We’ve all been there. You’ve got a big deadline looming and instead of cracking on with it you procrastinate, worry, or even freeze up and leave everything until the last minute, and then rush about like a crazy woman.
Welcome to the maddening world of task paralysis. According to Mary Kingsbury Enquist, assistant vice president of strategy and planning at NYC Lanone Medical Center, task paralysis is a ‘transient feeling of being stuck in a place of uncertainty, unsure of where to begin.’
Sounds great! But it gets worse, explains Mary. ‘This lack of clarity holds you back from being able to leverage your full creativity and foils your attempts to harness your energy to focus on the goals you’ve set out to achieve.’
The problem might actually be perfectionism
Feeling as if you can’t move forward doesn’t mean you’re rubbish or a slouch. ‘It often originates from not knowing where to start or not having enough momentum to keep the pace and cross the finish line,’ says Enquist.
In other words, ‘Perfectionism and over-analyzing is just a form of procrastination’, according to Tracy Matthews, host of the Thrive by Design Podcast and founder of Creatives Rule the World, where she helps creative thinkers increase their earning capabilities.
‘When you wait until everything is perfect, whatever you’re working on will never be finished,’ says Matthews, damningly, slamming a truth dagger into my heart. ‘Truth be told, you will never feel ready and if you stay stuck in that, you’ll never complete the tasks and projects you’ve committed to.’
Matthews goes on to say that perfectionism isn’t just bad for your creative health, but that it can also leave you feeling drained because it places a mental barrier on your creativity as well as ability to get your job or task done.
It’s okay, there’s hope
Perfectionism can be a tricky beast to slay. But it’s really important to remember that it’s just a mindset, a learned behaviour, and one that can be unlearned.
Enquist recommends identifying those feelings of perfectionism when they arise. You know the ones, those damaging little thoughts that tell you your work won’t be good enough this time, or that this is the job when you’ll finally be ‘found out’. Enquist recommends pausing to gain perspective and remembering that the task is temporary and will soon pass.
‘Turn your focus to the immediate next steps you need to take and start to break it down to take it down.’ Enquist advises the use of short and attainable deadlines (get such and such done in the next hour).
Once you start crossing the easy stuff of your list, you should find yourself regaining momentum and breaking through the perfectionism barrier.
Smash the curse of perfectionism!
If you suffer from task paralysis, here are a few simple tips to help you break those destructive thoughts and become productive again.
- Rethink, rethink, rethink: often procrastination is rooted in fear. But you need to flip that fear on its head and ask yourself a simple question. What’s the worse that can happen if I do or don’t do the thing I’m worrying about? It might be that someone gives you some tough feedback, or says no to an idea you pitched them. Okay that sucks for a few minutes, but then you dust yourself off and climb back on that horse! Only this time your idea is better because you incorporated the feedback you got.
- Plan: this is a biggy for me. I used to get overwhelmed by all the tasks I had to get done. I’d get flustered or frustrated and sometimes pretty stressed out until a friend told me about her process for time management. All she did was write a list of five things she wanted to get done that day. Five things! Crossing off five tasks everyday is pretty manageable, but what feels even better is adding to that list and crossing those goals off too. The main thing about a list, however, is that it keeps you focused on those tasks instead of wondering from one thing to another.
- Start small: you could try cleaning your house by wondering from one room to another, or you could – hold onto your hats people – simply clean one room before moving onto the next. The moral of the story here – small achievable goals motivate you more than massive ones.
- Believe in yourself: it’s easy to get stuck in negative cycles of behaviour. You believe other people will perceive you how you perceive yourself, but this, in my experience, mostly isn’t true. Give yourself credit for the stuff you’re doing well! Don’t let that nagging little voice get the better of you. Trust yourself and your experience.
You’ve overcome task paralysis
Well done. You’ve overcame your crushing need to complete every task perfectly, now you can get on with the rest of your life!
Seriously, remember everyone feels overwhelmed at times (some people are just better at hiding it). Breaking down larger tasks into smaller more manageable ones is key to feeling like you’re in control. And when you are all done, give yourself credit, reflect on what went well and what you could improve on next time.