Digging Deep

Marshall Atkinson

One of the great things that I’ve always enjoyed in the decorated apparel industry is the helpful nature that thousands of professionals in this group share.  It truly is amazing that if there is a problem or challenge all someone has to do is contact anyone in their supply chain, post a question in a Facebook or LinkedIn group, or reach out to an almost total stranger by e-mail.  Sure, on the face of it, we might all be competitors in a sense, but we are far enough away and diverse enough in our customer base, that people don’t mind helping out.  I’ve always loved that.

However, not all of the challenges we face can be posted online as they are deeper and more personal.  Sometimes the workload is so overbearing, or the frustration is so intense that you might not have time or even the desire to post that one up somewhere.  It’s hard admitting that you suck at something.  Or defeat.  Or your boss is a jerk.  Or your customer is an ass.  Sometimes you just need to set a blowtorch to your butt and get that thing moving with some forward progress.

In the end, digging deep for the motivation and inspiration to slog through to the finish can be really satisfying.  Because then, and only then can you say “you did it”.

So where does that fire come from?  When it is about to be extinguished, how do you reignite it so that it catches a flame and burns even hotter?  You don’t want to get to the point where you throw your hands up in the air and say “I’m done with this crap!”.  Here are some things that always have helped me:

Win Some Small Victories – As I’ve posted before, I’m a big believer in making to-do lists to help sort out my daily priorities.  A few times though, things get so crazy that my list gets abandoned and I have to dedicate my effort to solving a bigger challenge that wasn’t ever accounted for when my day began.  Now hours have passed and I’m just getting going and what I wanted to accomplish for the day really seems like a herculean effort just to get even started.  What I like doing is to take a deep breath and just start knocking out the smaller and easier items on the list one by one.  After a few of these have been crossed off, my list doesn’t seem so daunting then.  The satisfaction of getting a few tasks completed gets some momentum going, and the thrill of accomplishment pushes you even further.

Multi-tasking is a Myth – I believe this to the core.  I can maybe chew gum and walk at the same time, but that’s about it.  Some days not even that.  Trying to do too much at one time to me usually means to me a quick trip down mediocre lane.  Is that what you want?  A lot of things finished, but all half-assed?  If things are spinning out of control for you, try narrowing down how many things you are working on at one time.  Just do one.  Then another.  Then another.  Focus your attention and effort into just the activity or thought you are working on presently.  I always question the results of people that are proud of their multi-tasking.  Would their results be better if they just focused on one activity at a time?  You don’t see a skilled craftsman working on building four things at once.  There’s a reason for that.  Also, I’d like to add that to me multi-tasking is very stressful.  It’s like juggling.  How many balls can you throw up and circulate at a time?

Related to this is the avalanche of distractions that hamper us from completing tasks.  This includes checking e-mail, alerts on our phone, text messages from your goofball buddies, or anything else that becomes a roadblock to your success.  Turn that stuff off.  For e-mail, set a new schedule where you only look at e-mail at the top or bottom of the hour.  You are still checking, but it isn’t going off incessantly.  You can also change this notice on your phone so it won’t push you the e-mails constantly.

Teach Someone – Do you have to be the only one that knows how to do something?  If you ever want help with a task, the only way to get it will be to train someone.  Way back when (mid 1980’s college) I originally wanted to be a teacher, and this part of my personality always comes out as I always want to show others how to do something.  The only way to teach someone is to really know the material.  Why?  Because teaching forces you to examine each small step in a complex dance and show another person all the nuances and footwork slowly.  It’s rewarding because sometimes it reiterates the simple steps that you take for granted constantly and makes you aware of them.  You’ll produce better work when you aren’t on auto-pilot.   Not to mention it’s usually fun if you approach it with a good attitude.  By the way, this is where mentoring pays off as well.  Sign up!

Exercise.  Hey, I’m not the most gifted athlete.  (You can say that again)  Hey, I’m not the most gifted athlete.   However slow I run these days pales in comparison to the great ideas I’ve been generating while I’m heavily panting up a hill.  In fact the germ for this article came to me around mile three the other day while I was out torturing myself through my neighborhood.  You’d be surprised how much your mind is constantly working on a problem, like a squirrel trying to crack open a hard-cased nut.  Often, when you aren’t squared up and focused on “what to do” the solution will come to you.  Exercise can give you that opportunity.  So get out there and solve some problems will ya’?  That extra bowl of ice cream you had last night needs to be worked off anyway.

