when you’re the lazy coworker

A reader writes:

I am the lazy coworker, and I find it an exhausting, anxiety-producing, guilt-ridden existence.

I stay on top of my day-to-day work well enough (just the minimum really) when there is day-to-day work to do. We’ve all got our own office, so no one really knows what anyone else does, even in our own department. Sometimes if a request is particularly interesting, I can get it done very, very fast compared to my regular turnaround times, which are usually about 10 times longer than necessary. What suffers though, is my long-term projects that go nowhere fast.

This is enabled by my soon-to-be-leaving boss, who is a self-described “hands off libertarian.” I got a glowing performance review from him and my anonymous coworkers which is nice, but strangely depressing.

Why am I lazy? I get no oversight from my boss. In this position and in previous jobs, I have been very productive (I honestly think I might be a “rock-star” employee if I worked more than an hour or two a day) when I have regular contact with my manager, for both short and long term projects.

I’m very bored, it’s not challenging at all, just monumentally time-consuming. My reward for getting things done is…. more boring, unchallenging work. Or frankly, nothing — I might even work myself out of a job. Honestly, I find the combination of fear and stress with regular feedback and collaboration from my superiors makes me very productive.

I’ve tried engaging my current boss, but he just didn’t get it. That and he can’t plan a project or set goals and neither can I.

As for why I don’t I leave my job, I’m working on a M.Sc part-time for a similar related field. I’m now on to my thesis portion, for which I’m having difficulty being productive on. I can’t get a better job without it, but can’t seem to get it done either. And both my current and M.Sc field overall don’t have enough workers, but the jobs are mainly across the country in Ontario, not where I am right now.

I’m not asking for sympathy, heck, maybe I could use some kind of counseling, but I don’t know what they’d say other than “Do your job!” To which my honest reply is “I just really don’t want to.”

I see my boss leaving as an opportunity to get my act together and be awesome for once. My question to you, is how do I signal to a new manager that I actually like to be micromanaged so I actually work without sounding like child that needs his hand held?

Well, here’s the thing: A good boss isn’t going to be okay with micromanaging you. It doesn’t matter that you’d like them to; a good boss won’t do it, because that’s a terrible use of their time. A good boss will help you set goals and will check in with you regularly to ensure that you’re on track to achieve them, but the drive needs to come from you. And really, a good boss will fire you if it doesn’t.

I don’t think this is about needing a different boss or a different management style. This is about you needing to figure out what’s up with you.

I don’t buy that you’re lazy because of your boss. Lots of people have overly hands-off bosses and still remain productive. Plus, you’re running into the same thing with your thesis. Something’s going on here and it’s probably not really about your job; something is preventing you from feeling a sense of responsibility, and from creating your own structure, and from feeling accountable to yourself and others.

You mentioned counseling, and I’m going to agree with that. Not so that someone else can tell you “do your job,” but so that someone can help you figure out why you can’t make yourself, and why you don’t want to. There’s something deeper going on here, and that’s what I’d focus on identifying and resolving. You need someone to help you figure out where this came from and how to find the path out.

Also: Does it make sense to be getting a degree in a similar field, when you’re not able to motivate yourself to actually do the work of this field?  Could the field/fields themselves be the problem? Have you always been this way, or did it start in this job? I’d take another look at that stuff too.

But seriously, you sound stuck. Get someone to help you un-stick yourself.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. Brandy*

    I would never pretend to be a medical doctor or presume things but this really does sound an awful lot like adult ADD. Seeing a physician to talk about the current symptoms and getting a recommendation for a therapist if the physician feels it is warranted isn’t a bad idea.

    This could be a lazy worker or could be someone with issues that have a solution.

    1. Soni*

      I second this. I have ADD myself, and this is so me when I don’t have a deadline-based, interesting project. Most ADDers simply can’t focus their attention on boring, non-attention-holding work without someone holding a fire to their feet (and often, not even then). If this turns out to be the case, I think it’s time to re-evaluate why you’re in this field in the first place. Figure out what all your procrastination activities have in common that makes you turn to them, and see if you can’t find a job where that’s the whole point.

      1. Anonymous*

        I third this. I also have the ADD gift/curse. Counseling didn’t help me, but it may help others. Medication helps to a certain extent (especially time-release), but it gives basically the same benefit as caffeine.

        This sounds like another example of how fit is so important – I don’t know what type of role would work best for the OP, but I bet he or she would thrive in the right one. It could be consulting, contract work, or even a different field that uses the OP’s same skill sets.

        1. Anna*

          I fourth it, again on a takes-one-to-know-one basis. And just for the record — since the stereotype does sometimes pop up that we’re as slow as our long-term projects — that I was a student at Bryn Mawr before I even got so much as tested.

    2. Heather*

      Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking. One of the hallmarks is that you can’t force yourself to work until the pressure of a deadline is right on top of you, because it stimulates the part of your brain that is otherwise understimulated.

      Also not a doctor and not saying this is definitely the OP’s problem, but this was one of my main problems before I got diagnosed and treated.

      1. Frieda*

        I second (third? fourth?) the adult ADD thing, and also the comment above about fit. I always had the same problems as the OP, but on the flip side I am really great at doing 8 things at once under a tight deadline–so I have been really successful in a job where I am managing multiple projects simultaneously with crazy deadlines. It’s not quite air traffic controller, but it’s rarely the kind of job where I have the opportunity to get bored. Some people find this kind of environment stressful and overwhelming, but I thrive!

        I was diagnosed with ADD two years ago and medication has helped a lot with the other things that do require attention, but even before that I found that rather than needing to be micromanaged, I just need to be SPECIFIC and straightforward with my bosses about what things I need from them to be successful. So for example, if I am asked to do a long-term, open-ended project that I know will be harder for me to concentrate on, I am clear with my boss that it needs to have a firm due date. My boss is VERY hands off and usually would say, “Just get to it when you get to it,” but I found that if I phrase it as, “If you don’t give me a deadline, it will fall to the bottom of my To Do list and stay there,” it works. Of course it helps that (A) I am awesome at the 80% of my job that is craziness so they want to keep me happy, and (B) I have a great relationship with my boss and can be that honest (and he’ll listen).

        But it’s worth thinking about what specific points of “micromanagement” trigger you to get working on a project–you might find that it’s not that you need a babysitter, but that you may need specific guidance like due dates or total workload (i.e., I work better with 4 projects due in a month instead of 1 project every week).

        1. Liz*

          Wow – this is really good advice!

          Also, I had to take over for an expert multi-tasker this week. I already knew that isn’t my bag – I can do more than one project over a period of time, but I really need to focus like hell on one thing at a time for several hours at a time or my productivity goes way down. I had no idea HOW MUCH juggling there really is for people who can handle jobs like that. It was kind of insane.

        2. Mel*

          This is so helpful, I’m in this same boat and I think I’m going to start asking my boss to give me firm deadlines.

    3. TheSnarkyB*

      I know I’m late to the party here, and I’m not a doctor either, nor certified. (Although I am in the field of psychology & counseling). With the limited info we have here, this could just as easily be depression or anxiety, another mood disorder, or some other life circumstances. I’m not saying this to refute the idea that a mental disorder may be at work (in fact, I think your insight is right), but I think it could be any number of things. (This is really just a “civilian” opinion here- just my 2c)

  2. Anonymous*

    I’d say you’re either depressed or just bored as hell. Depression doesn’t have to be miserable to be depressed…lack of energy and motivation are definitely signs.

    I’ve personally been in jobs where my work was useless, and that’s another possibility (though could be both). Literally, I had a job once where if I never did my “work” no one would even notice. The company didn’t really need it done, I think my job mostly existed because my boss wanted to defend his level of staffing. I had been doing good work for that company for a few years and the role of the group changed to where my skills weren’t really the best fit anymore, and so I just ended up doing busywork. It’s easy to get into a rut…after finally getting laid off I got a new job, and couldn’t believe I wasted a year there without realize it was time to move on!

    1. Liz*

      That was kind of my take too, although the OP didn’t give many clues. I’ve read that totalitarian states control prison populations by giving people meaningless work like piling and repiling the same rocks, then randomly telling the prisoners that some of the piles are ok and some of the piles are not ok. After a few re-pilings the prisoners eithe go mad and rush the guards or break and after that will do anything you tell them.

      Something about the letter reminded me of a friend I have about two years after his father died. He looked at me one day and said, out of nowhere, “You know how sometimes you’re really thirsty but you don’t want to get off the couch? I feel like that all the time and I like it.”

      I was too young to know why, but even I knew that signaled some really messed up coping skills. And I don’t think he was lazy or unmotivated. I think he was overwhelmed and just couldn’t make himself do one more thing unless there was a fear of punishment.

  3. Anonymous*

    Well, there is also logic to the OP. OP can’t be fired and gets paid just for showing up. OP has no reason to perform the work.

    I think the real determining factor between whether you are depressed or simply unethical is this:

    Pick something where there is a motivation to get it done. Maybe that’s another job on the side. Maybe that’s a fun hobby. Anything that isn’t “browsing the internet” would count. Can you get that thing done? If the answer is no, I’d lean toward the depression diagnosis as a real concern. If the answer is yes, then congratulations, you’re just unethical and taking advantage of the bad manager.

    Not that being unethical is something to be proud of, but I think it’s at least as likely as depression from this description. It’s very common, but for some reason a lot of people have trouble identifying it.

    1. Anonymous*

      He/she did mention not being able to get anything done on a thesis. So that’s a sign that something is up.

      Honestly if the boss and coworker’s reviews are “glowing” then part of this might be just the job being unimportant. Companies have that kind of dysfunction all the time, not even realizing how poorly they’re using employees. And the lack of value could then feedback into further lowering the morale of the employee.

    2. Anony Mouse*

      Please do not assume that everyone’s ethics are identical to your own. Many, many people who lean towards Marxism or similar schools of thought would find nothing unethical about denying a company surplus labor.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, it is unethical to lead someone to believe you’re working when you’re not.

        And if the person in question is at a nonprofit, it’s outrageously unethical — immoral, even — to accept donors’ money (which they’re donating to a cause or need) if you’re not doing much work.

        The manager has some complicity in this too, for not spotting it, but we’re responsible for our own actions.

        This is not a Marxist blog :)

        1. Anony Mouse*

          No, it is unethical in YOUR system of ethics. There are plenty of prominent thinkers who would disagree. Granted, your system is probably the dominant one in the workplace, and it’s in the OP’s best interests not to be perceived as unethical, but there is not an absolute right and wrong against which to measure the OP’s behavior. We should never assume something is “right” or “wrong” because the powerful say that it is.

