I’m a terrible procrastinator

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’ve recently realized something about myself: even though I am a high perfomer with glowing reviews from bosses and coworkers, I am a terrible procrastinator. But instead of procrastinating by doing nothing, I find other things that is of lesser importance but still need doing. I love getting my hands on assignments others have ignored for years. I’m even writing this letter instead of working on assignments that need to be finished today!

I’m big on self improvement and have read several books on habits, eating the frog, and efficiency, but I can’t stop myself. I’ve tried several task management tools and have finally found one I like where I can label assignments according to priority, but I STILL don’t do the harder, more important stuff first. I meet all my deadlines, but planning is like pulling teeth and I’m almost always stressed over deadlines that are months ahead.

Do you or your readers have any advice? And yes, I grew up in a household with high expectations and low tolerance for mistakes.

Please share your advice in the comment section.

{ 414 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Lots of people who procrastinate do not have ADHD. (I used to be one of them!) Let’s consider the ADHD possibility sufficiently explored and focus further comments on other advice. Thank you.

  2. kiki*

    So I am really similar and I only started seeing improvements when I went to CBT. It wasn’t a time management or organization issue for me, it was 100% avoidance of complicated or difficult emotions until the pressure to get things done and terror of not finishing would overwhelm my fear of getting started.

    CBT gave me a process to work through my emotions and get started rather than shoving them aside by trying to start something else.

    1. Beth*

      Avoidance is the issue for me as well when I find myself doing this. DBT was more successful for me than CBT, but OP, if you think this is based in the currently-due thing being really stressful, then I agree that some kind of therapy is a good idea! Anxiety messes hard with your brain but is really treatable.

        1. JP*

          I’ve spent a lot of time pondering this for myself. For a long, long time, the only way I could get anything done was through using anxiety as a motivator. Well, guess what, turns out I have crippling anxiety, and that’s just not going to work for me.

          I worked with a therapist a lot to try to reframe my thinking. Instead of doing something because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t do it, I should focus on why I want to do it, and use that as a motivator. But, it’s a struggle. You spend your whole life with your thoughts following certain patterns, it can be pretty difficult to change them.

          1. JSPA*

            ooh yeah, childhood was basically training on “waiting to get miserable enough to force some brilliance (or garbage) to emerge.” Doing small stuff because the time feels conducive to it, or because it will be a small positive dopamine hit, has been really helpful.

            So has procrastinating item #1 on the list by doing a piece of items #2 or #3 (rather than item 176 from someone else’s list).

            So has changing my role, so that I actually enjoy (and have a variety of) tasks on my list.

        2. JP*

          I totally replied to the wrong comment, I apologize! I have seen Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit a couple times, though. One of the best bands I’ve ever heard play.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Anxiety also causes executive dysfunction big time. I also did CBT and DBT and found DBT helped me more. I have both anxiety AND ADHD so it was tricky to untangle, but my anxiety is now well-managed enough that I’m able to take meds for the ADHD without them triggering some kind of anxiety crisis.

        My big procrastination reasons were that I wasn’t confident about how to tackle a problem (I didn’t learn how to effectively break down a large problem or project into manageable pieces until VERY late in life) but was afraid to ask for help, or I was afraid I’d fail at the task.

        Even if you don’t have a diagnosable issue like ADHD, anxiety, or depression, CBT and DBT can help you overcome those kinds of maladaptive patterns — they’re basically frameworks to modify emotional responses and behaviors.

      2. Grammar Penguin*

        (For those of who had to google)
        CBT=Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I’m familiar.)
        DBT=Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (never heard of this.)

        1. Jasmine*

          I googled it too…. I was thinking about signing up for the “ drive-by trucker therapy”!

    2. Ultimate Facepalm*

      I think mine is related to depression. I am not trying to armchair diagnose. Might be worth looking at and/or having a conversation at the same time that you look at ADHD.

    3. Trixie Belden was my hero*

      This is me right now.
      I’m reading AAM and avoiding difficult emotions instead of getting paperwork together for a fence permit. (conflict with neighbors, long story)
      Thanks for the CBT recommendation.

    4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I’ve seen some research suggesting that this is usually the reason for procrastination.

    5. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

      +1 for CBT — I have ADHD and found it helped me tremendously. Good luck, OP.

    6. mayflower*

      Therapy is what I needed too, but the thing that helped me most was EMDR. Like LW, my childhood home had high expectations and little tolerance for mistakes and it was also highly abusive. EMDR helped me reconnect to my emotions and actually feel my feelings in a way talk therapy couldn’t.

      I highly recommend therapy if you’re not already doing it, LW, and especially somatic based therapies from a trauma informed counselor if you don’t find talk therapy helpful.

    7. CRM*

      I’m glad that there is mention of anxiety here because that is also a common trigger of procrastination. I have anxiety and do this as well, it’s 100% avoidance of challenging feelings that often come with stressful tasks (especially because I also grew up in a no-mistakes environment with parents who lead with anger over empathy). For me, a big sign that it may not be ADHD was that I was getting easy tasks done right away, and only waiting until the last minute for difficult tasks. It wasn’t because I was getting distracted or experiencing time blindness, I simply did not want to deal with the more stressful tasks that I knew would be heavily scrutinized over the easy tasks that would be one and done.

      Once I started framing it as part of my anxiety, I was able to manage it better. I remind myself that I am competent, and to accept feedback as an opportunity for growth and not a personal attack or sign that I’m a bad employee.

      1. Csethiro Ceredin*

        It’s cognitive behavioural therapy – a form of therapy that focuses on recognizing unhelpful thought patterns or unhelpful learned behaviours, and shifting to more helpful ones by practice and increased awareness (in a very small nutshell).

      2. Frank*

        Cognitive behavioral therapy — a common form of talk therapy for anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

      3. nona*

        CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy
        DBT – dialectical behavior therapy
        EMDR – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (therapy)

      4. Middle Aged Lady*

        Cognitive Behavorial Therapy
        Therapy is a great idea. Jungian psychodynamic has helped me but it’s a slow process. I like others’ suggestions of EMDR and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and journaling as well. I too had the no-mistakes, high pressure childhood.
        Another thing that helps me is to ask: what am I afraid of? And part of the answer for me was not just fear of mistakes, but this: if I take a lot of time and the project isn’t perfect, it means I am incompetent. But if I rush at the last minute and it’s not perfect, I could tell myself it was because I was rushed.

        1. Ismone*

          This “what am I afraid of” framing is key. For me, it was usually not doing a good enough job on the project. Or that it was boring and I didn’t want to bother.

          For OP, in addition to that, I found reading the articles about the “Instant Gratification Monkey” from Wait But Why (https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html) and the free online Coursera course “Learning How to Learn” instructive. It took me months of gradual incremental change to repair my procrastination habit. Incidentally, I do not have ADHD, but I am a perfectionist, which is where a lot of mine came from.

          Also, doing other lower value tasks to avoid the task you are supposed to do is called “procrastivity.” Haha.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            Learning how to learn and how to approach large, complex problems are such important skills and we kinda just expect people to learn them by osmosis. I didn’t really learn how to break down a problem until the second time I tried to learn to code, in my late 20s/early 30s! The skills I learned for breaking a programming problem into appropriately small chunks ended up being applicable to every large problem I’ve ever met, and I wish it was something they taught in like elementary school. A five year old is absolutely capable of learning how to turn “clean your room” into a series of small, easy tasks.

          2. Gumby*

            Good to know it has a name. I washed so. many. dishes. during finals week in college…

            These days I procrastinate in less productive ways (like I’ll read a book or just futz around).

          3. Adds*

            I just came here to +1 Wait But Why and the Instant Gratification Monkey because it’s good reading.

        2. kiki*

          The last part is very true to me too– I’m deeply insecure about being found out as not actually smart or not actually good at my job. Procrastinating gives me the “out” at the end of a task that if something about my performance was bad, it was because I didn’t give myself enough time and the result is not at all reflective of my actual abilities or intelligence.

    8. Smithy*

      Not only do I relate to this comment – I was just having a conversation with a coworker where we both worked at the same previous employer. The previous employer had a very urgency driven culture, where this one does not – and the conversation was genuinely around how to build in that urgency when it’s not there as a more manipulative or toxic feature of a workplace culture.

      For both of us, we were coming from a workplace culture that generated so much anxiety that we were accustom to rush deadlines and would complete tasks under those kinds of conditions. In a more moderately paced, and truthfully less toxic, environment it was an adjustment.

    9. PhD survivor*

      I wanted to make a similar comment. I also struggle with procrastination and it was helpful to understand that procrastination is often an emotional issue, not an organizational issue. So having all the best organizational skills will not necessarily solve the problem if it’s about an emotional response like anxiety or perfectionism. This understanding has helped me a lot because I previously felt a lot of shame that I couldn’t find a solution to end my procrastination even though I knew all the right techniques to use. CBT type therapy has also been helpful for me too. It also helps me to do some easy tasks to get in a positive mindset to do harder tasks. And having a supportive boss I can go to when I’m stuck on a problem has helped too although not everyone has that situation.

    10. Hot Dish*

      I grew up in a similar home and am also a procrastinating high performer. As others have said, I’ve definitely learned that my procrastination is related to anxiety and avoidance, so I’ve found it important to at least reflect a little on whatever deeper emotional thing is related to the thing I’m avoiding doing. Aside from therapy, what’s been useful for me has been setting a timer for 10, 25, 40 minutes–whatever I’m willing to commit–and just start working on it for that amount of time. Because 10 minutes is an improvement over nothing and less overwhelming than however I feel about the whole task. Sometimes that’s it and I move on to something else or I’ll be motivated enough to keep going once I started.

      1. Forceful Brute*

        This is how I clean my house too. Tiny bites to finish the meal.

        I had a manager who used to tell me to time box tasks that were important but not urgent/critical. Example: “this doesn’t need to be perfect and I don’t want it taking away from XYZ work. Therefore, try to keep it within an hour or so and we can iterate from there if needed.”

    11. Forceful Brute*

      Oh thanks for bringing this up (and thanks to those who’ve brought up DBT below as well). I was diagnosed with ADHD about 10 years ago (I was already in my mid-thirties, so a lot of damage was done by then) and while the stimulant medications really help me with certain other aspects of the disorder, they don’t touch (and can exacerbate) the anxiety spirals that can lead to procrastination for me.

      My current method is to give myself strict rules and set a lot of reminders…if I can do it at all, I’ll brute force through the panic, get through some piece of the task, and then get up and go do something (eg grab a glass of water) to dissipate the chaotic energy. If I am really freaking out or just don’t have the time right at the moment, I’ll set reminders – several, each more harshly worded than the last – and I won’t let myself be done for the day until the thing is complete.

      Is this healthy? Probably not. I’m sure my nervous system thinks I’m the worst for forcing it to deal with itself like this, but it’s the only way I’ve been able to figure out how to do this stuff.

      Learning some DBT/CBT techniques may be a much better option.

  3. Tio*

    Sometimes the best advice is to NOT eat the frog.

    I have ADHD (not saying you do, just this is where the advice came from) and it’s very common for some us to put off the “big ” things as much as possible. But doing some small wins that you can knock out quickly can actually build momentum that will power you into doing the big thing because you’re “on a roll” and you’ve got a flow going!

    1. Panicked*

      This! I often do completely unimportant, untimed tasks first thing. It’s a good way for me to get in the swing of things. I also allow myself to stop what I’m doing when I’m working on a deadline to do more of those smaller tasks. It’s like a little break for my brain.

    2. amoeba*

      Yes! No idea whether I have ADHD or not (apparently it’s inconclusive, oh well) but I always start tasks with the easiest part I can think of. Like, literally putting some headings in the word document. The first part that was done for my PhD thesis was the list of abbreviations!

      And then I just progress slowly, always picking the next thing that’s most appealing/least horrible. The hardest things get done last, but that’s OK, I’m in the flow by then!

    3. Presea*

      +1. I have co-morbid autism and ADHD and I personally find that trying to eat the frog is a fantastic way to completely kill my day. I find it much more efficient to tackle the hard things last instead of first – with all of the little piddly stuff out of the way I can give my full attention to that final thing.

      (Not trying to armchair diagnose anyone either, just giving my own context and experience. That being said, I believe that advice for managing ADHD can be helpful for just about anyone dealing with executive dysfunction, procrastinating, etc.)

      1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        I don’t have any diagnosed issues and this is how I tackle work- I do the easiest things first and then progress up to the hardest so that I have the mental capacity to work on that without the distraction of the other things. If my mental To Do list is 10 items long and 3 of them are tough, it seems more logical for me to clear off the other 7 so I can focus on those. That being said, I know people who are the other way- tackle the big thing first and then knock out the easier things. To each his own, I suppose, just as long as everything gets done.

        1. Grammar Penguin*

          Yeah, when I’m faced with a list like that I need to knock out at least one of the big things first or the anxiety will hurt me.

        2. Office Plant Queen*

          For me (diagnosed with ADHD) all tasks are at the same volume in my brain. I can plan and prioritize all I want, but that won’t make those short/easy tasks take up any less brain space just because I’ve put them as low priority. Even if I write it all down and try to work on something else, there’s always the feeling in the background of having a long list of other stuff that I need to get to. Medication does help with this a bit by making it easier to only think about one thing at a time, but I still find it far more useful to knock out all the quick and easy stuff so the size of my list shrinks and I don’t have to do the mental work of filtering things to try to focus on the task at hand

          1. Forceful Brute*

            Yes!! Like, it’s super encouraging to see 80% of the list knocked out by 11 am, even if those were just “remind Jane to send her notes on the Bourbon Consortium”.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        Anxiety and ADHD and I cannot simply eat the frog. I need momentum, and I MAJORLY struggle with task initiation. A lot of the time I convince myself to do something by reducing how much I “have to” do right now.

        For instance, if I need to clean out the fridge (my least favorite chore), I won’t start if the task is “clean the whole-ass fridge”. But if I go “I will go empty the crisper drawer (90% full of rotting veg) into the compost bin. There is probably one good veggie in there but I don’t care, it is dead to me now. After that I can stop,” I can manage that much. And about 85% of the time once I get started I can actually do more — I’m fine sorting out that one good veggie, or I can actually clean out ALL the drawers, or I do the crisper and then feel compelled to also do a couple shelves.

        By giving myself permission to stop after doing a fairly small part of the task, I’m able to actually initiate the task.

        The other thing I’ll do, especially if a task isn’t easily divided into small enough bits, is set myself a timer for a fairly short amount of time and then give myself permission to stop when the timer goes off. Sometimes it’s as little as five minutes. But again, a large proportion of the time I’m happy to keep going for longer.

        (This is also my depressed-shower hack. Like many people I struggle with showering when depressed. Washing my hair is pretty intense so sometimes I just give myself permission to not wash my hair. Or I’ll wash my hair but let it air-dry even though it looks nicer if I blowdry. Some is better than none!)

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          See also: “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” and “good enough is good enough”.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            In my house, it’s the dishes, and “Perfect is the enemy of washed.”

            One thing I’ve done is set a timer and check in with myself to see if I’m ready to do the thing I know I need to do, while I’m improving my habitat with the things that don’t necessarily need to be done NOW but still need doing. Ten minutes later, I have the cue to see if I’m ready, so there’s a chance that I won’t spend the whole afternoon doing Not That Thing. (I have ADHD with time-myopia although not full-on time blindness; it can be corrected to near 20/20 time sense with the help of various chronometric tools.)

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              I use a timer for my ‘ten minutes in hell’ span; mostly used to tackle the pile of dishes or other Ugly Household Thing or Ugly Bureaucratic Thing I’ve been putting off for eons.

            2. amoeba*

              Yes! I mostly use that for cleaning, so basically put on a record and clean as long as it runs. Or one specifically long (10 min) song. Or whatever. And then I give myself permission to do whatever looks most appealing during those 10 or 30 mins (so, definitely start with the easy tasks, haha), no worries about being super efficient or whatever.

              Not sure that would help the LW too much though, as I guess their problem isn’t doing nothing but indeed priorisation…

      3. GlassofMilk*

        this is definitely the best method I have found.

        But I’m struggling with it currently. My problem is that I just continue to add more and more small things to my list so I never make it to the big/hard thing. some things just can’t be broken down into 5 min sessions without compromising quality or supplies/tools (for me it is painting walls at home. I broke it down by wall and by layer, but the set up and clean up are the parts that hold me back. I can’t set up and then take a break because then I’ll have to mix the paint again. I can’t take a break half way through painting because you will notice the difference in the end, and I cant take a break before cleaning up otherwise the paint will dry to all the brushes/rollers.)

    4. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah absolutely. Doing the small stuff is much better for getting the wheels warmed up and creating flow. It also prevents small fry things from falling by the wayside if you use them as fuel to create hyperfocus.

      1. DannyG*

        I think of it as collecting the low hanging fruit. One I’ve got that done it’s easier to work on the remaining portions.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yes, low hanging fruit is how I think of it too. Some people say it’s better to try to do the hard stuff first and get it out of the way, but I disagree because if you focus on the low hanging fruit and get a bunch of small stuff done, that can feel like a big win. It can help you build momentum for starting to work on bigger projects and can also help you knock off the small tasks that are getting in the way of your being able to focus on the bigger projects.

          Questions you, OP: could you ask your manager or workplace to give you all the short-term tasks that others have ignored and stop doing the big projects altogether? Or is it necessary for you to have the big projects too? What might help would be talking to your manager about how to break the big projects up into little pieces with their own deadlines so that they become low hanging fruit too. You might not need to talk to your manager about it, but it can be very helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of when figuring out priorities.

      2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        Yes! I am in this camp, and my metaphor for it is “Gearing up”. Will put a little blog post in the next comment.

          1. RachelB*

            This reminds me a little of the difference between the ‘avalanche’ and ‘snowball’ methods of debt repayment. I believe ‘avalanche’ is supposed to be the most cost effective over the duration – you pay off the highest interest bill first so it costs you less extra. But psychologically, I found ‘snowball’ works best for me – pay off the smallest debt first, then add those payments onto the next smallest, etc. The relief of seeing things drop off the list was hugely helpful for the mental space the debts had been taking up – I do find that when I have a very long task list, simplifying the headspace of it all by taking out the quick tasks can be super beneficial for feeling in a better space to tackle the bigger or more complicated one.

        1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

          The other thing I was gonna suggest is writing.

          I like writing lists and crossing off the steps.

          Another one is just writing down whatever comes into your head about aspects of the task. There’s a quote I like from Visakan Veerasamy (I think this was a tweet, though he has also written a couple of books), “once again discovering that a few minutes of thinking through a problem on paper was more effective than vaguely ruminating about it in my mind for weeks” :-)

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I’m doing that now going after All the Crap in the Corners in the house. We’re talking a *lot* of stuff which has piled up (not that kind of hoarding, but after decades of living in a house, three giant grocery sacks of books actually don’t make a huge dent). So I listed all the Awful Corners to go through and Do Something with all the stuff in them. I should have the whole place pretty whacked before the end of the summer. And then there’s the shop (frankly, I should just stick a Harbor Freight sign on it…). But the house first. Then I can walk through once a day with a rag and keep it *nice*.

    5. Not your trauma bucket*

      SAME. I set myself *ridiculously* easy goals like “open the file and read it”, then I set stretch goals. I usually get enough of a dopamine hit from the easily accomplished goal that I can smoothly move into working on the stretch goal.
      I couple that strategy with bribes instead of rewards. It can be something as simple as watching a funny video or eating a piece of pie – just something pleasurable and unrelated to the task. And I do it BEFORE the work. I don’t respond well to rewards that come after. They’re not real enough for me maybe? But I do respond to bribes.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        Me when I need to make a phone call: 1. look up phone number. 2. schedule call in calendar. 3. gather notes x,y,z for call. 3.5 do something else (I have a book of little stickers you can color, and some fun pens – takes about 2 minutes tops to color one, or I have a snack) 4. make phone call.

        rewards don’t always work for me, either, because deep down I know I could either have ice cream because YAY! I did a task, or I could have ice cream because I didn’t do the task and I feel bad, or for no reason at all.

        1. Susan, Death’s Granddaughter*

          I read The Now Habit and actually found it to be the best resource ever for addressing procrastination specifically. It goes into the psychology of avoidance and gets very specific about changing self-talk, plus provides a lot of concrete tools for changing your approach. It makes you actually look forward to doing the work sometimes! :-)

          1. Susan, Death’s Granddaughter*

            Wow, nesting fail, sorry about that! Meant to just reply to the post as a whole.

        2. Bast*

          Sometimes if it is a People Day for me, I really have to work myself up to make a phone call. Not even difficult calls; even run of the mill calls feel daunting on those days. Glad to know I am not the only one that needs to put things in between myself and the call.

        3. Susie*

          So I’m on step 3 of your process right now. I need to make a reference call–I’ve done step 1+2. Now I’m finishing lunch and reading AAM. Once I’m done writing this comment, I’ll make the call.

          Also, Be Gneiss-your comment really helped me have an AHA moment–there is so much shame in how I think I “Should” do things. I could really see myself in your comment which reinforced that maybe the shoulds are steering me in the wrong direction.

      2. Mad Harry Crewe*

        Same here – for things I’m really stuck on, step 1 is “open the file” or “skim the email thread – don’t have to understand it, just do a first pass skim” and if I want to stop after that, it’s a win for the day.

        – Easy victories
        – Celebrate victories
        – Never punish yourself for missing a thing, just acknowledge and move on. Consider whether the first step needs to be even smaller.

      3. S*

        This is it! I find that if I just open the program or file, kinda casual-like, not intending to do anything with it, I see just a little something that needs changed, and then I get sucked into the project (which is actually something I enjoy.) But the key thing is that the only thing I meant to do was open the file. Not work on the file.

        I am aware this is weird but it works for me.

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, this is how I’ve always done things and pretty much every high performer I know operates this way. I call it “constructive procrastination.” Not only is it a good way to get into a productive mode, but I believe my brain works on tasks in the background, so when I go to tackle the bigger project, I do so more efficiently than I would if I had tried to power through doing the thing I am not yet ready to do.

      1. Troubadour*

        When I was at uni I came across a humourous essay called “Structured Procrastination” which resonated so strongly with me and made me feel a lot more accepting of my tendencies. If you do a web search it’s still online – it’s by John Perry.

        Of course sometimes you just have to do The Thing by The Deadline and there’s no leeway, and in that case I find the ‘first small task’ method that other commenters have outlined to be helpful in getting over the activation barrier.

    7. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I had a similar thought for this one. If it is really a problem for the LW, see what she can do to fix it, but if it’s not, no need to fix it because it works for her. We don’t all need to do things the same way, especially when we have different operating systems.

    8. k.*

      This is exactly what I was going to say. If I try to do the biggest/least appealing task first, it’s pretty much impossible to get started on that, and the smaller/more interesting tasks are still bouncing around my brain as things I need to do, so my attention is kind of on those anyway, but they’re not getting done because I’m thinking about the bigger task, which is also not getting done. If I can get those other things done first, it builds momentum, AND it gets them out of my brain so that I have fewer distractions once I do get to the other task. It took a lot of work to just let myself do this – it feels like the idea of getting the worst thing out of the way first is often talked about as not only the most productive strategy but also somehow the morally right way to approach a list of tasks – but it has really made a difference.

