Help – I’ve Fallen (Into Paralysis) and I Can’t Get Up (Off This &@%!# Couch)

by Annie

in couch warriordom, managing overwhelm

Person fallen on floorSo in case it’s not obvious by now, I am not Ms. Perfect Productivity 20-whatever.

The reason I write this blog? The reason I started researching productivity in the first damn place? The reason I’m so intrigued by the whole subject?

It’s this: I struggle with productivity just as much as the next person.

And lately, the struggle’s been of a specific, and somewhat unusual, flavor.

When I sat down to think about it this past weekend, suddenly it occurred to me that this is something I’ve heard others describe — and if we’re struggling with it, there’s at least a decent chance that some of you guys might be struggling with it, too. Hence, this post.

It’s overwhelm, but it’s a specific kind of overwhelm. Let’s call it “the overwhelm of paralysis due to All Things.”

Here’s How Paralysis Overwhelm Feels

I do a lot of stuff. In addition to this blog, and all the associated social media accounts for it, I also run Trauma Dolls (a blog about chronic pain, plus its social media accounts) and my business site, Stage Presence Marketing. And this year, I’ve added a primary project — one that’s the main focus, the source of my biggest and most important goals for 2014 — and that’s fiction writing.

And it’s not just a single book I’m focusing on there, either. It’s actually two separate writer personas — one for one kind of fiction, one for another kind of fiction.

And, of course, I have all the other usual suspect stuff. Parenting, house maintenance, my own health (which requires a lot of management and energy — cf. the chronic pain thing).

So to put it bluntly: I have Many Things. A lot of irons in the fire. Each of them important to me for various reasons, but each with varying levels of priority.

Now, ordinarily, I keep these various balls in the air fairly efficiently. But for the last week, I’ve been struggling with this seeming inability to focus on any one project — or even a simple task. I feel paralyzed by all the things.

And when I do manage to get my ass in gear and at least start some thing on my tasks list, I feel guilty because I’m not doing one or all of the other things. What little I manage to bring to “done”? Feels half-assed. And predictably, my feelings about myself are somewhat less than positive as a result.

Which only leads to more angst, more overwhelm, more guilt, and more nothing. More paralysis.

Sure it’s a first-world problem. Let’s be real: all productivity problems are first-world problems. It’s still a problem, though, and it deserves to be addressed.

The problem is … uh, I dunno how to solve it.

Getting Back Up Again

I do have a few suggestions — well, mostly these are things I’m trying currently to deal with the problem. They’re all working for me, to varying degrees of success, though I’m not there yet, wherever “there” is.

So, before I even get into mentioning these coping techniques, I want to ask you for a serious favor: If you’ve ever experienced this kind of overwhelm, please drop me a comment, or send me a message here, and tell me what worked or didn’t work for you? Pretty please? 

OK, onwards, and in no particular order …

Suggestion #1: Journal It Out

There’s been a good bit of negative self-talk for me in this experience lately.

So I figured taking the time to journal it out might be helpful. It seems that writing down all the negative feelings in a quick, stream-of-consciousness style (say, 15-30 minutes or so) quiets the negativity, at least for awhile.

Apparently, if you actually listen to the voices in your head, they feel “heard” and therefore don’t feel the need to keep yammering quite so loudly.

Suggestion #2: Go For the Small Easy Win First

A few times during the past week, I felt so agitated over the whole mess that it expressed itself physically. I needed to do something, something physical.

I started tackling household chores — just small ones, things that took 10 or 15 minutes or so. Say, dusting one piece of furniture, or cleaning off one mirror. Didn’t have a huge impact on the overall appearance or cleanliness of the house, mind you, but it did give me a nice buzz of “success” energy, which made me feel like doing more, and even helped me ease into the more important work-related tasks.

Suggestion #3: Chunk Your Days, Not Just Your Tasks

I haven’t implemented this one fully yet, so this is more a thought, I guess, than a suggestion.

I’ve written before that a lot of productivity experts suggest carving up your daily task list into chunks, grouping similar tasks together in the same time span. For instance, you could carve out two hours in the afternoon to do all your website work, another hour to deal with all your email tasks, etc.

