz, May 19, 2017

Here are the tell-tale signs: My desk is tidy. Really tidy. I have answered all my emails… and even opened a few junk ones. My admin is done. My household paperwork is filed.

This abnormal activity can only mean one thing. There is a piece of work on my schedule that, for reasons unknown, is not setting my world on fire.

I am avoiding. I am watching YouTube videos in the name of research. I am clearing my laptop desktop and actually filing things (this, let me tell you, is a rare occurrence). Each delaying tactic is like a new brick in the wall that’s going up between me and this piece of work.

So what to do? Just blitz on and do it anyway?

I guess I could, but I still wouldn’t be loving it. And our lovely clients pay us to love their work.

I could pass it on to someone else… but everyone else is slammed and it would probably take me longer to explain it than it would to do it myself.

So here’s what I’m going to do. It’s my tried and tested method for dealing with Pieces Of Work That For No Fathomable Reason I Don’t Want To Do.


1)   Go for a walk. At least an hour’s walk. I’m working from home today, so I’ll head down a country lane across the road to a former pithead that’s been turned into a lake. From very long experience (I’ve been doing this for more than a couple of decades now) I know it isn’t usually the work itself that makes the “Grrr” set in. It’s often more to do with being bored of sitting down and staring at the screen. So I’ll get some fresh air into my lungs and use the rhythm of my steps to reset my head. Even better, I’ll probably come back with some new ideas, because that seems to happen on walks.

2)   I’ll go back to the brief. It never hurts. Even if you can recite the brief forwards and back, re-reading it can help you to interrogate your own structure and approach. I prefer to read a brief on paper so I can doodle in the margins… and I think when you’re trying to get your mojo back, the screen can get in the way. And there’s always the tiny chance that a little word or phrase in the brief that seemed insignificant to you at the beginning of the project could in the course of getting further and further into it, take on new meaning. So when you re-read, you may have that, “Oh so that’s the reason for this…” moment.

3)   Next, I have a little conversation, out loud, with myself. Or actually, as I’m at home today, I have the conversation with the cat. I explain the thing out loud, right from the beginning. What is it for? How is it going to make life better? “Why,” I ask the cat, “Should you be excited about this, Witchy?” The cat starts to purr, which is encouraging. This may sound batty – and it’s the kind of thing you’d definitely look a bit batty doing in a shared corporate space. But for me, explaining something out loud – even if the only sounding board I have is the cat – can crystalise and align things. More to the point, it gets me interested in the project again, because when you hear the benefits spoken out loud, you remember how interesting the whole thing was when you first heard about it. (If you don’t want to look batty in front of your colleagues, chat to yourself while you’re walking. You could put a headset on and pretend you’re on a call.)


4)   Start a clean page in my notebook and jot down some notes. Because, let me tell you, if I don’t, any brilliant thought I’ve had will evaporate into the ether within seconds and be gone forever.

5)   Stand up and stretch. This may sound like more delaying tactics, but I’ve been having some interesting conversations with a physiotherapist lately, who specialises in workplace wellness ( if you’re interested). He’s helped us to incorporate activities into our normal business activities that are all designed to help with thinking, wellness and positivity. And stretching regularly helps you to think more clearly and handle stress better. So stretching must happen.

6)   Sketch. I don’t know if other strategists/writers do this, but most of my big project work starts with hand-drawn sketches on massive pieces of paper. This is how I get the flow and the structure right. It also allows me to use different coloured Sharpies, which I quite like.

7)   Get it on the page. I’m back in love with the work. I’m interested in it again. It may have taken a couple of hours of walking, stretching, talking to the cat and some coloured pens to get me there – but it’s happened and I’m feeling optimistic.

I suspect I’m not alone in having moments when I just can’t get into the groove on particular pieces of work. It’s usually not the fault of the project itself – even though some are definitely harder than others. It’s usually just a collection of circumstances coming together at the wrong time.

Does this happen to other people? How do you get over the hump and do good work anyway?

2 Responses to “How to make a success of that piece of work you don’t really want to do”

  1. Steven

    I once read or heard the phrase one “nobody ever gets inspired looking at a screen”.
    I completely agree and as yet, I have no evidence to contest this.

  2. Vicky

    I recently started walking barefoot in the park…the tickling sensation of the grass underneath my feet grasps all of my attention – it silences my mind for a few minutes, helps me clear my head.
    Equally powerful is walking along a sandy beach…or under warm summer drizzle:)

    Or cooking a new recipe.

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