5 Ways to Stop Feeling Like the Shipwrecked Sailor

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Do you ever get the feeling that although you are busy you never quite seem to achieve what you want? It’s easy being busy:  it’s often hard getting tangible results.

It puts me in mind of the poem of The Old Sailor by A.A. Milne which I loved as a child. (If you haven’t read the whole poem then I urge you to do so, it’s lovely.)

There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew
Who had so many things which he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn’t because of the state he was in.

 When I find myself falling into this trap, here are some of the things I do to help turn activities into results.

1.       Stop and Acknowledge

When you get that feeling of being extremely busy with a long to do list and a creeping sense of dread, then I have found one the best thing to do is to stop what you are doing and acknowledge how you are feeling.

It has been suggested by scientists that stress can trigger a change from rational thought to a primal reaction to flee. Basically we stop thinking and start running. By stopping and acknowledging how we are feeling we can help switch back to thinking rationally. This in turn will help us to think through how we might address the situation in a logical, planned way.

2.       Focus on Outcomes

Part of the reason for failing to get the results we want is that we may be focusing too much on the activity itself rather than the outcome we want. Activities are a means to an end. Keep the end in mind and endeavour to give priority to those activities that are necessary for the most important outcomes for you and your business.

 Rather than “what do I need to do today?” try “what do I need to accomplish today?”

 3.       Recognise Avoidance

This is one of my personal favourites. We often replace important but challenging activities with less important but easier ones, and then wonder why we haven’t achieved what we wanted.

I am writing this blog at home and almost succumbed to just that trap: emptying the dishwasher before I started writing! I had to consciously recognise what I was about to do and make the decision to opt for the tougher but more rewarding and ultimately more productive task.

Recognise when your mind is trying to “help” you by avoiding something difficult and face it head on.

4.       Plan Don’t List

Rather than simply listing all the things you need to do try planning your activities based on what you want to accomplish. My Progress Planning Worksheet should help.

Linking your activity to an objective or strategy and identifying the result or positive impact will help to focus on the outcome you want. You may also wish to consider how you will measure the result so you know when you have been successful. If you are making a financial investment to achieve an outcome then you may wish to allocate a budget or assess the impact on cash flow. Setting yourself a deadline is important as it helps to prevent avoidance.

5.       Appreciate Yourself

We so often chastise ourselves for the things we haven’t done and overlook all the things we have accomplished.

Highlight the things you have accomplished rather than simply crossing them off your list or plan and reward yourself for achieving them.

So when you start feeling like it’s all activity and no results try to


1.       Stop and Acknowledge

2.       Focus on Outcomes

3.       Recognise Avoidance

4.       Plan Don’t List

5.       Appreciate Yourself

 and don’t end up like the shipwrecked old sailor.

 And so in the end he did nothing at all,
But basked on the shingle wrapped up in a shawl.
And I think it was dreadful the way he behaved –
He did nothing but basking until he was saved!


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