Take a pen and piece of paper to get unstuck

Recently, I was out to dinner with a group when one individual “gifted” pens from a conference he recently attended.  The table discussion promptly turned to the question of whether pens are becoming unnecessary, as so many of us are married to our blackberries, I-devices, e-readers and computers for all aspects of our work and lives.

This seems quite a logical prediction, I thought.

Then, I had a coaching conversation, which reminded me about the immediacy and power of paper and pens, particularly as so many knowledge workers multi-task at a computer screen all day.

This particular client was stuck on why she was not making more progress on an important, professional project.  I asked a number of questions to understand the dynamics at play.  What was her level of commitment to the project?  High. How much thinking and planning had gone into the project.  A significant amount.  What was her schedule for working on it?  She was putting significant time into it every day.  Still, she was not moving in the way she thought was possible. What was getting in the way?

I asked her to think about what had worked with a similar type of project in recent months. At first, it seemed, it was merely about the momentum of the project and she needed to get past a certain point in the work to be able to see the whole picture, so it was going slow early on to go faster at the end.

Then, there was quiet reflection and she had a realization; what had worked before was writing on slips of paper, breaking her day out hour by hour with specific goals in mind.  Reaching a particular goal in the day would enable her to earn mini “rewards,” and breaks for herself.  In addition, she could physically cross things out as she moved through the day.  By the end of the call, my client was energized to pull out her paper and pen once again.

How many pens and pads are left on your desk?  Is it time to re-stock the supply or pull them out of the drawer.  Maybe it’s time for the pendulum to swing back.