I’m forgetful and disorganized — and I’m a project manager

A reader writes:

I’ve always been a forgetful, disorganized person and my bad stress avoidance skills means I tend to procrastinate on my most urgent tasks. Put shortly, I have an awful habit of missing deadlines.

I am aware this is not an insignificant issue in a professional setting. There doesn’t exist a job where punctuality isn’t a priority. This is something I need to fix about myself. I recognize this, and I am working to try to overcome it. I’ve been seeing a therapist for the past two years to try to address the issues with stress avoidance, and I’ve been reading books like Atomic Habits to try to help with my organization.

My question ties to my current job as a project manager, which I’ve had for the past three years. I think I must be in one of the worst fields for a person with my issues. Not only do I need to manage my own timelines, I need to manage other people’s as well. On any given day, I have dozens of projects at varying degrees of completion that I need to keep top of mind.

When I first realized how at odds my work requirements are with my shortcomings, I had hoped that working in this field would finally make me address my tendency to procrastinate and lack of proper organizational skills. I saw myself as one of those people who move to a new country and have no choice but to learn a new language ASAP. I’d have to sink or swim.

That was three years ago, and I’m sinking like a stone.

Make no mistake, I am much better at those things now than I was when I started. One benefit of this field is that everyone in it stupendously organized and happy to share their tips. I have no doubt that the differences between me when I started this job and me now are night and day. This job is indeed making me address my shortcomings faster than anything else in my life has, but it’s not enough. I’m better, but I’m still not good.

I’m still consistently behind on projects and receive low marks on performance reviews. I know I would be better and happier in another job where my weaknesses aren’t so pronounced. But again, what job exists where punctuality isn’t important? I can’t quiet the little voice in the back of my head that says I need to keep working at it, and the best place to do so is at the job that already taught me so much.

I would love to know what you recommend.

I wrote back and asked, “What did you do professionally before this job? And how do you think your manager would assess your work overall currently?”

This is my first full “adult” job. After graduating college, I bounced around doing about a half dozen contract jobs. Not one really cared about my development like my current job and team do, but I think I left a better impression on them, since my lack of organization didn’t really have a chance to catch up with me in the six months or a year I was at them.

I don’t need to imagine how my manager would rate my work overall, as I just went through my annual review, a factor that prompted my letter: Overall, I am a delight to work with. I show a desire to learn, and I approach problems with creativity and a calm demeanor (a necessity in this field). When I show up to my job, I’m good at it. But I still received “needs improvement” across the board, as other teams consistently reported they need to follow up with me to ensure work is getting done. I’m on an improvement plan, with work being done to improve my organization and follow up skills, and will reassess in three months.


Given that additional information, I think the question posed in your letter needs to be purely theoretical.

If you received “needs improvement” ratings across the board and you’re on an improvement plan, there is a very high chance that you could be let go at the end of it, and so you need to be actively job searching. I’m sorry!

That’s not to say that improvement plans are always a prelude to firing the person but … well, often they are. And even when they’re not, they’re intended as a clear signal that things may not work out and that the period to figure that out is nearing an end. Your manager is telling you that your job is very much in jeopardy.

You should still work to improve on the measures laid out in the improvement plan — if nothing else, it will reflect well on you that you were clearly making an effort (and in some cases, but not all, that effort could even buy you extra time) — but start actively applying to other jobs.

As for what those other jobs should be: I would avoid more project management roles!

It’s one thing to target jobs that would be somewhat of a stretch, which can challenge you in a good way and help build your skills. But project management is a field where organization and meeting deadlines are crucial, fundamental traits for the work to go well. Taking a job where the thing you need to be extraordinarily good at is the thing you most struggle with is … well, it’s awfully mean to yourself! It’s sort of the definition of setting yourself up for failure. Why do that to yourself?

My sense from your letter is that you might feel there’s some inherent virtue in struggling until you get better at something. And sure, persisting at something that’s hard can be valuable. But when something is this much of a struggle and you haven’t made it to “good” after years of effort, there’s no special virtue in continuing to torture yourself — especially when it’s the thing you depend on for income.

You’re right that punctuality, organization, and follow-through will be important in most jobs. But it doesn’t make sense to take a job where they’re so central and fundamental to the success you will have in the role. By all means, decide it’s something you want to keep working at. But cut yourself a break; you don’t need to take a job where the things you struggle with are center stage.

There are jobs that would play to your strengths rather than your weaknesses. I don’t know specifically what they are for you because that’s not the focus of your letter, but there are jobs where timelines are looser and more flexible, or where you only work on one or two things at a time, or where someone else provides the structure for you to work within (rather than your job being to provide that structure for others).

It’s okay to decide something is not your strength and to instead focus on things that are, and it’s so much kinder to yourself.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 275 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There are some comments below suggesting the OP get evaluated for ADHD. It’s worth noting, but it’s also not what the OP is asking for advice on so now that it’s been discussed (extensively!) I’m closing those subthreads and asking that we focus on other advice for the OP.

  2. AVP*

    Oh, gosh, oh no. I have a very similar job so I can say – this isn’t really something you get that much better at. It’s possible to improve in the sense that often one organizational or management system will work better than another, and when you find that Magic System your job gets easier, but if it’s not inherent in your personality it will be a struggle until the end.

    Part of the reason why it’s so significant in your current job, as opposed to any theoretical job in which punctuality would be important, is because as a PM everyone else is relying on you to hit a deadline to do their own work. Missing deadlines or showing up late delays other people in a way that reverberates outward – like having one bad line manager at the bottom of your org versus having a bad CEO. There’s just so much more room to make an impact on peoples’ day-to-day at work. A lot of people love that because it feels amazing to make a good impact – but when it’s not working so well, it feels like shit for the PM, and then keeps flowing outward even more.

    1. AVP*

      Oh – also want to say that if you do find the right job for you, you might find that you magically do improve at all of these things – because there’ll be way less anxiety in the first place, and you might even be excited to get your biggest tasks done every day and start turning them in early! But a lot of this comes from the general “this is the perfect match” excitement and not from training yourself to grind through it over the years.

      1. meyer lemon*

        I suspect that even just moving from a project management role to one with more typical organizational expectations might go a long way to helping with this issue. It would probably remove a lot of stress, allowing the LW to make use of the skills they’ve worked so hard to develop in a more forgiving environment.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Yes. I would be horrible at project management, because I’m always trying the next new thing at organization and then moving along from it and trying something new. If people had to follow my lead while I did that, they would hate me. Fortunately I’m in an individual contributor role where I can get my work done and still play with various forms of organization without aggravating anyone else too much. Maybe OP could find some sort of individual contributor role where they aren’t expected to provide structure for other people, so they can take the time to figure out what their own style is and what works.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        I am OK at organization in general…but I’m much, much, much more organized when it comes to overseeing projects than I am at overseeing people. MUCH better. Maybe it’s the same for the OP, maybe not, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the OP finds that some facets of the very broad topic of “organization” come more naturally than others. So I am going to join my voice to the AM chorus that’s saying, OP, you should not make yourself miserable trying to excel at a job that exaggerates your weaknesses rather than demonstrating your strengths. Yes, all jobs require some organization, but they don’t all require this much. You can find something that suits you better, I’m sure, which will make both you and your employer happier!

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        Not only because of reduced anxiety. Having strong external structure reduces the burden on your brain and frees up all that energy you’re currently spending trying to prop up your poor executive functioning.

        I spent way too long trying to make it as a freelancer, struggling with all the things LW describes. Switching to a job with rigid structure was SO FREEING. It might sound horrible to some people, but I thrived on being told exactly where to be at exactly what time, having no control over the pace of my own work or what projects to do at what time. When I don’t have to worry about organizing myself my work is fast and great quality as well as being much more enjoyable for me.

        Over the past 5 years I’ve gradually moved into roles with increasing amounts of autonomy and independent time management…. the slow pace of the change has given me time to build up the skills I need to keep my head above water (which in my case required ADHD diagnosis, medication, and therapy) vs jumping off the deep end and sinking. However, I’m not sure I’ll ever really enjoy being in a role where I provide all the structure. At heart I really need/want someone else to keep me on track so I can focus on getting stuff done.

      4. JR*

        This is my experience – I magically improved at procrastination once I was in a job that I found highly motivating and where the work came naturally to me. Dealing with the odds and ends of my to do list is still my least favorite part of my job, but it’s so much better.

        I’d also add that at some point several years into my career, I realized it was time to focus on refining my strengths versus mitigating my weaknesses. School is so much about learning new things and overcoming a lack of expertise, and in my early career I’d always wanted to make sure I was opening as many doors as possible. But several years in, I realized it was okay to start closing the doors that weren’t a good fit, and that I’m not going to be great in my career by focusing on the things that I don’t enjoy and that don’t come naturally. Sure, there are always going to be parts of a job that I don’t like, and some things, like reliability, will always be important. But OP is definitely at the point where she can start closing doors on careers that aren’t a fundamental fit, and she might find those skills that are hard start to come more easily once the job overall is a better match.

        1. WegMeck*

          Yes! I was coming here to say something very similar – one of the most magical “a ha” pieces of advice I got was to focus on playing to my strengths, not overcoming my weaknesses. I heard it phrased this way once: if you think about all skills on a spectrum from 0-10 (where 0 is bad and 10 is amazing), for your strengths you may “naturally” start out somewhere around a 6, but have the capacity to grow and build to a 9 or 10 whereas for your weaknesses you may “naturally” start out at a 2 and be able to work really, really hard to build to a max of 6 – better than average, but nowhere near what you’re capable of when playing to a strength.

          Also – it is SO MUCH EASIER to get the bulk of your job done when it doesn’t involve tasks that bring you dread or hammer on the parts of yourself you’re most insecure about. That’s not to say you’ll never procrastinate – but it’s easier not to put off the stuff that stresses you out when it’s 10% of your job vs 90% of your job.

          I’m not sure what kind of work you’re in – but if you generally like working with teams, serving in a “connective tissue” role (where you enable work, but don’t necessarily own the end-product deliverables) – you might look at business analyst roles. “Business Analyst” is a pretty broad job title that means different things, different places, and in my experience, these roles can be more or less heavily weighted towards project management but they also involve a lot of requirements gathering and documenting (aka: helping everyone get really clear on what they need, why they need it, and how they plan to accomplish it) and negotiating between teams. Deadlines are still important, but it’s typically more like “make sure all of these things are documented and ready to go for meeting X” than the day-to-day of project management.

          Also – as many commenters have already pointed out – the joy of moving into a non project management job is that then you get to BENEFIT FROM REALLY GREAT PROJECT MANAGERS managing your time/projects. Great project managers (in my experience) are great at the details and also generally great at managing both the micro and macro elements of a project – so can be your allies in helping you figure out the order-of-operations for work that needs to be done (which can help with some of the ‘executive dysfunction’ blocks that sometimes lead to procrastination, too). Reading between the lines – it sounds like you might actually be good at some of those qualitative pieces (understanding team needs, etc) so that could be something you can build on.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Just yes! Why would pick a job whose entire focus is stuff you’re not great at? Making sure that you are on time for work is not the same as managing and running the schedule for an entire team.

      I’m a PM, and I quite like it. I will say that I had a bad stretch of a year or longer in my role as a PM when I was overworked, overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, and assigned to a disaster of a project. I even did procrastinate on some important things because I didn’t know how to do it and who to ask for help.

      But generally I have and use those same skills in real life. I’m the planner and organizer with my friends. I prompt my club to pick a date for the next meeting because I am trying to plan my schedule for next month. And somehow I keep ending up in charge or asked to be in charge of logistics because that organization just shines through. OTOH I may plan a date and location for a party, I am not the person to ask to decorate or come up with a theme or the overall event. That’s not my forte and I avoid it.

      Find a job that plays to your strengths. Even I work better with externally imposed deadlines rather than self-directed ones. I never want to be the big boss or move to a higher level. I’m very happy where I ended up.

      1. saffie_girl*

        Great points! I think there is also a difference to consider between project work and that with a more routine schedule. I thrive working on Projects with a longer timeline and something new always around the bend, but there are plenty of roles that have to have a standard routine every month to do their jobs well. I would be HORRIBLE at those jobs, but I know plenty of people who thrive under that kind of structure and would hate project work. Both types of people are needed, you just need to figure out how you work best.

    3. Lady Meyneth*

      All of this.

      LW, I’m a technical type person, and I’m really successful at it; I’m considered the top expert in the company at my particular area. I’m also one heck of a procrastinator and always have been. I rely *heavily* on the project managers at my company to set good deadlines for me (and I know a couple of them build in oh-shit-it’s-late time into my projects – and not just mine).

      I could not, EVER, do what they do, and have mad respect for them. But I am very good at what *I* do, and I suspect our PMs would also hate and struggle with my type of work.

      All that’s to say, you can excel at your job while being a disorganized procrastinator by nature. It probably can’t be a job in project management, but do you really want it to be? Please, stop torturing yourself and feeling like a failure because this particular job is not for you. Something else will be and you’ll be happier for it, and probably procrastinate a lot less.

      1. Presea*

        This, this, this. I rely so much on the structure my project manager provides; while I’m capable of lighting the fire under my own ass when I need to, I get burnt out if I’m doing it constantly. The main thing motivating me to stay organized at all is because I’ve found a job (and a way of framing it!) that plays very well with my own intrinsic motivations – which for me is getting to write good code, work with good people, and help make the lives of those good people easier where I can. I rely on that structure to give me the space I need to shore up my weaknessess.

        OP, please be kind to yourself, and look to your strengths instead of your weaknesses. Maybe ask a trusted loved one or even a therapist if you need help identifying what those strengths and intrinsic motivators even are.

        1. Betty*

          One great insight I got a few years ago (maybe from Lean In, or possibly Design Your Life?) was that your “strengths” are the things where doing them energizes you and keeps you going. Regardless of whether you ever get technically “good” at organization, OP, it sounds like it’s something that’s always going to feel really effortful and draining, and therefore not the thing you want to be central to your professional life!

      2. AcademiaNut*

        Oooh yeah. I’m good at technical problem solving and writing code and analyzing data, and I’m good at organizing ideas, and I work well with others but the long term planning and deadline meeting is something that I handle much better when there’s someone else to apply pressure.

        I was at lunch with some colleagues recently, and a couple of us were singing the praises of dedicated project managers. Not just faculty in charge of projects, but trained people whose job description was to cat-herd all the very competent but often easily distracted people and make sure that documentation was complete, and requirements filled, and necessary stuff done in a timely manner.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Rather akin to how I discovered that software development wasn’t a job for me. Give me a deadline far in advance? I’ll leave it to the night before.

        Hence why I work in tech support/IT now. I’m so much better at ‘omg fix this NOW’ than forward planning. Thrive on it!

        1. SyFyGeek*

          Exactly! I work better under pressure. During a chaos filled afternoon, give me a problem at 3pm and a 4:55pm deadline and I will amaze you with what I can do.
          That said, I’m on AAM now as my reward for completing a task this morning. Why did I complete it this morning? I received an email asking the status. Now I can say it’s complete. Instead of saying I hadn’t done it yet.

    4. Des*

      I wonder if you’ve considered shorter-term contract work (some kind of consulting). Contracts are risky and you always have to be looking for a job, but the benefit of having very tight / short-term deadlines is that you don’t have an opportunity to let things slip for long, your client is looking for an answer ‘right now’. Just a thought! Good luck, OP, you sound like a conscientious and kind person and I hope you can find a job that makes you satisfied.

    5. lyonite*

      Agreed entirely. I actually considered making a change to project management when I was looking for a different direction for my career–I took a course and the main thing I learned from it was that I was supremely unsuited for a PM role. (In addition to being not-terribly-organized, I also don’t care much for working with people.) So I recommitted to my technical role, and have had ongoing success there, and I know I made the right decision. All of which is to say, just because you are not right for this role, it doesn’t mean you will never be successful.

      As for what to do, are there any roles in the projects you’re managing that seem interesting to you? One advantage of your current position is that you’re able to get a view into the kind of work that goes on in your field, and that might give you some insight into potential future directions. Good luck!

    6. Quill*

      I absolutely disagree. People aren’t born with organizational skills. Everyone learns it. Maybe LW needs an ADHD evaluation, a productivity coach, or a different job/field/role. Trust me, you would be amazed at what people can learn and how they can grow over a period of years. The fact that this is LW’s first non-contract job since college indicates that they are likely in their 20s so quite young, and have a ton of learning and growing to do. Also, it’s interesting that there was no mention of whether LW likes or enjoys their current field or company. It sounds like they do — except for the PM duties. LW, you could consider if your manager would think about moving you to a different sort of role at your current company.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        Agree with Quill, like math or clarinet or any other skill, there’s some natural aptitude toward learning different skills but these things are mostly learned. To think otherwise just limits yourself. This mentality is exactly why you have “I just can’t do math” or “I’m not a creative person”

        1. LilyP*

          That’s actually a good analogy! OP is also seeing this as a base personality trait, but like imagine applying the same logic to math: I dislike math, it stresses me out, I’m struggling to meet the basic requirements of my current math-focusrd job, so I definitely need to just stick it out in my career as a professional mathematician because every job requires *some* math right? Just because you *can* build a skill doesn’t mean it’s a good use of your time and energy.

        2. English, not American*

          But you can also have a natural inaptitude for a skill. It’s not like the options can only be “neutral” or “naturally talented”.

          Using the maths example, I have always been great with numbers, it is a natural aptitude I have. My partner knows how to do plenty of maths, he has a science degree and has worked in labs his whole career, he’s not afraid of numbers or an “I just can’t do it” type. But ask us each to add a column of numbers: I’ll do it in half the time an average person would take, he’ll take double the average time. He doesn’t have any kind of neurodivergence, he’s not struggling to remember or understand, numbers just take him longer in the same way that numbers just come easily to me.

          1. Scarlet2*

            Exactly. Sure, it’s always possible to get better at something, but why choose a job where the main skill you’ll need is something you struggle with? Like your partner, I’m not very good with numbers. I manage everyday maths-related skills just fine, like budgeting, etc., but it doesn’t mean it would be a good idea for me to try and become an accountant.

            Based on the letter, LW got better, but they’re still not at the level they’d need for this job. The problem with the “sink or swim” mentality is that… sometimes you sink.

    7. TardyTardis*

      Checklists and computer nagging can easily be your friend. If Chuck Yeager could follow a checklist while he was headed down towards the earth at a high rate of speed, so can you.

  3. Kate*

    As a project manager by choice: while yes, punctuality and organization are things I fully need in the people whose projects I manage, it’s also not the top skill I expect from them. For example, when I am project managing someone who is a brilliant coder for our relationship management software, my standards are that THEY will be amazing at the coding and *I* will be the one worrying about tracking down deadlines, status updates, etc.

    I bring this up as a reminder: you can choose a role that lets you excel at something else, and while a basic level of organization is required, let the people who love doing that stuff worry about it! That’s literally my job! You shouldn’t have to suffer through it when there are so many types of skills – research, design, numbers, coding, you name – that perhaps you could shine in while letting someone else focus on the project management work.

    1. Dave*

      Yes! You could be the technical lead while you have good background support that says don’t forget about X, what are we doing about Y. That said as someone who has played this pivotal support role you have to take that person as helping you stay on track and not that they are ‘picking on you’. I have done this role for multiple people and some people don’t take help well.

    2. Katrinka*

      I was thinking that LW could talk to their manager and explore moving to a different position within the company, if that’s a possibility.

      1. Paris Geller*

        Yeah, it sounds like OP’s boss and colleagues like her a lot as a person with strengths. . . just not strengths that really help at her particular job. I bet if she could stay at the same company in a different role she’d be a lot happier AND have better performance.

    3. Let's Just Say*

      This. Project management probably won’t ever be the right field for LW, and that’s okay! It’s just a bad fit, not a moral failing. LW, I hope you do start looking for other jobs that play to your strengths better. You’re still so early in your career; it’s totally normal to make a change and try out a different direction. Ultimately, you want to be building a career you enjoy and can progress in, not just eke by with constant stress and fear of failure.

