how can I fix my procrastination problem?

A reader writes:

I have a bit of an issue with procrastination at work. And when I say a bit, I mean I’m extremely anxious and constantly terrified I will be fired and it’s kind of ruining my life. I should probably seek therapy for the anxiety bit, but I would still like to know where I stand vis-à-vis the rest and I would really appreciate your input.

It basically started in my last job. I hated the work with a passion since it was only tangentially related to what I studied in (think sales vs design). At the beginning, I kept it together, but it went sideways when my brother got in a car accident and was badly injured – for a few months, most of my energy went into helping him. At work, I started spending a lot of my time (most of it, if I’m completely honest) aimlessly wandering the Internet. I felt like crap because my family taught me that if you have a strong work ethic, you’ll commit to whatever job you have and give it your best, and, well, I obviously was not able to make myself do that. And I tried, I just … I don’t know. I still wonder why I couldn’t. It just felt so heavy.

Anyway, eventually, my supervisors found out. They didn’t notice because of any issue with my work, oddly enough (I somehow always managed to complete everything that was required of me). They actually became aware of the problem when an employee spotted me on the Internet and wrote down what I did every day for a couple of weeks. My supervisors then confronted me with that data, and, well, seeing the detailed breakdown of my failure as an employee was really not a great experience even though I knew I deserved it. After I explained my personal life crap, however, they decided not to take action provided I immediately stopped wasting time at work. I was terrified I’d lose my job on top of everything else, so of course, I promised I’d do better. Amazingly enough, I did, until I left because I happened to find an excellent job doing the work I wanted to do.

When I started my new job, I thought all of that was finally behind me. I love this job so much: the work is challenging and stimulating, my coworkers are all nice people, my boss is brilliant … even the commute is enjoyable. I’ve been here for over a year now and my boss is reportedly very pleased with my work.

To my shame though, I realized recently that I’ve started procrastinating at work again. It’s very far from being as bad as it was in my old job and I don’t think it’s actually affected my performance (yet), but I’m terrified that it might devolve into what it used to be at my old job. I’m starting to be terrified that my coworkers will notice what I’m doing and that history will repeat itself. However, I cautiously brought up the subject when talking to a colleague over a beer the other day, and she laughed and said that things are different from my last job because we’re professionals and what we do is often abstract and highly intellectual, so we can’t really be expected to spend every minute of every day doing work things. She said even our boss browses social media at work to de-stress (it’s true, actually, I’ve seen her and she didn’t seem bothered by it at all, although, I mean, she’s the boss).

So, my questions are the following: is what my coworker said true — that in work environments like mine bosses might not care that much about how employees spend their time? And, just so I can stop feeling this anxious all the time … any tips on what I should do to get my procrastination problem under control?

How much procrastinating are we talking about? If you’re spending 20 or so minutes a day on news sites and social media, that’s pretty normal in a lot of jobs and your coworker is probably right about what she said. (And in some jobs with especially light workload, some people might spend even more time not being productive without it being a problem.) But if we’re talking about hours a day, then yes, that’s outside the norm.

It’s rare for a boss to not care about how people are spending their time, but good managers care most about the work you’re producing. If you can produce A-level work in less than full-time hours, I’m not going to hassle you over messing around on the internet the rest of the time. On the other hand, if it’s more like C-level work, then I’m going to care.

So the real question is: How’s your work? Are you meeting all your deadlines, without having to rush at the last minute to complete things, possibly sacrificing quality? Are you investing enough time and attention into your work that you feel good about what you’re producing, or does it feel like you’re skating by and your work might not stand up under closer scrutiny? Do you feel guilty about what you’re producing (or not producing), or do you just feel guilty about the internet use (even though things are ultimately getting done)?

The answers to those questions will tell you how alarmed you should be, and urgently you need to change things.

As for combatting procrastination … It helps to figure out what’s behind it. At your last job, it sounds like you hated the work to begin with and you probably had so much energy going to your brother’s accident that there wasn’t a lot left over to keep you invested in a job you hated anyway.

But I suspect your anxiety is playing a role here too. Being constantly terrified of getting fired and yet choosing to operate in a way that could get you fired is an interesting contradiction, and I suspect it’s not a coincidence. It’s sort of like being terrified your partner will break up with you and simultaneously acting in a way that will cause that to happen … so that then at least you have some control. Sometimes people feel safer (even if only subconsciously) if they nudge their fears into reality, so then at least they know they made it happen … whereas it feels a hell of a lot scarier if you try your best to avoid disaster but the universe has its way with you anyway. In other words, at some level you might feel that if the rug is going to be pulled out from under you, you’ll feel safer if you’re the one doing the pulling.

Or maybe that’s not what’s happening at all. But therapy is a good place to start unraveling whatever it is that’s going on.

Meanwhile, as for more practical advice about procrastination, one thing that has helped me dramatically is focusing on (a) how much I hate the feeling of having things undone and hanging over me and (b) how much I love the feeling of having those things done at last.

I used to procrastinate horribly when I didn’t feel like writing something. Every day I’d have to deal with the guilt of not having done it yet, as well as with the dread of having to actually do it at some point. I finally realized that was giving those projects so much more room in my life; something that might take me a couple of hours once I actually sat down and did it would instead account for days and days of negative emotions while I put it off. Plus, once I finally did whatever it was, I’d feel a huge sense of relief and exhilaration at having it done, which is a feeling I love. So I started focusing on both of those feelings a way to motivate myself — I remind myself of how crappy it feels when I have something hanging over me, and how awesome it will feel once it’s done. Sometimes I think of doing the work now as giving a gift to Tomorrow Me, who will be thrilled not to have it hanging over her. That has mostly cured me of procrastination and for the most part now I’m ridiculously disciplined, because I hate feeling guilty and I love feeling relief and triumph.

Another option is to try to harness the feelings you had when your lack of work was discovered at your last job. You don’t want to feel like that again, you don’t want to be perceived like that again, and you don’t want to risk your job like that again. What would Former You, who was mortified to be confronted about her work habits, say to Current You? Can you use that experience as motivation to choose to spend your time differently now?

And then of course, there are lots of practical tips and tricks you can try, like the Pomodoro method (telling yourself you just have to work for 25 minutes is weirdly effective, plus once you start you’ll often just keep going) or setting yourself interim deadlines or blocking your access to your favorite internet distractions.

But I think your anxiety is playing a role here that you haven’t untangled, and I would focus there too.

{ 232 comments… read them below }

  1. PugLife*

    I love Pomodoro. I combine it with a playlist that I ONLY use for working (I like Indie Folk for Focus, a Spotify playlist that’s all instrumental sorta folky/soft electronica stuff) but YMMV depending on your musical tastes. Pomodoro only works as long as you’re a stickler at it though. I used to literally turn off the music and sit on the floor of my office, or leave to walk around on my breaks, and I wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t work at my desk.

    1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      The Pomodoro method is the only reason I actually finished my dissertation. It’s very useful especially for larger projects that can feel totally overwhelming to commit hours and hours a day to. I don’t find I need it when I have smaller projects that are a little easier to break down into specific tasks and when I can vary which tasks I’m doing throughout the day. I used to have a Pomodoro chrome plugin that was really helpful for keeping me off of random internet and social media (and AAM) while I was trying to write.

      1. Urgh dissertation*

        Argh, I need to know more about this Pomodoro method. Like the OP I have some pretty extreme anxiety issues and I’m currently procrastinating making a start on just planning and researching my dissertation. My ideas are just loosely floating around in my head and I feel like I’m drowning with this horribly daunting task ahead of me and its horrible. I keep meaning to make a start but instead just watching TED talks or doing life admin or lesson planning for me students etc etc .. I don’t know how to start! I love what Alison said about how good it feels to do the work instead of extending the negative feelings but I’m so terrified that doing the plan and research is going to make me realise that my ideas are rubbish and I’m going to fail!

        1. Violet Rose*

          Oh man, this was the story of me and my mini-thesis! I also suspected I might have had some kind of undiagnosed attention span issue, since the idea of doing one task for a long stretch of time was *so* daunting. Whether or not that was the case, what helped me break through the panic was to time out some tiny, tiny chunk of time – 5 to 15 minutes – and write out some clear, actionable steps. I could stop when the timer went off or when had enough steps that I could spend a few hours working. Like you, the idea of the overarching Grand Plan intimidated me, so by focusing on *just* the next few steps for making what I had a little bit better, I was able to make progress.

          It sounds so basic when I write it out, but I’m hoping my technique helps someone who’s struggling like I was to manage a large amorphous project!

        2. Yorick*

          For the dissertation, break it down into very small tasks and do them one at a time. This works for both the research tasks and the writing tasks.

        3. The Green Lawintern*

          There are smartphone productivity apps that use the Pomodoro Method! My two favorites are Tide (includes an ambient noise generator) and Forest (adds an additional guilt trip where if you stop the timer early, you kill a tiny tree)

    2. #ImpossibleGirl*

      Just adding onto this, because I did exactly what PugLife did (we even have similar music tastes!), only I took it one step further and added the Strict Workflow extension onto Chrome (which I downloaded onto a USB, thanks to Portable Apps). It blocked all distracting websites during the 25 minute Pomodoro, and released the blockage during the 5 minute break. It also allows you to customize your Pomodoro time as well.

    3. Kelly AF*

      I used a whole host of tools, including Pomodoro, the Forest app on my phone, the Stay Focused extension for Chrome, and Focus at Will music player – but it’s worth noting that since being diagnosed with and getting treated for ADHD last year (at age 34) I’ve mostly been able to phase those out.

    4. media monkey*

      how does pomodoro (and related apps/ browser extensions) work if your job involves meetings or potential interruptions (in person or phonecalls)?

  2. Just Employed Here*

    In addition to everything Alison writes, what has helped me is to have a hobby I can focus on in the evening and help me get some of that restlessness out of my system with. For me, language learning did/does the trick. You can make it as ambitious or as relaxing as you want.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That is a very good recommendation. Having something concrete going on outside of work does so much for me– it makes work less “life or death” and takes the pressure off. It sounds counter-intuitive, but for me, my anxiety contributes to mistakes because things are soooo important. If I have something else going on in my life, I step back and relax and do better. In my case, I’m part of an organization that meets regularly once a week and requires some outside work. I also sit on a volunteer committee. Something that isn’t necessarily self-directed, that requires me to show up regularly.

  3. Not Procrastinating*

    I curb procrastination by taking teeny tiny breaks. I send four emails, I read one Ask a Manager Column :)

    1. Psyche*

      Giving myself permission to take short breaks helps me a lot too. If I am having trouble finding motivation, I take a five minute break (with a timer) and go on a news site or ask a manager. After that timer goes off, I have to get work done though and cannot take another break for at least an hour. Usually this is enough to kick me into gear and I can go several hours without a problem. If I don’t take that break though, I end up blankly staring at the screen.

  4. Jennifer*

    Wow. I just have to say that it is OUTRAGEOUS that a coworker watched you on the internet all day and documented everything you did. When were they getting their own work done? And you said your work didn’t suffer because of your occasional internet surfing. I’m really sorry that happened to you, OP.

    I hope you get treatment for your anxiety. Also, I would kind of ask around about the office culture or maybe observe what other people do. If you see people occasionally surfing the web doing non-work-related things then your internet habits probably aren’t going to be a big deal. If it’s a more formal environment, then Alison’s suggestions would be great.

    I have to work in a more relaxed office environment. Clockwatchers and over the shoulder snoopers are the death of me. I think getting treatment for your anxiety will help you realize that your behavior may not be very different from most people’s and help you stop stressing about it so much. Best wishes!

    1. Snark*

      Clockwatchers and snoopers are generally annoying assholes, yeah, but by LW’s own admission she was spending the majority of her day wandering the internet unproductively. It would have been obvious if the person had just raised their concerns and the boss checked the internet logs, too. Yes, she never would have been caught if it weren’t for those meddling kids, but.

      1. Jennifer*

        But she still got her work done and it doesn’t seem Gladys Kravitz, I mean her coworker, was affected at all. It was definitely a mind your business situation. If I were in management there, my main concern would be how it was possible I had an employee that was performing well but still on the internet half the day. The work wasn’t challenging enough or she didn’t have enough of it, clearly.

        1. Mobuy*

          I mean, OP SAYS she was getting her work done on time and that it was good quality. Maybe? Or maybe the coworker was picking up a lot of OP’s slack? I agree with everyone that busybodies are generally really obnoxious, but it’s possible that Coworker had good reason to be annoyed besides, you know, that it’s super annoying that your coworker is slacking off all day.

          1. Jennifer*

            I’m not annoyed by what other people do at work as long as it isn’t negatively affecting my work.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Seriously. I’d have some questions for that coworker too – like, how much of their time was devoted to monitoring their coworker’s internet use??

      1. Jennifer*

        Reminds me of someone who had a clockwatcher turn her into the authorities for the high crime of being a minute late coming back from lunch. Her boss asked the clockwatcher if she didn’t have enough work since she had time to keep track of when people came and went.

      2. Canned Whine*

        Probably a LOT less that OP was spending playing online, frankly. And if it’s OK for OP to waste time, why not for this colleague?

    3. LiterallyPapyrus*

      I know it sounds outrageous and snoopy and invasive but I’ve been on the other side of this situation. I worked in an administrative pool of 3 people, one of whom spent literally her entire day online shopping, designing personal photobooks, emailing friends, etc. Her screen wasn’t hidden from view so I could see this all day. She wasn’t getting her work done, what work she did do was below quality standards, so I ended up getting her entire workload added to mine over the course of my 3 years with the organization. I’d bring this up to management repeatedly but they never took action citing ‘lack of proof.’ So I gave them proof. I documented what she did over the course of 2-3 days and told them to pull up her browser logs if they needed further confirmation that they were paying her a salary to live her personal life.

      I would not normally track what a fellow employee does all day, and I’ve never done it again, but I was at the absolute end of my rope at that job.

      1. Jennifer*

        Your situation is a bit different because your coworker wasn’t getting all their work done and the work they turned in was substandard. It was affecting you. I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes.

        I don’t get tracking people when they are getting their work done or when what they do doesn’t affect you at all.

      2. Triplestep*

        OTOH, you simply could have expressed how her inability to handle her work impacted you, and mentioned that you thought it might have something to do with her online time at work. Period.

        The outcome would have been the same (they check her user logs) without the added problem of you making yourself look like a sneaky stalking tattle.

        1. Anon4This*

          It would be nice, if you’re going to call people names, that you at least read their comment completely to see that they “[brought] this up to management repeatedly but they never took action citing ‘lack of proof.’”. It does not sound like tracking the slacker coworker’s time was a first choice; it was what was required to get management to take it seriously.

          Few people enjoy tattling on their coworkers, and it sounds like this was LP’s solution to the “lack of proof” excuse that management used to avoid addressing. Save the tattletale label for the rare specimen that takes joy in finding fault in others.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Interestingly, OP, owns it as OP acknowledges the truth of coworker’s claim. I would not be surprised to find out reporting coworker was not productive. When management tried to address it with the reporting coworker, the coworker said, “So? You should see what OP does! What are you picking on me for?” I think this because it sounds like the boss actually listened to OP and looked for a reasonable plan going forward.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This isn’t the play ground, “Tattle Tale” says more about you than the person taking notes.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Or looking at it from a different angle, if you are messing up a job then sooner or later someone WILL report you. Plan on it. It’s amazing how many people are surprised by that and start using the tattle tale accusation. In some places employees HAVE to report certain types of things. In other places some people just get sick of watching the slackers. The reason does not matter, the net result is the same. I know for a fact if I slack long enough someone WILL turn me in. That’s life.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Alas, a new worker at ExJob thought she was *my* supervisor, to the extent that I picked up about half of her work because she was so busy nitpicking me. Alas as well, my boss thought she was wonderful and I was too whiny. Things got so bad that eventually Grandboss came down on boss and the other worker. (and then I picked up almost all that work, but developed a system so I was able to get most of it done by myself, blissfully free of co-worker. When I went to an internal transfer it took two and half people to replace men, which ended up being a trend while I worked there).

