I can’t stay focused at work!

A reader writes:

Do you have any tips for concentration or productivity in the office? I’m more than a year into my first full-time position in marketing, and I’m either experiencing burnout or a newfound case of ADD. My company is small, and sometimes I get to the office and am alone for several hours of the day. I seem to get sucked into checking blogs, wanting to sleep, texting friends, thinking about coffee breaks, etc. I put off my work, thinking that I’ll tackle it later that night, but when I get home, I am so exhausted that I barely move from the couch.

When I do have a deadline, I am able to meet it, but it’s not because I work ahead – more like I rush until the end. The work my company does is very meaningful, but I just stopped caring recently and don’t know what to do. I want to be successful, productive and energized but it seems my mind and body are fighting against me. How do you stay motivated?

You can read my answer to this question over at the Intuit QuickBase blog today.

Plus, three other careers experts are answering this question there today too. (Mine’s at the bottom.) Head on over there for answers

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman*

    Your advice was spot on. I read the other love-fest answers and was rolling my eyes the whole time.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      I have to agree with you completely on this one, Wilton. I was screaming “grow UP!” in my head the whole time I was reading the post.

      Some ideas that might help:

      Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Eat your vegetables. Get some exercise every day. Stand up straight and comb your hair (sorry, I’m channeling my mom right now. All the other stuff stands, though.)

      1. A Bug!*

        I don’t think that’s really fair. Yes, it’s an individual’s responsibility to be productive and do the work. But as we’ve seen, there are tons of people growing up and entering the workforce without ever having been taught proper discipline.

        The writer recognizes that it’s a problem, and is looking for a solution, because “just do it, jeez” is apparently not working. And if something’s not working, why not seek help in finding something that does?

        I see it a lot in adult “smart kids” who grew up without a lot of direction or ambition. When you can breeze through grade school without having to work very hard, you don’t always learn the skills you really need as an adult. Habits you develop throughout your childhood and into adulthood aren’t something you can just stop by flipping a switch.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          My answers can help the OP if the person is not doing things that are good for his or her body. Insufficient sleep, poor nutrition, and lack of physical exercise can all affect brain function and lead to lack of focus. The old-time advice is still relevent.

          There is a lot of other good advice in the comments here. The OP can pick and choose things to try, or just continue doing what he or she is doing.

          1. Jamie*

            I don’t want to speak for ABug, but I had the same response. It wasn’t to your advice, which is sound, but the reference to “grow up” was harsh, IMO, because the OP knows s/he has a problem with this and is trying to find solutions.

            1. Long Time Admin*

              That’s what I was thinking, but did not want to say. It is a bit harsh, but I’m tired of dealing with people who were never taught responsibility (it’s more their parents’ fault than theirs, but it makes things difficult at work). I’ve been through tough times in the past, and I’m just thankful that I don’t have to dig ditches for a living. But I would, if that was all I could find.

              I know that the OP will mature and find his or her own solutions to the problems in life. It comes with time and life experience.

  2. A Bug!*

    There are apps/add-ins/extensions for most major browsers that will limit your Internet access. You can do it by blacklist or whitelist, depending on your needs, and you can set most of them for time periods so that it gives you free access during specified break periods. Depending on the one you choose, you can set it so that you can’t override it once you’ve set it, without uninstalling the app.

    That kind of thing helps me, because it places a mental obstacle between myself and the distraction, and removing that obstacle is psychologically a major step that overrides the initial desire to procrastinate.

    It doesn’t address the cause, but it addresses a symptom and if your problem is just a bad habit this can help to re-train yourself to be more focused.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I do this! I think it helps because I type so much that, in between tasks, my brain can autopilot me to places it’s used to going – for example, if I type http://www.f- into my browser, facebook will just pop up. It’s easy to wind up there without thinking about it.

      So blocking sites is a reminder to stay focused. It’s reasonably effective for me.

      1. ChristineH*

        My husband used to block my ENTIRE internet access–email included–for about 4-5 a day to push me to do more productive things like housework. The method you’re describing sounds so much simpler!

          1. ChristineH*

            Oh definitely with permission :) I tend to get wrapped up in “playing” on the computer/Internet, so it’s an agreed-upon way to motivate me to do more around the house and such. Sorry, didn’t mean to alarm anyone.

  3. Mary*

    My first thought on reading your letter was to get a physical. That you are so exhausted when you get home was the red flag for me. Simple bloodwork will tell if you have a thyroid problem. I speak from experience.

    1. Nikki*

      That’s the first thing I thought of when I read that. I had a coworker who, after getting diagnosed with a thyroid issue, said she had started to think she was crazy. She was just so tired and sometimes confused.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      A low iron level can cause the same symptoms, I also speak from experience. I would agree with AAM’s suggestion to start with a physical.

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – that’ll do it, too.

        And can my co-workers stop diagnosing my freaking anemia for me? I know – I’ve known for years – you aren’t that clever because you figured out the pale woman who chews ice when no one is looking is low on iron.

          1. A Bug!*

            They were just trying to be helpful, and I’m sure Jamie recognizes that, but good intentions don’t make someone else’s health your business. It is frustrating when people insert themselves uninvited into your personal health matters as if you’re incapable of managing your own life.

            What if it was a different “visible” health issue? What if Jamie was fat and her coworkers were telling her to lay off the soda or she’ll get diabetes? (It just occurs to me that I don’t know Jamie’s gender for sure. Sorry if I mis-gendered, Jamie!)

            1. Jamie*

              Not misgendered – I’m definitely a her. :)

              A her who just opened a can of soda and my co-workers better not say a freaking word…

              And to lilybell’s point, I know they were trying to be helpful – but if you don’t have a relationship close enough to know if unsolicited medical advice is welcome than one should assume that it’s not. Nice guys, mean well…but the conversations I’ve had with my doctor about it revolve around how much worse it is after a bout of menorrhagia, but the usual treatment of birth control plays havok with my migraines and iron…causes GI issue…so…

              Yeah, talking with a couple of co-workers with whom I’m friendly about my medical issues, periods, or digestion isn’t something I’m likely to do in this lifetime. Or the next.

              1. Heather*

                Although if you did start giving them all the details, they might learn their lesson and STFU…or maybe not, if they’re like my nosy coworker.

    3. Ariancita*

      Having been diagnosed with both long term anemia and hypothyroidism (it was diagnosed 5 years ago but doctor neglected to tell me until just recently!), I can second going to the doctor. Because I’m naturally high energy, I powered through, but boy did I feel it and it was a horrible way to live. I had lots of lack of focus because of this. Major difference. So yes, check doctor first for things like thyroid, anemia, vit D deficiency.

