Overcoming Productivity Paralysis

By February 21, 2012

I find there are always days where no matter what I need to get done, I’m just not able to get started on anything. A scan through my todo list feels overwhelming, even the simplest or smallest tasks seem too large to jump in to. I call this phenomenon Productivity Paralysis and I think it’s something that affects a lot of us, but it’s also something that is easily overcome.

One of the tenets of proper task management is to always break down your tasks in to a workable next action, something that you can focus and actually complete. Update my web site is too large a task to track effectively, breaking that down in to smaller tasks such as review my about page, install newly updated add-ons are much more manageable. Sometimes though, even those smaller tasks can seem too intimidating. This is where that paralysis occurs most frequently, and unfortunately many folks will choose to break down their tasks to even smaller sub tasks, incorporating the minutia of each task so that they can successfully attack it and mark it as complete.

This however, while seeming to be productive is woefully inefficient. Most tasks do not require that level of detail and taking the time to break them down in such a complex way is just creating busy work. I think the issue is that we tend to think that each task that we start on needs to be completed in that one sitting. If I start this, I must finish it. If it seems to be too large a task, I can either take the inefficient steps to break it down further so that I can pretend to accomplish something or just assume it’s too much and ignore it.

Kitchen TimerThe solution is to just start doing, even if you know you can’t finish. I recommend using a timer to limit the amount of time you spend on that task. Grab a kitchen timer, set it for 30 minutes and just start working. When the timer goes off, stop and take a break. By limiting the time you can work on that task, you’ve broken it down without needing to actually spend any time with your task manager. You’ve initiated the task, made progress on it, and even if you can’t check it off as complete, you have moved it forward. You may now be able to identify proper subtasks or different work that needs to be done. You may feel energized about continuing work or you may feel that you’ve done enough to move on to another task. Can’t start another, pick the next one, reset your timer and work your way through your list.

Using a timer isn’t a new concept for task management. The Pomodoro Technique is just one example of a timed workflow and there are many tools available to help use it and other time management processes. You may find that moving to a fully timed process is useful, but even just the basics of starting an overwhelming task with a time limit can often be enough to break through the stalling and get yourself working productively.

Photo Via CC 2.0