Feeling overwhelmed by your constantly growing to-do list? Task paralysis is real! Here’s how to get unstuck (and maintain your sanity):
What is Task Paralysis?
Ever felt like you just can’t get moving on anything, no matter what you do? That’s task paralysis- and more people experience it than you think.
Why Do I Get Stuck?
The three most common causes of task paralysis are an excessively long to-do list, a to-do list that doesn’t contain actionable items, or prioritizing tasks in a way that prevents you from doing anything. Here’s how to address all three.
Make Sure Tasks Aren’t Projects in Disguise
“Clean Office” isn’t a task. It’s not one clear, actionable step; it’s a project composed of multiple tasks. Make sure your to-do list only contains tasks, not projects.
Unpack Your Projects into Tasks
Break down projects into tasks. For instance, “Clean Office” may include the tasks “file incoming mail,” “empty trash,” or “take bankers’ boxes to Records.”
Ever have to give instructions to a teenager who doesn’t want to be bothered with chores? Treat your brain like that teen. Give it specific, actionable items, like “give Jones account file to Morgan” or “buy Mediterranean cookbook for Mom.”
Shorten the To-Do List
Everything on your to-do list doesn’t need to be to-done today. That’s a good thing! Start by writing down three things from the list you can do today
Be (and Do) Where You Are
Which tasks can you do from where you are right now? Just because your to-do list says “pick up dry cleaning” doesn’t mean you can do it from where you are. Start with a task you can do without leaving the spot you are currently in.
Only Do What You Can Do Now
Resist prioritizing tasks on what you think you “should” do first. Will anyone care if you outline your next report before or after you check for new job applicants? If not, do the one your brain will more readily agree to do right now.
Batch and Schedule
Some projects, like “get ready for work,” happen nearly every day. Identify these projects, batch their associated tasks, and schedule them. It’s much easier to get things done when those things are habitual.
Avoid the Digital Drive
Pick a task you can do where you are right now- but prioritize tasks that can only be done where you are right now. For example, if you’re sitting in your kitchen and your options are “unload the dishwasher” or “answer emails,” unload that dishwasher.
Don’t Be Afraid to Bribe Yourself
Remember your teenage brain? Don’t be afraid to bribe it. If you need to work but your impulse is to scroll Twitter, make yourself send that email you’ve been putting off first. Then give yourself a guilt-free five minutes on social media.
Do Everything “Well Enough”
Many tasks don’t need to be perfect- they just need to be done. Your emails don’t have to be masterworks, they just need to say what you need from your co-worker. Your dinner doesn’t have to be Instagram-worthy; it just needs to be cooked.
Know When to Ask for Help
Some tasks can’t be done without assistance – and some shouldn’t be done by you at all. Talk to a fellow professional, like a staffing provider, when you need to get unstuck on a project that falls in their realm of expertise.