  4. Lisa*

    Mine is so about fear. I have more people looking at my docs, so I end up over-thinking everything i do. Whether it be an email, a report, or a deliverable to a client. I feel like I am being scrutinized so I end up spending a few minutes on something then move it over to go procrastinate then come back, remember the thing i am working on will be reviewed by others that my might view what i wrote as wrong so it gets back burnered again. I also had a micro manager that used to change all my work around to be more verbose, so i have that in me so that i review things 12x before i send them.

  5. Julie*

    It might just be a disconnect between the way you need to organize your time at work compared to how you’ve organized your time until now. OP says that he’s (or she’s) a year into his first full-time job. Assuming that he was a university student beforehand, the transition is a huge shock, even after a year or two. You’re used to being able to set your tasks, do them, and then do something else when you’re done. Instead, now you have to sit at your desk, even when the work is finished, which can be both frustrating and demotivating.

    Assuming this is the problem, there sadly aren’t too many solutions for someone in a junior position. Try to find more work to fill up more of your time (ideally meaningful work and not busywork), more projects to help out on, and “default” stuff you can do when you’ve got downtime. (Train on a relevant skill, for example.) Some jobs will let you work flex-time or ROWE (results-only), but not many, and mostly not with very junior employees.

    At the end of the day, if you’re getting your work done, you and your boss are happy with the quality and the output, and you’ve still got a ton of downtime… you’re not slacking, you’re efficient.

    1. K*

      I think this is a good point. I noticed a huge shift after I had been in the workplace for about 2 years – without really concentrating on it, I was able to move from treating tasks like a student treats them to treating tasks like a professional treats them. A lot of the lack-of-focus and procrastination problems just disappeared along with that. (Incidentally, lack of motivation wasn’t the problem for me, and I did get all my work done without ever missing deadlines and to my employers’ satsfaction; but it’s no longer the case that I’ll waste time at work and then be up till 2am finishing it.)

  6. Peaches*

    Allison had some great advice, but so did the person who suggested going to a doctor just to make sure there isn’t an underlying cause. In my very early twenties I started to feel foggy headed all the time and I couldn’t concentrate on any one task. I was very sleepy all the time. There were some other symptoms but those were the ones driving me nuts. I knew I was a smart, on the ball person, but anybody meeting me for the first time would think I was, at the very least, a little slow.

    I turned out I had hypothyroidism. It’s really easy to live with and get a handle on and all it takes to diagnose is a simple blood test. So much of what you have written up there, if it isn’t just apathy, fits what I was going through.

    It’s worth getting checked.

    Some of the other little symptoms that people brush off are brittle or striated fingernails, dry skin, always feeling cold, having thin eyebrows (especially the outer third), weight gain (because your metabolism is slowing down), and seeming to come down with every little cold that makes its rounds through the office.

      1. Lucy*

        Depression also often manifests itself in the same ways the OP describes. That was my first thought when reading about the exhaustion and putting work off. I had a spectacular case of burnout/depression during my first job out of grad school but didn’t recognize it until I started bursting into tears at incredibly inopportune times….

        1. Min*

          Depression was my first thought as well. It can be incredibly difficult to recognize if you’re not used to it. (And sometimes even when you are.)

    1. Liz H.*

      Vitamin D deficiency is another possibility, especially at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. A deficiency will wipe you out, and is easily remedied with supplements. It’s a simple blood test, and your doctor can recommend how much to supplement.

      1. Elise*

        That was my thought, especially if the change in feeling has been over the last couple of months. If possible, you can even get a sunlamp for your office so you don’t have to rely on supplements (and you could grow some office plants–which are always nice).

        With my current work schedule, I only have about an hour of morning sun during the weekdays so I try to go outside for lunch as much as possible. It does take a toll on many people if they aren’t taking action to combat the issue.

      2. JuliB*

        Pls take your D with the fattiest meal of the day. It will significantly increase the amount of this fat soluble vitamin that your body uptakes.

    2. saro*

      Yes, in my case, I had ADD, thyroid issues and anemia. The physical and mental go hand in hand. I use leechblock, fall on and off the GTD wagon and also make sure I take my medicine vitamins, and drink enough water.

  7. Sasha*

    I found that using mind maps helps me organize my tasks and keep me on track. I work in a position where I am responsible for several projects at a time, as well as providing customer support, so my days are very fractured and I have many things to work on at a time. I often find myself procrastinating because of this, and constantly shifting gears makes me very tired at the end of the day. I started using mind maps as a visual way to organize my projects (I hate lists and they did nothing for me), but a diagram helps – and I make notes on it each day as to what I have accomplished. So often I will stop one task and think, what am I supposed to do now? So I pull up the mind map, and it reminds me.

    Also, I felt utterly exhausted after my first year of full-time work. I had been working mostly part-time and temp jobs through school and shortly after, and setting my own schedule. When I got a job where I had to have butt in chair for 8 hours straight, it drained me, even when I was doing stimulating tasks I enjoyed. Good news: you get used to it. Bad news: you’re still tired. I don’t think being tired at the end of the day ever goes away. And yes, I have been checked and get yearly physicals, and I have no health problems contributing to the exhaustion. I just have a job that mentally wears me out each day.

      1. Piper*

        What? Why? Are you implying that Mind Maps are not effective? I’ve also used them for project organization and find them to work out well. For those of that are more visual, these things can help.

        1. Victoria*

          Anonymous asked kind of rudely, but I’d also love a link. I’ve never found “mapping” helpful but I’ve heard from so many folks that they use it really successfully. Maybe it’s the way my brain works, or maybe I’ve never had good training/exposure/etc.

          1. Sasha*

            It’s difficult to find an example of an effective one, since what is effective will be different for every person. My typical project map just says Projects in the middle, with each project having its own branch, and then on each branch, details relating to that project. Each project has branches that contain necessary ingredients: required resources, available personnel, problems/resolutions, etc. I make time-stamped notes on each branch when something changes or is completed.

            An image of something resembling my maps is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MindMapGuidlines.svg. To me, an effective mind map is one that resembles the image in your brain of all the pieces of the puzzle and how they relate. In my mind, each of my projects is a “clump” of information, and I like to see that clump represented on paper. The little clumps of things to do is easier for me to understand, instead of a big long to-do list, even though it’s the same information. Hopefully that all made sense.

            1. Jamie*

              That made a lot of sense, and I really appreciate the explanation because I find this fascinating, but don’t know much about it.

              I didn’t know this had a name – but I map out bigger projects in Visio when I need something more visual and less linear than a regular Gantt chart – although I do think my actual mind map is a Gantt chart – it’s my favorite organizational tool of all time.

              1. Sasha*

                Yes, mind map is really just another way to say diagram. I prefer the term mind map because I think it’s more descriptive of what I’m doing…putting the spaghetti mess inside my brain onto (digital) paper.

                Today I learned what a Gantt chart was when my coworker sent one to me. It was beautiful.

