5 Things Holding You Back

Note: This post is written by Dave Getman

If you feel like you’re running in place, consider taking a moment to pause and reflect on your life. Did you expect to have achieved more by this age? What’s holding you back? Consider the following five factors.

1. Too Many Projects

To say that you “have to have priorities” is an understatement. You have to “have a priority”. Side projects need to be filed away for another year.  At work, you can’t file side projects away for a year but you can delegate and choose which projects to work hardest on.

You have responsibilities, which you should do as efficiently as possible, and you have your main project. Every other project or hobby is just a distraction obstructing the path to the thing you really want to do well.

2. Too Many People in The Kitchen

Professional projects are often discussed in meetings and worked on by teams, where a goal that begins as simple and clear becomes complicated and diluted.

Take an example where a company hires an ad agency to create a promotional video for a new app they published. The marketing director starts with a short ad that has a clear message. However, the ad’s message gets diluted very quickly.

  • The COO hears about the project and requests that, at the end, the ad also mention the new analytics software the company is rolling out.
  • The product development director who’s team created the product requests that the ad mention the superior database technology they used.
  • The CEO stops by the meeting and comments that they “hope the ad encourages people to check out the website, after all, they just spent 50k on a website redesign.”

Suddenly the message is diluted and there’s no clear call to action. Engagement metrics on the video end up being low.

This is just one example of why you should avoid having too many people in the kitchen. Modern corporations are flatter and more cross-functional than ever. Projects and initiatives need an owner who is given the authority to tell their coworkers “no”. Projects can’t speak for themselves, they need an advocate.

3. Too Many Shiny Things

Saying you need to have “fewer distractions” is too vague. Ignoring side projects and focusing on a main project (as written about above) requires one skillset. However, focusing in the moment is an entirely different skillset.

At home, this usually means working in a room by yourself with the TV off. At work, it can be difficult. It may require leaving the office. Two hours in the corner of a coffee shop can do wonders. It’s unrealistic to expect to concentrate, uninterrupted, for eight hours straight. The goal is to have sprints of intense focus. Those are your magic hours where great things happen.

The tricks to doing this are the things you probably already know you should do. First, you have to find that quiet place. Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode and leave it in your pocket or bag unless you need it. Put on headphones. If you don’t need internet for the project, disconnect your laptop from the Wi-Fi. Focusing is like going for a run, the hardest part is mentally forcing yourself to start it.

4. Too Few Good Influences

The best type of progress is to first increase your value, then make a career step. Climbing the corporate ladder is nice but, long-term, you want to be standing on a solid foundation. The best way to do that is to learn everyday and the best way to do that is to surround yourself with smart people.

Smart people are amazing to be around. They lend incredible insight and share tools and tips that you’re unlikely to find without them. If you’re not learning from your colleagues, consider quitting.

Sure, in plenty of companies you can climb the ladder without learning from others everyday. However, that’s shortsighted. You want to maximize your knowledge and skillset because impressive titles are two-dimensional, they’re a house of cards whereas intelligence is concrete.

5. Too Few Routines for Success

Aristotle said “we are what we repeatedly do”. If you want to know yourself don’t look in the mirror, look at your habits. Achievement only comes from consistent, focused effort.

Effort is a powerful thing. Yes, money can build things but only in combination with significant effort and knowledge. However, effort alone has often been enough to build valuable things with almost no money. Your daily efforts are the most valuable resource in your possession.

If you want to be knowledgeable, read more. If you want to be skilled, practice more. If you want to be noticed, market more. If you want a company, build more.

The most amazing thing about habits is that they fuel each other. Indulge in bad habits and it’s a slippery slope. Each indulgence, each compromise, fuels the next. On the other hand, run everyday and it can fuel your sense of power and ability. Clear your life of distractions and concentrate more, and you’ll get better at it. Your subconscious self-image notices your behaviors.

That mental image feeds every decision in your life. One day you’re putting on your running shoes and it starts to rain. It takes you two seconds to decide “Whatever, rain’s not going to get in my way” and you’re out the door. A week later that same attitude shows up in a business challenge.

Dave Getman is an analyst and iOS developer currently traveling the world. He keeps a travel blog called Hot But Happy. His most popular app is Do.List, for list making and daily productivity.


  1. Dave, you hit on a lot of reasons we’re held back. I think something else we should look at is OUR ability to hold us back. We let limiting beliefs and fears keep us from doing what needs to be done, or what we want to do.

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