      (I’m another late-diagnosed ADHD-er and also recommend looking at other ADHD-friendly strategies, which will likely be helpful on this issue whether or not you have ADHD yourself.)

    9. bamcheeks*

      I absolutely do this, and I also bounce in and out of the smaller tasks whenever I lose focus on the big task. I work best with at least three and ideally six windows open, and it’s pretty normal for me to go:

      Task A, update PowerPoint with info from email.
      Open outlook: see email that needs answering with info from Excel (task B)
      Open Excel: remember I meant to update spreadsheet (task C)
      Update and tidy spreadsheet (task C is now nearly complete); spot thing my assistant hasn’t updated yet
      Open Teams, message assistant to ask him to update spreadsheet (task D)
      Spot question my assistant asked me earlier that u haven’t answered yet which is on website (task E)
      Open Edge, check Gmail, Facebook or AAM. Write a comment on AAM.
      Focus! Where was I. Oh yes, updating PowerPoint with the information from Outlook.
      Open Outlook.
      Repeat entire process , this time make progress on Task B.

      I can do this all day until most of the tasks are done. It kind of works? Everything gets done.

      However, combining this with the question from earlier in the day, I would *love* to know how anyone who also works like this bills / records time on specific tasks. I complete nearly everything in 2-3 minute increments over the course of the day.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Oh my gosh you have just entered into my life. The more stressed I am, the longer and more confusing the context switching becomes. Add in a buggy computer and I’m so lost. I don’t know how to fix this.

      2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        Oh wow; I work like this but have never had to track it like that for billing purposes. When I was doing admin work at a call center I would split my time based on how many interviewer labor-hours from the call floor went to each job. The dream equipment would be some kind of stopwatch with multiple timers, but that also sounds like so much overhead and a point of more stress. But when I have a to-do list with a huge never-ending task on it (like filing papers or doing the dishes) instead of a single checkbox or a progress bar, I draw about 10 little bubbles below the task listing. Every time I realize I’ve spent some time on that task, I fill in one of the bubbles. Once I had that idea in my head, I thought of physical containers and small objects. If you had a set of clear containers and you could stick a Task A, Task B, etc label on each of them (post-its?) and a set of small, attractive, non-fragile objects such as silicone beads about the same size, you could put one object in the corresponding container each time you do a unit of work on each project. At the end of the day you see about how full each container is, and you proportion out your time that way.

      3. Muscadine*

        I use a scattershot task approach like this much of the time, and back in the day, I sorted it to explain to my manager and boss by doing strict tracking (with a stopwatch and notepad) for a few typical days and comparing single-task focus to task-switching focus. Then I used that information to chart task-switching mode as, say: data entry 50%, scheduling requests 30%, writing updates 20% of a given morning or afternoon block. So task-switching mode got 3 things done where focusing on one task at a time sequentially made each task LOOK shorter, but the total time spent was longer that way.

      4. GlassofMilk*

        I call that the “If you give a mouse a cookie” effect and it happens so often to me!

      5. Lady H*

        I am a freelancer who works like this, and often for the same company on several projects at once, so maybe my time tracking will be relevant to you? I use software that automatically rounds up to whatever increments I want even if I am spending under a minute on something — I do 15 minutes, because otherwise I wouldn’t make enough to live on, some freelancers are less generous and do 30 or 60 minutes, but it might make more sense for you to track in 5 minute increments.

        Because it’s super easy to task switch on my tracker, I generally remember to do so, but because I have been doing this so long, I can generally go back and add time in by memory at the end of the day. It’s a ton of bouncing around with tons of small breaks, and I am sure it is not precise to the second, but I know it is very close and fair to my clients. I used to be far more obsessive about tracking it down the second but when I got a little looser with it, it worked out about the same without requiring me to spend too much time fussing with time tracking.

        As I write this comment I am realizing this might be hard for someone who can’t use their own software. I use OfficeTime for Mac, which I have been using for over a decade, so it’s second nature to me. I know lots of time tracking apps can break things down by app used automatically, but that wouldn’t tell me anything because I might use a variety of apps on the same project. Hope this helps…at all??

    10. DramaQ*

      But doing some small wins that you can knock out quickly can actually build momentum that will power you into doing the big thing because you’re “on a roll” and you’ve got a flow going!

      This is what I do. I call it “low hanging fruit”. I’ll look for things I can easily knock out to start my day with then once I am in my rhythm I move to the other tasks.

      It also helps because I get distracted when there are a thousand little things to do but here I am stuck on this giant thing. If the little things are already done they can’t distract me and I can give 100% of my attention to the big thing.

      Also break things into smaller bites. In my case I process lab samples. I can get major decision paralysis if I stare at this huge submission of 20 swabs for example. What I do instead is say “Okay I have five blenders. That’s four groups of five. We can do this”. It’s still the exact same thing but my brain isn’t running around screaming because now it’s four smaller chunks instead of a giant 20 sample task I need to do all at once.

    11. No Longer Working*

      Especially if other people are waiting for you to finish something so they can then do their work on it, it is way better to do those little things and push them thru the process! If there are 6 things you can work on, and one of them is a huge time suck for you, why wouldn’t you knock out the little things so your coworkers can get their work done and not be sitting around waiting for work? It frustrated me no end when things got bogged down by other people who didn’t know how to prioritize.

    12. History Nerd*

      This is basically how I manage to work at all. Once I get a few of those little wins in, I feel ready to move on to the hard things.

    13. 20 Points for the Copier*

      Yes. I don’t have ADHD* and I love to give myself 1 or 2 easy, mindless tasks to get started before diving into the big thing. As long as I’m picking things that aren’t super time consuming and leave me plenty of time to get things done on deadline, I think it can be a very effective way to work.

      *just as a reference point that I think this can apply to a wide range of people.

    14. Hamster Manager*

      Yep, agreed! My first (literal) checkbox each day is a reminder to take my daily medication, and the second is to drink a glass of water. If I can’t bring myself to start work after that, I’ll add necessary/easy things to the list like “email catchup” and then whatever work-work I can psyche myself into starting after that, because once you’re started, it’s a lot easier to do the big hard projects you’re putting off. Starting with the hardest thing has always been a wall for me.

      Also try to stop looking for work to procrasti-do! Don’t be proactive digging up years-old things, be proactive getting all those today to-do list boxes checked (maybe with a years-old thing as a reward at the end?)

  4. Jay*

    I procrastinate too, avoiding tasks that are, for varying reasons, harder.

    Now, I’ll tell myself that today only task X that I’ve been avoiding is on the to do list. That is the one and only thing that must be done today.

    Usually it can be done in an hour and then suddenly the day stretches ahead of me, with nothing else on the to do list.

    Alternatively, I tell myself that I don’t have to finish task X but I must do ten minutes on it, or I must do the first part. No more, only that.

    Both are not infallible but can help.

    1. Butt in Seat*

      Yes, for me the “do 5 minutes / the first small task in the project” method helps me break through the getting-started barrier. And often I find once I am started, I do more than that first 5 minutes.

    2. Caroline*

      +1 for this method. I am at my best in the mornings, so if I sense I am or have been avoiding doing something important I will find a morning block, tomorrow or later in the week, and block out an hour first thing. Then when I come in I give myself no choice but to start with that task. It help to tell myself everything else can wait an hour, I can do something more fun in an hour or whatever else – but in reality starting the task is often the biggest hurdle.

      Sometimes the hour illuminates that the task actually needed more breaking down and planning. In these cases, I get that planning done, consider that good progress and repeat the above as many times as necessary to get momentum going!

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Good ideas!

      Something to possibly layer in to them:

      Make one the thing you focus on for that 1st 10 minute session on Task X be a project plan for the task. Doesn’t have to be fancy, can even be bullet points on a piece of paper. What you want it a list of subtasks that make up Task X. (And this exercise may let you flag some gating items with lead times/external dependencies (like ordering material, scheduling space, requesting information from others), so you know you need to tackle those first so you don’t have to scramble as the deadline is looming.)

      Then, the next block of time you set aside for Task X, focus on starting and completing if possible Task X Step 1 A.

      Basically, break the task up into small bites that aren’t as daunting, so you can start to chip away at it.

    4. Beth*

      Yes, I’ve gotten a good deal of mileage out of a version of this. Usually, I put something related to the task (usually paperwork, sometimes a note) on top of my keyboard when I leave at the end of the day, so that I will do one hour, no more, or one page, no more, or one paragraph, no more, on this task, and then am free to go on to something else.

      It doesn’t always work, but it’s helped more than other things I’ve tried.

      (No ADHD here, just a terrible tendency to procrastinate)

    5. My Useless 2 Cents*

      1000% yes to the tell myself to work on it for 10 minutes, even if I don’t finish it. Though, once I start I usually just want it done and finish it. Getting started is the biggest hurdle.

      I also try and do it first thing in the morning and treat myself to a soda from the convenience store on the way into work. (If I tell myself I get the treat after, I still procrastinate. If I treat myself before doing the task, I feel guilty if I don’t do it, on top of the stress of not doing it, which is usually the straw that breaks the procrastination back).

      When my anxiety is really flaring up, or there is just a lot of stress at work, I’ll also get a lottery ticket :) Something about the hope of winning and daydreaming about being able to quit mentally helps a lot.

    6. Katie from Scotland*

      I do a similar thing with the ‘first part’ idea, when tasks are so big that the first part might be ‘write first draft of white paper’ – which honestly is still too ‘scary’ and feels like I need to be in the perfect mindset with acres of time to get it done. Instead I turn that into ‘write crappy draft/outline of white paper’ – I actively put on my to-do list that I’m allowed to do a bad/half-assed job of the task. Then it shrinks massively in my head, I can spend 30 mins on it and get onto other tasks. But then the next ‘bite’ is no longer terrifying, instead its ‘rewrite section 2 of white paper’ or so on.

  5. First-Time, Medium-Time*

    Honestly I’m just eagerly awaiting commenter’s advice because same, OP, hard same. (I was diagnosed ADHD in my 30s and am, finally, medicated. It helps a lot, but is not enough.)

      1. Area Woman*

        Therapy! It’s something deeper than time management skills, it’s emotions surrounding high-priority/high-visibility/challenging tasks. You are avoiding those tasks because they are emotionally hard to invest in (probably rooted in fear of failure, imposter syndrome stuff, etc), not just avoiding “getting work done” or being lazy.

        Once I named that thought (this big scary thing I could mess up, it’s too much) I could push through anything. Some folks above mentioned CBT or DBT. Those things help you find the root cause of your avoidance.

  6. Massive Dynamic*

    Inattentive ADHD here (I am betting that a lot of us will be chiming in on this ;-). So I’ve learned to name and make peace with it in two ways:

    1. I break down the Thing I Am Avoiding into smaller bites and tackle it in stages.
    2. I allow for breaks to either let my mind wander and reset (brief breaks, not like half-day endeavors). I also allow for other things to take priority for small periods of time. This is how I keep up on the dishes!

    1. Clearance Issues*

      (undiagnosed but) similar technique, I have a big task I spend about 10 minutes at the beginning of the project making a gantt chart of how long each smaller thing should take and when it should be done by, then set up alerts for when to start each smaller portion, and build in lil breaks.

      if I’m determined to “eat the frog” I’ll do something else unpleasant before I get to work, like drinking a fiber drink that sat until slightly gelatinous (5 minutes, it’s like nasty jello.)

    2. Betty*

      The book Getting Things Done was very helpful for me in understanding and managing the smaller task idea.

  7. Managing While Female*

    “And yes, I grew up in a household with high expectations and low tolerance for mistakes.”

    Based on this statement, have you considered whether your procrastination might stem from perfectionism? My spouse is very similar – he wants the conditions to be just right because he’s afraid of making mistakes or upsetting someone. I would look into works by Katherine Morgan Schafler for more information about this. I don’t have the same problem myself (I’m a ‘get it off my plate as soon as possible’ type person), but I think that figuring out the reason you’re procrastinating can lead you to a solution.

    1. Sunshine*

      I agree. for me, when I pivot to tasks that are less important, it’s because I have some mild anxiety about doing the higher priority thing. I would suggest exploring what underlying concerns you have about proceeding with the high priority tasks. And I agree it is likely that perfectionism, and fear of failure, are some of those underlying concerns.

    2. Anon a Fed*

      OMG me too – perfectionism based procrastination is terrifying. I know exactly where in my childhood it comes from. OP, I’m sorry!

      In addition to the above, I found that when I was finally medicated for anxiety, this mostly took care of it. I still put some things off, but now it’s more in the service of “this is a goal of mine that not necessarily anyone is waiting for, so it can wait because boundaries/work-life balance are important”.

    3. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Was coming here to say this – lots of folks suggesting ADHD and it’s absolutely a possibility LW should look into, but that little coda also suggests to me that perfectionism is a key component of this issue. And I think LW is aware of this on some level, because they mentioned it.

      A lot of people think that perfectionism and procrastination are an unusual or weird combination to have, when in fact they tend to go hand-in-hand. You would rather avoid doing the big thing for fear of doing it imperfectly and instead focus on short-term accomplishments. I think it’s more common than a lot of people realize. It takes a lot of intentional practice to work through it. Therapy helps.

    4. Brain the Brian*

      Yep, all of this. Unlike a lot of commenters here today, I actually do not have ADHD. Anxiety? Yes. Perfectionism-style OCD? Probably. Unfortunately, meds are not an option for me.

      I am so terrified that someone will find an incomplete or imperfect piece of work in both my work and personal lives that I refuse to journal for fear of someone finding it and criticizing my thoughts or my grammar or my handwriting in what are supposed to be private notes to myself. I don’t keep to-do lists because someone might find them and criticize the order I which I’ve chosen to prioritize things. I don’t want kids because I can’t stand the thought of messing up a whole human with crappy parenting. I wait until everyone else is offline for the day to start my big tasks so they can’t criticize me for doing them wrong while I’m still refining things and instead just come in the next morning to find things finished (my sleep schedule is a mess as a result). My office’s culture encourages the worst aspects of this to come out: management is hyper-critical, we are very siloed (meaning that I might only have one interaction with another department every year, so I want to make sure I leave a perfect impression of my work with them since they usually have no other examples against which to balance something less-than-perfect), and one slip can often mean a lawsuit for us or serious academic or health consequences for someone else.

      Anyway, what I have found usually works is setting a deadline and then telling someone about it. This can be a casual hallway conversation — but the key is that someone else knows about the task and can theoretically ask me about it. Going into the office (as much as I hate the commute — we’re hybrid) also helps, because then a part of the “perfectionism” is actually working while I’m there and not just gazing absently into space while I internally panic. Keeping busy also helps, because then there’s an excuse if something isn’t perfect; if I’m balancing 40 things, one imperfect document is probably okay, but if it’s the only thing I did all day and it was bad, I will feel awful about myself.

      Anyway, fun times over here. Hope this is somewhat helpful.

      1. Ismone*

        Hey, as one perfectionist to another, I see you. I think your workplace is making you sick. Can you move to a more forgiving environment? If your perfectionistic thoughts have some OCD component, the approach outlined in the book Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts, although aimed at different types of intrusive thoughts, may be helpful to you. It was lifechanging for me. I understand reasons for avoiding meds, I don’t take them either, but CBT and/or EMDR can be life changing. That is to say, I think there are things that can help you what you are going through sounds really rough even to this perfectionist.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Thanks for the suggestions! I am years into CBT-based therapy already, and unfortunately, it seems simply to make me more angry and more panicked and stuck than I normally would be because it forces me to focus on things I might otherwise just ignore. This week, I have a homework assignment related to my sleep schedule, and I have failed at it every day — a perfectionist’s nightmare, honestly. Books are another source of anxiety: I get stuck midway through a book and can’t finish it or start any others for years at a time because of my perfectionist desire to finish one thing cleanly before starting another. Right now, I’m stuck in one book with three others from my therapist lined up after it. Maybe in ten years, I’ll be through them all?

          And work is… well, work. My family and many of my friends would see changing jobs as an admission that I chose the wrong job in the first place, and a move to a lower-stress position would be a career regression in their minds. My family has actively cut out members whose jobs are not “good enough.” I’ve talked about this aspect elsewhere in the AAM comment section, and I won’t dive too deeply down that dark rabbit hole this time.

          None of that is to say that your suggestions might not be helpful to other people (including the LW in this post), of course! Thank you again for making them.

          (Side note that I am cringing at the typo in my original message.)

          1. Lady H*

            I am emphatically not implying you are, but as an autistic person, I wanted to note that CBT (and to a lesser but significant extent, DBT) is contraindicated for certain types of neurodiversity — it might not work for you, either, regardless of whether you relate to being neurodivergent!

            At the risk of again seeming as though I am implying a diagnosis I have absolutely zero way of making for you, I do find a lot of what you wrote incredibly close to my own experience, so I thought it might be helpful to say that working with a therapist who was trauma-informed has been ridiculously insightful for me. I am very self aware and I suspect you are too! I also get halfway through self help books, feel immense pressure for them to solve my problem, and can’t finish them. You might already know all this, and no need to read or reply to my experience or advice if it’s unwanted! In case someone resonates with it, though, I will expand a bit…

            After a couple years of therapy that isn’t focused on unhelpful modalities but rather on focusing internally on what my body is holding onto, I have learned that I don’t need another book. I need to feel safe in my body. Growing up with hyper-critical parents and extended family, I needed to be aware of every shift in their mood to keep safe. I can’t think my way out of the anxiety, but I can learn how it shows up in my body and figure out what feeling safe is, which is surprisingly hard as a 39-year-old. I hate to mention meditation, but, well, I disassociate quite a bit to deal with the anxiety which makes it harder to deal with, so meditation has been helpful in giving me the awareness I need.

            Anyway. This comment seems to be preaching something that I think loads of people are well aware of, but I feel like there has been a ton of recommendations for CBT and if folks are neurodivergent like me, I wanted to mention that it might be unhelpful and worse, can actually make things worse. (And perhaps relevant to mention that I have ADHD, and there’s some recent research and theory exploring that perhaps it is somewhere on the autism spectrum instead of separate from it.)

            1. Brain the Brian*

              Thanks for your comment! Neurodivergence is something I don’t seem to have, although neurological dysfunction (ahem: seizures) is a thing for me (thankfully, *extremely* well-controlled with medication), and I know the two are sometimes linked even if a person doesn’t present with classic autism-spectrum behaviors.

              For me, this paralyzed form of perfectionism is almost entirely anxiety-driven. The experience of being queer in a queer-unfriendly industry and in an increasingly (and frankly terrifyingly) queer-unfriendly political environment does not help, and in some ways is a focus of my anxiety the way that I know neurodivergence can be for a lot of people on the autism spectrum. In but one tiny example, my company rebranded on June 1st (the first day of Pride month, for those keeping score) one year and management quite intentionally chose not to have our graphic design firm produce a rainbow version of our brand-new logo. I understand the reasons (many of our overseas offices are located in very conservative countries), but the message to LGBTQ+ employees couldn’t have been louder. In another, I have memory of a senior manager saying directly to my face “Oh, we don’t do gay inclusion here.” Fun times — and again, because I chose this field knowing full well what it would probably entail, it feels like I can’t leave. The increasingly violent political environment and my fear that people would read into a decision to change jobs or industries have also activated my “freeze in place” instinct for avoiding conflicts: basically, if I am just quietly doing my job and not making a fuss or changing jobs, I feel like I am less likely to be a target. I have digressed quite far, but my point is basically that the number of specific, concrete things happening to make my own anxiety go through the roof is very high. My therapist is a realistic person who is apt to tell me that I’m right to be anxious about all of this, which is validating but certainly not calming. Hah!

              For whatever reason, meditation doesn’t work for me. I wind up thinking about what to do for dinner, or what vacuuming I need to do, or the emails I need to send — and then I get mad at myself for not meditating properly. It just feels to me like a lot of — to use one of my favorites words — hooey, and I can’t get past that basic lack of trust in the method. When I could make music, that helped enormously, but I share a small apartment, so anything that makes noise is out.

              I resonate strongly with your comments about needing to feel safe in my body. There is nowhere and no one safe right now. It feels like someone is always judging, always out to find fault, always out to screw up something, always out to upend some crucial piece of my life, always looking for a scapegoat. Between deaths in my family, constant transitions in my roommate situation (through no fault of anyone — just people moving and losing jobs and what-have-you), and the world writ large, who is really safe and trustworthy for the long haul? No one, it seems. And so I must at least appear perfect to make sure no one can ever, ever use anything against me. It’s paralyzing in the worst way: I can’t grow, because growth would be an admission that I was previously failing at something, and people could use evidence of those previous failures against me. (Yes, paranoia runs in my family — thanks for asking.)

              Anyway, back where we started: whether CBT might be effective at helping for general procrastination. I would certainly recommend that the LW try it if they can (CBT is, after all, supposed to be focused on changing behaviors), but to be vigilant in case it’s not working for them and be ready to voice that and advocate for a therapeutic shift. I wonder if they can get into a headspace where they are able to recognize and use stress as a motivator to get moving on tasks without letting it truly fluster them. That sounds ideal for a high-performer who doesn’t usually miss deadlines.

              And a last note that it’s currently 4:30am, so I’ve obviously failed this week’s therapy homework yet again. LOL.

          2. Ismone*

            If CBT doesn’t work for you, you should feel free to axe it. Like, I enjoy mindfulness but it is torture for some people. A friend once told me what it felt like for them emotionally to try mindfulness meditation and was like “maybe I’m not trying hard enough” and I’m like omg if it were like that for me I would never try it again, and you may not want to either.

            EMDR is really interesting. You might want to try it for one session and see if it works. No homework. It kinda blew my mind. In a good way.

            1. Brain the Brian*

              I wish it were that easy. My PCP has told me she will dump me as a patient if I don’t stick with CBT. Shrug.

  8. Imran*

    I like to put in a calendar event for when I want to do something/have it done by to give myself an artificial deadline

    1. Long time lurker*

      I find this really helps too because I have so much trouble just STARTING with tasks that seem intimidating. Sometimes I even set a meeting with one of my coworkers, we start the call on time, tell each other what we are going to try and get done in the time allotted, and then check back in with each other at the end to see how we’ve done. Almost like an accountability partner. It helps enormously.

    2. fingerguns*

      Yes! This works well for me, a chronic procrastinator/forgetter. I like to give myself at least an hour in the morning to sip my coffee and knock out little tasks. By the time the calendar alerts me mid-morning, I’m warmed up and ready to tackle the Big Task.

      1. Kivrin*

        I also need deadlines, artificial or not. I suspect I have undiagnosed ADHD though I am old and highly functioning. But I have the “slip off into other things” (like I can convince myself that doing a jigsaw is “cleaning up the jigsaw”!). My two go-tos are:
        – make a list and attach rewards (the reward might be as simple of the pleasurable hit of crossing off the thing, or it might be a walk or haribo or something more concrete)
        – use the pomodoro/ tomato timer method. My go to is 25 mins. If I can make myself hyperfocus for 25 mins, I won’t get up for a break — I’ll keep going and get the thing done. I use this for work and for things like cleaning the house.

        1. Jen*

          I also suspect I have undiagnosed ADHD and these are the things that help me too! Pomodoro has been a lifesaver – the app is on the dock of my work computer. I also use a Panda Planner and spend the first bit of my day making a to-do list and prioritizing. I still procrastinate some and get distracted but I can manage my workload so much better – which is vital because I work from home now and do a lot of big project work!