    4. CleverGirl*

      Came here to say the same thing. Sometimes I’m too stressed out to work when I’m actually at work, so I do spent a great deal of time on the internet and end up getting all my tasks done in the evening at home (I can basically work from anywhere with an internet connection). If one of my coworkers decided to document everything I did on one of those days it would not look good for me (like, maybe a couple hours of actual working). But they wouldn’t be there to see me working from 5 to 11 pm when I finally have unwound enough to really focus and be productive. This coworker behavior crosses the line for me. If I were a boss and and employee came to me with something like this (“Here’s a play by play of what my coworker has been doing for the past few days!”) I would give them a lecture about productivity.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think most people would be shocked if they knew how little time we actually spend working at work lol. I think people should be able to leave after they finish their work. Seems so dumb to just fill a seat so you can say you were there for eight hours.

        1. Linda Evangelista*

          Yes, THANK YOU. I fully agree. I try to explain to some people that work weeks need to be shorter, period, because this isn’t an industrial manufacturing society anymore.. and I’ll get responses like “but if you work fewer hours, you get less money.” Uh, no? You get paid according to your job description. I can do my job in less time, so I get paid the same, but I get half my life back, imo.

          1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            There’s a whole Keynesian philosophy that as technology and efficiency improved workweeks would get shorter…but instead of that happening we’ve just seen a proliferation of what David Graeber terms “Bullshit Jobs”. (An excellent book, based on his Strike Magazine article). I’m consistently frustrated when I can clearly do my job most weeks in fewer than 40 hours, and yet I still sit in front of my computer for those extra hours…not doing work.

        2. Renee*

          I was listening to the radio one morning and they said they conducted a study that says the average person only gets 4 hours OR LESS of actual work done for every 8 hours they are at work. And most of the time they said it’s because they just don’t have enough to do or are just bored with super menial labor tasks. 8 hours of work is apparently waaayyy too long to expect people to be 100% productive for that time period (same with students in 3 hour classes). In short, the study said if people cut their workday by half they would still get the same amount of work done! XD Obviously that is not true for every job, but that was the majority.

          1. media monkey*

            there are similar studies around a 4 day working week – that people do the same work in 4 days as they would do in 5!

      2. Stazya*

        I do similar things partially because I’m a night owl who is required to work 8am to 4pm. I try to get work done in the morning but I’m just not efficient. I hit my stride around 2pm so frequently I’m in the office until 6 because I’m knocking it out of the park and don’t want to stop.

    5. Michelle*

      I agree re: coworker watching her all day. Yes, she admitted that she was internet surfing a lot but to have someone watch you (that’s not your boss) and document it? What happened to if it doesn’t affect your ability to do your job, MYOB? Plus, she was getting all work done, so it seemed it wasn’t holding anyone else up>

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Coming here to say exactly this. I work in a DEN of seventh-grade mean girls who insist that it is in their job description to watch when I come in, when I leave, and what I’m doing in my office, in order to tattle to teacher; whoops, I mean Boss, for brownie points, even though I’m a high performer, and none of my work affects theirs. Every job I had before this one, I’d get some crap from busybodies who would go to the Boss, who would then tell them to spend their workdays on WORK, not policing others.

      The boss at your last job was a jerk. Yes, you were honest and admitted that you had a problem, but your coworkers should have been disciplined for having nothing better to do than write down what you did all day and turn it in.

      I don’t know if this will help your anxiety, by know this: your coworkers have absolutely no right, none at all, to report you to managers UNLESS your work is suffering and affecting theirs. Anybody who does that to you is a mean, insecure, spiteful person who does not deserve your attention. Pay attention (and be nice) to yourself.

    7. Tisiphone*

      Yeah, that line jumped out at me, too.

      There is a good amount of downtime at my job, which is shift work. When there’s work, it’s usually urgent. Usually we’re pretty busy. Some weekends are slow, but they do need someone available in case something happens.

      If I had a coworker who goofed off through most of their shift and didn’t pick up any work, it would mean that instead of the work being allocated to the entire team, it would be allocated to Team -1 person.

      For us, any monitoring would amount to – Hey, Chad hasn’t picked anything up yet. Is he off today?

      And then we’d get back to work without mentioning it to the boss because who does what is tracked by the ticketing system.

    8. gmg22*

      Lifelong struggler with procrastination here. I had this kind of monitoring happen to me once, with an interesting twist: The colleague in question — not my boss, but had a supervisory role in our team’s day-to-day work — complained that she could tell when I was writing a non-work-related message because my typing got louder and faster.

      TBH, in hindsight my sense is that this approach was simultaneously bananas (really, you’re going to monitor my TYPING SPEED AND VOLUME?) and honestly useful to me — because it was a wake-up call for me that while I wasn’t missing any deadlines, my hourly workflow was sometimes dragging because of distractions (whether it be an IM exchange with a colleague about an only-semi-work-related topic, or a personal email I should have been saving for the end of my shift). It was enough that it occasionally created a pileup for this person, and she was noticing that. Our boss was great about it — she trusted my work, so she gave me the heads-up that this complaint had been made, but assured me that it wasn’t affecting my big picture. It was just enough of the friendly tip-off I needed to sit myself down and reorient. So in the end, I’m glad it happened, Though still, seriously. My TYPING SPEED AND VOLUME?

    9. AnonyMouse*

      We had a “clock watcher/copious documenter/office busybody” in my office a year ago. Thankfully, she has left but I still feel some of the trauma from working with them. If you so much as breathed the wrong way she was going to go to our boss about it. This person also documented every time another coworker left early. Granted, they were a problem employee, but this person continued “documenting” even after HR and our boss was involved. Another coworker of mine also ended up being out sick for several days (the flu coupled with a chronic condition). Of course that became “I don’t really think he’s sick…” and weird speculation about the “real” reason he was out. I overslept one day (because sorry, I’m a human being who makes mistakes), and it was a whole thing with her for the rest of the day! I agree that generally speaking, if it’s not harming you or your work you should leave it alone. If you really feel the need to report it up, then say “I’ve noticed Brenda browsing the internet a lot and it might be affecting her productivity.” Then LEAVE IT ALONE! If you’re not the boss, you shouldn’t be keeping tabs on your coworkers.

    10. c56*

      Seriously, f that noise. I am a strong proponent of not snitching in the workplace (obviously within reason). If you’re not part of management, you have no business doing something like writing down every website they visit. If they’re truly affecting your ability to do your job, by all means, cover your ass if you need to. Otherwise, it’s none of your business.

  5. Amber Rose*

    LW, I struggle with this a lot. Back when I hated my job and it was destroying my health, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything except play games on my phone all day. That eventually came to a head when my boss confronted me and I ended up quitting because it just wasn’t worth feeling that way. But it created a habit that’s hard to kill, regardless of how I feel about my job. That’s why I’m here, honestly. Killin’ time on AAM.

    So here’s the thing. How is your work, and if it’s already really good, could it be better? Is there more you could be doing, more you could be taking on, things you could learn to do? Then do it. Because I’ll tell you this, it’s very normal for people to spend a little bit of time browsing the internet every day, but if you don’t think you can keep it to that little bit of time, it’s better not to do it at all, until you’ve completely broken the habit.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree with this. I got into such a bad habit of wasting a lot of time on the Internet two jobs ago. It wasn’t that I hated my job–I enjoyed it most of the time–it’s that I was in a position where there was hardly any oversight and I took advantage of that. I still got my work done and did it well, but I definitely could’ve done better. In my next job I ended up with a horrible micromanager at a company I didn’t like and doing things I didn’t care for. Queue the ‘net surfing. At my current job I…just couldn’t kill the habit. It was so ingrained by that point that I just kept wasting a lot of time. And I actually liked this job, my boss, the company and my coworkers. It’s just a really hard habit to break once I started it. Unfortunately it’s going to get worse now that my job is wrapping up and I’ll be leaving. All the systems were just converted (bank acquisition) and now we’re at a point where we really don’t have much to keep us busy at all. I really will have to work extremely hard to not do this at my next job, wherever that may be.

  6. seller of teapots*

    I used to have a serious issue with procrastinating at work! I even got fired from my first job out of college because, like you, I was bored by the work (and in my case overwhelmed by my responsibilities) and I felt like my personal life was spiraling out of control.

    A decade later I’ve built a really successful career and I am much happier with my relationship to work as a whole. What I realized, after years of therapy and finding work better suited to my skills and giving myself time to learn, is that the procrastination and the anxiety were intimately related. I felt compelled to Be Perfect (whatever that actually means), when assigned a new project would immediately dread all the ways I would fail at Being Perfect, and in order to avoid the feeling of dread I would avoid doing the project, which would reinforce how Imperfect I was, which would make it harder to actually tackle the project. It was an exhausting and vicious cycle.

    An amazing therapist helped me realize that, as a former A-student who dealt with chaotic home life by getting good grades, I had tied way too much of my self worth (think: all of it) to work. I was a good//valuable person as long as I was productive and good at my job, and I was defining good at my job as perfect, a la the cycle I described above.

    This is long and rambling and maybe on pieces of this relate to your story. But if you have an inkling that therapy would help — GO TO THERAPY. I really, really love my life these days, and a huge part of that was the time I spent unpacking and subsequently tossing my baggage in a therapists office.

    And in the meantime, try to create as much distance as you can between Your Worth and the Work that You Do. When the anxiety/procrastination demon raises its head, remind yourself you are a good and valuable person, and you do not have to be perfect. Try to chip away at the project that is giving you the greatest feeling of dread. Initially this will make you feel like throwing up, but the more often you flex that muscle, the quieter the anxiety/procrastination demon gets and the easier it will be to simply get your work done.

    Good luck. Self awareness is the biggest first step to breaking these cycles. Internet hugs to you.

    1. The Original K.*

      I felt compelled to Be Perfect (whatever that actually means), when assigned a new project would immediately dread all the ways I would fail at Being Perfect, and in order to avoid the feeling of dread I would avoid doing the project, which would reinforce how Imperfect I was, which would make it harder to actually tackle the project. It was an exhausting and vicious cycle.”

      I really related to this, and in fact discussed it in my own therapy. I’m not a huge procrastinator, but when I’m procrastinating it’s almost always out of anxiety around messing up. My therapist likes to ask “what’s the worst thing that happens if you mess up?” and we follow that to its logical conclusion (meaning “you’ll get fired and never work again and be homeless” isn’t logical because of reasons/safeguards x, y, and z, so what’s REALLY the worst that could happen and how do you deal with that if it happens?). I’ve found that very helpful. Often, the worst-case scenario is much more manageable than I think – and again, it’s worst-case, so it may not even come to fruition!

      I also find the Pomodoro method to be very helpful, because sometimes you just need to start and the formality of setting the timer and just doing a thing for a finite amount of time works well for me. Once I’ve done whatever for that amount of time, I feel good enough to keep going. I usually do the Pomodoro method for stuff that I want to do least, because then it’s done.

    2. Birch*

      Did I write this? Seriously though, the perfectionist/ anxiety/ avoidance/ guilt cycle is a real and difficult thing and therapy helps!

    3. Just Tired*

      I second everything Seller of Teapots has said. It sounds like a paradox, but that need to be perfect and be in control can result in that avoidance cycle that ends in scrambling to finish work. For me it culminated in a month where I was working 10-12 hours a day, every day, no time off, to finish a hugely important project. And that resulted in me literally lying on my floor at home sobbing because I was a huge failure and people were stupid for trusting me and I shouldn’t be allowed to do anything. About the only thing I didn’t procrastinate on was putting together an actual plan to end my life, including what I would do to make sure my retired mother was taken care of, and that there was someone to take in my cat and dog. And that’s when I finally got a therapist.

      It is really easy to ignore all those time management things. I’ve done them. All the apps. I had one that would literally tell me I was a piece of crap for not finishing something. Ignore. Twenty minute chunks – ignore the alarms. I had one that allowed me to grow trees if I never closed to the app to mess around with other things on my phone. Trees are probably dead now. Procrastinating and finding new ways to procrastinate, were the only things I was really good at for a while.

      Find someone who “sees you” and not the person you are at work or even with other family members.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      This is also something I struggle with. I too was an excellent student who tied a lot of my self worth to external measures and achievement because that’s what people quite obviously valued me for. It’s hard to unlearn those early life lessons.

      I think some of it comes from the fact that for the first nearly two decades of your life, there IS a way to Be Perfect. In school, you totally CAN be perfect. School has very rigid standards that are completely possible to meet. Getting A’s and perfect scores on exams is a thing you can do, and something you will be congratulated for doing. This is what you are *expected* to do by authority figures, and if you’re not actually achieving it, you’re fully expected to strive for it. Once you get out of school, well, it’s veeeeery different. Clear cut right and wrong answers, clear expectations, and even clear standards fall away because real life is messy. If you thrived within the narrow confines of academic achievement, it can be really hard to accept that never again can you Be Perfect. Especially if there wasn’t a whole lot else in your life that you could be proud of or that anyone else understood as achievement. There’s a lot of anxiety the goes with that, and many other demons too.

      1. Starbuck*

        WORD. I struggle with all this too (another reminder to Get Theeself To A Therapist) but thank goodness I have my art hobby and a couple other things to base my self worth on outside of work. Not that people aren’t constantly trying to get me to impose deadlines and stress on myself there as well… “You should sell your art!” “Why don’t you put a website together?” “Can you make Christmas cards for the whole family again this year?” No!! I desperately need my art hobby to be separate from the stresses of my job/income stream/social obligations but it’s been really impossible to get people to understand that.

    5. Kiki*

      Yes!!
      I had really similar issues with procrastination, perfection, and fear of failure. As one of the few people of color in a small, conservative town, I felt incredible pressure to prove I was good enough, which meant doing 3x as much as my peers and making it appear effortless. That was sustainable then because the academic expectations weren’t actually that high, but it became unsustainable in college and beyond.

      I tried all the methods of making myself more productive that you can find in the self-help section before I realized that letting myself try and fail publicly was the only way to stop my procrastination cycle.

    6. run_sunshine*

      I’m working through ALL of the same stuff right now with a therapist and I’m slowly getting better. OP, get thee to a good therapist!

  7. Dust Bunny*

    Not trying to diagnose here, but if you’ve struggled with anxiety you might also look into getting screened for depression. I know I tend to lose focus and soothe myself with kitten videos when I’m on downswings, and all the normal everyday stuff suddenly feels like wading through mud. Do your work issues seem to be part of an overall picture of your life? Do you have a hard time getting started on personal errands, interests, etc., as well?

    1. Jadelyn*

      Honestly, just get screened in general. Find a good psych, tell them what’s going on, and ask them to help you figure out what’s underlying it.

      Because this could be symptomatic of anxiety alone, or depression, or ADHD, or some combination of the above. I’ve got all three, and I’ve been like the OP before, and still struggle with it sometimes. For me, it’s heavily ADHD-related: I feel like there’s too many tasks and projects I could take on so I don’t know where to focus myself which is distressing because now I’m not doing anything and I don’t even know where to start and… *wanders off onto Etsy or Amazon or whatever*.

      So seconding the overall urge to check in with a doctor or therapist about this, but in a more general sense, because there’s a lot that can go wrong with the human brain and a bunch of those things have very similar-looking results. Don’t get too locked into one possible cause.

      1. Marissa*

        Yeah, my ADHD diagnosis actually came about because a friend asked how my internship was going, I explained that it I really loved the stuff I was working on but I just kept procrastinating all day and I felt so guilty and frustrated about it, and she suggested I look into ADHD.