    4. IV*

      This is basically what I ducked in to say. Now, even PMs can have areas where they are week (I’m not a great organized note taker for example so it’s better for me to delegate that) but there’s a reason that companies hire PMs… so that all the other folks who aren’t great at deadlines and organization can focus on what they’re good at. And just think, you may be a weak PM, but everything you’ve learned in your years working on those skills can make you an amazing manager, individual contributor, and so on! Plus your future PMs will love you because you understand what the role entails.

      1. elizelizeliz*

        Yes! This is what i was going to say–that the reason that project manager roles exist is that these skills are HARD and not everyone has them so having someone where that is their specialty lets everyone else shine. If these parts of executive function aren’t your strength, that is totally fine and lots of jobs are designed to outsource parts of them!

        To think more about your executive function strengths and maybe choose a job that plays to them better–and to think about what ways you might want to balance out your need areas in a job that isn’t… entirely comprised of need areas, i totally recommend the book/series Smart but Scattered by Richard Guare and Peg Dawson. There are quizzes from there floating around the internet that are good jumping off points to see if it feels helpful as a framework. But what is true is that when you are using the EF skills you are worst at most often, everything in life feels worse (okay, that’s probably not how they would say it exactly, but still), and when everything else in life is worse, the EF skills that are harder for you plummet. So it makes sense that it feels like even as you get new and better systems, you are still sinking. But that’s not about you as a person, it’s about you + this job = EXCEPTIONALLY ROUGH COMBO for your brain. Be gentle and thoughtful with yourself!

    5. A tester, not a developer*

      Exactly! I’m in project work, but as an individual contributor/subject matter expert. I took a few intro to project management courses, and discovered it’s definitely not my thing. Keeping track of so many moving pieces, and seeing what the impact is if one of those parts isn’t done on time is way too stressful for me!

      And ‘individual contributor’ doesn’t mean ‘mindless meat puppet’ :).
      Being creative with solutions and staying calm are hugely valuable to a project, no matter what role you’re in.

    6. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yes! If I had to make and maintain my own structure, I’d struggle with it for the rest of my life. But if I can move my skills like a hermit crab into a structure that someone else has already built, then I’m set up for success. It sounds like the OP needs someone else to provide the structure and they need to find their own strengths to focus on.

      1. refereemn*

        This describes me so well! The biggest struggles I’ve had are either (a) trying to be the technical expert while also being handed the project manager role, or (b) trying to be the best at my technical expert role in a place without much built-in structure.

        I really enjoyed my time in professional consulting services because of this. I wasn’t responsible for scope creep and could focus on delivering the technology as defined in the statement of work. We deliver X Y and Z. Nothing more and nothing less without a change order. I excelled in that rigid framework and delivered some of my best work in my whole career.

        The downfall is that I’ve discovered that many very large companies (thousands of employees large) have very little structure for projects. The scope and deliverables are so open ended that it’s crazy to even nail down deadlines. And for me, a deadline is one of the best prods.

      2. TardyTardis*

        So true. I have had to create my own structure, but both my husband and daughter are in education, and Mr. School Bell is their friend. They look at my self-imposed schedule (which I admit sometimes goes straight out the window) and go ‘wow’.

    7. e*

      Adding onto this – my experience is that a lot of people are *wrong* when they try to compare what skills are necessary between jobs because they just don’t have other experiences. At my former job, networking was so key to the role that a significant part of my performance review was that I had to stop checking my email instead of mingling during breaks in conferences. I would express to people that I didn’t think I could do it forever because of that aspect, and they would say “Everyone hates networking” and “Every job has networking”. My mother, a software developer, would say that she had to network and interact with people all the time. My coworkers, former bankers, would say that every job required basically at least this level of networking and it wasn’t so bad.

      But let me tell you, I am a software developer now, I no longer cry in hotel rooms after fancy dinners ten times a year, and jobs are in fact different from each other! Punctuality might still be important in any other role, but it does not need to be *as* important, and that makes a huge difference.

    8. Maggie*

      This letter is a wake-up call to me because I am nearly the exact opposite of the OP. Everything she is not good at, I am. I love tracking, I love organization, I obsess over planning, and am very good at all the things the OP maybe is not. I am currently a well respected high school teacher who is burnt out. I teach special education students in the regular classroom. I track them fiercely and light fires under them to get the next step done, and when they don’t, I truly excel at analyzing their work processes, determining when/why/where they fell off track, and getting them back on track. The problem? When they finally turn in all of that work, I DREAD grading it. If I could just keep people on the train tracks and plan all day long, I would love that.

      The part of this letter that caught my eye was when OP said this was her first real adult job and that she even got it after bouncing around on short term contract jobs. I always thought project management required certifications and possibly even a specialized degree. Am I wrong? Is project management something I could switch to without going back to school?

      I know my question is not helpful to the OP, but there are a lot of commenters from skilled project managers here, so I am crossing my fingers that I might get replies and jumping at the maybe opportunity to hear from people in the field! Thank you for considering!

      1. ShinyPenny*

        Interesting question! If you don’t get responses today, try reposting this on Friday. There’s always a Friday open thread for all work/school related questions, to ask just this type of question.

      2. Alexandra*

        That is such a valuable skill set! Project managers exist across many fields, so depending on your qualifications it may be possible. They are common in consulting firms (I work for an engineering consultancy, so our PMs are expected to have knowledge & experience for example, on how to build a bridge, even if their direct reports are the ones who will be creating the engineering plans). Are there any consulting firms or advocacy groups that overlap with your knowledge base?

      3. NYWeasel*

        I’m a senior PM who manages other PMs, and I’ve only had one PM on our team that had any sort of certification. We work in marketing—my understanding is that most of the certifications are related to engineering and manufacturing project management

      4. Kate*

        You absolutely do not need any type of official certification. Please, please, please do not PAY TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL to be a project manager! It is a skill that is probably worst learned in a classroom setting and best learned by actually DOING it.

        You can demonstrate a project manager’s skills through the things you’ve described in order to transition into that type of role – particularly if you leverage your education background and start looking at roles in some type of field that requires education. Maybe an education tech startup, a nonprofit – schools themselves need these roles in admin situations.

        Project management is one of those things that looks easy on paper – “oh, just track it using this worksheet” – which is why many people have ‘certifications,’ but then a surprising number of people just are never able to follow through on doing the actual work. Demonstrate your current skills, rather than worry about getting “certified.”

        As a few others have said, the project managers who stand out in my mind as titans absolutely did not possess any type of credential related to that.

        1. kt*

          I think you (Maggie) could think about even managing software projects. It sure helps to know a bit about software, but what I see my project managers doing is talking a lot with the software folks and scheduling things, then talking with the data people and scheduling things, then talking with the biz people and scheduling things, then noticing that the schedules don’t line up and reorganizing the workflow to manage the dependencies and etc etc. Lots of communication and, well, management!

        2. IV*


          A PM degree is not useful and the valuable cert (the PMP) requires work in the field first and is not needed for most positions.

          Note, due to Covid, tech education is booming and that could be a great way of transioning into the field for you.

          1. Maggie*

            Thank you everyone for this feedback! I had heard of the valuable certification (the PMP) and misunderstood it. My husband works in construction where PMs abound, but in his field, they really do need an understanding of physics, construction principles, engineering, etc. So I’ve always seen that industry the most and been discouraged that I’m not quite there/prepared to do that work. I will think hard about the software and educational tech. industries. Thank you again for the information! And Kate–yes–I absolutely understand what you are saying. Every teacher theoretically **should** be able to follow up with their students and see if they are on track, but like you said, most people just… don’t. It is much harder to keep circling those wagons than the average person realizes, especially when it is more like herding cats than anything else!

            1. Rachel*

              I am a PM and you sound like you would be a natural at the role! You may have to sell yourself a bit (you did a great job in your comment so basically just tell the truth!), but if you can find a field that works with students and/or teachers, that’s a great jumping off point because you already understand the way they think (e.g. what stresses a teacher out the most) and what they need. Ed tech sounds like a great place to start, or things like textbook writing. You could also see if any of the patient advocacy groups that work with kids in special education have postings for PMs.

              The PMP certification will help show you are serious and may get a foot in the door, but honestly it’s not that helpful in practice. While a full degree is unnecessary, I took a class at a local college and it did help a lot! At minimum, it taught me the language that gets used regularly to concepts that I naturally understood (stakeholder management, critical path, gantt charts). Once you get the title, it’s easier to branch out a bit and the skills really are transferable.

      5. J.B.*

        Educational software may be a good in to project management for you. I manage small projects and don’t even spend much time on budgets, it’s mainly keeping the plates spinning.

  4. NotJustYou*

    I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but a friend of mine had been struggling with staying organized and every method she tried wasn’t working for her. Turns out she has ADHD. It’s worth looking into what else could be contributing to this.

    1. RandomCPAFromMN*

      I completely agree. I have ADHD and those are all things I struggle with. I’ve found it’s still hard, but manageable with the right medication and by working with my doctor.

      1. Anonym*

        I replied in more detail below, but regardless of whether OP has ADHD, the work and time management resources out there for ADHD adults can be an absolute lifesaver for anyone struggling with organization. Lots of it is free online. Strongly recommend!

          1. Anonym*

            So true! I’ve found Marla Cummins’ blog and podcast to be helpful. A lot of what’s out there does repeat the same few things over and over (break tasks into small chunks, set timers, learn what time of day you focus best, etc.), but I find her materials to be more specific and concrete. She does a good job of explaining the why of things – why your brain does this specific thing, and why these 1-3 approaches work.

            I hope that’s helpful!

    2. glitter writer*

      I was just thinking the same thing, honestly. Two different friends of mine who received ADHD diagnoses after their thirtieth birthdays could have written this letter.

      That said, even with treatment neither of them finds themselves suited to project management jobs, and that’s okay! They’re both now extremely successful in other fields.

      1. Wombats and Tequila*

        I know we’re not supposed to armchair diagnose, but as one with ADHD myself, who was not diagnosed until my 40s, this was the first thing that leapt to mind even upon reading reading title.

        I hope OP wastes no time in getting an evaluation from a doctor who “believes” in ADHD. (There is a lot of science going back decades to back up that ADHD is real condition with measurable neurological differences, but sadly, there are still medical professionals who think that only wild little boys with bad grades have it, or that it is made up altogether. Avoid these people).

        OP, I tried the therapy route. No amount of therapy can rewire your brain. In my case, and that of many with ADHD, meds gave me a chance to experience what it was like to function like a more neurotypical person. The sooner you get a proper diagnosis, the sooner you can leverage the focus that meds give you to start building helpful habits, and rebuilding your self-esteem.

        Please also consider that whether or not you have ADHD, some people really have to be discerning in their choice of career to find a good fit. If being organized is your area of challenge, perhaps you should seek a career path that leverages your strengths instead.

        1. Katrinka*

          One thing about the ADHD meds is that they start to work almost immediately. After a couple of days, you’re going to know if it’s working or not. With my kids, it was like night and day.

    3. MDB*

      Totally agree.
      I was diagnosed as an adult, and it explained an awful lot (like underperforming in school/college, though I had tested high enough to skip a grade in elementary school). I was also in a job where some of my weak areas (extreme detail-work, organization, and maybe the worst–ability to work while being interrupted frequently, and being able to get right back on task after an interruption) were really important to the job. Identifying the issue went a long way re: figuring out some strategies, and some of the things that I learned helped a lot–but ultimately, it was not a great fit for me. It’s very much worth checking into.

      1. PT*

        I’m really organized and I’ve worked at several jobs where the interruptions are somewhere between Inception and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, and I have to say, as I’ve gotten older, they’ve really started to irritate me. I’d like to be able to focus on something for more than 15 minutes without having to spend 30 minutes on a wild goose chase doing 10 random errands and then have to spend 5 minutes reading back the previous work I did to make sure I don’t make any mistakes, and then once I’ve made 12 minutes worth of progress forward I get interrupted again.

        Also, this is the reason why those companies *never* paid us correctly. Because reviewing employee timesheets to make sure they are correct requires continuous concentration, not 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there and 20 minutes here and I was gone so long the software logged me out so I have to find my place again…

    4. T. Boone Pickens*

      Can we not do this for once? Every single time a LW posts up about disorganized the comments turn into WebMD where people tell a story about how their cousin’s brother’s uncle’s girlfriend’s cat walker was out grabbing ice cream with Ferris Bueller at 31 Flavors and they were super, like SUPER disorganized and they got diagnosed with ADHD and everything is amah-zing.

      For once, can we take the LW at what they say and just assume they struggle with you know, being disorganized and maybe being a PM isn’t the best place for them?

      Now, who wants Rocky Road!

      1. I don't have ADHD, I'm just disorganised*

        Yup! Why do people feel the need to do this? “I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but…” – NO. Stop. Do not pass go. This is just a way to circumvent the site rules against armchair diagnoses, it’s exhausting and unwarranted and people need to stop it.

      2. Elliott*

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with briefly mentioning the possibility if it’s not known whether the person has explored it yet. And in any case, even if the OP doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, it’s possible that non-pharmaceutical strategies that can help people with ADHD could also help the OP feel less overwhelmed at work, even if project management might never be the best career for them.

      3. LunaLovegood*

        I agree that armchair diagnoses can be annoying and problematic. A lot of times, disorganization is just disorganization! That being said, I spent decades thinking I was just disorganized, and I was diagnosed with ADHD in my 30s. I’m so grateful that someone mentioned off-hand that I might have ADHD a few years ago, because it never would have occurred to me otherwise. Armchair diagnoses are probably wrong most of the time, but it could change someone’s life if they’re right.

        Even so, ADHD treatment probably won’t make someone good at project management. With medication and coaching, I manage to function at a pretty high level at work (which often means covering up my disorganization and procrastination), and I’d be miserable in a project management role. And probably terrible at it.

    5. pope suburban*

      That was my thought as well, that there *may* be a clinical issue in play. I have a family member who managed well through school and through his career, but reached a point very much like the one OP describes, where he needed to be tracking multiple projects and people, and began to struggle. A medical evaluation and treatment for ADHD did a considerable amount for him. I wouldn’t suggest it except this sounds eerily, exactly like that situation. There’s nothing wrong with ruling out medical explanations, after all, and if this turns out to be a way for OP to stay in a job it sounds like they really do like (or a thing that helps them find the right role elsewhere, even), that would be great.

    6. Longtime_Lurker*

      Came down here to see if this was said! I was recently diagnosed and just knowing you need different strategies then others is a huge help. I’m on medication now and that has greatly improved many of the symptoms of ADHD.

    7. This is Jeopardy!*

      Yeah, I’d encourage OP to explore this to see if there’s something else there. ADHD and other things that effect executive function can be treated and it can be a relief to know there’s a cause beyond “I suck at being an adult”. I’m not saying OP actually sucks at being an adult, but from what I’ve observed with my husband (who has ADHD) as well as several friends, issues with executive function come with a lot of anxiety around being a “failure” with “basic” life skills. I’ve also observed that this is a very difficult thing to just power through with sheer willpower.

    8. CJ*

      Yep. I have it and this is the kind of thing I struggle with (and that my boss, who is neurotypical, doesn’t understand). It’s not to minimize the impact of missing deadlines, but a role that requires a lot of top-of-mind work is a challenge.

      I would also say that aside from investigating that, it might be worth investigating tools that could help – I’ve found spreadsheets, white boards, Trello, and bullet journaling all to be useful. The task management tools in Outlook are also workable, as they can remind me of specific tasks, but less useful because I have to review and add the task and then remember something about it so that I check the list and do the thing. One of my tasks is to send out a weekly email. If people send me items for it I flag them, but I can’t usefully set an alarm for the task as I might have time on Monday to do the email at 9 AM, or it might be 3 PM. So it does rely on manual review.

      A characteristic of ADHD, if you turn out to have it, is that if something is not directly in front of us, we forget it exists (or, worse, we remember it exists but the guilt and shame around not having done it means we avoid it). So it’s been most useful to me to pursue solutions that function as fairly independent prompts and to keep them strenuously up to date.

      There are other conditions that struggle with deadlines so it might not be ADD/ADHD. But the very worst thing you can do to yourself is think that you can just beat yourself up badly enough that your brain works in a way it doesn’t. We think that organization and deadline management are equally accessible to everyone and that it’s possible to just force ourselves to do it. Learning about ourselves and the conditions we might have is often a good way of learning how to talk to our brains, because people with conditions that affect organization are organized just fine – it just looks different than it does for people without any conditions or with different conditions.

    9. Gene Parmesan*

      That was my first thought upon reading this letter too. My teenage son has ADHD (Primarily Inattentive) and these types of issues were a large part of what led to his diagnosis.

    10. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s worth raising ADHD as a possibility but I also don’t want us to derail on it, since ultimately it’s not what the OP is asking about, so I’m closing this subthread.

    11. Justin*

      Yeah I have this issue and a similar job, and it was having this type of job that got me and my therapist to finally uncover these issues more definitively (I just tend to barrel through things and it usually works!). It brought out how my coping techniques just didn’t work with these sorts of tasks.

      So, whether you get diagnosed or not (which can be slow and expensive), I’d seek out organization methods tailored to these issues, as they might work for you. But yeah, look for a different sort of work, too. (I am.)

  5. MommaCat*

    I’m also a disorganized procrastinator, and I do best in jobs where someone else is doing the higher level planning, and I’m doing the day-to-day execution of those plans. I work in the arts (when there are jobs… sob…), and I don’t actually know what jobs in the real world are like that, but I’m sure others of the commentariat have ideas.

    1. WellRed*

      I think lots of office type jobs are like that, with specific tasks assigned regularly. Wehn I worked as a part time office clerk, filing, loading the copier, doing the bank deposit, making coffee. In a print shop I made copies, collated packets, filed artwork, etc. Bookstore assistant: Ordered books, received books, shelved books.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Well, and the OP could look at the other people in their current job. Is there a job within the project that they would be better suited for?

    3. Rowan*

      This was what I was going to suggest – jobs where the thing you need to do is always the thing right in front of you.

      For example, technical training is hard to procrastinate at – you are standing in front of a group of people (or these days, on a web call with a group of people) who expect you to start talking now. Can’t really miss that deadline, as long as you show up to class!

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Tech support! Very little forward planning by the staff, my most brilliant and highly paid techie is lousy at planning their week but give them an issue to solve ASAP but however they like and they’re an absolute genius.

  6. ADHD Career Changer*

    Note for mods/Alison: I hope I don’t break the armchair-diagnosis rule with this, but please let me know if I do and I will try to rephrase.

    You sound a lot like me! You may or may not have ADHD, but resources for ADHD people might be really helpful for you. I am very familiar with the feeling of really exceeding expectations when I first start a job, because 1) I thrive in new situations 2) like you, I am also pleasant to work with and very hardworking.

    I will say: I am now considered “extremely organised” by everyone who works for me – a fact that would completely baffle teenage me. People who are naturally disorganised/forgetful often grow to be the MOST organised because they are compensating for a weakness. I always write everything down the minute I hear it because of my forgetfulness, which means I never lose track of anything. Ignoring your current work situation for a moment (I agree with Alison’s assessment), this may not be an issue forever. I really empathise with you – best of luck xx

    1. MDB*

      I already commented my agreement w/someone else who suggested lookin into adhd–but your comment makes me want to add: YES, a lot of the strategies are great for people who don’t necessarily have this diagnosis, so it’s worth looking into. YES, I also was known to be hardworking, positive-minded, a creative problem-solver, a team player, an “extra mile” kind of person–and still had weaknesses and made errors in the tedious parts of the job, and took too long to get some not even very difficult tasks done, due to the constant interruptions of the environment. And YES, in some ways, I am super organized, due to how much we have to compensate and build little structures for ourselves. I’m having a hard time with the working from home, and do much better in the office (different job now, and I’m very good at it)–can’t wait to get back into working in person.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Ditto. I have some executive dysfunction without a full ADHD diagnosis, and the way I taught myself to deal with it as a teenager was to basically brute-force it – everything is written down, it’s in my smartphone, which beeps and yells at me to remind me about it, and it’s right there in front of my face. If someone puts my stuff away, hides my to-do list, starts asking me for things without giving me half a second to open a notepad (physical or on the computer), my carefully structured organization system starts to fall apart, and I’ve had to get real comfortable with saying “Hold on, let me grab a pen so I don’t totally lose that thought before you finish it.”

