How to Remove Obstacles That Stifle Your Progress

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you know how to remove obstacles that stifle your progress? What is the best way to go about it?

In your work and personal life, you face obstacles that keep you from achieving what matters to you or that slow the process. Most people try to remove obstacles by attempting to fix everything at once, but this is the least effective strategy. Instead, start with the most critical obstacle, where improvement will have the biggest impact.

Here are some tips on how to remove obstacles that stifle your progress.

How to Remove Obstacles: Learn From Alex Rogo

In The Goal, a management-oriented novel by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, a fictional character, Alex Rogo, is tasked with turning around a failing production plant. He succeeds by focusing on improving the slowest aspect of the production process, which has a ripple effect on improving the whole operation. He learned the value of focusing on the weakest point while leading a Boy Scout hiking trip. The group moved inefficiently, starting and stopping when the faster hikers got ahead and had to wait for slower hikers. When Rogo put the slowest hiker at the front of the group and helped him go faster by removing weight from his pack, the group moved more steadily and quickly.

Here are some steps to identifying and removing obstacles, using the example of preparing a 15-page report for a client:

  • Be clear about your purpose: You can’t determine what obstacles to remove unless you’re clear on what you’re trying to achieve —  in this case, your objective is producing and delivering your report by 2 p.m. Friday. With that level of specificity, it will be easier to identify obstacles.
  • Identify the weakest point or “slowest hiker”: Make a list of what obstacles are keeping you, or might keep you, from achieving your purpose. They might include not having all the information you need, your desire for perfection, or your energy level. Determine the obstacle that, if removed, would make the biggest difference or eliminate most of the other obstacles. There may be multiple obstacles, but removing them won’t facilitate the project if the primary obstacle isn’t addressed — so you have to focus on the right one.
  • Remove the primary obstacle: Maybe the key obstacle is your desire to make the report perfect and this is slowing things down. To remove the obstacle, make your priority getting the report done on time, rather than being perfect. When you remove the key obstacle, most other aspects of the job become easier. The weak point could be another person — a finance director who won’t approve your budget, for instance. To remove a human obstacle, go and see the person and ask how you can help (remove his obstacles).
How to Remove Obstacles That Stifle Your Progress

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  • How to do less but to do it better
  • Why you need to be disciplined in your pursuit of less
  • How you can learn to say no

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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