        Medication helps tremendously, but another thing that helped (that OP might benefit from) is to stop trying to read too much into why I’m procrastinating. Yeah, maybe I’m scared of this task, or I have a mental block going on or something, but the reason I procrastinated it in the first place is because that’s just what I naturally do, not for some Big Meaningful Reason.

    2. anon24*

      Came here to post this. I struggle with both anxiety and depression and I get like this. Sometimes depression doesn’t come across as sadness, it’s more like a weight and it sneaks up on me. For example, I’m struggling a lot right now, I’m not sad or even feeling depressed but it’s cold and everything outside is brown and I just feel… Suffocated. Today is my normal day off. I woke up this morning just feeling blah and weighted down. Got up to get dressed and make breakfast and the thought of having to do that sounded as exhausting as climbing a mountain. I ended up going back to bed and playing on my phone for about an hour. Reading this letter reminds me so much of how I get when I’m depressed and don’t realize it.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Yeah I have the anxiety/depression/ADHD trifecta, and I definitely do this. I’m comforted by the fact that I’m pretty open about the depression/ADHD in my office so they have some context (except with my employee, because that feels a bit boundary-violating). I’m also still a very high performer (somehow!), so my colleagues rarely run into issues with it in their work, and they are very vocal about being glad to have me on staff.

  8. Ops manager*

    Hi OP,

    I think that your anxiety is key in this. I get in procrastinating cycles where I procrastinate and then feel guilty/panic which wastes more time and creates a vicious cycle.

    Not for nothing, I think a coworker watching you and reporting to your boss was over the line. Granted I don’t know all the information, but if you work was fine and the coworker wasn’t asked to do this I don’t really see it as their business.

    1. Anon4This*

      I agree with all of this – I have a symbiotic combination of depression and anxiety (my depression makes me procrastinate badly; my anxiety over losing my job kicks me in the but to get started because I’m the primary earner in my house and we can’t live without my salary), but, for others, anxiety and/or depression can be key factors in procrastination (fear of failure on top of having depression-related motivational issues). I would look into anxiety treatment ASAP as dealing with that and just some talk therapy might help.

      My dirty little secret is that I compensate for the incredible amount of timewasting/personal task performance at work by simply being able to bang through things – and still produce high-quality work – much faster than most people seem to be able. I don’t know why – I don’t think I’m any smarter than my coworkers, but I am a huge slacker and, once the heat is on, am able to produce at lightning speed. I often joke to my spouse (who is the same way) that if we could harness that for good, we’d be going places. Because I have never been badly bitten in the ass by my procrastination habit, it’s stuck with me, well, for pretty much my entire life. I hold an upper-management position and have the reputation of being one of the highest performing people in my peer group and have the largest portfolio of projects. At my worst, I work 2 hours out of an 8-hour workday. It’s embarrassing that I can’t buckle down and do things in a less frenetic pace.

      Another thing to look at is ADHD or executive planning deficiencies. Both of my children also have ADHD, which is murder on the sense-of-time and executive planning skills. For one kid, they figured out that, if they get their shit done, they have more time for their personal interests. The other kid is both a horrible dawdler and time-waster combined with a total inability to pick out the important/core parts of tasks and then gets upset when it’s bedtime and they’ve not gotten to do what they wanted. That one is in therapy with a current goal of being able to prepare themselves for school and activities without driving the parental types completely insane with the constant reminders and nagging.

    2. Ama*

      Totally agree. My anxiety kicked itself into high gear last year (I saw a therapist for the first time), and it became very difficult to get things done at work. My biggest trigger for procrastination is when I have a lot to do but no immediate deadlines — I get so overwhelmed by all the things that need to be done in the next eight weeks that I can’t decide what to start and so don’t start anything.

      Here is something that works for me — at the end of every work day, I write down 3-4 tasks to be my primary work goals for tomorrow. I keep it manageable; if it is a big task I break it down into smaller chunks (for example, one of my tasks today is to prep an email I want to send out tomorrow, and one is to start reviewing a set of deliverables that were submitted last week — which means I need to do some but not all of the group). Setting small goals for myself means if I can’t think of what to do, I can just do what is on the list — certainly I can always do MORE than what’s on the list (and usually do once I get rolling), but if I at least get the primary tasks done I know I’ve done something to move my to do list along. Then I don’t get stuck in the guilt/panic cycle if I have a few high anxiety days in a row and can’t do much more than what’s on the list.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      For those of you who have never used timeboxing before, it’s a work method where you declare “I will work on [task] from X to Y and then STOP.” The hard stop at the end of the timebox is important – if you finish the task before you get to the end of your timebox, that’s fine, you can go on to something else. If you get to your end time, you STOP, even if you’re not done.

      If you don’t finish by the end of your timebox, set a rule on what you’re going to do next. The rules can be things like “I will work on this during the same time tomorrow”, “I will ask my coworker for help”, or “I will declare this a dead end and focus on something else going forward”. However, the rule can’t be “I will keep working on this until it’s done” because that would violate the hard stop.

      1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

        This is amazing and something I should implement. One question: How do you handle strict deadlines with this method? (I.e. my boss asked me for something by EOD this morning), what if I didn’t finish by the end of the timebox?

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          I would probably use a different technique, honestly.

          Timeboxes are really good for small tasks, or subtasks, or tasks that have longer deadlines. They aren’t so good for tasks you get that already have a less than one day turnaround.

          That said, a timebox doesn’t have to be very long. You can timebox something for 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, or an hour. If the thing your boss gave you can be broken into discrete bits (and sometimes it can’t), you could timebox each bit for a short period of time, with a final timebox to compile it all.

          But honestly, I’d probably just make a sign that says “GO AWAY”, turn off slack and email notifications, and put on my headphones to work.

        2. V*

          I don’t use it as strictly as Daughter of Ada outlined – with rules and such. Part of the reason I need it is because perfectionism and anxiety makes it so that it’s hard for me to get started on work so applying perfectionism and anxiety to the use of the timebox is kind of counterproductive. I just think about what I need to do that day (or the night before) and then break it up into realistic chunks.

          Mostly, it helps me not go “hey I’ll read one article” (or more often than not AAM) and then look up 4 hours later like where did the time go and why do I have 700 tabs open? If I take 15 minutes more on a task than I expected then I adjust the timebox and make a mental note. When you’re just getting started and don’t know how much time it takes you to do any given task it’s hard to imagine using the timebox strictly. More often than not I budget an hour for something that I’ve been putting off for a week/dreading and then do it in 20 minutes and feel silly. But knowing that it only took me 20 minutes gives me steam the next time I’m dreading something because “it’s only 20 minutes”.

          For longer tasks like the one you mentioned, I would break it up into manageable chunks. Or use longer timeboxs – if I need to spend 5 hours writing something, that’s what my timebox is lol. It doesn’t have to be only short tasks. Hope this helps.

  9. Forrest*

    I do this a lot, and have done for nearly twenty years. I also see it described as a classic ADD/ADHD thing, which I’m starting to think about. I find it really hard to know what’s “actually possibly not-neurotypical?” vs. “the entire internet is designed to distract & reward you, you just have to get better at not letting it”.

    1. misspiggy*

      Me too! At least I started my academic and working life before the Internet, and I can remember that I was just as bad, if not worse.

      I’ve realised the following factors enable me to get stuff done:
      Having several things on the go so I can switch back and forth.
      Allowing myself plenty of short breaks for refreshing my brain, silly computer games and so on – feeling guilty about playing makes me more likely to avoid my responsibilities.
      Making clear commitments to people about when I’ll do their stuff by, but leaving plenty of wiggle room in deadlines.
      Making the most of the ADD hyperfocus thing: I know I can produce good work quickly under time pressure, so as long as I stagger deadlines I can do that.

      1. Forrest*

        Does that mean you do have ADD? All of your strategies sound extremely me, but I don’t have a diagnosis or anything.

        I’ve always done well academically, I’ve got a PhD and I’ve never had any actual disciplinary issues at work, and I’m generally pretty organised, so there’s part of me thinking that it’s ludicrous to think I might have executive dysfunction problems. But I CANNOT concentrate on work, sometimes for days at a time. I got my PhD written in 1-8 hour spurts, mostly nocturnally, before hard deadlines (it was miserable.) I am frequently late to things because I really struggle to switch off the thing I’m doing and move onto something else. I read a whole thread about ADD/ADHD on Captain Awkward thinking, “Come off it! This isn’t ADD, this is normal! … wait, this ISN’T normal??” I’m in a place now where our manager was diagnosed with a specific learning disorder in her 40s, so she’s extremely pro-people-getting-tested, and I’m wondering whether I should investigate.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I would urge you to check into the possibility. I was diagnosed with ADHD last year (I’m 33) and while I wasn’t as successful with my academic endeavors as you have been (my grades were terrible and I barely graduated with my BS), the pattern of how I managed to grind through was much the same as yours: unable to focus on anything for days at a time, then coming up on a hard deadline and I’d spend 12 hours at a stretch both days of the weekend on finishing everything so I wouldn’t fail the class. My saving grace was the fact that I usually can put out high-quality written work on command and rarely need much, if any, editing or rewriting, so I was able to make this method work, kinda.

          I also have a hard time setting things aside once I’m focused – once I’m *into* a report or analysis, I lose track of time, I am super reluctant to stop and take breaks or, y’know, go home for the night.

          So, TL;DR, I would encourage you to get screened and just see what happens. Might be you have some of the symptoms but not enough for a full diagnosis, but that can still help you seek out resources and strategies for people with similar issues.

        2. Competent Commenter*

          Doing well doesn’t mean you can’t have ADHD, although that’s the impression you get from the stereotypical ideas about ADHD. I’m really organized, always got great grades, and was diagnosed at 48. I have really good coping techniques (I thought everyone had to do that) so no one noticed for many years, but I think menopause just made it that much harder for me to compensate and that’s why I finally got diagnosed. All my life I’ve felt like there was something wrong with me, all my therapists were like no, you’re great, just accept your great self, and then I got diagnosed and it was incredibly validating. Yes, I really have been, like Ginger Rogers, dancing backwards and in high heels and measuring myself against all the folks who are dancing straight ahead in comfortable shoes. I have felt different because I am different. It’s been so hard to keep up, and it can cause a huge amount of shame. After a lifetime of this struggle, and with the increased demands that 24/7 technology put on us, I am exhausted. However, Adderall and more coping techniques have been a godsend and have helped a lot.

          OP, I do encourage you to get checked for ADHD, depression, anxiety, and also seasonal affective disorder. My depression and anxiety come as a pair, and arrive seasonally each autumn, and for many years I couldn’t figure out why I could function well for a while and then I’d become a procrastinating, anxious, dysfunctional ball of tears for months. Work was so difficult in the winter! Thank goodness I was diagnosed, as Wellbutrin has really turned things around for me.

          You might find the ADDitude podcast series helpful, as well as their website. Neither is super professional or polished but the content is good. In particular the podcasts about diagnosis were very helpful for me.

          Lastly, I want you to know you’re not alone in the anxiety-procrastination struggle. It is a daily issue for me, even with coping techniques and medication. It’s very hard, and you’re not a bad person, you’re a struggling person. Good luck and keep us posted!

        3. scooby snack*

          I was halfway through a master’s program, and externally succeeding, when I got diagnosed! I just was working so much harder than I needed to just to stay afloat, and since getting the right treatment and just feeling so much better in my own head, I can see the problem really clearly in hindsight.

        4. A Very Smart Airhead*

          Definitely get screened if you’re curious… if that’s not feasible because of insurance or availability of experts in your area, the book Delivered from Distraction is a great place to start learning about it. Even if you don’t have ADHD, I think that the tools that people with ADHD use are very helpful and relevant for people who experience just some of the associated problems without having ADHD. (There’s actually a whole paragraph I bookmarked the other day that basically describes the OP’s problem; I procrastinate like OP with the associated panic, and didn’t really connect the panic portion to ADHD before.)

          The diagnosis doesn’t stem from the symptoms themselves (as you note, pretty much all of it is normal for most people at some point. ADHD is essentially executive functioning deficit, which is basically what happens to people in times of stress, etc.). The diagnosis for ADHD stems from the duration and intensity of the symptoms. For this example, being a little procrastinatey sometimes is something that happens for pretty much everyone at some point, being procrastinatey constantly, all the freaking time, despite having many experiences that made you feel stressed out and miserable as a result, and just overall not learning not to procrastinate and not able to do things early no matter how much you want to and how much you try is a more serious thing.

        5. Marissa*

          “I am frequently late to things because I really struggle to switch off the thing I’m doing and move onto something else.”

          That sure as hell sounds like ADHD to me! The suggestion upthread about “time boxing” would be the worst thing in the world for me. It’s essentially physically impossible for me to stop an unfinished task in the middle if I’m fully engaged in it.

          I find it interesting that you’ve said “I’m generally pretty organized, so there’s part of me thinking that it’s ludicrous to think I might have executive dysfunction problems”. I actually feel like I’m organized BECAUSE of ADHD. I can’t function otherwise–I need my surroundings to be organized to make up for my brain being super not. And I don’t know your gender, but every woman I know with ADHD who’s been diagnosed as an adult had imposter syndrome about it first (“I don’t have ADHD, I’m just lazy” type thing). So it’s definitely worth looking into!

          1. Forrest*

            >>I find it interesting that you’ve said “I’m generally pretty organized, so there’s part of me thinking that it’s ludicrous to think I might have executive dysfunction problems”. I actually feel like I’m organized BECAUSE of ADHD.

            I’ve wondered that too! I once said something about how I’m totally chaotic and everyone looked at me in amazement and said that I come across as really organised, but my internal self-image is of a total chaos monkey desperately trying not to chaos everywhere.

        6. Anon today*

          I’d check into ADHD. I’ve recently been diagnosed as an adult, and what you and others who’ve identified as having ADHD on this threat have described all sounds pretty familiar.

        7. clao*

          Diagnosed with ADD at 30. People were appalled to find out I had this, even my own mother was like: OOOOOOOOh yeah that explains a lot of things! I did manage to have above average performance throughout school (even getting BS in engineering), but there was a point in my life (understandably) where my brain capacity could not surpass my ADD deficiencies and OH BOY WAS IT HARD. It happened at work, after a non-stellar work performance.. It was what dragged me to get help.
          At one point I thought: I suck at this, what if I changed careers? Then decided that it was probably not the best of the ideas because to me it was an attitude problem not a job-related problem and eventually figured out that even if I changed jobs the core issue would persist. Anyway, I got officially diagnosed and medicated and my attitude towards my job and my performance improved. However I still get distracted specially if the job gets too repetitive, but overall better than 2 years ago.

        8. Dysfunction Executive*

          When I read this letter I immediately searched for executive dysfunction in the comments. I only heard the term a few weeks ago and it’s completely changed my POV on my actions (not that it makes me stop scrolling through twitter when I know I should be getting ready). It wasn’t just laziness my whole life! School is just the worst, it’s like they organized everything to break you, but you’re too young to notice you’re not the problem. I just graduated a couple years ago but I wish I could go back and get a do-over with all the stuff I’ve learned since.

    2. ElspethGC*

      I…should really think about getting myself checked for ADD. A friend was recently diagnosed and was listing the things that triggered the diagnosis, and it was feeling far too close for comfort.

      -Even when I actively *want* to work on something, even when it’s something I enjoy, I often find it very hard to get going.
      – Taking short breaks makes me more unproductive in the long run because they just never end up being short – lengthy spurts of work for hours at a time works better.
      – I have absolutely no concept of the passage of time. The other day I thought “Ooh, just need to check the comments for AAM replies” and then looked at the clock and three hours had passed, even though I could have sworn up and down that it had been half an hour max. This has been a huge issue since early childhood, backed up by school reports.
      – Suddenly realising that I’ve tuned out of what was being said for an indeterminate length of time and having absolutely no idea why, also an issue since childhood evidenced by school reports.