                1. JessB*

                  Now that you’ve said Gantt chart, I know what you mean by mind map! I love Gantt charts, although I almost never have occasion to use them.

              2. Kelly O*

                I kind of do this, just without “mind mapping” – I make lists and just start writing down everything I can think of. Then I organize that mind-dump list into actual steps and blocks of things, and work from there. It’s not picturesque or anything, but it works for me.

        2. anon.*

          wow piper, pipe down! lol… it was only a request for a link, plus she’s not attacking (just abrupt) so no need to be defensive.

  8. JfC*

    There is a degree of “straighten up and fly right” required to fix this problem, but that’s something that has to come from within. I found this article on building good habits very accurate: http://joel.is/post/36591651818/want-to-create-a-new-habit-get-ready-to-break-it . I think that we don’t appreciate incremental improvement, and that there’s a lot of black and white thinking about productivity. Part of building good habits is learning to recover when you you experience set backs.

    1. Julie*

      I like some of the points in this article, but think the author is missing an important point. I agree that starting slowly and building up is important. BUT I also thing that some habits can be built instantaneously, depending on the urgency and the context. For some (maybe even most) habits, where you don’t have a strong reason and a strong sense of where it will fit in your existing routine, you’re probably doomed to fail.

      However, if you have one — or especially both — you’ve got a powerful motivator to succeed. After I had a scare with a faulty condom, I started taking birth control pills and it was a set habit from day 1. I struggled for years to find the time to floss, but I was always too tired. However, after my dentist told me that I might need to have surgery to recover the damage I’d done, I started… sporadically. Then I had a realization that standing in the shower with conditioner in my hair was the perfect “I have nothing else to do for 2 minutes” time to floss, I was super-consistent and pretty much floss every day.

      So, build up, sure. But don’t neglect the “why” and the “when.” They’re both super-important.

  9. Cindy*

    Website blockers are awesome, I use Leechblock for Firefox. The other thing that’s helped me is a meditation practice, even just 3 or 5 minutes in the morning helps my focus immensely. When you meditate, you’re basically training your brain to gently ignore distractions–they’re still there but you are capable of letting them go instead of following every “what’s on Twitter right now?” impulse.
    Here’s some science about how meditation changes your brain activity if you like that sort of thing.

    1. Natalie*

      Very closely related to meditation, doing some mindfulness practice can be very helpful. Jon Kabat-Zinn has some great books for beginners.

  10. Anonymous*

    I’m going to jump in an play devil’s advocate here, because this is something I’ve wanted to ask AAM for awhile – how do you maintain productivity when you are suffering from burnout? As any parent of young kids can attest, there is a life stage where there is no time to reset even outside of work with obligations from school/family/keeping the household running. There are literally months where my husband and I don’t have waking hours where we can just BE. It’s no accident that the only creative ideas I have about work anymore are in the shower. How can we maintain productivity when the burnout is severe and there is no end in sight?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d love to hear from others on this, because as a non-parent, I’m just guessing, but here’s my take: You balance things differently at different times in your life. You’ll (probably) have times in your life when you’re really focused on your career and it’s your top priority. And you’ll (probably) have times in your life when family or something else is your top priority. What’s important is making sure that your priorities reflect what’s important to you at that particular time, not someone else’s idea of what your priorities should be or what work/life balance should mean.

      Right now, you sound like you’re in a stage where you’re not going to be thinking about work very much outside of the office, and that’s okay — I’d take the pressure off yourself to do that. When you’re at work, focus on work — but leave it there, and be okay with leaving it there.

      1. Anonymous*

        It’s not so much work taking up space outside the office, but literally having not having to fight being overwhelmed with the workload when there is no opportunity to not feel overwhelmed and get mental space outside of work. Does that make sense?

        Also, I don’t think very many non-parents are aware of how much your sleep is impacted for YEARS after you have kids. Yes, I typed years folks. It affects your memory and concentration more than you can imagine. Details that you used to keep in your head have to be written down, and long emails with massive to-do lists in tiny fonts have a tendency to blur together in ways they never did before.

        1. Kelly O*

          If it’s any consolation, I am totally with you, and I just have one toddler and a job that doesn’t really require overtime, but I still feel like I meet myself running a lot of days.

          Between raising a kid, keeping our apartment clean, meals in tummies at the appropriate time, clothes laundered and put away, doing my 8-5 job, looking for another job, my church activities (which are on that non-negotiable list for me personally), and trying to remember that my husband is not just that guy who sleeps on the other side of the bed on the nights I actually GET to sleep in the bed and am not up with the toddler when she wakes up crying for Mommy… I feel like it’s a wonder I get anything done at all.

          And like someone else mentioned, sleep is SO important, but I have to be careful to not crash the second the toddler does, because I have this “too much sleep” point that makes me even less productive than if I’d not had enough.

          I do notice a difference when I’m eating better too, but that’s also finding the time to plan ahead for it and not just grabbing something as I’m doing my nonperishable grocery shopping on my lunch hour, or while dropping off library books or whatever. (And let’s not even talk about exercise. I know I need to make time, but seriously someone help me find time to plug that in too.)

          I will say the one thing that has helped me, especially in recent weeks, is trying to be very mindful of what I’m doing. Like, being present at work mentally, and then being fully present mentally when I’m doing other things. The multi-tasking kills me, because I never feel like I’m really doing anything right, and my perfectionist, moderately OCD self starts freaking out about that. So if I just focus on one thing at the time, I can get it done faster, and closer to the perfection to which I constantly strive.

          It’s just the overall application of that I need to work on.

    2. Jamie*

      These are the stages where it’s important to take your time off and not save it to cash it back in.

      The money may be important, but if you need the time that is more important. You don’t need to go on vacation, for some of us that’s more stressful than work) but some long weekends at home can help recharge.

      This is wisdom I came to rather late, this year in fact, and as much as I pooh-poohed the idea for years I was wrong – taking a break really does matter.

      And Alison is right – there is nothing wrong with work being left at work – unless that’s not compatible with your position in which case there are choices to be made. I could not have been successful at my current job when my kids were smaller and my home obligations more pressing. But you can in the vast majority of jobs.

      The other thing I would suggest is simplifying your life. Is your calendar filled with obligations which aren’t adding anything to your life at this point? Parents will always have non-negotiable kiddo obligations – but go through your calendar and see if there is anything that is taking up your time which is only causing you stress…clear it out.

      Same for your home. I’m a big fan of decluttering as I consider a clean and organized home a gift to my family and myself…and I don’t have the time to wade through oceans of crap. I cut my housework in less than half with results x100 once I streamlined the stuff. If you don’t use it and don’t love it get rid of it. If you can’t bear to toss it, put it neatly in a box (I love those plastic Rubbermaid bins) and store it. If a year goes by and you haven’t missed it or thought about it – toss it.