  9. Roberta*

    I will not diagnose here, but I could have written this post. A couple of things that helped me.
    1. And ADHD diagnosis that I should have gotten as a child, but that is a long story.
    2. Body Doubling. Being in the room with someone also working somehow gives me an extra bit of motivation to stay on target.
    3. I don’t eat the frog. My brain (like others) requires more of an on-ramp of dopamine to get going, so I will do a few easier tasks, get them out of the way, and that helps me get the running start for larger tasks.
    4. Fake-ish deadlines. My boss needs this project done by the 15? I will tell them I have an update by the 10th, which means I have to do something by the 10th.
    5. Figure out when you are most creative, like in the morning, afternoon, evening. If you have a creative job that requires a lot of internal thinking tasks (writing, conceptualizing and visioning stuff) and let that time be dedicated there. I am not wasting creative time on non-creative tasks and then struggling because I have a deadline and nothing left in the tank.

    It is trial and error and some days are better. But if you are like me, I would strongly suggest ignoring advice that is basically “just suck it up and focus more”.

    1. JR*

      Yes, body doubling is great. There’s a shame aspect to overcome; it can be embarrassing to ask for help even from inner-circle people who love you and know about your struggles. But it works!

      1. fingerguns*

        I do this digitally over Teams chat with a few coworker friends. It’s nice to externalize those frustrations and successes when you finally complete the task. :)

    2. PotsPansTeapots*

      I love a fake-ish deadline! I actually used that technique this week to help me finish a higher priority task ahead of stuff that could wait.

    3. ArchivesPony*

      I don’t even see them as fake deadlines anymore (I, luckily have a profession/job that doesn’t have a ton of deadlines thank goodness!) but in college, my writing in the major professor, gave great advice in this. She helped us break down our giant research paper in smaller tasks to make it seem less daunting (which it was at the time, think like 25 pages LOL). Learning how to do this was absolutely vital when it came to my masters program (100+ page “portfilio).

      So also echoing the putting your own deadlines.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I did really well on long-term school projects with specific deadlines along the way. The projects that the teacher/prof just said, “Write this paper and hand it in two months from now”? I wrote them the night before, almost always.

        And I recommend not just putting in your own deadlines but voicing them (out loud, email, calendar invite, whatever) to someone else to help keep you accountable. This might be especially effective if that person is your manager, and in fact I’d say regularly meeting with your manager to provide project updates and figure out next priorities and deadlines would be a good way to keep you on track.

    4. daeranilen*

      Speaking from my own experience: I think body doubling helps so much because it’s not just adding external accountability to pressure me to do the thing, but also adding reassurance that if I am incapable of doing the thing, someone can and will step in to help me, which mitigates a lot of the anxiety that makes me avoid difficult tasks.

    5. JD*

      Agree with above, especially the idea of body doubling ( first time hearing that as a phrase). My local library has a section for people to work. I get so much more work done there than when I work from home. It’s quieter and more conductive to work than a coffee shop plus you can stay as long as you want.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Haha my personal hangup is that I don’t like the phrase, since it seems careless of the other person, but there’s always been a “accountability buddy” / “workout partner” concept in the world of fitness, where working out with someone else is far more effective than trying to gut it out on discipline alone, so the concept is definitely sound!

        1. Lexi Vipond*

          I find the phrase kind of creepy, as well as opaque – the first time I came across it I thought it must be some kind of dissociation (if that’s the right word) where you felt like you were standing outside your own body!

    6. PrettyHorribleDecision*

      Yes – jumping on to say that a few things that have helped me the most actually have to do with overhauling my schedule.
      1) I was finding getting the kids out and myself ready was using all of my decision making capacity by 9am, so I now alternate early mornings w/my partner now: up at 5am, focused work for a few hours while the world and my head are quiet.
      2) For big or demanding creative projects, I also do ‘retreats’ or marathon sessions, either in a new workspace or actually paying money to go somewhere to stay and hide, with snacks and drinks, for a few days of immersing myself in one set of problems/one project.
      3) A long walk (even better than a run, I think bc it’s less intense) late in the afternoon helps me 1) process and find a way through any places I got stuck that day; 2) burn off the adrenaline and fear that can build up throughout the day.

    7. WheresMyPen*

      My two cents re. number 5: I have big peaks and troughs in my productivity. When I first start work I like to do a few easy tasks, then an hour or so before lunch I tend to be able to churn out a good chunk of work, probably because I have a limited period of time before I have to stop (I always take lunch so would never work through the break). Then after lunch I have a big slump in energy and concentration around 2-4, but then ramp up again from 4-6. I am not the kind of person who completes tasks now that aren’t due for two weeks, I tend to leave things until nearer the deadline, so probably makes sense that I get my best focus close to when I know I have to stop. It might help if you figure out times you don’t procrastinate and what the conditions were, in case you can learn to use this strategically.

  10. WeirdChemist*

    I also struggle with this immensely as well! I’ve found that breaking the big/hard/intimidating to-do items into many smaller to-do items.

    So an example from writing my dissertation (which was a genuine miracle I completed with my procrastination problems lol):
    Instead of my to-do list being “work on dissertation” or even “work on chapter 2”, it was things like “insert equations for chapter 2”, “make graph for X data in chapter 2”, “fix figure formatting for chapter 2”, etc. These tasks were much more manageable, and the anxious part of my brain that wanted to procrastinate felt less intimidated, so it was easier to start. I also found that once I got started, it was easier to keep going, so I would tell myself “well I’ll just make the graph, I don’t have to format it yet”, but then would often just keep going and make/format multiple graphs in one go

    1. amoeba*

      Yes! And honestly, I love crossing things off my to do list (the little dopamine rush!), so many small tasks I can quickly accomplish make that much more frequent.

    2. just here for the scripts*

      Coming here to say this. I find if I can break a task down into numerous small parts—and then schedule those small parts over a few days (or throughout a single day—I actually get it done.

    3. TPS Reporter*

      was going to say the same thing, my to do list is filled with very specific descriptive tasks not an an overall “write this report”. instead it’s write email to ___, then gather data from here, then draft, then send draft to ____, etc.

    4. WeirdChemist*

      Also, for things like writing/creating text (which has always been one of the things I struggle with starting the most), I found it easier to start by writing a draft on physical paper instead of starting with typing. Even when I told myself that whatever I was typing was just a rough draft and I would fix mistakes later, my perfectionism was activated too hard and I couldn’t start writing! For some reason hand writing and copying over later was way less intimidating. And yes, hand writing added an extra step, but it was still wayyy faster than procrastinating and never starting in the first place!

    5. Ellen*

      This, exactly! I also have a tendency to procrastinate, but the smaller I can make the tasks on my list, the easier it is to get started. And once I get started, it’s easier to keep going.

    6. P2*

      This! I have to break things down into smaller tasks. I’ll write a rough outline. I sit and type the steps. I force myself to just start with a few ideas. Just to get something started.

    7. Caroline*

      Yes! This is also really helpful for when I’m fixating on the difficult bits of a task. But if I break it down and work through things that seem small and achievable, it becomes clearer where the tougher bits are and I can then really focus in on how to manage them.

    8. Comma Queen*

      Yes! This is such a great approach for perfectionist procrastinators because you can keep breaking down items until the reach a point that each one feels achievable. I’ve even had items for “outline text” (which seems basic until you don’t know what to put down) that had to break down into “identity key points,” “group points together,” and “add supporting points.”

      Knowing that I didn’t have to get all of it done at once made it so much easier to stop avoiding the whole task.

  11. MissMeghan*

    I feel your pain. It’s something I’m always trying to improve too, and nothing has really been fool-proof to fix that urge to avoid. That said, one thing that’s helped immensely is to write a couple daily goals for myself on a post-it at the beginning of the day. Not the full day, but put on it the annoying things that need attention and say I can check it off if I work on it for 20 minutes. That’s not a huge amount of time, and once I get started it’s easier to keep going, but the promise to myself that I can stop really helps get going.

    1. Hatchet*

      I do this to! Either on a post-it or on a weekly planner… things I need to work on or get done for the day. (I also know what’s a ‘nice to get done, but not absolute’ task. I use an * to indicate those absolute tasks.)

  12. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I don’t know if this is going to be useful for OP or not, but I’ve sometimes been able to transfer momentum from non-work stuff into work tasks.

    EG: first thing in the morning, clean the kitchen while drinking my coffee and listening to something (instead of just lazing on the couch and scrolling), and then have a head of steam to tackle something big in my job as soon as I clock in. But it can’t be a really big personal project, because that will just sap my energy.

    1. KitKat*

      I like this advice. Similar but different – I am much more productive if I go for a walk before work.

    2. Hatchet*

      Similar as well, but maybe helpful to the OP, I know when in the day is best for me to focus on those high-brain cell tasks. For me it’s earlier in the day to mid morning. So I know to prioritize those more high functioning, detail oriented tasks during that time. (Bonus is that afterwards I feel accomplished and can work on the lower priority and/or lower brain-cell tasks okay.)

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this.

        If I get the brain-work intense tasks done in the morning, I can reward myself with easy, routine tasks in the afternoon when I’m no longer at my best. Except if I’m working to a tight deadline when the adrenaline rush will force me to keep going. But I’ll pay for that later, so I try to be proactive rather than last minute.

        I grew up in a supportive family that didn’t expect perfection from me and my sister, but I’ve known periods of procrastination in my life. They’ve always been related to anxiety and depression, which for me have been intermittent issues that I’ve dealt with in therapy.

        The issues that cause the most procrastination for me have been related to personal finances. I’m pretty much always last-minute with my taxes, even if our system is very easy in that we get a pre-filled tax return and only change whatever we can submit as deductibles, and most of my bills are on autodebit so I don’t forget to pay them on time.

    3. GythaOgden*

      This is totally a great thing. I find it works the other way round too — on days when I’ve been out and about onsite at work, getting home I feel invigorated and more like staying up later than usual rather than the reverse. I think it’s maybe because I’m getting a lot of physical exercise during those days (more than I did when I was 100% in-person but just sat behind a reception desk) and so the physical circulation in my body is able to sustain more activity as a result. It’s happened twice in the last few weeks and, while I’m finally at the end of a long period with multiple site visits and several social engagements that took me over to my mum and dad’s place, it makes me think that rather than lying about in bed for a couple of hours fiddling on my phone, it would be better to get the momentum going in the mornings a bit earlier.

      That said, I have an exercise class on Wednesday mornings which segues into my work start time at home, so I’m already doing it to an extent.

      Other things that I do to improve intellectual focus, engagement and attention (particularly on the morning of our main monthly meeting with a notoriously difficult set of clients where a lot of my brain power is needed afterwards to put a diplomatic set of minutes together!) involve eating protein-rich breakfasts. Eggs are pretty good straight from the frying pan and were recommended on a BBC article about food during exam season. I’m not sure about avocado (I had some guacamole a while ago and it wasn’t bad, but it’s one of those things I’m not sure about buying a whole jar of if it turns out to be not to my liking) but I’ve also started putting almond butter on a waffle as an afternoon pick me up. The almond butter has a lot of magnesium in it, which is a good mineral for the brain in general and mood in particular.

      Although I’m not keen on the environmental footprint of almonds, because of the huge water needs of the farms in otherwise sparsely watered California and the food mile impact of importing foreign delicacies over drinking milk from local farms, it’s been a really nice way of getting more nutrients AND a nice protein boost when my attention is starting to wane. (The brand I use imports its almonds by sea rather than plane, which mitigates some of the issue for me. The crunchy stuff tastes like melted Pocky as well, so it satisfies my bittersweet tooth. It might be nice in a tart too — one English pastry, Bakewell Tart, is heavy on the almonds and if I’m feeling adventurous a frangipane with almond butter on top might be a nice twist on the confection 6-:.)

      A lot of things might feed into OP’s attention but that’s how I’ve solved a tendency towards lethargy for myself. Warming up like you suggest is definitely a good way of getting the circulation going in the morning and brain food can really be game-changing.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        This is completely tangential to anything but don’t buy guacamole in a jar ever. It needs to be fresh.

  13. cmdrspacebabe*

    This kind of sounds like an executive functioning issue – especially if you experience it as feeling physically ‘frozen’ or ‘stuck’ on a task, where you’re trying REALLY hard to force yourself into it and… nothing happens. For me, this is a big ADHD thing – dunno if you’ve ever looked into that! We’re often ‘high performers’ in our skilled areas, but struggle with task planning, time management, and prioritization because our brains are wired for novelty – something new and exciting will always beat out something boring, but important. Personally, I have never found a consistent solution! I just try to either a) rotate novelties, or b) bring in colleagues who are better at that kind of thing:

    a) Whenever I’m really struggling with planning, I ditch whatever to-do list system I’ve been using and switch to a different one (new or previously used). Sometimes the novelty of having a new system is enough to kick-start me into doing the boring stuff, and once I start, it’s easier to continue.

    b) If I get really stuck on an admin thing and just can’t get myself to do it, I ask for task trades. I’m best at writing, editing, and strategizing, while some of my coworkers are better at admin. In some cases, we can get away with just trading to-do lists – they run my approvals or cover my follow-ups while I do the writing work they’ve been stuck on.

    c) Have not yet worked up the nerve for this, but I’m thinking of trying to schedule ‘sprint’ sessions with some of my coworkers – where we all pick a task we’ve been putting off, open a Teams call or something, and all work on our most hated thing for 25-30 minutes while providing each other with moral support. No idea if that would work out yet, though! :P

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I don’t know if this comes under A, but for years I never used the teacher planners they issued to us, I just couldn’t get myself to sit down and fill in all those boring pale blue boxes. Then I got really interested in self printed planners, how to personalised them for efficiency and they’re coloured for efficiency, but really the colours and the fact I designed them also do something to engage my brain. I have used the version that is more “me” every day for years now. I don’t think this is always possible for one off “frogs”, but if OP has one they dodge regularly, making it into a more interesting project can really work.

      1. cmdrspacebabe*

        Bullet journals are one of my rotating solutions! :D When I’m in a creative period and in the mood to do hand-lettering or doodling, I try to do visual layouts for all my planning so I have an excuse to doodle all over something. Built-in motivation!!

    2. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

      That novelty thing in a) is really helpful for me, too. Different pen, different room, facing a different direction, even just walking a different route.

    3. Not your trauma bucket*

      Amen to task trading!! My husband and I were both procrastinating HORRIBLY on a couple of phone calls. He was supposed to call and organize X, and I was to call and organize Y. And we just… couldn’t. Eventually we decided to trade, and we got both tasks done immediately.

      Yes both tasks were phone calls, and I really do wish I understood why trading phone calls finally worked, but here we are.

      1. Sapientia*

        I think it might be because the stakes are both lower and higher at the same time.
        There is less emotional dreading the negative consequences because it’s not my task. At the same time it seems more important and rewarding to do because it’s for someone I care about.

  14. Godrid the Well Traveled*

    Lots of people are recommending getting assessed for ADHD and that might be a good idea, but even if you don’t want to, that area provides a whole different philosophy of motivation and tools that might work for you.

    I’d also look into Cal Newport’s books and podcasts.

    1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

      Totally agree that you don’t have to have ADHD to find their hacks and coping skills helpful. I use a strategy for tidying my house that was designed for people with ADHD, even though I really only exhibit one of the criteria occasionally.

    2. PurplePeopleEater*

      Seconding the Cal Newport recommendation and adding a couple more:
      * Laziness Does Not Exist, by Devin Price
      * Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg

      1. Princess Peach*

        Seconding the Devon Price book. It’s not so much a self help book as a reframing of what we tend to label as “lazy” or maladaptive behavior. I found it really helpful in changing my thinking on my own habits and in developing a more charitable attitude toward others.

      2. Raktajino*

        Laziness Does Not Exist helped me SO much, and I haven’t even finished the book! Price’s framing of procrastination as you needing something that is blocking you from starting really helped me pause and reflect. Usually that something is ambiguity about the end product, or the task is so vague that I feel overwhelmed. And yes, sometimes I know exactly what I need to do, it’s just freaking boring. Identifying what I need to be different helps me have more control over the process and makes me more interested.

        And for really boring things, I have figured out ways to gamify my spreadsheets that at least let me track progress and create tiny victories.

  15. Spicy Brain*

    It feels like I could have written this letter before I was diagnosed with ADHD in my mid-30s. Finding the right combo of meds has been life-changing.

      1. pippin*

        big big agree. especially the taking easier tasks to pass the time. I have found great success with the Eat the Frog method (and also, meds and therapy) [https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/eat-the-frog]

      2. J*

        Also me before being diagnosed in my mid 30s! If there are other symptoms, it’s worth having a conversation with your doctor

    1. Aspen*

      As a fellow later-diagnosed ADHD-er, I grew up being constantly told that if I just tried harder, I could overcome my procrastination and executive function struggles. What’s actually helped me is a). accepting that my brain is simply wired differently and that neurotypical productivity strategies (including “trying harder”) don’t work for me, and b). finding the right medication. I also really recommend How To ADHD (the book and youtube channel) for some strategies on how to be more ‘productive’ with an ADHD brain!

    2. NothingIsLittle*

      Same hat! I’m a different person on and off my meds (non-stimulant SNRI). Everyone I’ve spoken to with this particular kind of procrastination problem has ended up diagnosed with ADHD.

    3. Em from CT*

      God, I HOPE this is me! Or rather, the OP’s experience is totally me, and I’ve been diagnosed but haven’t started on meds yet. I am SO hopeful. (Especially since I was just laid off for reasons that basically boiled down to “you don’t manage your ADHD symptoms well enough.”)

    4. emkaaaay*

      I’m so amused by the unanimity of this comment section on this point, especially given that the readership is heavily female. It’s like a world convention of Good Grades Girls Who Read Books Under The Desk In Geometry And Are Now Reading Blogs At Work. Turns out there’s a word for that.

      OP, as someone who’s extremely same but _hasn’t_ been formally diagnosed, I’d note that if seeking diagnosis and medication feels like too big a step, just learning about ADHD can be huge! Reading some ADHD books/blogs was a massive turning point for me. It gave me language other than “lazy” to describe what was going on, provided concrete ideas about practices that might work for me, taught me to be curious and observant about what DID work, and began the slowwww process of melting shame. It’s also a great way to procrastinate.

      This is NOT to discourage medication, which has been life-changing for many people I know– just making the point that there’s a spectrum of ways you can engage with this idea that don’t require a doctor.

      1. mayflower*

        Agree with this – I don’t have ADHD but I do have executive functioning difficulties. When my partner was diagnosed with ADHD I learned a ton that helped me with my own struggles by learning about strategies to mitigate their ADHD. A lot of those strategies boil down to executive functioning strategies!

      2. Hannah Lee*

        Great observation! It does feel like there are SO many of us round these parts; I loved the way you put it.

        Reading the blogs, watching videos on ADHD and tools, tips to manage your life with it is extremely helpful. Even just seeing ideas about life management systems, little ideas is like an “AHA!” moment, where I’d see a set up someone had put in place, realize I’d done something similar and made the connection about why it worked for me … it was because my brain worked in a way that needed it. For a really simple example, there was one where the ‘expert’ described putting useful information/stuff right where it was needed and where you’d come across it during your normal activities. So you didn’t have to remember/go find it. And I realized that’s what I do in the winter when in the evening I notice it’s sleeting, freezing raining and I put a sticky, right at eye level on the door I will be going out through in the morning that says “BLACK ICE!!!” because in the morning when I leave from work I tend to be so distracted getting myself out the door that any memory of what happened the night before would be nowhere in my conscious thought, until I barrel out on to the icy steps and fall.

        Signed Someone Else “who’s extremely same but _hasn’t_ been formally diagnosed”

        1. emkaaaay*

          Yep, exactly. Once you get less interested in “why can’t I just remember” and more interested in stuff like a BLACK ICE!!! sticky note, a lot changes.

      3. Philosophia*

        “Good Grades Girls Who Read Books Under The Desk In Geometry And Are Now Reading Blogs At Work”—I love it, except that I read books under the desk in first grade (and got into trouble for it, IIRC) because I was in elementary school in the Dick & Jane era, and there were no provisions for children who did not need Dick & Jane-level instruction. Geometry, on the other hand, was fun.

        Anyway, hats off to the supportive commentariat.

    5. Samesies*

      Could have written this letter or this comment.

      Truly, therapy to address work on recognizing my own value outside of getting things done/productivity/perfection has also been helpful. Meds on their own just make it slightly but significantly easier to do what I’ve decided to do. Therapy helps with figuring out WHAT to do (ie: taking actions that fulfill my needs and wants > just getting tasks done because I’m supposed to or doing MORE work when what I need is a break).

    6. amoeba*

      Absolutely not blaming anybody here, but this is sometimes so frustrating to me. I struggle very much with “task paralysis”, have all my life. Have talked about it in therapy, and yes, my therapist did suggest ADHD, I got tested, and the results came back negative. Like, not as in “you have nothing” but as in “there are a few things, but it doesn’t meet the criteria”.
      And on the one hand it’s great that there’s so much more about the topic on the internet and there’s certainly still a lot of strategies I can try and use! But there’s so, so many comments basically stating that medication is the one thing that helped and it’s the only way to improve your life. Medication I’m never going to get, so I do feel a bit lost, honestly.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Hey amoeba, I know AAM asked us to stop mentioning ADHD in the comments but: I was tested for ADHD twice. The first time they were like, nah, you don’t have it, but a year later I still felt like I did because my brain was all over the place and I couldn’t concentrate on anything at work, so I got tested again and got a positive diagnosis. I will say that it depends on how the testing is done, too. My first test seemed really strongly geared towards children and how kids’ ADHD manifests itself in a school setting and included a lot of weird clinical tests that in retrospect seemed really archaic, whereas the second test asked more about lifestyle and how my brain functions. So I guess the first test was more observational and the second test was a lot more introspective and based on real-life situations, which seemed a LOT more helpful anyway.

        TL;DR: if you can afford the time and money, it’s absolutely worth it to get a second opinion.

        1. amoeba*

          Well, I actually agree with the doctor in that I do obviously have problems in that one area, but a lot of the other symptoms of ADHD don’t apply (no time blindness, no sensitivity for noises/crowds, no hyperfocus, etc.). So not sure a second assessment would help that much… (that was also in the ADHD university hospital centre, so definitely the specialised place to go in this region!)
          But I mean, I guess my point was anyway more that there are some of us for whom medication isn’t an option for whatever reason and it can be quite frustrating to see most of the online advice ending with “well, anyway, medication is the only way to improve”. I actually know it’s possible – for me – without because I’ve had times in my life in which I struggled hardly at all! Now if I only knew how to get back into that state…

      2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        Before I got diagnosed and medicated, I was intentional about my caffeine usage. I wasn’t always coherent enough first thing in the day to make myself coffee, but I was coherent enough to operate a pill box. So I got myself some No-Doz and started putting it in my pill box. That jump-started my brain enough to function until I got to work with the bottomless coffee pots and pre-measured coffee baggettes. It wasn’t the same as prescription medication, it wasn’t as effective as prescription medication, but it was absolutely better than nothing.