      All of this adds up to hellish procrastination. I really, really hate it. I was a gifted high achiever all the way through school, but did very little revision, then hit a wall at 18 and got into uni by the skin of my teeth, and am now continuing to be a fairly high achiever – but it’s despite my work, I think, more than because of it.

      1. I’m actually a squid*

        Go! Get tested! I finally went when I got health insurance in my mid-30s and just having a name and knowing there’s a reason for what I do helps SO MUCH. Right now my job (retail manager) works really well with my brain so I only need my Ritalin on my days off but just knowing that there’s a reason I sometimes miss parts of conversations or need to set an alarm if I need to leave at a certain time or why it’s so hard to clean helps immensely. Having a name and a scientific explanation took away the shame and let me focus on working WITH my brain. And the diagnostic process was pretty easy – during my regular exam I told my GP I suspected ADHD and wanted to get tested. She prescribed a non-Ritalin drug for me to try (since Ritalin is tightly controlled) and referred me to a testing place. Two months later (they were rather backlogged), I had a diagnosis that really helped me understand my brain. Plus I could get Ritalin from my GP which is a bit of a miracle drug on low-stimuli days.

      2. A Very Smart Airhead*

        Glad to see someone else with the short breaks thing! Doesn’t work for me either. Must keep working, or I will definitely disappear for three hours instead of five minutes (and then panic like OP). Your description of school is exactly me. I think I put out a much lower quantity of work than others, but it’s high quality. I know I’m much more of an ideas and problem-solving person than one who can put out timely reports, etc. Don’t discount your work!

        1. Jadelyn*

          Yeah, I can’t do short breaks, either. They hit me coming and going – it’s near-impossible to stop and take that break once I’ve managed to get into the rhythm of whatever I’m trying to accomplish, then once I manage to do so, a 5-minute break will inevitably turn into an hour or more. Better just to let myself work til my brain decides it’s had enough of that particular thing or until it’s done.

      3. Pommette!*

        That hits very close to home. I had never considered the possibility of ADHD, mostly because I have always done very well in school/university (frankly, school is the only thing I’ve found so far that I’m any good at – it’s a problem!), and because I can spend a looooong time immersed in even the most mundane tasks.

        I am still trying to figure out how to limit my (also hellish!) procrastination. Hearing people with ADHD talk about how/why they procrastinate, and what helps them avoid procrastination, has been incredibly helpful. I’m beginning to appreciate that procrastination isn’t a single behavior/set of behaviors – it’s a label that covers really different kinds of behaviors, with different causes. Different people procrastinate for different reasons. It took me much longer than it should have to realize that tools that work well for some (e.g. frequent short breaks and short bursts of work) are not necessarily going to be useful for me (since starting and stopping, or switching, tasks is something that I have trouble with).

        1. phedre*

          Go get screened! Getting diagnosed and on medication changed my life. I have no idea how I managed to get by so long! I never had considered the possibility of ADHD because I was always a stellar student and got promotions at work and there were plenty of times I focused really well (I work GREAT under time pressure, but now I know hyperfocus can be a symptom of ADHD), until the last promotion gave me an increased workload that my normal procrastination habits were not working for me. I talked with a trusted colleague about some of my struggles, and she said that I reminded her of herself before she got diagnosed. I ended up taking an online screener and I scored really high. So I went to see a psychiatrist, and sure enough he said I was a classic ADHD case.

          He told me it’s actually not unusual for people not to be diagnosed until they’re older, especially women, because they don’t necessarily fit the stereotype (a boy with behavioral/impulse problems doing poorly in school). He said that many people with ADHD were high achievers and learned coping skills to deal with their undiagnosed ADHD, but then end up in his office when something changes in their life (e.g., promotion, new job, divorce, having children, etc.) and those coping skills don’t work any more.

      4. Anon today*

        A really smart woman who “hits a wall” but still manages to succeed through sheer effort? That turns out to be its own subcategory of ADHD, one I fall into. I hit my “wall” with parenthood.

        Someone mentioned the book, “Driven to Distraction,” and I second the recommendation. There’s also info out there, but less, about people who are “twice exceptional” — gifted + ADHD or a learning disability.

        It’s been one heck of a ride looking back at my life in the context of the diagnosis, but I’m glad I know.

        1. Ophelia*

          This is really interesting – I’m definitely going to pick up that book for some strategies, because while I see some of myself in the discussion above, I haven’t really felt a problem before. But the long-running sleep deprivation of having small children is DEFINITELY taking a toll on my executive function, and I could use a better scaffold to manage my brain while I’m trying to get through it. Thanks for the recommendation!

    3. TootsNYC*

      you know, even if you don’t actually have ADD/ADHD, the strategies you could learn would probably be very helpful!

      (Sort of like, those curb cuts and ramps they put in the sidewalk for people who use wheelchairs are very helpful for people with strollers, luggage, etc.)

    4. Manders*

      Thanks for bringing up the fact that internet is designed to be distracting! It’s awesome that so many adults are becoming aware of their options for testing for ADHD, but it’s possible to be neurotypical and still struggle with this.

      There are also a lot of physical and mental health issues that can come with difficulty concentrating as a symptom. A test for ADHD is a good place to start, but just because it comes back negative doesn’t mean you’re fine.

    5. LadyofLasers*

      Since being diagnosed, I’m trying not to see ADD in everyone (particularly because the internet/phones are attention sucking black holes), but yeah the procrastination looks pretty similar to ADD procrastination. A big help for me is when I realize that I’m putting something off, I probably haven’t divied it up enough into small enough tasks. For example, writing down “Take clothes to dry cleaner” isn’t simple enough for my executive challenged brain. It helps to break it down into “Research local dry cleaners and pick one”, “Gather clothes in car”, and “Pick time to run over to dry cleaner”.

      I guess it helps to think of procrastination as some invisible internal barrier. There is always a reason, whether it’s neurodivergence, fear, or “I enjoy the immediate gratification of pushing buttons more than work”. It’s not helpful to think of procrastination is a personal moral failing that stains your soul.

      1. Marissa*

        I think of it like the internet is distracting for everyone, but for normal people, that looks more like “I open instagram on the toilet and the next thing I know 15 minutes have gone by”, not four hours.

  10. joriley*

    In the vein of practical tips, I’ll put in a plug for the StayFocusd Chrome extension. My old job was similar to yours–I didn’t really like the work, there often wasn’t enough for me to do, and I was good enough that I could browse the internet for hours and still be seen as a star employee. What I used there–and still use now, at a new job with more (and more enjoyable) work–is setting a time limit on StayFocusd. I get 30 (or whatever) minutes on my “fun” sites and then they’re gone. I find that I’ve trained myself such that I often don’t even go through the whole time anymore! It hasn’t solved my procrastination entirely, but it’s made a vast improvement.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Facebook Feed Blocker is a game-changer for me. I’m salty it doesn’t work in safari anymore, but it’s a miracle for Chrome and mobile use. (I can’t deactivate FB altogether because of event promotion requirements for work / personal projects.)

      1. ArtsNerd*

        There’s also an extension called “delayed gratification” that makes you wait before it will load timewaster sites, so you’re not completely blocked from them but it dampens that dopamine instant-reward response that makes them so addictive.

    2. Jesicka309*

      Seconding Stay Focused!! Saved my job last year. My procrastination was out of hand and I was able to cut right back on the internet time. You set your time limit (I started at an hour of time a day) and add your time wasting sites. You can also add your “allowed sites” for work related sites, and if you have a hard deadline, you can restrict to only those allowed sites. I also liked that you can only reduce the time limit, and only increase for the next day. So if you run out for the day, too bad.

      I reduced the time wasting to only 30 min a day (including lunch) but had the time reset at 4.30 each day so I could get on if I needed to/had finished my work. Trick is to not look for cheats (using your phone to browse, finding new sites you haven’t blocked yet etc) I found the “you only have 10 minutes left” reminders a kick in the butt too. I got competitive about hoarding my minutes for lunch time. Obviously it’s not a cure for procrastination but it’s good tool to help manage the excessive web browsing until you break the habit.

  11. Bye Academia*

    I relate to this letter a lot. I also have anxiety, which is much more under control now after years of therapy and meds. But some of the old habits are really hard to break.

    I also had a period of spending way too much time browsing the internet throughout the day. It started because of a combination of extreme burnout from my last job + not that much to do in the beginning at this one + some personal stuff that took a lot of my remaining mental energy. I always got all work with deadlines done, but there are definitely better things to do with my remaining time. Mostly the kind of large scale projects without deadlines that never seem urgent but could have a big impact if completed. Does your field have anything like that?

    It’s a constant struggle not to fall back into internet browsing. Alison’s advice is great – thank you for that, because I will incorporate some of it! Another thing that’s helped me is to retrain how my brain plans the day. Once I’ve done critical work, instead of asking myself “hmm, do I have time for an internet break?” I try to think “hmm, what big picture projects could I tackle right now?”

  12. Marthooh*

    “I should probably seek therapy for the anxiety bit…”

    Right here is where you should start with the not-procrastinating bit. Anxiety — about your job performance and what your coworkers will think of you and what the future holds — doesn’t just add to the procrastination problem, it multiplies it. If you can get the anxiety under control, you’ll see much more clearly what you need to do to succeed at work.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. fposte*

      Agreed. And, of course, the anxiety and procrastination make it hard to seek therapy in the first place. So, OP, check to see if you have an EAP at your job, and if so, start that process; also find out what, if any, insurance coverage you have for mental health. The Psychology Today listings are a good way to identify professionals in your area, and even Yelp might help point you toward one to call first. You don’t have to commit based on a first visit, so I wouldn’t worry too much about getting just the right one; collect, say, three names that look promising and call them to see about availability and, if relevant, whether they take your insurance.

  13. starsaphire*

    I totally applaud you for asking for help. That is a great start!

    One of the things that works great for me is lists. Written lists, spreadsheets, all kinds of lists. It helps me focus on the task by writing down the steps. Writing down the steps helps me break the Big Scary Task down into smaller bites. Crossing off each bite as I finish it feeds my sense of accomplishment and makes me feel better.

    Just being able to look over my left elbow at the pretty lavender Post-It with its neat list of tasks and see THREE of them checked off — that’s what I did today! Three things! — helps ease my anxiety. It’s concrete proof to show my Jerkbrain that yes, I can in fact do my job and do it well. And just that act of checking off or crossing off feels SO good.

    Seeing the spreadsheet breakdown of all my tasks, color coded and with the word DONE showing up in the Status column for each step I’ve finished (put Done in all caps! or bold! use a funky font! highlight it with your favorite color!) feels really good — and it’s something I can show my boss in less than 30 seconds if she asks for my progress on a project. No panic; it’s all here in the spreadsheet!

    Lots of good suggestions here, and more will come.

    You can do this. :)

    1. From That Guy*

      I live for the red pencil!!! The one that puts the line through the line item done!
      All these suggestions are good. I wish you well on your journey. Therapy would be a good place to start to unpack what is beneath the surface, I recommend it.

      Now for the day to day, here are my suggestions (some from others)
      1. Do a list of manageable tasks for the day.
      2. Cross them off when done.
      3. Work in 45 minute sprints.
      4. Do something else for 15 minutes to recharge (research, new processes, learn something for work, etc…)
      5. Do something physical each day or evening.
      6. Get a hobby, preferably with people involved.

      Overall you are doing well, you recognize you need some fine tuning and that is terrific.
      Peace.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I am almost paperless in everything EXCEPT my to-do lists. And for those, I absolutely love my Laundry List Notepad from Sugarboo. It looks classy, not too much frill, but has tickyboxes already printed on it and ready to go. (In fact, I recommend Sugarboo for many paper-goods needs.)

    3. Loubelou*

      Yes to lists! They cracked my procrastination problem!

      The amazing satisfaction of crossing something off, then being able to look at the list and know that THAT is what I achieved today. It solves feeling like you’ve done nothing all day, because I have proof that I have done things.

      Also, as a bonus, on my main To Do list I have things I can do when I need some procrastination time. I am working on a couple of interesting online training courses at the minute which I do for a few hours when I just can’t concentrate – preferably with videos. Then that gets ticked off the list, too!

      Of coure, there will always be some mindless scrolling, but having the list means I know I’m getting work done even when I have been doing some procrastinating. And I second all the recommendations to get some therapy – dealing with my anxiety also made a major difference.

  14. Rainy days*

    Maybe not a solution for most people, but having a really, really demanding job completely cured me of procrastinating. I taught in a public high school and I could have worked at 100% effort 100 hours per week and still not gotten everything done. So to get a reasonable amount done in 50-60 hours per week I had to be insanely focused. Even after leaving, several years later my procrastination habit is still pretty much cured.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I too have been happiest and most productive at jobs where my plate is overflowing.

      There’s a big effort at my company to reduce the hours my department spends, and it’s great to not get jerked around by other people’s inadherence to schedules. But actually I miss it!

      1. KZA*

        Same here! My dad always says “If you want something done, give it to a busy person,” and I find that to be true. The more I need to do, the more I get done. Whereas when I have very little to do, it’s way harder to bring myself to do it… even if it’s a single tiny task that would take my five minutes!

    2. Dysfunction Executive*

      Same. I had anxiety coming out of the wazoo, coupled with its best bud depression, so I ended up in college for a 5th year (another source of bad brain chemistry). Ended up needing a ton of required credits in my last semester because I was putting them off, and it turned out to be my best semester mentally. Finally learned I do well under constant pressure, with a lot of different things to focus on, rather than taking it slow.

  15. seller of teapots*

    OP, I relate to this hard core. My first job out of college I procrastinated so much and dealt with a crushing amount of anxiety and wound up getting fired as a result. These days I have a really successful career, doing work that I love. So this isn’t your eternal cross to bear!

    A few things things I will say:
    If you have an inkling that therapy will help *go to therapy!* It’s one of the single best decisions I ever made, and a huge reason why I’m not a walking ball of dread and anxiety anymore.

    I realized that procrastination and anxiety aren’t two separate issues, but actually part of the same vicious cycle, that for me was tied to perfectionism/fear of making a mistake. I put so much pressure on myself to Be Perfect (lest I screw everything up and prove that I’m terrible and get fired) that most new projects filled me with a sense of dread. And in order to avoid feeling the dread, I would avoid the project, which of course only increased my anxiety and belief that I was going to screw everything up. Actually facing the dread and starting the project took an INCREDIBLE amount of willpower because I had so much anxiety building in the background, so I usually waited until the last possible second. It is a truly terrible cycle to be trapped in!!

    How did I get over it? Therapy, for sure. That was how I broke the perfectionism bs that was eating me up inside. And tricks like the Pomodoro method, for facing the dread in tiny increments. Also, for me, finding work that allowed me to work with my own natural ebbs and flows. I realized I’m not very good at just being consistently productive from 9-5; I struggle in that much structure–in other words finding what works for you and embracing that, instead of beating yourself up for not fitting into the mold in your head.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. Seller of teapots*

      Oops thought i accidentally deleted my first comment, wrote it again, and now I’ve posted twice. I guess I’m jut trying to be meta about embracing imperfection lol

  16. revueller*

    This was me in college. I missed every final paper deadline, begged for extensions after the fact, and was miserable. It wasn’t until I failed a course because I handed in a paper on Christmas Eve that I got my shit together. Before that, the fear of doing a bad job outweighed the fear of actual failure. My anxiety drove me to find outlets for my stress instead of actually working on those assignments, which obviously made the problem a lot worse.

    I figured out eventually that I tend to sabotage myself so that I’m “excused” for not doing my “best” work. Turning in something mediocre on time was *far* worse in my lizard brain than turning in something mediocre late. after the wake-up call of failing a course, my anxiety also finally motivated me to actually get work done (rather than viewing school as an endless slog of assignments—why bother completing this work if it’s just going to lead to more work?).