      When you’re overwhelmed it’s good to look at all the aspects of your life, including work, and see what is necessary and what is clutter. The less clutter, both physical and mental, the more manageable things will seem.

      1. fposte*

        “When you’re overwhelmed it’s good to look at all the aspects of your life, including work, and see what is necessary and what is clutter. The less clutter, both physical and mental, the more manageable things will seem.”

        Granted, I’m a reforming hoarder, but it’s still amazing to me how many things I have and do “just because,” and that I realize I could let go of once I remember to ask myself about the possibility.

        1. Job seeker*

          This is such good advice. I am someone that likes order. I like things neat and surroundings clutter-free and clean. I could never understand people being able to work in the middle of a mess. I find when I have things in place, I can do a lot more. But this is so true in all aspects. Choose the things in your life that matter most. Not everything is as important as we make it. But having things orderly for me keeps life manageable.

          1. BW*

            I cleaned my desk off once because I was moving. I swear I sat there half the day and didn’t know what to do with myself. Out of sight, out of mind. :-/ I totally need the visual cues all that stuff on my desk provides. I don’t really like it, but I will totally brain fart without it. I’m constantly trying to keep that happy middle of not having a cluttered desk but having enough out that I can still function. It’s not easy.

            1. KayDay*

              yes, this is how I am. Ideally, things would stay well organized but in sight (think desktop flies and stuff) but, yeah, it’s more often piles. But anything important I NEED to have out in the open. I usually pin important things to my bulletin board.

            2. Agile Phalanges*

              My former boss did NOT understand this.

              “Clean up your desk.”
              “It is clean.”
              “But you have piles of papers there.”
              “Yes, and if I put them somewhere else, they won’t get done. Out of sight, out of mind for me.”
              “Put them in a folder, and just check that folder every day.”
              “Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.”

              For me, it really doesn’t. I can set a reminder to check the folder, even, and it’s not nearly as effective as just keeping that pile (or three) RIGHT out there on my desk. Glad to hear there someone else like me!

              1. Anonymous*

                I so agree with this. The “pile not file” method is the only one that works for me — I can tell you exactly where in a pile the page I need is, as long as nobody tries to “help” me by tidying up my space.

          1. Jamie*

            I can’t recommend unf*ckmyhabitat enough. I just love before and after pics, and they are so motivating.

            M (sorry – cant backspace to get rid of the M. What a stupid technical problem and it’s not even 6:00 am. Ugh)

        2. BW*

          Totally agree with this! I find clutter adds to my mental distress with adds to my life clutter which adds to my mental distress which adds to…

          1. Jamie*

            I was thinking about this and since most of the things I thought were just me seem to be familiar to other AAM readers thought I would ask…

            My brain does this really weird thing in that as soon as something is clean I can’t remember what it looked like before. I intellectually know it was messy before I cleaned, but I can’t picture it.

            Like if the shed is filthy and stuff is everywhere and I spend the day organizing it – hanging gardening tools (never used, how they keep getting messed up I have no idea. I blame gnomes.), spraying down walls, labeling stuff so when I’m done it’s all neat and tidy. My brain thinks it’s always been that way.

            It’s the most instant form of immediate gratification ever. I think that’s why I don’t get too pissy when the family makes a mess. Because once it’s cleaned it feels like it’s always been clean to me.

            I’ve always wondered if that’s a normal thing or just yet another quirk specific to me.

            1. Job seeker*

              Jamie, I probably am worst because I pick up and clean daily so it doesn’t get to much of a chance to get messy. I am not an empty nester yet, so I do have two sons that do not know the meaning of picking up.

              This drives me bananas and I am constantly picking up the family room or clothes on the floor in their bathrooms. My mother is with my family at the moment and she is always telling me I want things neater than she ever did.

              I like to make lists of what I need to get done and know where things are. I like to keep all my employment information and job-searching organized. I like to make sure details are covered.

      2. EM*

        Exactly. I would examine every single recurring item on your schedule and decide if it’s worth it to you and your family to keep doing it. Are you chauffeuring your kids to multiple lessons/practices a week? See if you can carpool with another family. Even consider cutting something out entirely. Kids need unstructured down time too. How many after work hours meetings are you attending or how many volunteer projects are you taking on? Are you in charge of any committees or running anything? Consider taking a break from at least one commitment.

        1. Anonymous*

          Great advice, everyone, but there is nothing left to cut. Part of the issue is both my husband and I have weekend work or events as part of work fairly often. For example, this Saturday, I am manning a marketing booth for the company from 8 – 4, and there is so much work to be done I cannot take any compensating time off from the office. But that’s another topic for another day…

          1. KellyK*

            Yikes. That makes it just about impossible to recharge. Any chance of one or both of you switching to a less-demanding job, at least while the kids are little?

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If there’s nothing to cut, there’s nothing to cut. At that point I think you’ve just got to accept this is how it is (unless, as Kelly says, one of you can switch to a less demanding job) and know that it won’t be this way forever.

  11. Procr...i'll finish it later*

    OK, I could have written many parts of this letter, but I’ve also been in positions where I’ve done just fine. For me the biggest difference is the environment I’m in. Of the answers, I actually like Eva’s answer the best. I generally don’t like lovey dovey look into your childhood type of advice, but I thought this answer was realistic. You can’t just say, ‘I want to be super-worker’ and have it happen; if that was the case, you wouldn’t be writing in to begin with. I am guessing that you have already tried willing yourself to work, and it hasn’t worked.

    Some people are able to focus really easily, and they tend to not understand what it’s like for people who can’t focus easily. (For me, it often feels like my brain is spinning inside my head and I can’t get it to stop on one thing, no matter how much I want it to.)

    I agree that you are under-stimulated; there’s some old cliche out there that if you want something to get done, give it to a busy person. It’s really easy to get trapped into doing other things because there isn’t much pressure to get things done. But there are probably other environmental factors at play. Try to answer the following questions and then see if you can change your environment for the better.

    – Do you focus best alone, or with people around? In what sort of setting–where people are up and about moving physically, or where people are working quietly? (For me, I’m really introverted and so I thought I worked better alone; but I actually work much better when people are around–when people are around, I’m more alert, more on my toes; alone I go into relaxation mode).
    – Are you really deadline driven? Or do deadlines stress you out and make it harder to focus? (Of course, everyone is “deadline driven” to a certain extent, this is a question of degree.)
    – Do you prefer to have many separate projects simultaneously? or do you prefer to done one thing, finish it, and then move on to the next?

    I realize that you can’t control all of those things, but thinking about it will help you pick jobs and/or projects in the future.

    Also, silly little tricks that help:
    -put a mirror on your desk. Seeing yourself procrastinating can be a positive form of self shaming.
    -position your computer/desk where other people can’t see (this won’t help if no one is around, obvs.)
    -take on as many physical work tasks as possible (e.g. volunteer to go to the post office and things like that).

