Workload Paralysis: How to Unfreeze and Unlock Your Potential
So, where do I begin?
Where do I start?
OMG, HOW do I start?
freeze, flail, repeat
Maybe I don’t really need to start. Naw, this can wait another hour.
Just an hour. Right?
Oh, I know. I’ll reprioritize. Disrupt this whole muthatruckin’ system, cuz I’m basically the Uber of project management, right?
I better send the team an email poll about where we want to go for the end of year luncheon. I’m SO on it. Proactive.
Note to self: make sure it has greeeeat happy hour options. Hmmm, let’s google the top
wine connoisseur entrepreneurs…oh! Now let’s google “oenophile”…
Back to that task, yes, soooo…
Where’s the “I’ve checked out” button? Ooooh, right here on my Netflix watchlist. How convenient!
Ever been you? Can you relate?
If, in the middle of the workday, you’ve ever found yourself feverishly cleaning out the fridge, taking all of the Facebook quizzes, or alphabetizing your vintage DVD collection (“Finding Nemo” is the best-selling DVD of all time, in case you were wondering)…
…then you know what workload paralysis feels like.
A state of frozen (no, not the DVD). Incapacitated. Immobilized. Crippled.
It seems counterintuitive at first, doesn’t it? Think about it.
You are overwhelmed by work, so instead of actually getting stuff done, you 1) freeze and flail™ 2) distract yourself by focusing energy on a completely random, unrelated task.
But, boy, that crisper drawer looks sparkling clean now!
And as your workload (and anxiety) keeps stacking up, important tasks move further down your list.
Sometimes, we channel productivity that should be focused on work into less important tasks because the reward-pleasure circuitry of the brain is powerful. It’s the wiring that makes us feel momentary pleasure when we complete a task. You know, those quick hits and that glorious feeling of accomplishment.
As an example, you know you should be making progress and getting stuff done but you are STUCK. And so by redirecting your energy into something easy (and enjoyable), you are tricking your brain into thinking you are doing something productive. “But, LOOK at how much I got done!”
Because those DVD’s couldn’t bear being un-alphabetized another day.
But this displaced productivity generally just ends up wasting the precious hours you should have allotted on true priorities.
And the cycle of overwhelm begins again.
Distractificiation: A (Warning) Sign of the Times
Why do some of us experience workload paralysis while others have seemed to master the art of relentlessly checking items off their list and managing evolving priorities?
Barbara over there in HR rocks her Trello board all day long, Kombucha in hand. Meanwhile Jim in Finance requests a meeting about vending machine options (yes, Jim, we do know what Japanese machines can vend) and our paychecks are FUBAR.
Here’s one thing that no one will argue: we live in a time of massive distraction AND instant gratification. What does this mean for someone trying to actually tackle a to-do list, manage a business, or finish a project?
It means you’ve potentially made yourself believe that tasks must be completed quickly (vs. thoroughly). And when they aren’t, you feel frustrated. Let down. Frazzled. TAPPED OUT.
Coincidentally, it also means that once you’ve hit the TAPPED OUT phase, the next distraction is just one Snapchat filter away.
For business, instant gratification + distraction can be a ticking time bomb.
Taking Control of the Uncontrollable
True, you can’t always control your circumstances. But you always have the choice to push forward.
At its root, workload paralysis is a feeling of losing a sense of control. Loss of control generally leads to fear (“I’m never going to finish this”, “I’m going to let the boss down”, “I don’t think I’m smart/capable/good enough to complete this”). And folks, fear leads to procrastination and immobilization.
As an aside, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that procrastination and paralysis are often bedfellows. And, to be honest, I can’t imagine what goes down in that love life – if anything at all!
Loss of control + fear + procrastination = FREAK TF OUT
How do you get back to being in the driver’s seat of your workflow? How do you unfreeze and unlock your true potential and FINISH what you started?
Maybe the better question is: How do you stop FREAKING TF OUT and get your freak on with that deadline?
Let’s dive in to a three-step guide for how to overcome workload paralysis, one task at a time.
1. Channel COMPLAINTS into COMPLETES
- Stop. Complaining. Fine, vent for a few minutes. Take a breather. Yell into a pillow. Have a beer. And then shut your mouth and get to work. The energy you expend complaining will deplete you and everyone around you.
- What will this require? 1)Prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance 2)Start. Begin a task. Make it a simple, easy one if you must 3)Focus on one thing at a time 4)Repeat
- It’s acceptable to build in short breaks. AFTER you’ve completed a task.
- Phone a friend. Hit up a friend, tell them what you need to do, and ask them to hold you accountable. Because they aren’t attached to the task or the outcome, they can often offer quick advice on how to start and can check in on you periodically to see if you’ve completed the task. Accountability for the win!
- This tool is from the famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey. It’s a quick, visual way help prioritize and figure out which tasks we need to take ownership of and those we need not fret over. Each task can be placed into the categories of: Circle of Control, Circle of Influence, and Circle of Concern.
- For those familiar with the Serenity Prayer, it’s a similar concept: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”’
- Get the anxiety and overwhelm out of your head (and into an actionable plan) by writing a list, taking a hike or exercising, talking with a trusted mentor, taking a shower, and breathing. Seriously, don’t forget to breathe. When we let these thoughts and feelings out of our body, we literally create space. Space for accomplishment and success.
- Once you are knee-deep in workload paralysis, it’s vital you eliminate distractions in order to move forward. This is non-negotiable so go ahead and have your tantrum now. Choosing to not eliminate distractions is telling yourself, and your team, that you are not invested in your success. It’s a tough pill to swallow but you’ve got this.
- Yes, it means telling the important people (employees, boss, team) that you are taking focused time to finish a project and that you won’t be answering emails and texts. Tell them to call and leave a message if it’s urgent. And then put your phone away, across the room, wherever you need to in order to resist the urge to check it.
- Turn off social media notifications, download a workflow timer app and an app that blocks social media for a time (yes, there are many), close the tabs in your browser, and ready yourself with snacks. Warrior, you are going to battle so prepare and act like it.
2. Circle of Control
3. Eliminate Distractions
Survival of the Fittest: Be Mentally Fit or Fall Flat
As I mentioned early, fear plays a big role in our state of immobilization. Once you recognize that fear is behind your stall-tactics, you can begin to uncover what that fear entails and how to move past it.
Think of this: in the wild, when animals encounter danger and fear what do they do? Fight or flight kicks instincts in. But before that, there is generally a moment of physically immobilizing fear. Think: deer in the headlights, literally. It’s the freeze and flail™ moment.
Imagine what would happen if they chose to stay in that moment, disarmed and frozen in terror.
They’d be goners. Done for. Road kill. Tonight’s dinner.
The ones who choose to fight or flee (i.e. ACTION) are the ones who stand a greater chance of surviving. And no, this isn’t permission to flee from your work, but you get the point. Take action. Make a choice. Fake it till you make it. Direct and funnel your efforts into meaningful work.
Because let’s be honest, happy hour awaits you.
Show up like the champ you are. Head held high and that to-do list KILLED (instead of your spirit).