    3. Anonym*

      Hello, doppelganger! I’m pretty much the same, and still get a little disoriented when people comment on my organization. My approach: remember nothing! Write it down, schedule it, set alarms, block time for the “hard stuff”.

      You are so right and wise to point out to OP that it really can get better, either by changing approach or changing to a different role that plays to your strengths.

      You’ll figure it out over time, OP.

  7. Susie*

    I have so much compassion for you, LW.

    I was in your shoes 6 years ago. I had a job where the majority of the tasks were tasks that were incredibly anxiety producing for me (compounded by lack of leadership support). I thought that I had to keep pushing through to “not be a quitter” and “challenge is good for me”. I didn’t. I found a job in a similar field so I do have to do those types of tasks that are anxiety producing, but rarely at the same frequency as prior jobs (and jobs plural b/c I thought I could do better in the same type of job, just different employer….don’t do that to yourself). I’m so much more able to use tools to manage the anxiety around this type of task when I happens rarely than when I had to deal with the task multiple times a day.

    Good Luck as you try to find a better fit. I wish I had realized much earlier in my career that struggling at my job wasn’t because I wasn’t working hard enough…It was because the job didn’t suit my strengths and weaknesses.

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      LW, same!

      I’ve been encouraged my whole life (as a shy, creative person who doesn’t like the spotlight) that I need to “get out of the box! Push your boundaries! Be a leader!” and it SUCKED. Still does. I panic when I’m In Charge.

      My latest project, I took a new tactic. I went straight to my manager and said “look, I am a Grade A+ minion. Tell me what to do and it will get done, but don’t leave me in a position where I have no idea what my tasks are, or where I have to decide on the priorities and path without guidance and delegate them. I will not do nearly so well.” And she believed me, and holy heck. This project is hard, but I am not having a fecking nervous breakdown, because my manager is there saying “I need [concrete thing] from you, please support these people while they do the trailblazing design stuff.”

      I am happy. My manager is happy. Seven separate people on this project have said some version of: “thank you so much, I’m so glad you’re here supporting us.” I want to be Head Minion forever.

      Which is a long way around of saying: You do NOT have to work out of your weaknesses in order to be “better.” It is perfectly possible to thrive in a place where you can say: “I prefer external accountability for deadlines and a little flexibility when possible, but if you can supply that, I can provide you with X, Y and Z.”

      1. anon here*

        This is a wonderful comment!

        I would make a terrible project manager. I’m a fine data scientist. We have different roles for GOOD REASONS. Look around at people around you (in this job and others) and figure out what type of role would be better for you. Please! Are you good at linking business and tech ideas? Communicating? Doing data anlysis? there are many other roles you could be in.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        It really really seems to be A Thing that we’re all supposed to be Leaders! Trailblazers! Rock Star Ninjas! Nope. Most of us are going to be average, and MOST of us have it in us to be “grade A minions” and that’s Okay and Fine and Good. Work’s gotta get done and, honestly, more minions and fewer rock stars might be more functional in the long run.

      3. refereemn*

        Ugh! At one of the best places I’ve ever worked, we still had “stretch projects” so you could do things outside your comfort zone. Sometimes that was okay, but sometimes is was a nightmare!

        I’m okay with being part of the project planning and determining priorities, but sometimes just getting someone to get behind putting these things “in stone” is challenging. What’s our goal? When are we supposed to deliver? We are impacting 16 locations, so what order are we doing them in?

      4. Six Degrees of Separation*

        Thank you for that wording, Code Monkey, the SQL! I have a new manager and realized that I don’t do so well when I set deadlines for myself, so this gave me a good idea how to reframe it when we talk about the work process: “External accountability for deadlines and a little flexibility” — excellent!

    2. Agnes McDonald, Gal Detective*

      Yes to all this. My first job out of college, I worked at a small company where everyone was expected to grow into project management type roles as they progressed and my boss told me multiple times that I needed to master those skills in order to succeed professionally, ever. I believed him and spent years trying to work on those skills to little effect. (Turns out, he was really difficult to work with and had also given me one of our more difficult projects to manage – oh that job gave me nightmares.) When I moved on to a larger company I did still have some growth to do in prioritizing, but I’ve been able to get to a workable level and I don’t have to be in a job where organization is so central to my role. Play to your strengths OP! You don’t need to excel at this. There’s other jobs out there where you can get good enough with organization to be effective (you probably already are from the sound of it!) and then focus on where you’re naturally good at. I hope you find it!

  8. Taco Cat*

    Something to think about, and what I found helped me, was going through a discussion and review of my skills through a program called “strength finders”. I think it does cost money to do the test which helps identify core strengths but the general idea is stop celebrating working harder at something unless it’s actively holding you back and look for jobs that let you rely on your skills. Ie stop celebrating Rudy who invested an unbelievable amount of effort to be good at football when he could have been even more amazing at tennis and spent less effort at it. Don’t ruin yourself trying to be a project manager when you are going to struggle so much the entire time.

    You absolutely need to have some skills in organization and meeting deadlines but there are definitely roles where it’s less critical to success. Most entry level jobs that aren’t project work, you have some autonomy and you can be more focused on smaller scope of work.

    I do agree with Alison though, if you have a follow up on your progress in 3 months,I would start actively looking for new opportunities.

    1. MDB*

      I did this, in the job where I was struggling due to the mismatch between my weaknesses and the job’s main tasks. The employer (a very dysfunctional nonprofit) was terrible, and they had us do Strength Finders before a performance review (which wouldn’t matter–very little changed there and morale was terrible). Thankfully, my immediate supervisor–who no longer works there either, and we are still friends–took these assessment results very seriously and we had a great discussion about them. He coached me to use the assessment to make a case for why I should be in a different role in the organization (a promotion also) and it worked. The results were right on in my opinion–and my supervisor thought so too.

      1. Taco Cat*

        That’s great that you had a positive response to it and had a a manager take it seriously. I had some really great discussions with my manager and my whole department took it. Our HR sis a 2 hour session breaking up and talking through everyone’s results and it was really illuminating and provided a lot of context and understanding of how people worked. I found it accurate for myself and the team.

        I also just loved the idea, changing from celebrating working super hard to overcome challenges to looking for opportunities that build upon your natural strengths. You will get a lot farther focusing on that than focusing on improving areas you will innately never be great at.

    2. Anon MN*

      I also immediately thought of Strengths Finders when I read this letter. Highly recommend – after you take the assessment, it not only gives you a list of your top 5 strengths, but there are also lists of jobs/tasks that a person with that strength would really excel in. It’s not going to find your next job for you, but it could give you some good ideas as a starting point.

    3. IV*

      Oooh yeah! I took that (at a PM conference ironically) and it was really helpful! Not only do I understand myself better, but I let my employer know my results and now get to do more of the stuff I’m good at!

    4. MissGirl*

      I did this and it was immensely helpful in understanding my strengths and helped me figure out how to communicate better. It talked about how much I do constant analysis on every decision. I’m now a data analyst and doing better than the path I was thinking about, which was more people heavy and vague.

    5. Guacamole Bob*

      I did something similar a number of years ago (Johnson O’Connor aptitude testing, as a gift from my grandfather), and it was helpful. Even self-help career books that help you think through different kinds of work and the different skills they take might be helpful for OP.

      For a lot of new grads, “office work” jobs can kind of be one big fuzzy blur – they were for me. The fact that the day-to-day work of a project manager versus a sales representative versus an accountant versus a copywriter will look very different and require very different skills took a while for me to understand. And it took even longer to find a job that fit me well. OP might benefit from some soul-searching and maybe career advising and/or research on what kinds of work might be a better long-term fit.

    6. Nekosan*

      My manager had us do this a number of years ago. I really do like the “do what you’re good at” instead of “just struggle with what you’re bad at”.

  9. Taco Cat2*

    Something to think about, and what I found helped me, was going through a discussion and review of my skills through a program called “strength finders”. I think it does cost money to do the test which helps identify core strengths but the general idea is stop celebrating working harder at something unless it’s actively holding you back and look for jobs that let you rely on your skills. Ie stop celebrating Rudy who invested an unbelievable amount of effort to be good at football when he could have been even more amazing at tennis and spent less effort at it. Don’t ruin yourself trying to be a project manager when you are going to struggle so much the entire time.

    You absolutely need to have some skills in organization and meeting deadlines but there are definitely roles where it’s less critical to success. Most entry level jobs that aren’t project work, you have some autonomy and you can be more focused on smaller scope of work.

    I do agree with Alison though, if you have a follow up on your progress in 3 months,I would start actively looking for new opportunities.

  10. Akcipitrokulo*

    It sounds like your work wants you to succeed, and there are aspects at which you excel.

    Can you talk to your manager about any openings that better suit what you do do well?

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      This was my thought as well. One plus of being a project manager is you work with a lot of other departments. If you overall like your company and industry, is there another team that does work that seems interesting?

      I don’t know what kind of skills you have, but if, say, the data analysts are doing things that seems interesting that does tend to be an area where you are given a lot more structure and guidance. Or possibly operations, where you are maintaining the day to day workflow, rather than trying to set up and maintain the organizational aspects. talk to your manager and maybe take a look at the openings in your organization. It’s at least a good way to start thinking about what else is out there.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Oh, also, LW, I have been in your shoes. It is so hard to be trying your best and never quite getting it to work out. It is such a frustrating, demoralizing place to be, you have my sympathies. Try not to beat yourself up, and don’t torture yourself to try to fit into a role that isn’t right. you’ll find a better fit, it is out there.

  11. ampersand*

    Yes, LW needs to job search. While it’s admirable that they want to stick it out and try to improve these skills, it sounds highly likely that their employer is not going to give LW the opportunity/time needed to stick around and improve. That would need to happen in the reverse order: improve, and then LW can stay.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. That said, the LW’s been in this job for THREE YEARS. There’s been plenty of opportunity to show improvement, and they just haven’t done so. I think it’s time to throw in the towel and start looking for a job that will cater to the LW’s strengths, but to do that, it’s essential to find out what those strengths are.

      Sure, work can be hard and stressful at times, but it shouldn’t be this hard.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Yeah, that’s the bottom line really. If LW still hasn’t reached the level their employer needs after 3 years on the job, it’s just not the right job for them. And it’s OK, no-one is cut out for every job.

  12. Not A Girl Boss*

    Ooooooooh noooooooo. LW my heart goes out to you. This just feels like a fundamental job talent mismatch, not a failure to learn a language. Because, here’s the thing, jobs all require a special talent to really excel. Just like only the people who are extra good at English become writers, even through technically many people can learn to speak English.

    As a Project Manager myself, I often get frustrated because no one seems to realize that project management is a unique talent. They often think its something anyone can learn with enough effort. And its true, everyone can learn it, sort of. But it takes a certain natural gift to be truly great at it, let alone to actually enjoy having it as a job.
    When someone’s an artist or musician, people say “oh you must be so creative.” When someone’s a mathematician, people say “Wow, I am so bad at math I could never do that.” But when they’re a project manager, for some reason, people think that they’ve just… managed to learn a toolset akin to the ABCs? But if I had a dollar for every time a design engineer (who we all greatly respect for their unique talent) tried to step in as PM and immediately micromanaged and over-perfected a project to death… well, I’d be retired.

    I went to college for a niche type of engineering that’s very focused on Project Management. I remember looking around the room my first day, as my classmates got out their planners and their color coded sticky notes and pens, and I sighed this deep sigh of relief and thought “I’m among my people now. There are others like me. We will be great friends. We will all plan social outings weeks in advance and find great inner peace about it.”

    LW, I’m not saying that to complain about your assumption. I’m saying that to give you some relief: lots and lots and lots of people are bad (or, at least, average) at project management and organization. That’s why companies hire entire departments of Project Managers who’s entire job is to help other people stay on track.
    Everyone deserves to find a job that they’re naturally good at. Its such a fantastic feeling. Imagine, a life where you didn’t have to spend 8+ hours a day doing a thing you hate and feel bad at? Yes, that life does in fact exist.
    I know that timeliness and organization are important in every job. But they’re not always the *most* important, especially if you add value in other ways and there happens to be Project Managers around to help keep you on track.

    As for what that job should be? Hard to tell given the information we’ve got from you. I am normally loathe to suggest this, but tests like Enneagram or StrengthsFinder might be a good place to start exploring what your natural strengths are, so that you can go find a job that aligns with it.

    1. AVP*

      When I was a baby producer, one of the guys I was managing told me “my boss said that anyone with a computer and a phone could do your job! But not mine, mine is skilled.” I’m like…okay, here is my phone, here is my laptop, I’m gonna head out for the day then but let me know what time I should be in tomorrow when you make the schedule? Cool.

    2. Web Crawler*

      For what it’s worth, I very much appreciate my project managers. I’m a disorganized techie person, I can barely keep track of my own work. I doubt I’d last 5 minutes in a project management role before telling people to organize their own damn work.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Lol, thank you. I really appreciate people who acknowledge that I can help them and they can help me and we can be successful productive friends together. I have worked out all kinds of systems with various “technically brilliant but needs a checklist to tie their shoes” kinds of coworkers – and I love it! Nothing makes me happier than helping people stay on track in a way that works for them.
        Which was kind of my point to LW, there are jobs where other people’s entire jobs will be to help you stay on track, if LW is truly that disorganized (although I have a feeling LW will do just fine, and is just hyper-aware of shortcomings in comparison to people who are naturally good at it).

    3. Forrest*

      >> Everyone deserves to find a job that they’re naturally good at. Its such a fantastic feeling. Imagine, a life where you didn’t have to spend 8+ hours a day doing a thing you hate and feel bad at? Yes, that life does in fact exist.


      1. Cedrus Libani*

        Another AMEN over here.

        I’m a lopsided person myself. There are things my brain just won’t do. I’ve fought my way to the point where I can keep up with the average grade schooler – but that’s really the best I’ve got, and there was blood sweat and tears involved in even getting that far. Hiring me to do a job that revolves around those skills would be a great way to make both of us miserable.

        On the flip side, there are things my brain just does. I figured out early on that I need to get a job doing that stuff – which I did. It’s much easier to like your job when you’re naturally awesome at it.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      We will all plan social outings weeks in advance and find great inner peace about it.

      Or do what I do and end up planning the social outings for my non-PM friends group since I want things planned out week or more in advance.

      If you’re not well suited to be a PM, you don’t have to keep banging your head against the wall. And I think after 3 years, needs improvement across the board, and misery, you should find a job that’s more suited to you, LW.

      1. AVP*

        I love having other PM friends, too. One time someone planned a group day trip outing and sent around an 8-page PDF in advance that included train timetables, maps, menus…it made me so happy. There are always a lot of jokes about “okay it’s time to PM the trash” at the end of any party.

        1. OceanDiva*

          I have never thought about my need for planning fun in advance with this perspective but I can absolutely relate. I like my outings and trips well planned in advance, which really only happens when I coordinate (my friends prob love this). It drives me up the wall joining someone else’s trip where nothing is planned and we end up not able to do most of the activities people were looking forward to, while I’m over here trying not to be a wet blanket and PM the whole trip.

          1. allathian*

            I’m the same about fun outings. I’m very bad at just winging it. Ironically, my husband’s much better at winging it for fun stuff, even though he’s a PM and I’m not. I really like planning our vacations and I often find I enjoy the planning at least as much, if not more, than the vacation itself. My problem is a tendency to underestimate the time it takes to just get from one place to another and I’ve had to learn to schedule downtime as well. Otherwise I end up over-scheduling things and then not having enough time, or energy, to do it all.

            A friend of mine, when she got married, was told by her fiance to pack a suitcase with clothes suitable for the Mediterranean. The destination was a surprise until they got to the airport. I’m glad my husband knew me so well before we married that it wouldn’t have occurred him to pull a stunt like this, although in our case it was different anyway because we married with only our immediate families present and we didn’t take a honeymoon trip because I was 8 months pregnant.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I’m a planner type who was whisked away on honeymoon – the only clue I was given was flight duration and which phrasebook to pack.

              It was actually great: turns out I am happy doing either ALL the planning or NONE of the planning, and it’s only when I’m planning SOME of the $project that I shortcircuit. Also I’d just planned and executed a whole-ass wedding so it was definitely my turn not to have to choose.

    5. should i apply?*

      I feel this statement in the opposite direction. I am an engineer, who got voluntold to be a project manager for a project. I get the tools & concepts, and I like to think that I am doing an okay job as a PM, but it doesn’t come easily to me and I definitely don’t enjoy it, especially the part about trying to get other people to do the work they said they would when they said they would do it.

  13. RC Rascal*

    OP— you may be able to get more assistance from the Commentariat of you let us know what types of tasks/ activities you enjoy and what you are good at. Perhaps elaborate here or in Friday Open Thread?

    It sounds like you need a career change.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      I was thinking the same.

      And given that the OP mentions being in a fairly early point of their career, I was also thinking that there might be some merit in exploring aptitude testing with a place like Johnson-O’Connor. I don’t work for them, please note, and I am not shilling for them! I just think they can be a very useful tool in an exploration of different career options.

      What they do at Johnson-O’Connor is to put you through a couple of days worth of testing (all sorts of tests, from fine-motor skills to inductive reasoning), and then they run the results through their century-plus of data to see which career paths play best to your strengths. This was how my spouse learned that there was an excellent reason he hated grading when he taught high school – turns out he is in the bottom 5% for clerical speed and accuracy of all the hundreds of thousands of people who were ever tested at Johnson-O’Connor since about 1920. You may not agree with every single one of their suggestions, but my spouse found the process an incredibly useful way to focus on his strengths, AND to focus on jobs and careers that play to those strengths.

      There are many aptitude testing places out there, of course, and Johnson-O’Connor is by no means the only option, just the one with which I am most familiar. Whatever path you take, I’d really encourage you to include a close examination of your gifts and strengths – because you definitely have those! – and then direct your next steps toward a goal that will let you soar instead of struggle.

      Good luck, and I hope you come back to share a success story!

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        I don’t know about Johnson-O’Connor in particular – when I did some testing years and years ago I had Skill-Scan – but I agree that since the OP is just starting out, maybe some aptitude testing and career counseling would be in order, so they can match their best abilities with the careers out there.

        One thing that a lot of high school and college career departments can’t really identify are exact job titles and the subtle differences between ones that might sound alike. So maybe the OP could use some guidance from a person who knows just what kind of jobs are out there, where they are located, and how the OP can find out what is a good fit for them. It’s probably worth paying at least something for rather than floundering around through trial and error (which works for some of us but not so much for others).

  14. Morning Flowers*

    OP, let me just say: it is okay to not be good at something. You have the sound of me around ten years ago, busy holding all my weaknesses against myself and wanting to find a way to Stop Being Me instead of … recognizing that there are just things I’m not good at, and that’s okay, because there are others things I’m crazy good at! You do not have to make “straight A’s” in being good at Every Possible Skill, to the point of pushing yourself into a bad situation in the hopes of forcing improvement. You can just not be good at something, and plan around it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Omg, yes, OP it is totally OKAY not to be good at something. Please look around you- I don’t repair cars for a REASON! My husband repaired machines but absolutely refused to entertain any idea of a job in the medical arena including medical devices. He did not want to be responsible for a human life. (If he repaired medical devices he would have been A-1 at it, IMO.)