        Sometimes you can then go back to your doctor and say “so this is how much caffeine I have to take in order to be functional; do I get a cardiologist or are you willing to revisit Ritalin” but that depends on the doctor.

  16. GigglyPuff*

    Honestly, same, and you know what after spending years/decades feeling guilty for it, I’m trying to live with it positively…I still get the job done, I get the same results I get whether I didn’t procrastinate. So the last few months I’ve been trying to embrace it instead of fighting it. I need the pressure to complete tasks and bonus I get other stuff done along the way avoiding those tasks. May not be the best approach for everyone, but it’s really reduced my stress and guilt levels. Not everyone functions the same way and sometimes procrastination doesn’t need solving (imo) if the job still gets done on time.

    (also been on and off various ADHD meds for 20 years, ultimately while overall helpful, doesn’t make you focus on the “correct” tasks, so never expect miracles from it)

    1. lunchtime caller*

      This is the way I do it too. If I know a task will take me X amount of time, I make sure I have that X amount of time clear right before the deadline, and then I don’t worry about it and I do other stuff. I used to waste SO much time just sitting around being stressed, and now that I’ve reclaimed that time I get way more done overall.

    2. Claire*

      I was going to recommend this same approach! Maybe stop trying to fix it; stop seeing it as a problem. You get the job done! You do good work! If there are no negative outcomes, maybe this is just a fine way to do it.

      I have been trying to accept that I work in fits and starts: I’ll have a week of INCREDIBLE productivity and then a week of accomplishing next to nothing. I’ve been working on accepting that I can’t fix that low productivity week because I NEED that to be able to have that week of HIGH productivity.

      Sometimes it’s good to resist the very persistent cultural drive to FIX things that maybe don’t need fixing?

      1. Ellen Ripley*

        This was a revelation to me too.

        It’s like jogging in a long race and sprinting the last 100 meters. Then thinking “if I could run the whole race at my sprinting speed, then I would have such a better race time!”.

        I mean, sure that’d be nice, but the only way you were able to sprint that last bit was *because* you jogged the rest of the way and conserved your energy.

        So it’s not that you’re not meeting your potential or using your energy properly, you’re just using it in bursts rather than evenly spaced.

      2. allathian*

        The idea that everyone can be 100% productive 100% of the time needs to go away yesterday. Most humans, regardless of neurotype, simply can’t sustain that for any length of time and remain healthy.

        For the same reason I pity kids who are overscheduled. Tolerating boredom is a necessary lesson to learn and it’s essential to creativity.

    3. Procrastinators unite*

      I came here to say this too. I learned after trying to cut out procrastination from my research/writing process that I actually needed the procrastination time. It was during that time that my body/brain was doing other smaller ‘less important’ tasks that the deeper part of my brain was processing the information and finding connections. That isn’t true with all my procrastination, but at least in some situations I need that “less productive” time to give my brain a place to do that work. When I tried to force that thinking on my own I struggled.

      1. Neko*

        I’ve experienced the same! If I give my brain time to process a task in the background, I’ll suddenly come up with the resolution and start working on it. If I try to rush the project, I end up redoing it when my brain finishes processing it and finds a better way to do the thing.

        Also I am a late 30s diagnosed inattentive ADHD woman. I can’t take the regular stimulant meds due to heart palpitations, so sometimes I can’t control where my focus goes. I also never miss a deadline, but sometimes it comes down to the wire. As long as my boss gives me accurate deadlines and helps me prioritize, my system works for me.

    4. Jiminy Cricket*

      Same. I’m a terrible procrastinator who has never missed a deadline. I’m done beating myself up. Instead, I recognize that this, while stressful and unorthodox, “works” for me. I find that the best way to alleviate the stress is to actually give myself credit for what I am able to do.

      I’m pretty sure that my flavor of procrastination is based in avoidance of unpleasant emotions and perfectionism.

    5. Distracted Procrastinator*

      this is me. I call it successful procrastination. I know how much time I need, I plan for that, and I get it done. If it’s last minute, it doesn’t matter as much because it still got done.

      I either get something done the second I’m asked to do it, or right before the deadline, there is very little middle ground.

    6. bamcheeks*

      Same— I identify wi the a huge amount of the descriptive stuff around ADHD executive function and task management that people talk about, but not particularly with shame/ stress / lack of confidence stuff. I think it’s a mixture of being bright enough to get by in most things even with “bad study habits” and “lack of concentration”, generally having pretty good self-esteem and not having my self-identity bound up in my work/achievement persona. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try and force myself into working the “proper” way, but it was more “mild irritation with myself” than shame / stress.

      So LW, I would try looking hard at yourself and figuring out whether your working pattern is actually the problem, or whether the shame and stress is. Because it’s possible you don’t have to fix the working pattern to fix the shame and stress.

  17. Dawn*

    I don’t know if it will be helpful to you, OP, but I found Dave Crenshaw’s courses on time management to be a huge help to me, and I’m currently back in school pursuing what will be my first real academic credentials at age 40, in part thanks to him. He is, in his own words, “off the charts ADHD” so his practices really helped me, and spoke to me in a way that a lot of these things really don’t.


  18. A fellow procrastinator*

    Do you work from home? Are you in a small office? I have the same issues and while I suspect ADHD, I still haven’t gotten a diagnosis.

    I use CAVEDAY. It’s an online platform with groups of people working together in 1 hour sprints. I LOVE it. We have short conversations, I see other people doing work and feel inspired to do it myself. They encourage mono-tasking and ask that report back on progress. It’s just an easy way to be part of a work community. Using Cave Day is the first time in years that I’ve hit a flow in my workday.

    I too get glowing reviews, big raises, new positions at my job, but I never feel good because of all the things I put off. Cave Day has helped get important things done during the day so I don’t have that ick feeling when the workday ends.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I basted and quilted a queen sized quilt in a weekend primarily because my online quilting community had an all weekend Zoom call where other people were randomly logging in and working on their own stuff and sometimes chatting. It’s the absolutely best.

    2. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      Oh gosh, this sounds AMAZING! Off to check it out, THANK YOU for mentioning it!!

      1. aspirational yogurt*

        Same! Need to look into this – we have a big project to which I need to contribute, but I can’t seem to get started.

    1. starsaphire*

      Not sure if it’s the same for everyone, but I once heard a motivational speaker say, “If you got a bucket of frogs to swallow, swallow the biggest one first!”

      Meaning, tackle the biggest task first and everything else is downhill from there. Which doesn’t work for all of us! For me, it’s starting small and building momentum.

    2. Name*

      It’s a book titled “Eat the Frog” that is supposed to help with procrastination. It’s about tackling the most challenging thing first and organizing your to-do’s to make them easier to get done.

    3. pennyforum*

      Mark Twain — ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.’

      Whether Mark Twain actually said it or anything similar I’d debate.

      A frequently given productivity tip is to do the worst thing you have to first thing so your day only gets better

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I highly doubt Twain said anything of the sort, but never mind.

        I’m a morning person, so I’ll happily do the job that requires most of my resources as the *second* thing in the morning. I need to do something brainless like read my email the very first thing. Granted, I rarely have more than 5 new messages in the morning, so it isn’t the time sink that it can be for those who have 500.

  19. burrr... it's cold in here*

    I have ADHD, inattentive, and this is a huge issue for me that I have spent YEARS learning how to manage. I’m not saying you have ADHD but these are things that help me:

    – I use goblin tools to break tasks down into manageable steps.
    – I also have other people help hold me accountable – I am way more likely to do something if someone else cares about it.
    – I “body double” — find someone who is doing similar work and we just sit and do it together
    – If it something that doesn’t take too much thinking, I reward myself for doing it by allowing myself to watch trashy tv (my guilty pleasure), while I do it
    – I use a variety of tools including Habitica, a bullet journal, and others to be able to check things off in a box and get a small reward for doing it.

    The other thing I have noticed about myself is that if I am repeatedly putting off a task, there is a reason for it and if I can identify that reason, then I can resolve it. A lot of the time, the task feels really big in my brain so I’m unable to see it for the individual steps and I get overwhelmed (this is when I break it down into individual steps and have someone sit with me in person or over Zoom while I do the first few steps). Sometimes it’s because I’m tired or hungry. Sometimes it’s because the task bores me and I feel whiny about it — in this case, I find a way that I get to reward my brain for doing the task (watching a trashy tv show, getting a snack I like to eat while doing it, listening to a podcast, etc). Sometimes it’s because I’m genuinely burned out and I just absolutely cannot take another long term task onto my plate — I don’t have emotional energy or spoons to deal with it. For this – I am honest with myself about what I can and can’t do. If it’s possible, I ask someone else to help me with the task/get it started/or just do it altogether. If it’s not, I allow myself to not do it, but I set a date on the calendar in which I have to do at least the first step.

    1. daeranilen*

      I really appreciate your second paragraph here – identifying the reason for task avoidance is still a struggle for me and seeing some possible reasons listed out is helpful!

  20. starsaphire*

    Former Gifted child here, now trying to stay afloat in a murky wash of self-reproach, exhaustion, and half-finished tasks.

    Lists. Lists and spreadsheets and giving oneself the tiny dopamine rush of checking things off as Done. Small things if you can’t face the big ones. Breaking the big ones into smaller bites to at least be “started” on them.

    That’s what I got. It’s at least kept me out of trouble at my job. (We won’t talk about my craft room.)

    I so feel for you! And your last line was absolute poetry. (For me, it was something about being the youngest child, and my parents being irritated because they’d already taught one of us how to do X thing and therefore all of us should automatically know…)

    Best of luck!

    1. crtchqn2*

      Same. I’ve bought stationary left and write to give me enjoyment to for getting tasks done.

    2. EngGirl*

      I have so many different colors of pens for the tiny dopamine rush of organizing the lists.

  21. Response Junkie*

    Mostly here for the comments b/c this letter is me, but one thing I’ve found that helps me a ton – running. I know I’m super lucky to have this as an option but when I run in the morning my workdays are easier. I told my therapist I think it’s because it’s a chance for my mind to frolic around the proverbial field so there’s less need for that during the day, which for me translates into better (not perfect) focus. YMMV, but maybe try some morning exercise that gives your brain a chance to do whatever it wants?

  22. Name*

    I would bet you’re a female who has ADHD – inattention and hasn’t been diagnosed. You sound exactly like me and I was finally diagnosed in college.
    I would recommend getting tested and then look at medication or self-regulation techniques.

  23. JR*

    Hi! I’m yet another commenter who is not diagnosing OP but who wants to talk about ADHD!

    I have it. I’ve tried medication. Nothing works as well as the profound, dramatic effects I’ve heard from friends. (My impression is that something like half or 2/3 of people with ADHD respond incredibly well to stimulants. I’m in the other half or 1/3.) My procrastination is constantly frustrating and it created various negative effects that made my childhood much more difficult than it otherwise would’ve been with loving parents and financial security.

    My friends (including a therapist who was an ADHD specialist for awhile) have various tricks and time management tools they suggest. I do believe that some of them work well for some people! I’m kind of burned out from them and am not really looking for more. The only two things that help these days: (1) Try not to beat myself up over it. Being hard on myself won’t get tasks done and I’ll just feel crappier by the end of the day. (2) Embrace constructive procrastination. If the only way I get Task X done is if Task Y and Task Z end up on my to-do list as higher priorities, and then I end up procrastinating them by doing Task X instead….great! Take the win and worry about Y and Z tomorrow.

    I wish there was a great answer for me. If you have a diagnosable condition and are fortunate, you can find access to an affordable prescriber and affordable medication that will be a tremendous help for you. If not…at least you’ve got company?

  24. WantonSeedStitch*

    Goblin Tools has a function that helps you break down a larger task into smaller ones, so you can check off each small part as you go. I know some folks who use it to make big tasks seem more manageable and help them keep track of what they have left to do.

  25. HannahS*

    For me, what helped me not procrastinate (as much lol) was the realization that, for me, procrastination was a result of perfectionism, which is a kind of anxiety. Once I figured out that the reason I avoided tasks was really because I was anxious about not being able to do them perfectly, I could talk myself out of it. “Just do it” and timers and habit apps didn’t work because I would freeze; I needed the adrenaline rush of a deadline to smack through my anxiety.

    I spent some time reading about contentment and the value of doing things imperfectly; I reflected on how much I admire diligent people who largely DON’T do things perfectly, but do them consistently, and I repeated to myself (again and again and again) that perfect is the enemy of good, that I should just do a sh*t job, that done is better than perfect, and that anxiety is not helpful.

    I’m much, much better about it now. Hope you find something helpful!

    1. KitKat*

      One additional comment about perfectionism — for me it manifests as extremely binary thinking. The thing is either correct (100% done AND 100% perfect) or incorrect (anything other than 100% done and 100% perfect).

      Seeing things that way makes interim progress essentially meaningless (going from 30% to 40% doesn’t mean anything because the only meaningful step is the one that takes you to 100%). Therefore I avoid/procrastinate doing tasks that will result in the thing still being not “correct” — why spend time doing a small step, only to feel bad at the end about how much is left to do? I’d rather not do the step at all, then I never have to feel that bad feeling!

      Retraining myself to see things in “gray scale” rather than black and white has been very helpful — if I can nudge the thing a little toward the better/more complete side of the scale, well, then that’s great! It’s moved along the scale, that is an improvement over how I started the day, even if it is a very long time before it gets to complete/perfect, or even if it never gets there.

      (I am weirdly fortunate that this mostly impacts my personal life, professionally I’m naturally able to see things differently — but adding in case it triggers anything helpful for OP!)

  26. Mx Burnout*

    Another inattentive-type ADHD’er diagnosed in my late 30’s, weighing in.

    This has been my lifelong struggle. I feel this so hard: “I meet all my deadlines, but planning is like pulling teeth and I’m almost always stressed over deadlines that are months ahead.”

    Because on the one hand, if I’m getting the work done and it’s good, what does it matter how much I procrastinate? Well, because I feel crappy about it in the meantime and even after execution! I thought on this long and hard for years, and finally ended up at wondering whether it was my relationship to the procrastination, and my feelings about it, that was more the problem more than my procrastination itself — and, perhaps, an easier “problem” to fix than the procrastination.

    Because the thing is, it sounds like your work habits (which I share) are actually working for you apart from the stress/guilt/shame frustration about HOW you’re working — i.e., maybe you think you “should” be able to work differently and are putting way too much pressure on yourself to work in a way that actually doesn’t, for you. Could you look into acceptance and mindfulness-type exercises that might help you get more comfortable with your natural work style, rather than trying eleventy new ~ hacks ~ to cram yourself into a different work style box?

    I like doing small tasks to ramp up to the big ones; I get a sense of accomplishment from doing SOMETHING instead of just spinning up about the big thing I’m not doing. And I have come to just … acknowledge that. It’s a lot of self-talk like: “I’m working on this piddly no-deadline thing, and that’s just how I work, and the big thing will come later and it will be fine.”

    You might also check out The Anti-Planner by Dani Donovan, which is basically a fun activity book for procrastinators (and anyone else who often gets stumped/stuck) with a million ways to get started on tasks that feel too big.

    1. Lana Kane*

      The word “should” has been such a yoke for me all my life, and it’s now in my 40’s that I’ve started to realize I need to let it go. So your post really resonated with my experience. I was recently diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, which came as no surprise. And I’ve started to understand that I need to work with myself, not against. I’m still finding out what that means for me but the realization was a big first step.

      Sometimes the way I do things may seem inefficient to others, but I know that I work best in a certain way even if others can find eleventy hacks on how to be faster. But my aim isn’t to be faster just for the sake of being faster. It’s to make sure I stay on track and don’t forget things. So my process is going to look different.

  27. BikeWalkBarb*

    For years I joked that I procrastinated in order to create artificial deadline pressure because I did my best work when I didn’t stop to re-edit 3 times (former professional copy editor) and I just had to get it done. The adrenaline push was part of my process.

    I defined that as a problem.

    Then I read something (wish I could credit the source) that completely redefined it for me. *This is how my brain works.* I need to incubate. My brain actually *is* working on the thing that’s in front of me. I just haven’t yet arrived at the stage where I will put my hands on the keyboard to do the final step.

    So I’m not “not working on it”. I’m working on it at a subconscious level. I’m taking in things that will make it richer and better when I get to the final stage. All the energy you’re putting into worrying that you haven’t done it yet may actually be your brain chewing on the project in a pre-digestive sort of way, or you could choose to shift your perspective to view it that way.

    I’ve had presentations or other writing I prepared further in advance than my usual schedule, then I go for a walk and listen to a podcast that gives me a new and better way into the topic or adds some valuable example or nuance. (I hate having to submit slides a week before a talk for this reason, but I do it when I have to.)

    Try thinking of this as a process that works for your brain instead of a problem and see what shifts.

    1. kiki*

      This is true for me too– I am known for coming up with creative ideas and out-of-the-box solutions. That is in part because things are percolating in the back of my mind and I’m not rushing to get through the task and commit to any one path.

      And I think where I’ve been struggling is to fine the cut-off of “hey, this is helpful incubation” and “you’re holding on this because you’re scared/ anxious / trying to push off hard emotions.”

      CBT has helped me a lot, but it’s still tricky to tell.

    2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      This! Every time I tried to write a paper for class in college well ahead of time, I got lower grades than the ones I wrote the night before/pressed for time. I’ve realized it’s just part of my process. I can work on less demanding things until I know I need to work on the big thing.

      That said, to game that process a bit, I use To-Do lists where instead of breaking the Big Thing down into smaller things, I put a few less demanding things on the list, then Big Thing, then OTHER BIG THING that is even further off time-wise. A lot of the time, that’s enough to kick myself into gear on Big Thing, by simply knowing there’s another big thing coming down the pike after it.

      The second big thing usually doesn’t even have to be work-related, just something I know I need to do by a certain time frame that comes after the first big thing.

    3. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

      This is SO me. I produce a better final product when I don’t start on it until I’m really ready to, but once I’m there, I can blow through it. I complete projects in a matter of hours that my colleagues take a month to complete, and my work is just as strong, but this only works if I’ve had the same month they spent working on it to process it in the background.

      Breaking things into smaller pieces actually hurts me; my brain processes in complete products. Also, it takes time and lots of inputs from seemingly unrelated places for me to formulate the connections and ideas I need. (Like often, I know I have this big thing due, and it’s some random side conversation about something completely different with a coworker who isn’t even working on the Big Thing that causes it to lock into place for me.)

      When I do really need to buckle down, the best approach I’ve found is to make sure I’ve blocked out time to work at the time of day when I’m routinely most productive (for me, that’s 6-9 am but I know a lot of people find late nights easier). Also doing the project on a day when the weather is crap outside (so I’m not daydreaming about getting away from my desk), and/or scheduling myself for a specific reward after I finish (like “need to get done by Thursday at 6 pm so I can go out to a nice dinner with my partner”).

      Fake deadlines imposed by myself do not work for me, because I know they’re fake. Fake deadlines that someone else imposes on me do work because I feel accountable to the other person.

    4. Practical Criticism*

      This for me too. My “method” for big ideas work/deep work is to faff/panic/fiddle/not really do the thing for a few days and then suddenly, it comes together. I’ve just come to understand that all that is actually processing time and not time wasting for me.

      I’m also a recovering perfectionist and this reframing helped me no end.

  28. Bruce*

    Procrastinating this morning by reading AAM before diving into one of the 2 docs I need to edit and debugging why my bench test set-up has stopped working… :-)

    1. Bruce*

      And yes, at my advanced age I’ve figured out I’m not neuro-typical, that goes for all of the men and some of the women in my family to varying degrees with or without official diagnoses :-)

  29. Richard Hershberger*

    I call this productive procrastination. I feel better about procrastinating because I am actually getting stuff done, albeit other stuff. For me, the saving grace is that I have a pretty good internal clock for how long the urgent stuff will actually take, and I can mentally adjust my mental deadline for when I really truly need to get to it.

    1. JenLP*

      I also call it that. My dorm room was never so clean as when I had a paper due – spotless!

    2. Common Taters on the Ax*

      I agree. I don’t use that term, but I just don’t see the problem with it as long as you’re meeting your deadlines. I personally need deadlines to get hard things done. I never miss them (anymore; I missed a few by a little bit in college). The fact that I’m waiting until my brain is ready to engage with it is just a sign of me knowing how my brain works.

      When I really don’t want to spend my energy hiding from that Hard Thing in the Distance, the one thing that has worked for me is to set my own personal deadline and, crucially, tell someone about it. So I say to a stakeholder, I plan to finish this by June 27, but even if something comes up, I will definitely have it by Real Deadline Date. Then it’s on me and my ego to get the Hard Thing done when I indicated I would.

  30. Susan Lewis*

    If you haven’t started a task yet, it isn’t wrong yet. You’re avoiding the critical voice in your head. Find the on/off switch.

  31. Ms. Carter*

    I’ve learned to trust myself enough to just roll with the flow. If my brain doesn’t want to work on the Big Hard Thing at 9 am, I just work on something else and don’t punish myself for it.

    Generally, I instinctively allot myself enough time to get everything done by deadline, even though that sometimes means pulling all-nighters or experiencing intense, motivating stress about managing to get it all done or not. Sometimes I don’t have enough time and then I ask for an extension.

    I’m still not great at prioritization, but I generally get great work reviews, so I’ve kind of made my peace with it all.

  32. UncleFrank*

    This is probably counter-intuitive, but one thing that’s helped me a lot is I’ve just stopped worrying or feeling bad about my procrastination. I always get things done and done well, so why beat myself up about it! Of course, I still use many of the tips here (body doubling and soft deadlines ahead of the real deadline are the most helpful for me), but I’m not expending all the emotional energy about feeling bad for doing things at the last minute. I’ll note that I don’t think I have ADHD, which I’ve seen a lot of other commenters flag, so YMMV.

    Also… having a kid means I can’t just stay late and bang out a project in the way I used to. But less procrastination is obviously not a good reason to have a kid!

    1. My own boss*

      Same. I am done feeling guilty about getting my work done the way I get work done. I’ve found that not feeling guilty makes me less likely to avoid working on the big project, especially when the deadline gets close.

    2. allathian*

      Yes, I was something of a procrastinator before I became a parent. I’m much better at getting things done now that I no longer have the luxury of working 15-hour days when I need that thing done before deadline.

      Needing and wanting to be home with my kid cut down on my procrastination a lot.

  33. BubbleTea*

    I figure that the fact I’m 90% productive on my good days (more often than not) and about 20% productive on my bad days (maybe 10-20% of the time) probably averages out to be similar to the productive of a NT person, which I believe studies suggest is about 60%.

  34. European*

    Can everyone stop with the AHD self-diagnosis ? If you believe the Internet, everyone is neurodivergent. But there is no true neurotypical brain, everyone processes it a little differently, and forcing a pathology for every instance of boredom or procrastination is not helpful. The truth is, a lot of our jobs are BS and we do it sat on our butts all day. That’s why most of us procrastinate.

    OP, I too am a major procrastinator, with glowing reviews. I have decided that it is not a problem : my job is not essential. If I procrastinate, nobody dies.

    – What I do is trick myself : I both underpromise on what I can do, especially on deadlines, and I force myself to give an explicit date to people : “I’ll send it to you by Tuesday”, whenever I know that it will probably take me less time. This way, if I don’t procrastinate, I send it before and people are happy. If I do procrastinate, I still send it on time and people have what they expected.