    It also helped to figure out that I have ADD, which causes me to seek more stimulating activities than the one I’m doing. writing—as much as I love it—is never as stimulating for me as daydreaming or weaving plots in my head, so that’s my main source of procrastination. I also still procrastinate on errands until it’s the very end of the day. By then important places are closed, and I have an excuse for doing the bare minimum, so I don’t completely hate myself.

    I guess my point is: procrastination is a hard habit to break, especially when it’s tied to anxiety. If you haven’t gotten tested for ADD, consider it, because it sounds like procrastination for you comes from a lack of stimulus and then compounds when your anxiety ratchets up. That’s at least what I suffer from. What helps for me is either (a) harnassing my anxiety to make me do things (which is not the healthiest) or (b) harnassing my ADD to do the same. If you finish your tasks? Ask for more. Or do more “productive” procrastination (cleaning the communal kitchen helps me when the words just don’t come to my head.)

    Good luck, friend. You’ll get through it.

    1. Snarchivist*

      This struck such a chord:
      “…the fear of doing a bad job outweighed the fear of actual failure. My anxiety drove me to find outlets for my stress instead of actually working on those assignments, which obviously made the problem a lot worse.
      I figured out eventually that I tend to sabotage myself so that I’m “excused” for not doing my “best” work.”
      Yes!
      “If I don’t do my best work and I fail, I did it on purpose, rather than trying really hard and still failing.” Which sucks when I love my job and the people I work with, but still just can’t seem to make myself do things I need to do. Which makes me anxious, which makes me procrastinate more.

    2. twig*

      I’m so glad to see so many anxious procrastinators on the comments. This is me as well: so anxious about DOING IT WRONG that I procrastinate.

      I too was helped by figuring out that I have ADHD — at 41. I’m getting medicated and learning about what makes me tick and how to use that/work around it. (instead of just berating myself for sucking)

    3. Loubelou*

      I could have written this comment, even down to the details of university assignments.
      I’m fairly sure I don’t have ADD, just a short attention span. Things have improved for me since I found a job I find stimulating and exciting which also has deadlines which affect other people, not just me (because who else does it affect if I hand an assignment in late?).

  17. KR*

    Watching this thread closely because I too struggle with this. I love my job and I love what I do but I put things off even though I know I shouldn’t. I mean it’s a Monday morning and I’m on my phone on AAM. I will check back in later after at least TWO HOURS OF UNINTERRUPTED WORK with Spotifys Throwback Jams playlist. DEEP BREATH.

    1. gecko*

      You’ve got this. It’s ok to put stuff off for a little bit. The important thing is that’s you’re not intimately tying your self-worth into how fast and perfectly you can do your work–that way lies raising the stakes too high and getting even more tense and feeling worse about the work you do & don’t do.

      Even if you check back in during your two-hour block, it’s ok. Your brain told you it needed a break and you gave yourself what you needed.

  18. Emily S.*

    LW, this used to be a major problem for me — especially back when I was in school. A few years ago I took a very helpful class on Lynda (free through many libraries — check yours to see) on Overcoming Procrastination. I found it very helpful.

    One of the main points was to understand why you are procrastinating. The class discusses five main reasons people procrastinate. If you can understand why, that can help you come up with a solution.

    Five Main Reasons We Procrastinate
    1. Lack of confidence
    2. Distraction
    3. Feeling overwhelmed
    4. Creatively blocked
    5. Dread the project

  19. gecko*

    I think there are a ton of reasons to procrastinate–it’s a habit; the work is boring; you’re stuck in a cycle of facebook-AAM-reddit-back to facebook and can’t break out of that to start working; you’re bored but the dopamine rush of doing something else is higher than the dopamine rush of starting work; you’re anxious & restless; you don’t know what you should be doing.

    Particularly with anxiety involved I think all those reasons get collapsed into one single CAN’T WORK!! Can’t do it yet!! Gotta wait!!!! And of course that builds up over time.

    Therapy will probably be really helpful for this, but until then maybe you can try to attack it on all sides. Have a todo list handy so you know some tasks that you can do next. Try and tie a dopamine rush to starting some work–there’s an app where you tap it every time you drink water and a little plant goes; maybe you can repurpose that so you tap it whenever you start a chunk of work, and your plant grows. Or try habitica / similar habit apps to make it a habit that you turn back to work.

    And for the anxiety, there are millions of different techniques. I find it really hard to focus on anything when I’m feeling anxious, so I do try to soothe myself, but I try to do it not by distracting myself online. I will: make another todo list, and/or tell myself, “I’m feeling anxious. I’m going to take a short walk to the breakroom and get water. When I come back I’ll put on music and start one of the things on my todo list.”

    Of course I do goof off online (I’m writing this!) but I’ve gotten better about not using it as an anxiety soothing tool or as a procrastination tool.

    ALSO make sure you’re sleeping enough (seriously, for me nothing ratchets up my anxiety like lack of sleep) and take a walk in the middle of the day if you can to give yourself a real break and a bit of movement.

  20. Oxford Comma*

    I struggle with procrastination too. Will be eagerly reading the comments here for strategies.

    One thing I have found that helps me is for me to break down projects into specific tasks. Each morning, I make a to-do list with some of those finite, specific tasks. I do this because if I think about the entirety of the project, I start feeling like I will never finish it and everyone will figure out what a fraud I am (and yes, I know I am not a fraud rationally, but that’s not how my brain works).

    1. Drew*

      You saved me writing essentially the same comment. Both at work and at home, I’m often looking at big projects that will take a long time to complete, and trying to wrap my head around them puts me in a space where I can’t even get started because it’s so daunting.

      But the way you start cleaning a house is cleaning one thing. You can clean one thing – it won’t even take five minutes. And even if you stop after that point, you cleaned something. That is progress! (Or, as a forester friend of mine said, “I can’t undo a forest fire, but I can always plant one tree.”)

      The same thing is true at work. You can’t finish your entire project today, but you can identify one piece that you can complete and get that done. In a lot of projects, it doesn’t matter WHAT piece, unless it’s something dependent on previous steps. Pick something and do it. Celebrate – you made progress! Now pick something else and do that.

  21. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I think it’s pretty telling that so many of us can relate to this–but then again this is the group of people on AAM first thing Monday morning. Hello, fellow procrastinators! :)

  22. FD*

    Three things have really helped me. One is to figure out what sites that I use to procrastinate and block them via a tool like Cold Turkey. I don’t know what your admin setup is at your work computers, but if you’re allowed to do that, it can be helpful. (Many of these just require an addon on your browser. This is OK in some work environments and not in others.)

    The other is to figure out why I’m procrastinating. Often, I procrastinate when I’m afraid of something–afraid someone will be angry at me, afraid I won’t be able to do something, etc. Verbally saying it out loud can help me take the edge off a bit.

    The last thing is to set a timer for some short amount of time (e.g. 20 minutes) and tell myself I can stand to do the task for that long. Often by the time I get done with that time, momentum makes me want to keep going.

  23. Snarchivist*

    Hi OP!
    I had/have a very similar problem! A previous job I hated = bad work habits that even now are hard to break. But I was also recently diagnosed as an adult with Generalized Anxiety and ADHD. Which made things going back to childhood click- a lightbulb went off about me being a bit of a space cadet & not being able to stay on task, but “girls didn’t have” ADHD when I was a kid, only boys. It also helped me realize that I had created excellent coping mechanisms that worked while I was in school and jobs without much responsibility, but once more things got added to my life (like a partner, family illness, more intense jobs), those coping mechanisms stated to fail because they couldn’t handle it all. It didn’t cure the problem, but at least it gives me an explanation and a solid starting point to problem solve it and see how I can do better. I am still anxious that I might get fired because I know I’m not living up to what I should be doing, but I’m working at being better and my boss knows what’s going on. So I second the suggestions of therapy and maybe looking in to seeing if you have something diagnose-able. It has definitely helped me realize I’m not a total failure at being an adult, my brain is just wired differently and I need to work a bit harder & use tools to help me do what I need to.

    1. revueller*

      “It has definitely helped me realize I’m not a total failure at being an adult, my brain is just wired differently and I need to work a bit harder & use tools to help me do what I need to.”

      This is exactly it. Just having a diagnosis gave me more confidence in myself. I’m not broken, I’m not a failure, I’m just different.

      Glad to hear you’re figuring out your procrastination as well :)

      1. twig*

        OMG ME Too!!

        Adult diagnoses of ADHD has made a HUUUGE difference in my life — and illuminated so much about my struggles in childhood and college.

        (not only was I inattentive “space cadet” rather than hyperactive, but I don’t think they were even diagnosing it when I was a kid — at least not in my tiny school district in the early ’80s)

      2. I’m actually a squid*

        Me three! I spent most of my academic life thinking I was lazy or bad because I couldn’t sit down and write a paper. I’m an 80s kid and at that point the ADD/ADHD diagnosis was focused on the hyperactive little boys. I was a quiet girl who would get lost in books and daydreamed and was smart enough that it didn’t affect my schoolwork until high school. Add to that parents who firmly believed in a Protestant work ethic and that we’re all horrible people who will always choose evil if given the chance… finally getting a diagnosis was AMAZING.

  24. M. Albertine*

    I have struggled with this, too. For me, it’s almost always a function of not being challenged enough.

    In the meantime, just to prove you are not the only one with this issue, there are lots of apps and plug-ins out there that will limit your internet browsing capability. You can add your timesuck sites like Facebook, Twitter, AskAManager(!) to the app, and then set a time limit you are allowed to be on those sites, so when your time is up, you have to deal with your withdrawal symptoms. StayFocusd is a good one, or just do a search for “website blockers” and there are articles comparing and contrasting the different features for different platforms. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

  25. So Resonates With Me*

    Alison, thank you so much for this insightful response. I could have written parts of this letter myself and like the OP I occasionally start slipping in these habits. I’m going to save this post and use it to help me refocus my mind as I’m working to build back to the high motivation worker I was before an incredibly toxic past job. Your words just cut right to the heart of it, for me, so thank you for helping me in addition to the OP that you responded to.

  26. Cat Lady*

    I like to have two to-do lists going each day: one for things I want to get done that day before I leave, and longer-term things that I have on my radar but don’t need to do that day. Of course, last minute things come up and I don’t always get my daily list done, but it helps me stay on task to say “okay, I need to do these 5 items today” without having to get worried about all the longer-term stuff that doesn’t necessarily need my attention that day.

  27. drpuma*

    If you can get all your work done while still procrastinating that much, sounds like you are very efficient. As a very efficient person who also struggles with procrastination, I find I am most likely to procrastinate when I don’t have *enough* to do. I get afraid that I won’t be “busy enough” tomorrow, and so I’ll delay/hoard work so I know I’ll have something to do in the future. Sometimes this works out better for me than others. If this feels familiar to you, or if you get some treatment for your anxiety and this still sounds like you, it may be helpful for you to talk to your boss about additional responsibilities or projects, or you may even want to look for a more high-pressure work environment. In the short run, making sure that all of my work has a deadline I’ll be held accountable to has also been helpful for me.

    1. Amadeo*

      I have the opposite problem. When I have too much to do/feel like I’ll never meet all the deadlines I go into shutdown mode. There’s so many things that are priority that I can’t choose which one to work on first so I procrastinate like hell instead.

      Somehow I always get things done/get the deadlines met, but the feeling sucks. It’s not just confined to work, either, I do it at home exactly the same way.

      1. I’m actually a squid*

        I live in the 80-90% range. I need a lot on my plate to keep going but if it tips into an overwhelming amount I shut down. This is why there’s still boxes I need to sort through from our renovation… last year …

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This sounds so much like me.

      I have gotten some new projects and that has definitely helped. It just took some time for my bosses to acknowledge that I had the bandwidth for them. I guess the person I replaced worked at a much slower pace.

    3. Parenthetically*

      This is SO interesting! I am also a very efficient person and a recovering procrastinator, but I hadn’t thought about this aspect of it! I do tend to do/feel better when my days have some structure to them!

    4. aebhel*

      Yep, I have definitely done this. Even now, I can get everything I need to do done and still have a big chunk of time left to fill, so I tend to ‘hoard’ work, which leaves me running projects down to the wire even when I should have had plenty of time to get it done.

      Ironically, I actually do better now that I have my own office and nobody can see how much time I spend goofing off throughout the day. I can work on something, and then goof off when it’s finished instead of desperately trying to hoard work so I look busy when my boss is around. My work is better and I’m way less stressed; win/win.

    5. sunshyne84*

      This is definitely me and we don’t have a supervisor right now so…..I am looking to switch fields to something more demanding, but I’ll prob have to go to school first. :/

    6. Lynn Whitehat*

      It me. I hoard work so I can look busy when I need to. I’ve found volunteer work that can be done remotely, and I do a lot of that. I also keep up with all the bits of family life that can be done from a desk, like all the soccer registrations and bill paying and so forth. I’m still getting ~way~ more done than anyone else in my group. I’ve stopped feeling bad about it and just accepted this is life. I try not to think too hard about the time that is wasted every day after work-work, personal-work, and volunteer-work is done. Would I really choose to fool around online if I weren’t required to be warming a seat? Probably not. Sigh.

    7. Renee*

      This is so me! I’m naturally a very efficient person, and I work FAST, not because I’m sloppy or taking shortcuts, my work is always at an A grade level. I just work faster than most people. Even in Grad School I was the person who finished the midterm, checked my answers three times or more, and still turned in the exam first and got an A! So for me it has always been a struggle trying to keep myself busy, and I loathe having nothing to do and being bored, so I hoard work so I know I will still have something to do on Friday.

  28. OhGee*

    Oh hello, this letter could’ve been written by me! In addition to working on getting screened for anxiety and depression (which I am certain is at the root of my lifelong procrastination issue), I recently read a book that I found very helpful. It’s called Procrastination : why you do it, what to do about it now by Jane Burka. I appreciate that it first looks at the various reasons for procrastination (including good ol’ anxiety and depression) AND offers a variety of solutions. I’m glad you’re seeking therapy, and I hope the comments here show you that you’re not alone.

  29. it's me*

    “Being constantly terrified of getting fired and yet choosing to operate in a way that could get you fired is an interesting contradiction, and I suspect it’s not a coincidence.”

    That is interesting. My first job out of college was in an extremely toxic environment, but I was not experienced enough at the time to truly understand what that meant. What I remembered when I read this was that for a time, I started coming in later and later, like, eventually getting up to two hours late, and no one even noticed until my timecard showed I was about to drop to part-time status (it was a clock-in job). I was depressed and that was my way of handling it. Yadda yadda yadda, I was fired for insubordination.

  30. School Inclusion Specialist*

    As a person with anxiety and constantly fighting procrastination, I think therapy is the place to start. I had CBT and it was super helpful in helping me recalibrate my perceptions of work and my performance. I hope you find a provider that works for you. I found mine just by googling and looking the therapists’ focus areas/certifications.

    As I try to figure out ways to fight my procrastination, I realized that a lot of times I wasn’t actually procrastinating. I was avoiding tasks I didn’t want to do. Because I was avoiding them, it felt like procrastinating. I also would get distracted by email or other things and couldn’t finish a task efficiently.

    Now, I keep a thorough list of all the projects I working on, the various steps to the project. If there is something that I start noticing myself avoiding, then I’ll make that the first thing I do the next day. Then I’ll let myself do something enjoyable afterward. I also schedule when I’m going to do specific tasks during the day because I noticed that I was setting too big expectations then feeling like a failure when I couldn’t accomplish everything. All this helps when I’m tempted to go online to avoid something, I can check my list to see how I’m doing and if I have the time.

    Good luck!

    1. revueller*

      Thank you for sharing this; I’m procrastinating on finding a therapist right (irony of ironies!). Knowing that it can actually help (I’ve had one too many therapists wait for my new medication dosage to kick in and then say to me, “So why are you still coming here?”) and figuring out how to find a good one are really helpful.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Ugh! Good therapists are lifesavers and I’m so frustrated by how many bad ones are out there, making it that much harder for folks to seek out (helpful) therapy and therapists.