          1. Pamela G*

            I would disagree that there is not an absolute right and wrong… are you saying that rapists should be able to rape and child molesters can go ahead and molest children simply because that fits their definition of ‘right’ and who are you to tell them otherwise?

            If you have a contract which states that you get paid money in return for doing work, and you’re not doing the work, you don’t deserve the money. And if you’re concealing the fact you’re not working, then you’re being dishonest.

            1. Anony Mouse*

              I’m not going to debate ethics and morality, at AAM’s request, but my main issue is that there is a lot we don’t know, and jumping right to “unethical” is needlessly accusatory.

              I’d bet dollars to donuts the OP doesn’t have a contract, and so he and the company are operating under a gentleman’s agreement of sorts. I think that we should expect the employee to follow through to the same degree we expect the company to do so. Some companies are great and treat their employees well; others don’t.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Anony Mouse, we make judgement calls in order to talk about what we talk about here all the time. You can’t talk about what we talk about here without constructing it all around a system of ethics and beliefs.

            Given what this blog is all about, it’s not surprising that the conversation does assume agreement with what the commenter above wrote.

            But I really, really don’t want to host a debate on Marxism here, which I’ll ask you to respect. There are plenty of other places to do that.

            1. Anony Mouse*

              I’m not trying to start a debate on Marxism (nor am I a Marxist); my intention was to defend the OP against claims of being “unethical”. I think the words that the OP used (lazy, unmotivated, etc.) and the words you used to reply (not feeling accountable to himself) are appropriate and constructive. I think “unethical” is accusatory and unfair to the OP, and is a needlessly judgmental way to approach the situation, especially when we have no idea if there are any real consequences to the fact that he isn’t firing on all cylinders.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But it is unethical, for the reasons that have already been stated. The OP himself seems to recognize that; he talks about feeling guilty. And I do believe it’s helpful to include that piece of this in the discussion, because it’s part of why someone should want to change this behavior (and indeed, I think it’s part of why the OP wants to).

                That doesn’t mean we’re all going to pelt the OP with tomatoes or anything (to the contrary, people have been quite respectful), but it is part of the situation he’s grappling with. It would be less respectful and less helpful if we danced around this piece of it rather than talk about it openly. Sometimes in situations like this, it’s a huge relief to be able to name elements like this for what they are, and it’s a prerequisite for moving forward from them.

                1. Anony Mouse*

                  I’m not trying to be deliberately obtuse, but I know it’s coming off that way, so I apologize in advance.

                  Here’s what I am struggling with: To act ethically, an employee must meet the standards of his/her workplace. It sounds as though the OP is doing that; his work output, even working only a few hours/week, has thus far been satisfactory to his manager, who gave him “glowing” reviews.

                  Assuming the OP is salaried, isn’t work output the metric on which he should be measured? What if the OP is getting more done than his peers, because he is so much more efficient?

                  You stated that it is unethical to make someone think you are working if you are not. Is an employee expected never to slack off? I think virtually everyone would agree that they are not; everyone slacks off from time to time: to chat with coworkers, to zone out for a few minutes, to handle personal business, and those are all reasonable things.

                  So what makes the OP’s behavior unethical? Why are we setting the bar for ethical behavior higher than what his company expects of him? Do employees ethically owe it to their employers to do more than the agreed-upon work if they are able to?

                  Now, I think there are plenty of good reasons to work hard. The OP mentions the most obvious: job security, but also reputation, raises, etc. Further, this is so far in a vacuum; I know nothing about whether/how his behavior is affecting other coworkers, but it sounds like, at the end of the day, he is doing what the company expects him to do.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think that’s a fair question.

                  In the OP’s case, he says that his normal turnaround times are 10 times longer than what’s necessary, his long-term projects “go nowhere,” and he works no more than an hour or two a day. If this were all out in the open with the boss (“hey, I’ve been only working an hour a day, not completing long-term projects, and taking far longer with small ones than needed; is it okay if I continue this?”), that would be different. But I think it’s safe to say his employer hasn’t knowingly agreed to this, and that’s where ethics come in — because the party that’s paying him wouldn’t be okay with this if he were up-front about it. So there’s deception involved.

                  The agreement when you accept a job is that you’re going to work the full day, get your projects done at a reasonable pace, etc.

                  (This is complicated, obviously, by the bad management.)

                3. Ariancita*

                  I think the main issue is where ethics comes in. I think what he is actually doing (the outcome) can be argued as unethical, and the OP appears to think so as well. But the reason, the motivation, for doing it (slacking), are not related to ethics. The reasons/motivations come from somewhere else, since the OP is obviously troubled by it and wants to resolve it (is not just saying, f-u boss (wo)man, I’m playing WoW). The reasons can be anything, including depression, the wrong fit, etc, but I’d look at possibly the adult ADD that earlier posters have mentioned. The symptoms described sound fairly accurate. And in the case of adult ADD, one can be hyper focused on something they are seriously intrigued by, while being completely unmotivated and have zero focus for mundane tasks (to the extent that the behavior is pervasive and undermining their lives, as opposed to the general non-motivation and boredom we all go through from time to time).

            1. Heather*

              There is no reply button under what Arancita said but I want to second it here. I think where the confusion is coming from is in the OP’s motivations that are not necessarily unethical. I myself can identify with the OP as it can be extremely difficult when you are working “to make money” to pursue the career path you really want to and not because you find the work intrinsically rewarding to get up every day, go to work and be productive doing administrative tasks you really could care less about. The light bulb for me was finally listening to the voice in my head that said “You’ve always known you wouldn’t be happy unless you were doing something creative in music” and following this path. I’m still in that in between phase of working at the admin job to make money to go to school for music while working on my music training at night and although there are still some days i struggle, I’ve realized that I make the job i have so much worse by procrastinating, feeling guilty about it and building up the tasks in my head to be so much worse than they actually are. I agree with Allison that the OP might be in the wrong field but not necessarily. There’s a big difference between having a low-level position in your field and having more of an active decision-making position. The procrastination on the thesis I suspect may come from the cycle the OP is in. It’s very hard when your energy is zapped from your day job to then gather it back and accomplish a project outside of work. I encourage the OP to get counseling and work on compartmentalizing so that his day-to-day work situation doesn’t have a spiraling impact on him not accomplishing his thesis if that’s what’s going on here. I’ve been there OP. Hang in there!

        2. Liz*

          Thank you! It really bothers me when people who live off donations don’t appreciate your point about taking donor’s money. I started in fundraising and watching grandmas write checks from their life savings made me feel such a sense of responsibility!

    1. Another Emily*

      That’s what I thought too when I read this letter. I feel for you OP, I hope you take care.

    2. Nichole*

      Depression was my first thought (I’m holding out on mentioning my other thoughts until I’m done perusing the comments), but I would not recommend taking time off until a solid plan is in place and activated to deal with the depression and the OP is under the care of a doctor. “I think I’m depressed, so I’m going to take a sabbatacal” can easily become “I haven’t left my couch in four months, my life sucks, and I am even more depressed” at lightning speed if an action plan isn’t in place to keep the time off from being yet another self sabatoging avoidance technique to hide out from any opportunity to take responsibility (which may also feel like an opportunity to fail to a depressed person).

  4. Michael C*

    I can relate to this, somewhat – my lack of motivation is different. My boss denied me a raise, not because he didn’t agree I deserved it, but because it would not be fair to those with seniority on our team – he said it would not be fair to them if I were to get a substantial raise when he would not be able to offer it to everyone else.

    If there is no incentive to do more than the bare minimum, why do it?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While I completely understand that reaction (and your boss is a bad manager for saying that to you), there ARE other incentives for you. Your reputation is the big one — being known as someone who does awesome work. (I’m in no way excusing your boss, just answering your question literally.)

      1. Stells*

        +1 AAM

        I’ve been in a job now where I get Exceeds Expectations, but external factors have prevented raises or promotions. It’s incredibly frustrating and easy to get lazy. However, I’ve found that the mentality you mentioned here (having that reputation of being someone who does awesome work and maintaining it) helps give me some motivation.

        To the OP – besides counseling and seeing a doctor (it could be health related) I’d also communicate to the new manager the need for structure. You don’t need to be micromanaged, but let them know you do work better with firm expectations and deadlines. Plus let them know you’re always looking for projects or crosstraining as they are available.

      2. Anonymous*

        +1 to AAM.

        If you’re doing excellent work and not getting paid appropriately, then the only honorable course is to lobby for more money or, barring that, leave. Staying and ratcheting your work down to ‘meets standards’ or whatever you think your pay level justifies will hurt your reputation, hurt your work habits, but most of all, it will turn you into the person who says this:

        “I could do a better job if you would pay me more.”


        I care about ethics, but not nearly as much as I care about being able to look at myself in the mirror every day.

        1. Michael C*

          Not shirking work. With the type of work I do, it’s just something you do or don’t do. I’m just not as earnestly about the work as before. No ratcheting involved; I am holding my own.

          The only difference between now and before is I’m not looking around to help/do extra work outside of my job details anymore. It bums me out that there is no monetary incentive for me to go above and beyond – I think that sentiment is natural. And no, I’m not in this position for the job satisfaction; I am in it for da cash manies, yo.

    2. Candice*

      I definitely agree with that sentiment. It’s frustrating to work day in and day out to do things well and have nothing come of it. Lucky for me I just don’t like half-assing things.

  5. jmkenrick*

    I’m impressed & refreshed to see that Alison & commentors are answering this question with thoughtful replies & without lots of judgment.

    Personally, I sometimes go through some similar struggles with motivation, and I find it helpful to think of the extra effort my coworkers have to put in if I slack off. I like my coworkers and want to be liked back, so that can sometimes give an extra push when I need it. I also think it can be helpful to look at your work as a series of small projects and tasks rather than a relentless march.

    I don’t have anything to really add except best of luck to the OP!

    P.S. I suspect lots of people will be able to relate to this, so there will likely be some more good advice in the comments.

  6. Jamie*

    I agree that a micromanaging boss isn’t the answer, but perhaps you could get what you need by a more collaborative work environment over all. Your job sounds fairly autonomous if no one knows what anyone else is up to. Some people thrive in those kinds of jobs and some just don’t. Some people do their best work with and are most energizied with more interactive projects.

    I’m not going to speak to issues beyond the workplace, but this can happen to anyone for a day or two, or even slump of scope of weeks coming off an intense period of extra work. Kind of like a recuperative period where you maintain the necessary tasks but not exactly hiring the candle at both ends. That’s normal. But when it goes on this long it is time to look at the root cause.