That came to mind again this past week, and it occurred to me that taking it a step further might be helpful in these circumstances. In other words, when you’ve got not only a lot of different kinds of tasks, but several different Arch-Projects, if you will, you’re gonna feel pulled in many different directions, naturally. And that was part of the problem. So then it occurred to me “if assigning similar tasks to a specific time chunk helps make it easier to get those tasks done, couldn’t we do the same with larger spans of time for these big projects?”

In my case, I have five different Arch-Projects (there’s gotta be a better word for that):

  1. Fiction writing persona #1
  2. Fiction writing persona #2
  3. Pajama Productivity
  4. My web development/content writing business
  5. Trauma Dolls

So, I’m experimenting with a slightly different approach to manage each of these APs. Instead of chunking tasks, I’m chunking the APs into separate days. So, Mondays might be devoted to fiction writer #1, Tuesdays for the other pen name’s endeavors, Wednesdays for PJP, etc.

Not sure how that’s gonna work just yet, but I’ll let you know once the data’s in.

Suggestion #4: Read This Book

Those of us who have a plethora of interests and want to pursue more than one “thing” at a time face a unique set of challenges and obstacles.  Refuse to Choose! by Barbara Sher is one of the best-written, most encouraging, and flat-out helpful books I’ve ever read about the subject.

I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas from this book, one of which in particular made it onto my master list of go-to productivity hacks: the “idea book.” (Like da Vinci, Sher advises dedicating one notebook, a Moleskine or something similar, solely to the gathering and exploration of all your various ideas and interests.)

Your Turn

Have you ever felt like this? What worked for you?

And here’s the question that most intrigues me: Did you find a stern, disciplinarian approach worked better for you or were you more likely to get back on track if you used a more forgiving, soothing, encouraging tone with yourself?

Tell me in the comments.

Photo credit: DG Jones via photopin cc

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth S February 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Just wanted to say Thanks for writing this! I am struggling with similar feelings, though have less projects and more Many Things to do for my own business…. I haven’t solved it either, ha! I do try to deal with it using some of your suggestions though, and 2 other main things – exercise and something creative. Sometimes working out gives me just enough of a mental break to feel less overwhelmed, and I’m taking a water color class that is a new skill I am forcing myself to spend some time on to take breaks from feeling overwhelmed by larger responsibilities.


Annie February 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Hey Beth! I do agree, definitely, that physical activity of any kind is a good coping strategy. Even a short walk outside can clear my head sufficiently to allow me to choose what to work on when the walk’s over. I also love the practice of yoga for this reason – you get the physical movement but when you practice consistently you also get the added bonus of the development of equanimity and mindfulness – being able to observe the “WTF-ness” of it all without succumbing to the panic.


LeeAnn February 13, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Thanks for articulating my mental state precisely. I frequently feel overwhelmed by All the Things, and also struggle with chronic pain. This morning I’m trying to figure out why I was a ball of productive fire yesterday…uncharacteristic but a day I’d love to duplicate often! Two cups of coffee (also uncharacteristic) can’t be the answer. I hope. Still pondering it…


Annie February 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

Hey LeeAnn! Thank you for commenting – I definitely agree caffeine cannot be the (sole) answer here (though just try taking my Peet’s Dark French Roast outta my hands in the morning, I double dog dare ya). You’re on the right track, though – analyzing the “getting ALL the things done” days is a great tactic to figuring out our own best patterns and practices. Please keep in touch – would love to know how you’re doing. My chronic pain sisters and brothers have a special place in my heart. <3


Karishma July 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm

It seems like I am reading what is going on in my mind! (Which is kind of freaky)
The fact that you have not updated your blog since Feb is a little disturbing though :/
Please do update us how you are managing all your projects.
Suggestion 3 is what I was thinking about suggesting you but you have already covered that.
Best wishes to you for all of your projects 🙂
Karishma recently posted..The Twisted Twenties by Deepali Junjappa


Alex July 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

I have super productive days followed lately by several paralysis days. It is exactly like you describe it. It is all mental. I’ve tried all sorts of strategies, Pomodoro timer (after a while I just kept resetting it while staring at the screen), elaborate written task lists every morning (already too overwhelming), workout before work (well didn’t help either), but what seems to work best at the moment is to figure out the most important task for the next day and then just to start with it the next morning before I do anything else. At least this week I feel like I accomplished important things and have motivation left to do the other stuff, too…
Alex recently posted..How To Keep Track Of Follow Ups


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