Stop Errand Paralysis

On Millennials, Burn Out, and Work Culture

Rahaf Harfoush
Jan 8 · 3 min read

I just finished reading Ann Helen Petersen’s excellent (if not very sad) essay about whether or not millennials have become the burnout generation. It’s a long read, but one that’s worth your time.

She writes about a condition she calls “Errand Paralysis” an unexplainable inability to complete simple tasks, that get punted on to the next month, and the next, always hanging over your head.

The culprit is burnout, and the solution is not as simple as taking a vacation. She writes:

“That realization recast my recent struggles: Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time. Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it — explicitly and implicitly — since I was young.”

What follows is a thorough analysis on how generational experiences, coupled with unstable economic conditions, is creating a generation of people eternally striving to worker harder, who blame themselves instead of the institutions that failed them.

Petersen’s experience, echoes not only my own story, but is nearly identical to the hundreds of people I spoke to over the course of the past three years, as I researched my book, “Hustle & Float: Reclaim Your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed with Work.”

Many of our attitudes about work stem from deeply held beliefs that have been cobbled together from a variety of different and contradictory sources (the American Dream, the 2008 recession, the myth of self-made men, the rise of performative creativity on social media, just to name a few).

But, I digress. For now, I’d like to get back to Errands Paralysis, and offer a simple solution that worked for me.

Adulting Sprints.

A few years ago, my husband and I discovered that the days between December 26–31st had a lot of downtime. Family obligations had wrapped up, people were still on holidays, work was slow. We decided to spend a few days doing ALL of the things we’d put off during the year.

It was glorious.

We batched everything from hanging pictures that had lounged around our bedroom for the whole year to building the shelf we’d purchased when we’d moved in two years prior (lol).

I felt so free!

And thus, a tradition was born.

On the years when we weren’t at home, we devised a simple work around: 3–4 hour sprints over a couple of Sundays during the year.

It sounds simple (and it is), but it made a huge difference.

I realized that most of these tasks could wait, removing the sense of constant urgency we all seem to carry.

I posted about this on Instagram, and got a lot of requests for my list. I’ve decided to share it here, in the hopes that it will be helpful to you.

>>>>>> HERE’S MY LIST <<<<<<

A few tips:

  • Always start with a bribe. I like a great bottle of wine to look forward to at the end of a sprint to celebrate my accomplishments.
  • Once you’ve done some of the major tasks (wills, registering to vote, etc) maintaining them will be much easier in the future.
  • Start an accompanying inventory list on your phone. As you go through the tasks, you’ll inevitably need to replace, update, or purchase new things. Keep it all in one place so that the next time you’re at the grocery store, you’ll remember to pick up candles and batteries and whatever other miscellaneous items you need.
  • Keep it as simple or complicated as you like. Personally, I use omni-focus because it batches tasks by context, which I find really helpful, but an excel spreadsheet or list app will work just as well.
  • Don’t stress too much. Life is too short to be anxious about dry cleaning a duvet.

If you’ve found the above interesting, please consider spreading the word! And you might also enjoy my monthly newsletter where I share research from my current projects, as well as talk about digital culture, creativity, productivity, and tech.

Rahaf Harfoush

Written by

Digital Anthropologist. NYT Best Selling Author. Technology and Culture are my jam. Listen: The Digital Deep Podcast. #hustleandfloat

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