    I worked with someone who sounded a lot like the OP and it was frustrating at times, but I think it was a lot more frustrating for her because she was miserable. The job was too autonomous and didn’t have the collaboration she needed, and she desperately wanted to work for a non profit and truly felt like what we did was pointless and that she was wasting her life.

    She is now working at a non-profit and is really happy. I expect she is far more productive in her new role than she was when I worked with her.

    I’m not that familiar with the counseling process, but if someone can help you determine the root cause of our lethargy about work – whether it’s situational or something else – that sounds like a good idea.

    1. twentymilehike*

      “The job was too autonomous and didn’t have the collaboration she needed” +1 times a million.

      OP, do you feel like this on your days off, too? I look forward to Saturday all week long, but my husband works on Saturday, so I wake up alone and think I’m going to be productive and I usually (this hurts to admit) plod around the house, cry a little, and then finally call a friend to go do something and immediately get perked up.

      I NEED human interaction to do ANYTHING productive! At one time in my life I was seeing a therapist for depression and she told me, “don’t be alone.” Granted, there are times when I don’t have much of a choice, but the point was that I really started to recognize how my brain worked in certain situations, and that empowered me to be able to control and change my circumstances when necessary. Letting myself be alone and bored is way more damaging for me than for others. Some people are the opposite–they are distracted by others and only productive when alone.

      Maybe the OP doesn’t necessarily need to be micromanaged, but does not yet recognize what he or she needs in order to thrive. Figuringout what environment you thrive in can be a challenge, but a very important one.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        OH BOY.

        I have this EXACT thing. When I’m alone a lot, I end up being LESS productive. Thank you for putting it in words I can quote if I need to! Things are not going well right now, and I’m really fighting this tendency. I’ve already wasted quite a bit of time where I could have been doing something.

  7. Indie_Rachael*

    There could be any number of health issues that ought to be considered: depression, thyroid issues, hormonal imbalance…even low-grade viral infections have been known to put people in a funk. I’d suggest visiting a medical doctor to rule out anything physical, as well as seeking therapy/counseling. The fact that this malaise hasn’t always existed and that it persists outside of work really is the indicator that something has changed and it isn’t just the job.

  8. Will Weider*

    This is an awesome post, not for the purpose of helping this individual, but this is a wake-up call for all of us managing people. This is not uncommon. The work world is filled with dis-engaged employees. It is our job as managers to remember the cost of these employees and manage accordingly.

    I would like to see the posters suggest how we manage to prevent this occurring in our workplaces. This is my two cents…

    We need to inspire employees. We not to recognize their good work and challenge what appears to be a lack of production. We need to provide clear direction and have metrics to gauge that employees are producing results.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really the formula for managing in any situation: Set clear goals that are ambitious while still being realistic, make sure people have a plan for achieving those goals and the resources to do it, check in and act as a resource along the way, tell people what they’re doing well and where they could do better, hold a high bar and address it forthrightly when it’s not being met, go out of your way to look out for people’s quality of life at work, and reward great performance. And of course, hire the right group of people in the first place.

      1. Ms Enthusiasm*

        I think another great motivator (at least for some) is to make sure the employee has some kind of say in the decisions about their work. If an employee is encouraged for their opinion and gets to make decisions it makes them feel less like one of the “little people”. I always appreciate this.

        1. Piper*

          This. I had a boss who loved to remind me before every meeting that I was to be “seen and not heard” (literally used that phrase) and that my opinion on the project, which I was hired on as the expert in (this was not an entry-level job, at least it wasn’t supposed to be anyway), was not welcome. I suppose you don’t really need to guess what happened to my motivation here.

          Sadly I was stuck there for a year before I could get out, and once I moved on, it was actually shocking for me to be back in an environment where I respected and my opinion was valued.

          1. Rana*

            Oof. That sounds really unpleasant.

            One of my more frustrating experiences was working for a boss who had a tendency to grant me all sorts of freedom in the initial project stage, and then yank on my leash for overstepping my role just as I was getting excited about the work. (The worst was when I’d been given a project I genuinely enjoyed and put in a lot of time on, only to see it handed off to someone who lacked the skills needed to maintain it, and who only wanted control of it as a part of a political power play.)

            I liked this person as a manager and as a person in other ways, but I really wished that they’d have just stated the parameters up front, instead of repeatedly encouraging me to think that I had more autonomy and control over my projects than she was able to give me. Eventually I became very wary about any new project, because I could no longer tell whether it was going to be a genuine “go ahead and run with it” opportunity or another leash-yanker.

            I left for external reasons before this became too great an issue, but I could easily see this pattern inadvertently training me to be unambitious and hesitant had it continued.

          2. Camellia*

            Hah! My former boss used the phrase “You will just be a fly on the wall.” Good (??) to know there are other bosses who do this.

  9. Sabrina*

    I could have written this letter, minus the Masters degree (I’m working on my Bachelors though). What keeps me going is that this job is temporary until I finish school. (I hope) But yeah I know when I feel stuck I get in a funk and it affects my work and general attitude.

  10. Joanna Reichert*

    Are you in a field you care about? Do you feel good about the work you’re doing?

    I know exactly what you’re describing. I’m traditionally a Happy Helper, Jack-Of-All-Trades, Right-Hand Man kinda gal. Unless I’m in the wrong environment, bored stupid, hating myself for feeling underwhelmed by meaningful work OR overwhelmed with boring stupid stuff, and then feeling panicked because I’m stuck in the situation. Then I fall into a pattern of avoidance, procrastination, daydreaming, meddling in anything except that which I’m SUPPOSED to be doing.

    I’m a very emotional person though (INFP, anyone?) and I can actually be a bit objective and chalk it up to being forced to do stuff when I was younger, and especially throughout school, where I just plain sucked and it was embarrassing . . . and apparently traumatizing. If I can’t be amazing at something I generally don’t want to do it at all and still to this day can’t get over that resistance.

    OP, you need a break. A new job. A fresh perspective. And it probably would do you good to go hash out everything with someone qualified, get you back on track. Good luck to you!

    1. JessB*

      Oh my gosh, this could be me, too! I found that I loved the initial rush of learning about a job, so when I got out of a toxic work environment and started working as a temp, it was fantastic for me.

      I think you (and Alison) are right on, the OP needs to have a think about themself and what they want out of life. I am still working as a temp, and quite enjoying it, but most of my energy goes into things outside work. I have a great life with family, friends and personal interests.

      OP, I think taking a break is a good idea. Having some time off work, to think about what has most fulfilled and motivated you in your life (both personal and professional) and then getting some advice about how to make that happen. I re-discovered my love for history, which I has indulged in my undergrauate degree, and now volunteer at the museum. It’s the highlight of my week!

      Good luck with everything.

      1. Rana*

        Temping’s a good suggestion! I too thrive on those steep learning curves, and start getting frustrated when there’s not much left to learn about the job, just refinements of things I’m already good at doing.

        I also agree with JessB’s point about volunteering; it can be refreshing to have an activity where you feel skilled, competent, and enriched, just as a way to remind you what that feels like.

  11. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

    I couldn’t get my thesis done, either, and as for being the lazy coworker– been there, done that. In fact, it’s something I’m still working on. I’ve always been a procrastinator, and got away with it because I’m smart and, like you, can get more done in an hour than most of my coworkers can do in a day. I too turned to counseling to get my thesis done and it really helped me see that I had not only a fear of failure but also a fear of success. The reward for a job well done, is, after all, most often a harder job. (I did finally get past my writer’s block, got my thesis done, and graduated. It was a liberating experience.)

    I’m guessing that things have always been fairly easy for you, especially school. Where other people struggled, you excelled, and for a while you thrived on it. Your teachers loved you, and so when you didn’t have your homework on time they’d let you turn things in late, or not at all, because you were usually such a good student. You didn’t study for tests but got straight A’s. But then, somewhere along the line– maybe in college, maybe not until grad school– you stopped living up to your potential. Having never had to work hard for anything before, your ability to coast through life only got you so far, and you started to fail. And having failed once, you started to feel like there was no point in trying to be exceptional anymore. Now you’re performing way below what you wanted for yourself and what all your loved ones expected of you. Am I right?

    If I am, I’d recommend a great book I just read, because that last paragraph describes me as well. Check out the book Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement by Kenneth Christian. I’ve started to apply his advice, and already see a difference.

    Best of luck to you, and you’ll get that thesis written, I know!

    1. Whoa*

      I don’t know if you’re right about the OP, but you just described my school years and feelings of failure as an adult so pitch perfectly that I’m going to go get that book right goddamn now.

      1. Twentymilehike*

        Holy crap …. Perfect description! That was me growing up, too, in a nutshell. I kept getting put in remedial math because I was failing so badly. Someone somehow at one point thought to put me in accelerated math and all of a sudden I was getting straight As! It seems like at some point children’s education was possibly really misunderstood–I know too many people that dropped out of high school with terrible grades, but later were some of the most brilliant people I’d ever met. They were just really bored.

        I, too, have had that feeling where you just can’t be motivated. I agree that it’s probably a good time for the OP to maybe look into something else of interest to add some excitement or just more intrinsic value, like the example of volunteering at the museum. Once you find your happy spot it is amazing how much it overflows into all areas of your life.

        1. Natalie*

          I had a really similar experience, although I didn’t drop out. I transferred to an alternative school that functioned on a “work at your own pace” model and blew through all the stuff I found easy and boring.

          It was a great option to get me through high school, but looking back on it I really wish someone had been able to help me identify the problem and some other solutions. I really didn’t learn how to “apply myself” as a youth and I am now struggling with it as an adult.

      1. anon.*

        Me too. And I’m going through a similar thing as the OP right now, but part of it is that since I’m a contractor, I’m often scared to ask for more work because they could just cut my hours and then I can’t pay my bills. Very unmotivating.

    2. Kelly O*

      I just have to add, I could have written what Emily did. It actually makes me feel better to realize I’m not the only one. More than you know.

      I will definitely get my hands on that book.

    3. Piper*

      You just described me to a T. I’ve had the same experiences (grad school, too) and have definitely been right where the OP is, more than once. And it’s not because I don’t actually want to do anything; it’s deeper than that.

    4. Anonymous*

      It’s like you’ve been eavesdropping on my life. In fact, I am avoiding work right now, reading this, dreaming of finding a new job where I will feel fulfilled and useful and not so ashamed about not being my best. I’m getting the book.

