Stuck? Find the bottleneck.

A few months ago, I took a business bootcamp course from Mirasee, an organization that helps build and scale businesses using a combination of audience-building strategies and online courses.

The intention of the course designer and company founder, Danny Iny, was to teach participants how to jump start a business. I’m not sure, yet, whether the course will help me do that, but it’s already made a difference in how I approach problems in my own life, and also in how I coach my clients.

I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far.

In the Mirasee course, we learned to identify bottlenecks that might block us from launching and profiting from our businesses.

Maybe we didn’t have enough time, or enough money, or enough expertise. Or maybe we didn’t know the market. Or maybe there was an emotional factor -- I’m not good enough, smart enough, popular enough, etc. -- that kept us from moving ahead.

Although many of these issues might turn out to be real, Danny made the case, convincingly, that this didn’t really matter. His point -- and one that was new to me -- was that at any given time, there’s only one bottleneck. And that until we get through the current bottleneck, there’s no need to expend energy on any of the other ones.

In other words, what’s blocking us at any given moment is just one thing.

Maybe, as soon as we get through that bottleneck, another will emerge that blocks our way again, but right now, we only have to deal with the one in front of us.

For example, let’s say I’m going to start a business creating and marketing online courses. (Which I am!) At the moment, these are some of the bottlenecks I see:

  1. I don’t have enough time
  2. I don’t have the expertise
  3. I don’t know the market
  4. I don’t know how to market

… and I know there will be other bottlenecks down the line -- the unknown unknowns. When I think of all that, it makes me want to quit before I’ve even gotten started.

But right now, my only bottleneck is lack of expertise: I don’t know how to create an online course. Until I learn how to do that well, none of the other potential bottlenecks matters.

Of course, once I get through that bottleneck (by taking online courses in online course development), new bottlenecks will appear. I’ll run into time constraints. I’ll run into technology issues. I’ll have to learn the market. I have to learn how to market. Right now, though, the only bottleneck is learning how to create a course. That’s all I need to pay attention to now. And that seems like a manageable task.

Another example.

For many years, a friend has wanted to do a variety of creative projects, but he's been unable to complete any of them. He has notebooks and voice memos filled with ideas, and a collection of half-finished works. Lately, he can’t even motivate himself to touch any of them.

“Maybe I’m just lazy,” he told me recently.

But as we talked, laziness didn’t seem to be a factor.

He described the many things blocking him: He has a very busy schedule. There’s no deadline for any of these projects. He doesn’t know how to do some of them. And he has so many unfinished projects already that starting a new one seems pointless. “I’d never finish that one, either.”

My friend’s list is like the lists I hear many of my clients reciting, and also like the ones I recite myself when I’ve been putting off something I think I’d really like to do.

We looked together through the lens of the bottleneck-finder (and saw past the Coca Cola imprint at the bottom of the bottle). We found that because he had so many unfinished projects, and all of them seemed equally important, he couldn’t figure out which to focus on first.

That was his bottleneck.

So, we grouped his unfinished projects into categories, and within a few minutes an unwieldy list of dozens of projects became a list of only four main groups. Then I asked, “Which category of projects would you most regret not finishing, ten years down the road?”

It was easy for him to pick one, and then to choose the most important project in that category. That choice pushed him through the bottleneck.

His next bottleneck is carving out enough time to complete this project, and when he squeezes through the time barrier, other bottlenecks will inevitably emerge. But now he’s started his project and he’s on his way to completing it.

Bottlenecks hinder forward movement in most of the problems we all face.

“What’s the bottleneck now?” applies to solving almost any problem, large or small, internal or external. Looking for the one that’s blocking us now helps us transform “insurmountable” obstacles and “overwhelming” problems into discrete tasks we can move through, one bottleneck at a time.

How to get through a bottleneck once you’ve identified it is sometimes quick, sometimes slow, sometimes straightforward, sometimes not. That’s the subject of a future post. But identifying what’s stopping you now is the essential first step.

If you’re feeling stuck in some area of your life right now, or you have a bottleneck tale to tell, please post your story in the comment area on the blog.