  31. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

    I don’t know if this will actually be helpful to you, OP, but I personally live and die by to-do lists. Every week, I make a list of all the tasks I want to complete that week. Then I assign those tasks to specific days. I use a paper planner for this because writing things down using an actual pen/paper helps me concentrate. My planner has a weekly layout with some space in the margins. I make the weekly to-do list in the margin, and then I write the daily to-dos under each day. So I’m basically writing my to-dos twice, which is repetitive, but it’s what works for me.

    Having a plan for the week makes me feel confident and like I have everything under control. I’m not always able to stick to the plan when unexpected things come up, but that’s okay! The plan is just for me, something I created, not something external created by my boss, so it needs to be flexible. Basically, it helps me set priorities for the week and identify which priority I want to focus on each day.

    That said, I think to-do lists are not always helpful for everyone. Everybody is different; there isn’t a one size fits all solution here. I think to-do lists might be especially unhelpful for someone with anxiety. It seems to me like it would just change the focus of the anxiety — instead of being generally anxious about procrastination, you become specifically anxious about your to-do list — not helpful! But I do think it’s worth it to try different things to see what does and does not work for you. Don’t be afraid to try things like this (or the pomodoro technique, etc) — but also don’t be afraid to stop using it if it isn’t working for you.

    1. twig*

      I’ve tried to do this, but my lists get sooooo long.

      If you don’t mind answering some questions:
      How do you limit your lists? How do you decide what to include on your weekly list?

      and what do you do when your plan gets thrown off? (I ask because, when I try to be organized like this, it goes well until one little thing get thrown off, then it seems like my whole plan goes kablooey and I am not able to get back on top of it)

      1. Pommette!*

        Chiming in to second twig’s question!

        I’ve had a hard time using to-do lists productively. I’m fine using to-do lists for small tasks/projects (e.g. planning a meeting), but have a harder time using them to organize my work as whole. I often find that breaking seemingly insurmountable projects into their constituent tasks makes me feel even more discouraged and inadequate. On the other hand, not breaking projects down into sufficiently small tasks just leaves me with one or two items that get carried over from week to week, which also leaves me feeling discouraged and inadequate! And in either case, I have to struggle not to spend much longer on my lists than is appropriate (turning them into their own time sink and avenue for procrastination).

        How do you figure out what level of granularity is useful for your lists?

        1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

          I often find that breaking seemingly insurmountable projects into their constituent tasks makes me feel even more discouraged and inadequate. On the other hand, not breaking projects down into sufficiently small tasks just leaves me with one or two items that get carried over from week to week, which also leaves me feeling discouraged and inadequate!

          This is where the weekly/daily distinction comes in handy for me. Let’s say I have a big project to do. I can break that big project down into, say, four sub-projects. I want to work on Sub-Project 1 this week, so I put it on my weekly to-do list. Then I actually break that sub-project down into smaller, bite-sized chunks — the actual steps I need to take. I write those steps down on the different daily to-do lists.
          Sub-Project 1 might take a couple of weeks to finish, so it migrates from week to week — but I’m slowly but steadily crossing off all of the daily to-dos that make up the tasks needed to accomplish it, so I don’t feel discouraged. I know I’m making progress on it.
          Does that make sense?

        2. media monkey*

          i use bullet journaling. so i have monthly to do lists with big tasks on, then weekly ones (with the big tasks broken into smaller ones) and then daily ones if i am really busy or have lots of smaller tasks.

      2. Boba Feta*

        I mentioned it below but think it may be relevant and useful here: I recently discovered the “Bullet Journal” method of tracking tasks (and much else!) in a way that allows the flexibility to move some ahead in time if they don’t get done right away while simultaneously providing the satisfaction of seeing them get marked completed as you move along (as opposed to when they disappear entirely when the page or post-it note gets used up and put in the trash).

        Link to follow.

        1. Boba Feta*

          https://bulletjournal.com/

          The beauty of the method is that its infinitely customizable.

          PROCRASTINATION WARNING: Do not fall into the #BuJo or #BulletJournal Instagram wormhole unless you legit have some time to get lost!!! I swear I do not mean to tempt a thread full of self-professed procrastinators with this, but it has honestly REALLY REALLY helped me lately, and I hope it can for you!

          1. Jadelyn*

            I remember seeing it before and reading the rules and finding myself feeling super overwhelmed. But I’m taking another look at it now and I can see the appeal of something where I can throw everything onto the same page to get it out of my head, but still be able to distinguish between ideas/questions and actual tasks. I like the index thing, too. I might give this a try and see what happens. Thanks!

            1. media monkey*

              honestly the original ryder carroll bullet journal video which explains the whole thing is like 4 minutes long. the rules are very simple and you can customise/ use as you like. there are definite rabbit holes (like hashtags on IG and FB groups of beautiful layouts) but you don’t need to follow those to have a functional bujo which works as it is supposed to!

      3. bonkerballs*

        I’m not Cordelia, but I’m also a list person. I’ve really gotten into the Trello website recently as a good organizational tool. I have multiple lists going at a time: one is just kind of a brain dump (every single project I think of that needs to get done), then I have a list of current projects (so anything I’m currently working on) and a list of pending projects (projects where I’m stalled because I’m waiting on someone else to do something), and then I have three recurring lists (weekly, monthly, and annually recurring projects). Every day, the last hour of my day is spent getting organized, whether that’s going through my email inbox, filing paperwork things, and updating my project list. I have an alarm and everything to remind me to stop working and do my organizing. Otherwise I’m a huge mess.

  32. Katie*

    Did I write this?? This literally happened to me—a coworker tracked my time for a few weeks and I got in trouble for it. I am at a new job that I love, but procrastinate still. My fear is that the work will dry up, so I put it off as long as possible.

  33. Drano245*

    I identified with this way too much because the LW’s situation screams ADHD, specifically inattentive-type. I wasn’t diagnosed properly until my 30s, and my job performance has improved exponentially (except for right now, I guess) with a combination of CBT, medication and setting up multiple organizational methods and rotating through them.

  34. Yellow Bird*

    In my case, procrastination has something to do with my fear of failure and being criticized (also low self-esteem). If you have some anxiety around the subject, I recommend therapy – it can work wonders.

  35. Vermonter*

    Echoing everyone who has suggested therapy, if you can access it.

    My suggestion: find a work method/productivity system that works for you. A lot of people respond well to Pomodoro – working in short bits – but I know that I can’t do that. I’d much rather do the same task for two solid hours and then switch than do something for twenty/thirty minutes, stop for five/ten minutes, repeat. Experiment and remember there is no one best way to get stuff done, as long as it’s getting done and getting done well.

  36. fposte*

    OP, think about where you are when you drift off to procrastination, because sometimes that’s helpful in figuring out how to guard against it. Is it especially pronounced at certain times or in certain situations? Like are there particular days–do you have Monday startup problems, midweek tedium, Fridayitis? Do you have my problem, where transitioning from one task to another leaves a gap to jump that’s all too easy to fill with a distraction?

    I find, both with days and transitions, that it helps enormously to use a task list and also to mentally transition before I start on something else. So when I’m finishing database entry, say, I’ll start thinking to myself about the next task of proofreading communication and actually visualizing the opening of the document and the scrolling through it. Momentum is key for me, and overlapping the tasks mentally helps provide me with that; once I screech to a stop, it’s hard for me to get moving again.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I literally just thought about this an hour ago — Mondays are my least productive days because (boring parent-of-toddler reasons), and Fridays by FAR my most productive because I want everything DONE before the weekend so it’s not hanging over my head or eating up my down time. Mostly I’m trying to roll with it for now and allow myself to be less productive on Mondays with no guilt, but at some point I really need to work on a system to get myself going, because Marie Kondo has not yet shown up to fold this laundry, you know?

      1. ArtsNerd*

        I have set up a Rube Goldberg-level closet system to minimize my need to fold or hang laundry to the absolute least labor possible (tall shoe rack w/ bars to just toss shirts over FTW!) AND STILL IT SITS IN THE BASKET ON MY FLOOR.

    2. Sciencer*

      This is SUCH good advice – maintain momentum!

      OP, I also went from a job I didn’t enjoy and that caused me immense stress (grad school) to a job I enjoyed more (post-doc) to a job I love (teaching). The bad procrastination habits I developed in grad school, as coping mechanisms for the deep anxiety/self-disgust/fear of the future that came with that job, have stayed with me despite my best efforts.

      Since my head is clearer from being in a role that makes me truly happy, I’ve been able to start paying attention to my procrastination patterns, and that is helping a lot with dialing it down. The first, critical step was to accept that I have a problem with procrastination, and to stop thinking of it as a character flaw (which initiates the self-disgust cycle and does nothing good for me or my productivity).

      When I find myself faced with nebulous/ongoing projects, that’s prime “hop on the internet” time. I combat this by (1) writing and referring to a detailed to-do list with everything from big ongoing projects to tiny 5-minute tasks, so I can pick something easy to maintain momentum; (2) breaking down big ongoing projects into small, achievable chunks and assigning them to myself on realistic timelines; and (3) using a combination of activity trackers and website blockers on my laptop and work computer.

      The tracker (RescueTime) logs everything I do on my computer and shows me pretty graphs. It’s awesome to see big chunks of time in Word or Illustrator – the instant gratification of knowing I was productive helps alleviate the lack of that feeling from ongoing projects. The blocker (StayFocused on Chrome and WasteNoTime on Safari) enforces my good intentions for what I think are acceptable amounts of time to spend on mindless interneting. I use them outside work hours too, because I know I’m happier when I spend the weekend “doing stuff” rather than surfing Reddit or Twitter, regardless of what my brain thinks I want in the moment. (Also, weekend/evening internet surfing feeds the addictive quality of the activity, and makes me more likely to veer toward it during the work day.)

  37. On a pale mouse*

    Here’s what I think happens when I’m procrastinating. Sadly I don’t have good answers (this is a lot of what got me fired from my last job) but at least if it sounds familiar it could give you insight or at least a place to start. I think a lot of my procrastination comes from perfectionism. And I think what I’m doing subconsciously is: if I fail because I left it to the last minute and therefore didn’t have time to do my best work, then I can believe my best would have been great, even perfect. If I actually took time to do my best work and then failed, well then I just suck. This isn’t practical; it’s jerkbrain logic. Maybe this isn’t you – just something to think about.

  38. TootsNYC*

    I sometimes have a procrastination problem. And I would beat myself up about it. Important things–like booking freelancers for a close, etc.–I’d put off until it was a crisis, and then of course I’d come up with a horrible solution.

    One day I decided to STOP beating myself up, and to LOOK at myself. Mindfulness, I guess.

    I asked myself, as if I were a friend I was trying to help, “What’s going on in your head when you procrastinate? You have a thing in front of you that you know you should do, and you’r enot doing it. What’s that thought in the back of your mind?”

    And I realized that I procrastinated in specific mindsets–there was ALWAYS something going on.
    For me, one of them was that I wasn’t sure what to do.
    W/ booking freelancers, I didn’t feel confident:
    -whether I had the money in the budget
    -which dates I should cover, and how many people
    -which freelancers I should book.

    So I tackled NOT the procrastination, but the reasons BEHIND it. I would literally say, almost out loud, “You’re procrastinating. What is it you’re not sure about? How can you GET surety on that issue?”
    -I invested time in creating a tool to track how much money I had in the budget, how much was spent each issue, and how that related to the year overall (this spreadsheet is still one of my proudest achievements)
    -I expanded that tool to be a calendar in which I tracked how many hours freelancers actually worked, and what takeaways I had from each issue, so I could look at all previous issues
    -I sat down and looked at past workflow patterns
    -I gave myself a pep talk that it was OK to ignore my boss’s aspirational ideas about when work should get done, and to look at true patterns from the past
    -I gave myself permission to be wrong by theorizing which errors were likely, and figuring out how I’d cope. And by pointing out that–now that I had this tool–I was going to get better and better
    -I gave myself permission to disappoint some great freelancers by not booking them, and also gave myself permission (through the work I did above) to commit to some good freelancers for longer term.

    Another “feeling/thought” that makes me procrastinate is if I feel that the thing I’m doing has low value, that nobody really needs it.
    For this, I gave myself permission to just eliminate some of those tasks (I don’t put old files in file folders anymore, because I would always procrastinate the making of the folders–I had realized that they weren’t really needed. So now I just put each project’s paperwork in a big binder clip and throw all that month’s projects in a box =. We seldom really need them, so I don’t do a lot of unnecessary work.

    I also removed a lot of guilt by defining “on time” differently.
    I used to beat myself up because I didn’t clear out the file drawer promptly at the end of each monthly project–I didn’t do it until I needed to put the new stuff in there. And I’d scold myself for procrastinating. but then I realized, did it matter that I hadn’t done it 3 weeks before? What WAS the downside? It meant I -had- to do it right now, or it meant that some things couldn’t be filed right away and would “hover” on the counter above that file drawer..
    But one I decided that “moving the files at the beginning of the next cycle” was OK, I found that I would move them more promptly at the beginning of the cycle, and the “hovering” files would get their proper home more promptly.
    (the guilt and shame of not having done the task 3 weeks earlier would make me avoid that task now–once I removed the guilt and shame, I felt PRODUCTIVE moving the files around, and so I’d do it right away)

    You are not a horrible person.

    There is something going on, mentally or emotionally, that is making procrastination be a problem for you.
    Maybe working with a coach/therapist (I’m a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy) would help you identify the underlying issues, AND give you tools to change your mindset, and your definitions, in the places that you need to.

  39. Ali G*

    Wow this was a post I didn’t know I needed until I read it. I am definitely guilty of a form of self-sabotage. My previous job was destroyed by a toxic boss and I was pretty much ousted from the company. I think I still harbor fear that my current boss will decide I am expendable like my former boss did. It’s paralyzing.
    I am bookmarking this page to come back to when I can fully digest everything here.

  40. Celaena Sardothien*

    Alison is right, we often make our fears become our reality because we are so afraid of them. It’s a weird cycle, but it happens all the time.

    Now, here is my tip: Look up Mel Robbins. Look up her 5 Second Rule, and look up what she says about procrastination. She’s a motivational speaker and she helps with all of this stuff. She is currently doing a program called Mindset Reset where she helps you get rid of all the crap in your brain, like anxiety and fear, so you can get things done. It’s completely free, just go to her website to jump in.

  41. HarveyW*

    I have done this. Not my proudest moments but some days, for varying reasons, I have trouble getting motivated. Fortunately, on my good days, I tend to knock it out of the park. Which is still no reason to be a slacker.
    I don’t know that I have any advice… I’m still working on myself. But you’re not alone.
    (And seriously 1) your co-worker tracked your internet use and 2) the bosses used that info?!?!?)

  42. FCJ*

    Academic here! I think that’s relevant because it’s a field that 1.) takes a ton of concentration and abstract thought, 2.) comes with a ton of pressure about what performance looks like, and 3.) takes a ton of work just to be okay at.

    First I want to chime in with your coworker and say that if what you’re doing is abstract and takes a lot of concentration, you SHOULD be taking breaks throughout the day. That’s not procrastination, that’s keeping your energy up. Second, as you consider all the great advice in this thread about building discipline, I think you should also be looking at what you’re actually accomplishing. One thing I’ve experienced in my field is that it’s really, really easy to think I’ve spent all my time procrastinating, only to look back over the past six months or year and kind of be blown away by how much I actually got done.

    None of this is to say you’re totally wrong about your situation and there aren’t places you can improve–I’m in no position to judge that. Just that “constant work” is not the same as “good work,” regardless of what our culture tells you, and it’s important to be able to see the difference.