    5. Rebecca Z*

      “Having never had to work hard for anything before, your ability to coast through life only got you so far, and you started to fail. And having failed once, you started to feel like there was no point in trying to be exceptional anymore.”

      Scary how this describes my teenage son so perfectly (he’ll be a senior in high school). It was like a light bulb got switched off between his freshman and sophomore years. I’m getting this book in hopes of being able to apply some of it to his struggles.

    6. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I’m glad this comment struck a chord with so many people. The description of my life is paraphrased from the book, and man, when I read it, it was like he knew me. I was trying to figure out how to learn self-discipline (because I’m sick and tired of feeling guilty and down on myself for not living up to my potential), and found Christian’s book while looking for another title on my local library’s website. I checked the ebook out and it blew me away (and I bought it as soon as my lending period was up). I’ve wanted to hand it out to all my family and friends, but it’s hard to say “I think you’re an underachiever! Read this book!” So thanks to the OP for giving me a chance to share it. I hope it helps!

  12. Anonymous*

    I get this, I totally get this. Even being someone with a downright puritanical work ethic, if the work doesn’t actually require me to really use my brain I find it so hard to focus and just do it. When I did data entry every hour or so I would just zone out into my own train of thought. When I was a manual laborer sometimes I found myself standing around watching how my coworkers did things that required more technical skill. I hated these jobs because I WANT to work hard, I want to be productive and impress people with how well I do my job and how hard I work. But if the work just requires me to move my hands and not really use my brain, focusing on it for long enough to be really productive becomes a huge struggle.

    I agree with everyone who says you should really assess if you want to be in this field, and why you’re getting a grad degree if getting the grad degree isn’t motivating for you. Perhaps it will simply open doors to work that you do enjoy, that’s fine. But a thesis should be, though difficult, a study on something you are passionate about and excited to do.

    But maybe it’s not the work, maybe you’re just depressed and it’s made you lose interest in the things you used to love. If that’s the case, seeing a counselor could really help.

  13. De Minimis*

    I too am glad that people are trying to come up with solutions. Although there definitely are lazy people out there who want to get by and do as little as possible at their jobs, there are also people who are held back by various issues, or perhaps are just not a fit for the job that they currently hold.

    I too have been the “lazy co-worker” in the past, and both of those conditions applied to me.

  14. fposte*

    Wow, does that sound like completion anxiety to me, right across the board. “Hey, I’m great when I do stuff! People think I’m great! Except when I’m not sure I can be a rock star so I’m too paralyzed to get anything done, which makes me suck.” You’re like the living proof of that Nurture Shock thing about the bad effect of telling a kid s/he’s smart :-). Definitely talk to a counselor; you might have better luck finding a relevant one through school, since it’s a syndrome counselors there will know very well indeed. I would also recommend that you connect with any kind of tactical coaching/work guidance that they offer, focusing on methodology rather than psychology. I’m not dismissing the fact that you came in talking about a job problem, but I think there’s more of an infrastructure to deal with completion problems in academia than in the private sector, so I think that might be an easier place to start.

    In the meantime, *break stuff down.* That’s a key skill it sounds like you’re lacking. You have to identify landmarks so you know where are on the journey and recognize your success along the way. Ideally, you’ll create a timeline for your projects, but that might be too much of a project in its own right for you right now. Start small by identifying, say, three tasks you’ll do tomorrow; figuring them out is your task for your commute. Make them specific, maybe hour-long tasks–I don’t know what you do so I can’t offer samples, but I’m saying stay away from “work for x amount of time on project” or “make up for lost time on database” and focus on “put files on desk away” or “check cites on 10 references.” It’s okay to use your test-taking behavior and keep picking the easiest tasks first–they have to be done, after all, so why not first?

    Talk to yourself nicely while you do this. No threats, no bullying, no deprecation. You’re training a puppy, not punishing a miscreant. Maybe play some music. The things your brain tells you about people finding out that you suck if they see what you produce? They’re lies. You wouldn’t put any credence in an actual person who talked like that. This doesn’t look like rockstar, but 1) rockstars still have to do all the tasks in order to be rockstars and 2) even if it’s not rockstar, it’s a lot better than being beaten up by your own stasis.

  15. Diane*

    OP, I’ve felt the same way. Sometimes when that state of “stuck” settles in, it’s hard to even imagine not being like that. I think you need to find something, even a little thing, that you want to immerse yourself in. Remember what engagement and passion and interest feels like. Then think bigger to how you really want to spend your time. Maybe it’s a new field, maybe it’s a new job with new responsibilities.

    This book is really helping me get unstuck: http://www.amazon.com/Could-Anything-Only-Knew-ebook/dp/B003Z9KFGC

    And this post by Wally Bock addresses what it means to find intrinsic motivation to succeed: http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2012/08/13/heres-to-the-losers-.aspx

  16. Anonymous*

    Dear AAM: The “This is not a joke, you are the 100,00oth visitor” flashing ad on your homepage is giving me a blinding headache.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That shouldn’t be there — is it the right hand sidebar? If you’re able to send me a screenshot, I can investigate and get them to stop running it.

  17. Cindy*

    This was me, for many years. It was depression I guess (mixed with or created by alcoholism), but mostly it was whack ideas about myself and the world. Therapy helped, and quitting drinking REALLY helped. Then I got a cool new job and really wanted to kick ass at it, since I’d wasted so much time being a hung-over slacker in a crappy job. But I had no idea how to do that–like you, my big theory was that there was something intrinsically, morally wrong with me (lazy, shiftless, bad) and I couldn’t just abandon that worldview all at once, no matter how much I knew it was objectively dumb and destructive.
    So I tried a classic bit of advice–fake it til you make it. Confronted with a stack of things to do at my new job, I didn’t fight myself or will myself to magically become a person who just loves working hard or any of the other traps that just lead back to pointless self-obsessing and self-abuse.
    I just pictured how a competent, responsible person might respond to the assignment and I did that. I *pretended* to be that person, just for twenty minutes or an hour or whatever. It was entertaining to me, like a game, and no one knew I was faking it–because stuff was actually getting done, and done well, and done on time. It was my little secret that I was actually a complete fraud, until eventually I just accumulated so much evidence to the contrary that I convinced even myself.
    But seriously, try therapy. From one (secret) slacker to another, good luck!

    1. A*

      The “fake it till you make it” approach is how I worked on my anxiety & OCD issues, recommended by a wise therapist. Surprisingly effective.

    2. Anonymous*

      This is fantastic advice. I’m at a very very slow point in my job right now and this will help me make it through to the other side of August when things pick up. Thanks!

    3. Stells*

      HUGE Social Anixety Disorder sufferer here! The “unofficial” slogan at my first staffing agecy was “Fake it til you make it” to help new recruiters get on the phone and start recruiting (because, seriously, you can’t be taught how to be good at it – you have to learn hands on). It has helped me throughout my recruiting career – as well as my post-college social life where drinking before every interaction isn’t so widely accepted :o)

  18. anon*

    Best of luck to you, OP. I think many people are in the same boat and can relate.

    I know I can. Although my story is a bit different, I understand the feeling of boredom with your work. I’m not joking when I say that every job I’ve had, I have not had enough responsibility. At one job, my job was done every day by 9:00 a.m. 1 hour of work, 7 hours pretending to be busy. I left that job for an office assistant job to answer phones. Only 6 calls on average a day. Left that job to my current job, and I quickly found out that my work is meaningless too.

    All of these jobs were administrative assistant jobs. I begged and pleaded for more work at these jobs, only to have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps some people would love to get paid to surf the internet all day long, but I can tell you, it’s absolutely maddening. Watching the clock all day brings me down, and I feel worthless at times.

    So to change all that I’m in the process of switching careers entirely. Being in admin support is apparently not for me.

    I hope you find what you’re looking for, OP. It may take some time, but don’t give up.

    1. ex-admin*

      I’ve been there. I think I learned some really bad habits at one of my jobs, where (in hindsight) I realized that my job was mainly to be available in case I was really needed.

      1. Anon*


        I am more of an “on-call” assistant, so I have zero daily duties. I get maybe two emails a day, and no phone calls. My friends and family are like “you’re so lucky!!” No, it sucks. I know have the smarts to really kick butt, so I need to find a job that fits that.

        I’m glad I’m not alone here! And I am sure there are admin support jobs that are definitely full time and busy, I’m not saying all are like what I’ve experienced. But my whole career so far has been these boring jobs and I gotta change that, or I’m going to go crazy.

    2. Jaci*

      Admin Assistant here as well–and I can so relate to this. I spent my afternoons writing blog posts and being online for hours because my work was always done by 11 am. I’d leave 2 files on my desk in case my boss came in, but otherwise I’d wrap those up 10 minutes before I left.

      I was begging the office manager for more work and scared she’d figure out I wasn’t needed if I begged *too* much. Really, how many times can you ask before people wonder why you have all this free time? She made it clear I was there to do THAT work and nothing else. Every week I’d wonder if they were going to realize how useless I was and let me go.

      After 2 years of that, I knew I had to leave and found another job. I actually confessed to my husband that I was scared because I had spent so much time slacking off–what if it was part of my work ethic now?!?

      Good news? It isn’t. My new job is challenging, and while I’m tired at the end of my day, at least I’m not bored and fearful.

      1. Anon*

        “What if it was part of my work ethic now?” YES! I’m feeling that way right now actually. Thank you for your post, because I have seemed to have fallen into the same trap and I have not done any work for SO long, that sometimes I fear that if I am busy, if I just freak out. lol

        That’s exactly what I’m looking for, a job that’s challenging!

    3. Rana*

      Oh, gosh, yes. Been there, done that. It really did a number on my ability to work efficiently, because the reward for efficiency was hours of boredom.

    4. Kelly O*

      I don’t know what it is about some people and administrative assistant, but they just don’t realize how valuable a good person in that role can be, so you wind up doing all these insanely boring things. I mean, I get that it’s more cost-effective for me to stand by the copier, or file, or whatever. But when that is all you do, ever… it makes you question whether you really want to keep doing it.

      I really truly miss the days when I felt like someone actually cared about my opinion, or thought I could handle something without constant checking-in, or gave me something more meaty than “hey, can you enter these fifty purchase orders?”

      1. Anon*

        Exactly. I tried applying for another position within the agency and they said that they need someone to hit the ground running. While I understand that, sometimes I feel like I didn’t get it because I’m so good as an admin assistant they just want to keep me that way, as if that’s all they see me as. It’s frustrating!

