Two (Not So) Secret Weapons: Forcing Functions And Stack Ranks

Anybody who has a job to get done, a project to complete, or an impossibly long to-do list, this is for you. And by you I mean me, because I needed to organize this as a reminder.

Two (not so) secret weapons: forcing functions and stack ranks.

Forcing functions are anything that forces an action to be taken. Stuck? Move. Can’t move? Wriggle. Writer’s block? Put one word on a page. Giant list? Close your eyes, point, and start. Forcing functions are all about taking a step. It doesn’t have to be the right step, it just has to generate motion. Because once we move…

…we create feedback. Maybe we did something pointless. Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we struck gold. The point is once we move, something happens and then we get to respond. This brings us to the second weapon: stack ranks. Stack ranking is prioritizing. When there’s action, we have to prioritize what’s next. Once we’re in motion, staying in motion is the act of stack ranking to keep picking what’s next.

Places we can use this, beyond on ourselves:

Clients with too big to-do lists that are stuck in some phase of a process. Give them a specific task and ask them to momentarily ignore the rest.

Colleagues with too many projects piled up in front of them and something we need their specific help on. Get a “two second opinion.”

Peers who need a bump of motivation, especially out of “analysis paralysis.” Look for a lower stakes decision where an error won’t be too costly and help them start.

Force a move, focus on the response, engage in a proactive process. The tools are there, it’s up to us to use them. Even better, turn using them into habits. There’s work to be done.

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