    – I also communicate a lot on what I am doing, to give people some visibility on my work. Yes, I procrastinate, but people don’t need to know that, as long as they know what I am working towards and what they can expect from me.

    – When it takes myself too much tome to do something, I make sure people know I haven’t forgotten them : “Just to let you know that this project is coming, I haven’t forgotten you, you can expect it by [date] !”.

    – I also do my best to talk with people to try to understand what they need and what they lack : I always know why I am doing a task. Yes, maybe I will procrastinate doing it and it will take me 1 week to start and 30 minutes to actually do, but when I deliver, people are happy with it, because they mostly care that it is done, and now they have it.

      1. European*

        Yes. I meant armchair diagnosing by assuming the OP has ADHD. Not the right word, but it is the same process : there is no doctor involved.

        1. mayflower*

          I see no one arm chair diagnosing. And it’s incredibly dismissive and problematic of you to say things like “everyone is a little neurodivergent.” That’s not true and makes it a lot harder for those of us who are to get the proper accommodations and support we need to thrive in a workplace designed for neurotypical people.

          I’d encourage you to reevaluate your assumption that neurodivergent people sharing our experiences is “forcing a pathology for every little thing.” That’s pretty insulting to a demographic of people who are often overlooked and disbelieved about their symptoms for decades before getting a diagnosis.

          1. European*

            That’s the exact contrary of what I said. I do not think everyone is a little bit neurodivergent. I think that assuming that one must be neurodivergent every time the brain experiences the slightest friction or difference with an idealised view of how it should be working (=100% productive, all the time, for instance) is a problem. And when you go on the Internet, assuming neurodivergence instead of external factors is almost always the first answer. Just look at this post. Some many answers assume that the OP should seek a diagnosis.
            I think it’s much more plausible that the OP has a boring office job, like a lot of us, which isn’t adapted to how our brains should function : inside, without exercise, with a poor diet and poor sleep.

            It’s not helpful, to the OP nor the neurodivergent people to always suggest a pathology and medication.

            1. Cardboard Marmalade*

              I realize the readership of this blog skews in favor of office jobs, but I personally have worked mostly in very physical/active/not-much-downtime jobs (food service, retail, construction, teaching). I definitely find that for me, having a neurodivergent brain and never having been taught effective tools for how to break a big task into smaller tasks, absolutely still affects me in these kinds of jobs and makes certain tasks harder to begin/know where to start. So I think learning how to identify start points and set oneself up for success in beginning and completing projects is worthwhile and useful no matter what your job is.

          2. anon for this*

            Seconding. A psychologist insisting that I just had “a few funny habits like all of us have” was why I didn’t get any treatment for full-blown classic OCD for 12 years.

  35. Janie*

    I’ll be honest, I’ve accepted that I can only get stuff done when the stars align with the right combination of panic and urgency.
    I also know that I am really good at pulling a ton of things together at the last moment.
    So, sounds counterintuitive, but I just decided to trust how my brain works (so much of my angst was relating to feeling like I wasn’t doing things the “right” way.) and working with my brain instead of against it.
    Apart from that, I know that I am much more focused and motivated earlier in the day so I try to schedule work that requires a lot of thought or steps for mornings, and save the random one offs for the afternoon.

  36. The esteemed governor*

    On the contrary, you sound like a great procrastinator.

    Kidding – I’ve struggled with this myself most of my working life. I don’t really have a good strategy or advice, just for me personally at some point when I got higher level roles there was too much responsibility involved for me to keep procrastinating. So it was either change or perform poorly/get fired.

  37. Claire*

    An important thing I’ve discovered since going on ADHD meds is that procrastination is not just “not doing the thing” but “having the capacity to do the thing and CHOOSING to not do it.” Turns out these feel completely different- which makes sense, because neurotypicals I spoke to when anxious about my “procrastinating” would just shrug and be like, “well stop that then.” There are coping mechanisms I hear some other ADHDers have used successfully, but I personally was not able to implement any of these (eg structuring under-stimulating tasks into a daily routine eventually helps them become less strenuous, thinking “okay, I’ll only work on the hard thing for 15 minutes and then I’m free” and setting a timer) until I was also on some dose of meds. I was wary of taking them but ended up on a non-stimulant that built up slowly and had some bad side effects initially, but has come to completely TRANSFORM my life. This may not be relevant to you or your experience at all, but reading your passage was very familiar feeling to me.

  38. Jen*

    I’m 100% the same way, it’s like I could have written this letter! I haven’t figured out how to change it yet, but what I have done is realize that I always manage to pull it off in the end, even if I procrastinate until the last second. So why stress? So, I still procrastinate until I absolutely cannot wait any more, but I also still get the work done on time and accurately, so the only thing I’ve changed is stressing out about procrastinating which for me was the actual problem. This may be the worst advice ever, but it works for me!

  39. Fernie*

    Many good suggestions here. I often do well with lists, breaking tasks into small pieces, and using a Pomodoro timer so that I know it’s okay to take breaks.

    I also recommend not expecting yourself to work in advance on a big project. I have NEVER been able to work ahead of a deadline, and trying to just brings on guilt and beating myself up (plus the small things don’t get done either). As long as you’re always getting things done on time, you can embrace your method and just know that even though you don’t start until the last minute, you always get it done.

    1. Miles of Olau*

      Yes to Pomodoros. Even 5 minutes can be helpful.

      I also keep a sheet of paper next to me to write down other things to do that pop in my head. This means I won’t forget them but I can also go back to the task.

      I also recommend not starting with a blank canvas. If I’m writing something I put other text on the page and keep pushing it down. It gets deleted in the editing process. the blank screen really exacerbates my anxiety and procrastination.

  40. elk*

    I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of what I call “stacked procrastination”. I just accept that if Priority #1 feels too scary right now, I’ll make progress on Priority #2. And then when something new comes up that’s more urgent and scary, the previous Priority #1 suddenly feels more approachable. Basically, within the list of things that are reasonably important or urgent I choose whatever feels most doable in the moment, and forgive myself if that’s not the “objective” #1.

    Obviously YMMV based on what deadlines and urgency look like in your role, but for me things tend to shake themselves out.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      That’s a great way to frame it!

      I typically find that whatever is the most urgent/looming is ALWAYS the thing that is least interesting for me to tackle, or most daunting at that moment. And I will do anything else but that thing. Which is sometimes the thing I was avoiding the day before. So as long I as can get up and do something that is not 100% what I call “twirling” I’m good!

      (Twirling AKA going down some rabbit hole unrelated to any of my to-dos … such as yesterday’s dive into “the entire internet of information about plant based dyes: how to grow your own botanical dye plants, harvest them, process them for use, prepare the materials you’ll be dying, which materials take color best using which processes, how PH impacts the final outcome, how to make them colorfast, and ALL the PREEETTY colors you can make from each natural dye plant, as well as all the books, websites, workshops, courses available across the US … when what I really needed to do was … pay my car insurance bill.)

  41. i drink too much coffee*

    I know we are not supposed to do armchair diagnosis, but I do HIGHLY suggest getting evaluated for ADHD! I was just diagnosed about a month or so ago, and getting on some medication for it has really, really helped me.

    I HATE all that advice about “keep a calendar, keep a task list, etc” because… I CAN’T!!! That’s part of my problem. I used to always say I work best under pressure and that’s why I procrastinate… turns out that was just my brain’s lack of dopamine talking. Whoops!

    There’s still a lot of figuring out systems that work for me. Right now I’m trying out a new planner that has the whole day laid out by time, so I can put meetings in there. I also put the due dates for things at the top of the days, and a few days before I write that I need to complete X, Y, Z for that. So for me, say I work in a factory, and the factory will be closed on Monday. It’s my job to make sure everyone knows that it will be closed. So I’ll put it in the planner for Monday, but ALSO on the Thursday before, I’ll write that I need to get the notice out that day. It’s been helping!

    1. Lana Kane*

      I HATE all that advice about “keep a calendar, keep a task list, etc” because… I CAN’T!!! That’s part of my problem

      So manyh of those things don’t work for me because they are just extra steps, and just thinking of the amount of steps for any normal task is part of what shuts me down and starts the procrastination cycle.

  42. Elephant raccoon*

    I struggle with procrastination when a task is making me anxious in some way, but the thing that was tricky for me was realising that I was in fact feeling anxious! I learned an exercise that has really helped me with this.
    As soon as I notice that I am procrastinating, I find a piece of scrap paper and respond to three prompts:
    (1) name any and all emotions I can identify in the moment (I keep an emotions wheel in my planner to help with this)
    (2) describe any narrative I’m telling myself in the situation (e.g. “If I was actually competent at my job I wouldn’t have trouble with this”)
    (3) respond to the question “what do I need?”. This is really key. Sometimes I do actually need an additional piece of information or help to do the task I’m procrastinating on. Sometimes I actually need to take a 5-minute break. Sometimes I need to choose a new narrative. Sometimes I need something else.

    It’s important to do all 3 steps because without doing 1 and 2, my ideas about what I need are often wrong. The exercise generally takes me less than 5 minutes and doing it regularly as needed has helped me identify some stressors that I didn’t even know were stressors: for instance, a large and loud colony of seagulls live on the building across the street from me and I was sometimes having trouble starting because I was annoyed by their noise, which wouldn’t have occurred to me before because it’s a “nature” sound. And sometimes I just realise I need to give myself permission to work slowly or to not give 110%.

    1. Sitting Pretty*

      I love this. I have found that journaling when I am stuck really helps me get un-stuck but this approach makes the process more systematic.

    2. Caroline*

      I like this. I try to break a task down and figure out why it seems unachievable. But then when you get there, figuring out what you’re feeling and how to get around that really helps with the perfectionism. For example, when I’m writing and I’m not happy with how I phrased something, I make heavy use of comments to remind me to come back to it, which helps me get words on the page and not agonise even if they’re not “good enough”. And then often by the time I come to reread everything, turns out what I’ve written is actually just fine!

    3. Lyra Belacqua*

      Yeah, this is huge! Procrastination is basically choosing an easier thing over what feels like a harder thing in the moment, even though it will cause problems later. So figuring out why the thing I’m avoiding feels so hard is really key for me. For me, these reasons are often that I’m genuinely tired and need to rest, that I feel generally disorganized/behind and ashamed about it, that I’m afraid I won’t be able to do the project or will otherwise fail at it and be exposed as a terrible fraud, or that I’ve already procrastinated took much and am dreading the recognition that I’m going to miss a deadline, so procrastination allows me a bit of denial.

      I am, probably obviously, still struggling with this! But I find self-compassion helps with many of these problems, including compassion/lovingkindness meditation, especially if/when there’s negative self-talk involved. So does what’s essentially exposure therapy, i.e. doing things imperfectly and realizing I’m not going to die (and that often bosses/clients/whomever are satisfied with something I consider not my best, and that that can be fine.) Therapy and medication (for depression) also helped me. What doesn’t help, in the long run, is using shame to force yourself to do something at a sprint at the eleventh hour, both because it’s not great for your mental health and because (at least in my case) it becomes untenable after a certain age and, in my case, after having a kid. If LW is getting work done by deadline, but sacrificing sleep and relying on shame as a motivator in order to do so, that’s a good reason to try to change the pattern.

  43. Hawthorne*

    Sounds like you might want to get evaluated for ADHD! Which echoes what most of the comments here are saying.

    As a fellow procrastinator with lifelong ADHD, I’ve had a few tricks over the years to trick my brain into doing things. The thing for most people that I know, as well as myself, is we need to have multiple mechanisms to tackle this from. There isn’t any one way that works as a catch-all.

    1. A to-do list. Now, you may be saying, well duh I’ve already tried that. It doesn’t help. But the thing is, a to-do list has multiple functions. One of which is the structure of creating one often relieves stress, even if you haven’t done anything yet. Now you have something that is RIGHT THERE to tell you, I have to do this. I’ve achieved this by making to-do lists out of emails using the flag and categorize functions, as well as having a giant pad of paper next to my desk so that the to-do list is in my eyeline at all times. My email to do list is for longer term things, my desk to-do list is for things that need to be done today or within a couple days. Then, you get the added dopamine of checking off something from your list and that gives you more motivation to keep going (there are studies behind this. There’s also a theory that ADHD is characterized by a deficiency in dopamine). Now this won’t work all the time, but having it available, flagging everything that’s outstanding, is helpful. It gives you one place where you know what you have to do, and oftentimes you’ll reach critical mass and decide you need to get everything done on your list right now. Frustration at the list is a powerful motivator.

    2. Working on something adjacent to what you need to do. You have to make an excel spreadsheet compiling all the data from something you recently did? Make an excel spreadsheet about something fun in your life instead. List of food for an upcoming party, finally organizing a list of recipes, balancing out your credit card to make sure the charges make sense–something adjacent that’s easy to complete and makes you feel good. Usually I can then get momentum to move into the task I’m putting off. Again, that bit of dopamine will power you forward.

    3. Give yourself a break. A real break. Watch an episode of a TV show. Read a couple chapters of the book you’re reading. Write a page of that erotic friend fic you’ve been working on (I hope there are Bob’s Burgers fans here who will get this). Go down that research rabbit hole about horror movies from the 1960s that you’ve been interested in. Note: oftentimes, scrolling on Instagram or just spending time on social media will oftentimes make me feel worse, because I don’t feel like I accomplished something. Do anything that will make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. We want the dopamine.

    4. Let yourself be a lump. You know you’ll get that thing done. Sometimes you’ll hate yourself because it’s last minute, but it’ll get done. Because when push comes to shove, your brain will force you to deal with it. The way you’ve described working is how I work. So sometimes I’ll let myself be a lump for a day. Because I’m burnt out. And usually letting myself be a lump for a day means that the next day, I’m back at it.

    5. Outside of work, make sure you have a fulfilling life. Friends, family, hobbies, activities–having a place to put your energy into like that generally will make you happier. Of course not everyone has these things or has the privilege of having these things, but they do make it easier to deal with work when you know you have something else going on outside of it. And talk to people about these frustrations. You’ll likely find you’re not the only one around and sometimes you’ll wind up with a bit of coping that you didn’t have before.

    Best of luck! I hope this helps even a little.

  44. FashionablyEvil*

    I have to have big enough windows for the hard, important stuff, ideally at least 3-4 hours with no meetings or interruptions. Otherwise, way too easy to get pulled into other things. I also find a change of scenery to be very helpful. Earlier this week, I went to the library and knocked off the thing that had been looming over me. Coffee shops are also helpful for this because then I have a treat to start and it doesn’t seem quite so bad to dig in.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      On the “change of scenery” front, I find when I have a thing I’m struggling to tackle at work (just like the LW described) what works sometimes is commandeering the nearby conference room. I grab all the materials for Task X, even printing out hard copies of stuff so I can lay it out and physically organize it so it is all visible.

      Then I grab a fresh notebook, my favorite pens or freshly sharpened pencils and settle it.
      Even if the end product will be a written task, I don’t take any devices (unless there is math involved, in which case a small calculator comes with)

      The novel environment, away from my normal workspace, and free from all distractions (both work related and mind-wander-y self induced) allows me to dive in and focus and make real progress. There’s also something useful about having tangible print outs, workpapers I can make notes on visually spread out on the long table so I can easily cross reference, organize without having to deal with the horizontal filing system in my office, or flipping through multiple windows on my desktop system. (Obviously, this isn’t an option in a coffee shop)

      The other thing that may be going on is that camping out somewhere that isn’t my home base sort of creates a ticking clock of urgency … like I’m only in this space for x amount of time so plow ahead.

      What’s funny is the last time I did that, I literally spent more time gathering all the stuff and getting situated in the conference room than I did actually tackling and completing the thing. Because once I had everything in front of me, free of distractions, the actual work to review, analyze, summarize and plan the final deliverable was pretty straightforward. I was able to have the rough draft hand written/sketched out ready for me to bang together in electronic form, and a clear set of next steps (communication plan, follow ups needed, planned outcomes, etc) all mapped out and ready for me to tackle or delegate.

      This was a thing I’d been putting off for weeks!

  45. Be Gneiss*

    I am 100% down for a side quest of any kind, at any time, especially if I have something more important to do. My coworker is the same. Minor crisis? YAY! Weird, obscure thing that needs to be found? I’M IN!
    My boss is very hands off, and expects us to just work to meet our deadlines, and we do, but a lot of those deadlines are “sometime this summer when you’re not too busy” and “3rd quarter if your schedule allows” and I struggle to function like that. We had an honest conversation with him during performance review season, when he wanted feedback on his leadership style, and asked for hard deadlines, even if they are made up, and if we have to make adjustments later. The way my brain works, a project due June 30 is due June 30 and a project due “this summer” is due never.

    The rest of my advice is probably the same as others, and a lot of it feels too close to “oh, you have ADHD? Have you ever thought about using a planner?” I do have ADHD, diagnosed as an adult, and I’m medicated for it. I make lists of tiny elements of projects so I can make the tiniest amount of progress and still cross something off. I reward myself with little treats. I operate on a strict routine for repetitive tasks so I can almost start them accidentally. I keep a few low-effort, low-priority tasks on a list, and I deploy them when I need a break from focusing on my “real” work. And my boss knows that when a side-quest pops up out of nowhere, he can delegate it so he can focus on other things.

  46. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    I have to ask, OP – could you reframe this as focusing on managing your anxiety instead of trying to change who you are as a person? You’re getting all your work done on time; could you just remind yourself that you’ll be in a crunch at the end of the time period but you’ll get it done?

  47. Lacey*

    I used to be a major procrastinator. I always got stuff done and I was very good at know exactly when the actual last minute was where I could start and still finish on time.

    And I worked a job with a very predictable schedule, so it was never a problem.

    But then I started a job where you just never know what hideous beast of a project will be coming in any minute, so you should do what you can, when you can.
    It also has pretty tight turn times. They’re still plenty of time to get the work done, but they’re a quarter of the time I had at my old job. So nothing can sit for very long.

    I don’t quite know how to make that into actionable advice, but it did absolutely cure my procrastination.

  48. BBB*

    like others have said, this post has some big ADHD energy to it.
    only being able to work under the crushing weight of a tight deadline is a common problem for the neurospicy (and even if it seems effective because you’re able to meet your deadlines, it absolutely creates unnecessary stress and ultimately leads to burnout).
    so I’d suggest reading up on ADHD and see if it fits for you and if so, look into resources and structures designed for ADHD folks.

    but if you do in fact have a neurospicy brain, traditional advice and self help books DO NOT WORK FOR YOUR BRAIN. those books aren’t written for you so it’s okay that they don’t work for you! you weren’t the intended audience. you can let go of all the weird guilt and shame around being unable to do things ‘the right way’. the right way is actually the way that works for you in the long term (might be saying this for my own benefit more than yours right now lol)

  49. Ancamna*

    I have diagnosed ADHD and run into that problem a lot. I find the reward system works well for me, except that I’ve flipped it around. I get a treat/reward BEFORE starting the task.

    The trick is that the treat must be immediate and visual/tactile (so, no movie tickets or online purchases). I use things like a fancy cup of tea or an ice cream bar, but I bet stickers would work really well too. The part about it being immediate is really important, because the deal is if I get a treat then I must start the task.

    Since starting is the hard part, delaying the reward just keeps me stuck and upset. But if I get a treat and then immediately walk over to my computer and open the task, then I’m using the little boost of dopamine from the treat to help me push through the procrastination block and I find it’s much easier to get started. Plus, with treat in hand, then I’m cheating if I don’t at least open the task and make some change to it. Because it counts even if it’s a small change, I just have to do something.

    1. UncleFrank*

      I’ve never thought about it so concretely, but I definitely do the treat at the beginning of the task thing! I have an amazing tea collection in my office for exactly this reason.

  50. Robert in SF*

    I am curious about those here who are able to confirm their (inattentive) ADHD. How did you get diagnosed? Did you interview with a certain type of professional, who made their assessment based on the results of the questions?

    I would love to know other people’s experiences and insights into how to best advocate for myself to ensure that my HMO isn’t being too cost-conservative in diagnosis or treatment and preventing me from getting more or any of the help that I may need.

    My experience with that initial interview process was that I did not have enough of the types of symptoms (5 of 7?) that I was not moved forward to the next steps for diagnosis. So I have not been able to get any more help from my HMO except a few group zoom sessions of presentations about dealing with symptoms, but not treatment.

    1. anon here*

      My therapist diagnosed me. I was seeing a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the time (separately from my therapist), who was willing to prescribe me a non-stimulant medication on a trial basis, based on my therapist’s recommendation. When my PNP asked me how it was going, I said, “well, if I don’t eat breakfast my stomach hurts, but otherwise I don’t feel too different. Except that last Wednesday I decided to sit down and deal with a six-month backlog of online shopping returns. Does that mean it’s working?”

      Since then, I’ve switched providers–my new PCP doesn’t prescribe ADHD meds so I found a psychiatrist who takes my insurance (and does telehealth, but is local) and they prescribe my meds (usually every three months for a check-in and refill). They were perfectly happy to just continue the rx from my PNP, and has since added a different med.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I started seeing a therapist and told them I suspected that I have some level of ADHD. She asked me a bunch of questions and determined that I have the inattentive (as opposed to hyperactive) variety of ADHD. I’m not sure if I want to try medication but since therapists can’t prescribe, I will ask my PCP if I decide to go that route.

  51. All Puns Intended*

    The one thing that seems to work for me is to keep a daily to-do list with specifics and pair it with a weekly accomplishment list organized by topic. I add the non-primary tasks I do to both lists. For instance:

    Tuesday: pull data for alpaca report; paint alpacas on teapots; respond to interesting email from AlpacaLand colleague; meet with Bertrand about deadlines (20 minutes max)

    Wednesday: [[you get the idea]]

    Instead of deleting items when they’re finished, they get moved into my list of accomplishments for the week. I can feel like a useful and productive human being at the end of the week because I have accomplished so much stuff. Example:

    Alpaca Report: pulled data; outlined report; wrote report; proofed the darned thing; submitted report on time (woohoo!).

    Miscellaneous: emailed AlpacaLand colleague; started cool industry-wide debate on alpaca procedures; painted alpacas on teapots and got complimented.

    Meetings: efficient meeting with Bertrand; followed up with Emeline on procedures.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      When you say you pull them over to your accomplishments list, what platform do you use? Writing by hand, computer, app? Thanks.

      1. All Puns Intended*

        I use a text note available on my work email platform.
        Sometimes, I paste a week’s worth of accomplishments into an ongoing Word file if I want to remember it for a future self-evaluation or performance review. It reduces the documentation effort for later-me.

  52. Tiny tasks*

    I give myself the easiest, most not-screw-up-able, tiniest task to trick myself into doing the big thing. I’m not grading this stack of papers; I’m just going to read the rubric. I’m not writing this thesis, I’m just writing the header. I’m not actually calling the arborist, I’m just looking up his number. Once I do the tiny first step, I’ve usually got enough momentum that is easier to just keep doing the task instead of switching to something else.

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      Being kinder to myself about my procrastination is the biggest thing that helps me. Some days are slower than others; it happens. I do meet all my deadlines (at least at work), just perhaps not as quickly or efficiently as I’d like. I’ve gotten good at giving myself pep talks; just verbally reminding myself that I do a good job lowers my anxiety.

