Do you ever have so much to do, but you can’t bring yourself to actually start any of it? That’s called “overwhelm freeze” and it turns out, it’s something a lot of us deal with. Staring down a to-do list but feeling helpless about getting started is also known as “task paralysis,” and it’s not so much that you don’t know where to start, the problem is how to start.
So why does it happen? When your brain perceives your to-do list as a threat, it responds by freezing. “With a big overwhelming task list, that threat could be the threat of failure, or it could be the threat of letting others down,” Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical assistant professor at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders explains. “It could be the threat of feeling stupid or incompetent because we don’t know where to start or how to do things.”
Fortunately, these strategies can help you overcome overwhelm freeze:
- Write it out - Making a to-do list is nothing new, but it can actually make a big difference here. When you’re writing down the list of things you need to do, break bigger jobs into smaller, easier-to-finish steps. And make sure to check them off as you complete them. Seeing the long list of tasks may seem overwhelming at first, but being able to check off more boxes as you go can give you a mental boost and an incentive to keep going.
- Don’t try to be perfect - Perfectionists may find this challenging, but try not to linger on projects to make “final touches” instead of moving on to other tasks. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, so just focus on doing things thoroughly and when you see the job is good enough, move on.
- Build it into your schedule - Chip away at your to-do list by scheduling an hour - or even just 15 minutes - to spend on it every day. If you can make it the same time every day? Even better, as it becomes more of a habit that way.