Brandon Sanderson’s third Stormlight Archive book, Oathbringer, was published in mid-November, and I spent much of my free time that month rereading the first two books in the series so I could read the new one as soon as it came out. (If you’ve read them, you get it.)
During one battle-strategizing session in the new book—I won’t go into specifics lest I spoil something for a fellow devout reader—one of the characters expresses reservations about the possibility of their success in the engagement. The main stage of the clash will take place inside an enemy-occupied building, so there are multiple choke points—hallways—where the bad guys will have the upper hand. But the good guys need the building, so there’s just no way around it. They’ll have to make do, despite the choke points.
If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve likely been exposed to talk of “choke points” in discussions of workplace productivity.
In a doctor’s office, patient files might get piled up on the doctor’s desk awaiting post-lab review. Or at a publisher, marketing copy that must go through multiple rounds of approval in several departments might stack up on the desk of a head editor who has too much to worry about already.
Choke points are probably an innate feature of any hierarchical organization. Things need approval; someone has to approve them. There are plenty of business strategies for alleviating pressure at choke points, I know, but how do you alleviate them as a freelancer, when you’re both the choke point and the employee waiting for work on the other side?
What’s the problem?
The first step toward solving the problem, as usual, is identifying it. Where are you moving a little more slowly than you should in your business? You can probably identify this pretty quickly, even if you’ve been trying to ignore the problem.
Is a proverbial—or real—stack of receipts piling high on your desk? Are you procrastinating on starting a project you just accepted? Do you have a long list of blog posts you haven’t gotten around to writing—or even a folder of written posts you haven’t published?
Some of these backups might cause more immediate problems for your business than others, but in reality any of them will hold you back somehow, sometime. Admitting your choke points to yourself and figuring out how to alleviate them can only help you move forward.
What’s behind the problem?
My choke points typically stem from my anxiety about a project. I might put off starting it because I’m less comfortable with the subject material than I would like, or because I doubt my understanding of some minor instruction in the project memo.
These anxieties have simple solutions, of course—if I did a little research, read the instructions more thoroughly, or just started the project for heaven’s sake, I’d realize I had nothing to worry about.
But when I let that anxiety put its blinders on me, a little bump of an issue can feel like a wall I have to climb before I start the project. A wall I really don’t want to climb. One that feels like it might knock itself down, maybe, if I just don’t look at it.
But we all know that’s not how it works.
Sitting down with your choke point
You’ve identified your choke point, and you’ve admitted to yourself what’s causing it. Now sit down with that; stare it full in the face. (I think I’ve mixed several metaphors here, but I hope you’ll forgive me.)
Think about how you can get around it, how you can avoid it in the future. I know I have to head off my anxiety as soon as I feel it. Procrastinating with anxiety is like wiggling in a bramblebush—things get thorny quick, and they just get thornier.
Freelancers and solopreneurs encounter choke points and other obstacles to productivity just as other businesses do. If you’ve identified your choke point, try confronting it. Maybe it’s big, maybe it’s little, but working through it will, at the very least, be a good practice in resilience.
What are your choke points? What methods have you found to work through them?
Title photo credit: Cork Run Tunnel, Pittsburgh & Steubenville Railroad, from Chartiers Avenue Bridge heading 2371′ west, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, PA, Library of Congress call no. HAER PA,2-PITBU,71-.