Are You Caught in the Weeds? Five Telltale Signs and The Danger that Lurks There

“I have so much going on that I can’t seem to make headway on anything. And then there is another fire that needs tending to, and another one after that. I never seem to have a chance to get to the really important things I have to do. I go home at the end of the day Untitledexhausted, only to wake up and do it all over again.”

Sound familiar? I think at one time or another we have all echoed that refrain. I hear it often from clients. And I have uttered it myself as well.

When you are in it, you feel stuck. Immobilized. In some cases, victimized. It may seem as though there is just no way out. And sometimes it really is unavoidable. But in most cases, this condition is not only self imposed, but self perpetuated.

“What?” You might say. “You really think I’m choosing this?”

Well, yes it’s very possible. Maybe not consciously. Perhaps not intentionally.

One day I was sitting on the bank of a little creek that runs through the edge of our neighborhood. The water flows fairly quickly – it’s a bit of a babbling brook. Every once in awhile there are ducks floating by – and sometimes their little fluffy ducklings following closely behind. Debris floats along too. And if you look at the sides of this little stream of water, occasionally the debris piles up on the side and gets stuck in the weeds that grow along the edges. The longer it stays there, the more stagnant it becomes. And then it seems to grow, collecting other debris that float into it.

I think that’s what happens to us when we lose sight of where we are going. We get distracted by something that takes us out of the flow and snags our attention and our focus. And once off course, we tend to become susceptible to all manner of diversions. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until we find ourselves ensnared and feeling trapped.

Why do we do this?

When there is some big endeavor we want to undertake, we usually start bright eyed and energized. And as we get further into things, we may find ourselves hitting walls. Sometimes the obstacles are a normal part of the process, and other times we have unwittingly placed them there ourselves.   When plagued by feelings of overwhelm or fear of failure, we begin to shrink from the possibilities that initially lit us up and instead crawl into the shadows. Then we unwittingly propagate the very conditions that lead us to feel stuck.

The real problem is that before we got sucked into the distraction, we made an unconscious decision to stay in our comfort zone. The kind of decision I’m referring to is one where we decide not to decide. It’s a default we revert to when we let our fear, doubt and limiting assumptions get the better of us. We take our eye off the ball, leaving ourselves susceptible to all manner of distractions. And the distractions most likely to entice us are those that allow us to stay in our comfort zones, while perpetuating the illusion that we are getting something done.

Though the distraction seems to justify the decision to do something other than the brilliant feat we set out to accomplish, it was not actually the cause.  The decision to stay in our comfort zone is what attracts all manner of little things into our path – those little things that are annoying and time consuming – but all too familiar.

You know you are in the weeds when the things you find yourself doing:

  • Things that don’t require a lot of skill on your part – they are banal, yet comfortable and familiar
  • Things that would be better delegated to others, or in some cases not done at all
  • Things that drain your energy and expand in size to suck up far more of your time than you thought they would
  • Things that have very little, if anything, to do with the larger vision and goals you hold dear for yourself
  • Things that begin to make you feel as though you are slowly going out of your mind

I have seen this happen to teams who start out to launch a strategic endeavor and get caught up in identifying, labeling, categorizing, and even wordsmithing all manner of details that really won’t matter all that much in the long run.

I see this happening to my clients when they begin making progress toward some great vision and get sucked into fighting fires by reverting back to doing the operational work they did before they became leaders (or leaders of leaders) instead of empowering their people to work through these challenges themselves.

And I have seen it in myself when I commit to getting something off the ground that has beckoned to and inspired me for weeks or months, only to get sucked into going through my emails and spending hours trying to resolve technical issues that would only take others (who knew what they were doing) a matter of minutes.

So once in this trap, how do you free yourself? And better yet, how can you avoid falling into it altogether?

Well, the first step is to take responsibility. We have to be honest with ourselves about our role in the situation. It takes us out of victim mode and allows us to recognize that a large part of our experiences are directly related to the decisions (conscious and unconscious) we have made. And it frees us up to choose differently.

My next post, Five Steps for Getting and Staying Out of the Weeds, will give you a concrete approach for staying the course that will allow you to step into your brilliance and unearth your best work. In the meantime, consciously observe the way your actions and your thoughts perpetuate the state you find yourself in – and you may begin to see the way out for yourself.

Image courtesy of puttsk at

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