      Here’s an exercise: Silently watch friends and family to see what is actually going on. My friend who repairs houses absolutely refuses to do his own taxes. He’s not good at it. My friend who works in law does not do any household repairs herself. She’s not good at it. We aren’t just talking about careers here, we’re talking about life itself.

      You can shift your thoughts, OP. This isn’t about failing to be good at something. It’s about finding what you ARE good at. Because everyone has stuff that they are just naturally good at. Meanwhile, it’s okay if someone else shines at repairing cars and I don’t. It’s fine. All of us are needed.

  15. Anonym*

    OP, you are me three years ago! I have three thoughts for you:
    1. For now, and any other job (because they almost always involve deadlines), automate, automate, automate. And test different tools to find what works for you. Strongly recommend scheduling any and all PM tasks that you’re currently not timely about: I have a standing block on Mondays for follow ups (my biggest weak area), and I add everything I’ll likely need to follow up on there. Schedule anything you’re going to need to do On. That. Calendar. They can show as “free” so you’re not preventing anyone from booking meetings. This is the biggest help I’ve discovered – never, ever rely on memory! Also schedule the stuff that you tend to put off because it stresses you.
    2. This may or may not apply to you, but I have ADHD that drives similar patterns for me. You may or may not have it, but look into ADHD time management and work management resources. They’re a godsend.
    3. For future jobs, consider roles that suit your strengths and weaknesses *as they are*. Self improvement is great, but I’m finding the more I work on strategy/big picture/ideation and less on execution, rote work and project tracking, the happier I am. I’m also good on the people side, like you. Consider creative or leadership tracks – if you’re good with ideas and people, and bad at details/consistent organization, you may find a better fit leading a team in the long term where a really organized person can match their strengths to your weaknesses to help a team succeed. I’ve spent too long trying to turn myself into the best possible square, but after receiving this advice, I’m now looking at career tracks that need circles. For me it’s strategy and people management, for you it might be different. :)

    Best of luck, OP! Rooting for you!

  16. TVW*

    Like OP (and others who have posted here in the past), I am a compulsive procrastinator but am great at doing my work when I do it and am a great colleague and employee in every other respect. It’s been tough to imagine myself in a role other than my current one (attorney…I know…) because it feels like I’m missing a degree of motivation that’s something of a requirement for ANY job, or at least any office job, so I don’t know where to go from there. I’ve actually imagined being a project manager, because external accountability is one of the few things that usually works, but this is a good reminder that that really wouldn’t be a panacea. My issue is less knowing how to be organized than actually doing it, so my best days are ones where I’m literally or figuratively on my feet all day – in meetings/presentations, calls, other things where I don’t really have to make the choice about whether to “start.” I’ve been treated for ADHD and the meds have helped some – mostly with staying on a task once I’m on it, but not so much with getting started in the first place or ticking multiple items off a list – but it’s not really a full solution in my case.

    I’ve gotten some good perspective on this from reading posts on similar issues in the past, so thank you for hosting these discussions – interested to see the other replies here, and solidarity to OP.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      Oh, you are…me, only I funnily am The Person Organizing Other People (which I am weirdly good at despite being Not Great at my own widget-doing) and working on becoming an attorney (in part because I have realized I need…a lot more challenge because boredom is absolutely lethal to my work getting done). The extent to which I have dropped the ball on things has been ASTOUNDING, but when I have any challenge or complicated thing at all I am really REALLY good at it…and many times, folks don’t realize how bad a ball-drop was once I rectify it. But omg is it hard for me sometimes to *start* with clearing off a task list. I’ve done a lot (SO MUCH) work on getting better at this, including realizing some of my procrastination stems from fear of not having anything to do the next day when my workload is slow and some is from not being quite sure how to resolve an issue, but while I am so sooooooo much better now it’s been a long terrible slog to get here and I definitely am on team “LW, Find Work That Plays To Your Strengths”.

    2. NYWeasel*

      Your reply brings up a good point which is that OP’s weakness is something that’s required in pretty much EVERY job that I can think of. For every person saying that they are disorganized and need their PMs to tell them when to deliver, that’s still a person meeting deadlines, etc. from what they are told to do. I can tell you that a designer not hitting their deadlines would be on a PIP just as quickly as a PM.

      So yes, it’s possible that the intense focus on schedules and budgets isn’t a good fit for the OP, and that leaning in to other skills/interests will bring more satisfaction. But ultimately there’s also a base level of responsibility that you need to carry in to a job, which means delivering consistently on time based on whatever schedule you are assigned…or being very clear upfront if there are factors that will prevent you from that delivery.

      OP: I manage teams of PMs, and one of the things I tell the newer PMs is that I can’t magically tell them one way to do the job that works, and I had the same experience as a designer. Regardless of what work you do, I would dig in more into understanding your procrastination. For example I only procrastinate until the 11th hour—I always buckle down and hit my deadlines. That’s not the greatest habit, and it’s something I work on, but it doesn’t get in the way of my work. My kid just ignores deadlines. That causes him huge problems, and gets in the way of him succeeding, so he’s going to need to work on it throughout his life.

    3. DyneinWalking*

      Ooh, there definitely needs to be a discussion in an open thread for something. Your situation sounds almost like mine, with the exception that I have a very obvious passion, so when I realized that I was studying the wrong subject (I’d almost finished even, but was a mental wreck), there was an obvious alternative to turn to.
      And it turned out to be the absolute right choice – I still struggle at times, but it feels very different – not least because now I don’t just get praise for my efforts, but praise for my results. Before, people tried to motivate me with “oh, but there’s people so much worse than you!” which… honestly, isn’t all that uplifting, being “better than the worst” :/
      And constant low performance really, really gets at you. Although the subject I ended up studying instead is one I had always loved, which everybody felt I would be great at, which BEFORE I’d have thought I’d be great at*, and which later I turned out to be in fact good at, I was extremely doubtful when making the switch (right up to the point when it was a done deal, when it felt like a heavy weight lifted from my shoulders and the sky cleared up and…). The few years had worn down my self esteem to the point where hardly any was left at all, and I felt like I would fail at everything anyway.
      If it hadn’t been for that one upcoming practical that I just knew I wouldn’t be able to pass, I might never have found the courage to make the switch.

      Anyway, I have pretty much the exact problems with ADD, organization, motivation, etc that you describe. I think part of it is a very extreme time blindness – tasks stop to feel relevant VERY quickly; it’s like I only have “emotional awareness” for things in the immediate past and future. Anything that’s not recent or immediate feels not interesting, not important, even though I understand (in a very abstract way) that this is not the case. I don’t think there’s a “cure” for it, so the solution is probably to have a system where I revisit tasks regularly if only to “update” my emotional awareness… but god, that’s hard to do. Also, I’ve noticed that I don’t really “switch on” my brain in most situations, but only remain in a sort of… low-level thinking state… where I can maintain one task but don’t actually have an overview, or much of an interest for what I’m doing. Conversation with other people, however, WILL put me into that more alert state where I’m actually motivated and excited and will actively seek out tasks to do. So I’ve been wondering if there’s some platform or something where I can talk with people for a while till I’m mentally up to speed, then drop out to start with my everyday tasks… not sure if something suitable exists.

      * just out of school I chose something else instead because I wanted to do “something rewarding where you work with people”, probably to conform to internalized gender norms… I’d never shown much interest or aptitude for working with people, then and now.

  17. Colette*

    I agree with others – it’s good to improve in things you’re not good at, but not at the expense of putting yourself in a situation where you struggle all the time.

    There are other jobs out there that will be easier for you, and it’s a good idea to pursue one of those. Depending on your relationship with your manager, she might have suggestions for you.

    I am a little confused about this: “When I show up to my job, I’m good at it.” – if you are not showing up to work, you need to get that sorted out to succeed at almost any job. But if it’s just organization at a high level, there are other paths out there for you.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      I’m glad I’m not the only who paused on this choice of wording.

      Physically showing up? Mentally checking in? Suggestions are different.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        That caught my eye too and I reread several times, but I also interpreted it as mentally showing up, since there were no indications that the OP was dealing by not showing up to work at all.

    2. twocents*

      I took it as, she’s so disorganised, she doesn’t reliably attend meetings. When she’s there, her contributions are great, but people routinely follow-up with her.

  18. James*

    I’m not ADHD or anything, but I am a new PM and have organizational issues. 8 years of Catholic school, and the nuns gave up on trying to get me to organize my desk.

    What I’ve found works for me is knowing WHY something is the way it is. Just knowing “Do this” is completely ineffective; it doesn’t stick. If you say “Do this because that, which affects this”, it sticks.

    The other thing I’ve found helps: Tracking sheets. Track everything. Do a daily review of where you stand on each project, and make a note of the status. In my job we have daily reports for some types of projects, which serve as official requirements to do this. Also, don’t be afraid to make your own tracking sheets. There are a million templates out there, but if they don’t work for you they don’t work. Plus, building your own gives you the opportunity to see what’s important and what’s not. Do you need to track hours? Materials? Safety incidents? Conference calls? Is time more important or is money? Yes, time is money–but sometimes one is more important than the other.

    If you do get fired, take the followup interview as an opportunity to find specific areas of weakness that you can work on moving forward. It may not help you here, but it will in the long run.

    Other than that, good luck! Know that you’re not alone, and I’m pulling for you!

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      re: Tracking – I use Outlook (built into my computer system for work so why not I suppose).

      I have a standing reminder every afternoon at a set time to “Open up Tasks and Update where all things Stand”. I use Tasks separated by projects, with any give little thing (or big thing) that would otherwise fall through the cracks, and jot down notes, who’s hands its in, tweak the percentage, whatever.

      May or may not work for others, but its made a difference in my ability to keep most of the balls in the air, and not drop any “glass” balls. And I can’t be the only one reading the suggestions I’ve seen throughout and jotting down notes of what I should investigate further, so I figured I’d throw mine out there.

    2. AVP*

      Personally, I have to hand-write anything that I want to remember. Always have. A handwritten to-do list with notes appended and a Google Calendar to run my schedule and I’m unstoppable…but I don’t think I could get out of bed without them.

  19. Anononon*

    Not every person is going to have or be able to develop the skills for every job, and I think that’s important to recognize. I work at a high-volume workplace where the key is efficiency and a good balance between quality and quantity. It’s not a job for perfectionists or those who need to do extremely thorough reviews, but that’s not a bad thing. It just means it’s not the right fit.

  20. Metadata minion*

    As someone with what sounds like similar problems with organization, I find I do best with things that can be broken up into little discrete chunks that I can check off completely, rather than having to keep a bunch of plates in the air long-term. If I can get something done in a few weeks or less, I am *awesome*. If I have to work on something in little pieces over the course of months, I am definitely going to drop some of those pieces, especially if I’m the only one keeping track of whether I’m getting them done.

  21. Ellen N.*

    While it’s true that many jobs require long term planning and juggling deadlines, there are jobs that don’t have much carryover from one shift to the next. Some examples: restaurant server, mail carrier, appliance repair, hairdresser .

    Perhaps the original poster would fare better in a job where each shift is a reset.

    1. Forrest*

      I’ve a friend who is an emergency room doctor because you walk out of the shift and know none of those patients will be waiting for you in the morning and there’s no point worrying about any of them.

    2. James*

      Field geology can be like this. You sample these wells today, drill this hole tomorrow. Next week you’re on a boat in a lake in a different state. Complicated enough work, but the deadline is an hour before FedEx closes and all the work is done at that point, with nothing hanging over your head (except expense reports).

    3. Lurker2209*

      I’m similar to the OP and I have struggled in roles that have a lot of freedom and require self-direction and done much better at roles where I largely deal with whatever is in front of me in the moment.

      A lot of these types of roles are low-paying, though. I was great in customer service roles, retail, childcare etc

      Teaching worked better for me with procrastinating than I expected. Even if I only planned one day ahead at a time, I had to be ready when the kids showed up. Or I had to just wing it.

      But even if that class or day went poorly, when it was over, I had to move on to the next day. I couldn’t get that one back to try again. And that—having to move on—stifled a lot of the perfectionism that drove the procrastination. I’m not a classroom teacher anymore due to other professional reasons, but I learned that I needed that relentless march forward to be my best self.

      1. Chamomile*

        Haha, YES about the teachers! Everything in my school is always running late; admin is always missing deadlines, etc. And yet…it’s sort of a common understanding that nothing is on time here — if OP’s skill set overlaps well with a certain school subject, teaching (in a private school where they wouldn’t need certification) could be a good fit! There are always interim positions open, especially now that lots of teachers are moving around or jumping ship after seeing how their school handles COVID. I think there’s a stereotype of teachers as super orderly and organized, but I think it’s not so true — there are dramatic, inspiring characters; there are intellectuals with their heads in the cloud; there are creative big-project dreamers, and more.

  22. LinesInTheSand*

    I will share this ONLY because I have similar issues, threw myself into a role that required a lot of managing details, and had to figure out a way to succeed.

    By dumb luck, at the same time I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. As an experiment, I limited myself to an hour of unstructured internet and social media per day. I focused on giving myself time to *think* rather than constantly look for things to react to. My life got better almost immediately.

    I really don’t want to evangelize. I want to offer this up as a source of dysfunction that I didn’t realize existed. Good luck, OP!

    1. LinesInTheSand*

      By which I mean, the key part of dealing with all the deadlines and follow up items for me was determining priority. And that, as it turns out, took a lot of sitting and staring at a wall with a notebook, thinking through the state of all my projects. And that is a skill that, child of the internet that I am, I didn’t have.

      Once I started to develop it, I found it far easier to manage projects and not feel completely overwhelmed all the time.

      1. ShinyPenny*

        This is disturbing.
        Recreational googling is right up there with peanut M&Ms. Think I need to read that book– thank you.

  23. Bree*

    I really appreciate the straightforward kindness of your response, Alison. With all the emphasis on constant self-improvement out there, it can be really really hard not to feel like we have to force ourselves to fit our current surroundings, rather than finding circumstances that are a better fit for us.

  24. Barking Mad in the US*

    I am distracted because I’m drinking from a fire hose (not my words but a consultant’s description of what I’m trying to do). I am a senior/executive level project manager/planner in a government agency and there’s a lot that hasn’t been done in ages, so I’m swamped.

    Writing things down old-school is helpful. I have a small notebook (well, like 6″ or so) and just write stuff down. I like order to my notes but this book is my brain dump. I just write and write. I make myself review emails every other day to make sure I didn’t miss anything (I’m not saying not read or answer etc but go back and take a look when you’re not feeling rushed or overwhelmed to make sure you’ve not missed something). I have two whiteboards in my office that I also write lists and priorities-again randomly. I have a larger notebook I use for every meeting all the time. No notes on tablets or post-its to lose. I try to organize emails into folders. (If you knew me, you’d know that this is a hard challenge for me). I am also going to tap into Google Assistant for reminders, too. Think back to school and how you learned, studied and took notes and see if there’s something that worked well for you.

    I was, at one time, a project manager professional (PMP) and Project Management Institute has the PM Book of Knowledge. I’m not saying sit for the test but there might be some kernels from PMI blogs etc that might helpful.

    My last thought is do you compare yourself to other PMs or do you have “expectations” about how you should do your job that you feel you’re not meeting. Meaning- I always thought a planner should be doing x,y and z. They should always have meetings and be working on all sorts of reports. It’s a perception I had because I saw others doing certain tasks certain ways. Of course, there are “rules” your organization wants you to follow (and sometimes they are regulatory) but think about how you might do your work your way. And even if it’s taking a huge piece of paper and just writing things down and sticking it on a wall. I don’t know if I’ve explained this that well and I’m hoping somebody else can be more succinct.

    Sure..you may not be PM material. Nothing wrong with that so let’s get that out of the way but many times we are our own worst enemy and, if you’re like me, over-think things to another universe. Be kind to yourself. Take a breathe. Step back to 80,000 feet and look at the big picture. Just some random thoughts. To be honest, the fact that you wrote AAM and are concerned says a lot about you and that’s huge.

  25. Forrest*

    LW, what does motivate you and make you happy? I think of myself as a very disorganised person with tendencies to lateness, but the things that motivate me are showing up for other people — I have lots of one-to-one meetings in my job and teaching, and whilst you can last-minute the preparation, teaching is something you just have to turn up for. And I am not great about the tedious bits like following up and recording everything I’ve done, but I am very very good at the face to face bit and going and doing the research into stuff I am interested in so I know what I’m talking about. So that structures my week, and everything else had to fit around it. This isn’t uncommon work for someone who struggles with organisation — there is prep, yeah, but there’s lots of reacting in the moment where you don’t have time to need to organise yourself, you just need to be present and good at reacting.

    How do you get on with the kind of job where you have to be very reactive to people coming in and asking questions, or problems coming and finding you? (Advice worker, tech helpdesk, customer support, librarian, sysadmin?) If that sounds terrible, how do you get on with long slow tasks that don’t change much? (Cataloguing, archival work, managing finance ledgers or databases, building websites.) Could you be the public face of something, liaising with people and being out in the field and having other people manage the admin details? (Sales, business development, installation.) Do you get on better when you can create your own systems, even if they’re slightly chaotic, or when there’s a shared system that already exists and that you just have to slot into? What kind of relationships do you like having with colleagues? What can people rely on you for? What work makes you feel good about yourself? What stuff do you fall into rabbit holes about and spend hours researching even if it’s on your own time because it’s fascinating?

    Try and figure out the things you do feel energised by. You probably aren’t going to find the perfect solution, but you can find one which is BETTER, perhaps where 50% of the job comes easily, and the skills that you’ve gained from this project management will carry you a long way on the rest. There are no jobs where being punctual doesn’t matter, but (especially as you climb up the ladder), there are plenty of jobs where 10-15 minutes either way or a bit of slapdashness around the record-keeping and organisation doesn’t matter as much because the main bit of your work is GREAT. Try and figure out what that might be, and keep working on the organisation and it might fall into place.

    (FWIW, all the jobs I’ve mentioned do have a high levels of organisation required— but it’s really different types of organisation. One type will almost suit you better than another!)

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Customer support might be a good place for this LW, especially customer support in the tech world. Tech support doesn’t really have deadlines per se – trouble tickets come into the queue, you take the tickets, then you work them until you either fix the problem, or have determined that you can’t fix the problem and need to escalate the ticket to someone who can. The ability to remain calm and pleasant under pressure, the desire to learn new things, and a flexible and creative approach to problem-solving will all serve her well in that line of work.

    2. Magpie*

      I am similar to the OP in that I struggle with time management and big-picture organization, and I’ve found working in high-end retail to be a good fit for me. The specific, niche variety of sports equipment I sell requires a lot of technical knowledge and skill to use and talk about accurately, so it pays fairly well, and I’m super passionate about the sport so there’s an advantage there in that I find my job actually interesting.

      My day to day work is the kind of reactive in-the-moment work you describe – a client comes in with broken equipment and I have to troubleshoot it, then I sell someone trail maps and recommend a guide service, then I spend forty five minutes re-doing the window display. I’m great at this, and I love the constant social stimulation and problem-solving. I’m also responsible for slow, periodic tasks like inventory reconciliation counts and filing purchase orders. I’m pretty good at this, because I don’t hate doing it and it doesn’t really matter when I get it done. There is still some time-sensitive stuff I’m not good at, like following up on warranties and special orders, but the stakes are pretty low and I’ve made those hated tasks into a workable routine. Plus, I can offload some of that onto other colleagues, although my reputation as the super-organized inventory wizard means that it usually defaults to me.

      In other words, the *type* of organization required of me really matters! I’m excellent at standardizing signage and tidying the stock room, I’m great at creating training resources and making sense of detailed information, but if I was the person in charge of making the schedule or keeping other people on track with their responsibilities, I’d be fired immediately. So just because project management-type organization isn’t a good fit for you, it doesn’t mean you’re DISorganized, it means youre not good at being organized with a specific type of information on a specific timescale.

