How to Beat Task Paralysis

Task Paralysis

At some point, each of us faces a wall that stops us from moving forward. You don’t know why the wall is there, and you’re not sure to get around it. It’s frustrating. You stare at your list of tasks and find yourself frozen in place. 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:

  1. You have a list of tasks is so long that it is overwhelming.
  2. You have things on your list that aren’t tasks at all.
  3. 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 move forward instead of going nowhere.

1. The Overwhelmingly Long List

Take a good look at your list. Spend some time with it and sort the tasks by theme. You can group them however you would like. If you have several tasks that involve writing, you can group those together with a writing theme. If you find that some of the tasks involve content creation, you use that theme to sort those task. Once you have grouped the items by theme, it is helpful to list out your tasks by number of importance. Then, take the remaining tasks and ask yourself if they really need to be done today, done by you, or even done at all. 

Once you know the most important tasks, focus your attention on those. One way I’ve done this is to narrow the tasks down to My Three Absolutes. These are three tasks that you absolutely want to accomplish during the day. Each night before I go to bed, I leave myself a note with My Three Absolutes and place it on my laptop for the next morning. That way I know what are the three things I must accomplish. This provides greater levels of clarity and focus.

Another tool that helps me move forward is the Daily MAP. What’s the Daily MAP? Well, it is a tool that can be used to help guide your day. You can work by mode, project or even schedule. (Click here to see an example of The Daily MAP.) First, you move your tasks that you are doing today into the Action column. Then you work by either mode, project or schedule.

2. Items Mistakenly Identified As Tasks

Take a good look at your list. Look at each item on the list and ask yourself if the item requires multiple steps to complete. For example, “Clean Kitchen” is 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.). Having this many tasks involved means this really is a project. You could even have a Cleaning Mode where the project could be called Clean House. Another example would be if you had Prepare Taxes as a task. This is a really project made up of several different tasks. Gathering necessary documentation, calling your accountant, signing the returns, etc. While these are simple examples, keep in mind that clarity is a huge ally when it comes to being productive. Keeping things simple and using tools like the Daily MAP can make all the difference for you when you are faced with task paralysis.

3. Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Take a good look at your list. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) The schedule column is another good way to keep track of your priorities. If you have a meeting or something that has to happen at a specific time, on the Schedule portion of the Daily MAP this is where you would put it. In some cases, you may have a task that is dependent on the completion of something else. In this case, it is essential to focus on what you can do right now. Make this work your priority. Think about your phone for a second. When you fly on a plane, you put your phone into Airplane Mode, right? No other option fits well. Choosing the right mode—which could be schedule based or even project based is essential for your success. The NOW Year™ Method is flexible in that you are the one that makes the decision. No one else can choose how you work.

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. When you have many priorities, you have no priority. If you feel stuck right now, the key is to decide what your 3 Absolutes are. Once these are 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.