      However, I still need a boost get some tasks done. I second the suggestions to build in accountability by working near someone else or making a “fake” deadline. I do creative work and embracing the “write the rough draft even if it’s absolute garbage” philosophy has made me more efficient, too.

  53. Procrastinator*

    Thanks for posting this question. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s responses.

    I have a hard time getting things done, too. Sometimes it manifests as doing other things first like you have described, other times I’m not even that productive!

    You mentioned “planning is like pulling teeth.” I recently realized that I avoided planning more than anything else. And, was noticing that the big and long term projects were suffering as a result. I also recognized that planning, in addition to helping me accomplish my goals, also gives me a process to review how I work (what and how I try to get things done) and make improvements. I thought of it like a weak muscle that I was not exercising and that weak muscle meant that I was not doing the best that I could do.

    Ultimately, I committed to plan my month, which included planning what I wanted to get done in the month, and breaking down what I would want to accomplish in each week to accomplish it. I also committed to plan each week, which I do each week, planning out the full week and what I need to do each day to accomplish my weekly goal. I also committed to plan my day every morning. I spend a few minutes at the end of each week and month considering if there were things that helped or hurt getting specific tasks done.

    I created forms for my monthly, weekly, and daily plans and fill them out by hand. The first time I planned my month, it was uncomfortable and took a lot of time–probably a day and a half, honestly. The first time I planned my week, it probably took most of the day.

    I’m about six weeks into this new process. It has helped. I do not accomplish 100% of the things on my plan (sometimes not even 50%), but I have been able to make progress on long term projects incrementally (and not all in a rush at the end).

  54. Anon21*

    This may be a very unhelpful comment, but I’m the same way, and I just “deal with it” by doing every assignment at the last possible minute. That is roughly functional for me, but it does result in a lot of unpleasant stress whenever there is a deadline (even if it’s a long time away), building steadily to the point when I have to actually drop everything else to finish the thing.

    One thing that did work pretty well for me was being in an extremely fast-paced job where the case load was so high and emergencies were so frequent that there was no expectation that staff would ever do anything with a long lead-time; everything was done right before it was due. I’m sure to many that sounds like a nightmare, but I truly loved it until Covid stress and the nature of the work (as opposed to the pace and unpredictability) drove me away. Anyway, worth considering public defense if that sounds like the kind of work environment you’d thrive in!

  55. Zap R.*

    It occurs to me that the Ask A Manager comment section might self-select for people with ADHD because we all hang out here to avoid our boring jobs.

    1. emkaaaay*

      Ding ding ding! People are like, “it’s dumb that everyone on Twitter thinks they have ADHD,” and I always wonder if it’s really so crazy that ADHD folks would be overrepresented on the Procrasta-Read With Intermittent Dopamine Machine.

  56. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    I just watched a TED talk about how procrastination works and what happens where there is a deadline and there is no deadline. Its called “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” I would encourage LW to take a look.

  57. NothingIsLittle*

    First I want to agree with the other commenters who have suggested looking at ADHD tools and methods even if you don’t have it. What you’ve described is a common ADHD experience, so I think you’re most likely to find solutions that fit in those places.

    Caveat, I do have ADHD and have had a huge improvement with medication.

    The single best change I have made for my productivity is organizing things so that they are as easy as possible to do. There is a trashcan in reach of anywhere I hang out and fresh trashbags are kept in the bottom. All of my spreadsheets have automations and formulas (Think: monthly I need to make a report with data from several spreadsheets. I have a master spreadsheet that draws only the data I need from all of the disparate documents). Task deadlines go on my calendar so I only have to look at one place to see what’s going on.

    Also, I have found that an operative part of my procrastination is time blindness! Not only do I not want to do the task, but I don’t know how long it will take so I don’t actually know when the last minute is (significantly more stressful). If you can time a variety of different tasks that span most of your project types, it can help to say “yes this is due tomorrow, but it also takes 2 hours and 1 hour to edit” or “yeah, I don’t really want to do this, but it only takes 5 minutes and I’ve got about 5 minutes before I need to leave for my next meeting.” I was an English (adjacent) major in college and could write an A- essay in 3 hours, so I would write my essays exactly 3 hours before they were due.

    Also, smart home devices like Alexa that can verbally say reminders to you have really helped. I have my lights set to flash before bed and spoken reminders to swap my laundry and take my medication. It’s a huge help.

  58. Dr Towers*

    I have one thing to suggests that I have found helpful, particularly with tasks I don’t deal with frequently. When I finish a chunk of work on something, I write a note to tell Later Me what Current Me was going to do next. Then Later Me can pick up the threads of the task without spending time trying to work out where to start. It’s that time for me that can be the place procrastination takes root – when it’s too hard to work out where to begin, everything else looks a more attractive option. It’s a technique I used when I was a P/T PhD student and working F/T, and it has stood me in good stead in other work contexts too.

  59. Natalie*

    I call it procrasti-working!

    Strategies that have worked for me:
    – Making a plan/breaking the big thing down into little pieces
    – Planning to do just one or two of the little pieces. Sometimes I’ll get on a roll and keep going, but even if I don’t, I’ve made some progress and have a roadmap
    – Embrace the slacking, within reason: I actually set a timer on my phone, and give myself a few minutes to just goof off, and then jump back into the task. About two thirds of the time, I come back to it feeling refreshed.

    Good luck! It can be hard to outsmart your own brain sometimes! :)

  60. Czech Mate*

    Therapy could help. It’s true that ADHD or ASD could be at play, but also, there could just be an interplay between your emotions and thought patterns at the root of this. For example, you may unconsciously be thinking, “I work hard, and so I should reward myself with fun work” or “I put in a lot of time doing that project I didn’t want to do so I’m going to reward myself with this project that I DO want to do.” Talking to someone about that can help with this as well.

    These are some of the things that help me in my work–I can’t guarantee they will work for you, but you certainly can give them a try:
    -If something comes up and it can be done in 15 minutes, just do it right then.
    -Intentionally do the tasks you don’t want to do first thing in the morning. (As someone said above, you can frame this as self-care. As opposed to, “I don’t want to do this,” it’s “I’m getting this out of the way so I can focus on the things I enjoy for the rest of the day.” or “I’m getting this done so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”)
    -Think about your work setup. If you’re working from home, are you in an environment that lends itself to concentration? Weirdly, when I was working from home during the pandemic, I found that I focused better when I was wearing socks v. when I was barefoot. Like, being barefoot to me = being off the clock, and so it made it harder to do the things I had to do.
    -Be strategic about when you’ll do the things you like to do. I like creating training documents, for example, and I can lose track of time when I do it. I intentionally save that for days/times when I know that nothing else needs to happen, and when I do it, I give myself permission to not focus on anything else.

  61. Rosyglasses*

    It’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me.

    Various things have helped over the years, but what tends to work if my brain gets defiant with me is to set a timer and tell myself I am going to work on this task for 15 minutes. Bonus points if my reward is a croissant or coffee when I’m done. 9 times out of 10, it works, and I end up working for an hour plowing through the project I was avoiding.

    In my brain (which is likely ADHD but I’m not interested in pursuing an official diagnosis at this time), if there is something I know I HAVE to do, it is actually harder to get started the closer the deadline gets – so I have to chunk it into something really small and innocuous to move my brain out of “freeze” mode.

    It probably also doesn’t help that I get a dopamine boost from doing things at the last minute, furiously typing away, and some of my best and most lauded work has resulted from those last minute pushes – so now I have that pattern to contend with :-)

    Best of luck!

    1. Sitting Pretty*

      Yeah I came here to say something similar. I try to channel The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt at the crank: “You can stand anything for ten seconds. Then you just start on a new ten seconds!”

      I use Pomodoros for this. 25 minutes at The Thing I’m Avoiding. Even if all I do in that 25 mins is organize my notes or read through the instructions or whatever. Some chunk of TTIA gets done during that time. Then I make myself stop and step away for at least 5 minutes.

      If there’s still momentum after that (I’d say it’s about 50/50 whether or not there is), I start again. If not, I take a longer break then do another pomodoro later.

  62. Selina Luna*

    1. You might be neurodivergent, you might not. It’s worth talking to your physician to see what they think, or if they refer you to a psychiatrist.
    2. It’s okay to do tasks that seem like procrastination if doing so can help you build momentum. I hate cleaning. I hate it so much. But if I can do something that is a small task for me (in my case, starting the clothes washer), I can often keep that going for a period of time so that I can do something slightly bigger. When I was completing my master’s thesis, I would start with something easy for me to finish quickly (format the previous day’s typing, for example), and then I would have enough momentum to get to writing. I did 20,000 words this way.
    3. If something is such a struggle that the thought of doing it is putting other things to a complete halt (dishes, for me), and you can outsource it to a piece of software, a person, a machine, or something else, you are not a moral failure for seeking to outsource it.

  63. SuprisinglyADHD*

    I think the words “executive dysfunction” might be what you’re describing. It can come from a variety of causes but to oversimplify, it’s basically a glitch in the part of your mind that assigns tasks. For me it feels like a barrier around the thing that I both need and want to work on, while I sit there telling myself to work on it and some part of me just goes “can’t” Why not? I ask myself. “Can’t do it.” It’s absolutely infuriating and for many years the only thing that let me push through it was Deadline Panic, resulting in literally every project being done entirely in the last few hours, immediately followed by me having a total meltdown. For me, no amount of planning, strategy, set of sub-goals, or reward system could push through that wall. I made zero progress until I was able to start treating the underlying conditions.
    For me the root cause is ADHD, but years of terrible coping strategies and “not living up to my potential” also left me with a severe anxiety disorder, avoidant perfectionism (my name for it, not a diagnosis), and depression.
    Some terms you can look up: task avoidance, anxiety-based procrastination, time blindness, inattentive-type ADHD, impulse control, negative self-talk. ADDitude and CHADD both have some helpful articles about many of these, they’re centered on ADHD being the cause but a lot of the coping skills can be applied to standalone anxiety and procrastination.
    I’m sorry you’re going through this, thought and behavior patterns from childhood are very difficult to break. But it can be done! Gradually, especially with support, you can change your way of thinking about projects, deadlines, tasks, and your own abilities.

  64. Juicebox Hero*

    Hi, my name is Juicebox Hero and I’m recovering procrastinator. My procrastination started as a maladaptive coping mechanism because my mother was a relentless perfectionist; whatever I did wasn’t good enough for her, so why bother doing it at all. Of course she blew her stack at me for missing assignments and stuff, but somehow it was… a sort of mad I could handle better than the mad she got if I didn’t do something up to her standards. And asking for help was forbidden because any admission of weakness would make people think I’m stupid, according to her.

    Truth be told I was probably doing it on some subconscious level to hurt her on purpose, the only way I could. The same dynamic made me terrified of failure and trying anything new. I ended up living with her until she died when I was 42 (her bad health, my absent siblings, and my inability to see the dynamic for what it was plus I was a total wimp) and the disfunction only got worse towards the end.

    At work it translated into a lot of the same behaviors you talk about, plus I was terrified of my bosses because I expected them to flip out if I screwed up. Which only made me procrastinate more, which made me more afraid of pissing them off, which made me procrastinate…

    Oddly enough, it was a post here on AAM about another procrastinator who’d sent in an update – her story was very similar to mine, and had its roots in controlling parents as well. For some reason that was the poke in the head that I needed to see the whole abusive, manipulative, controlling dynamic for what it was.

    Long story short, I ended up diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and depression. Therapy, medication, and a lot of self-reflection have helped but sometimes I feel myself slipping into my old ways. It’s harder at home because I live alone and no one else sees the mess, but I’m working on it.

    Obviously this is my story, not yours, but I’m sharing it in case it helps anyone the way that other procrastinating LW helped me.

    1. Be Gneiss*

      I deeply feel the idea that getting yelled at for not doing something was always better than getting yelled at for doing it wrong. I had control over getting yelled at for not doing a task. That was me making a choice, and I knew what the outcome would be.
      If I did a task and did it wrong…that outcome was unpredictable and then also I was a failure because I tried and still did it wrong.

      So much easier to just decide not to do the thing, and know exactly what the outcome would be.

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        YESSS! That’s it exactly: control. It was one of the very few things in life I was able to control, and that was more important to me than whatever mysterious problems it might cause in a future so far down the road it might as well have been The Jetsons.

  65. Pokemon Go To The Polls*

    I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD or even evaluated (because this is a Big Task that I haven’t tackled yet) but what I’ve been working on is identifying barriers. What is stopping me from task? How can I work around that?
    For example, if I know I need to do laundry, buy groceries, take a walk, and eat real food, but can’t seem to get any of those things done, I need to evaluate the barrier. Often, it’s something like “I have to leave the house twice to take a walk and get groceries, because I usually get groceries at lunchtime and do a walk late afternoon, and I want to drive to the trail to take my walk, so that’s two driving trips which is a lot”
    So I can do one of two things – I can buy groceries after my walk at the grocery store that’s on the way home, or I can take a walk around my neighborhood instead of the trail. A third and less desirable option is simply skipping a task.
    That’s helped me a lot with personal life stuff. Of course, you need to have the awareness of where the hangups are or the ability to reflect and detect them. You also need to have tasks that are able to be rearranged or altered to remove barriers.

  66. Union*

    Ugh, yeah. Here are a couple of loosely related thoughts from someone who is still definitely a procrastinator but is trying to get better.

    A while ago I was watching a bunch of A&E’s Hoarders on Youtube. For all its faults, the portions where the psychiatrists/therapists walk folks through getting rid of stuff did make me approach my own problems differently.

    Essentially, I often find things difficult because I don’t have the “neural pathways” built up yet. (This is not necessarily an accurate representation of the brain, but whatever.) Filling out a form I’ve never seen before is hard because I need to think more deeply about the purpose of the form, where I’ll get the information, what I’ll do if I don’t have the information, how I’ll submit it, and so on. Maybe I’ve filled out similar forms, so I have some thoughts already, but the unknown provides enough of a barrier that I’m resistant to even trying.

    If someone else fills out the form for me, that’s great if it’s a one-time thing. But if I’ll need to do it regularly, I still haven’t built up the neural pathways to easily fill out the form, and I’m now associating the stress from last time with the form. You have to understand that it’s going to absolutely suck the first time, but it’ll be a little less sucky the next time. And it’s fine to get help, as long as you’re still putting in the emotional and mental work that builds the pathways. So you ask a coworker who’s done it before, but instead of just handing it off, you shadow them as they walk through the process. Now it’s a little bit less of an unknown, and you have a pathway for the next time.

    Mostly this has helped me reframe situations where I just want to give up or not even start as “building the neural pathways”. It’s hard, it sucks, but next time it’ll be a little easier, and won’t that be nice?
    If it’s a routine thing, make it as much of a checklist or flowchart as possible. “Eliminate” every junction for critical thinking as much as you can. (What you’re really doing is thinking ahead of time instead of on the fly.) We’re taking a page from conversations on domestic labor here and dividing every task into conception, preparation, and execution. Conception is knowing that it has to be done. Preparation is gathering the materials and establishing a standard. Execution is actually doing it. Most of conception and preparation can be done well ahead of time when you have the space for it, and execution can be made pretty rote.

    The goal is for you to have the thought “this task needs to be done” and to turn to your prepared checklist and not have to make any decisions. Decisions take time and energy.
    If the procrastination comes from a truly unknown or unique problem, or if it just feels like one, I think about George Polya’s “How to Solve It” all the time. I read it after I failed my Calc 2 class in college and wanted more advice than “do your homework next time”.

    He was a mathematics professor, and so the whole book is a bunch of mathematical proofs to illustrate heuristic concepts, but I’d recommend at least looking at the How to Solve It List and maybe even just the table of contents for an overview.

    He provides a blueprint or a model for students when looking at a (specifically math but you can extrapolate a little) problem they’re nervous about.
    First, understand the problem. What are the givens? The unknowns? The “win” condition? What is it that you’re solving for?
    Second, make a plan. Have you seen this problem before? Have you seen something like it, even if only in some small way? How far would you have to simplify the problem to get to something you’re familiar with? How would you add the complexity back in? Can you solve at least a part of the problem?
    Third, execute. How is each step leading to the overall solution?
    Fourth, examine. Was there an easier solution you can see now? Is there a similar problem you can imagine arising that this solution will apply to?

    Sometimes it’s hard to translate his pretty abstract mathematical thought to everyday problems, but it at least provides a framework to fall back on so I’m not floundering or avoiding the problem entirely.
    Sorry this wasn’t a cohesive panacea. I wish I had one.

    1. NothingIsLittle*

      For what it’s worth, watching Hoarders was actually what made me realize I had hoarding disorder and needed help. I think watching shows that deal with confronting mental illness (even when the shows don’t handle it well) can grant a great deal of perspective that might otherwise be out of reach.

      I will grant that my barrier to most tasks is “I just don’t want to do it” and/or “I would have to get out of bed,” but sometimes it can be illuminating, like “I don’t want to deal with that person,” and an easy alternative is in reach.

  67. Land Mermaid*

    Two things have worked well for me. One was accepting that “eating the frog” isn’t my style. Sometimes first clearing the desk of the little annoying things (like email responses) gives me the space I need to focus on the big stuff. I also prefer working on projects in rotation. Work long enough to push Project A forward one step, then shift and do the same for Project B and C, then come back to Project A, etc.

    The second thing that worked for me was getting a different job. I finally accepted that I was procrastinating on critical parts of my work (in this case, writing academic research papers!) because I just didn’t enjoy it or find as meaningful as my colleagues did. I’m in an applied field now and much happier, and I find myself approaching big projects with a lot more gusto.

    I thought of a third thing, too, which is accountability. I do well as part of a team and I can always motivate myself to push through on work when I know other people are counting on it.

  68. WannabeAstronaut*

    I don’t have ADHD, just terrible executive functioning that is deeply rooted in perfectionism. What really helped me is actual years (5+!) of Internal Family Systems therapy. My nervous system defaults to “freeze” as opposed to fight/flight, and IFS has really helped me understand what puts me in freeze and how to actually get out of it. It’s a unique model for sure, very different from DBT/CBT but it worked with my brain like nothing else. I’m not “cured” of procrastination, but it has improved SO much since I started.

  69. ThatMom*

    I think a mindset shift may help:

    Instead of “I am a terrible procrastinator”, try “my brain needs a warm-up period”.

    I have this same issue, and the negative feedback loop of “I’m a procrastinator, I’m so awful because I’d rather do X small task, why can’t I get myself together, oh crap now it’s an emergency rush-and-done, now I’m exhausted/overwhelmed and funny want to start the next hard task, so I’m going to do a small thing.” is TOXIC.

    You *need* to do the small runs to give yourself a sense of accomplishment that can help you get started on the hard stuff. It’s just using what you know about yourself to build momentum. Like instead of “I’m going to work on budgeting for 2 hours”, instead I’ll say “I’m going to download the files I need to do budgeting, then tidy the surface of my desk, then format the downloaded files.”

    Usually, getting to the point of formatting pushes me over into actually analyzing/budgeting. That break in the middle to tidy while the files download prevents me getting distracted by another longer task, gives me a dopamine hit of an accomplished task, and a calmer visual environment in which to work.

    Sometimes I’ll even do something like play a game of Minesweeper as a “brain break” to get turn dopamine & momentum!

  70. WorkingMama*

    Brainstorm sessions with coworkers!

    If I’m having trouble getting started on something, I ask my favorite coworker for a brainstorming meeting (we do video calls since we’re remote, but you could do phone or in person if either of those work better for you). I explain what I’m working on and ask their advice on how they’d get started or where I should start. I share my screen, listen to their ideas, and take good notes. Sometimes, just hearing someone else talk about something I need to do helps me get past that initial procrastinating stage of not wanting to start something I know I need to get moving on. It works wonders and I highly recommend it!

  71. Valerie Loves Me*

    ” I’m almost always stressed over deadlines that are months ahead.”

    I’m wondering if the procrastination is because of fear and maybe a little bit of perfectionism? When I’m at the start of the project, it just feels ridiculously daunting. And sometimes the biggest motivator to get something done is a looming deadline, so you may be using the fear of a deadline to motivate you, because the fear of initiating the project feels unwieldy, coupled with the fear of making the wrong decision.

    I could give you a song and dance about breaking the project down into bite-sized pieces. But since you’ve used various platforms, my guess is that you’ve tried variations of this.

    For me, what has worked is to throw everything into a doc or a list or a platform. (Whatever system that allows you to visualize and process the best). And then, just start outlining what you want to do… knowing it’s just you looking at it. So it doesn’t have to be right and it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to move the ball down the road so you can find out whether there are any kinks or issues. And then when you have your “not great” (because it’s just for you!) strategy in place, you put your real public-facing strategy together.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Not meaning to throw cold water on this suggestion, which may be helpful for lots of people, but there are certain environments that would make it unfeasible. Where I work, people are always accessing each other’s documents, and our IT department forbids us from saving anything locally to our machines (and has intentionally purchased computers with small hard drives to prevent us from doing so). Several senior managers are notorious for opening Sharepoint files clearly labeled draft and raking their staff over the coals for how unprofessional it looks and how it’s in the wrong order and so on — even though there is clearly more to be done. Hopefully, the LW’s workplace is more forgiving than mine.

  72. Travis*

    Just want to say this is extremely normal! As others have pointed out, going from small-to-large can even be a healthy coping strategy. If you’re hitting your deadlines and not causing any problems, I wouldn’t worry about it.

    I suspect you’re judging yourself too harshly – and against an unhelpful standard at that.

  73. Fellow Procrastinator*

    I have the same problem with procrastination and have been evaluated for ADHD, but I don’t have it! I think for me it’s a self-esteem issue. The easier things that I feel comfortable with I can get done quickly. For harder things that I’m not sure about, I’m so afraid of failing that I procrastinate on the task. I’m constantly thinking this will finally be the proof to everyone that I am actually stupid and incompetent, so I keep putting it off. If that sounds familiar at all sometimes just confronting that thought can help. I haven’t completely cracked the procrastination issue, so it definitely takes work.

  74. Helen_of_the_Midwest*

    I’m autistic and don’t have ADHD, so my struggles are slightly different than what OP is describing, but something I find helpful when I’m struggling to focus/be productive is making sure my sensory needs are met. Yesterday, for instance, I put on my weighted hoodie, chewed gum, played classical music, and played with a fidget toy in my hands, and this made it somewhat easier to start and continue with tasks. I’ve also tried aromatherapy, getting up and doing jumping jacks, throwing socks at the wall, moving to the couch, etc. as ways to get past my blocks to working. This is one of several reasons why I CANNOT work in an office–I would need to bring a suitcase full of stim material to work every day, and my coworkers would need to be okay with me behaving far outside of office norms.

    Everyone’s sensory needs are different, and what works for me might not work for OP, but questions worth asking include “Would I benefit from music with words, music without words, silence, or some other kind of background noise? Would it help to be doing something with my hands? Would a particular smell be helpful? Am I sitting somewhere comfortable? Would deep physical pressure make me feel calmer?” This won’t solve everything, but it might make some degree of difference.

  75. Jane*

    I’ve accepted that I’m a procrastinator. It always gets done by the deadline and it’s a coping mechanism for me.