    3. misspiggy*

      Yes to everything here. I worked in humanitarian aid for a bit, and I was completely fantastic at it, because in a reactive situation where stuff is coming at you from all sides, I’m way better than a lot of people. Slow the pace and I’m the person who lets everyone down because I’m missing deadlines.

      Project management as the OP knows it, ie a relatively junior role, can often be all about chasing other people, coordination and calmly managed deadlines. If OP does turn out to be stronger in another area, she shouldn’t think she can never rise to more senior management in that area. If you get really good at something technically and have good people skills, you can outsource the administrative coordination and focus on the how of achieving results, rather than only the when.

  26. L*

    Hi, I have so much sympathy for you! I am so
    Done who probably “could” do a lot of jobs (in the sense of understanding them/having skills), but who would find the say to day stressful and unbearable! Instead I am an elementary school teacher because it requires automation and means I can’t procrastinate — if the kids are there, I’m teaching, and I can either do it well or badly but there’s no way to not do it. I also have to have a schedule for them! Being the person in charge of creating floating schedules and following up sounds like a nightmare. If you are personable and eager to learn, there are so many options for jobs that you could succeed at!!! Please don’t punish yourself by sticking to this one so you “learn.” How would you react if a friend said they were sticking to a job they were tjis stressed out by to punish themselves for a way their brain worked? Hopefully you’d tell them not to!

  27. anonny*

    I would love to know what systems have come to work well for you, if you are willing to share! I am not diagnosed with ADHD but do often find myself reading resources geared to that audience—I have more simultaneous projects going on in my work life than ever before and am rather flailing about with bits of four different organizational systems all half-working…

    1. Anonym*

      I’ve found Marla Cummins’ blog and podcast to be extremely helpful. Other resources lean a little more generic. Favorite tools include: scheduling all tasks & setting reminders (even alarms as needed) so I don’t have to remember things, observing what tasks I avoid because they’re stressful and deliberately working to lower my anxiety (meditation, exercise, just checking in with self) before doing them, blocking time at the beginning and end of the week to check in on project statuses and update docs, blocking time at end of day to make sure I replied to all emails that need responses.

      The big one: be patient with yourself as you test things out. Be patient and kind with yourself in general. It’s not about any deficit you might feel you have, it’s just a practical matter of figuring out what tools and systems work best for you. And anxiety fuels avoidance which fuels disorganization. :)

  28. CSR and Loving It*

    OP, I feel you. I am awful at time management and setting my own schedule which caused me to struggle at my first job post-college.

    I ended up taking a customer service job at a large auto/home insurance company. I initially struggled with feeling that this job was “beneath me” since it doesn’t require a college degree, but I love it. I like helping people, I work 40 hours a week, at any given moment I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m paid well, and I have good benefits (better than my lawyer husband).

    You said that you are delightful to work with, creative, and calm. Those are the exact skills my company is looking for in customer service representatives. Time management is completely irrelevant. A lot of insurance companies are hiring right now, most don’t require any previous insurance experience, and many are even remote.

    Something to consider.

  29. Lacey*

    Have you considered sales? Not managing projects and deadlines well seems to be a common flaw in sales people, but if they sell well no manager will fire them over it. Not that you shouldn’t be trying to be good at managing it anyway, just that it’s more of an acceptable liability in sales (in my experience, as the person who ends up prodding the sales people into meeting their deadlines).

    You could also do jobs where it’s less about a project and more about a set of things you’ll manage as they happen.

  30. (No Longer) Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    I wish I had sage advice to give, but I’m in a similar situation and my self confidence is in the dumps because of it,

    I have ADD, diagnosed a few years ago. Did ok at work for 5 yrs, but when demands got higher, and due to significant health issues, I ended up on medical leave due to burnout last year. Tried to go back to work a year ago, but then COVID struck and I lost all external support structures like colleagues, the office, client sites…
    Was let go May 2020. I decided to go back to college, but it’s been a challenge.
    I have a hard time with deadlines, especially now, and I’m terrified no one will ever hire me because who wants an employee who can’t produce their work in time?

    1. Esmeralda*

      See if your college or U has resources to help you with time management and organization: tutorial center, academic support center, academic advising. Your school’s counseling center may also be able to help with these issues (and I encourage you to contact them as you sound down and anxious…). Check also the school’s LGBT center, women’s center, multi culti center, black students’ center, etc — I know that sounds odd, but sometimes you can find workshops and student groups centered on these skills thru such centers.

      If you’re a transfer student, see if there are services for transfer students.

      Please do contact the counseling center, though — they can help with all sorts of issues!

    2. Beth Jacobs*

      I’m sorry to hear that, sounds like 2020 was really hard for you.
      In terms of going forward, it seems like you already know what works for you (external structures) and what doesn’t (long deadlines). I think the best choice is a job with a natural rhythm, that doesn’t really allow for procrastination. I don’t know anything about consulting, but if you think of jobs like nursing, waitressing or IT helpdesk, you can’t really procrastinate in those jobs – the work is right there, it needs to be done, no long term planning. I’m not saying you should become a waitress – but there’s a job like this in a lot of fields.

  31. drpuma*

    Calm and creative problem-solving are absolutely valuable skills on their own. OP I wonder if you would do well in a field related to crisis response or communications, especially if it’s easier for you to be responsive than proactive. Folks who can “put out fires” and stay calm and pleasant while doing it tend to get compensated very well.

  32. Cat Tree*

    It’s actually really admirable to recognize when a certain job isn’t right for you, especially so early in your career. You should be proud of that.

    I occasionally have coworkers who either seem to hate the job or aren’t strong in specific skills necessary in our industry. There’s no way to say someone, “Have you considered that this isn’t the right field for you?” except maaaaaybe if I’m their mentor and they specifically asked for that kind of advice. It can be heartbreaking to watch someone stay committed to a job that’s not right for them, but also really frustrating if I have to work with or train them and I can’t get what I need from them.

    So be glad you figured this out early, be proud of the experience you got so far and the progress you have made, and go excel in a job that is a better fit for you.

    1. twocents*

      Yes. I have a coworker who really wants to be seen as an expert in things but really struggles to put together pieces of information and understand what they mean. She does much better with a lot of structure and routine but can’t accept that because it doesn’t match her view of herself.

      She’s been really lucky so far that her managers have cycled so many times that, although everyone knows she is bad at this job, no one has actually put her on a PIP. A friend of mine interviewed for the new manager position to finally get in there and clean things up and in asking “is there anything I should know about the team” this coworker was specifically mentioned. I don’t want to see anyone fired, but when the writing’s on the wall — as it is for the LW — get out before you’re pushed out.

  33. Not a Pill Pusher, Really*

    Obviously not a physician, but have you considered the thought that you may have undiagnosed ADHD? I have a colleague who was in a very similar situation. They saw a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with Adult ADHD and prescribed some medication. Since then, it’s been a complete turnaround. He knew he was struggling and disorganized, and treatment allowed him to focus. It really improved his performance, not to mention his confidence. It might be something worth looking into if it’s something you can’t shake.

  34. SomebodyElse*

    Weirdly OP, I’m a master procrastinator and unpleasant work avoider, and yet have found a lot of success in project management. So I can see where you are coming from on your choice of profession.

    How I’ve been successful in my role, honestly not real sure. I can tell you that even in a non project management role, I still have the same issues and tendencies. So even with another role, you are correct that you’ll have to find a way to manage this. So with that in mind I’ll share with you the one thing that has probably helped me the most.

    I work to deadlines. If something doesn’t have a deadline, it’s just not going to get done in my world. So I make sure that I have public deadlines for anything that I am driving. By this I mean, if I have to prepare something in order to review in a meeting or with a group. The first thing I do is set the meeting. This way I know I have a deadline that I have to meet. If I did it the other way around, (prepare then set the meeting) I know I’d let it go on way longer than appropriate. Then the spiral of it getting too late, being overwhelmed, avoiding it, etc. will start.

    Also if I’m juggling a lot of different projects and activities, it all sort of falls in together for me. It doesn’t ‘matter’ to me what I am working on, because I know that I don’t have to dwell on it too long since I have a deadline and then I’ll move on to the next thing.

    You can have all kinds of fancy scheduling and productivity aids, but at the end of the day if you work to your deadlines then all you really need is a list of the things that have to get done and the date. In fact, I’ve found for me that productivity tools can actually hurt my productivity, because I find that I can use them as a way to avoid the real work that needs to be done.

    I really do wish you luck OP, this may be a skill you learn or it may be something you struggle with forever. I do hope you find your happy place and find some ways to help you

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I am the same way with deadlines and while I don’t do Project Management specifically, I supervise multiple employees on specific projects with deadlines. So, yes, if you are going to juggle these things you have to be able to meet deadlines and know yourself well enough to set them. Having said that, OP says they are missing deadlines. That suggests there maybe something else going on. I’ve almost never missed a deadline, unless it was 100% out of my control.

      So, I think OP might need to think about if Project Management is right for them or if they would prefer a more structured job where or something else. It’s really hard to work at work you don’t like or can’t succeed at. There’s jobs I know I would fail at and I am so blessed to have found a job where I can succeed.

    2. mf*

      Are you me? I work exactly this way. I can’t get anything done without a deadline. I prefer a simple to-do list with deadlines for the short term (a list for today or for the week). Productivity tools tend to overwhelm me because learning how to use them is just ONE MORE THING I have to do.

  35. Just no*

    OP, I know there have been a lot of comments already and you may not get to mine, but I just wanted to say that my heart goes out to you. I would fail miserably at a job like the one you have. (Not coincidentally, I was finally diagnosed with ADHD last month at the age of 36.) I SUCK at administrative tasks. Fortunately, I have a job that requires only the bare minimum of admin tasks. I’m an appellate lawyer. I pretty much sit at my desk and research/write all day right now, and in non-COVID times, I also visit with clients and their families often. At the risk of sounding braggy, I am very, very good at my job, and I love it.

    You don’t have to force yourself to keep doing a job that makes you feel like shit about yourself, just to prove something to yourself or others or the world. There are so many things you’d be great at. I wish you the very best as you go forward in your career, and I hope you find something that fulfills you and lets you shine.

    1. SansaStark*

      Just wanted to +1000 everything Just no said, especially the last paragraph. I also discovered that I was ADHD in my late 30s and…..a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’m terrible with managing multiple/competing priorities and I was deeeeeeeply ashamed about it. I thought I just wasn’t working hard enough or challenging myself enough. Nope. It has nothing to do with being lazy or unwilling to work hard. My brain actively works against me in projects like that. I’m so much happier in a position where my actual strengths are prized instead of feeling terribly about what I should be good at. I don’t even think you need to be ADHD to just recognize that there are some skills you have/can develop and some that are a constant struggle. There are definitely jobs that can play to your strengths and not who you think you should be.

  36. Forgotmypenname*

    Hey everyone, OP here.

    Thank you all so much for your support and advice. Looking at all of your comments, I realize I really was just looking for someone to tell me I wasn’t giving up if I looked for something else.

    Question, what do I say at interviews when they ask why I’m leaving my current job? I imagine “I was far too disorganization and kept missing deadlines” won’t get me terribly far.

    1. Lacey*

      I would tell them that you realized it wasn’t the right fit for your skill set and that because your manager told you were great at x, y, & z you’re looking for a job where you can use those skills to their full advantage.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, this phrasing is useful. Also, find something specific to the job you’re interviewing with and be able to say something like, “I really enjoyed doing X with my company and I saw this job seems to be engaged with X, so I am particularly interested in X.”

        Or you might try, “I was in a very high pressure environment which wasn’t a great fit for me. I’m looking for something more X or more Y.” Assuming this is true.

        When I am interviewing what I really want to know is (among other things) why is the candidate going to be good at this job, rather than why they left their last job. I do listen carefully for how the candidate speaks about their old employer and, if they were fired, if they take responsibility for what happened. Good luck!

      2. Lyudie*

        I would say that OP recognized their skills are in x, y, and z, not just that the manager said it (so that OP does not look unaware of their own strengths and weaknesses) but otherwise this is perfect I think.

    2. Fourth and Inches*

      Hey, OP! I just posted my story below. I was in a similar situation, and one thing I said during interviews was something along the line of “I realized that my current role doesn’t fit with my skill sets and/or working style.”

    3. SomebodyElse*

      This is the time you turn up the positives.

      “I found myself spending far too much time administering others work, and found that I couldn’t focus on my real strengths of X, Y, and Z”

      “The role was heavily focused on project manager, and I found that I am much more effective in the execution of plans than making the plans”

      “The Project Mgr role gave me a lot of exposure to different functions and I found that my strengths are in A, B, and C”

      Good luck!

    4. meyer lemon*

      I think if you said that you’d rather focus on your own projects rather than coordinating other people’s, that would make sense. Project management is definitely not for everyone!

    5. hbc*

      Giving up is underrated. You put in the effort and found that you aren’t good at it and you don’t like it. You have thoroughly eliminated one possible career path, have learned a lot about yourself, and have put in enough time that you don’t look like a job hopper. Congratulations! You have maximized the benefits of this situation.

      “I learned a lot about how to manage projects and stay organized, but mostly I realized it’s not what I want to do long-term. I’m excited to try [this type of work] and be more of an individual contributor.”

    6. Sedna*

      “It wasn’t the right fit for me” or “I’m looking to move my career in a different direction” are great approaches here. I left my first job out of college after 4 years of not doing well and an ultimatum from my boss that I needed to start looking for another position. When looking for a new position, I emphasized the skills I’d picked up in my old job that I liked and wanted to keep doing, and flat-out stated the direction I wanted to move in (less abstract organizing, more personal contact). Got a new job, was there for 4 years, then stepped to my current position. I’ve been here for almost a decade and am very happy. It took a few years, but I finally realized that my problems with my first job didn’t mean I was a bad person or a bad employee; they meant I was a bad fit for that job. Once you find a good fit, you’ll flourish.

    7. RC Rascal*

      This is why you need to figure out what careers might fit you and what you are moving TOWARDS. Once you have that information you can craft a response.

      1. mf*

        Yes–whenever I’ve been able to message this properly in an interview, I’ve been offered the job. Interviewers typically ask, “Why do you want to leave your current job?” You can flip it around to say, “I’ve discovered my current job isn’t a great fit for my strengths in the long term. I’m looking for something that will allow me to do X, Y, and Z, which is what intrigued me about the position at your company.”

        In other words, pivot from talking about why you’re leaving your old job to why you want work at their company.

    8. Snowy Owl*

      Looking for something else isn’t giving up, it’s self-preservation. I’m of the opinion a person should be updating their resume regularly and checking job listings to see what’s out there every few months or so.

      It’s great you’re in a place where people want you to grow, but I have serious reservations about a place that would put someone with the experience you described into a project manager’s position. The best PMs I’ve worked with have much more experience in the business world. I suspect you were in over your head from start.

      Your job needs to be an area where you can grow into new skills, absolutely, but it should play to your strengths first and foremost.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      My suggestion is pretend you are consoling a good friend or a dear family member. It’s someone you really love and cherish. What do you tell them?
      One of my favs is, “Go with things that you are naturally good at, so you get into a field where you will always find employment. It’s important to know that you can hold your own, it’s too hard when you’re not sure that you will eventually figure out work things.”

      My second suggestion is to take an active interest in slowing down the procrastination/disorganization stuff. Left unchecked by the time you are 50 or so life is a NIGHTMARE. A family member has lost most of her friends because of her chronic procrastination. Her finances, house, vehicle and pets (!!!) are also suffering in ways that may not be fixable because it has gone on too long. Her family has their own set of concerns and they do not have the bandwidth or desire to help her anymore. She is caught alone with a life that tv shows are made out of. She is in her 80s now and probably all that is left is the clean up after she goes. It’s truly tragic.

      Comparatively speaking, OP, you are young. There are lots of things you can do to help yourself so your life does not keep going like this. So yes, I am saying this to be a bit scary. But also to stress that NOW is the time to find out what it takes to change this path. Even if you just reduce the concerns by 50%, that would make a profound difference on how your life plays out.
      And it would also help you to appreciate, that this job is just not for you, like automotive repair is not for me. There’s no need to let it eat you up. It’s okay.

      As far as what to say to future employers, you have already said it here, “I was actually well liked. But the job just did not play to my strengths and I realized the fairest thing to do for all involved was to move on.”

    10. PspspspspspsKitty*

      You’re not giving up by looking for something else. I would also say that you being on a PIP isn’t a failure either. I’m sure there are great skills you learned anyways.
      As for the interviews, focus on the job that you applied to. Assuming that you did your research on what job you would like, you can speak to why you are interested in the job you applied to, how the new job will provide for opportunities, how it plays to your strength…ect. Reframe to what you are seeking and why you will be a good fit. Don’t focus so much on the fact that you didn’t do so hot in your current job.

    11. londonedit*

      You’re not giving up if you look for something else. I know it feels like everyone’s meant to just know what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but plenty of people don’t, and it really can take a few goes before you find a job or a career or a field that’s right for you. You tried this one, and you discovered it’s not a good match for your skills. That’s fine!

      Personally, I tried climbing the career ladder in my chosen field (publishing) for about 10 years after I graduated from uni, and I did pretty well at it, but I gradually realised I was just getting more and more stressed, hating my job more and more, and moving further away from the stuff I actually wanted to do. It was really hard to admit to myself that I didn’t want the big shiny career everyone thought I was going to have, and it took a pretty messy time of burnout and a toxic job for me to work it all out, but I worked it all out in the end and I’ve spent the last six or seven years really enjoying my work as an everyday managing editor, doing the hands-on stuff I’m actually good at. No, I don’t earn the sort of salary some people believe someone my age ‘should’ be earning, but I also really enjoy my job and I know I’m good at it. I don’t feel like I’m constantly on a tightrope waiting for everything to come crashing down around me.

  37. Mystic*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but one of the things we have at my workplace is a word document called Work Due. Have all of this done by this time, this by this time. I’ve made a few changes to it, once I found my own flow, but it might be helpful? I’ve also used alarms for stuff.

  38. Lkr209*

    LW, please make an appointment for an ADHD diagnosis. It’s generally linked to executive functioning disorder and getting diagnosed and on medication was the best thing that ever happened to me. I also want to point out that administrative and project manager/coordinator positions don’t always require a degree, so they’re not as difficult to get so I did these types of jobs for years and felt exactly like you in every single one. The ADHD diagnosis helped significantly, but these still aren’t the jobs for me and that’s OK.

  39. Fourth and Inches*

    OP, having a realization like this is HARD, but it can be so very helpful in finding a job that fits your personality.

    Story Time: I’m a scientist with a PhD. I always wanted my PhD because in my mind research was the apex of what you can do in the sciences. The thing turned out to be: I just wasn’t that fond of research. I gritted my teeth and got through my PhD, and then… promptly got a R&D job in industry. I still didn’t like it and I was having a hard time managing my projects, but I thought I would either 1) get better at it, or 2) grow to like it more as time went on. Neither of those things happened. After 4 years I had to admit to myself that I just wasn’t cut out for the job I had or research in general. I’m too disorganized and too much of a procrastinator to handle long term projects with lots of moving parts. Long term projects didn’t give me the satisfaction I desired, in part because it my 4 years after grad school I literally never saw a project to completion due to many factors (though not my incompetence, thankfully).

    But this story has a happy ending! I found a job in a Quality Control lab. I currently have one bigger project but the timeline is 4-5 months, and most of my work is shorter term stuff. I have daily/weekly tasks that need to be completed and make me feel accomplished. Everyone thought I was nuts to leave an R&D job, but I finally got to know myself and I knew it was the right choice for me. I’m happier and more productive in this job than I ever was in grad school or in R&D. I just got my performance review back and I did better than any review at my old job! Sometimes a job isn’t a good fit for what feels like the “wrong” reasons, but you have to be true to what kind of work is best for your personality.

    Good luck!

  40. Elle by the sea*

    OP, I’m a project/product manager, too, and awfully disorganised, forgetful and unfocused by nature. These skills are learnable and it’s a myth that if that’s your natural type, you can’t change that fundamentally.

