Focus on the Bottleneck for Overcoming Obstacles

Obstacles are a natural part of the process when you’re working towards a goal. Hitting a roadblock along the way is nothing uncommon. It’s how you solve those obstacles that make all the difference. One common mistake is to focus on trying out new techniques and adding new tools to their arsenal in order to keep making progress. All while not addressing the actual bottleneck.

However, this approach can often be counterproductive. It doesn’t really help you solve the root of the problem.

Instead of adding more tools and techniques, hoping that it’s the missing piece to the puzzle, try shifting your focus to determining what is not working right now and what the bottleneck in the process is. This means taking a step back and analyzing the situation to identify the source of the problem.

Once the bottleneck has been identified, you can direct your efforts toward addressing it directly.

Benefits of focusing on the bottleneck to improve progress

One of the key benefits of focusing on the bottleneck is that it allows for more efficient use of resources. There’s only a certain amount of energy and motivation that you have. Functioning at the highest level for a long period of time is never a sustainable plan to follow.

When you understand the root of the problem, it becomes easier to direct resources in a targeted manner. Without this knowledge, you could be wasting time and effort on techniques that only add to the problem instead of solving it. This approach also allows for a more streamlined process. In this process, you can focus your efforts on the most critical areas for success.

When you focus on the bottleneck it also helps to create a more sustainable solution to the problem. It helps you build a deeper understanding of the problem and how it can be solved. This can be valuable in the future when a similar issue arises. Optimizing the non-functioning parts can also lead to the more efficient performance of aspects that are functioning

Risks of trying new approaches instead of fixing the bottleneck

It is not necessarily “bad” to try out new ideas to overcome an obstacle. In fact, sometimes adding it can be helpful and necessary for success. The problem arises when adding new tools and techniques becomes your primary focus.

There’s a good chance that the moment you run into a roadblock on your journey, you are already overwhelmed. The situation you are in can be too much to handle. You may be running low on energy. In the long run, when you add new approaches to an already overloaded situation, it will only create more problems. In the end, it may drain even more energy than you had to start with.

When you continuously try out new approaches it can lead to over-complicating the process. Instead of streamlining efforts toward the root of the problem, piling more techniques can cause additional confusion. This can lead to more inefficiency than there was in the beginning.

Trying out new ideas can also be a distraction from the core problem. It can temporarily make you feel like you are indeed making progress again. Sooner or later the novelty of the new ideas runs out and they stop performing as well. If the core problem remains, you are still faced with the fact that optimization needs to be done. Only this time you may have to face the painful realization of wasted time, effort, and resources.

Consistency is the key

It is important to remember that progress is never linear. There are times when progress is made in huge steps and there are times when it slows down to a seemingly non-existent pace. When progress seems slow or non-existent it can be tempting to switch the plan to a new one or start fixing everything.

While it can be helpful, switching between strategies takes away the opportunity to see the results of a habit or a routine that is well integrated into your life. Once a routine is running smoothly it has proven itself to be a sustainable one. The constant change of strategy doesn’t allow the new habits to even settle into your lifestyle and routine to even settle. Therefore it’s easy to rush into making a solid but false evaluation of its efficiency.

According to James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, on average it takes around 2 months for a habit to become automatic. Yet the hunt for instant results can make people revise their action plans every week!

The key indicator that it is time to refocus efforts is when there is a lack of progress toward the goal, despite the consistent effort. Consistent effort being a habit that you have been practicing successfully for at least 2 months.

Refocusing energy from what works to the bottleneck

It’s in human nature to desire to feel good and have a sense of accomplishment. It may be tempting to keep putting energy into tasks and aspects you are already excelling at. While they may contribute to progress, this can lead to falling into the trap of fake productivity. You’re keeping yourself busy while another more crucial aspect is not functioning correctly.

It’s of course important to focus on all aspects of the process that contribute to success. However, there may come a point where it is necessary to redirect all energy into fixing the aspects that are holding progress back. Remember that progress towards the goal is only as strong as the weakest link.