  19. Anonymous*

    I feel a bit similarly. I don’t try nearly as hard as I could. I am about as productive as my coworkers, but if I actually tried I could do a lot more. I just don’t see the point. At my last job I worked like crazy and was not valued for it. I felt productive but I really ended up hating that place. Now I am in a situation I’ve been in before, where I’m not working hard, but I’m being valued. There is a sense of guilt which makes it not quite enjoyable. But I still haven’t decided if its better or worse to overwork and be under appreciated or to underwork and be over appreciated.
    Once in awhile there is an exciting project, and I can dive in and have fun and actually work all day… But other times I get saddled with some other project I couldn’t care less about, and that stuff never ends up quite getting done until the deadline is just around the corner.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Part of the point is reputation. It can be a huge incentive to know that if you do an awesome job, not just an okay one, you can build a reputation and an accompanying safety net for the next time you need a job.

    2. Tamara*

      I personally feel that it’s important for employers to provide incentive (either through money, appreciation, fun work, or whatever) to create a desirable work environment. However, I can’t help but feel that we shouldn’t require these things in order to do our jobs properly. Most of us don’t have jobs to feel good, we have them to earn money for our lives outside our jobs. We agree to a fee in order to perform services. Certainly this can be negotiated, but do we need to lose all motivation when the environment & pay isn’t perfect? I’ve worked annoying jobs in the past, and there are plenty of people who work downright horrible jobs to make ends meet. We focus so much on what we can get out of jobs, that sometimes people lose sight of the primary reason to be there – to earn a wage or salary. I think it’s wonderful to be able to get more from a job and to have that incentive, but I don’t think we should lose the motivation to earn our pay (a commitment we make to the company at hiring) when it’s lacking.

      This isn’t aimed at you specifically, it’s just a thought process regarding society in general that was triggered by your comment! In any case, if you are in a situation where you don’t feel like you are earning your pay & benefits (such as feeling valued), think about what you can change to help yourself. Do an exceptional job on a project or take on some other work – perhaps a task that no one else wants to do. The tasks don’t have to be fulfilling on their own if you can feel fulfilled by the sense of productivity, achievement, and/or contribution to the company. The most boring, mundane task can be fulfilling if you look at it properly, especially since those are often the “back bone” tasks that support and benefit everyone in an department or company.

    3. Catherine*

      I feel exactly the same way. I worked really hard at my last job, and while I was appreciated, the upper management was horrible and made me feel like just another minion. So I left and started working at a similar position at another company, and while I have more freedom and responsibility, I don’t feel that valued, and so I don’t feel like doing the work. Basically I’m just burned out.

    4. KellyK*

      Maybe there’s a middle path? You shouldn’t have to work yourself into the ground, particularly if you’re not valued for it. But having less to do than you *can* get done, while knowing that you’re valued, gives you the opportunity to do things better or find more useful things to do.

      1. NicoleW*

        I like this thought path. I struggle with this on and off. Admin work and busy work have never been a good match for me. I have a much better time focusing on projects that are bigger and interesting to me. And despite wanting to do a great job at everything I do, I can certainly succumb to the thought pattern, “Why bother? We haven’t had raises in three years, so it doesn’t matter how many hours I put in, I’ll never be compensated.” I know, we want to have a great reputation regardless, but sometimes even rock stars have bad days.

        When I’m really struggling and know I need help getting back on track, I work for 20-50 minutes, then allow myself a few minutes of a break. Whether that’s stretching, restroom, checking AAM… :) Obviously 20 minutes is really short, but I read somewhere that breaking a task into 20 minute segments is the best way not to get burnt out. And on a day where focus is really scattered, 20 minutes is a good chunk of work that I can usually complete with no distractions.

  20. Anonymous*

    I really identify with the situation of the OP and some of the commenters here. In my case, it hasn’t been motivated by feeling undervalued or anything of the sort, I just cannot force myself to spend more than an hour or two in a day doing actual work. It’s not depression, and it’s not about not caring about the work or the organizations I’ve worked for–I just can’t match behavior to motivation.

    I’m starting a new job at an organization with pretty high performance expectations, and I’m scared that I’m not going to be able to get my work done. I have tried counseling for similar issues in the past, but the particular techniques that were suggested (e.g., setting smaller goals in larger tasks; taking short, scheduled breaks instead of extremely long, formless breaks) didn’t really help me.

    1. JLH*

      Probably because that therapist was giving you things to do while trying to search out the deeper cause for lack of motivation. Or if they weren’t, it wasn’t that therapy isn’t the answer, it’s that that therapist wasn’t a good fit for you.
      I’d suggest a therapist who uses cognitive behavior therapy. And one thing that a lot of people don’t know is that any good therapist will meet with you for free so you can see if they’re someone who gets what you want to work on and you like their style and personality before you start paying for sessions.

  21. Eva*

    OP, I agree with AAM that therapy is the way to go. My guess is you have at least a mild case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here are the diagnostic criteria with my comments. How many of these would you say might apply to you?

    1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements) —- Identifying as a would-be rock star might speak to this.
    2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love — Thinking about a future in which you are indeed a rock star might speak to this.
    3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
    4. Requires excessive admiration — Needing to be micromanaged (and constantly praised/affirmed?) might speak to this.
    5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations — Thinking you can get a manager to do the above for you might speak to this.
    6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends — Need I say anything?
    7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
    8. Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
    9. Shows arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes — We’ll see in the comments section – I hope you chime in!

    1. Henning Makholm*

      If I had that list of criteria (and those interpretations) dropped on me, I think I might be able do come up with some arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes in response. The OP will be a better man than me if he doesn’t.

    2. Anonymous*

      Eva, unless you are qualified to offer a psychiatric diagnosis, you shouldn’t. The letter from the OP shows signs of several different personality and/or mood disorders. That being said, you need evidence of these behaviors over time before any sort of diagnosis can be made. There is not nearly enough information in the OP’s letter to make a suggestion of a diagnosis of any kind. Is the OP sleeping normally, eating normally? Does the OP have this same sort of problem with projects at home or is it just related to work? There are lots of questions that are unanswered.

      The only advice we can give is that the OP should seek counseling of some kind. From the outset I would suggest behavioral to help in setting goals and changing daily responses to stimuli that would normally drag them down. Although it is always worth examining the past.

      1. Eva*

        Other people suggested ADD and “depression, thyroid issues, hormonal imbalance…even low-grade viral infections”; I suggested NPD and explained my reasoning. I don’t see why it’s fine to throw those possibilities out there, but not this one?

        1. Long Time Admin*

          Eve, your comments in italics were just plain snarky. That’s why you’re getting negative feedback.

          1. Eva*

            Thanks for that comment, LTA. Re-reading what I wrote (note to self: never post before morning coffee), I think you are right that at least my last two italicized comments were snarky. I am actually coming from a place of empathy with the OP and have a genuine desire to help by shedding light on this possibility, but I also have frustrating experience with NPD that gives me a feeling of, “Oh, it’s hopeless, why do I bother.” But giving expression to that cynicism is not helpful here. So: Sorry, folks!

        2. Indie_Rachael*

          There’s a huge difference between suggesting physical conditions that have clear diagnostic tests and treatments, vs suggesting a psychological disorder with vague symptoms that really take an expert to even suggest the possibility of such diagnosis. Just reading the symptoms can make many people believe they have a disorder and then exhibit stronger symptoms. Even introductory psychology courses warn of the dangers of self-diagnosis.

          Most of the comments suggesting diagnoses so far have been a) people also diagnosed with the condition, who presumably have met plenty of people who exhibit subclinical symptoms and thus have more experience with the disorder than the average person or b) people suggesting physical ailments that have objective tests. My suggesting a thyroid disorder can’t lead to someone convincing a doctor they have a thyroid disorder if they have normal TSH levels, but the mere suggestion of a personality disorder, when presented entirely apart from a clinical setting, could present a roadblock to any progress in therapy.

          1. Eva*

            Please see my reply to Long Time Admin above. That said, while I agree with you in general that psychiatric diagnosis is best left to professionals, I would like to defend making an exception in the case of NPD. Much like admitting to being an alcoholic, the recognition that one has entitlement issues is extremely unlikely to be ‘a smoke without fire’ and is a major step on the path to improvement.

            1. Anon*

              Having “entitlement issues” does NOT mean having NPD, anymore than having a chest cold means having tuberculosis.

              1. Eva*

                I was trying to vary my language, but let me rephrase in the interest of precision: “The recognition that one has NPD is extremely unlikely to be ‘a smoke without fire’ (…)”

                Heh, am I about to be proven wrong that NPD is a special case? Who here is seriously thinking they might have NPD after reading the diagnostic criteria? (Kay Day, I did see your comment below, but I’m guessing you aren’t seriously thinking you might have NPD?)

                1. Maire*

                  Jesus, this is a serious case of projection. You must see NPD in everyone and try to shoehorn in a diagnosis no matter how tenuous.
                  Seriously, those examples you gave are so weak, I don’t know how you can even defend your position.

        3. Anonymous*

          Those are issues people can have which can be treated. The people who suggested those just meerly suggested them, indicating that they can lead to “funks” in someone when the symptoms weren’t there prior. But here you are, coming across as a psychiatrist with a snarky attitude. Look at your last point of criteria for NPD: Shows arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes — We’ll see in the comments section – I hope you chime in! What are you trying to get out of this? Do you have a lazy coworker who fits this bill and are trying to take it out on the OP?

    3. Anonymous*

      Could you possibly not internet-diagnose people? Especially with things that sound like a huge stretch?

      1. Jamie*

        I’d go a step further and say that I’m bothered by internet diagnosis even when it doesn’t seem like a stretch.

        It happens everywhere, not just here, but while many people are dealing with issues – people who aren’t qualified to diagnose conditions in others should be careful of that in real life…and even the best diagnosticians in the world wouldn’t do so based on a stranger’s comment on the net.

        I’m not saying that people can’t suggest things that can be helpful, and I’m not sure exactly where the fine line is, but I guess what I’m saying is not every quirky person at work with social issues has aspergers, not all mood swings are bipolar, not all lack of focus can be laid at the feet of ADD, etc.

        It’s important to keep in mind that these opinions are based on the facts given and all conditions have other components not as easily visible. It can (doesn’t always, but can) diminish the struggles of people really coping with these things to fling the labels around without caution.

        My son has autism and for the things you might notice there are many he struggles with that you would have no idea if you weren’t his doctor or family member. When everyone discussed who has social quirks is put into the “it could be aspergers” category it makes it easy to minimize the struggles of those who have an actual clinical diagnosis.