    Based on my experience, cultivating the following habits will lead to significant improvement:
    – Follow a to-do list and update it every day, in meticulous detail.
    – Schedule “calls” with yourself for different tasks or just create time slots for them in your calendar. Adhere to those time slots. Every day, no exceptions.
    – Create process flowcharts for every project you are involved in. Look at them every day.
    – For complex projects, it’s important to have a tracking system, be it a spreadsheet or a Kanban/Jira board or anything that’s practical in your line of work. I’m assuming you have something along those lines already. If so, make sure you keep track of it. If not, start having a structured process. Without that, forgetting about deadlines is almost guaranteed.
    – If you have a meeting with your employees/team members, send them an agenda and adhere to that agenda as much as you can in the meetings. Keeping meetings short and meaningful is essential for increasing your as well as your team’s productivity.
    – Every morning and every evening spare a thought on how you could further improve your efficiency and the productivity of others around you.

    Well, many of these pieces of advice may seem obvious and most of them are easier said than done, but if you remain stringent on your process, it will become second nature to you in no time.

    The question is whether you really want to do this type of job. If so, it’s definitely worth the struggle.

    1. Just another lurker*

      I’m a proposal manager and this is all really good advice. I’d also like to emphasize the “look at them every day” bit, when I was younger I’d create the charts and never look at them again thereby rendering them useless.

      I’d like to add, build in time at the beginning of every day (30 minutes to an hour) for organizing yourself and your workload. Spend an additional hour every week (either Friday or Monday, depending on your preference) organizing the week ahead. In addition to your daily task list, do a weekly task list organized into different buckets of work. That will keep you from dropping balls. Create a Pending Items email folder for emails that you can’t respond to immediately and check it daily.

      Get a daily planner. I used to use index pads, which are fine too, until the day it took me over an hour to find notes from an important call that had happened a couple months prior. Now I use a daily planner and it really keeps me together.

    2. PspspspspspsKitty*

      I’m the same way, and I agree with this. Planning is vital to my success at work along with tracking. Otherwise I end up a month later not knowing what I did. With saying that LW, even if you don’t go into PM, these tips will still be helpful for daily things.

  41. Another PM*

    “On any given day, I have dozens of projects at varying degrees of completion”

    This really stands out to me as someone who has worked in program and project management for years. It is not the norm to have dozens of projects assigned to a single PM (at least in technology, which is my industry) and speaks to a lack of prioritization from the business. OP, in your discussions with your manager, has this ever been addressed? I’m not questioning your assessment that project management may not be the field for you, but to me it sounds like you’re also not being set up for success in the role either.

  42. WonderWoman*

    OP – You’re still very new to the job market, and I have no doubt there are other roles that would play to your strengths.

    I used to work in a heavily client-facing role for a string of consulting companies. Interfacing with clients (including absolutely lovely clients) was always the hardest part of my job. Even though I improved with practice, I eventually realized that my colleagues who were better with clients were also able to produce better work as a result. That was a bummer, but a great wake-up call.

    I found a new job doing the same work, but in a non-client facing capacity. The difference in my job satisfaction and performance has been astounding. I’m not constantly stressed out trying to overcome my weaknesses, and I can focus on what I AM good at.

    None of this means there wasn’t a benefit to working on my client-facing skills. The work I put into building those skills occasionally comes in handy! But it’s more of a bonus than a core part of my day-to-day.

  43. DrSalty*

    Honestly it sounds a little like you might really benefit from being on the other side of project management. In my job, I am a content producer and I work closely with project managers to get projects done. While it’s true that I do need to get things done on deadlines and manage my own time, a good project manager who reminds me proactively about deadlines and help me prioritize my work is a lifesaver. I love that I can depend on them to keep the timeline on track and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. You might find that really helpful, professionally. A good team has people with different strengths filling the different roles :)

  44. Spearmint*

    I think I have similar strengths and flaws as the LW, but I do wonder what kind of office jobs are out there that are better suited to people like us, especially if, like me, you have a more liberal arts-y skill set and not many technical skills. I’d love a job where I got to research and write all day and where either the deadlines were very flexible or someone else was responsible for tracking timelines and coordinating everything, but do they even exist?

    1. Esmeralda*

      College professor in a liberal arts field.
      You do have to grade student work (but not every day)
      You do have to prepare classes (not every day, but tbh profs who procrastinate on this and wing it are not as fabulous as they think they are — teaching well does require a lot of prep and organization)
      You do have to get your writing done and published (long horizon, generally, although be aware that if you procrastinate on this you can lose your job)

      Big drawbacks: you have to get a PhD (= a lot of time and money if you are not working fulltime), the labor market for lib arts profs has been shrinking for decades, higher ed institutions are going to adjuncts).

      1. DrSalty*

        The huge caveat here (aside from the hellish job market, obviously), is that as a professor you are 100% responsible for your own output and time. No one will tell you what to do. There is no lifeline. If you’re disorganized and unmotivated this can be a terrible combination. Of course, that will probably come roost in grad school many years prior …

    2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I know a handful of people who are similar to you who’ve found that grant/proposal writing is a great fit.

  45. hbc*

    “But again, what job exists where punctuality isn’t important?” When you phrase it that generally, practically none. But there are lots of jobs where you basically can’t procrastinate without physically absenting yourself, and/or someone else does all the organization for you. There’s lots of manual labor/blue collar type jobs that actually pay pretty well with experience, and especially for the creative person who can figure out how to get this finicky machine to work or that crazy project to come together. Jobs where your job is emergency response and there’s nothing actually planned for you to procrastinate about, jobs where you literally can’t move on to the next thing until you’ve crossed all the t’s in your paperwork, jobs that are all about reactivity and not proactivity. If the only procrastination available to you was to stare ahead blankly while customers waited in line, would you really procrastinate?

    You’ll probably never have a job that has zero On Time Delivery and organizational requirements, and maybe you won’t rocket up the corporate ladder, but you don’t need to torture yourself at the worst possible fit job out of a sense of what you should be able to handle.

    1. a thought*

      Yes, I really agree with this point. There are lots of jobs where DOING the task is the thing (not planning it), or at least ones that have a better balance between doing and planning. Really, most jobs would involve less punctuality requirements! Right now the OP is in all-planning all the time!

      Personally I am someone who is not detail oriented. I often have typos or the font of a spreadsheet will switch half-way through. This matters in all jobs (I am always trying to get better at it, and all jobs expect that I’ll reign in my inherent sloppiness) but that doesn’t mean I should be a copywriter! My current job, if I make a typo someone else points it out, I fix it, we move on. If I was a copywriter it would be a much bigger deal!

      All that to say… there’s a big gradient of how much different traits matter in different jobs. A better fit is out there for you, OP! (And if you comment with your interests/strengths, I bet the commenters can help you brainstorm what those might be!)

  46. Public Sector Manager*

    The first thing I thought about for alternative career choices for the OP was something along the lines of a troubleshooter or customer service role–any role where the problems will come to OP to handle or resolve on the short term, and long term fixes would be doled out to others.

    One of the attorneys I worked for early in my career was a brilliant trial attorney. He was incredible inside the courtroom. Outside the courtroom, he was a dumpster fire. Many times the only reason he got a motion filed or a complaint submitted before the statute of limitations was because he had attorneys like me who were really good with deadlines working for him.

    If OP could find the equivalent of that type of role–one that plays to the OP’s strengths with a great supporting cast behind the scenes–that would be a winner!

  47. SongbirdT*

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, so forgive me if this was posted elsewhere.

    Consider contact center work or something similar where the work pattern is work item comes in –> work item is completed –> next work item comes in. You’d be surprised where those kinds of roles can lead! I did a call center early in my career and I still miss it sometimes!

    Now I’m in a role where organization is more important, but I’ve had a lot of time to work on it and find something that works with me and for me. You’ll find something too!

  48. Rebecca1*

    Depending on your life circumstances, you might consider relocating and/ or applying for remote jobs in other locations. Some countries have stricter attitudes towards deadlines than others, and there are usually regional differences even within the same country.

  49. lazuli*

    I’m a therapist and while I 100% support clients in working on facing their fears and dealing with their anxieties by increasing their comfort zones, I just want to say that you do not need to stay in this job! Leaving project management is not quitting on working on yourself, it’s not an admission that you failed. It would be liking yourself enough to realize that you have other skills you can bring to the table, and to find a place where those skills can shine.

    Work shouldn’t be quite so much work, basically. I really just want to give you a giant hug.

  50. lol_dinosaurs*

    I could have written this letter a decade ago when I was early in my career. Project management was a disaster for me. I would suggest you think about what tasks at work you DON’T avoid, and look for careers that involve more of that. Doesn’t have to be tasks you enjoy, but if you’re not avoiding them they’re likely not as anxiety causing as the work you do avoid. And just not having anxiety makes a job enjoyable!

    For me, that was tasks that could be completely finished, quickly, and then in-depth research. Monitoring projects at a high level over the long term is the opposite of that. I ended up finding myself in an executive assistant role and I’ve never been happier. Lots of quick accomplishments daily (scheduling meetings, booking travel, etc.), and also researching things other people need info on. (Plus it pays MUCH better than my project management jobs did, interestingly.)

    FWIW – I know a lot of other commenters have mentioned this, but I also was diagnosed with ADHD in my late 20s. I have never had trouble focusing, so it never occurred to me as a potential diagnosis, but the biggest change from being on meds is that I don’t feel petrified/overwhelmed at starting work/tasks. I just… start working. It’s incredible.

  51. Liz*

    Oh my gosh, OP, get out and find a job you’re good at!

    A few years back I was nearly managed out of my job because I was great at X thing but not Y and the company structure was that I would stop doing X over time and gradually move into doing Y full-stop. I successfully convinced them that they could use a position that did X full-time, and now I’m the kind of employee that gets glowing performance reviews and discretionary bonuses. (Not to mention am leading a small but growing team of people who do X only!)

    My role also involves supervising new employees, and shepherding them through difficulties. I have seen far too many that sound just like you – a delight to work with, trying their damnedest to improve, but just Not Good at the things the job NEEDS you to be good at. After a certain point (three years! my goodness!) if you’re not succeeding you’re not going to. And that is FINE. You are almost certainly good at other things! I’ve kept in touch with many of the folks I shepherded that never succeeded and eventually left (either on their own or because they were let go), and all of them found different roles that played more to their strengths and were MUCH happier.

    Free yourself from the expectation of doing well at something you’re bad at! Go find the X thing you’re good at and do a job focused on that!

  52. bookstrategy*

    Like you, OP, my impulse is often to try to school myself out of my natural limitations and weaknesses. Metaphorically (as well as literally) speaking, I break out in hives from eating shrimp and think, “Wow, I feel terrible! I’m bad for feeling terrible! I need to learn to stop being allergic to shrimp! Is there a book on that?” rather than just…deciding that I’m not a person who can eat shrimp.

    You will indeed have to eat some organizational and deadline “shrimp” as a working person and it might always make you feel somewhat “off,” but you don’t have to run a seafood restaurant.

    I was an exhausted, depressed and burnt-out person in the years when I managed extremely complex, time-sensitive projects where even small lapses or delays had huge consequences. It took time, but finally making peace with the fact that an anxious perfectionist insomniac is not temperamentally suited to a career that revolves around constant high-pressure work gradually transformed my life. I still work hard at a job that sometimes feels difficult, but I’m no longer someone who runs a seafood restaurant with never-ending hives.

    It might be worth imagining some different types of work setups and seeing which bring you a sense of relief. Fewer projects and deadlines? The same number of projects and deadlines, but for lower-stakes items? Responsibility for only your own deadlines and deliverables, rather than for a team’s? Knowing and trusting what might feel good (as opposed to what you do badly or in misery) might help you transition to something that goes less against your personal grain, so to speak. I’m confident that the great qualities your letter demonstrates, including your tenacity and commitment to growth, will shine in a role that feels, and suits you, better. Hang in there, OP, and be as good to yourself as you can.

  53. Riding a Bike on Fire*

    I’ve been in a similar PM role for almost 6 years now and I’m actively job searching because I’ve started displaying the same problems, particularly over the last 3 years. In all honesty, I choked up reading parts of this because I feel like I could have written it myself. I agree with the central thesis that you shouldn’t try to keep soldiering through a job that doesn’t work for you. I’ve tried to work through a bad fit for 6 years and all it’s gotten me is several chronic illnesses, numerous panic attacks, four therapists, countless new medications, and a failed marriage. You don’t get a gold medal or a certificate of appreciation at the end of that. The best thing you can do for yourself is start plotting your way out as I finally am and please, please, please do your best to be kind to yourself and your assessment of your capabilities.

    But to offer my perspective based on what I’ve seen in this profession, I’m not at all liking what I hear about the way your organization approaches project management. The only colleague I’ve known who had to manage *dozens* of projects at once was overseeing very specialized, short-term projects (as in, anywhere from 1 week to 3 months, and with little variation between the type of work – pretty much cookie-cutter) and even that person had to get out of that after 2 years or so. Are any of these projects organized into programs or portfolios and managed at a higher level by dedicated program/portfolio managers? Do you have a PMO (project management office) providing templates, standards, and support? Or (as I’m strongly suspecting) are you having to go it alone because your organization expects you to be a superstar?

    Project managers are human, just like anyone else, and we have limits. There’s a common misconception that we’re all productivity gods who can manage the unmanageable, and it worries me about where the profession is headed that these perceptions persist.

  54. Archaeopteryx*

    OP, this is basically like if you took a job as a professional public speaker/lecturer, with a crippling fear of public speaking. You could say “But isn’t talking to other people some part of every job?” Yes, but it isn’t – – the entire point – – of most of those jobs.

    Perseverance, like self-discipline and many other things, is a muscle, and you’re right that it’s valuable to build up that muscle, so that throughout your life, you have the inherent ability to keep going through the struggle when things get rough. But it only makes sense to use it on things that are worthwhile; bashing your head against the wall to persevere in a job you’re categorically unsuited for is just a waste of angst.

    You presumably applied for this job, and when interviewing for it, you must have had lots of good things to say about yourself in general as a worker. Maybe think back on what those things are, and look for jobs where those are key but where deadlines and organization aren’t as important.

  55. Save the Hellbender*

    I have like 10% of the OP’s problem — I don’t miss deadlines, but I do sometimes do stress avoidant habits, and I’m not a hyper neat and organized individual. My job isn’t project management but does use those skills, and I’m getting everything done and done thoroughly, but I am worried one day something will slip through the cracks because I don’t have a “system” to catch it. I know different things work for different people, but do any of you have any organizational or PM systems/failsafes that work for you?

    (Alison, if this isn’t relevant enough to the post to be allowed, I’m sorry and I can save this until Friday).

  56. Riding a Bike on Fire*

    I’ve been in a similar PM role for almost 6 years now and I’m actively job searching because I’ve started displaying the same problems, particularly over the last 3 years. In all honesty, I choked up reading parts of this because I feel like I could have written it myself. I agree with the central thesis that you shouldn’t try to keep soldiering through a job that doesn’t work for you. I’ve tried to work through a bad fit for 6 years and all it’s gotten me is several chronic illnesses, numerous panic attacks, four therapists, countless new medications, and a failed marriage. You don’t get a gold medal or a certificate of appreciation at the end of that. The best thing you can do for yourself is start plotting your way out as I finally am.

    But to offer my perspective based on what I’ve seen in this profession, I’m not at all liking what I hear about the way your organization approaches project management. The only colleague I’ve known who had to manage *dozens* of projects at once was overseeing very specialized, short-term, cookie-cutter projects. Are any of these projects organized into programs or portfolios and managed at a higher-level by more experienced PMs? Do you have a PMO (project management office) providing templates, standards, and support? Or (as I’m strongly suspecting) are you having to go it alone because your organization isn’t providing these things?

    Give up on the job for sure, and evaluate how you feel about the field and decide from there. I would like to suggest that it may be more the organization than the profession, and you could possibly thrive in a similar role at a different organization.

  57. Project Problem Solver*

    I’m probably just chiming in with others, but I’ve been working as someone who’s been working as a project manager for over a decade….OP, you might never actually LIKE being a PM. Even if you learn the organizational skills you’re trying for, this may always be an uncomfortable and unnatural fit for you. While you can still work to improve those skills, you might need to look outside that particular field.

    I’d suggest, especially since you’re so early in your career, to assess what you DO like about your job, and look for something that plays more to your skills and interests. This is not because I don’t believe you could gain skills and be an effective PM, but because you might still be miserable if it’s not a great fit with your natural temperament.

    1. Project Problem Solver*

      Good lord. “As someone working as a project manager for a decade…”

      Man, I hate it when bad things happen to good sentences.

  58. Kiwi*

    This post is possibly the biggest kick in the head I’ve gotten on this site as I’m in a PM training position and see a lot of myself in the letter writer. Like an “evaluating my entire career path” kick in the head.

    So that’s somethin to chew on, I guess.

  59. Mayflower*

    OP, I am not sure there is anything wrong with you. If “on any given day, I have dozens of projects at varying degrees of completion”, that is simply Too Much.

    I guarantee you there is no galaxy brain on this planet that can juggle DOZENS of projects simultaneously. As a software engineer, I’ve worked in very fast-paced environments, from startups with multiple product lines in development to see what sticks to large companies that have sales people running around selling features that don’t exist and then demanding that the software team put them in asap, and I’ve been on projects so understaffed that they would get us code monkeys a hotel room next to the office so we could get 4 hours of sleep without wasting time going to and from home. I’ve seen it all but I’ve never seen a single project manager handle anywhere near that high a workload.

    If I didn’t misread your letter, and you are really handling a minimum of two dozen projects simultaneously, it’s what, 1-2 hours per project (under a best case scenario where you don’t eat, don’t take bathroom breaks, and all your dependencies get back to you immediately)? And on top of that, you have arbitrary deadlines (because I guarantee a place like this doesn’t let project managers set deadlines)? And your management’s solution is to put you on a performance plan? That’s like a life guard scolding a drowning person. Jeez.

    I am sure you are not perfect but all this talk about your personal failures sounds to me like your certifiably crazy job warped your sense of what’s normal and it’s making me sad for you. Of course you try to avoid stress, every living organism does! Of course you are forgetful, cortisol literally prevents memory from functioning properly! You may actually be a really high-functioning person, OP…. I don’t know many people who would be able to survive this level of stress for 3 years. Get out before your self-esteem tanks even further.

    1. Project Problem Solver*

      I read that as slight hyperbole, unless they are truly minuscule projects. Our team does a default configuration setup, for example, where each person has about 25 per quarter. But those are 1) probably 2-3 hours total, and 2) staggered throughout the quarter.

      On bigger projects, you’re definitely correct, I suspect the number varies based on the size of the project, complexity, and personality of the PM, but I tend to get frazzled around 5-6 medium-sized projects. So OP, if that’s more than you’re handling, you are likely overworked.

    2. Another PM*

      Yes! I made a similar comment above. This person is blaming themselves for their lack of success in an environment where it’s unlikely anyone would be successful. Someone who was able to hang on for 3 years in the environment described would probably excel as a PM if they were given a reasonable amout of work.

    3. JSPA*

      Those people do exist. They’re rare, they’re valuable…and there’s zero shame in not happening to be one of them.

      It’s like beating yourself up for not having perfect pitch, or double the normal acuity of vision, a natural awareness of what block fits in what space, no matter how complex the shape, or perfect recall.

      Sure, if you have one of those things, you can hone it to put it to good use, or just pull it out like a party trick.

      If you trend strongly in that direction, you can push to where you pass for that sort of savant.

      But for the rest of us, good will and determination won’t substitute; they just can’t.

    4. SomebodyElse*

      Hmm… I’d say it is possible and common in some roles. I’m now in an operations management role and at last count had about a dozen projects of varying size/scope going on that I’m managing. On top of that I have the day to day business that still has to get done with the occasional disaster and crises that needs to be managed.

