Even the best of us can feel paralyzed at work. When stress hits, we over-analyze what’s on our plate and start to feel a loss of productivity and effectiveness. This stress can give way to urgency, perfectionism, risk aversion, mind blanking out, de-motivation, and big-picture overwhelm.
So what’s the solution? This post explores six ways to overcome the causes and symptoms of “paralysis by analysis” so that you can regain your equilibrium and feel engaged with your work again. So here’s what you can do:
1. Prioritize your tasks
Because our society values busyness and urgency, we can mistakenly conclude that everything on our to-do list is equally important or that the mere thought of a task makes it an immanent concern. This can lead to paralysis and overwhelm. To combat this tendency, set priorities by dividing your to-do list into three columns: essential, important, and peripheral. Then plan your weekly schedule to address the essentials first. Remember – self-care is also essential!
2. Consider the benefits of imperfection
Waiting for perfect circumstances before starting a project will kill your motivation. Continuing to tweak or perfect your project when the gains in quality are only minimal is also a waste of time and resources. So try to curb these tendencies by reaching for optimal imperfection. This means aiming for 80% quality instead of 90% or 100%, if doing so still gets the job done. This strategy makes you more productive overall because it frees you to invest in other projects where the same efforts yield much greater gains in quality. Remember: 100% perfection is not attainable! Nor is it desirable or even necessary if aiming for less will do the trick.
Aim for optimal imperfection by aiming for 80% quality instead of 90% or 100%, if doing so still gets the job done.
3. Challenge your beliefs about risk
Sometimes paralysis happens because of our core beliefs about life. For example, we might think that risk equals failure or that uncertainty equals bad outcome. But these beliefs should be challenged for two reasons. First, they are mistaken because uncertainty is the normal state of life – there is no life without risk and even good outcomes involve risk! Second, the habit of risk avoidance deprives a person of excitement, growth, and productivity in life.
Therefore, a better approach is to replace these beliefs with more accurate ones, such as I often rise to the challenge when faced with uncertainty; or I can succeed by focusing on one step at a time; or Taking risks is not failure, it’s simply acting on the information I have, and that’s all I can expect of myself. By repeating these new beliefs to yourself, the paralysis will slowly lift.
4. Unblock your mind
If solutions are not forthcoming and you start to feel stuck, get your juices flowing by moving around, finding a change of scenery, laughing at videos of comedy, or engaging in brainstorming. Instead of demanding that there be one right solution to a challenge, try verbalizing any solution that comes to mind (even if it seems fantastical!) without judging it or evaluating it logically. It’s amazing how unexpected solutions can come from letting your creative mind go free.
Get your juices flowing by moving around, finding a change of scenery, laughing, or engaging in brainstorming.
5. Focus on getting started
If you still feel paralyzed or resistant to starting, try following these simple steps: (1) set a smaller, more manageable goal, (2) achieve it, (3) reward yourself for achieving it, and (4) repeat the process again. For example: “I will give myself 15 minutes to write my first paragraph. Even if the wording is not ideal, I will stop, reward myself, and then work on the next paragraph.” By focusing on smaller chunks in this way, you won’t feel overwhelmed by the big picture.
Setting smaller, more manageable goals is a great way to get started.
6. Shoot for quick wins!
If setting smaller goals doesn’t work, sometimes succeeding at a small, unrelated task is enough to get your motivation back. For example: “Instead of pushing myself, I’m going stop, tidy my work space, and feel better about getting that done, so I can return to my task.” In this way, you increase motivation by securing quick wins in other areas.
If you would like to learn more strategies for overcoming barriers and thriving in your work, don't hesitate to contact me. I’d love to listen and provide support in reaching your goals!