I'm curious: do you ever feel so overwhelmed with work (or life) that you actually just freeze up? Feel almost paralyzed on what your next step is? I know from experience that this state can be so detrimental and frustrating.

I'd love your thoughts on:
  1. What causes you to immobilize?
  2. How you move from this state of inaction to one of action?


I'll jump in...

For me, the freezing has almost always been allowing myself to believe that there are so many things to be done that I have no idea where to start.

I long ago developed my own remedy for this, which basically exploits my belief (1) that we can always do one thing - it's trying to do 2, 3, 4, or more things at once that breaks us down; and (2) that nobody can really multitask - multitasking is actually just doing one thing at a time but jumping from one to another really fast to give the false impression that we're multitasking.

So here's my strategy whenever I perceive that there is more than one thing I need to do:
  • make a mental list of everything on the to-do list (if it's a long list, make a physical list) in no particular order
  • now prioritize them either in terms of due date or in terms of importance to the overall plan
  • then start with #1 and ask this question: is there anything I can do right now to make progress on this item? if yes, then start there and here is the key to my strategy: I do not allow myself to even think about anything else on the list until I either finish the current item or reach a point where no more can be done right now on that item (either because I need something else to happen for further progress or I just get stalled and can no longer make significant progress on it right now)
  • once I finish that item (or get stalled on it as described above), move on to the next on the list, and so on
  • if it is a long or ongoing list, I repeat the procedure the following day to see if anything has changed or been added
Of course, the strategy cannot be rigid. It has to allow for new urgent things to crop up and move up to priority #1.

But as long as I follow the rule of not allowing myself to think about anything else while I am working on a specific item, my stress levels remain manageable and I can make progress.
Absolutely. We all get to a point where everything is so overwhelming with our work-life balance that we tend to just shrivel up and stay in our little corner for a while until we figure things out. A cause for immobilization for me would be emotional turmoil. What I do is I feel the pain no matter how hard it can be. And then I'd feel like giving up a thousand times because you must admit no one likes to be in pain (unless you're masochistic). When you're drowning in your misery, you have no choice but to endure it because you will never know how strong you can be after a bad fall. You will never know the meaning of breakthrough until you've gone through a stand still and you will never get one until you move. Push on, move forward and let go of everything else that's holding you back.


I keep a block where i write every thing that i need to do, divided in very small tasks. This way completing a task does not take too much time and also helps planning and organising. Every time i start from the first in the list and move downward. When i complete a task, i strike it through in the page and go to the next.

For example, let's say i wish to change the bank i use for business. But i have this linked to PayPal, so i have to also take care of that. The process could be something in the lines of:
1) Open new bank account and apply for card
2) Get new card and add it to PayPal
3) Verify new card
4) Withdraw all money from old card/account
5) Close old account

So i start at the beginning and everything that i do i strike it through. Helps give focus and also keep track of what you already accomplished.

Julia Sta Romana

Top Contributor
Like djbaxter , this happens to me when I'm overwhelmed. What I do to break through is to look for a task (or tasks) that are easy to do. I focus on them until they're done. Once I've seen I've accomplished something for the day, I feel productive, and the remaining tasks don't seem as intimidating.
Thank you all for your insights on this. It's truly fascinating to see what different tools and strategies work for each individual.

djbaxter I really loved what you had to say about multitasking. It's such a great perspective.

Julia Sta Romana YES - tackling the "easier" tasks is often such a useful strategy for me as well. Gives you that feeling of accomplishment. :)

Inva Connecting a task with the physical act of writing it out/striking it out is powerful, right?

Jessica A. - Oh yes, the good ol' emotional turmoil. You nailed it!
Oops, I suppose I should answer my own question. :)

1. Typically a cause of immobilization for me is either if I don't feel a sense of connection/passion to a task. This occurs more on a big project/tasks vs. the small/easy to check-off tasks. I think it's when I don't really fully grasp the purpose or impact of a project/task and so there isn't as much "buy-in".

2. In this case, I do have to break it down to a more digestible level in order to get it done. But I also have to look at it as a learning opportunity and a way to gain more insight/experience. Lastly, I realize that I'm likely not connecting the dots on the project, so to speak. So I usually go back to whomever assigned the task and ask for more clarity, to fill in the missing piece (i.e. what is the desired outcome/result). Understanding their passion/urgency usually gives me what I need to tackle it more effectively.
Some may disagree, but when I feel confused on where to go, I just start doing something that I think is related to my goal. At the very minimum, I begin to understand what is not working, which is still very good! In that case I tweak and try again.

Afterall Thomas Edison said himself, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." He wouldn't have gone through those steps if he froze and thought about his approach for too long though.
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