  43. Pipe Organ Guy*

    Procrastination is definitely my enemy when I need to learn new music. I’ve learned that I really have to get going early in the week so that I’m not a stumbling block in choir rehearsal on Thursdays, and so that my organ voluntaries on Sunday sound polished and not like I’m sight-reading them. And it always is a battle with self–not wanting to dig in and wrestle with internalizing new stuff, with technical and interpretive problems to solve. Clergy folks tell me it’s much the same when they have to write a sermon. What I tell myself when I sit down to practice early in the week is “I’ll do an hour. I won’t try to solve everything in this session.” As the week progresses, the practice time increases, to about two hours. More than that, and my brain rebels, the mistakes increase, and my hands start to complain.

    1. Parenthetically*

      OT

      Are you a paid pipe organist? Please come back in the Open Thread so I can ask you all my questions!

      /OT

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Not religious services, which I know is a different beast, but I went from trying to practice and improve on my own so I could get ‘good enough’ to join a band to just joining one. So even if I don’t touch my instrument between practices I’m still at least playing once a week aside from gigs. It also motivates me SO MUCH MORE to play between group practices but even when I don’t, I don’t get into a cycle where it becomes a kind of block. And I’ve gotten so much better — and I’m apparently one of the last people who think I’m no good at it :)

  44. female peter gibbons*

    This was a great, relatable letter and a great relatable response. (No matter if I put relatable or relateable it marks the word as misspelled so I’m not sure what it is.)

    I realized that an immediate positive result of going to the gym, even if I didn’t see any physical results, was that it eliminated the CONSTANT CLOUD OF GUILT that I’m NOT going to the gym that always hangs over me. At the very least, that’s something tangible and beneficial. It helps.

  45. Manders*

    A lot of other commenters have great suggestions for task lists and time management techniques. I wanted to add that if you’re aimlessly clicking around the internet because you’re trying to find something interesting or diverting, it really helps to listen to a podcast while you work. I have a lot of intensive but repetitive tasks to do each week, and having someone talking in my ear satisfies the part of my brain that wants to be doing something more interesting.

    Also, it helps to take regular breaks away from your computer. I don’t always follow my own advice on this but I feel much more focused when I take at least 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the afternoon to walk around the building or read a book on a screen that isn’t backlit. And take the maximum lunch break you’re allowed to take, don’t get in the habit of letting work bleed into your lunch break because you’ll start losing your sense of where the boundary is between work and break time.

  46. esqueer*

    I’ve started using a web blocker — a couple of different versions are described here: https://www(.)wrike(.)com/blog/best-browser-extensions-for-productivity/#focus — which I find does help, though you have to take some time to figure out what will work best for you. I combine a StayFocusd (which allows me to block specific sites I know I spend too much time on otherwise) with this pomotodo app (https://pomotodo.com/app/). It’s still not a perfect system, as my phone continues to be a source of distraction, and since I use youtube to listen to music (spotify etc are blocked on my computer) I can still get sucked into watching other videos, but I do feel like it’s helped my productivity.

    Good luck, OP!

  47. haley*

    this sounds like I could have written it!! always get my work done but sometimes with literal weeks of scrolling the internet before an intense and exhausting session where I bang out whatever is required of me. no performance problems – always glowing performance reviews, in fact – but I felt like absolute garbage and was constantly terrified that someone would discover how little I was working.

    turns out I have ADHD ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ got diagnosed at age 27 with inattentive type ADHD which is characterized by intense periods of hyperfocus, difficulty starting projects that require sustained mental effort, anxiety/depression stemming from these things, stuff like that. getting treatment/meds wasn’t like making a magic wand to make me productive again – I also realized I wasnt happy with my assignments and started the process of changing my role internally at the company – but just having a name for what was happening to me helped me feel less useless.

    all that being said, oh my god I can’t believe your coworker took LOGS of your INTERNET TIME that’s my absolute nightmare and I’m so sorry.

  48. MLB*

    I agree with everything Alison suggested, especially speaking to a therapist or your primary doc. It sounds like this is more than just procrastinating, and that there may be an underlying health issue contributing to it.

    And I just have to say that your former co-worker who documented what you did all day for a few days…had I been your manager, I would have been more irritated at the co-worker than you. If she was watching you, she wasn’t working either, and frankly it was none of her business. WOW.

  49. NextTimeGadget*

    I just want to say that I empathize so much with the anxiety and constant worrying about being fired. Please, please 100% for your own psychological safety, go see a professional who can help you work through your anxiety and find coping methods that work for you. I did after YEARS of being an excellent employee but being completely convinced that every 1:1 with my manager or skip level would end with my termination. The thoughts still creep in every once in a while, but it’s not crippling anyway.

  50. UhJoss*

    One thing that’s worked well for me in a bit of a roundabout way is having a project that requires very low thought on the back burner that I can pull up on the days when I just cannot make myself focus no matter what I do. When those days happen, I can pop on some podcasts and just work on the most mindless of my tasks so I’m doing something that’s not just messing around on the internet.

    I tend to think of it as the work version of taking a shower wherein doing something rote and low impact frees up my brain to unwind a little before I get back to the more high level stuff.

    1. UhJoss*

      Also, count me as someone else who was diagnosed with ADD in my twenties and getting medicated for that made a ton of difference. It wasn’t a magic bullet — the procrastination stuff was also habit based, but it helped immensely and it’s worth investigating if this is something you’ve dealt with in other arenas as well.

    2. CDM*

      Similarly, I often find I can get myself unstuck by picking a short outstanding task to do, even though it’s not a high priority. Just getting SOMETHING finished and off my desk completely, does wonders towards being ready to get stuck in on the more complex and time-consuming tasks that are waiting.

  51. Parenthetically*

    I suspect your anxiety is playing a role here too. Being constantly terrified of getting fired and yet choosing to operate in a way that could get you fired is an interesting contradiction, and I suspect it’s not a coincidence. It’s sort of like being terrified your partner will break up with you and simultaneously acting in a way that will cause that to happen … so that then at least you have some control. Sometimes people feel safer (even if only subconsciously) if they nudge their fears into reality, so then at least they know they made it happen … whereas it feels a hell of a lot scarier if you try your best to avoid disaster but the universe has its way with you anyway. In other words, at some level you might feel that if the rug is going to be pulled out from under you, you’ll feel safer if you’re the one doing the pulling.

    Is this what it feels like to be subtweeted

    1. Parenthetically*

      But seriously though, this was me every winter (shout out to my SAD) for 10 years as a teacher. Constant (mostly-irrational) fear of getting fired, but also procrastinating my actual work nonstop. For me, it was absolutely related to my mental health and looking back I probably should have gotten a little help in the store-bought neurotransmitter department.

      Pomodoro was HUGELY helpful to me in minimizing the impact of anxiety: “I don’t have to get ALL these papers graded, I just have to work on them for X minutes, while I listen to this fun music and sip this delicious tea.” I also had a trick where I would tell myself I wasn’t actually going to WORK on the Scary Project, I was just going to get everything organized and READY, while listening to fun music and sipping tea… then suddenly I would realize I actually WAS working, because organizing and prepping for a project is just as much “working” as doing the project, and 9 times out of 10 the organizing/prepping would naturally tip over into working on the project anyway (and if it didn’t, no biggie, there it was all ready and laid out so I could tackle it the next day/after lunch/in an hour). For me, just starting the damn thing was my biggest hurdle, so if I could figure out a way to sort of trick my anxiety brainweasels into going to sleep for a few minutes, I could get into a productivity groove.

      I just tutor part time now but the tricks I picked up over 10 years of teaching still serve me well in pretty much all areas of adulting. Getting Sh!t Done has its own momentum just like Avoiding Sh!t has its own inertia. It’s not a perfect system but I find the success of actually accomplishing tasks and checking them off the list is so energizing that it enables more checklist-smashing. YMMV, of course!

  52. Kaitlyn*

    This is so relatable. I have two main strategies for combating this:

    1: I don’t call it work. I call it “checking emails” or “clearing out my inbox” or “making phone calls” or whatever. The process of clearing out my inbox necessitates that I take some actions, so it really is working, but don’t tell my brain that – I get so excited by the prospect of an inbox that no long needs any pressing attention that I’m glad to power through 8-10 menial small jobs in order to get there. /nerd

    2. I recognize that, for big new projects, I go into them with a certain sense of dread. What if I’m terrible at it? What if I do a bunch of work and it’s wrong and someone yells at me? What if I do a bunch of work and it’s wrong and I get fired? Best not to do the work, I think. But in reality, I’m a competent professional who hasn’t been yelled at in a job in, oh, nine years? So that’s probably not going to happen. It’s extremely rare that, when doing something for the first time, you have to be perfect at it. There’s a learning process, a dialog in which you share and get feedback and work again. Doing this enough times has allowed me to believe that taking on new work is exciting, even though I still dread it. And! Once I get into it,the flow state takes over and I actually do have a good time.

    As others have suggested, spend some time thinking about what your triggers are, and what you feel when you procrastinate. Tackle those. Change the set-up, change your situation, work through the fear, get the therapy…

  53. Moth*

    The only commentary I’ve found that truly describes how procrastination feels to me and affects my life is the Wait But Why web comic about the procrastination monkey. If you haven’t seen it before, I recommend looking it up! It clarified for me why all of the solutions that seem to work for others weren’t really working for me.

    Like several others here, I’ve found ways to work with/around my procrastination. Deadlines help. So has finding the time that I work best. Unfortunately, that tends to be in the late afternoon/early evening for me. So I often stay late to get things done. You have my sympathy, OP, because the cause of procrastination is multifaceted and true solutions for it remain elusive to me.

      1. Pnuf*

        I came on here to post this. I recognised myself so hard in this that I cried. Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s a comic – it got me most of the way to dealing with a procrastination problem that nearly got me fired.

        Good luck!

      2. Moth*

        Thanks for posting the direct link to it, ArtsNerd. I procrastinated all day on coming back to post it myself :)

  54. Lana Kane*

    I finally got help for my anxiety and my procrastination has decreased a lot. It’s not all gone, but I’m finding ways to cope when it rears its ugly head. In fact, the ways I am tackling the procrastination now were methods I tried before I sought help and didn’t work then, but are working better now. Please do consider talking to someone – it’s been a gamechanger for me. If you have a PCP or general practitioner, start with them if it all feels overwhelming. You got this!

  55. Doodle*

    I have an accountability partner at work — we do all of our day to day and urgent work on time or early; the problem is longer term projects or professional development projects. We each identified one of these to focus on, then meet every week to discuss where we are and problems we’re facing, and to encourage each. Very effective because neither one of us wants to disappoint the other!

    Another thing you can do is check ins with your boss. Doesn’t have to be every week, but you could write a short summary of your accomplishments each week (I keep it on my computer desktop) and questions or concerns that you have as well. Then use it in a meeting w your boss. Bonus on this: it gets stuff ready for your annual evaluation.

  56. Need a Beach*

    If you work in an environment in which you’re always putting out fires, your anxiety is going to constantly kick you down because “do everything faster than humanly possible” isn’t a reasonable deadline.

    That was my issue at an old job–when you’ve rushed something that was redone three times and now you’re being rushed to create a fourth version, you’re just going to throw your hands in the air. Why bother? They’re just going to change their minds again.

  57. Boba Feta*

    This letter: it me.

    One thing I just started ~ a week ago that has already had tangible (positive!) impact on my life that I haven’t seen mentioned yet is starting a Bullet Journal to capture and process the errant thoughts and projects and tasks and “ooh, lemme just look up one more thing real quick!” tendencies that insert themselves into our brains throughout the day to distract from tasks-at-hand. The added bonus benefit is that it’s analog so it may help you wean off the internet surfing.

    Of course, there is the threat that Bullet Journaling will become your new Modus Procrastinandi, as it apparently has rather addictive properties, but still – maybe worth considering!

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Conversely, I didn’t start a Bullet Journal for years because I though you had to do all the coloring and tabs and washi tape and doodling, and I didn’t want to do something that takes that much time.

      Then I actually went to the Bullet Journal website, and realized – it’s just a bunch of lists, with an index at the front so you can find your lists. (I’ve seen that indexing system before – I just hadn’t made the connection to use it for my own journaling.) A calendar and a collection of lists is something I can keep up with.

      1. Boba Feta*

        YES! I, too, tried and failed to “BuJo” because I could NOT commit to the ‘Gram-worthiness of it all. And then last week I just grabbed a $5 notebook and a pen I already owned and made the index, then a “Calendex,” then a “Future Log” for migrated tasks, and the very next page was literally called “Brain Dump” so I could offload the bazillion things I was trying to hold inside my cranium. And the relief I felt immediately is so hard to describe except that I know it was there because I felt it and it was real.

        The basic process:
        Have idea/ task item/ whatever -> Flip to next blank page and write it down -> flip back to Index and add item with its page number.
        Repeat.

        For anyone struggling, like I have always done, to keep up with the lists of lists of things that need to be listed, I strongly recommend finding a way to keep all your lists in one place. If not a bullet journal, then at least something consolidated that you can carry around and record/ keep track of things you need to keep track of and will always know where to look to find whatever.

      2. Parenthetically*

        Oh! Is that what it is? I definitely thought it was like a dayplanner + so much washi tape + art skills I do not have. Cool!

  58. Peridot*

    People have posted plenty of great advice, so I just wanted to point this out.

    In the situations you’re describing, you’ve still managed to get your work done. Even at your previous job, when you spent too long on the internet (and I have definitely been there). You know there’s something you want to fix, and you’re tackling it before it damages your career. Try not to be so hard on yourself. Good luck.

  59. ArtsNerd*

    Something that is apparently backed up by research (c/o my therapist) is to tell yourself:
    “You’ll feel so much better when you get X done”
    AND (this is important) to look back when you get it done and say “yes, that was actually true. I legitimately feel so much better.” (if it is true, which is most certainly will be.)

    That was still hard for me to do because the “doing” part might as well have been marked “here be dragons” but when we switched it to
    “You’ll be so much better after you *start* X”
    and then reinforcing it (something about neural circuits) by confirming that you actually do feel better, I saw some progress.

    It’s still a battle for me, but that is one tool that is helpful for almost everyone.

  60. Artemesia*

    I am a procrastinator — why here I sit on line instead of doing the list of personal tasks needed in my new move in — I should be framing and hanging photos, unpacking boxes etc etc. When I was writing, it was the worst and it took me 6 mos to write a book that I should have been able to complete in 3. In fact my entire career or moderate success was a constant battle with procrastination and I know I could have been more successful if I had been more productive in a career that had incredible personal autonomy.

    What sort of worked for me was using behavioral principles to get things done. Skinner himself, would write for a couple of hours in the morning and then when he was done, listen to classical music as a reward. The very act of completing a task is in itself reinforcing. So when facing a difficult writing task, I would after organizing the material, tackle the thing I liked best or was easiest, even if it was the 4th section of the article or the second to last chapter of the book and do that — and then slowly back through the next best sections and do the hardest parts last when everything was almost done. When totally stuck one time, I asked myself ‘what is something I could write today and get published?’ It was a one page ‘how to’ in a professional journal that published such things — I wrote it, sent it off and it was accepted within the week, which gave me that boost I needed to tackle the harder stuff.

    If I couldn’t do the important stuff I would ask myself ‘what is the dumb stuff that is easy to do that I could clear off my desk’ and then make a list and march through the trivial tasks crossing them off as I went. Again the act of getting ANYTHING done was so reinforcing that it made it easier to attack the harder stuff. (most people when they make their lists put a thing or two on them that they have already completed just for the satisfaction of crossing them off.’

    Yeah therapy might help, but also strategies that involve breaking things into tiny manageable tasks and providing rewards when completing them also can get you rolling. If I were surfing the web when I should be working and couldn’t discipline myself, I’d also look into blocking sites on my computer if I could do that quietly without alerting anyone else.

