Solving for “What Do I Do Next?”

No matter who you are, at various times in your day/week/year/career, you will run into this question:

What do I do next?

This an unavoidable question that people will coach you to avoid at all times. There are a variety of things that happen to drive this question.

  • You finish a major project without planning the next one

  • You need to shift your focus because you are stuck on a difficult project

  • You are waiting for new work to be assigned

  • You are responsible to setting the priorities for your team

  • You lose your job or change roles

  • You are bored or burnt out

Whenever you encounter the “what do I do next” question, it’s not fun. It feels like you are lost, or like you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. It causes folks to pause, to look away, or to worry.

But there are solutions. There are easy ways to answer the question when it comes up, and easy ways to prevent it from coming up as frequently. All it takes is a little foresight.

Here are a few solutions to the “what do I do next” problem:

  1. Ask someone.

  2. Keep a priority list.

  3. Long-term items.

  4. Research.

  5. Lend a hand.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of them.

Ask Someone

Who you ask depends on your particular situation. But there is almost always someone you can ask that question to.

It might be your boss, who can tell you with certainty what he or she wants you to be working on. It might be your spouse, who can help guide you through a rough career patch. It might be a peer, who can share what they are working on and offers ways that you can join in.

Regardless of who you ask, this solution is great because often times the worst outcome of the “what do I do next” problem is that we stew in silence for hours or days. This solution gets you out of your own head so you can solve the problem quicker.

Keep a Priority List

A priority list is a list of items to be completed, in order of highest value to lowest. If you have one, you will always know what comes next.

Sure, this solution requires some foresight and planning on your part (or the part of your manager). But if you have a list like this, you will never have to worry about what you should do next.

Long Term Items

Most of us have short term assignments and long term projects. How we work our way through them depends on the urgency and value of each item on our plates.

The beauty of long term tasks is that there are almost always ways to break them down into smaller chunks. And these chunks will serve as backups to whatever short term assignment you are working on now.

If you need a break from your current task, or you get stuck, just turn to the next piece of that long term project and check that off the list.

Research

Take advantage of breaks in the day to day work and learn something new. Research a topic related to your next project or pick up a new skill that will add value to your team.

When you are not sure what to do next, it never hurts to do a little self-improvement.

Lend a Hand

There may come a time when you don’t have anything to work on next. In those cases, you can do yourself, and your team, a big favor by finding a way to help out someone else.

Great job completing your assignment. Now look around you. Chances are, not everyone is finding the same level of success. Find out how you can help a friend or coworker complete their current task and build a bond that will benefit everyone going forward.