An important task is hanging over you, causing daily anxiety. And yet instead of actually doing it, you do a hundred other tasks instead.
You’ve left an important task undone for weeks. It’s hanging over you, causing daily anxiety. And yet instead of actually doing it, you do a hundred other tasks instead.
If you’re chronically tapped out of the immense amount of mental energy required for planning, decision making and coping, it’s easy to get lured into this kind of trap.
Let’s unpack the problems in more detail and discuss solutions.
1. You keep plowing away without stepping back.
When we’re busy and stressed, we often default to working on whatever has the most imminent deadline, even if it’s not particularly important.
The solution is to step back and work on tasks that are important but not urgent. Use the “pay yourself first” principle to do items that are on your own priority list first, before you jump to responding to other people’s needs.
You might not be able to follow this principle every day, but aim to follow it for several days of the week.
2. You overlook easy solutions.
When we’re stressed, we don’t think of easy solutions that are staring us in the face.
To get out of this trap, take a step back and question your assumptions. If you tend to think in extremes, is there an option between the two extremes you could consider?
3. You kick the can down the road instead of creating better systems.
Remedies for recurring problems are often simple if you can step back enough to get perspective. Always forgetting to charge your phone? Keep an extra power cord at the office. Always correcting the same mistakes of others? Ask your team to come up with a checklist so they can catch their own errors. Travel for work a lot? Create a “master packing list.”
Carve out time to create and tweak these kinds of systems. By gradually accumulating winning strategies over time, you can significantly erode your problem, bit by bit.
4. You use avoid-or-escape methods for coping with anxiety.
People who are overloaded will have a strong impulse to avoid or escape anxiety. If you want to deal constructively with situations that trigger anxiety for you, you’ll need to engineer some flexibility and space into your life so that you can work through your emotions and thoughts when your anxiety is set off.
Be compassionate with yourself and aim to chip away at your patterns rather than expecting to give your habits a complete makeover or eradicate all self-sabotaging behaviors from your life.
(Alice Boyes is a former clinical psychologist turned writer.)