It is generally a good idea to periodically assess progress and identify areas that need improvement. Whether it’s regular check-ins, evaluations, or analyzing progress. If a weakness or a bottleneck arises in this analysis, it may be necessary to address it.

When is it time to redirect focus?

This decision should be based on a careful evaluation of the progress being made toward the goal. If progress is still there, even if it is slow, it may be worthwhile to continue to focus on all aspects of the process. In these times it’s best to avoid rushing to fix the aspects that are holding progress back.

The timing of the redirection of focus will depend on the specific situation and the nature of the obstacle. In some cases, it may be necessary to address the bottleneck immediately. Particularly if it is significantly impacting progress toward the goal.

In other cases, it may be more appropriate to delay addressing the bottleneck once progress has slowed or stagnated. This requires an honest and critical evaluation of the process, identifying which aspects are not working and which ones are working well.

Once this analysis is complete it may be necessary to put the tasks you don’t have issues completing into the background to free up time and energy. This energy will then be free to redirect towards fixing the aspects that are holding progress back. The aspects that are working well will then be shifted more to the maintenance regime.

Ultimately, the key is to strike a balance between addressing obstacles and maintaining momentum toward the goal. It is important to recognize that addressing obstacles may require a temporary slowdown or shift in focus. But it is crucial to stay committed to the overall goal and maintain a sense of forward momentum.

Optimizing for low energy

It’s not always possible to invest all the time and energy to reach a goal. There may be something more important happening in your life that becomes a non-negotiable number one priority. In these times it can be a struggle to even maintain the progress you have made so far and prevent from taking a step back.

Assessing your energy resources can lead to a realization that the resources being used are not aligned with the desired outcomes. For example, if a significant amount of time and energy is being spent on tasks that are not directly contributing to the goal, it may be necessary to redirect resources toward the most critical areas.

Evaluate the habits related to the goal and rank them according to the impact they have. Choose 1-3 habits that make the biggest contribution to your progress and use the time and energy you have for this goal on these habits. All the others can be set aside until it’s possible to allocate more time and energy to all the habits and steps you take

Techniques for detecting bottlenecks

  1. Flowcharting: A flowchart is a visual tool that can help identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in a process. By breaking down a process into smaller steps and mapping out the flow of activities, it is possible to identify areas where the flow slows down or stops.
  2. Root cause analysis: Root cause analysis is a problem-solving technique that involves identifying the underlying causes of a problem. By asking “why” multiple times, it is possible to trace the problem back to its root cause. This technique can be particularly useful for identifying bottlenecks in complex systems or processes.
  3. Pareto analysis: Pareto analysis is a tool you can use to identify the most significant causes of a problem. It involves identifying and ranking the causes of a problem in order of importance, based on their impact on the system or process. By focusing on the most significant causes, it is possible to address the bottlenecks that have the greatest impact on the overall system.
  4. Value stream mapping: Value stream mapping is a technique you can use to identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks in a process. It involves mapping out the entire process, from start to finish, and identifying areas where value is added and where waste occurs. This allows you to identify the areas of waste and makes it possible to focus on addressing the bottlenecks that are creating inefficiencies.
  5. Time studies: Time studies involve tracking the time it takes to complete each step in the process. This can help you identify which steps are taking longer than expected and may be contributing to the bottleneck.
  6. Data analysis: Data analysis involves examining data related to the process, such as throughput or cycle time. By analyzing this data, it is possible to identify which steps in the process are causing delays or inefficiencies.
  7. Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a group problem-solving technique that involves generating ideas and solutions through open discussion. This can be helpful in identifying potential bottlenecks and generating ideas for addressing them.
  8. Feedback: Feedback from others can be valuable in identifying areas for growth. This can involve asking for constructive feedback from trusted friends, family members, or mentors, and using their feedback to identify areas where improvements can be made.
  9. Journaling: Journaling can be a useful tool for self-reflection and identifying bottlenecks. By writing down one’s thoughts and feelings, it is possible to gain insight into one’s own thought patterns and identify areas where growth is needed.
  10. Self-reflection: Self-reflection involves taking time to introspect and evaluate oneself. This can involve asking questions such as “What are my strengths and weaknesses?”, “What are the challenges that I am currently facing?”, or “What are the areas in my life that I would like to improve?” By reflecting on oneself, it is possible to identify areas where growth may be needed.