  61. Jess*

    Something that helped me (I’m a bit of a procrastinator, and also have a tendency to let myself tackle all the easy “this will only take 15-minutes” tasks while the less urgent but still important things dragged later and later) was when I printed out a schedule chart (days of the week with time slots in 1/2 hrs) and filled it in as I went through my day.

    I was really satisfying to see it fill up, I was a lot less inclined to spend 15 minutes futzing around on a news site when I would have to account for it on my chart, plus it was really enlightening about some time drains I hadn’t been aware of – running through my inbox to organise and prioritise new tasks didn’t take that long BUT I was doing it several times a day and it made me realise I needed to just “touch” lots of emails only once.

  62. The Rat Catcher*

    I only procrastinate on certain tasks. When I notice that item has been hanging out on my to do list for a few days, I make it the first project in the morning, and feel better when it’s done.

  63. WorkLady*

    I want to second Alison’s mention of Tomorrow Me. I call her Future Me, but I think it’s the same thing. :) I often coach/nag/nudge myself into finishing things I’d rather not do by thinking about how grateful Future Me will be to have it done. After you’ve saved your own bacon a few times by sending those slides in advance/making your lunch ahead/returning the phone call right away, it becomes easier to remember that feeling and push yourself to do something NOW so Future You doesn’t have to scramble and struggle.
    Also, just keep chipping away at it. I was a late bloomer with punctuality/procrastination and it got better as I got older. Don’t think of it as a TOTAL PERSONALITY OVERHAUL but instead try to score some small wins, celebrate them, and make them habits.

  64. ECHM*

    I like lists … being able to cross things off gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

    At my former reporting job, I worked across from a convenience store, so I motivated myself to finish certain stories by knowing that there was a King Size Reese’s and a Dove Dark Chocolate when I was done.

    Sometimes a change of venue helped me. When I’d have four stories to write, I would leave the office and work all afternoon at an all-you-can-eat buffet where I could keep going back for seconds and thirds on favorite items. I think they hated me.

    (Yes, this year I am trying to lose weight.)

    I also like the “just spend 15 minutes on this” and then you keep going because you’re on a roll.

  65. yellowpolkadots*

    Hi! My new years resolution was to be more productive. My job is pretty slow so whenever I actually have something to work on I procrastinate in order to drag is out. Lately I’ve been making daily to-do lists even with small tasks. Crossing something off feels good and it keeps me whole on making sure I’m getting done what needs to get done.

  66. Ruby*

    The OP should also consider getting screened for ADHD. I have the same problem of not being able to make myself do the work, even when I really sincerely want to do it. It’s not at all a way of controlling the outcome, it’s just that the more I delay, the more stressed I get about it. Then as a result of the anxiety about it, my brain function decreases and it’s harder and harder to focus.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      Yeah, I had this thought too- although it sounds like this comes from something more recent. Maybe it’s a combination of anxiety and previously controlled ADHD?

  67. HereKittyKitty*

    LW maybe log your feelings when you catch yourself scrolling mindlessly. Are you bored in that moment? Anxious? Feeling stuck? That might help identify what’s going on there.

    I, myself, am a huge procrastinator, especially if I find the work not particularly challenging. I developed some bad habits because I was not challenged enough in most of my schooling, so I could scroll for hours at a time and still get an A+ at the end of the day.

    If it’s not affecting the quality of your work, perhaps it’s not a huge problem? But if you feel the urge to take a break and scroll, maybe scroll across and industry website instead, or read industry blog posts, etc?

  68. Beth*

    Procrastination often gets painted as a laziness issue–oh, this person’s putting off their work because they don’t want to do it, they’re just lazing about all day, wasting time, doing nothing, no work ethic, etc.

    There might be a few people like that out in the world, but I think they’re actually the exception rather than the rule. Pretty much everyone I know who struggles with procrastination (including myself!) actually has a pretty decent work ethic, but is dealing with an entirely different problem: being overwhelmed. Sometimes the workload is overwhelming, and a task keeps getting pushed back because there just isn’t time to do it all. Sometimes the work itself is manageable, but there’s something else going on–clinical anxiety, physical illness, a family crisis, a bad breakup, whatever.

    No matter what the source, a lot of people react to feeling overwhelmed by basically hunkering down and just trying to do the bare minimum to scrape through. They’re exhausted, they’re stressed, they don’t have space for more than that! But when that continues long-term, it’s basically a recipe for all the ‘not immediately critical’ things to get procrastinated on until they become critical…and then procrastination becomes an overwhelming problem in and of itself.

    If this sounds like you, OP, maybe you’d benefit from working on reducing your stress load and breaking tasks into manageable-sized pieces? That is something you can get help from a therapist on, or there are a lot of strategies out there for time management and getting things done if you’d rather go it alone. (By the way…the abundance of self-help strategies and materials for this exact problem is a really good sign that this is common! You’re definitely not alone–don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re only human and you’re falling into a trap that a lot of people struggle with.)

  69. Cloaking device activated*

    I could have written this letter. It’s been a huge problem for me at various times in my career, and I have had it come to a head once or twice in the way that OP described (and yes, I was falling behind and missing deadlines because of it).

    I think in my case it’s a set of avoidance mechanisms for the case where I don’t particularly want to do the work – if I’m really interested in something then I rarely have a problem. I had to confront this after one of the disciplinary episodes mentioned above, when I decided to sit down and work on the thing I’d been avoiding if it killed me. So I did, and immediately I felt like a deer in the path of an oncoming train. My brain was Not Happy, and it took so much of my mental energy to fight off all the various distraction/avoidance impulses (“This isn’t working! Maybe come back to it in a few minutes?”) that I could do nothing but stare at the screen for the first half hour or so. Eventually it eased off a little and I was able to find a little mental breathing room. I recognized a simple task that I could do that was relevant to the purpose, and did that. Then I spotted a couple of other ones and went on to do those. After that I had a bit of momentum and was able to become engaged in the task, and it got easier – until the next day, when I had to do it all again, but this time it was only 20 minutes before I was able to achieve some level of focus.

    It doesn’t ever go away for me and it’s incredibly easy to relapse, but knowing that I have a way out of it if needed is a big help.

  70. TeacherLady*

    I have a terrible procrastination habit, and through some therapy, I have discovered that a good part of it is due to my anxiety that I will do a terrible job/will never get it all done/will feel overwhelmed like this forever (I might also have some attention span issues thrown in, but the anxiety is the bulk of it). It’s hard to power through work when your brain is telling you what an awful job you’re doing and also playing your to-do list on a loop.

    But what has really worked for me (thanks, therapist!) is to recognize I’m feeling anxious, then proceed to do the work anyway. Like, “I’m feeling anxious (as I do). Well, doing this work is going to feel bad for a little while, but that’s ok.” It helps me to remember that anxiety is just how I roll, not the Ultimate Truth. And often, once I’ve overcome that feeling by just working anyway, things start to get easier, because I can see I’ve made progress for the day.

    I’m also working on organizing my workflow so that I can do a “crappy” first draft, then revisit it later. It stop things from getting stuck in my “this is awful” filter, and 90% of the time, it only ends up needing a light revision. Might be useful if you have any sort of work product you have to deliver.

  71. wittyrepartee*

    Hi! ADHD – subtype distracted here!!

    Something that’s helped me a lot is that my current job screens all social media from my computer. I still procrastinate, but it’s not the infinite scroll of inanity that Facebook holds. Would your job be okay with installing productivity software on your computer? You could self block the things that trouble you the most.

    Maybe go for a walk outside or something when you need a break. Get off the computatron for a bit.

  72. Koala dreams*

    When I read the title of this post, I thought about a trick that I use for myself: I write a short list with 1-3 easy things that I can do today, and then I cross them off when I’m done. It gives me a little boost, and I’m more likely to feel the motivation to tackle the harder things. I try to trick myself by saying to myself “If I do these things and cross them off, then I going to be happy about my day, no matter how many things are left to do”. Sometimes I write down 5 things or write down some of the harder parts of my job and then I end up doing none of them, so the recommendation to write to do-lists for everything just doesn’t work for me. Just a few easy things, though, and I’m on my way…

    After reading the entire post, I realized that you actually get things done, it’s more that you feel it’s a bad look to be browsing internet too often. If that’s the problem, I suggest you find more diverse ways of procrastination. If your work has different things going on, plan on doing one thing for twenty minutes and then switch to another thing. Take five minutes to clean your desk or put more paper in the printer when you can’t focus. Take a short walk for 5-10 minutes two or three times during the day. Not only will it be less noticable than frequent browsing, it’s also better for concentration not to spend too much time thinking about one thing only. A short walk or a few moments doing something easy can recharge your brain and make your work more productive overall.

    Good luck!

  73. Audrey*

    For me, I often have a lot of things going on and it can be a bit overwhelming. When really stressed in past jobs, this would occasionally result in procrastination. My key method is as soon as I realize I’m drifting, if it’s something short (reading a quick Ask a Manager column after I’ve been working for hours) I let myself finish. Otherwise I do this immediately. Either way, I just ask myself one thing:
    “What (work) do I want/need to be doing right now?”

    It seems so basic, but often that lets me refocus and know WHAT to work on rather than stress out about the length of the list or the 5 things all going on in the background. None of them matter: what do I need to do right now?

  74. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I spent just a month taking care of my ill father and the wheels fell off. I cannot imagine taking care of an injured person for months and still having a normal life. I can’t see that working out at all.

    Okay so you had grief (sadness/fear/upset) over your bro’s accident. Then you jump into taking care of him because you are a good sib (sincerely). But you keep working and how was your self-care doing? I bet you are saying “What self-care?” So you got yourself good and tired and kept going anyway.
    You know we can push ourselves.
    When both my parents were hospitalized I pushed myself so hard, I stopped feeling my body. I never felt hunger or the need to go to the bathroom. Fortunately I had enough of me left to realize this was Not Good. I put myself on a four hour schedule where I made myself eat something and go to the bathroom every four hours no matter what I was doing. Finally, after a three hour drive, I got out of the car and dropped. I blacked out from exhaustion. Why I did not black out behind the wheel, I will never know. I do remember driving on the wrong side of the road and thinking, “something is wrong here… but what?” Yeah, I got real lucky on that one and I learned a big lesson. It took me over a decade to stop fearing that I would blackout while driving.

    So how hard did you push yourself and how tired did you get? You got tired enough to disconnect from your job. That’s pretty tired. Your letter here shows you pressed on. You are a very strong person, OP. So many people here are indicating that they know what you are talking about. It takes strength to move forward, most of us recognize that in you instantly.

    Adding to the suggestions of everyone here, I suggest that the stress of that time depleted your body’s resources and you could still benefit from putting some good nutrition into you. This could mean vitamins and minerals and/or whole foods in your meals. Regular hydration also can do wonderful things. How do you sleep at night? Did you know we have to have energy to sleep? I always thought that was cruel irony. When we get overtired, that fatigue can cause us NOT to sleep. Like dominoes, lack of sleep exacerbates whatever small problems we may be having. And the whole thing works into a vicious cycle. Look around and see what small thing you can do to beef up your self-care this week. I know that there is stuff I can still make improvements on and it’s been decades since I blacked out.

    A mind that is housed in a rested,nourished, hydrated body is less apt to procrastinate and less apt to get stuck in other pitfalls. You have enough of you intact to know that you need to help you, so I see a lot of hope here. It’s people who forget to help themselves along that have some real sad stories. So as you contemplate therapists and other things, think about how you can use daily routines to improve your overall health. I am a big fan of a multi-prong approach for serious concerns. I wish you the best, OP. If you want to tell us, we’d be happy to hear how things are going for you.

  75. Anxious Andy*

    Personally, as someone with an anxiety disorder and a serious issue with procrastination, I have to do pretty much the opposite of what Allison suggests re: focusing on how it will feel to be rushed at the end vs. finishing early. That would just reinforce my perfectionism and the utter terror of knowing that I will never live up to my own standards! I’m struggling with this a lot right now in my PhD program. So far the best solution I’vr found is to check in with what I’m thinking and feeling, challenge dysfunctional thoughts (“I’ll never finish and then I’ll be kicked out and die alone!”), and give myself permission to do less-than-perfect work a little bit at a time. Therapy is helpful, but it really is an ongoing process, one I expect to continue for the rest of my life.

  76. MissDisplaced*

    I have some days like this. It’s not procrastination as much as it’s distraction though.
    I’ve tried a number of things, but overall what seems to work best for me is just a simple list of things I need to get done each week, sometimes with daily bullets or tasks. Checking them off feels wonderful and I keep them as a reference (a hangover from a toxic exjob).

  77. LW*

    Hi all!

    I’m still going through everyone’s comments and I fully intend to read them all (at home with a cup of tea and not as a means of work procrastination!). So far I would just like to give an immense, sincere thank you to Alison and all of the commenters. It’s such a strange feeling – in this letter I basically exposed what I consider to be my greatest shame and my most terrible flaw, and yet, all I’ve received from everyone was good advice, empathy and support. I was feeling extremely overwhelmed when I wrote that, but now, I know that I’m not the only one struggling with this and it’s just such an incredible relief. It doesn’t make anything disappear, but now it feels less dramatic and more manageable. Like something I can work on solving, not some fatal flaw dooming me to eternal professional failure.

    Alison’s response as well as many comments in the thread gave me a lot of ideas to explore and I’m feeling optimistic. All the talk about anxiety and ADD really resonated with me and I will definetely be looking into getting therapy for that – I recognized myself a lot in many stories that were posted here. I also left it out of the original letter but I suspect my current spike in procrastination has something to do with the fact I recently received a diagnosis for a chronic illness. I’ve been worried about this, and the pain management part is… let’s say, still a work in progress.

    A last note about the coworker who was watching what I was doing at my last job – actually, it never even occured to me that they might have been out of line because I was so wrapped up in my personal guilt! This change of perspective helped a lot actually – if that’s not a normal thing to do, then, I have no reason to expect my new coworkers to be out to get me (especially since to be honest my current web surfing is rather close to the 20-30 minutes Alison mentioned, so, I don’t really think there would be much to “get”).

    Thanks again for everything, and Internet hugs to everyone who’s in the same boat!

    1. CheerfulPM*

      Thanks for the update! I just wanted to add one other thing that has helped me with procrastination that stems from anxiety. Try replacing the “bad” habit with something that can actually soothe the anxiety. For me, when I find myself wanting to browse internet articles and possibly get too sucked in, I find that getting up and going for a brisk walk helps. Walking can have a similar effect as EMDR used in anxiety therapy, and it gets you up and moving. I’ll also often request one-on-one/check-in meetings to be walking meetings. Another perspective that I recently heard was that if you’re wanting to escape towards reading internet articles while at work, that maybe you’re not giving yourself enough time for that outside of work? If I know that I’m going to be able to read for 45 minutes after work, then during the day I can tell myself that I can save it for this evening. Good luck!

  78. Secretary*

    I’ve so been there!!
    It helps me to remember that overcoming procrastination is a process not a light switch.

    I respond best to setting little challenges for myself. Here are a few:

    -For one day, if I see ANYTHING that takes less than a minute, I do it right then.
    -I’ll see if I can finish all my work by 12pm (I get more throughout the day)
    -I’ll reward myself with stuff online. (“If I finish this report before 10am then I can read AskAManager”)
    -I play upbeat music which can motivate me to work faster.
    -If I know my boss is going to ask me to do something that week, I try to get it done before he asks about it, which creates urgency.

    -I’ll take all items I need to do and prioritize them like so:
    -Highly Important/Highly Urgent Items —> Do right away.
    -Highly Important/Low Urgency Items —> Do after I finish the first category.
    -Low Importance/Highly Urgent Items —> Delegate OR do in between important stuff.
    -Low Importance/Low Urgency Items —> Don’t do OR set aside time to do all at once.

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