        I’ll get off my soapbox and won’t comment about it again – it’s just something that bothers me every time I see it and it’s been especially prevalent in this thread.

        1. Heather*

          I totally agree that diagnosing others via internet is a bad idea, get really annoyed with the “he acts like Sheldon Cooper, he must be an Aspie!” attitude, and think the NPD suggestion is way out in left field (I don’t think a narcissist would ever feel bad about not wanting to do his job, for one thing!).

          I just think there’s a huuuge difference between suggesting that a disorder MAY be part of the problem and encouraging the OP to do some research and maybe talk to a doctor, and saying that you believe the OP has a disorder and trying to match the OP’s statements with the disorder’s DSM criteria.

          In my own case, I would never in a million years have suspected that I might have ADHD if not for someone on a forum who thought she was unmotivated because of depression (which I also have, lucky me!), and got diagnosed as ADHD instead. On a whim, I looked up the symptoms in adults, and they could have been writing about me. The key is that I then went to a psychiatrist, who officially diagnosed me. It wasn’t like I read one comment on the internet and decided it would be a good idea to steal my godson’s Adderall ;)

          The point of my rambling, I guess, is that there’s a difference between, frex, seeing that your friend has a funny-looking mole and saying, “Hey, you ever think of having a dermatologist look at that?” and saying, “OMG OMG OMG your mole has uneven borders and is bigger than a pencil eraser, I think you have melanoma and you’re going to die!!” :)

        2. Joey*

          I see this way too often not just from commenters but from random employees and managers. I just hate it when people even suggest a diagnosis. It’s wreckless. The most anyone should be suggesting is to go see a professional. And then only when the person has indicated they may have some physical or mental issues.

      2. Anonymous*

        Even self-diagnosing on the internet is dangerous. It can either make you think something is nothing or turn nothing into something, causing panic. Only a real-live medical professional – either someone who can diagnose a physical ailment or a psychiatrist who can diagnose the mental – should be contacted and consulted for a diagnosis or treatment.

        OP – Begin by talking to your primary doctor. He or she is your best resource; no one on here should be trying to diagnose you through one little email, particularly the way Eva has done. That was rude and uncalled for.

    4. KayDay*

      Anyone who writes and honest and heart-felt self-description of their own successes, failures, and aspirations would easily fit into many of the diagnostic criteria given above.

    5. Laura L*

      Whoa, whoa, whoa. While I don’t think anyone should diagnose anyone else based on one thing the person said on the internet, diagnosing a personality disorder is a BIG DEAL and amateurs should absolutely NOT be diagnosing those things at all. Even professionals don’t diagnose them without a lot of interaction with the patient.

      Don’t diagnose people you don’t know over the internet!

        1. Kelly O*

          Eva, I don’t think you’re getting it. The reply was more than a bit snarky, and i get that you have addressed that.

          But, have you ever paused to consider that your refusal to accept the criticism you are receiving could also be construed using many of the criteria you laid out in your response?

          And do you see how negatively that can affect a person who may just be bored or depressed or have something else going on?

          I have never understood why the collective we feels the need to diagnose and label everything. Or why anyone who took a psychology class feels the need to drag out a DSM-IV and start diagnosing.

          1. Eva*

            Heh, I think I’m a lost cause when it comes to ‘labeling everything!’

            I just saw AAM’s post, and in deference to her I’ll shut up now. Sorry again!

          2. Anonymous*

            +1 to Kelly O. Right on the nose, hit the nail on the head, and any other phrase that’s failing to come to mind to say how Kelly wrote the right words in answer to Eva.

        2. Piper*

          I’m not seeing why your reasoning for the making an exception to diagnosing NPD over the internet is actually a good case for making an exception. And for that matter, I feel like the “diagnosis” is quite a stretch given the information we have here.

        3. Laura L*

          No, it shouldn’t. NPD is an Axis II personality disorder. There are loads of problems with diagnosing and treating those disorders. They are generally thought to be very difficult to change and receiving a diagnosis of that often changes the way the people around the person act towards them, including their therapist, which has consequences for treatment.

          There’s even debate within the mental health field about whether personality disorders should even be a diagnostic category. There are all sorts of issues around them and people should not be throwing that diagnosis around lightly.

          (Axis I* diagnoses shouldn’t be thrown around by random people, either, but these issues don’t exist to the same degree (or at all) for Axis I disorders.)

          Axis I disorders are the more commonly diagnosed and better known disorders: e.g. the anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and others I can’t think of at the moment.

    6. kac*

      Members of my family have NPD, so I’m very familiar with it. The OP does not, in any way, sound like he does.

      Someone with NPD does not thing they have the potential to be a rock star. They think they *are* a rock star, and everyone/anyone who does not see that is the problem.

      Demonstrating humility, being aware of flaws, and demonstrating an interest in correcting them speaks to the fact that the OP most certainly does not have NPD.

      You’ve got stuff to work on, OP, but this isn’t it.

    7. Liz*

      Everyone in the world displays at least six of these traits on any given day. But true narcissists don’t consult advice columns (at least not for themselves).

      If the OP really were a narcissist, he wouldn’t care how his behavior looks to other people, he wouldn’t be embarrassed about possibly getting caught, and he wouldn’t see anything to improve.

  22. Sandrine*

    This post (and the comments) really speak to me.

    I can do my job really well. I have worked on every objective my boss has set for me. I like most of my coworkers. Heck, I even like most of our customers.

    The problem is… while I’m not expecting any sort of special treatment from anyone, I just don’t feel motivated anymore. Earning one’s pay sure is motivating for a while, but it can only get you so far. I work my ass off, and the special “missions” go to others. All the time. I get promised I’ll do something else if I improve… I improve, work hard, and nothing comes up.

    The other issue is, I actually “hate” my job. I’ve had a hard time identifying what I want/can do, and it seems like I discover little by little. To my great disappointment, I actually HATE working on the phone. While I can force myself to do well at work, it’s so emotionally draining that everything else suffers because of it (especially housework. I try to get some things done because there has to be a minimum, but still, it’s not pretty) .

    So right now, I’m battling myself, because I have this urge to quit quit quit but I know I can’t until I find something else. And I can’t before my “big dream vacation” that’ll occur in December. Until then, it’ll be grin and bear it, and I have to thank AAM for giving me the serenity I need to handle all of this!

    1. Long Time Admin*

      Focus on your first immediate goal – your dream vacation! Every day that you work gives you more money to pay for it. When you get back, you could look into different types of job and perhaps make a change. (I would slit my wrists if I had to work at the reception desk and answer phones again. Not my cup of tea at all.)

      1. Sandrine*

        Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m already “passively” searching, it’s not so long now, I won’t count August, then it’s just three months… the other advantage is that in October it’ll be one year on this job so it’ll look better on my resume.

        When you couple that with the family and everything else issues, it does take a toll on one’s nerves… thankfully I can also force fake my way through certain things at times, and crumble down every once in a while on my own later.

  23. Lisa*

    There is a different way to ask the new manager to structure the work. It could be that you are given weekly goals and daily goals. What do you want me to complete today? Write out your task list, and deliver it by email at EOD. The manager may just give you a list for the week, but you can prioritize what to do per day and make sure you deliver it. Even if you screw around mon- thurs, by friday, you have the fear you need to complete the list.

    I find I am better at my job when there is no deadline. I tend to go back and rethink a lot of my work, which I believe makes it concise and helps my clients perform better. I feel a lot of revisions are necessary, and I have had previous co-workers admit that I do things twice as long as everyone else, but I do it much better and get better results. But I also barely work all day in comparison to others, and spend several hours on AAM and LinkedIn, but mostly am reading blogs about my industry etc. So since I am not not typing client deliverables 100% of my day, I feel lazy too compared to my coworkers, but always get glowing reviews from clients and my managers even though I feel like I don’t produce as much “stuff” as my coworkers.

  24. Anonymous*

    To the possibilities above, I’d like to add: OP, are you an extrovert? You’ve got your own office, minimal contact with your coworkers, a hands off boss, and when not at work, you’re doing the solitary task of writing – not much human contact, not much interplay and stimulation. Maybe you need those, to be able to share work with people, bounce ideas off them. Maybe it’s not micromanagement you want from your boss, but interaction.

    1. KayDay*

      Hell, you don’t even need to be much of an extrovert for that! (though I 100% agree with your final 2 sentences.) I’m very introverted (in the sense that I need to “re-charge” alone) but I work better when I have at least some human contact. I tend to associate being alone with relaxing and being with people with working (or at least, expending energy).

  25. Lee*

    I agree you should look into therapy and your work benefits may even cover different service options (phone, in person). Also have you considered asking for cross departmental training or joining any “open” meetings about topics? This could also be an opportunity for you to learn about another part of the company which might help spark renewed interest in where you work.

  26. Anonymous*

    There is a difference between micromanaging and feedback/engagement. It sounds to me like the OP is desperate for someone at work to take some kind of an interest in what he/she is (not) doing, and has termed that kind of engagement micromanagement.

    I really sympathise. I currently work in a very small organisation and none of the other professional staff know anything about my specific area of expertise (although we are all qualified in the same profession) and so essentially leave me to get on with it. While I am told my performance is valued, and I do value the autonomy and responsibility, I am increasingly finding the lack of any intellectual engagement or stimulus among my peers/superiors in the organisation is turning me off the entire enterprise. I have nobody with whom I can seek advice, discuss cases, or just bounce ideas off – I have tried but the others are not interested or tell me they are not qualified enough to have those conversations (I disagree). I feel increasingly isolated, lonely and just bored and turned off by the lack of engagement or teamwork. And I am an introvert who actually has very little need for praise or external stimulus – God alone knows how it would feel to be an extravert in this situation!

    It’s not necessarily the case that the OP needs to make a radical change nor that there is some kind of psychiatric element (although a psych screening would do no harm). Maybe s/he just needs to make it clear to the new boss that s/he will be looking for more engagement, oversight and feedback,or to look for a role which involves more teamworking. Who knows – you have to wonder about an organisation that can let someone wander off the reservation to this extent and not even notice it’s happening – it must be so demoralising to think that nobody has noticed that you’ve been phoning it in for once.

    I also know that it took me ages to identify the cause of my discontent because I thought, as a self-sufficient introvert, I could not possibly be missing team-work. Maybe the OP has a similar viewpoint. Sometimes our beliefs about ourselves really get in the way.