These are just a few techniques that can be used to identify bottlenecks. The key is to approach the problem with an open mind and be willing to explore different methods until the bottleneck is identified.

Using the Five Whys method to determine the bottleneck

The Five Whys technique is something I learned at the retrospective meetings in my company. The goal of it was to get to the bottom of things that went sideways on a project. It’s an excellent tool for process improvement and quality control.

In my personal goals, I use the Five Why’s to get the uncomfortable truth out of my deeper parts of consciousness. I find it also helpful when developing critical thinking and finding more effective solutions to problems

The Five Why’s technique reminds me of a little child who is figuring out how the world works. Their favorite way is to ask: Why? The Five Whys is a problem-solving tool that involves asking “why” multiple times, just like the little child.

The process involves asking “why” five times (or as many times as necessary) to drill down to the underlying cause of a problem. By identifying the root cause, it is possible to develop more effective solutions to prevent the problem from recurring in the future.

Here’s an example of how the Five Whys can go

Problem: Tom is feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

  1. Why am I feeling stressed and overwhelmed?
  • Because I have too many responsibilities at work and at home.
  1. Why do I have too many responsibilities?
  • Because I tend to take on too much and have difficulty saying no.
  1. Why do I have difficulty saying no?
  • Because I worry about letting others down and fear missing out on opportunities.
  1. Why do I worry about letting others down and fear missing out on opportunities?
  • Because I have a strong desire to please others and feel the need to constantly achieve more.
  1. Why do I have a strong desire to please others and feel the need to constantly achieve more?
  • Because I feel like I need to prove my worth and value to others.

Analyzing the answers

By asking “why” five times, Tom was able to identify that the root cause of feeling stressed and overwhelmed was a deep-seated belief that he needs to constantly prove his worth and value to others. In this case, addressing the root cause may require him to work on developing self-worth and learn to set healthy boundaries in order to reduce stress and overwhelm.

Using the Pareto Analysis to determine the bottleneck

The Pareto Analysis is a principle that suggests that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. Sometimes it’s also called the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few. This means that a small number of inputs or activities are responsible for the majority of results.

The name of the technique comes from an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He made an observation that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population. The rule itself was Joseph M. Juran, a management consultant.

The Pareto Technique can be applied to various areas of life, including business, personal development, and time management. By identifying the most important inputs or activities that contribute to desired outcomes, individuals can prioritize their efforts and resources, and focus on the activities that will have the greatest impact.

The Pareto Technique can be a useful tool for increasing productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness when resources are limited.

Examples of the 80/20 Rule in action

  • The biggest impact on your diet is caused by a 20% change involving reduced consumption of refined sugar and processed foods
  • Most of the procrastination is caused by the 20% of daily activities that involve using social media
  • 80% of stress and lack of energy can be eliminated by a 20% change of lifestyle that involves improving sleep schedules
  • Most of the procrastination can be eliminated by turning off notifications, setting goals, and using a pomodoro timer

By applying the Pareto Technique, it’s easy to identify the key areas that contribute to the majority of the results when it comes to health and fitness. By prioritizing these areas, Mindy can optimize her efforts and see the greatest results in the most efficient way possible.


In conclusion, when pursuing a goal, it is common to face obstacles and challenges that can impede progress. While it may be tempting to add new techniques and tools to overcome these obstacles, it is important to first identify and address the bottleneck that is causing the problem. By focusing on the bottleneck, you can optimize your efforts and resources, ultimately leading to greater success and progress toward your goals.

Techniques such as process mapping, root cause analysis, Pareto analysis, value stream mapping, time studies, data analysis, brainstorming, self-reflection, feedback, journaling, and self-assessment tools can all be helpful in identifying bottlenecks and overcoming obstacles in various contexts, from professional to personal development.

The key is to remain flexible, open-minded, and proactive in addressing bottlenecks and obstacles, in order to achieve success and growth.