To-do list as long as your arm? It could be down to a bizarre phenomenon – 'errand paralysis', psychologist warns | The Sun

WHY can't I keep on top of my life admin?

I have thousands of unread emails, a growing pile of ASOS returns in my hallway and a long-overdue dentist appointment to make.

I also have a bunch of old clothes to list for sale on Vinted, an Irish passport I must apply for, a load of WhatsApps to respond to, and the aircon in my car desperately needs fixing.

But will I get round to ticking any of these things off my seemingly endless to-do list any time soon? Almost certainly not.

That's because I have errand paralysis.

Not strictly a medical condition, but something that can wreak havoc on your mental health, the term describes the unexplainable inability to complete mundane tasks.

It's a mental block, a metaphorical wall, which leaves sufferers crippled by the day-to-day.

Psychologist Emma Kenny said: "When you hear the term 'errand paralysis', what you're really grappling with is the phenomenon where you find yourself unable to tackle small, everyday tasks, even though you may have the capability and resources to do so.

"It’s as though these minor chores become monumental in your mind, leading you to postpone or avoid them entirely.

"For many people, the struggle isn't with the complexity of the task but with the sheer weight of accumulated responsibilities.

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"Think about it. It's not that you can't buy milk or reply to an email, it's that you're constantly trying to keep a multitude of balls in the air, and at times, this becomes overwhelming."

Errand paralysis is made even worse as chores start to pile up, creating a snowball effect.

What started as a short list for me – take an eBay parcel to the post office, book a check-up at the dentist, and clear out my 7,987-strong email inbox – has spiralled into what feels like a completely unmanageable checklist.

Not only do I still need to do these things, I also now have a bunch of wedding guest dresses worth £278 that didn't fit to send back, three bin bag's worth of old clothes to stick on Vinted, old university friends to arrange to meet up with, my partner's birthday dinner to book, and an Irish passport application that I've been meaning to send off since before Brexit.

I also need to get the broken aircon mended in my car – which I might just get done in time for next summer.

You'd think driving around for the last three years in sweltering heat would have been enough to give me the push to do it, but errand paralysis got me good.

People that are going through the same kind of perpetual exhaustion will get it.


As Helen Anne Peterson, who coined the phrase errand paralysis in 2019, said: "I’d put something on my to-do list and it’d roll over, one week to the next, haunting me for months."

But those that don't know the feeling will probably argue that it is simply another word for laziness or procrastination.

Well, according to Emma, they are very different.

"While on the surface errand paralysis might resemble laziness, it's crucial to distinguish the two," she said.

"Laziness often comes from a lack of motivation or desire to do something.

"But with errand paralysis, it’s not about a lack of want; it's about feeling so overwhelmed that you become stagnant."

It is also distinct from burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion from prolonged stress and overworking.

Emma said: "Both involve a sense of depletion, but burnout generally encompasses a broader spectrum of one's professional and personal life, whereas errand paralysis is more specific to daily, mundane tasks."

It’s as though these minor chores become monumental in your mind, leading you to postpone or avoid them entirely.

So why are thousands of us plagued by this incapacity to get things done?

That's simple, Emma said. It's modern life.

"The world we live in today bombards us with endless stimuli, tasks, and obligations," she added.

"Couple this with the expectations set by society, our family, and often ourselves, and it's not hard to see why the weight of simple chores becomes unbearable.

"The constant connection through technology, the comparison with others on social media, and the pressure to be productive at all times can lead many of you to feel like you're always running on a treadmill, with no stop button in sight."

It's probably not surprising that errand paralysis is most prevalent among millennials and Gen Z.

"These are people who juggle multiple responsibilities and are navigating the challenges of adulthood in a digital age that perpetually demands their attention," Emma said.

But it's not just confined to the younger generation, she added.

"Many modern-day adults, regardless of their age, who are trying to strike a balance between work, personal life, and societal expectations, find themselves in the grips of errand paralysis."

So once you've accepted you've got a problem, what can you do about it?

Emma suggested the following:

  1. PRIORITISE: Learn to differentiate between tasks that are urgent, important and can be deferred. Not every one will hold equal weight.
  2. BREAK TASKS DOWN: Instead of viewing chores as one big, intimidating blob, break them down into more manageable bits.
  3. LIMIT EXPOSURE: Reduce the time you spend on platforms or in environments that exacerbate feelings of inadequacy or being overwhelmed.
  4. SELF-CARE: Remember to allocate time for yourself. This isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.
  5. SEEK SUPPORT: Talk about your feelings. Whether it's with friends, family or professionals, discussing how you feel can make a big difference.


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Emma said: "Remember, it's okay to feel overwhelmed at times.

"The key is to recognise it, accept it, and take actionable steps to navigate through it."

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