    1. Procr...i'll finish it later*

      I meant to say, position your computer where other people CAN see it….bit of a Freudian slip there.

  12. Anon*

    I highly recommend getting tested for ADD. If your brain is wired this way, no amount of chastising from anyone will make the least bit of difference. The only thing that will make a difference is changes to your physical environment. Partially that means medication (it was a LIFE CHANGER for several of my family members) but it also means you have to be diligent in maintaining a stable sleep schedule, regularly exercising, and — most important — effectively planning your time. Obviously those aren’t ADD-specific lifestyle recommendations, but it’s just so much more important for us ADD people to do these things.

    I would add that medication both makes it easier to stick to these lifestyle changes, and increases the rewards for doing so. So I hope you’re open to that solution.

    1. Jamie*


      Not diagnosing from behavior – and never diagnose over the internet – but if it’s not a recent thing get it checked out.

      Meds are not a panacea or magic bullet, but you would not believe the difference in treated vs untreated ADD. If you’re open to meds and they work for you they can literally change your life.

      FWIW – since we’re on the topic – I hate that it’s called a disorder. In many, many ways it’s a gift. I like to think of it as turbo charged mental energy. Unchanneled it’s a wasteful expenditure of energy – like some kind of Tasmanian devil on Red Bull. Channeled properly and once the hyperfocus kicks in – few people can touch us – productivity wise.

      I’ve never seen it as something to eradicate or of which to be ashamed…just a tool to be harnessed. This is what I taught my kids, too…no shame.

      1. Sasha*

        Agreed. My husband was diagnosed with ADD at a young age and started on medication, but he stopped the medication during his teens and has since learned to harness its power. He is mentally capable of so many things because of it, things that I, as a “normal” person, could never do because it would break my brain.

      2. Anon*

        Agreed! My brother works in emergency medicine, which is kind of perfect for ADD people in that it’s 90% sitting around not focusing on anything, and 10% people with sucking chest wounds whose survival is utterly dependent on you not f***ing up. He loves those adrenaline rushes. I prefer to get mine from writing a really good block of code…

      3. Naama*

        Thank you for saying this!! I was just diagnosed with ADD and I’m in law school — around here, people are pretty ableist because of their own academic insecurities. ADD is seen as an excuse to slack off or get more time on exams, and students like me are just faking it so we can get Adderall…never mind that diagnosis tests cost $800. In reality, ADD is only a disability to the extent that it impedes your ability to live your life, and a good portion of that difficulty is caused by people’s intolerance/ignorance instead of the condition itself.

        If any reader out there suspects they have undiagnosed ADD or ADHD, or some other neurological condition/disorder, BE PROUD of yourself. You’ve gotten this far in life by being persistent, resourceful, willful, and creative, likely despite criticism from folks who were supposed to support your development. If you ever feel lazy or worthless because you’re unfocused, remember that your success so far means you’re just the opposite. Because you weren’t diagnosed early in life, you have picked up ways to look at problems and manage your work effectively, even though it looks like laziness or disorganization from the outside. You got stuff done, didn’t you? Maybe not the way you wanted, maybe not to the degree that satisfies you, but if you were as lazy as you fear, you wouldn’t be an AAM reader. This blog is for clever, proactive people. You already ARE awesome.

        (Sorry for the soapboxing. Misconceptions about what it means to have ADD are really hurtful, whether one has a diagnosis or not — the world needs more voices like Jamie’s to be heard, because there’s too much needless shame, and it’s such a waste. I figured someone would come across this post via Google search or something, and this might be relevant to them.)

        Oh, final notes: people who are diagnosed earlier in life are awesome too, but I can’t speak to their experiences; the choice about meds is YOUR choice and nobody else’s opinion matters (except your psychiatrist’s); pills give you the ability to focus, but not the motivation (you can take a pill and spend three hours watching paint dry if you really want to procrastinate).

        1. Heather*

          OMG yes – I really have no idea how I managed to function for so many years before I got diagnosed (at 34!). I honestly had no idea that I wasn’t normal – I thought everybody procrastinated and got sidetracked and had trouble converting thoughts into words. It was just chance that I read something about a woman who thought she was frustrated and angry because of depression, and turned out to be ADHD. (Lucky me, I have both.)

          Now I get so angry at people who say ADHD isn’t real or that stimulants are some kind of a shortcut used by lazy college kids. I always *wanted* to work hard and get things accomplished, but I just couldn’t make it happen (or rather, I did accomplish things, but only the things that already came easily or that I enjoyed). My shrink put it this way: “Look what you’ve done without medication – who knows what you could have accomplished if you were properly treated.”

          With my meds, I actually feel productive and I can think straight. (My husband can tell when my dose is wearing off because I start rambling and every other word becomes “um” or “like.”) I am so, so grateful for them.

      4. Mike C.*

        Yeah, I was diagnosed in college, and the combination of medication and therapy/tutoring made a huge difference in my life.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I don’t have ADD, but I have taken medication for other reasons that has helped me IMMENSELY with focusing, productivity, motivation and feeling positive about accomplishing things. It’s definitely worth looking into. I am a huge believer in “you can’t think yourself into acting, but you can act yourself into thinking” but in some circumstances you just do not have the mental energy/wherewithal to be in a place where you are able to take those actions. Medication, if appropriate, has the potential to help with that.

  13. Old WebDev*

    Facebook, LinkedIn, online news, professional groups, email, Klout, and blogs like AAM. Who *isn’t* a little ADD with all we are supposed to keep up with. The distractions are countless, and if you are even a little burned out or simply bored, they are also irresistible. Don’t be so hard on yourself for past actions, just try to improve going forward.

    I think it’s particularly hard for those who grew up having the Internet, as it lulls you into believing you are a better multitasker than you actually are. We all pretty much suck at multitasking.

    My mantra for 2012 has been: do one thing at a time, and do it well.

  14. Colette*

    I’d also add that the OP might need to mentally make the decision that she can’t put off work to do later that night – everything has to be done before leaving. That might add some needed pressure to start focusing. (Besides, putting off the work isn’t working.)

  15. littlemoose*

    I have had this problem myself – including today, in fact. Often my problem is that I’m just tired, making it hard for me to focus and to engage the higher-level mental control necessary to keep working on an unpleasant task. When I’m tired it’s also harder to engage in analytical thought, which is necessary for most of my job tasks, and so it becomes more tempting to indulge in low-demand mental functions like looking at facebook or cat pictures. I echo the other commenters’ suggestions to get a checkup, and maybe evaluate your own sleep habits and patterns as well. That said, everyone else has good suggestions for the non-physiological aspects of your problem, and AAM’s advice was great as always. Take some time to reflect and figure out what the root(s) of the problem may be, and go from there. Good luck!

