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):
- Fiction writing persona #1
- Fiction writing persona #2
- Pajama Productivity
- My web development/content writing business
- 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.)
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.