      It’s a challenge since since I have to live in both the proactive and reactive world. But I’ve found my happy place in all the chaos.

      All that being said, the OP should definitely feel fault if they aren’t thriving in a similar environment. I know for a fact there are work environments I suck spectacularly in :)

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Mayflower, you are picking up on something that I was thinking about also.

      OP when I was in my 30s I was supervising anywhere from a few people to 70 people on projects ranging from 1 up to 5 or 6. (Sounding familiar?) I had been working for over a decade. At that time, I was very, very much aware that if that were my first long term job I would not have been able to do it.
      It was a whole bunch of chaos and if I had no reference points to how a regular workplace functioned I would have had no idea where I was driving this bus to- what’s the destination? how do we get there? omg.

      It was super exhausting. I had no life after work because there was not much left of me.
      No one has mentioned this but I think they did not do a good job on their interviews to figure out if you were ready to tackle such a huge position.
      I did the job for over a decade. And boy did I burn out. And I was told I was GOOD at it. I became a go-to person. And at the time I left the job I was convinced I failed. And you know what, that conclusion skips over many, many facts in the storyline- to the point that it’s a false conclusion.

      I 2000% agree Mayflower’s post here. Management is that life guard who scolds a drowning person. And get out while you still remember having some self-esteem. It turned out that my old place was just using me, OP. Their attitude was, “Well if you are stupid enough to keep trying here, we will just keep dumping on you and not give you the support you need to do all we ask of you.”
      I thought they were nice people. I was mistaken. They thought it was great fun to break people. I am not exaggerating.

  60. anonymous slug*

    As a task-avoidant person, I feel you! I’m grossly bad at keeping track of projects and moving things along that don’t have clear Deadlines with Consequences attached to them if they aren’t met!
    Some thoughts, and forgive me if this is PMing 101:
    1. What types of project management tools are you using in your organization? Do you just have Excel gantt charts or do you have a more robust system like Trello? Have you tried other solutions/products that may work better for your team?
    2. Is there visibility into what everyone else is responsible for in the project, so people understand dependencies? And you understand them as well? Sometimes I don’t realize WHY something is important and end up blowing it off, and understanding the why would have really helped me prioritize.
    3. Is there anyone else you can make yourself accountable to? I have tried to be better by setting deadlines within my team and letting them know I’m working on specific projects so I feel guilty if they don’t get done! It hasn’t been perfect but I think it’s given me a little more motivation since what I want to accomplish is more public. If your boss was open to it, maybe that is something you could share with them as a way to track your progress.

    Good luck!

  61. twocents*

    I’ve been reading about professional development and the debate of: should you spend time to improve your worst skills or hone your best skills? And pretty conclusively, it’s hone your best skills.

    OP think of where your strengths truly are and find jobs that make those sing. You can get to a point where your disorganization is, at least, not a job killer, but you won’t ever be truly successful and proud of your work as long as you keep pursuing roles that require you to be excellent at things that just naturally don’t come to you.

  62. Sara without an H*

    OP, what struck me about your letter was the degree to which you seem to view yourself as a “project,” that you need “fixing.”

    No. You are not a project, nor a piece of equipment that needs modifying. You are a human being with certain strengths, weaknesses, and aptitudes. And right now you’re trying to do a job that doesn’t suit you. Going into a high-pressure field like project management hoping it will “force” you to learn organizational skills is a bit like trying to learn to swim by jumping into a deep, fast-moving river.

    Yes, it’s definitely time to start job hunting. (Alison’s archives are full of useful information.) Spend some time thinking about what you’ve learned from this job, and what kind of work would actually let you use the things you’re good at.

    And you are good at something. You are not a project. You are a person. Keep repeating that until you believe it.

  63. JSPA*

    OP, the workplace isn’t a neutral tool that’s yours to use to game your brain and psyche into functioning differently than they do.

    If you pick jobs knowing that they don’t fit, there are very clear consequences. Eventually–in fact, sooner than later–your references will focus on, or at least have strong subtext about, that lack of fit. And on / about the resulting HIGH MAINTENANCE required, to get the value of your paycheck, back out of you.

    I know we say that it’s inappropriate to worry about what’s good for your workplace, they hired you because you’re the person that they wanted, don’t get imposter syndrome…

    But one thing you do owe your employer, on some level, is to not point yourself like a heat-seeking missile at jobs where you 100% know that, despite looking great on paper, you and the job are a terrible fit.

    You also owe it to yourself. Being fired is generally bad for one’s career and self-confidence. Putting yourself in do-or-self-destruct situations is a great way to set yourself up for triggering or worsening any number of disorders.

    If someone has a problem with alcohol, the right answer isn’t, “buy a bottle of Scotch, and make sure it’s open and in full view at all times, to work and strengthen one’s resolve.” If it’s “I eat chocolate chips from the bag,” the answer isn’t, “buy them, ask someone to hide them, then castigate myself for finding them.” If you can’t swim well, you don’t learn by jumping into a fast-flowing river. The outcome of “sink of swim” is far too often, “sink.”

    If you find yourself repeatedly doing such things, consider that such behavior can be driven by a hidden drive to fail–whether as self-punishment; as verification that having “given it your all” you have determined that you are “too flawed” and can stop trying; or a need to demonstrate to yourself and the world that you need help. That’s something to work out in therapy, via an assessment, and/or through self-awareness training. Work isn’t the place to work through it.

    Take a job that you feel needs doing (that’s what gets you to show up, mentally) and that you feel you absolutely can do, while leaving yourself the mental space and the free time to do that OTHER work–the internal stuff–on your own time. That’s much fairer to yourself and to your employer.

    1. James*

      I think that’s a bit harsh. Especially the part about “a hidden drive to fail”. There’s a lot of advice–including from a former CEO of my company–to try to take on roles outside your comfort zone to grow your career. If you stick with what you’re good at you can end up with very few career options. To advance one’s career one must take risks. Sometimes they don’t pan out. And being fired once isn’t a career-killer; it’s not ideal, certainly, but the idea that it’s going to destroy one’s life is outdated to say the least.

      If this was a repeated thing–multiple jobs where the LW was fired for incompetence, yet they still try to get the same role in a new company–maybe this would be justified. But I read it as “I tried this thing, it didn’t work out.” That’s normal career development. You don’t always succeed, and every career has downturns. The ability to identify the cause, and take appropriate action (even if that means applying for different types of jobs) is a crucial life skill.

      1. James*

        I should also point out that certain companies push project management as The One True Career Path. I know this, because my company is like this. Works for me, because that’s the path I want to take anyway. I like managing people, and I don’t like being in shallow pits of toxic waste while experimental devices explode nearby (comes up more than you’d think). If you’re in a situation where literally the entire structure of the company is pushing you into a role, you start to justify why that’s the ideal career path for you; after all, you have no other options anyway. And you can’t blame the employee for the systematic issues with their place of employment.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think that one thing in OP’s letter that gave me a pang in my heart was where OP said that she thought she would learn to be organized and to be on time by having this job.

        Now, I would LIKE to be wrong here. But I have to wonder what OP has seen in life and what covert lessons OP learned. In a simple example, I had 8 years of swim lessons and never learned to swim. (physical limitations) My parents were insistent that my whole social life would revolve around swimming and I needed to know how or I would not have friends. (Who wrote their stuff???)
        I have many other similar examples. My covert learning from this was that everything HAD to be hard. I could only be in places where I was at my worst because “I needed to learn”. Worse, I was given the false idea that if I “just” applied myself, I could do anything Annndd if I was not “doing it” it was because I did not apply myself. (In other words, a failure of some sort on my part.) I was repeatedly in situations that were a setup-to-fail situations.

        At some point, once I was on my own, I realized that I did not have to be in arenas where I would fail. The person(s) who perpetuated this falsehood, were so very wrong. I hope that this does not resonate in the least for you, OP. I hope life has been kind to you. So this is FWIW.

        1. Sandman*

          “My covert learning from this was that everything HAD to be hard.” This really resonates – I think I have this running in the background, too. Thank you.

        2. JSPA*

          Exactly this. OP would not be the first person to have grown up in ways that conflate “more pain” with “more learning,” or “you can’t quit until you’ve suffered enough.”

        3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          This is one of the most insightful things I’ve read in a while, Not So NewReader – thank you.

        4. Tobias Funke*


          Thanks for articulating this so succinctly. I’ve been trying to put words to this feeling for thirty years.

      3. JSPA*

        I think we agree, as I used a conditional (if/then) statement (or in fact, nested if/then statements).

        If this is a one-off, it’s a one-off.

        If it’s a repeated pattern, it’s worth investigating further.

        There remain multiple possibilities to mull over, in that investigation.

        OP named stress-avoidance as an ongoing problem (thus, “patterns”) and alluded to being in therapy to address stress-avoidance.

        Stress-avoidance manifests in many ways.

        Some of them are fairly obvious and short term (e.g. getting sucked into an internet vortex while searching for a perfect example instead of responding to an email without that perfect example). Some are more insidious, including those that involve working yourself into “permission loops” (where you game yourself into blameless failure…or into being sick or “broken” in a way that allows you to absolve yourself of failure). If you’re bright and driven and creative (and the OP strikes me as all of those things) the layers can get deep, dense, interconnected, and hard to penetrate.

        Unless you think that having stress-avoidance is some sort of moral failing–and I emphatically don’t–there’s nothing harsh toward or “hard on” someone, to discuss how those higher-level / deeper-buried patterns operate.

        Naming what those patterns can look like, and seeing if those patterns fit, is a useful tool. It only applies if it applies. But there’s no shame and no harm to suggesting someone try that thought exercise as part of their (already existing) therapy program.

  64. Anonosaurus*

    Oh, OP, let go of this job. You should not have to transform yourself into a different person to be able to do a job. Working life just doesn’t have to be this difficult. Yes, we need to learn new skills and we need to discipline ourselves sometimes, we can’t always do what we want, but there has to be some kind of fundamental alignment between our personality and strengths, and the work we do. If that isn’t present, there’s only so much that can be done to remedy it – the process is exhausting and there’s a high risk of failure. There is no moral requirement that you should somehow force yourself to be the kind of person who can do this job. Get some help to identify a role that you fit into and give yourself permission to recognise that this one isn’t it.

  65. Mindovermoneychick*

    Former disorganized PM here. David Allen’s book Getting Things Done was a Godsend for me. And to be fair, so was treating some underlying ADHD type stuff. There was some level of organization that was simply beyond me until I did that. But David’s book gave me a lot of actionable tips that did help.

  66. Mindovermoneychick*

    And I should say I tried a lot of other organizational self help books and this was the only one that really helped. Especially helpful was the idea of clearly defining your next actions and writing out what success looks like when you are stuck.

  67. HoHumDrum*

    Hey OP, I just want to second what Alison has said about being kinder to yourself. There’s not one right way to be, or to grow as a person, there’s no need to punish yourself to get better.

    I am also a disorganized person who struggles with punctuality, and one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself/been fortunate enough to do is to take on a career where that doesn’t matter so much. My work relies on my strengths and not my weaknesses, and I’m so much happier for it. While I think organization and punctuality are important skills to keep working on, they’re not the end-all and be-all for being a Decent Person and tbh they are probably never going to be skills that I excel at. I have other great qualities that I am able to bring to my work, and in all honesty my organization and punctuality skills got better when I wasn’t stressed/ashamed/hating on myself all the time. Working in a job where I lean on my strengths mostly has made me more confident and happier which has in turn freed up emotional energy to devote towards improving my weaknesses.

    I don’t know about your life experiences, but I will say I think I’ve realized that in my upbringing I internalized a lot of messages about a) how adversity and criticism/tough talk make you grow and b) a sort of narrow definition of what a good person is. In my experience both personally and professionally as an educator I’ve realized that while criticism absolutely has its place in the growing process, giving yourself love and kindness and acceptance really does help you grow, and that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and the world is richer when we all get to pitch in with what we do best.

    I have no doubt that there is work out there you would excel at without as much struggle as this job. And you don’t owe it to anyone to become the most punctual or organized person in the world. You are talented and great for who you are, and I believe you can find work that reflects that. Best of luck to you in your work journey.

    1. Sedna*

      “my organization and punctuality skills got better when I wasn’t stressed/ashamed/hating on myself all the time. Working in a job where I lean on my strengths mostly has made me more confident and happier which has in turn freed up emotional energy to devote towards improving my weaknesses.”
      Good lord, this is so true. It has been approximately a billion times easier for me to manage and improve my weak points when I’m in a supportive environment where I can depend on my strengths.

  68. introverted af*

    I want to read through more comments, but the way the LW used ‘punctuality’ was a little unclear, because there are absolutely jobs were punctuality isn’t important, or at least isn’t critical. If you mean showing up to meetings on time, then yeah, in my opinion that’s always a part of being respectful of others’ time and is likely to be important. But if you just mean showing up during the day on time, that’s not always a necessity and you can definitely find a culture that doesn’t prioritize that.

  69. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I really applaud the LW for asking for advice, as it’s all too common for managers to be continuously disorganized and unresponsive and never think there’s anything wrong with it, much less try to better themselves. Not everyone is cut out to be a manager/project manager, more people need to realize that. We need strong followers who can get things done but who recognize their own shortcomings and stay out of the management arena. Good luck to the LW.

  70. a clockwork lemon*

    I just want to offer some reassurance to OP–Your boss has given you some really helpful feedback here: You’re a delight to work with! You’re eager to learn and improve! You have a calm demeanor and are a creative problem solver! You don’t say what your field is, but creative problem solving, pleasantness, and a calm demeanor will get you very far in a variety of jobs!

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if you’re better at organization than you thought. I could not be a project manager in charge of managing everyone’s deadlines for a dozen projects. I am, however, a really solid individual contributor when someone else is setting my deadlines for me. You’ve been a PM for three years, which means you’ve almost certainly got more of a handle on staying on top of stuff than you realize. I bet you’d be able to transfer your PM skills to personal time management as an individual contributor more than you think.

  71. ABK*

    At my job we call it “project management hygiene”. everyone is responsible for very, very basic PM stuff, like setting agendas, keeping track of notes, understanding your own deadlines, etc. If anything more involved than that is needed, we get a real PM on board to push us forward. So yes, in most jobs you need PM hygiene, but that’s it, and I have no doubt that after 3 years in a PM role, you can handle that low bar.

    I could never be a project manager! and you don’t need to be either!

  72. Nanani*

    LW – Look for positions as an individual contributor first and foremost. It sounds like managing multiple people’s timelines is a very bad fit.
    You might want to think about whether a job has built in structure – the order comes in, you fulfill it right then and there – versus ones where you have to pull threads together as you go along. Jobs that don’t expect so much planning on your part might work better as they wouldn’t be playing directly to your biggest weakness, as you put it.

    Every job has deadlines but some jobs definitely have more inherent latitude than others!

  73. Dasein9*

    LW, can you sit down and talk about career goals with your current supervisor or someone else in a management position at your company? The quality of the feedback you describe suggests that people at your company want you to thrive and it’s likely they are willing to help. That may mean finishing your improvement plan successfully, but realistically might mean moving on to a job that suits you better. (There may even be one at your current company, though that would be a stroke of luck more than something to expect.)

    You may need a mentor. Being a delight to work with, showing a desire to learn, and being able to stay calm in a crisis are all really good qualities and someone with more experience would probably be delighted to help you find a position where you can really shine.

  74. Emily Elizabeth*

    LW, one thing that might be a helpful reframe in moving on from project management is thinking about the ways you can better collaborate/work with others in the future. I agree with Alison that it comes across that you feel you have to martyr yourself and push through your suffering to grow. Which like she said, is inherently not kind to yourself! But if that’s not enough of a reason to stop, if you feel like you must be self-punitive in that way for your own growth, think about how it’s also inherently not kind to the people whose projects you manage. I imagine you feel bad about prompting the kind of following up you describe or dropping organizational balls; the way your work impacts others isn’t serving either party right now. It’s a better solution for everyone involved for you to work in a role that plays to your strengths.

  75. Laura H.*

    Ok this is going to sound slightly invasive, so I want to state that this is just a thing to think about.

    You’ve been having a lot of general information on “how to get organized” but what about considering how you as OP organize yourself?

    I’m not the best organizer and I find that I organize better when I present and am presented stuff in text as opposed to audio only.

    Also, (and this has always been the case) my computer files are the only things that are always totally organized (extends to external drives as need be) Other stuff is only when in use, in addition I tend to use bags for specific things. And I’m okay with that. That’s how I organize.

    But I only realized that as I started to figure myself out.

    It’s more physical organization but I think it helps to think on what you do that helps you.

    Also developing a barebones basic “process” of sorts helps as well. While it’s a smidge annoying to think it in a “step 1 step 2 etc.” method at first, it ideally becomes easier to manage and move through.

  76. Rbeezy*

    OP, I can’t tell you how much you remind me of myself! Or at least me in my 20s. I used to berate myself so much for not being Other Things – more organized, more outdoorsy, more creative, the list goes on and on. It also took me years to realize that intelligence isn’t a universal concept. That is, there’s no single scale of smart versus non-smart people. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has their own form of intelligence. I have high emotional intelligence and I’m a big words person (why I became an attorney). My husband has high intelligence in engineering-type projects – figuring out how things work and how to fix them. Everybody has their own niche where their brain clicks in really nicely to the task at hand. It is IMMENSELY freeing to finally embrace who you are, what you’re good at, and make no apologies for it. Think deeply about what you’re good at and chase a job in that field! I know that’s a tall order, but you can talk to friends and family about it, and consult a career counselor.

    As a P.S., one of my supervisors told me this story once about how she had an attorney on her team who the firm was just about to fire for poor performance. She had a hunch and switched him to a different team and a different task altogether. He became a top performer in that new team. It was a square peg, round hole type of problem. I have no doubt you can thrive in a different field!

    1. Yennefer of Vengerberg*

      I want to second this sentiment. While there is a lot of value in self improvement and addressing your weaknesses, there is even more value in accepting yourself. Sure, there are steps you could take to become better at organization and meeting deadlines, but you will never be great or amazing at those things. Contrary to what some others have said, I believe we are naturally predisposed to having certain strengths and weaknesses. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is no one definition of success or intelligence (even though society seems to think so).

      Our natural strengths are where we excel. I also believe it’s where we are most happy. Stop forcing yourself into a job and career that doesn’t suit you. You will be so much happier finding a role that plays off your strengths rather than one that highlights your weaknesses.

      As for what kind of role that may be? I would suggest a non-project based role. A role where each day has a set amount of tasks. This could be anything from a client facing role to a technical, hands on role. I can also recommend the book “what colour is your parachute”. Other than that, you can do what I did when I found myself in an ill-suited role, try new things. Look at what’s out there and pursue the things that sound interesting. Do not resign yourself to a fate of under-performing – there is a job out their where you will excel.

  77. SleepyHollowGirl*

    In my experience, I think as a project manager, part of the role is to make up for deficiencies in organization, punctuality, and follow-through in other people, so it’s a job where that’s especially important. For example, if I’m a software engineer building X and I get distracted by Y, until the project manager sends a note saying “How’s X going?” and then reminding me that X is more important than Y, that’s the project manager earning their salary. It’s better if the project manager doesn’t have to say that, but not a big deal.

    Personally, I have a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants non-system for tracking work, and I’m not that good at it, but I’m good enough for my current role. I’d be a terrible project manager and I’d dislike the work, so I wouldn’t take a job there if I could avoid it. The OP should give themselves permission to find something that’s a better match for their skills.

  78. It's Me*

    Oh, letter writer. Communication is also a component of most jobs, but if it’s not your strength, you probably wouldn’t aim to be a motivational speaker. Alison’s right. Please be kinder to yourself. You *deserve* that kindness.

  79. Raida*

    I like being organised and I can organise things but I can’t manage to keep it up – procrastination, a bit of laziness, not being interested in some tasks.
    Having a manager that comes from the IT development background, who is used to system development project teams rather than day-to-day BAU teams has been great.

