We all come up against a wall every now and then. There just seems to be something stopping us from moving forward, and in some cases we can’t quite put our finger on it. It’s frustrating. You stare at your list of tasks and can’t move at all. You’re stuck in what I call “task paralysis” – and it’s not a fun place to be.
Task paralysis is often brought on by one of three things:
- The list of tasks is so long that it is overwhelming.
- There are things on your list that aren’t tasks at all.
- You’ve misaligned your tasks so that you can’t move forward with them.
Here’s how you can deal with each one of these and get back to the “going forward” rather than “going nowhere” instead.
1. The Lengthy List
Take a good look at your list. Identify the three most important tasks you can do to move forward or make progress1. Start a replacement list and list those, numbering them accordingly. Then take the remaining tasks and ask yourself if they really need to be done today, done by you, or even done at all. This is where EISENHOWER.ME can come in handy, as it uses The Eisenhower Matrix to help you categorize priorities more effectively (and realistically to boot). Whatever you decide needs to stay on the list, move to the new list. Whatever doesn’t, assign it accordingly (to a future date, to somewhere else, or to the trash bin). Now you can move forward with the confidence that you’ve really thought about the day as a whole and can make realistic progress throughout the day as a result.
2. The Wrong Identification
Take a good look at your list. Look at each item on the list and ask yourself if that item requires multiple steps to complete. For example, “Clean Kitchen” would be an item that requires more than one step to complete. There are several areas within the kitchen that would need to be cleaned (sweep the floor, clean the fridge, take out the garbage, etc.). That means it isn’t a task – it’s a project. That may sound silly to some, but it’s a fact. Take any multiple step items on your list and create a new list for each of them. Then break down that larger item into the smaller tasks that make that item a project. Then feel free to move some of those tasks to your to-do list rather than work of the project lists themselves. That said, if you decide that you want to work on each project alongside your original (and now properly identified) task list, then go ahead. Properly classifying tasks in their purest definition (a single action) makes things a lot clearer. Clarity is a huge ally when it comes to being productive.
3. Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Take a good look at your list. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) Then check out your surroundings. Are there things on your list that you can take care of in your present surroundings – meaning where you are with what you have? If not, then you’ve got a list that isn’t aligned with where you were going to be or what you were going to have. This is going to be rarer than the other examples because with smartphones we can often be anywhere and have a tool that can help us move forward with what we need (and want) to do.Still, the use of proper context (or tags) is crucial so that you can keep on top of things no matter where you are or what you have. If you’re using a paper planner, then it may be a good idea to use a code for different locations (a different colour ink or something like “E – Pick up dry cleaning” where “E” means Errands). Find something that will resonate with you – but think about who you are and what you work best with so that you can find that something. Everyone will have their own variation of what works for them. Take the time to figure out yours – and make it a priority to implement it into your workflow.
Task paralysis isn’t permanent. It can be overcome with a thoughtful approach to the tasks you have to deal with – whether you’re stuck on them or otherwise. I can’t stress enough how doing that all-important “front end work” will limit the number of occasions you face task paralysis (among other things). With that in place, you’ll be able to go forward rather than go off madly in all directions – or in the case of task paralysis – go nowhere at all.
1For a whole lot more on contexts, check out the various talks at The OmniFocus Setup.
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