Read.  It’s like homework, only better.  Right now you are about 1021 words into this blog article and still going, so evidently you don’t mind it.  One of the greatest things about the internet is the proliferation of information, industry news sources, free magazine subscriptions, libraries, and other amazing resources all a search field away.  How can you not take advantage?  I love finding wonderful writers and subscribing to their work.  Every time they publish, it’s a free gift in my inbox.  Not just decorated apparel industry minutiae either.  Whatever I’m interested in.  Click.  Read.  Chuckle.  Be amazed.  If I find something interesting I’ll share it on my social media channels.  That’s how I curate for my stream.  I believe that this habit makes me better prepared than most, and I can usually find answers to challenges rather quickly too.  This is what inspires me.  Daily.

Talk to People.  That’s right.  Want to get inspired or motivated to succeed?  Talk to other people about what’s going on and describe your struggles.  You’ll quickly find that other people can help you or have a great suggestion about next steps.  Why be a martyr?  Do you think you are the only person that can solve that particular problem?  There is only one issue though with talking to people about what’s going on…what are you going to do with all of the ideas that are presented?

Keep a Folder.  Label it “I’m a Badass”.  Every time someone sends you a thank you note, pats you on the back for a job well done, or congratulates you on how you did a great job on that project…make a copy of that e-mail and throw it in that folder.  When times are tough and you need some quiet support, look through this folder.  They say you can’t rest on past laurels, but a personal folder of cheerleaders screaming about your badassery will really put the pep in your step when you need it most.

Think About Victory, Not the Struggle.  Want to get reinvigorated during a big project?  Don’t think about how hard the battle is so far, and that you are only a few percentage points into it.  Instead, think about how great it is going to be once you are finished and you have succeeded.  Paint the picture in your mind that shows the benefits of your achievement.  How things are better.  I’ve always loved Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind” for this very reason.  Focus on how nice it will be after your project is complete and you are reaping the benefits of your labor.  Describe how that looks to other members of your staff so they can share that vision, and you can all work toward that goal together.  Always paint the picture.

Ask for Help!  This is probably the hardest one, as most people don’t like to admit that they struggle or can’t do something.  We all have to be “perfect” all of the time, right?  Wrong.  It’s ok to ask for help.  Getting the assistance you need, at the right time, just means that you are one step closer to your goal.  It doesn’t mean you are less of an employee or a person.  In fact, I might think the opposite if you were struggling to finish something and didn’t ask for help, and now that order won’t ship or the project won’t be completed on time.  Why didn’t you say something?

Sharing the workload just means that stuff gets finished quicker.  “Many hands make light work” is how the saying goes.  Sometimes getting a group together to attack a problem resolves it faster.  However, be sure that everyone is on the same page with how it is supposed to turn out and be sure your helpers know what they need to do.

Take a Break.  Need to replenish your inner mojo?  Sometimes you need to take a step back and recharge your batteries.  Does this mean we need to jet off to a tropical island vacation?  Hell, yes!  Or actually no.  While a beach vacation might hit the spot, sometimes a quiet cup of coffee or a short nap will work wonders too.  Go outside.  See the sunshine.  Feel the wind on your face.  Walk around the block.  Do anything but work.  Then go back inside and slay dragons.

Ok, back to work for me.  Did I miss your favorite way to get your inner mojo overflowing in your tank?  Leave your tip in the comments section!  You know you want to…


  • Good article! Question: Did you take the Dale Carnage course? I did and your article reminds me of some of those lessons we covered in the 14 week class!

    • James, I actually have took that course around 1988 or 1989 I can’t remember. I guess those lessons still really ring true!

  • Good stuff Marshall! I’m a slow runner myself. Some great thoughts come from running and cycling. This past weekend I decided to speak these into Evernote, my app of choice for doing this. What was pretty funny is it also picked up my Run Keeper notifications. Distance ran, average time per mile. While I consistantly write industry stuff for FreePromoTips, I’m starting to reach out and go with more personal writings…expanding my horizions past the promo marketing industry.

  • Re: multitasking, I so agree with your point! In the corporate world from whence I came, no one would ever admit that they don’t multitask. It would be the same as saying they don’t work hard. But in reality, trying to do many things at once means that you aren’t really concentrating on any one of them, bringing mediocre results at best. Productivity is much higher when one works on a single task for 20 to 30 minutes and then switches to something else. Great article all-round, thanks for posting!

  • Nice one I am in radymade garments trade of knits from india

  • Great way to start the week!!!! Thank you!

  • david j whalen

    holy shit…you ’bout wrote a book! I enjoyed it immensely……I agreed with everything. you made a lot of good and valid points. good read.

  • Take a Break? OK, gone fishing! That will recharge the batteries and the mind.

  • Greg Kitson

    Simple Wisdom from life experience condensed into an easy read, good stuff.

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