    1. The IT Manager*

      +1000. I could have written the the same letter the LW did, but I have noticed that it is much, much worse when I am tired.

      I had a day just like that yesterday when hit a wall after lunch after a very early morning wakeup for an early flight. I got very little accomplished. I managed to catch up on sleep last night and had a much more productive day today.

  16. LL*

    Have you checked out some time management techniques? I like the pomodoro method, aka tomato technique. From the Wikipedia page:

    (1) decide on the task to be done
    (2) set the timer to 25 minutes
    (3) work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
    (4) take a short break (5 minutes)
    (5) every four “pomodoros” take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

    This method has helped me to make some progress on tasks I hate, and not just at work. It is somehow easier to start the task when you know you only have to do it for 25 minutes at a time.

      1. Jamie*

        This is really helpful – because it’s so easy to get overwhelmed when you see a daunting task ahead of you and your brain tells you it needs to be done perfectly and completely before you can stop.

        What? Am I the only one whose brain bosses them around like a draconian warlord?

        I used a modified version of this when my kids were small – set the timer for 5 minutes and have them pick up toys, clothes in hamper, etc. Breaks it down in manageable chunks.

        In a way I do this for people on projects I manage as well. A Gantt chart is nothing but taking an overwhelming project and breaking it into manageable chunks.

        1. Kelly O*

          FlyLady and Emelie Barnes taught me the importance of 15 minute increments. Work like hell for 15 minutes, don’t look at the clock, use a timer, and then see how much you’ve done. Three rounds of 15 minutes and you can take a break.

          Not watching the clock really does make all the difference. I even do that when I’m microwaving things – amazing how that 7 minutes to steam your broccoli can get laundry put away and the dishwasher unloaded.

          1. Jamie*

            Speaking of microwaves and cleaning – best tip ever!

            Microwave safe bowl of water and lemon juice and heat it up in microwave until steamy. Then anything baked on just wipes away and there’s no cleanser smell to deal with.

            I don’t remember where I read this but it was like absolute magic to me when I discovered it.

    1. Katie*

      I LOVE this idea. I feel like I could’ve written this letter myself and would be really excited to try this method. The only problem is, I am a receptionist as well as a general admin assistant and I am interrupted constantly by the phone or people coming in or office (or people stopping by my desk and chatting with me and each other, or people having trouble with the main printer right next to my desk, or people coming up to tell me the toilet/light/elevator isn’t working, or people’s various “emergencies” involving things like needing me to place a catering order to be delivered 2 hours from now or go get coffee for a guest in our office). Ok writing that has convinced me to look for another job even more because this so clearly is a poor fit for me. But in the meantime, any suggestions for staying focused on work when you are interrupted by job duties constantly?

  17. Not So NewReader*

    There is always something that will motivate us. The thing that motivates me, might be different from the next person- however, both methods can be effective for its respective owner.

    I have had some reeally sluggish days- what got me moving was picturing me living in a cardboard box by the side of the street- because I had lost my job and my home. That scared me into working.
    Other days are not so harsh- I make a game out of it in my head. “Let me see if I can get x, y, and z done before 10 am.”

    In my younger years a thought pattern that worked for me was “If I do not do a great job- someone else will come along and they will actually do a great job. Then I will be kicking myself because I know I could have done better.”

    I think a good trick is to have a number of cards up your sleeve to keep yourself bouncing along. Because the same trick may not work each and every time. I noticed when I got into my 30s that health started to have a huge relationship with my work day. Lack of sleep, poor meals, lack of water- really lowered my concentration and almost killed off my work ethic entirely. (That is how I knew I was in trouble- I did not care! This is so NOT me.)

    1. Laura L*

      “what got me moving was picturing me living in a cardboard box by the side of the street- because I had lost my job and my home.”

      I use that trick, too, on my worst days. It’s actually really helpful.

      If I do not do a great job- someone else will come along and they will actually do a great job. Then I will be kicking myself because I know I could have done better.”

      I also do this. It helps sometimes.

      I think we’re on the save wavelength here!

  18. fposte*

    I struggle with focus a lot, and I always have. I haven’t licked it, but I have more tools now, and that helps a lot. Things that are key for me: getting enough sleep, and getting enough achievement. The last sounds paradoxical when you’re having trouble achieving, but it’s key, and I’ve find a few ways that help to get me onto the on-ramp. I have a list of what I’m working toward each week and it describes things in terms of small and finite units–not just “answer email” but “answer Bob’s email.” When I’ve done that, I literally, visibly, using strikethrough, cross things off the list and leave those achievements there. If I had a gold star symbol in my character set, I’d totally use it (I prefer the Home Routines app over Unfuck Your Habitat because of the gold stars, and I wish I could have a second Home Routines devoted entirely to work)–I want to create a map of what differences I made and contribute to my inner narrative that I’m a person who’s doing stuff, not a person who spends the day in the Dog Shaming archives. Another risk for me is transition moments, time when I’m deciding whether to do A or B and end up doing nothing useful at all. To deflect that risk I often pre-aim myself, creating a plan as I’m going to work or getting back from getting tea or going to the bathroom so that I already know what I’ll pick up when I get back.

    And I find I’m actually less tired the days when I’ve been really productive, because there’s the lift of accomplishment and the absence of the anxiety undertow. There’s nothing more draining than feeling static and useless.

    1. Naama*

      I’m stealing some of your suggestions. Breaking down tasks into little bits and putting them on a big ol’ list = the only way to get scary projects done. Light to moderate exercise before work also dissipates anxiety, because winners exercise in the morning, and you have just won. You have conquered the Very Short Brisk Walk! The work day holds no fears for you!

      1. fposte*

        Seriously, moving the body is an amazing breaker of logjams. I actually cribbed the one-minute dance break from 30 Rock (way back from the pilot) and have a playlist on my ipod named that to give me breaks when I’m writing.

    2. Ariancita*

      The specific lists and crossing completed items off has been super beneficial for me. The key for me, is that they have to be hand written in my notebook and then crossed out. It doesn’t work the same to do it electronically. Maybe there’s something about kinetic learning in it as I understand and learn and remember better if I write and draw things out. Don’t know, but could be connected.

  19. Anonymous*

    Aside from the exhaustion, the statement that jumped out at me was about being alone for several hours of the day. Does that suit you, or do you need the interaction and stimulation of having people around you and the interplay of being on a team? Think about the circumstances and settings of your past productivity.

    The other thing I’d suggest – once any medical stuff is ruled out – is try going to the gym or swimming pool before you go to work. I find swimming makes a big difference as to the extent my mind goes off pickin’ daisies, and I don’t do it nearly enough.

