Keeping a laundry list of tasks and to-dos in order can be a headache for anyone, but for some people, the difficulty goes beyond mere annoyance. Starting work each morning can feel like wrangling a bear — and often, that bear is your mind. No, work won’t always be easy (it’s called work for a reason), but it doesn’t need to be the bane of your day-to-day existence.
It’s important to understand what about task management pains you. Is it stressful? Are you overwhelmed? Are you so nitpicky that you get stuck on tasks for days? When task management turns from an annoyance into a daily struggle, step back and examine your mental health. Understanding the blocks your brain puts up during working hours will help you — with the help of a therapist if you choose — create a plan of attack.
Many mental health challenges directly affect your brain’s ability to effectively manage tasks. Identifying the cause helps pinpoint the solution. Below are a few major contributors to ineffective time management.
During stressful periods, thinking about your to-do list makes you break out in sweat. Planning your day each morning feels like a momentous chore. And knocking off the tiniest task — sometimes even as tiny as brushing your teeth — requires all the determination you can muster.
There’s a reason people with anxiety often struggle with time management: stress transforms your brain into a worry-monster. Easily achievable tasks become impossible snow-capped mountains. Soon, your days are filled with avoidance behaviors, and the pile of must-be-done work looms higher and higher.
Many people with anxiety disorders struggle to manage their time appropriately, and working with a qualified therapist can help mitigate the problem. But sometimes, the culprit is less severe. Review the projects you’re juggling: Is one causing you undue stress? Perhaps it’s the 20-page term paper for your hardest class or a end-of-year budget report due to your boss next month. If you can’t get it off your plate entirely, break it into itsy-bitsy, child-size chunks — and tackle the easiest parts first.
You Have an Attention Disorder
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) doesn’t just affect children — approximately 10 million adults have ADHD. If you grew up in the ’90s or earlier, officials and teachers may have overlooked your disorder. If you went undiagnosed in school, it may feel surprising to find yourself knocking at the door of a therapist years later.
ADHD directly affects your executive function — the part of your brain that regulates time management. So it’s no surprise that your poor time management could be a symptom! The executive function’s “when” circuit dictates your timeliness and ability to process behaviors in a sequential order, and it’s often hampered by ADHD.
If you suffer from a complete inability to focus on any one task, consider talking to your therapist about a possible diagnosis. Specialized time management strategies, like jotting down distracting thoughts in a dedicated “I’ll get to it later” notebook, can help you check off your to-dos and achieve your goals.
You Have Obsessive Tendencies
You might think that obsessive-compulsive disorder lends itself well to task management, but that’s not always true. With severe cases, sufferers may find themselves caught in a compulsive loop, unable to move on from one project or task until they’ve checked off an obscure set of mental requirements. If you find yourself trapped in these cycles, talk to a therapist to get the help you deserve.
OCD can also manifest in smaller, yet equally destructive, ways. Perhaps you’re hyper-focused on keeping your desk in perfect order so you can concentrate better. Or your mind becomes preoccupied with the idea of getting fired — so much so that you can’t get work done. These intrusive thoughts may not feel like “traditional” OCD as portrayed in books and movies, so it’s understandable if you’re unable to connect the dots.
Feeling down in the dumps? Knocking tasks off your to-do list may be the last thing on your mind. When you’re struggling to feel anything, you probably don’t worry too much about the consequences of blowing off the deadline on your next big task. Depression is one of the most common disabilities, but it doesn’t have to keep you frozen.
If every day feels like a slog, work may be the last thing you want to do. And you shouldn’t force yourself to power through the pain just to satisfy a boss — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find a solution that fits you and your lifestyle. Speak with a licensed therapist, who can help identify strategies for succeeding despite your depression. Acknowledging your sickness (and it is a sickness) goes a long way towards treating it.
Mental health struggles may seem scary, but with time and therapy, they don’t have to impede your working life. Identifying the root cause behind your struggles with task management means you’ll be back to knocking out your tasks like Muhammad Ali soon enough.