    Kudos to OP for caring – I have worked with a lot of people who were phoning it in for years and didn’t give a &^$&**.

    1. Jamie*

      “While I am told my performance is valued, and I do value the autonomy and responsibility, I am increasingly finding the lack of any intellectual engagement or stimulus among my peers/superiors in the organisation is turning me off the entire enterprise. I have nobody with whom I can seek advice, discuss cases, or just bounce ideas off – I have tried but the others are not interested or tell me they are not qualified enough to have those conversations (I disagree). I feel increasingly isolated, lonely and just bored and turned off by the lack of engagement or teamwork.”

      This is a problem for many in IT who are the only IT on staff. Even for introverts it can be difficult not having anyone with whom to brainstorm and there can be a lot of added pressure when no one can help vet your ideas.

      It doesn’t help when a lot of people either praise or criticize without really knowing what went into a project because their expertise is in a radically different area. It means the good and the bad are generally taken with 900 grains of salt.

    2. Natalie*

      “It’s not necessarily the case that … there is some kind of psychiatric element (although a psych screening would do no harm).”

      Depending on the OP, they may find counseling beneficial even if they don’t have a specific psychiatric condition. Therapies like CBT and DBT can be helpful absent a diagnosis, so to speak.

    3. Lily*

      I was also wondering whether the OP was really wanting to be micro-managed or just managed at all, since the OP’s manager isn’t managing. I can’t actually blame the manager because I used to manage like that, too, because I used to be managed like that. Since I tend to be a self-starter as well as someone who looks for new projects to do and asks permission to do them, my managers may I have decided that I didn’t need much management. However, it also meant that I didn’t have the faintest idea what to do when I encountered subordinates who needed management. Having learned a lot about managing from this blog, I think OP admitting to having a problem and thinking about how to solve it is very promising. I hope OP’s new manager will think the same way!

  27. adrenaline*

    Would being given shorter deadlines help? I do much better when I have a deadline approaching; it makes even boring tasks feel exciting. (a no, setting a deadline for yourself just isn’t the same thing.)

  28. Louis*

    Might just be the case of a boreout


    I have been in similar situation a few time before :

    – You have glowing reviews
    – Management see you as a high performance employe but you don’t get promotion simply because there are none to be add (or worst because of politics)
    – You need only a fraction of you days to complet your work and you feel trained monkey could do as good a job
    – You can’t /won’t leave because to money is too good

    At the worst place, I was really working about an hour a day. Still getting a 5/5 on my performance review and max yearly bonus. There was no point asking for more work because all they could give me was quantity of meaningless work instead of interesting stuff.

    This is really common in IT. A smart and technicaly swavy employee can easily do the work of 20 less techicaly competant people. Then they develop crappy personality as a mean of defence againt the constant bombardment of silly request.

    1. Jamie*

      “Then they develop crappy personality as a mean of defence againt the constant bombardment of silly request.”

      I have to request that you stop talking about me personally in your comments…and stop telling everyone our IT secrets. It won’t work anymore if people know we’re doing it on purpose.

      And just so I’m not misinterpreted, I’m just kidding :).

      ITA with this entire post.

      1. Kelly O*

        Dude seriously if I socked away a dollar for every silly request I got during the day… well if I had that many dollars I might not have to come to work some days.

    2. Anon*

      I am not in IT, but I am definitely in this situation. I eventually gave up on asking for more work because it would all be meaningless tasks. However, the money isn’t great so that’s another reason why I’m looking. I know I can do and make more.

  29. Joey*

    Alright I’ve got a completely different perspective.

    I don’t think it’s unethical to do exactly what you’re expected to do and no more. I think that’s more of a fault with the manager. Just know that you’re dooming yourself to mediocrity at best. I’ve had this happen when I was new to a company and it didnt take long for the manager to be out te door. The bare minimum employees were fine until then, but got slapped in the face with real expectations when I hired a good manager. Some rose up, some didn’t. The folks who established a reputation of high performance i know endured hell working for a crappy manager, but it paid off once the new manager came on board.
    Another reason why I fault the manager more is that I think they have a duty to fire you up about your job. Let me explain. Yes you want to hire people who don’t need a lot of motivating from their manager, but I think crappy managers do a fantastic job of slowly whittling away at your motivation to do a good job. It’s the whole people pleasing thing- love you’re boss and you’re more inclined to go the extra mile. Hate your boss and there’s more incentive to do the bare minimum.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree it’s not unethical as long your manager knows what you’re doing (in this case only working an hour a day). If your manager knows and is on board, great. If your manager would have a problem with it if they knew, there’s the deception and lack of ethics.

      Agreed, though, that bad managers generally de-motivate people.

      1. Joey*

        In most cases i don’t fault the employee either way. Most of the time employees are underworked it’s not because they’re doing something intentional to deceive. It’s usually because the manager is nowhere to be found and isn’t managing which sound like the ops situation.

  30. BCW*

    This reminds me of Peter from Office Space. “It’s not that I’m lazy, I just don’t care”. Thats exactly what it seems is going on. You are getting no rewards for doing a good job. In fact, you just get punished for doing more work. There is no motivation for you to do a good job. And as much as people want to say you should be altruistic and do stuff because it feels good and its the right thing, the fact is people need either rewards (whether in money, job title, acclaim) or fear of punishment to make them want to do their job and do it well. If neither of those things are in place, you have no real reason to want to do a good job. I think you need to find something somewhere else that will motivate you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Except the OP is having the same problem with his thesis.

      And lots of people do work hard even without great management because they have a sense of responsibility and accountability and because they care about their reputation.

      1. Heather*

        I’m so sorry to keep bringing up ADHD…I don’t want everyone to think I’m suggesting it as a catchall excuse! It’s just that although I know you didn’t mean it that way AT ALL, your comment made it sound like everyone who has trouble getting things done doesn’t care about responsibility, accountability, or their reputation.

        I think it’s hard for people who haven’t experienced it to understand how frustrating it is to desperately want to be responsible and not let people down, yet not be able to force yourself to do it. I spent years beating myself up and calling myself a lazy bum for not being able to get things done until there was a deadline looming over my head. But it wasn’t that I was lazy, it was that my brain doesn’t work right. The difference between medicated and unmedicated me is like night and day – even with my crappy managers and totally dysfunctional department, I can still get my job done when I’m on my meds.

        Again, not at all saying this is the case for all, or even most, people in that situation. I just wanted to explain what it’s like for those of us who do have messed-up brains and why it hurts us to be lumped in with actual slackers.

        On that note, I hereby promise to refrain from using the word ADHD anywhere in the rest of this thread!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, but I was responding to a different theory, not ADHD — I was responding to BCW’s statement that there’s no motivation to do a good job if you don’t have rewards or fear of punishment. I certainly wasn’t applying my statement to people struggling with ADHD.

          1. Heather*

            Oh, I totally got that you were only referring to the previous post! I should have been clearer that I wasn’t accusing YOU of lumping us in with the non-responsible types. My bad :)

      2. BCW*

        I get that. I was at a similar point last year. Last semester of grad school, so I had senior itis and was getting lazy with that. I also had a job that I wasn’t happy at, but furthermore I knew I’d be gone in a couple months (it was a teaching job). So there was no real motivation for me to do well. For them to fire me would’ve impacted them in the end more than me, and I wasn’t getting a raise.

        As far as reputation, I know its a small world etc and you never know who you’ll run into again, however in my situation I was leaving the education industry. The vast majority of my co-workers knew I was a good employee, as did my former manager. My manager at the time was screwing me over at the time. So if I did encounter her at a job down the line, I would quickly run the other way.

  31. Anonymous*

    It could be one of three things:

    1) Procrastination: Are you a chronic procrastinator? Has that been a part of your life for a long time? I’m someone with a tendency to procrastinate on a lot of things but when the deadline is looming, I put out my best work in a short amount of time. I feel and think a lot like how you describe. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it just means you wait until the last minute to do things.

    2) ADD: From what you describe, your difficulty of planning things in advance, setting goals, not having motivation and doing boring, repetitive work might signal that you might struggle with keeping attention on your work. As someone who has had ADD since I was a child, I do the exact same things that you do when I’m not on my prescribed medication. If it weren’t for my medicine and for therapy, I would have neve been able to be productive in the work force. See if you can get a diagnosis so you know if there’s something up with you and what you can do to remedy your symptoms. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it wouldn’t hurt to find out.

    3) Depression: Do you feel down, unmotivated and numb most of the time? It could be because you’re depressed or on the road to depression. Have you struggled with it in the past? Getting a counselor sounds like a step in the right direction. This is an issue that you have to fix yourself.

    Nobody else can fix it for you, but that’s not to say that they can’t help and support you. I understand how you feel and I know that your road to discovering the reasons behind your lack of motivation will be tough. But getting help is a step in the right direction. Good luck!

  32. saro*

    I’ve been in the same boat and am struggling with some issues now with my new ‘entirely self-motivated’ job. I’ve used the “Now Habit” by Neil Fiore and the ‘Getting Things Done’ books and they’ve been helpful. I hope you find them helpful if you decide to check them out.

    I have been diagnosed with ADD (inattentive, aka ‘day-dreamy’ not hyperactive kind). I plan on checking out the Own Worst Enemy book too.

  33. kac*

    I have been where the OP is, to an extent, and after therapy I can say what’s probably going on is a big ol’ fear of failure. That might sound counter-intuitive (you’re afraid of failing so you don’t work as hard as possible?) but hear me out.

    When you only put 50% into your work, and it fails, you know exactly what the problem was. You had the skills to be successful, you just needed to apply 50% more effort. *You* aren’t flawed and not-good enough in some fundamental way; it’s just this one very specific thing you can point to.

    You’ve established a very obvious solution to your imagined future problems (that you will not be good enough) as a means to mitigate your perceived imminent failure. But of course, that is causing your problems and so becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And this “protective” mechanism you (unconsciously) set up is proving that anxiety that you are “not good enough” because of this inability to pull yourself together.

    Furthermore, this is preventing you from taking any pride or satisfaction from the work that you *do* accomplish because you’ve told yourself you don’t deserve any accolades because you’ve told yourself you are a secret lazy imposter. And if you can’t take any satisfaction in your own work, you can’t undo this negative feedback loop that is preventing you from giving 100%.

    This is a very long post, but I hope it is helpful. I think therapy would really help you (re)discover your sense of self-worth and your ability to take pride in your skills and accomplishments. Good luck!

      1. Anonymous*

        That… rings so true. Thank you for your insight. Now, to take action based on it – here goes!

