Some people seem to be experts in handling lots of priorities; I'm not one of those people.
In reality, I'm the type of person who gets paralyzed quite quickly when faced with many things at once. It sounds like common sense when you think about it - if someone has lots of tasks to do, they would be working non-stop on getting them done. Unfortunately, I do the opposite. I tend to shut down and avoid doing as much as I can even though I know that I have things to do. I've been working on improving myself when faced with a mountain of work, but it still happens more than I'd like to admit.
Typically, it occurs during workdays, when I have different responsibilities to manage both for work and my personal life. For example, I would wake up with a sense of dread coming over me as I thought about all the things I wanted to accomplish for that day. Between meetings with co-workers, a few work tasks that suddenly appeared, going to a gym for a workout, preparing new articles for the week, and trying not to neglect my wife entirely, I would already begin to feel completely overwhelmed. And this was before I even got out of bed.
On one particular day, I sat down at my desk and started to plan my day, but I was frozen. There were things like scheduled meetings that I couldn't skip. Those were easy to put in my schedule since the time was predetermined and others depended on me to be available. But afterward I still had tons of tasks ahead of me, and I didn't know what to do. I was feeling completely stuck. As you can imagine, it was incredibly frustrating feeling like I was going down that uncontrollable spiral again. Interestingly, a single question popped into my head. I asked it out loud to myself: "What can I do next?"
By asking that question, it was like the fog that enveloped my brain was completely lifted, and I received an incredible sense of clarity.
In an instant, I immediately had an idea on how to plan my day. I took a pen and wrote down the next part of my schedule, then the next and so on. Everything fell into place in just a few minutes after that. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to start moving on with my day when not even 15 minutes prior I had no idea how to get anything done. It was like a magic spell that broke an evil curse that had a hold on me.
How can asking a simple question like that be so powerful? It's because it stops the flow of all the thoughts going through your head and helps you reset, making your path ahead a lot clearer. In neuro-linguistic programming and behavioral psychology, this action is called a pattern interrupt. Our brains like to make things easy for us, so when we perform something over and over again, we begin doing it automatically. Once that becomes a habit and is firmly entrenched in our mind, it's tough to stop it.
When we get that feeling of overwhelm or being stuck, we all tend to perform the same routine to deal with it. Some people, like myself, shut down and prefer not to deal with anything at all. Others run straight to their comfort zone. Sometimes people even take self-destructive actions such as drugs, alcohol, or any other vices.
Regardless of what we do when we have many things to do but don't know what to do next, asking yourself what you can do next serves as an interruption to your behavior. It cuts you off from your thought process and takes you out of that rut you're in, which frees your brain to think differently. That's why it's so useful because it clears the path for you to answer the question instead of flounder in your old thoughts that don't serve you whatsoever.
Any time I start feeling overwhelmed with anything, I stop and ask myself that question, and it never fails me. It always points me in the right direction, and I get myself moving. As someone who loves video games, I call it my Combo Breaker.
Small steps for your Practical Good
The next time you feel stuck and don't know what to do next, just do one single thing: ask yourself "What can I do next?" out loud. This question should be enough to help you find a solution and move one step forward quickly. Taking one step will also clear up the path ahead for additional steps and build momentum. Before you know it, you'll have a clear plan ahead of you.