More anon,

Copyright 2018, David J. Bookbinder

12 thoughts on “
Stuck? Find the bottleneck.

  1. Thanks so much David for this metaphor of the Bottleneck.

    I’ve been told by many that I am “multi-talented” (trained musician, art consultant, ran my own
    conceptual art business for 30 years, started a Global support education for people with mental
    health challenges etc..

    I made a list and separated them loosely by their “purpose”:
    1) Creative output and engagement (e.g. create a music group not for profit,just playing)
    2) Provide income.. short and long term

    Then I couldn’t prioritize.. Some of the things you mentioned about your own blocks were
    similar to mine (not enough time). Another one was do I REALLY want to muscle up and work
    hard to do X?

    Albert Ellis coined the term “LFT” (Low Frustration Tolerance) and I think that’s one of the
    major blocks (I’m much better at describing the blocks than actually “picking ONE” of these
    and devoting my time to it.

    In the meantime, I draw almost every night when I’m home but when I go to Instagram
    to post, I have the same (I need to LEARN Instagram first).

    I also thought this “comment” should have a certain form but after reading the varied approaches
    of others, I was heartened that the idea of “it has to be a certain way” has kept me from completing
    many projects.

    And you might be rubbing your head now and asking “Harrie, what was the question”?

    PS What has worked before was having all the preparations available and being free to
    do which ever one appeals at the moment… maybe I get something out of being what
    Barbara Sher called a “Scanner” … do you know her book “Refuse to Choose”. She makes
    the case for not trying to stick to/complete one thing at a time (and more)”

    1. Hi, Harrie. Nice to “see” you here. It sounds like learning to deal with LFT, either by increasing frustration tolerance or by rolling with it, is the bottleneck you’re facing right now, rather than “picking one” project and completing it. I’ll be interested in seeing where looking at this bottleneck goes.

      More to come, in a future post, is how to deal with bottlenecks when we identify them.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing and your generous spirit! 2 bolts are our bottle neck at the momment to getting the garage set up for a workshop. Easily solvable at home depot but we can’t seem get there. Funny phenomen this concept. Thanks again. Hope you are well! ❤️

    1. Hi, Cynthia. It sounds as if the bottleneck has, itself, a bottleneck. The sub-project becomes “getting to Home Depot,” and the bottleneck becomes whatever is blocking that task. Let us know when you figure it out!

  3. Oh, very timely — and so well written, David!
    A variation naturally of “One thing at a time”, “One foot in front of the other”, “A journey of 1000 li starts with one step”, etc. — none of which detracts from the value of helping us reorder our thinking here freshly with new examples..!

    1. Thanks, Philip. What I like about the bottleneck idea is that it makes it clear that at any given moment, there’s only one particular first step or next step, of all the possible steps, that is the right one to take.

      Once in a while I run across a concept that is so useful I wish I’d thought of it. This is one of them.

  4. I made a resolution last January to read more books this year. Guess what, I have not. How to pick a book? Classic or best seller? Fiction or non? Just the selection process seemed daunting. Too many good choices. And I felt stuck.

    Then I read your wonderful essay with the straightforward concept of the bottleneck and sliced my resolution into a smaller portion. I found a Short Story Antholgy whereby I can feel accomplished within an hour.

    Thanks for helping DJB!

  5. Hi David. Thanks for sharing a bit of Danny Iny’s theory of being stuck in a personal bottleneck. It reminds me of being stuck in traffic on a four lane highway during rush hour, having to move forward and into a single lane, due to a road block. In my own personal life, I have to change my perspective and focus on what it is that I want to achieve, then I have to act upon my choice and stay with it until finished. For myself, focus, patience and action is key . I still have many unfinished projects to complete. Distractions get my the way.

  6. Damned awesome content, dude! Saved people the price of admission to Danny Iny’s seminar, tho he’ll be happy to get the kudos and free p.r.

    I’m still glad to hear you’re eating meat again. The reluctance, tho, I think you’re just overthinking it. Go ahead, have a burger, bro, it’s on me!

    1. Actually, the workshop was free! But this was an unexpected benefit.

      My stomach, which has a mind of its own, apparently has other ideas about me and meat-eating. A story for another time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *