6 Things To Do When You're Feeling Lost at Work

A woman looking unhappy at work.


Anouare Abdou for Hive
Anouare Abdou for Hive
May 20, 2024 at 9:42PM UTC
Sometimes you just don’t know what to do. And when an “I have no idea” moment happens at work, it can be unnerving. “There’s a lot of pressure to have all the answers, especially when you’re in a professional setting,” says Chris Holter, former Fortune 200 executive, executive coach and strategic advisor.
However, 86% of employees experience challenges when it comes to finding information that allows them to do their job, according to an M-Files report on information management in the workplace. Not knowing what to do is quite common when you take those stats into consideration. What you do next is what makes all the difference in terms of effectiveness though.
“The truth is, there are going to be times when you don’t know what to do. And that’s okay! It’s actually a good thing because it means you’re continuing to learn and grow. Even senior leaders don’t always have the answer. The secret to good leadership is in finding a way to get the answers,” says Holter.
So if you find yourself scratching your head about how to tackle a project or task, don’t panic. Do the following things to regain a sense of control and clarity instead.

1. Pause and clear your head

First, Holter recommends taking a break and stepping away from the situation momentarily: “Sometimes, all you need is a few minutes to clear your head. Get up and walk around, grab a cup of coffee, or just step away from your desk for a few minutes.”

2. Do a mind-mapping exercise

Then, grab a piece of paper and start mind-mapping. Jot down everything you do know about the situation (you may have more information available to you than you think!) as well as all of the unknown facts. “Creating a visual will stimulate the brain in new ways and help get further clarity about the situation,” says Holter. “This will help you break down the task and get grounded on the situation.” If you have access to a white board, even better.

3. Approach the situation with a growth mindset

Whatever situation you are facing, it’s important to approach it with a growth mindset and use it as an opportunity to learn. Stay open to possibilities and aim to find a way forward even if it’s out of your comfort zone. Holter suggests thinking about your challenge like a research project. That mindset will make it easier to pick your coworkers’ brains about it if you need to as well.

4. Talk to others

“The best way to figure out what to do is to talk to other people,” adds Holter. If you feel uneasy about approaching a coworker and admitting you have no idea what to do, try simply asking for their expertise and knowledge about the situation – or even about a relevant area of expertise. This collaborative approach will help you come up with solutions or at least avenues for potential solutions.

5. Ask your boss for insights

Still at loss? You may be wondering whether asking your boss for help is the right move. You don’t want to appear incompetent after all. However, there are certain situations when it’s essential to ask for guidance. “If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure of what to do next, it’s better to seek out advice than to try to stumble through on your own. Your boss likely has more experience and knowledge than you do, and they can provide valuable insights that you may not have considered,” says Holter.
“Furthermore, asking for help shows that you’re willing to take initiative and that you’re resourceful enough to seek out assistance when needed. So, if you find yourself at a loss, don’t be afraid to ask your boss for advice. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to help.”

6. Create a problem-solving plan

Once you’ve followed all the steps above, you should have a better idea of what it takes to solve the problem you are facing. You’ll want to break down action steps and create a plan. This will get you started in the right direction, even if you still have an incomplete picture of the situation. “Know that as you learn more, the plan can change,” says Holter.
This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for conquering feeling lost at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always