  76. HappyMarketer*

    I definitely do this. On top of the workflow tools what i’m finding helpful is trying to be hyper aware of how I will feel if I don’t do the urgent work. The fear, the worry, the waking up at 3am in a cold sweat, and how much better and easier it will be if I just… do it. And that’s helping. It’s a bit like eating healthily or going to the gym, I’ll often not want to, but if I think about how I feel when I do vs when I don’t, that’s the thing that pushes me to just Get. It. Done.

  77. not nice, don't care*

    I have had to overcome any procrastination leanings while dealing with 2 troublesome spouses and the follow-on catastrophes they generated.
    For anything survival-related I go ‘worst first’ and just treat the task like a house on fire. I include some work tasks and some non-work tasks in that, like people-facing time-critical work thing and getting certain crops in/harvested and critter care.
    For less critical stuff I rate things red (must do), yellow (should do), and green (want to do), and once the red tasks are done I mix green & yellow tasks up a bit to give myself little rewards and to accommodate my need for variety.

  78. Lalitah*

    If you find yourself unable to apply what you’ve learned by yourself through self-help books, then it’s a sign to explore the issue in therapy.

  79. Jenny*

    My situation probably isn’t quite the same (I tend to not know how to get started on stuff). But I find that a detailed to-do list helps me get things done. And every tiny thing is it’s own line item.

    1. Becky S*

      I also use a ‘to do’ list and if I do something that’s not on the list, I write it down, then cross it off.

  80. JenLP*

    There are so many great tips here; set aside some time to pull the tips that resonate with you into a document that you can reference back to without having to go through all of the comments again. This does not need to be perfect or anything – it’s just so you don’t have to keep wading through everything to find the things you want to try.

    My procrastination brain also wants to set up trials for various tips to see how they work. If your brain is doing that, resist the impulse – it’s just another form of productive procrastination. You can track what works for you if you want but don’t invest a bunch of upfront time in it – or really in any organization system if you are like me. I love setting up organizational systems. Maintaining them and then using them? Not so much. My boss has told me I’m not allowed to try any more systems – I’m gonna go with it for now.

    In terms of other advice, here are the things that have worked for me in the past – some mentioned already:

    1. Break up big tasks into smaller ones (Goblin Tools is amazing!). If the smaller tasks still feel overwhelming, make them smaller. I legit have “Open Spreadsheet” on a to do list once because I just couldn’t. And even that can be smaller if needed – find spreadsheet, etc.

    2. Body Doubling/working with a friend is great! Fully recommend reaching out to someone you trust and just sitting on a call with them while you both work. I’ve used this for things I’m avoiding – literally asked a friend to watch me read an email I was avoiding.

    3. Plan on procrastinating – for real, trust me. For me, I know when I get a project, I’m excited about it, so I’ll work on it – research, talking to folk, etc. then I get bored. My goal is to collect everything I need to be self-sufficient during my “oh shiny” phase so that when I move to the “oh sh*t” phase, I’m not inconveniencing others. My lack of planning (or procrastination) is not their emergency and I want to ensure it doesn’t become that. I ask others (boss or friend) to hold me accountable for deadlines for smaller pieces or time deadlines to update meetings so it is a real deadline, not some fake date I set up. I also make sure my schedule is cleared for due dates so I don’t have multiple items due at the same time. Basically, I’m accommodating my own brain and making it work.

    And with that novel, I’m gonna go work :)

  81. KitKat*

    Great advice here about identifying and naming WHAT you’re avoiding by procrastinating (for me, usually, negative feelings).

    For me, the lightbulb moment was realizing that procrastinating, itself, felt worse than the things I was avoiding!

    The guilt, shame, anxiety (because the thing I’m not doing is still THERE, lurking), and the buzzy/distracted brain from trying to distract myself… I could do the math to see that it was so much better to just bite the bullet and deal with whatever the bad thing was, rather than feel all the bad feelings of procrastination and then STILL HAVE TO DO IT ANYWAY.

    Once I recognized that pattern it became much easier to break through it. Doing it a few times and getting the positive reinforcement (from myself) has made it easier and easier.

  82. Once too Often*

    I do better reviewing the larger/time sensitive task & then doing other stuff; gives me the subconcious percolation time before plowing into the project. Drove one boss nuts until she saw the sit-&-stare-&-fidget option.

  83. k.*

    This feels a bit counterintuitive, but one thing I wonder about is: is the procrastination itself as big a problem as it feels? It sounds like it’s causing you a lot of stress, but also that things are getting done by the deadline and done well. I’m not saying that leaving things to the last minute is a great way of doing things, but I’ve noticed in myself that a lot of the stress/shame I was feeling around procrastination was less about the end result on my work and more about how people talk about how things “should” get done (or how people expected me to work since I’ve generally been seen as a high achiever, so they were surprised to learn how much more chaotic it is in my brain than they realized!) If something is really high stakes, then sure, I don’t really want to be leaving it to the last minute and risking that if something comes up, I don’t have any wiggle room to get it done. But sometimes I find it helpful to just say, you know what, I have an excellent track record of finishing things by the deadline and doing them well, even if it’s not planned out months in advance. In my case (just an example; different brains work differently), I’ve become more able to trust that the sense of urgency once the deadline approaches will eventually activate my executive function abilities, and then I’ll be able to focus and get it done. And surprisingly (or maybe not!), sometimes alleviating some of the stress and shame about procrastination actually makes it easier to get started.

    Again, not trying to say this is the ideal way of working, but for me it has helped a lot to reframe the issue and take some of the pressure off, while also trying to figure out systems that might work better.

  84. store brand werewolf*

    what works for me (and maybe it’s the audhd but who knows) is a) breaking large tasks into a lot of smaller ones and b) making a very precise schedule

    so if giant project is like, make a yearbook for the llamas, and it’s due in three months. i’ll break that task into a lot smaller tasks like: make a schedule for llama yearbook, review llama yearbook guidelines, make a list of photos need to be taken for llama yearbook, check schedule to decide when to take llama yearbook photos, etc. etc.

    no task is too small. smaller the better. and then i go through the whole list again and estimate how long each task will take, with the least amount of time being 15 minutes. (the first task, make a schedule for llama yearbook, might be an hour or two! that’s okay, it’s an important task. this part might also be overwhelming, so it’s good to take some breaks) then of course i look at how much time i have, and divide the tasks evenly in the time i have left (for a months-long project, that probably goes by weeks), with some leeway at the end.

    and then personally at the beginning of each week (well, the end actually, i like this as my friday afternoon activity), i look at all my schedules and all the projects i have on my plate and look at what i have to do. personally i don’t really go by priority so much as due date, because looking at all tasks as equal makes it easier for me to do them. and then i roughly divide those projects between the days monday-thursday (fridays are always flex time)

    and then at the beginning of every day, i make a really specific schedule, looking at what i have to do for the day, assigning tasks to each hour and planning my breaks. the last hour or so is always flex time.

    to that note – flex time! the end of the day is never assigned, and neither are fridays. this time is for any projects that need to be done that day, or for any projects earlier in the day/week that had to get moved. it’s also for if i don’t complete any tasks within the allotted time. for example, if i scheduled an hour to do the llama portrait layouts and only got about 3/4 of it done, the remaining would move to my flex time. if everything gets done in time and there’s no new projects i can work on future tasks early, or just hang out and chill.

    woof that ended up being an overly long explanation but! the reason this works for me is a lot of reasons—it gives me permission to move on to a different task even if i haven’t completed the previous (so i stay more on top of everything!), it makes sure no single task is so overwhelming it’s scary to do, gives me an idea of what i’m doing every day/week, helps me keep in mind how long each of my tasks takes, and gives me more variety during the day instead of having to work on one project for hours and hours on end. it also has the benefit that if it seems like a project is taking much longer than i originally estimated, i have a heads up before i really approach the deadline.

  85. weaslgrl*

    You may be being too hard on yourself. I re-read your letter several times, looking for the harm your procrastination causes. I didn’t see any! You’re getting all your stuff done, at a high performance level with glowing reviews, and getting a lot of extra stuff done to boot. Why would you want to change what’s working well for you? Why do you assume that doing the hard things first is the “best” way?
    Some people thrive, and produce better work, under pressure — crunch time. So maybe let go of the anxiety about how you “should” be doing things. Unless your procrastination habit is actually causing real problems outside of your own head, just embrace what works for you!

  86. Abogado Avocado*

    This is a great question! In law school, we learned to call procrastination “creative avoidance.” Need to study for tomorrow’s contract law final? Why, that there dishwasher needs emptying! And what about that pile of dirty clothes? Time to run the washer and dryer!

    There’s a lot of good advice on this blog about why we procrastinate — and I do think it’s linked to childhood experiences. For me, at least. I realized (finally) that I was worried that I couldn’t learn what I needed to and procrastinated so that I wouldn’t find out I was a dummy. But also my procrastination reduced the time to learn a particular subject. So, arghh! Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!

    I finally figured out that if I scheduledone procrastinating activity (getting a latte, doing the laundry, whatever) and set a time limit, I can actually get down to business. Meaning, I tell myself, you have 15 minutes minutes to do this one thing. I set the alarm on my phone. I do that one thing to perfection. And, when the alarm rings, I settle down and do what I’ve been avoiding.

  87. Workaholic*

    No advice, and I can’t wait to read through all the comments myself. I find I have to physically write down my to-do list for best results. I’m one of the high performers, thrive on chaos, love taking on the projects everyone else avoids, but also procrastinate and get side tracked easily.

  88. Cat on a Keyboard*

    In addition to all the other ideas here –

    One strategy that sometimes helps is during a quiet moment (morning routine, coffee break, etc) I think what exactly I’ll have to do to get started on Looming Task, in detail, i.e.: I’ll open up the presentation for X project, save a copy to Y project, find/replace the client’s names, look for slides to remove…. and so on. once I’ve visualized myself doing the steps I feel more eager to get them done and less intimidated.

  89. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Baby steps, to quote the movie What About Bob.

    PROJECTS feel so overwhelming, but if I can just knock out a few little tasks without focusing on the big picture, I do much better. I’m not putting together a marketing campaign, I’m just gathering photos that could be used into a folder… which then reminds me that I need to follow up with legal on the talent contracts and releases…and that reminds me that I need to proofread the copy and get back to the writer…

    I do much better if I don’t get sidetracked with priority or order.

    Project management tools actually are anti-productive to me… I spend precious time filling them in and managing the management tool and deciding what’s a priority and making sure I have everything on the list and what if I missed something on the list and now I have to add it and put everything back in priority…

  90. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

    Some people get this suggestion and recoil like a vampire faced with a crucifix, but it *really* works for me, and for some friends I introduced it to, so I mention it in case it works for you.

    First, I take care of any biological needs that might be required in the next fifteen minutes—bathroom, refilling my water bottle, making a cup of tea, stretching, whatever it might be.

    Next, I mute notifications and put myself on Do Not Disturb everywhere I can.

    Then, I open the project and get it ready, locate and open any resources I need, and get everything at hand.

    Then, I set a timer, these days for fifteen minutes.

    Then I do… nothing. That is to say, I forbid myself from doing anything except the project. I can work on the task, or I can stare at the screen, or at the wall. Until the timer runs out, no getting up to get water, no working on other tasks (however important), no checking my email/phone/IMs (they will all wait fifteen minutes without anyone dying), no pacing or stretching, nothing. I can work on the task or I can stare at the wall, those are the choices.

    Usually, sheer boredom will get me started, and once I start, the greatest barrier is overcome. Continuing is Easter that beginning. But if it doesn’t, and the timer goes ding with nothing accomplished, I take a break and do something else for an hour. Then I try again with the timer set to longer. Eventually, boredom overcomes procrastination.

    The longest I ever went doing literally nothing before cracking and starting the thing was forty-five minutes. It was excruciating for a mind that enjoys constant stimulation. But it worked. Now, it’s rare for me to need more than five or ten minutes of staring at the screen to get going.

    Thing is, this is going to *feel* terrible the first few times. You’re not going to like sitting there in abject unstimulated boredom. Very few people do. But that’s the incentive, so to speak, so I’d recommend against deciding to stop because it’s uncomfortable. Because that’s the point: the way you can alleviate the discomfort of doing nothing, is by doing this one thing.

    This got me through my honors thesis and has been of great use in my professional life, and I know other people who do the same thing.

    (I’m pretty sure I got it out of a writing advice book years and years ago, but unfortunately I can’t remember which.)

    1. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

      Also, some reading that really helped me:

      – “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle,” by Timothy Pychyl. He approaches this from the POV not of a self-help guru or fellow procrastinator, but of a psychology Ph.D. studying “breakdown in volitional action” (aka procrastination). His advice trends away from the touchy-feely, but that’s why I found it valuable. He has a lot of information at procrastination.ca as well.

      – “How to Write a Lot,” by Paul Silvia. Focused on academic writing, but I found it generally applicable.

      – “ Procrastination: What It Is, Why It’s a Problem, and What You Can Do About It” by Fuscia Sirois. Another book by a psychologist who studies the interaction between mood regulation and procrastination. It has worksheets and everything!

  91. woops*

    this may be controversial – but the title – I am a terrible procrastinator…
    if you’re terrible at procrastinating wouldn’t that mean you get everything done early?

  92. FakeEleanor*

    I’m working on embracing the mindset of “anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

    If there is something I’m putting off because I don’t feel like I can do it “properly” – and that is a standard informed by decades of high expectations and little room for failure – I intentionally try to do the “bad” version. I title the document “Terrible draft.doc” or something of the sort. I tell myself not to worry about things being thorough, or even correct, as long as it’s done. It is totally okay to leave brackets like [fill in later] or [confirm] or [rewrite all of this] if needed.

    Once I have a “bad” version of whatever project I’m working on, I often find that a) it is not as bad as I thought it would be, and b) it is far, far easier to edit sloppy work than it is to create work from nothing.

    YMMV, but this has helped me push past my perfectionism and just finish the job.

    1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

      I just suggested this to a student who was having trouble writing a description of her experiment’s methodology, and she said it worked really well!

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I also like “It’s not just good, it’s good enough” for dealing with the perfectionist bits. It’s particularly useful (a) near the end of projects, and (b) figuring out if a project ought to stay on my to-do list at all. In both cases, it reminds me to take a look at the task and decide if the amount of work to make it “better” is really worth the effort. Sometimes something trivial will make a big improvement – worth doing. Sometimes a lot of effort is required to make a trivial improvement – don’t do it. (Please note: this calculation doesn’t apply until you’re already at “good enough” – the car runs, the code compiles, whatever it may be that gets you to a state of “done even if poorly done”.)

  93. Essentially Cheesy*

    I have learned that the stress of procrastinating is a lot worse than the stress of just Doing The Thing. Once you get more practice at Doing The Thing, it gets easier. I have had to cope with my own insecurities, fears, etc., in order to grow to give my duties their proper attention. It is part of maturing and growing in your position. It’s hard but it’s do able.

    You will not get out of your duties by procrastinating, that’s for sure.

  94. CC*

    I have a very similar problem. One thing that helped me a lot is breaking projects into smaller, doable sections (like, 30-60 minutes worth of work) and specifically booking a time of the day to work on it, and making myself check it off/not check it off when I leave for the day. The is easiest if it’s something easy to break down (like, if you need to sort 5000 documents or something, it’s easy to go “100 a day”), but you can also make it work with more abstract projects. If you need to build a new system at work, maybe you spend an hour a day reviewing best practices, then building your requirements, then finding vendors, then calling vendors, etc. You can even make the first section “breakdown this project into doable steps”. I really like booking the time in my calendar for these things, since that makes it feel more urgent? It makes me feel like I have to make an active decision to NOT spend the time on that.

  95. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    I’ve been called a procrastinator, but for whatever reason I’ve always framed it in my head as “thinking about a project until I’m ready to do it.” In my experience, eating the frog first has lead to me ruminating about other ways I could have cooked the frog, and regretting that I got it out of the way too quickly.
    I also have a lot of success with changing up my physical environment. That might be moving to a different space or just orienting myself differently within the same space.
    In conclusion, both framing your “procrastination” as brainstorming time, and also shaking your brain out of complacency with a change of scenery, can both be helpful.

  96. Wilbur*

    I’m a big fan of an Eisenhower matrix-you set up a quadrant based on importance and urgency, and rank your work accordingly. Urgent/important work gets done immediately, non-urgent/important work gets scheduled, urgent/non-important work gets delegated, & non-urgent/unimportant work gets ignored. The tricky part is then actually scheduling out the time for the non-urgent/important work and sticking to it. If you don’t have someone to delegate work to, you can talk to your boss about shifting that work to someone else.

  97. SleepyHollowGirl*

    Part of this is going to sound a bit silly.

    I realized I procrastinated out of fear of failure. If you don’t try, you can’t fail! And if you put it off to the last minute and it goes badly, well, then it was not a real representative of what you could do given time.

    Once I recognized this, when I realized I was procrastinating, I identified it as a fear reaction, and and that enabled me to behave more rationally and face into the uncertainty instead of avoiding it. The silly part is that as part of this, when I really was resisting doing what needed to be done, I read or recited the litany against fear from Dune: “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the the little death…”

    With that in mind, I also made my desktop wallpaper a desert scene, so I’d be reminded of Dune and so that I’d remind myself to be aware of when fear is making me behave irrationally. (And, if anyone saw my screen, they wouldn’t know it was an anti-procrastination thing, or that it had anything to with Dune–they’d just think I just had a taste for desert landscapes.)

    1. 404_FoxNotFound*

      Oh this is a really good insight! I’ve been mostly focused on executive dysfunction reasons for procrastination, but one shouldn’t exclude emotional reasons for procrastination either!

    2. Sloanicota*

      One thing that helps me diagnose my issues with procrastinatino is asking, “do you also have this problem with things you WANT to do? Things that sound fun and you voluntarily undertook? Or is it mostly just with work tasks/ chores you’d rather avoid?” I have similar issues even in fun hobby things, which is a good datapoint as I try to hack myself.

    3. ThatMom*

      This. All of this, including the Litany!

      I ended up going to therapy to find out why I was struggling so much to finish a home reno project I absolutely had the skills & time to do.

      And it was fear of failure, combined with perfectionism.

      (I also love the Litany!)

  98. the cat ears*

    If I can’t get myself to do the thing I will try to get myself to write a list breaking down the thing into smaller components. Even ridiculously small. Like if the thing involves making a phone call, this can be split into at least 3 steps:

    1. look up and write down phone number
    2. write up list of questions to ask in phone call
    3. actually make phone call

    Then I use a “lofi pomodoro” video on YouTube- relaxing music with work periods of 25 minutes + 5 minute breaks – and try to make my way down the list. Actually taking the breaks is important. Sometimes it’ll be longer than 5 min so I can walk around the block or something.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I see the list advice and for whatever reason man, it just doesn’t work for me (not to criticize your advice – it may work perfectly for OP!). It sometimes takes me longer to write the list than it would to just do the danged thing, and I read somewhere that some brains love making long complicated lists, safe in the assurance that they’ll never have to do it haha. The music thing does work though. I have a few songs I use to shift myself out of not-working mode and get pumped up into working-mode, and I can sort of use the pomodoro “what if you just started for this one song, that’s such a short time it’s practically nothing” technique (and then leverage that into a playlists’ worth of work) to occasional success.

  99. saskia*

    You’re meeting your deadlines. So is this really as big of an issue as it seems? If you weren’t meeting goals, that would be different. But everyone has their own way of working; perhaps this is yours.

  100. Statler von Waldorf*

    As another person who could have written this letter, after reading the comments, I have the strong feeling that maybe I should talk to my mental health professional about inattentive style ADHD. Reading a list of symptoms was eye-opening, and it explained a lot about my complicated relationship with stimulants.

    So with that said, and acknowledging that we are all different and what works for me may not work for others, here’s what I do.

    First, stimulants. This is probably one of the biggest reasons I smoke. It’s a stimulant and a reward all wrapped up in one cancer-causing package. I certainly wouldn’t recommend starting smoking, but I do find that caffeine pills can help on my worse days. Cocaine completely solved my procrastination problem, but trust me when I say the cure is worse than the disease on that one. Procrastinating at work might cost you your job, but in the long run, cocaine will cost you so, so much more.

    There’s two reasons I find that I get stuck in procrastination mode, and I find they respond better to different approaches. The first is boredom, the second is anxiety.

    For boredom induced procrastination, I usually try to find a fresh way to tackle the project. Maybe I throw a timer on my screen and try to do parts of it in a strict time limit. Maybe I throw on a podcast so I can listen to something interesting while I work. Maybe I type it all with my left hand. Maybe I do sudoku sprints, where I work hard for fifteen minutes, do a two minute Sudoku, then repeat. Sometimes, I just need to put on some energetic music with a beat. There’s a bunch of tricks I’ve used, and usually once I start, it’s easier to keep going.

    The trickier ones are when the anxiety kicks in and I start procrastinating. I usually notice these ones when the tricks I mentioned above stop working. This is when I need to use more vigorous tools. First I break down the job into it’s smallest pieces. A lot of the time, my anxiety is just letting me know that I can’t wrap my head around the task, and by breaking it up helps with that a lot. Second, I look for the fear. Is this perfectionism acting up? Is there a high potential for failure on this task? Am I missing pieces or tools required to do the job? Sometimes the anxiety is completely irrational, but more often than not, there’s a root cause there that my subconscious noticed but my conscious mind has not.

    Honestly, the best solutions I’ve found to anxiety based procrastination all involve other people. Sometimes I just need to talk it out and create a big checklist. Sometimes I need to get more information or tools. Sometimes I can switch tasks with a co-worker, or talk to a manger about getting someone else to do it. Sometimes, I just need a reality check. It depends on the task and why it’s triggering my anxiety. The key is to let go of the shame, and be honest about where you are and how you need help. This may not work at a cut-throat law firm, but in the vast majority of the offices I have worked, people want to help each other succeed.

    I wish the best of luck to everyone fighting this battle. A battle against mental illness cannot be won decisively. It is a long campaign against an enemy who never tires, whose forces swell to twice their size whenever you look away. Battle against a foe of such magnitude, who occupies your very mind… every moment you survive is a triumph against all odds. There is no more honorable combat.

  101. SongbirdT*

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, so I don’t know if this may be a dupe, but…

    I didn’t see in your letter that it’s creating an external problem, so maybe this is just the method that’s most effective for you? Perhaps you need that urgency to get your best, most effective work done? If that’s the case, but you’d still prefer not to have the constant time crunch, consider exploring ways to create that urgency for yourself.

    I highly recommend the Anti-Planner by Dani Donovan. It’s geared toward ADHD brains because that’s her perspective, but the suggestions and methods are all very practical (and fun!).

    Good luck!

  102. Zebra Pal*

    High expectations plus low tolerance for mistakes is a perfect recipe for this kind of procrastination as a way to try to avoid criticism or punishment, which I know because I worked at a place where this was rife!

    The main way I tackled this when I finally moved on to a supportive workplace was by iterating my work through other people early and often. Make the worst complete draft possible and send it to someone else to patch and give comments. Revise and get comments from someone else.

    The key is that these people have to be knowledgeable enough to give meaningful feedback and professional enough to do it supportively. If you have both of those ingredients, over time, having many touchpoints in your process can help reduce that initial avoidant instinct and replace it with a degree of comfort in revealing imperfection to others.

