Three Tips on How to Schedule a Breakthrough

Sometimes you need a breakthrough. You may have a nagging issue that will not resolve itself or you want to make a major step up in your work in some way. There are all sorts of circumstances that can create a need for a big advancement – a breakthrough! Below I’ve listed three tips for achieving your own breakthrough so you can start today.


1. Schedule it!

Significant leaps forward can seem elusive because you may not be exactly sure what is needed to unlock the next door to success. The need for a breakthrough itself means that you have not yet solved the issue. So you wait for some magic thing or event to come along to give you the lift up.

Rather than wait for someone or something else to create the breakthrough, you can literally schedule it. Block off some time for yourself to sit down and begin the breakthrough process. It creates a bit of uncertainty when you first learn to do this because you fear that you may not succeed. What if you schedule a time to create your own breakthrough and it does not happen? Well, you schedule it again and again until you get it figured out. Some of my biggest breakthroughs have required multiple efforts, but they did come. I have become better over time at knowing when I am most effective at breakthrough thinking. I have learned the physical environments I prefer, the small teams of people I trust and those I can be creative with when solving tough problems, and even what time of year that I tend to be more in tune with certain aspects of my role. There is a natural rhythm or seasonality of big breakthroughs.


2. Visualize the other side

During your scheduled time, use a whiteboard or clean sheet of paper and write down your view of the next level. Be very detailed. Put yourself on the other side of the breakthrough and describe it. How does it feel to be on the other side? What benefits do you get personally, and what benefits do your company and clients receive? Who is praising you for solving the issue? Take a few hours and just write down everything you can think of.

Visualizing how you want things to be with a positive outlook is more than 50 percent of the breakthrough. Often times we get stuck at a lower level or grind along on the wrong side of the breakthrough because we can’t break away from the “here and now.” We only see the side we do not like and describe it in negative terms to ourselves and/or complain to our friends or family. That is wasted energy. It is frustrating. We have all been there and done that.

Learning to routinely schedule time for ourselves or with a small team to visualize the next level in positive, beneficial terms is so powerful. As you fill in the picture with your mind's eye, you will begin to allow yourself to see a way forward. It takes practice and develops over time, but you can learn to see your way forward. Your brain is very powerful in developing a way to achieve what you can see.


3. Write it down

It is a bit bold to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and a cup of hot coffee and expect your brain to produce a breakthrough. There is a voice of conservatism that we all have which causes us to hesitate when making things official, or putting it down "in writing.” If I just think of something and do not tell anyone or do not write it down, there is no risk of it being wrong or not coming true. If I do write it down, I become accountable, at least to myself. I may look at it later and be embarrassed of what I thought was possible. People may make fun of me if my idea is not sound. Some people even enjoy watching people fail at their ambitious pursuits. You have to acknowledge all of that and then do it anyway.

As you schedule breakthrough sessions and write things down, you will begin to see patterns. These patterns in your thinking can be very powerful. Some of the ideas you will have will not be useful or may not come to pass. But even they serve as a testament to the real creativity inside your brain. Be very bold in your writing and see what the next level can be. Be detailed in your ideas on how to break through to that level. Your company depends on it.


An example:

A few years ago, Robert X. Cringely spoke at the Benefitfocus Engineering Summit. He was the third employee hired at Apple. He worked with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. He had a great breakthrough story.

Cringely created the two-step file removal system, which we know today as the "Trash Can." Prior to his creation, when you deleted a file on a computer, you really deleted it forever. After a friend inadvertently deleted an entire manuscript that he had been working on for some time, Cringely scheduled himself a breakthrough session. What came out of it was a way to "remove" a file by dropping it into a trash can, just like you do in your home. But then you do a second step at a later time of actually cleaning out the trash can. This two-step process has saved millions of people from permanently deleting their work.

So go ahead: schedule the time, visualize the other side and write it down. You never know what your next breakthrough could be!

For more on Robert X. Cringely and his work with Apple, check out the documentary film Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview