3 productivity-crippling fears that will get you "stuck" and how to deal with them

3 productivity-crippling fears that will get you “stuck” and how to deal with them

Fear is something that we all understand. Whether it’s giant hairy spiders, confined spaces or ghastly ghoulies we all have something that strikes ice into our hearts and fills us with dread from head to toe.

But there are other, more subtle variations of this “fight or flight” inducing fear that can be debilitating in an entirely different way – one that wraps around you like a bad morning-after headache, creating fuzz where there used to be clarity and inertia where there used to be direction.

I’ve been thinking recently about three types of productivity problems, each of which I believe can be ascribed to this underlying sense of fear. I’ve written about two of them before:

  • The Kryptonite Task – A mild productivity block, associated with a repetitious task that often trips you up. The fear here is in allocating time to the kryptonite task, in time lost in carrying it out, in not being able to complete it or finding that there’s more to do once you get started. It’s a classic procrastination-inducing fear.

  • The Hub and Spoke Task – More insidious than the Kryptonite task, this can be anything on your todo list that your subconscious wants to avoid, and that it will attempt to divert or distract you from. Fear at the root of this could be attached to a number of things, such as the unknown elements (like making contact with someone you don’t know or like), the perceived difficulty or time to complete, or simply the potential unpleasantness of the task. This is subconscious fear, and you might not even realise you’re experiencing it.

And finally, one I haven’t yet written about:

  • Paralysis – this is a more extreme and recognisable form of fear, and it stems from having to tackle something that is closely aligned to your belief system or goals. For example, you may need to make some arrangements following the passing of a loved one. Or you may be struggling financially and need to look at how to manage your debts; or perhaps you’ve been putting on weight and you want to do something about it. In each of these cases the fear symptoms are likely to be obvious and physical: Sweaty palms, palpitations; a sick feeling in the stomach. Paralysis has a very immediate effect on your productivity – it stops you dead in your tracks. You may ultimately resort to avoidance tactics, but any effort to address the task head on will leave you reeling.

Coping strategies

Dealing with fear is not an easy thing to do. From the most obvious and physical forms (e.g. fear of heights) to the more subtle (fear of failure), our instinct will be to avoid the trigger rather than face into it. And just as with conventional phobia treatment, directly facing your fear, though often effective, is not always the best answer for an individual.

I have a few recommendations that I have found helpful when dealing with any of the 3 fears listed above. These may not solve the issue for you entirely, but I hope they might be useful.

Acknowledge the fear

It’s not always obvious to us why we’re avoiding something. Often we make excuses for ourselves – I’m just too busy – or ascribe our ineffectiveness to other (often arbitrary) causes – I’m just off my game today. I think it’s important to develop a skill of identifying those occasions when you’re not acting on the tasks that you know (or have identified) to be the most important and/or urgent, and ask yourself some key questions:

  • Is this a priority task?
  • Why haven’t I completed it so far?
  • How do I feel about this task?
  • What’s holding me back?
  • What am I afraid of?

Thinking clinically about the problem and looking specifically for fear triggers may surface some blockers that you hadn’t previously acknowledged.

If you haven’t acknowledge what’s holding you back, you won’t be equipped to address those issues.

Diagnose the severity

Only you know how big a deal this particular productivity blocker is. If it’s like my experience with the expenses sheets, it’s not going to require lots of deep-rooted soul searching. If you’re putting off a doctors appointment or a meeting with the bank, then there could well be some deeper rooted fears at work.

Try to be honest with yourself and categorise the likely severity of this particular issue. Don’t be tempted to brush it under the carpet – you’re only fooling yourself and it won’t help in the long run.

Pick a therapy

Based on your assessment of the severity of your issue and the underlying issues, you now need to pick a ‘therapy’ – a method or routine to try and unblock yourself. This could include:

  • Scheduling time for yourself to do the task
  • Writing down your commitment to completing the task
  • Seeking someone else’s help to execute the task
  • Making a public declaration of intent (increasing accountability)
  • Talking to someone about what’s holding you back
  • Doing something else (a valid option, but you need to be careful about selecting it).

I don’t think there’s a “right” anwer to this one, and it may require some trial and error before you land on something that works for you. If one approach from the list doesn’t unblock you, try another.

Nothing to fear but fear itself

I know it sounds cliched, but the basic premise of this approach lies in bringing the fear element out into the open and finding healthy and appropriate ways of dealing with it.

If you can develop habits of self-critiquing in this way and having honest conversations with yourself, you should find there are fewer occasions when you get completely stuck.

How do you deal with getting stuck, and how often is it a result of one of these fears? Let me know in the comments below.


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