What Is Productivity Paralysis And How Can You Cope With It?

Productivity is a strange thing. It ebbs and flows in ways that we cannot always explain. Some days, it feels like you're on fire, and you cannot wait to complete all your tasks for the day. Other times, you spend the day not doing much and waiting for the clock to run out. In our professional lives, we experience these tides almost every day, and that's completely normal. But the problem arises when there's a prolonged period where we cannot seem to get anything done, and it's not for a lack of trying.

Every day you find yourself staring at your computer, thinking about everything that needs to be done, but you cannot seem to take any steps toward accomplishing it. It almost feels like a part of your mind has gone blank and doesn't want to cooperate with the other part that wants to get stuff done. And going through these emotions day after day can be incredibly stressful.

To break out of this limbo, you seek the help of your loved ones, and they most likely tell you to stop being lazy or reduce distractions to stay focused on your work and reassure you that this is only temporary. While it's no secret that reducing distractions can boost productivity, what you're dealing with might be a deeper issue than the average productivity slump. It may well be productivity paralysis.

What is productivity paralysis and why does it happen?

If you're unsure if you're in a slump or facing productivity paralysis, here's how productivity coach Juliet Landau-Pope explained productivity paralysis to Stylist: "You may feel as if there's no time to breathe and you don't have the headspace to make decisions, or you feel frozen, incapable of taking any action." She added: "It's demoralizing and often quite debilitating, and it can have a profound impact on your work and well-being." Conversely, a productivity slump is usually short-lived, motivation-related, generally less psychologically damaging, and far easier to get out of.

There are several possible culprits behind your productivity paralysis. Sometimes, looking at your long to-do list can send alarm sirens blaring in your mind. It can overwhelm you to the point where you cannot take steps toward finishing your tasks because the burden seems too great to bear. For perfectionists, a tough to-do list can worsen the problem because of how difficult it'll be to get everything done on time while still maintaining high standards.

If your workload seems manageable, it could be personal life stressors causing your mind to shut down. If both of these factors are in check, your work might have gotten a bit monotonous, which has led to a lack of motivation and inspiration to get everyday tasks done. Low energy levels can also prevent you from finding the drive to get tasks done with the effort they require. 

Kill productivity paralysis with kindness

Sometimes, productivity paralysis can be your mind's cry for help. Chances are you've overworked yourself to the point where you can't push yourself anymore. Instead of comparing your past efforts to your current state, be kind to yourself. See if you can take a couple of days off from work or get out of town for the weekend. If neither is possible, try to incorporate short breaks into your day.

If your workload has been out of control recently, don't look at it as a giant book but as individual pages. Break your everyday tasks into smaller pieces that are easier for your mind to digest. Divide your workday into smaller sections and define what you're going to tackle in each section, but be sure to have breaks to prevent burnout. If you have trouble finding balance, try using the Pomodoro Technique, which incorporates breaks into your work time. Start with the simplest tasks and work your way up to harder ones.

Sometimes, the hardest part is to start. To curb this problem, try to convince yourself to work for shorter periods — you can go as low as 10 to 15 minutes. For perfectionists who don't want to do anything unless they're doing it perfectly, this can help you start things and edit them as you go. To get your energy levels back to normal, aim to get some exercise in before you start working and eat foods that will fuel your energy.