CTO Compass

The Magic If

In the last post, we talked about Decision Time, the surprisingly effective technique for helping you to get started planning your important tasks and projects.

If you did, and you still sat there frozen like a deer in headlights, as promised, here’s another little technique that Alan Lakein has up his sleeve that you can try if you’re still finding yourself blocked by all the constraints and problems you’re facing. This technique is a great psychological way to hack your brain when you feel overwhelmed with all the steps, possibilities, and options that you might need to take to complete the task ahead.

“I can’t plan”

One way an actor can keep their performances fresh, particularly in long-running plays, is to find new ways to connect to their character and bring these elements to their lines so they are more believable and aren’t just regurgitating their lines. They do this by asking themselves “if” questions. And that’s essentially what we’re going to do here but in reverse.

First, you’re going to admit to yourself that you just cannot plan.

Then say to yourself, “But if I could plan, what would the plan be?”

Now try to answer that “if” question on your paper.

This slight separation of self may be all you need to psychologically free yourself of the limitations and the problems you face, which will loosen your planning muscles.

There’s always a Plan B

If you’re still stuck in your own head, then there’s always Plan B.

Often, we think we need the whole plan laid out before we can start, and that can paralyze us. Contrast that with the situations that I’m sure we’ve all been in. A friend comes to us worried about a problem; we have no problem dispensing advice because we’re not under their pressure. As the saying goes, you can’t read the label from inside the jar.

And that’s Plan B.

Try looking at it this way: You’ve been relieved of all the responsibility for getting this task or project done. All you need to do instead is to write down a plan of action for someone else to follow. Provide this person with any good advice you can, based on what you currently know about the work that needs to be done.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to do any of these items, so if some of the steps you recommend are difficult, it’s not your problem.

Helping out

When you’re done writing down what you can leave the plan on your desk and take a break. On your return, take a look at the plan and see if there’s anything on the list that you could do now to help the other person out.

Find the easy steps, or if there’s something on there that you know you’re pretty good at, take a stab at carrying it out to get the project moving.

Ultimately, our goal is to find some way of fooling ourselves into action. Most of us think that behaviour follows our feelings, but in fact, it’s the other way around.

We need to find the smallest thing that moves us forward in the important work that we need to do. Much like Newton’s first law, once we’re in motion, we’re more likely to stay in motion.

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

Here is a quick recap of The Magic If technique you can use when you’re still frozen in a Decision Time session.

  1. Admit to yourself that you simply cannot plan.
  2. Then say to yourself, “But if I could plan, what would that plan be?”

​If you’re still stuck, then try Plan B:

You have been relieved of all responsibilities for getting this task or project completed.

All you need to do now is write down what you know about the task or project for someone else to pick it up. Give that person as much good advice as you can about the work that needs to be done. Keep in mind that you won’t be executing these steps.

When you’re done, take a break and leave the plan on your desk.

On your return, find an easy task or one that you know you’re really good at already and get to work on it to help out the other person.