    We use a digital task wall and just put everything on it. Approximate time is allocated to each task, if the day’s got too many hours of work in it some things are moved to backlog based on priorities.
    Even little things that won’t take long enough to bother putting on it in a normal setting get put in – filling out a form and emailing it doesn’t take a half hour, but it goes in because a few of us needed it for the team to be overall very organised, aware of what others are doing, aware of priorities, able to clarify stuff in a really short timeframe, and know we’re not going to end up on a list of late timesheets!
    Personally I hope that whatever teams I work in they like using task walls (agile/scrum) so that I don’t end up avoiding things I’m not interested in again.

    But this has worked because the framework is set up, agreed to, has accountability and the manager knows how to use it. You sound like you need a day to day manager or a team that works together enough that you can’t fall behind on tasks, including not having too much on your plate. Definitely not a project management role.

  80. GreyjoyGardens*

    OP, I just want to add my voice to the chorus of “maybe project management is not something you excel at, or can’t excel at without twisting yourself into an unhappy pretzel, and that’s OK!” I think a lot of people at the beginning of their careers stumble around a bit. There isn’t a lot of good guidance out there – that’s why Ask A Manager is so popular and well-regarded, it’s because Alison and the commentariat offer practical advice that is sadly lacking in a lot of college career departments.

    It’s fine that project management is not for you. Live and learn. What might help is finding out what your natural strengths are and how to parlay them into a job. Here is where skills testing and career counseling can help. I know that most counties have some sort of “career center” that might be able to help point you in the proper direction. There are a lot of independent career counselors and skill tests out there, some better than others – my best advice would be to ask around and get recommendations, check (non paid) online reviews, in general review them the way you would shop for a refrigerator.

    If you find yourself being laid off or not having this job (and if you are on a performance plan that could well happen) – then I recommend temping for a while if you can swing it financially. Temping will allow you to test out different jobs and workplaces and maybe find a better fit for you. Also, it will provide at least some income so you don’t have to leap at the first job you are offered. “I took this job because I was desperate” is so, so understandable, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. It also can mean a really poor job fit.

    1. not that kind of Doctor*

      I second temping, if you can! In my mid-twenties I burned out on the career I had gone to school for and took a series of short term temp gigs in a variety of fields. I learned a lot about what I liked and was good at and what I could manage for a while but would hate in the long term, and indirectly came to my new career which is a much better fit for me.

  81. Kella*

    Acknowledging Alison’s comment about no longer diving into ADHD to say this instead:

    Regardless of whether you fit any kind of diagnosis, I bet it would be very helpful to speak to some online communities such as ADHD communities, autistic communities, folks who deal with depression and/or anxiety etc. There’s a very good chance your brain is just wired in a different way and while that doesn’t mean you can’t improve, it means that the tools that people who are naturally organized use, likely won’t work as well for you. Folks who struggle with executive function (the thing in your brain that translates thinking about doing something into you actually doing it) at any level often find strategies that aren’t the “normal” way of doing things and find they can manage a lot more easily that way. The people who are already using those alternative strategies are the most likely to be able to offer you tools you can use!

    1. ACM*

      Yes, this. I’m sympathetic to not wanting to derail, but for I do disagree that that’s not what the LW is asking about. As someone who has struggled in a very similar way, as you say, I’ve often found advice from people for whom a baseline level of organization comes naturally to be astoundingly unhelpful, even as nice as it sounds. And then I just feel worse because I can’t even do that.

      A career change does sound in order (teaching/training works well for me – intense focus at one thing at a time, first the classroom, and then the planning, and because you’re expected to arrive well ahead of class beginning – like half an hour or an hour or more – punctuality becomes less of an issue). But the level of executive dysfunction here sounds so profound (and familiar) I actually think the best advice out there for LW will come from an ADHD-specific sources – they’re the only kinds of strategies that worked for me. Coming to this realization made me cry. And no, I’m still not diagnosed (really hard to do in my country as it’s largely still considered a paediatric condition), but pretending as if I had been is the only thing that has helped.

  82. bookends*

    I spent such a long time in a job that I wanted to be good at because I cared about the work. Realizing it just wasn’t my skill set and finding a job that’s better aligned with what I’m good at has been life changing. I lost so much confidence in that job (for several reasons) and I feel so much better now. I wish you the best of luck with whatever you end up doing, OP.

  83. Jordan*

    Hi LR! You might not see this because there are about a million comments, but if you do I wanted to say: good luck, and you are not alone.

    I am a project manager, and reading your letter I went ‘did I write this myself?’ I didn’t arrive at this role immediately out of school, but rather ended up in it about 7 years ago and have managed to grow since. It happened to be that I had the right combination of motivations to offset my ‘freezing under stress’ and ‘forgetfulness’ tendencies (see: obsessive preparation as a coping mechanism to reduce stress, documenting everything to compensate for forgetfulness; plus lots of therapy that is ongoing!), so it worked out for me and I’m now quite happy in my role. But I became happy with it sooner than 3 years in, so if you’re still really struggling, please don’t punish yourself. I promise you I work with a LOT of people who are extremely high-achieving professionals (or just sufficiently achieving professionals, we don’t all need to be the absolute best) who are not the greatest with a lot of the traits you mentioned. In healthy work environments we all work together to find a way to amplify others’ strengths and balance their weaknesses.

    I have no idea what kind of industry or job might suit you, but I can say it’s tough especially when you’re early in your career for almost everyone, and you shouldn’t stress if you can’t see a clear path carved in front of you. The specific job I’m doing today literally did not exist ten years ago, so how could I have planned my way here? Some things you plan, and some things just happen, so if you focus on the short- and medium-term of what makes you happy, what you feel strong in, and what interests you or at least keeps you engaged with your work, you will be moving in a good direction.

    One thing I will say that I hope is encouraging is few other roles have to be as ‘juggling 10 balls at once’ as project managers (or admins, or customer service, or similar ‘keeping up with multiple other people and their needs’ jobs). There are many individual contributor or specialist area type of roles that might suit you depending on what you have an interest and aptitude in. (Online ad buying? Strategy and planning? Market research? Branding?) It might feel a bit overwhelming to explore what’s out there, because there is a lot, and how can you know if you’ll like it or be good at it… but as a fellow freezer-under-stress, just start somewhere small and non-committal, like a browse through LinkedIn job openings or a search on ‘what do (job title)s do?’, see what you think, and go from there.

    Good luck. I’m rooting for you.

  84. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    OP, in focusing so much on your workplace deficits and difficulties, you may have overlooked the very real strengths that your supervisor identified. According to them, you’re a delight to work with, are eager to learn, seek creative solutions to problems and stay calm under stress. You have only to read AAM for a week to know how many colleagues and supervisors are driven straight up the wall by employees who are a nightmare to work with, refuse to learn, run in circles when faced with a problem and fall apart/blow their stacks under pressure! So NOT everyone has your strengths – please recognize that.

    As Alison pointed out, a job is not meant to be an exercise in discipline in which you spend years struggling through the kind of work for which you’re least suited just to toughen up your moral fiber. That does no one any good – including you! Your strengths aren’t being used to their best advantage, you feel as if you’re drowning and you’re not even doing something you enjoy.

    Please use this time to do some research into what you’d really like to do as. you. are. – NOT as you think you SHOULD be! Perhaps there have been volunteer positions or short-term jobs in which you shone – those were very likely the ones that used your strengths and in which you didn’t have to spend eight hours a day desperately battling your deficits. You have abilities that can’t be taught; don’t underestimate their value – or your own!

  85. Betsy S*

    disorganized thoughts:

    There are MANYjobs where you have to handle work as it comes to you, processing one thing at a time – thinking of the person who processed invoices in a big department, or in some IT jobs where you pick up one ticket, work it, put it back, and the system will show you a list of open tickets. QA jobs where you check one thing at a time. Jobs involving repair (cars, computers, costumes, customer service…). Reference Librarian.

    Customer facing sales or support jobs, where you deal with one person at a time, handle their issue.

    Jobs where you build things or craft things where you work on one thing at a time.

    Jobs where your workflow goes through a set of defined steps, so you can put up a board or have a system to show which things are at which step. (not just low-level jobs – software has been mentioned) Or selling real estate where you have a flow of properties and customers at different steps. I think these are a lot different from project management because the steps are fairly fixed and you don’t have to manage people falling behind and all the other multi-dimensional aspects of project management. Lots of these areas in manufacturing and tech.

    I’m not sure whether or not this would work for you, but there are project management jobs where people manage one BIG project instead of a bunch of little ones.

    There are also jobs in areas like compliance and change control – a zillion little details BUT they’re all written down and fixed. As I type this I am taking a break from initialing a 35-page compliance doc with 70 pages of evidence. It’s super important to the business but once it’s worked out (and a team of other people did that) I am basically doing the mental equivalent of a dot-to-dot-book. (except this particular task also requires some professional experience to understand the steps)

    Another thought – when looking at jobs, you may be more comfortable in more formally managed organizations: pharma, military contractors, manufacturing, large IT or Accounting or Finance, Government (including your local town). Jobs where a lot of the process is defined.

    Freelance jobs where you do one or a few things at a time, anything from building websites to writing to editing.

    (or the total other way and jobs that completely get you OUT of the whole paperwork-and-graphs-on-computers business. I already mentioned repair jobs – become a forest ranger or a farmer or a craft store manager or run a bike school or a vet assistant or do in-store high-end sales or…

    what do you love ?

  86. LilyP*

    Something about you way you write about leaning into challenges reminded me of this Captain Awkward tweet:
    “What I internalized was that accomplishments that were fun or that came easy to me had no value, only the ones that involve effort “count.” But the things that involved the most effort for me were mundane tasks that came easy to others, so they had no value, either.”

    It seems like you’ve maybe latched onto a similar concept of “effort” being required to make your accomplishment/skills “count”?

    Link, the whole thread is interesting (although it is specific to her un-diagnosed childhood ADHD if you’re not interested in more ADHD-related advice): https://mobile.twitter.com/CAwkward/status/1077746767339376640

  87. staceyizme*

    If you’re avoidant due to anxiety or overwhelm, that’s different from a misalignment of natural talents! It’s important to distinguish whether you procrastinate due to prior trauma (adult child of alcohol/ gambling/ other major addiction or dysfunction, which can LOOK like add/adhd, but is more likely depression or generalized anxiety of some sort… OR whether you don’t have an organized, systems oriented bone in your body. Irrespective of what you decide on/ land on job wise, it would be such a gift to yourself to explore this with self-compassion, self–care and without judgment. Project management is demanding for the best candidates working as their best selves. Try to leverage your positives and overall tendency towards improving skills into a good reference for a better fit. Best wishes for success!

  88. Niii-i*

    I’m sooo late to the game, but I just wated to say Thank You, for posting this. I needed to hear, I am not alone.
    I am struggling with similar difficulties. I was suddenly transferred to a different position, which totally lacks structure and I am forced to invent processes while on the go…. And my time management skills and attention to detail are BAD. I am sinking. I have been looking for a new position since August, but so far no luck….

    But if it helps at all, I have had jobs, where this particular trait didn’t matter! I have mostly worked at “expertise” roles (sorry, I don’t know if this is the proper word in English) where I can use my strengths in communication, creativity and cold nerves, and time management and details are mostly taken care of by the organisational structure. So those jobs do exist! Good luck to you.

  89. Anonymous Poster*

    I am sorry you’re going through this. It’s okay to recognize that this isn’t for you and doesn’t play to your strengths. People’s value is not based on their work, but is inherent to them – so feel free to find a job that you can excel in more! But it sounds like this is not the job for you.

    And that’s 100% ok.

    I should never do anything athletic professionally. I am hopeless when it comes to creative work. There are many other things I should never do, and that’s fine.

  90. Green great dragon*

    I think the skills you’ve learnt will definitely be useful – as you say, most jobs require some organisation. But I agree with everyone – I did a PM job once, and I did adequately (and learned stuff), and I have avoided PM jobs ever since. I often find there’s a person in my team who is brilliant at PM, and that makes me very happy, and I have much appreciation for it. And when the unexpected happens, and plans A, B and C are out the window and the planners are stressed, I will fight the fire and be annoyingly calm and cheerful, and they will have appreciation for me.

    Some of the least organised types round here are the very senior management. They find PAs with the skills they lack, and do what their PAs tell them. So I guess they managed to be just organised enough until they were senior enough to have assistance.

    1. Argh!*

      I work under some of these. I studied project management eons ago in grad school, and I have managed a few projects, but I’m an individual contributor atm. It’s crazy-making to report to people who can’t string A + B&C + D + E + etc. into a coherent string of actions. I’m the person who has to do “C” here, and I have to wait until E, and then D & E will have to be re-done, and nobody can think about my part because they’re thinking about the teensy details of “B” and nobody knows the timeline because the boss says it’s “fluid,” and then the boss talks about the timeline as if she knew it all along and despite D beginning to happen despite C not being done or having a date. Boss still can’t tell me what the parameters of “B” are and when I can start even though we have been “planning” this for about a year…

      *pounds head*

  91. DapperDev*

    Ooh man.. That was me, 3+ years ago. I joined an exploitative DC education non-profit as a program coordinator. The culture was radioactive, but when I look back on it, the role itself was not a good fit. It required being “on the ball” all of the time, being in tons of meetings, managing people and expectations. I was so stressed I actually started grinding my teeth in my sleep, sleep talking and walking, stress eating. I even started experiencing gastrointestinal problems. My body was telling me I was miserable.

    And it made me feel horrible, especially because those radioactive colleagues made me feel like there was something wrong with me. But there wasn’t. It’s just that the job wasn’t remotely a good fit for my needs.

    I ended up transitioning into software development, and I am much happier!! Because it’s introvert friendly, challenging, impactful work that is context dependent. So there are deadlines, but they can get shifted if a feature or ticket has unexpected challenges. Also, if I have a question or concern, I can brainstorm with my colleagues and with the PM. So helpful for problem solving!!

    You are not a failure, or an idiot, or incompetent. You’re just in a role that isn’t a good fit for you. But you shouldn’t punish yourself continuing to work in a field where the core responsibilities are your weaknesses. It’s unkind to yourself!

  92. Lifeandlimb*

    I just came here to say that I did something very similar at the start of my career, and I totally understand. As a lifelong procrastinator, I especially wanted to prove to myself that I could organize and manage projects. Under guidance from a couple tough bosses, I got better, but the job never stopped eating at my soul. I ended up quitting to pursue a creative program and now work as a contractor in the same industry. Many things I learned in my previous job have helped me succeed in my current one, but I’m so glad I left. I love being project managed by other people.

    I strongly recommend you speak to a career coach or read some job personality books to find alternative career paths. There are so many opportunities out there for you to thrive in! Punctuality and time management is important at work, but managing other people/projects is unnecessarily stressful. You don’t have to do it! You can always work on your weaknesses, but focus on developing your strengths and you will go much further.

    1. StreetsAhead*

      That’s really great! I wish I had realized this myself early in my career but it took me getting fired from project management to realize I needed a career change. I am working on it now and hoping for the best!

      1. Lifeandlimb*

        Making a change is hard. I was quite scared the day I quit my job, even though I disliked it. It sounds like you are on a good path, and I wish you the best of luck!

  93. Argh!*

    LW, having a project management job as a first job is pretty much a recipe for disaster. There’s no shame in struggling to do a job that really requires a lot of experience and lessons learned in smaller roles.

    If things don’t work out, framing the experience as being in over your head before you were ready (in your story you tell yourself) would help you step back to something that would have more supervision and room to learn the ropes. In your shoes, my interview prep would include practicing saying things like, “I recognize I need to go back to some steps I’d missed in my training and experience. Eventually, I want to have more responsibility again after adding to my skill set.”

  94. StreetsAhead*

    This letter really hit home. I could have written this letter! I also worked as a project manager for many years and my performance ranged from being good to plain terrible. I was never great. I constantly made mistakes and forgot things. I was written up several times in different jobs. My last job as a PM required me to be very organized and to be able to think on my feet. I was bad at both of those. I was put on several performance plans and to my manager’s credit he really tried to help me improve. Finally, I was fired after months of back to back mistakes. I tried returning to the industry I previously worked in and I had no luck. It’s possible my mediocre performances are known in the industry and people just didn’t want to hire me. I finally realized it was time for a career change and I am now back in school for a different career. So far, I have been doing well. I am hoping this career change will lead me to a happier professional life. My advice to the LW is to really think about what makes them happy. If they truly want to work as a PM then maybe they can enroll in classes to learn to be a better PM. Or they can try to pinpoint where they makes the mistakes and analyze what caused them. Otherwise, I think it’s time for a career change. In my case, I think the reasons for my failure was a mix of not liking project management and not having the skills it requires. I wish the LW the best of luck. I really know what it feels like to be in their place.

  95. Kendra H*

    I took on a project manager job shortly after college myself, and had a VERY similar experience. So I’m posting to tell you that leaving this job and finding another is OK, and it’s going to be OK. <3

  96. Let's not name names*

    Just a note of support to the letter writer, I found that the experience I got from my first jobs taught me more about what I didn’t want than what I did, and then I just moved away from what didn’t work as much as possible and into what did. Good luck!

  97. ohhello*

    I don’t have any advice, just want to offer some encouragement and positive thoughts…
    1. You’re realizing this now, and can throw 3 months of energy and searching into finding a new job
    2. You’re early in your career (assuming in your mid-20s) which is such a great and natural time to make a major job change without it being a big deal
    3. Even though it hasn’t been a great fit, having the longevity of a 3 year-long first professional job on your resume is great!
    4. If you’re as bad at this job as you make it sound, but they’ve still kept you on, you really must be an awesome person/ team player/ person who’s nice to be around and easy to get along with, and they clearly see something in you that’s been worth keeping around for so long. And obviously that will benefit you no matter what you do or where you go next!

    Actually, I do have a bit of advice after all. O*net online has been a hugely beneficial resource for me in terms of finding what types of work I want to do. It may be helpful for you while you’re trying to figure out what direction to go. Here’s a link to the quiz you can take, and you can also search the database of jobs by outlook, education level, skills, etc.

  98. EngineerMom*

    To be honest, OP, you remind me a lot of myself (and no, I’m not ADD or ADHD, just a “gifted” child who struggles as an adult).

    I think what you need to look for is not a job where punctuality or timelines aren’t important. I think what you need to look for is a job that is a LOT more externally structured, with much shorter timelines and a manager who is more hands’ on. Weekly 1:1 meetings scheduled by you with your manager are also critical.

    For example, I worked at a job for about a year where the tasks I was assigned where the kind of thing where I finished 6-8 projects per day, after I was fully trained. Each individual “project” was pretty straightforward, but did require enough thought to keep the work interesting. Working in a job where the time between “start project” and “project complete” was no more than an hour, maybe two, REALLY helped me address the “just get started” problem associated with perfectionistic procrastination.

    After working in that environment for about six months, I had effectively retrained my brain to just get started on things, even things that felt uncomfortable or stressful. I started thinking more long-term and more broadly about my responsibilities, and started working with my manager to try to improve our systems. Another year later, and I was comfortable enough to apply for a job with more responsibility and less structure at another company.

    Another thing that I’ve found very helpful is to schedule meetings with people frequently. Even a 5-10 minute weekly check-in regarding each project keeps things at the top of my mind and reminds me to work on things regularly.

    I also schedule meetings with myself, complete with booking a conference room, for tasks I know I hate doing. I go to the room, and do the thing, or at least start working on it.

    And finally, I celebrate! I take myself out for coffee, or out for lunch, or even out for dinner, as a way to reward myself for accomplishing some aspect of a project that I hate doing (like filling out paperwork required to close a project after all the “real” work is done!). I’ve even done things like bought movie tickets (pre-Covid) to something I want to see that my husband doesn’t, and made a deal with myself that I can’t go to the movie until I get X task completed.

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