  34. Suz*

    I’ve had times when I’ve battled the same problem. For me the solution was finding a job that was better suited to my personality. I’m an ESTP. I’ve learned I do much better in a job with short term projects and tight deadlines. When I worked in the lab, struggled to stay motivated when I worked in R&D. The deadlines were so far in advance it made it too easy for me to slack off. I moved to QC and loved it. I still had as much autonomy as I had in R&D but my deadlines were in hours instead of months.

  35. Anonymous*

    I keep a list. Sometimes it’s more fun to actually make the list! Anyways, it’s just a file I keep open, separated by month. I refer back to this list if I am feeling de-motivated – after marking off anything that has been done. I found this is a great way to get back in the game. There is only so long I can wah-wah-wah-I-am-SO-bored when there is a whole list of things to do. It’s also improved my long, long term planning and brainstorming.

  36. Heather (2)*

    I think this works if you actually like your work. If you don’t like your work being bored isn’t necessarily a case of having nothing to do. Oh no, you could have TONS of tasks to do but be bored anyway because of the nature of your tasks. Either way, the to-do list of worth a try.

  37. David*

    Hold it! For once, I don’t agree with your response to this reader! To me, it sounds like a BORE-OUT which is the opposite of a burn-out. With a burn-out you feel too responsible and work too hard. With a bore-out you have nothing in hands to feel responsible for, and in the end only pretend to be working. As the reader points out: she doesn’t have an oversight, so she has nothing to feel responsible for – she probably doesn’t know the added value of her work to the company. Moreover, she sits in a private office, and apparently can get her work done within the expected time by just working 2 hours a day. Please understand that the symptoms of a bore-out are pretty much the same as of a burn-out, only you feel more ashamed as you didn’t do anything (sick of doing nothing – what a luxury!), and you feel less self-confident, as you didn’t accomplish anything lately!
    Solution: ask your boss for more work and insight in the projects, or get your self-confidene back and change jobs!

  38. Kelly*

    I think the feeling that you are bored with your work and you want more interesting and varied responsibilities to challenge your mind is more common that people may think, especially with younger workers under 30. I know I have been in this position where the work is so mind numbingly dull and it’s really not worth showing up for what you get paid. I’m sure most people have been in that position sometimes in their careers. They’ve worked for companies where due to existing procedures and hierarchies, if you get bored, there’s not much you can do except hope for a promotion or someone to retire so you can move up.

  39. Anonymous*

    Maybe you’re not in the right job or the right field for you.

    But what I really think you need is a coach rather than a counselor. Coaches are forward-focused: they’ll help you get clear on where you want to be headed and how to get there. They’ll help you understand what your priorities are and how to make decisions based on those priorities. They won’t analyze the past or why you are feeling unmotivated. They’ll just get you out of there and on your way to where you want to be. I can’t recommend coaching enough. Good luck!

  40. NewReader*

    I am very impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of all these comments. There are so many really caring people.

    It seemed the longer I stayed at a job the harder and harder it got for me to remain upbeat, moving forward, motivated, etc.
    I can relate to so many things said here- I had a low grade virus, bad eating habits, negative self talk, all I read was depressing news articles, etc.
    One by one I worked on (and am still working on) changing each one of these things.
    I found I needed to invest in me. Something I had neglected because of “life stuff.” I started by working on the areas that I was willing to work on. Over time, I found that my interests expanded and I was willing to work on other things that were pulling me down.

    OP, pick something that you are willing to change/tweak and do that. See where that puts you. Then move to your next idea.

    For me, I became alarmed by the idea that I was slipping/sliding away. I have watched my elders, what starts out as a choice, a controllable behavior can go (not always, but sometimes can go) into a way of life that cannot be changed. I don’t want to be that middle aged, disconnected, disengaged person!
    That was it for me. I started moving.
    Because you wrote this letter, OP, it shows that you have a part of you that is seeking more, something better. And you are not mistaken. There is something more, something better.
    Start by deliberately noticing activities that make you happy, activities that you do work at. It does not matter what the activities are- if you enjoy mowing your lawn, notice that and add it to your list. Patterns will emerge and you will find start to find YOU.
    To me, it sounds like you could feel you are just another gear or wheel in the machine of the organization. Whether or not you show up the organization will just continue on and on…. My suggestion is to rediscover those interests that make you uniquely you. Look for things that constantly spark your thinking and your involvement.

    At the end of the work day, we leave our jobs. But we cannot leave ourselves. And that is the ultimate challenge.

  41. Not Proud of It*

    As the person who sent this email in, let me try to address some concerns raised here:

    1.) Re Choice of Field: Honestly, I’m not sure even if once I get my masters and switch jobs I’ll be that much happier. I’m affiliated with the IT industry (some places my position would be in IT, other places it’s not). But in actual fact, my real talent is reading tons of material and making connections no one else has made before. I’ve blocked myself from dozens of blogs (including this one) at work to cut down on this habit. I love working with information, I have a love/hate thing with computerized information.

    I think my ideal job would be some kind of informational puzzle solver. Possibly for an Intelligence Agency. No idea how to get a job like that. I think I’ll get on that ASAP, just to get a reality check if nothing else.

    2.) Re Adult ADD. Possibly? I know my mother got diagnosed with it, I’ve never even considered it. Didn’t even know it existed as a distinct affliction. I think it’s procrastination and anxiety. I used to be able to plan projects and make lists, now I can hardly summon the energy to stay focused on my job for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time.

    3.) Anxiety… Oh God the crippling anxiety is afflicting almost all walks of my life. I’ve become much less functional over the summer and recognize This Is Not A Good Thing.

    4.) Meds: Tried anti anxiety meds, just felt really good about doing nothing instead of guilty. Conclusion: Not a medical anxiety problem.

    5.) Deception. I really don’t like outright lying and avoid it as much as possible. Does this mean I’m not deceptive? No. That would be a lie. The thing is, I just wish I didn’t have to be. It’s honestly a relief when someone comes by and I’m actually working, then I’m not furtively closing windows etc that kind of crap.

    6.) Depression

    Holy #$%@ yes. My personal life is not a cup of tea between finances and a less than idea relationship with my spouse.

    7.) re: Things came easy in high school

    Yes. This was me. I have finally realized part of my problem is I for along time considered myself vastly superior to people who had to actually work hard at school. Yes, University was a very ugly surprise and why I had a poor GPA in my undergraduate degree. Also why I had to work, no grad school would take me until I found a non-traditional way in.

    Now I envy people who can work hard, because I can’t. I feel like not working hard is simply part of who I am. I can temporarily overcome this, but a fundamental change is required and I don’t know how.

    8.) Counseling. I would love to be able to find some, but my work cut back heavily on this benefit a couple years ago. I honestly can’t afford it. Self help is the way I have to go unless this just gets worse.

    9.) Re: Work culture

    Yes. I’ve been most effective when mentored by some of the senior employees or collaborated on projects. Eventually I’m considered trained or the project is done and then left on my own again.

    10.) Re Boss:

    Jennifer, I’m sorry if I give the impression that only my boss is the problem. I just know having my next boss on board is one piece of the puzzle to improving my performance.

    If my boss checked on me more than twice a month (if that), I would probably be a lot more productive. Like, is once or twice a week too much to ask? That *alone* does wonders for my productivity. I honestly have the feeling most days he doesn’t even want to know what I do. My other coworkers feel the same way, I have asked.

    11.) Re: Narcissistic Personality Disorder

    I’m not sure. I fantasize a lot because I’m so bleeping bored. Generally I just hope to win the lottery so I can escape the barless prison I live in. Yeah, and I know that scenario would just be a new one, but the change of scenery would be nice.

    My feeling is that if I actually worked hard, it would be really noticed (increased reputation would help), I could push through my backlog of big projects, and I might actually get to do some more fancy work. Which might lead to a promotion to a position that doesn’t exist. Maybe. My organization treats workers like replaceable cogs, even in specialized departments like mine where the training time is a over a year just to be useful.

    12.) Re switching jobs: As I said before, most of the jobs are across the country. They are there, but it’s a serious geography problem.That and I don’t want to switch jobs within my existing field if I can help it.

    13.) RE: Intellectual Engagement

    I have just about none. I have a stronger interest in the field of my M.Sc (though I should never have picked my thesis area, too late now) which no one else knows about, but is applicable to my field.

    1. Laura L*

      Hmmm…. If you’re politically inclined, maybe you could try public policy? That’s been at the back of my mind for a while although for different reasons. And it definitely involves reading material and consuming information!

  42. NewReader*

    OP, another thing you do well is express exactly where your thoughts are at. I tend to think in pictures so I notice when others are very good at putting their thoughts into words.

    There is a lot you can do with puzzle solving. Perhaps a company that writes anti-virus software? (or anti-everything software?) The FBI and the Secret Service have departments that deal with online issues such as cyber attacks, Nigerian scammers etc.

    Perhaps you could find work writing freeware.

    Ok, I am not really knowledgeable about computer-land. Am just throwing out some ideas as seed for other ideas.
    There are many jobs out there that require problem solving skills. How about disaster planning?

    Maybe I am wrong- but to me it sounds like you spend too much time alone. Am thinking a job where you interacted more with people would help you to keep moving along. Problem solving jobs are good because you have to work with people and seek inputs of others.

    No one can give us motivation on a silver platter. I wish some one could do that for me! In the end, that is what propelled me forward- was knowing that there was no rescue fleet coming. It was up to me to dig me out of the hole I fell into. (Am still digging.) I had to ask myself hard questions such as “Do I want the rest of my life to look like what I have now?” (yikes! What if I live to 107???)

    I like myself better now. I am more like the person I think I should be. And that maybe a bit of the puzzle here for you… what would you be doing with yourself that would make you proud of yourself? (Again, notice, this could be anything: volunteering, hobbies, new job, anything that fits you, personally. Not what others think you should do.)

  43. Cindy L.*

    Here’s something to consider. You may be unchallenged and bored, but the folks who get generally the promotions are the ones who work hard and well at even the menial tasks they are required to do. You can be sure that your coworkers know you are “lazy” and that your boss does too.

    It sounds like you have the desire and the capacity to do good and interesting work someday. Here’s the thing: by being lazy now, you are hurting your chances of ever getting that shot. A “good” employee is one who piles up the goodness little-by-little, not by doing occasionally big, splashy projects. If you are unable to find a way to challenge yourself and do a better job in your current position or company, you need to move on, whether or not you want to do so. You are hurting yourself and your future career as much as you are hurting the company.

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