  20. jesicka309*

    Ugh this is me, and has been for over a year.
    Graduate in first job that sin’t quite the right fit. First six months were spent whizzing around getting 96% performance reviews, winning awards and generally being awesome, as the job was super easy. It only took me 4 hours to do a whole days work, so I’d frequently be up to a week ahead. Then the reality crashed in that there was no more work to do. No matter how much I begged, there was no extra responsibilities I could take on. In fact, there was no point even being ahead, as the day by day work schedule meant that I’d have to eventually stop and wait for everyone else to catch up. No one would let me help them as they had no enough work themselves. Come Christmas/Easter, our busy periods, everyone is busy, so I’d be right at home.
    The malaise set in a year ago. It’s gotten to the point where I spend the first 3 hours of the day surfing the net, working for two hours, having lunch, surfing the net for 2 hours, working for two hours, and having 40 minutes left spare at the end of the day to, you guessed it, surf the internet. I’ve now gathered that this is what everyone else has been doing the whole time.
    So really, I could do all the work in the morning, and spend the afternoon twiddling my thumbs. Or I could spread the work out. Those are my options. I feel pretty depressed about the whole thing, like I’m a terrible worker, but there’s nothing to be done. And they won’t lay us off either because of the way the job is set out, and there would be too much work in the busy periods without all of us

    1. KellyK*

      For some jobs, you really are there in part to be available. Can you switch your non-productive time to something that’s generally beneficial and work-related, even if it’s not a specific work task? Reading articles or blogs about your field, or general things like AAM, for example? And maybe keep a list of mindless but worthwhile tasks for when you either have time to kill or are braindead? (Friday afternoons are an excellent time to clean your desk and computer, including cleaning the keyboard with a q-tip if it needs it.)

      1. jesicka309*

        Honestly, I do all those things already. I’ve scoured AAM to the point where I think I’ve read every post + comments since the beginning. I tidy my desk to the point that my post-it notes are parallalel with my tissue box etc. I even have a TV at my desk (as part of my job) and I can’t even find the motivation to just watch that!
        To be honest, I think the organisation is hiring uni grads when they could be hiring 15 year olds to do this job. The people who seem to genuinely enjoy my job didn’t go to university, are terrible on current affairs, and seem to need the whole 9 hours to do the job. No offence to them, it’s great that they love the job, but they should be more honest when hiring people and tell them what the job is. And stop hiring upbeat uni grads to do a job more suited to mums returning to the workforce or kids straight out of high school (lifers).

        1. rachel*

          This is SO my job. Just to be available. I’ve been doing this for 2 years now and it’s maddening. I’ve done all the things you described in your post. It’s gotten to the point where I bring my knitting or a book to read so I don’t go insane.

        2. KellyK*


          Honestly, if your supervisor is aware that you’ve run out of stuff to do and coworkers know you’re available to help if needed, surfing the internet stops being “slacking off” and starts being “being available.”

    2. Anonymous*

      Ouch. Sounds like you need your own projects. What about creating calendars of the work year? Developing a manual for the position you’re currently in? Online training of some sort? Volunteering for a professional organization? Volunteering elsewhere? Caveat for doing work for another outfit, & maybe even online training, is that it will need to be ok with your boss.

      One assumes you are also job hunting.

      Hope you find constructive options, boredom is stifling.

      1. Kelly O*

        Don’t forget the value of documenting procedures.

        That’s kind of my go-to when I don’t feel right about “networking” on LinkedIn or reading work related blog posts anymore. We are very much feast or famine around here, so I’m either scrambling to get everything in, or trying to not look at the clock every two minutes.

    3. Heather*

      I so hear you. My job is the same way – crazy busy at times, and then totally dead, and a lot of it is waiting on other people’s input. So even if I work like crazy to finish my work quickly, I’m stuck twiddling my thumbs and waiting for someone else to do their job (usually at the last minute).

      After the millionth time I asked for more to do and got nothing, I gave up & went with your option 2 – spread the work out. At least I’ve learned a lot during all my blog-reading time.

  21. Just Me*

    I just dealt with this literally up until yesterday. I was doing job “a” at work and because of a re-org they revised all our jobs and I was ( operative word WAS ) doing job ” B “.

    I hated it. I could not focus, procrastinated as much as I could, did the easier stuff first and was physically and mentally warn out all the time. I dreaded Mondays.

    I knew exactly what the problem was. I wasn’t bonding to the work and I flat out didn’t care. So yes my productivity stunk and my work was OK but ot great.

    I interviewed many times outside the company but didn’t get anything. I was ready to take almost anything to get out of what I was doing.

    I interviewed Nov 1 for an internal position and was offered the job a week and a half later. Completely out of what I was doing. Medical billing to sales/marketing.

    My brain is revved up. I am not procrastinating anything and basically chomping on the bit to learn more, offer more and just be involved in a what looks to be a great dept with great people to work with.

    In my case I knew what I needed. A new job to use my skills that I liked doing and what looks to be an appreciation of what I can offer as well.

    OP, do you really like what you are doing? Maybe there is a medical issue but I think the issue maybe more of what you are doing just isn’t what you are interested in. One can get burned out and tired just from being bored.

    Do some soul searching and ask yourself what you like about the job if anything and see if that matches a job that does those skills.
    Or what do you like doing other than that job? Accounting? Web design?

    Good luck…….

    1. Hari*

      This is what I’m thinking. I don’t think its an issue of if the OP has a bad work ethic or has health problems. It may be a case that they are just not interested in the job or the industry or it didn’t live up to expectations, etc. There is a lot of reasons someone might not mesh with a job. I think this especially since its OP’s first out of college job.

  22. Diane*

    I was diagnosed with ADD after grad school and while teaching, so I had a name for what I had previously thought was a giant character flaw. It took me years to recognize and head off distractions. Learn quickly from us, the internets!

    1. Problem: Work is not holding your attention. Solution: talk to your boss about adding a challenging project, learning new skills or information, and taking on a few other short- and long-term projects and tasks you are accountable for. Why: This will give you more challenging work you HAVE to focus on, and will give you something to look forward to (kudos for finishing a project, learning new stuff, adding certifications to your resume, working with new people . . . . brains like new things).

    2. You’re wasting time at work. Solution: Create more structure, not less. Change your routine. Make a schedule and put tasks on your calendar. Reward yourself with small things, like reading AAM, once you’ve put in a solid 90 minutes of work on routine tasks and project work.

    3. You go to something fluffy and distracting rather than focusing on the big, abstract tasks at hand–until the adrenaline rush of a deadline makes you tackle the tasks. Then you kick yourself for not taking a little more time to get it right. Solution: Break your projects down into discrete tasks. There are some decent project management templates and other tools, referenced above, that help you identify all the little details you need to think about. My brain likes big, abstract ideas and gets stuck on the details, so these tools help you articulate what you need to do before the mad adrenaline rush makes you just do it.

