A few years back, when my daughter was still an infant, we lived for a time on the island of Chincoteague, VA. Since I still had commitments back home, I would make the trek up and down the Eastern seaboard twice a month, my car filled to the brim with all the ridiculously large items a tiny baby seems to need.
Almost every time I needed to start packing up, I experienced a strange phenomenon: I couldn’t do anything. I would find myself standing in the middle of the living room, frozen. My mind whirled with the long packing list I had, as well as with all the things I needed to do other than packing—cleaning, bill paying, etc. I had so much to get done that I couldn’t do anything at all. The overload would paralyze me.
I sometimes get that way about writing, too. I end up with so many projects going on at once, that when I do get some free time to work on something, I end up doing something totally unrelated to writing. The overload of work can paralyze my creativity and my motivation. Right now, I am editing 2 novels, polishing up 2 short stories, have 2 blogs due every week, and have to maintain the constant round of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads… Not to mention reading the dozen or so blogs I follow regularly.
It can be overwhelming enough that I want to hide from it all.
There is a way to break the paralysis. The answer is both easy and hard.
That’s the big secret. Do something, anything, on your list, and you can advance into productive work. But what to pick? Hardest thing first? Easiest thing first? It depends on your mood and your personality.
If I have a very long list but most of it is little stuff, I will do the easiest first and work up to the hardest. By doing the easy things first, I get the instant gratification of checking things off my list and seeing the list get shorter quickly. If I have a shorter list but the tasks are more complex and time-consuming, I will usually do the hardest one first. That way I know the most difficult (and often the most time-consuming) one is done and the rest will be easier and usually take less time than that first one. So, sometimes I inch my way up to the top of the hill, and sometimes I start at the top and coast down.
Of course, there are always things that are not on your To-Do list that crop up and need to be done. Those you just have to incorporate based on their necessity. I immediately need to take care of my daughter when she falls off the bed and hits her head, but the crayon drawn on her closet door can wait until I have more time. The phone call from my family needs to be answered, but the one from an unknown number can leave a message.
Do you experience overload paralysis? Do you have a different way of busting out of it? Or do you have a method of organization that bypasses this overwhelmed reaction altogether?