Do you have a tendency to “ostrich”? (Yes, I’m turning this into a verb!) Do you stick your head in the proverbial sand when things start to feel busy, overwhelming or out of control?

Or perhaps you stick your fingers in your ears, metaphorically, and sing “La, la, la, I can’t hear you!” when stuff starts to pile up around you, or the influx of new tasks is just coming too fast.

If so, you certainly wouldn’t be alone.

I’ve found in my work with clients that “ostriching” is a pretty common phenomena, especially when it comes to your task system.

But, unfortunately, sticking your head in the sand is a temporary band-aid fix.

It’s a counterintuitive protection instinct.

It’s not actually resolving the core issue.

It’s solving for short term pain, but creating long term pain in the process.

You think you’re protecting yourself, but you’re actually just making things worse, compounding the problem.

Folks sometimes come into a session with me and share that they are feeling “behind”. They say that their task system is in “bad shape”. They might say they’re embarrassed to show me. (And that’s exactly when I remind them that we operate in a no-shame environment in my sessions and that progress is rarely linear…but I digress.)

When I ask for details, they can’t really tell me. They say it’s “bad” but they don’t really know how bad because they haven’t looked. They’ve been actively avoiding their task system and instead relying on memory. Not to mention letting that roaring wave of anxiety flood back in.

Ostriching is avoidance. And avoidance rarely makes the problem go away. In fact, avoidance doubles down on the problem.

When you avoid, you actually invoke the thing you’re trying to avoid.

You avoid your task system because there’s too much to do, but while you’re avoiding, more stuff is piling up. And because you’re actively ignoring, it’s all jumbled together instead of prioritized.

The ignoring might feel good for a fleeting moment.

But then you remember that all that stuff you’re avoiding still exists.

Just because you can’t see it with your head in the sand doesn’t mean it’s disappeared.

But here’s the thing. It’s never as bad as you think. (And even if it were, more avoidance is simply going to make it worse.)

So, what do we do about it?

When a client comes into a session and it’s clear they’ve been ostriching, I always ask if they’d like to tackle their task system together to get it back into a forward state, where everything on their task list has a next action date of today or the future.

Usually, they say “yes” in a rush of visible relief.

It’s helpful to have someone hold your hand to steady you when you’re trying to extract your head from the sand.

But let’s say that you don’t have anyone to hold your hand. Let’s say you’ve got to muster the courage to pull your head out all by yourself.

What should you do when you notice your head edging towards that sand, or already deeply buried?

Well, it’s time to jerk your head back out of the sand, shake it off and open your eyes. Here’s how:

  1. Just open up that task system and take a look. (See, it wasn’t so bad, was it?)
  2. Congratulate yourself for facing your system and taking that first step.
  3. Next, sort by date, and start with the things that are “overdue” (Remember, “overdue” doesn’t really mean anything; it’s a false stressor. The only time you can do something is in the future.)
  4. Start with the first item on the list and ask yourself:
    • When will I, realistically, do the next step? (It’s not “when should it be done?” or “when do I wish it would be done?”. It’s “when am I actually going to do this thing, given the time I have available?”.)
    • Check your calendar and block the time you need, esp. if it’s a chunky step.
    • Update the next action date in your task system.
  5. Then repeat for all overdue tasks.
  6. Once you’re at “today”, double check that everything on your “today” list is actually achievable given the time you have and if not, move it to a date you’ll actually have time to do it.

Now, whenever I do this with my clients, we almost invariably find 3 things:

  • You’re very likely to find that you’ve already done many of the things on your list. You’ll be very pleased as you get the dopamine hit of checking these things off your list. (See, this process wasn’t as hard as it first seemed? Yay for dopamine!)
  • This process takes WAY less time than you think. Often less than 20 minutes. You’ll surprise yourself!
  • As soon as you’re back to everything having a date in the future you’ll feel an immense sense of relief, like the anxiety has just just oozed out of your body, leaving you lighter, cleaner, fresher. You’ll feel ready to tackle what’s next.

Do you “ostrich”?

What do you do to get your head out of the sand?