    4. All this mindless screwing around is exhausting. Solution: See a doctor, take your vitamins, get enough sleep, exercise, eat right, and find something meaningful to do every day–even if it isn’t about work. It is exhausting to spend energy doing something that doesn’t mean much to you.

    5. Work just isn’t that important to you, or this job is a dead-end, or you are no longer invested in the culture, management, or mission. Solution: If work isn’t doing it for you, volunteer, learn to play guitar, read . . . set and meet goals personally meaningful to you, so that you look forward to getting through work (done well) so that you get to do your cool thing. Also works for burnout.

  23. Not So NewReader*

    Really great comments here, OP. I am sure you will find something useful.
    I firmly believe that lack of goals is the number one work ethic killer. Do you have goals? I mean long term, mid term and short term goals? These goals can be in your personal life and/or your work life.
    The worst times I have had at a job was when I could not see any goal in sight or my targeted goal was not attainable. It was a battle inside my head to get to 10am. You can imagine how I felt by quitting time. I would get home, fall in a chair and catch a nap first thing.
    Really the only cure to help me get back my goals, was to change jobs. This was a job where I cried on the way to work and cried on the way home. It has become my benchmark that I compare all other jobs to. In retrospect, moving on was the best thing for me. I don’t know why I tried to tough it out for so long. I guess I thought I had to stick with it.
    OP, the answer may simply be that you just need to move on, in order to spring back to life.

  24. ABC*

    Lots of great suggestion. I struggle with this as well and its rather frustrating because, as someone said earlier – the less I accomplish in a day, the more tired I feel. Because this is mental exhaustion rather than anything(assuming no medical issues of course)

    What I find is the reasons often are 1) If I feel what I do is meaningless as in – ” how does it matter” I feel less inclined to do it. 2) If I am in a funk due to other lousy things happening in life.

    Have I overcome it, nope. So somedays go by still in a meaningless vacuum, otherdays I set my task list and tell myself come hell or highwater I shall. And usually kill myself to do it. Just so I can retain some self-esteem :)

  25. Job seeker*

    I read Alison’s response to this question again and it applied to me in a real direct way. Although I do not have ADD or have any problems concentrating it made a good point. I liked the part she wrote about who you are and how you operate is based on what choices you make. Also, her direct question what are your goals? That is something I need to keep in mind. It is easy to make excuses and get off course. Your life is your own story, it is up to you.

  26. Anonymous*

    #2 In my workplace it’s Sharpies. I buy a certain brand (not Sharpies which are available to anyone in my workpalce who wants to ask for them) and the first bunch I purchased, HALF of them disappeared. They were IN my drawer, even. I now hide them in weird places (haven’t seen anyone take them out of kleenex box yet).

  27. Pam*

    Recently I felt myself slipping into your situation. Even though I had plenty to do, I didn’t feel a usual sense of urgency to complete it. Three things have helped:

    1. Register for a free task/project management service. I use https://www.podio.com. Besides helping me lay out all my projects, set deadlines, etc., it also helped me feel more in control of and more involved in my work. Besides email, it’s the first thing I check every day.

    2. Take a walk when you start feeling in a slump, even if it’s just to the break room or whatever. Standing and moving increases blood flow to the brain, which might help wake you up a bit.

    3. This might not work for you if you’re already distracted, but I like to play music (at a reasonable volume from 9 to 11) while I work. It keeps me happy and I often find myself trying to work to the pace of the tune.

  28. nyxalinth*

    I work in call centers, and it’s very easy to both be bored and get burned out. Having tons to do all day raking calls ie being busy is not the same as being engaged with your work. If I’m not engaged, I’m bored as hell all day, though I’m good at not letting it show.

    I have moderate ADD as well. I have to doddle, scribble, etc. just to give my mind something additional to focus on when I’m bored and unengaged, so I can actually stay focused. Otherwise, my mind wanders. I desperately need to get into something more inline with who I am and what I want to do, but unless the economy stops sucking or I win the lottery, that will be a while :P

  29. KayDay*

    One thing I have found that helps me (and goes against conventional wisdom) is to break projects down into big chunks instead of little tasks. (if little tasks work for you, go for it! this is just another way of looking at things). I found I got overwhelmed when a project required I do 25 tasks, but if it only involved 3 big things, that was easier to handle.

    In college that meant spending two days doing all my research. Then taking a few days off from that paper. Then spending one day doing a draft. Then spending a final day doing the final paper.

    At work, it’s a little more complicated to do that, but I try to group similar tasks together, so on Tuesday (for example) I might focus on getting caught up on administrative miscellany, and the other projects can wait until Wednesday.

  30. JuliB*

    I would suggest getting a test for B-12 as well. It’s more common than was thought, but a deficiency will destroy your ability to concentrate. It plays a huge role in the Central Nervous System.

    I would attack your problem on all fronts, if possible.

  31. K.*

    I’m this way at work a lot too, and I know in my case that it’s because the job isn’t a great fit for me and I’m struggling to maintain interest. I have enough to do, and I do my job well enough to get good evaluations, but I lack motivation. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching to try to figure out what it is I do want to do, and I just haven’t figured it out yet.

    One thing that I do to get my butt in gear at work is to think about what I’d like to be able to put on my resume when I leave my current position (whenever that might be). That helps me take initiative instead of just taking what comes and doing the minimum.

    (Also, it might just be me, but some of the themes here reminded me of an earlier post “When you’re the lazy coworker”)

  32. Dan*

    Is sounds like it could a few things:

    1. Yes you might need to grow up.

    2. You have a health issue being so tired all the time.

    3. You are “Stuck” . Just google Mel Robbins, you will know what I mean.

    Just because you are doing meaningful work doesn’t mean you are where you want to be. I am in that state right now but I am doing something about it. A health scare got me thinking that despite my meaniful work am I really doing what I want. It turns out I needed to make some changes which meant I really had to start doing things that were out of comfort zone but the end results are amazing!

    If item 1. and 2. check out OK I would still ask yourself about #3!

    Hope you figure it out!

  33. CantExplain*

    There was a lot of great advice there and some useful tips. Hopefully that will help most people. For me though its not a problem to straighten up and fly right, getting organised and doing things on time are not an issue anywhere else than my present job, not in previous jobs, not even at school. There will be other people like me out there, who despite their best intentions and efforts, cant make it work in a particular profession. If you’re in the wrong job, you will know it and although you can make the best of a bad situation, you will probably never thrive. I think if you have recognised this as the real problem then you have to ask yourself like most adults, do you stick in and take the money and make the best of it ? (in which case take all the advice and help you can get) or do you put it down to experience and try and correct the fundamental issue and try a new job ? There’s no easy answer to this, and it gets more complicated the more people you have relying on you financially.

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