    Many sympathies, OP! I hope this thread is helpful to you.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree that paired work often gets me (and I notice also, my boss) through procrastination. I wouldn’t usually like to “use” coworkers this way, but if they’re amenable, a shared work session where we make progress together often gets things over the hump, even if I “should” be able to do it alone. This happens to me in part because I’m fully remote and things can feel kind of weird and isolated, and a lot of my emails go unanswered here.

  103. Bird Law*

    Every Monday my team has meetings for all the matters we are involved with. I seem to pretty lonely in loving them, but they are great for keeping me on track with long term projects and give me chances to check in with my superiors for questions.

    I also work on a remote team, that was remote pre-COVID, which means that they have a really strong remote work culture, and these meetings are a really important part of that.

  104. 404_FoxNotFound*

    Setting aside any body-mind reasons for procrastination (thinking of a disability, ADHD, etc.), I often find we will procrastinate because something is unpleasant, too complicated, or unclear.
    Sometimes there’s not a lot one can do about the unpleasantness of a task, but, it is worth thinking about what if anything can be done to reduce the unpleasantness, what is parts of or at the heart of my discomfort. If the timing is the issue, can it be shifted to another time of day when one is more energetic or less rushed because this needs more buffer? If something sensory is the issue, what can be done to make the task less tactilely unpleasant to you? Would you benefit from trying to do whatever task virtually instead of in person or by chat instead of over the phone? (etc.)
    If a task is too complicated or overwhelming, typically that means it needs to be broken down into small enough pieces that it can be done without triggering whatever Ugh spikes at the prospect of trying to tackle Unpleasant Mountain.
    Lastly, if I can’t figure out how to do a task or am stuck for how to break it down into smaller bite sized pieceds, it means I’m missing some kind of information and should go ask someone, research, etc. to figure out how I might accomplish said task to see if that’ll help get me unstuck.

    Good luck fellow procrastinators!

    1. Sloanicota*

      I will say also that not-infrequently an unpleasant or unclear task gets dropped from my desk anyway at a later time, which of course reinforces my already bad tendency to procrastinate – sometimes it works! But it would be dangerous to assume it’s usually going to work and risk missing the deadline if there are any real consequences to that (sometimes there are not really but it’s just something you did want to actually get done at some point).

  105. cactus lady*

    Idk I would argue that if you’re meeting all your deadlines and producing high quality work, this probably isn’t actually a problem (except maybe in your mind?). Society loves to shame us for not working harder, or not tackling the hard stuff first…. but why do we have to do that? I always do all the easy stuff first but I don’t consider it procrastinating. As a boss, I don’t care if my employees do the same as long as they’re getting all their work done on time. My biggest question to you is WHY do you feel bad about it? Do you feel like it reflects on you as a person or your worth somehow? If it gives you anxiety, have you explored what the root of that is? Some self reflection or a good therapist might be able to help you with this. From your letter I don’t think this is actually about your habits but about how you feel about them.

    1. Sloanicota*

      To be honest (I’m not the OP) there are times I recognize that procrastination was creating an issue even if I was able to meet the deadline in the end. And I use the definition of procrastination that’s “putting off a task even if you recognize that the negative consequences for doing so.” So, maybe I do get it done on time just barely – but if there’d been a glitch in the database on the last day, I recognize I would have missed the deadline for basically no reason. Or I had to hassle some coworkers for their feedback with less turnaround time than I would have liked to give them (this one bugs me because they usually don’t do it until pressed anyway).

  106. phira*

    I really like Dani Donovan’s Anti-Planner. It’s designed for people who have ADHD, but it’s helpful even if you don’t. I have really bad executive dysfunction, and I find a lot of the exercises really useful.

  107. Frog&Toad*

    Lots of helpful ideas here already! I have trouble just getting started in general so I’ll add something I use. There are some “study with me” YouTube videos that are 2 or 3 (or many more) hours that include a 10 minute break every hour. A person is studying in a room with some street noise or rain in the background. I find these really helpful when I’m determined to start and then finish a bigger task. My favorites are by the person named Merve.

  108. Ms. Norbury*

    I’m a lifelong procrastinator on the mend (not ADHD)! A combination of CBT and talk therapy helped me a lot, mostly to unearth the roots of the behavior (hello, perfectionism and feelings of inadequacy!) and to find practical tools to deal with it.

    The strategy that helps me the most with big scary complex tasks that I’m dreading is to commit to doing a teeny tiny piece, and see where it takes me. I find that often just starting makes the task feel less daunting (it’s like overcoming the blank page anxiety writers talk about), helps me feel better about doing SOMETHING, and sometimes I actually get some momentum and end up getting a good chunk done.

  109. Sloanicota*

    I love/hate how much I see myself in these comments. I agree that if you can help clarify what you’re getting out of procrastination, that’s helpful, as there are several different routes to get there. For me, it’s often the fear of boredom and tedium that makes me put off a task until the excitement of having a very close deadline kicks in to make the task more challenging/”fun” because now I’m trying to beat the clock. This may be a depression symptom TBH, as things that aren’t objectively that boring feel very boring to me right now. It can also come from perfectionism/anxiety though. Common advice is to start small but sometimes I find the opposite is effective: I schedule a big date with myself and go out somewhere (a local coffee shop or, to be completely honest, a Mexican cantina) and sometimes I’m able to do the work over a nice lunch when I was paralyzed in my usual setting. I do see how this backfires though when you let things pile up to the point where you need a big special intervention – it would be much better if I could make constant incremental progress … Good luck, OP.

  110. CatTatts*

    This letter is very similar to my life experience, and I have clinically bad perfectionism due to childhood trauma. I have literally had therapist look horrified when I describe how I feel about making mistakes.

    The strategy I’ve finally found that’s most helpful for me is to try to identify when I am avoiding working on something because I’m scared of it. Then, I try to figure out what about it is scary and how to address that. Maybe I need to find some similar examples because I’m not sure where to start. Or maybe I need to clarify how the end result is measured because I’m worried I won’t know when it’s “good”. I start by just working on this as it’s own piece of the project, and not expecting myself to immediately jump into actually doing the thing.

  111. hohumdrum*

    I’m a lifelong procrastinator. My biggest piece of advice is something I’ve found gets people mad when you say it but it’s the only thing that’s worked for me so here goes: Don’t worry about it. This is who you are and that’s fine. Accept it and work with it.

    I say that because the ONLY time in my life I started doing things ahead of time was when I was in a situation where I was doing my usual self-flagellation for being such a horrible procrastinator and the person I needed to hand things into on time stopped me and was like “Oh, that’s just how you work, that’s fine” and was willing to be flexible on deadlines.

    And you know what? Without the mental load of freaking out about the way I work being “wrong” and the fear of being judged, turns out I had more mental energy to work on projects and I started completing things on time. And when I didn’t, I was able to not agonize over it and immediately give that person a heads up that I was running behind, and since it was no big deal I could just get back to work and finish faster.

    Ever since I have looked for working environments that have the ability to be supportive of me and my needs, and I have freed myself of feeling bad about how I work. It’s the only thing that helped me, and if your procrastination is as tied to anxiety as mine is then I do think it’s likely going to be the biggest thing that helps you. Anxiety spirals don’t make work go faster, releasing myself from them helped immensely.

    1. Can Relate*

      I agree with this so much, and other commenters about removing shame from procrastination. I work from home and have for a long time. Reframing certain things has really helped, because I can then lean into strategies that make me more successful. Here’s a doom version:

      – I have a very boring task that is repetitive and data entry like. Its important, but I don’t want to do it. I have two days. I’m anxious about it and move really slow while thinking about other things. Any little thing distracts me, a link in slack to a funny video, I’m hungry but didnt plan lunch, I read an article and respond to an email. I feel bad all day. Day 1 is lost and I just have to try again, crunching it tomorrow.

      Over the years, I moved from that to this:

      – I have a very boring task that is repetitive and data entry like, I have two days. I have a few things I want to get off my plate that are less important. I write them down and consider that, if I clean my desk, plan out a nice lunch, I can sit down to a much more productive block of work in the afternoon. I can do the data entry and listen to music, so I pick out an album for that, and get into the zone. I spend 3 hours doing these other tasks, but when I sit down after lunch, I already feel good, productive, and I ate so I’m not hangry and anxious.

      In the second version, if you focus on it from the perspective of the boring task being the most important thing and I should just DO it, I “procrastinated” for 3 hours. But if you look at it more critically, I got more done and felt much better by not fighting myself. The task IS boring, and I can spend a little time equipping myself and my space to make it slightly more pleasant. The less hard I am on myself for doing this, the more likely it is that I will sit down and get some of the task done after lunch.

      Over the years, I find that I’m a pretty efficient worker compared to my peers, with positive reviews and results. Try thinking critically about your procrastination activities and you might be able to optimize them, and feel more satisfied overall with your output in work and life. Therapy also helped me (just general therapy, wasn’t specific to this)

  112. Working in my PJs*

    Is it the stress you are trying to fix? Because I’m the same way and just the stress of procrastinating stressed me out. Now I treat it like a feature not a bug. If I have something hard and intense, putting it off for a little bit to do something mindless and easy actually helps focus my mind. I am a high performer, and confident I always meet my deadlines, and trusting that about myself has reduced any thought of, oh, I should be doing more important task A, even though it isn’t due for months, and I’m finding organizing this spreadsheet relaxing and something that will be helpful down the road.

  113. Justin*

    While I do have ADHD, I solved my executive function and procrastination issues 16 years before I was diagnosed (in fact it’s part of why it took so long).

    Can’t say this will work for you, but I can just tell you it worked for me:

    I took a very very easy day where I didn’t have a lot to do and just wrote down what I had to do that day. None of this was hard or anything worth procrastinating. I was 19 and had a retail job and wasn’t working that day. So I wrote down EVERYTHING.

    Including everything as boring as meals (I also wrote down what I was going to eat) and showers. And I basically slowly forced myself to become accustomed to getting everything done I’d written down. Again the key is this is not just a checklist, it’s a very very low pressure checklist, and I included EVERYTHING.

    Eventually, I would include stuff I actually had to do (like homework – I was still in college), and I made sure to basically force myself to develop endorphins with each minor accomplishment. Every day I would look at my list being checked off and feel joy.

    This was before google calendar or any smart phones. I was writing all this down in a blank word document I called “Things.” Eventually I transitioned to google calendar and my phone and so on.

    But the two keys are, start by writing down things when there is no pressure whatsoever, things you’re gonna do anyway (like eat). And then gradually I flipped my mental associations over to where I do everything super EARLY to feel that joy, and although this was kind of a trauma response (I had to do this because I was in danger of failing some of my classes), it has come to serve me very well.

    1. Justin*

      Of course it would have been nice to be in a supportive environment (and be diagnosed) but I wasn’t, and often that can’t be controlled, so this is what I did. Like I said, it worked for me in 2005, and now I’m the person who gets things done far before I need to, even with my diagnosis.

  114. Freelance Era*

    For me procrastination can be anxiety/depression related. But even when those are managed, I fall into the trap of it when there are smaller, more interesting tasks.
    With either cause, breaking up the “don’t want to” task I do smaller pieces is key, because some of those will feel either easy or fun and get me rolling.

  115. Maggie*

    Procrastination isn’t by default bad, not everything benefits from starting early (and sometimes it’s the opposite). Start by identifying what are the specific negatives you’re running into and whether or not they apply to all projects. Then the top priorities to avoid procrastinating with, try building in lots of small deadlines and make yourself accountable to other people for them.

    1. TheOtherLaura*

      Yes. I got into “strategic procrastination” at work, doing stuff last-minute, so no one will have the time and leisure to change the specs after I started. If I start early, I’ll have to do it twice…

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Oh, that’s a good one — Strategic Procrastination. There are projects I just don’t start until closer to the deadline because when talking to the stakeholders about it, or based on past experience, they sound like they haven’t really thought it through and are going to change things repeatedly. Best to wait a bit to see how they work it out.

  116. PDB*

    A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
    So you take the first step, then another and pretty soon your not procrastinating anymore!

  117. TheOtherLaura*

    How do you feel about the tasks that really need to be done and that you turn away from by playing for time? Do they feel daunting, maybe because you want to excel, or because there is a lot to lose if you fail, or because you have no good idea how to go about them, or because if you look closely at them they might turn out to hard for you and you prefer not to find out? Does doing them “last minute” excuse you in your eyes for getting less-than-perfect results? (The story of my school days, when it was far better to be considerd lazy but intelligent than diligent and mediocre.)

    If found that, basically, most times I procrastinate, the task scares me in some way. The possible solutions for me are 1) trick myself into starting (I’ll just look at it and write down a few ideas!), 2) get someone to sit in the same room and read and drink coffee (or something) while I work at it (I have the opposite of stage fright, get me on a stage and I’ll cast aside all doubt and simply perform), 3) split the task into smaller parts, make a work plan that I can follow, and allow myself breaks, 4) or convince myself that it’s really not that important, failure won’t be of consequence, I can tough it out, or 5) just get so annoyed with the situation that annoyance gets stronger than avoidance and I attack the task right on and steamroll though it. (Unfortunately, this happens mostly at 10 p.m.)

    I still procrastinate, but not as badly as I was.

    Suggested reading: Devon Price, “Laziness does not exist” (on medium dot com, published Mar 23rd 2018, members only, unfortunately.) The author also has a book out on that topic, which I have lent to some person who does not seem to get around to reading it.

    1. Raktajino*

      Price also did the podcast rounds when the book first came out, so you can probably find an interview where they talk about it. I know NPR has one; not sure which one is the best for actually helping out rather than piquing your interest in the book.

  118. knitcrazybooknut*

    Procrastination is a huge topic, and I love seeing the responses — many of which I’ve used — about low-hanging fruit, eating the frog, and the Wait But Why blog post (and he has a Ted Talk as well). But there’s another factor that may be playing into this: your work environment.

    I work at a state institution. The priorities and financial situation and processes and approvals are always changing. If I were to do each task as soon as I could, I would be redoing work once or even two times before the task was complete.

    So instead, I have adopted “strategic procratination” as my watchword.

    I was taught this by a lovely VP (thank you, Harriet!) when she was looking at her very full inbox. She saw something that had been marked urgent two days ago, and she hadn’t had a chance to do anything about the issue. Another email came in later, saying that the issue was resolved and she didn’t need to do anything about it. “See? If you just wait long enough, it resolves itself!”

    Of course there are times this isn’t practical. But if you’re in an environment that’s always changing, and you’re being asked to redo your work because things have changed between completing it and the actual deadline, you may be unconsciously dragging your feet. You’re basically being punished for getting things done ahead of time, so why do that?

    Just something to consider as part of the larger picture. Good luck!

  119. EngGirl*

    I’m a major procrastinator, probably at least in part because I do some of my best work under the gun. The added pressure of needing to meet a deadline helps me to succeed.

    However obviously that doesn’t work for everything, so I divide my projects up into groups based on who needs what, why they need it, and what the consequences will be if a deliverable is late and then try to sprinkle in my procrastination methodically. This feeds my need for procrastination while mitigating consequences.

    So for example if my boss needs information for reports she’s compiling to present to her grand boss in a couple of days I try not to procrastinate on that because the effects are potentially huge. I don’t want my boss to look bad because of my error. However that task I’m just not interested in doing right now that isn’t due for a few days and will only make me look like an idiot if it isn’t done? Oh yeah I’m waiting on that until the absolute last second.

  120. Hyaline*

    One thing to add–is this a real and present problem, or do you feel like it ought to be one? That is–you say you’re making deadlines, it seems like you’re not doing shoddy work, so is your work style a problem, or do you just feel like it’s contrary to so much advice you see that it MUST be one? Is there any truth to thinking of it as “your working style”? That is, it could be that your system of balancing important tasks with lighter or less important ones is actually working out fine for you. In your description, I’m not even sure you’re describing procrastination–not starting on something until almost too late, putting it off until the last minute, etc–as much as feeling you have a problem tackling jobs “in order if importance.” It’s entirely possible you procrastinate, too, but from your description you just don’t knock out the high priority first before moving on to other stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe the other stuff fills your tank, or high priority stuff depletes it faster, and it’s ok to pace it out. You say you’re stressed by planning and deadlines–but is that because planning and deadlines make you feel you’re doing something “wrong” here and need to change, or because you’re actually snowed under by plans and coming down to the wire on deadlines to a degree that’s upsetting you? IDK, if you’re doing good work, your style happens to not mesh with a lot of well-intentioned advice but it’s not holding you back, and the thing that is stressing you out is more a sense that you shouldn’t be ok with how things are–maybe let that go!

  121. Lists are great*

    I like to break down more overwhelming stuff into super small chunks on a checklist (small steps like make labels, print labels, label tubes, etc). Then it is easier for me to get started because the first couple small tasks are easy and by the time I get through those I’m in a flow and can then tackle the harder tasks. plus if my flow gets interrupted by something I can return to the checklist and check things off for a motivation boost.

  122. Doc McCracken*

    Another ADHD’er not diagnosed until my 40’s. I’m not trying to diagnose in any way, but I struggle with this too. Body doubling, as others have mentioned, is super helpful. A few things to consider- Are you trying to do too much? Being overwhelmed and burnt out is a recipe for procrastination. Also, the exercise of thinking through Do I really want to do this? is helpful. Do I want to do my taxes…no but I do want to avoid fines and possible jail time. So, I actually do want to do that! Last, is the stress of a deadline actually a tool that works for you? Sometimes it might be easier to accept that it might be a tool for you and embrace it for certain circumstances. Best of luck!

  123. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    Some things that have helped me cope with executive function issues that may help:

    1 – Have someone else tell me what to do. Conveniently, “someone else” includes “Past Me”. And not distant past, either. More like “Me of 2 minutes ago”. It’s much easier to do something if I’m not simultaneously trying to figure out all the details on the fly.

    2 – Really detailed to-do lists. No, more detailed than that. Nope, still more detailed. Don’t worry about getting tasks in order, just get them on the list. (You can probably also consider this a “How To Do” list that you’re writing to help Future You with suggestion 1.)

    3 – External accountability. This can be your boss or a daily standup at work, a text to a friend with a high-level summary of what you need to get done, body doubling as mentioned elsewhere on the page. The point is to be able to go to someone else and be able to say “I did the thing!”

    4 – Ask for help. Not always the easiest thing, I know. But sometimes you can identify one specific task that you’re getting stuck on and that’s blocking you from moving forward. Is this a task someone else can do? If so, ask them. (Real life example – I texted my spouse from work one day saying “If you bring the basket of clean laundry upstairs I will change the sheets and fold everything else to put away.” It’s not that bringing the laundry upstairs was hard, I just kept getting stuck there. Remove the sticking point, and everything else started to flow.)

  124. Bird Lady*

    I find myself often putting off larger projects that take large blocks of time so that I can continuously answer emails, do the day-to-day tasks that keep the ship sailing smoothly, and to be available for all.

    This is not how I get larger projects done.

    So I block off the time on my calendar, and break the project up into pieces. On Monday, we do this part. On Tuesday, we add these things. And so forth. It really helps me preserve my time, be available to people for help, and also maintain the work I need to do on projects.

  125. Susie goose*

    OP I feel you…we could be kindred spirits. I would like to offer you the gift of ‘it doesn’t really matter’. You get great feedback. You’re meeting all your deadlines. Maybe you just work better when you’ve also got the sense of urgency spurring you on. This is alright.

    I am a senior leader in a consultancy and I do the same. It’s alright to just vibe sometimes, talk to your colleagues, read industry articles, get ideas. You’re not a machine.

  126. Rae*

    I also used to procrastinate. I write, and I told myself I write better under the pressure of a deadline. That was a lie. I also told myself that since I was finishing my work on deadline – but never in advance of a deadline – that it wasn’t affecting the people who had to wait for me to finish the work before they could start (like editors, designers, etc.). That was also a lie. Once I stopped lying to myself and realized I wasn’t submitting my best work and was adversely affecting other people (even though I was also getting glowing reviews), I resolved to stop. I had to work hard at it every day for a long time, but now it’s second nature. For me, it was all about being strict with prioritization. I don’t stray from my top priority projects unless I have to, and then I get back to them once I can. I’m honest and strict with myself and haven’t fallen back into old habits.

  127. Dandylions*

    As the saying goes, don’t fix what ain’t broken.

    What you are doing and how you organize your work is clearly working for you if you have glowing reviews and don’t miss deadlines. Some people thrive under pressure and produce better work when they have to be quick about it. That’s a legitimate and fine way to operate.

    You are doing well. You don’t have to upend your entire working style because it is not adhering to some nebulous ideal working style you have in your mind.

    Consider this your permission slip to move forward in the world being yourself and working your way.

    Stop reading all those self help books. If you start missing deadlines then maybe pick them up, but I doubt that will happen.

  128. fka Get Me Out of Here*

    I really liked The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success – I got it from the library and found it so helpful I bought myself a copy to refer back to. Basically it helps you evaluate your executive functioning skills (and lack thereof). What I really liked about it is that it ranks your skills as both weaknesses and strengths – so for me, I’m GREAT at planning, terrible at executing – and it gives you ideas on how to make up for your weaknesses using your strengths! And it’s very kindly written and doesn’t make you (me) feel broken.

  129. Destra N.*

    Time blocking my calendar has worked for me. If I need to get something important done, then I put it on my calendar and call it by the project name. That way, I have made it “official” by designating focus time for that task – and no one else on my team can schedule a meeting during that time. It also can help me indulge the procrastination a little bit, knowing that I will be working on Project X during a specific time later – so I can do all the lower priority stuff that my brain is pulling me towards without worrying about when the more important project is going to get done.

  130. Alison*

    One weird technique that has worked for me when the procrastination takes hold: talking to myself like I’m coaching a child I care a lot about. “Hey, it looks like you’re focusing on things that aren’t urgent- can you tell me more about why? Can we try one small step on the deadline project, then we’ll go back to fun low priority project? Great job! I know how hard that is. Let’s do a half-hour of the fun low priority project.” Basically, it treats my fear of failure that causes the procrastination with kindness and compassion, and acknowledges the fear, while also separating myself from the immediacy of it like it is happening to someone else.

    Do I sound crazy when I do this? Yes. Does it work when nothing else does? Also yes.

  131. wkfauna*

    As many others have said, the method of breaking intimidating tasks down into very small components works for me too. On particularly hard days when my stress levels/anxiety are really high, I combine it with setting extremely short timers for work (I’ve gone as short as 5 minutes), followed by a timed break. Sometimes doing this for an hour unsticks me and I can go for longer, but sometimes (especially during the early days of covid) the entire day goes like this, and I remind myself that It’s Okay. Stuff Still Got Done.

    The other piece I would add is that working on lower urgency backlog items is actually productive. It’s not a time waster. I think if you give yourself permission to do these things, both mentally and in your task scheduling, some of the anxiety around it will probably lessen.

  132. Lizy*

    Oh hi are you talking to me?

    This is me. All the way down to how I grew up lol. The biggest things that have helped me is a) give myself grace. Sometimes, it’s ok to just work on what you want to work on. As long as your deadlines are being met and your boss has no issues, why stress about it?
    I forgot what the other thing was lol.

    Perhaps ironically, I think having kids helped me, too. I was forced to be ok with something not being perfect, or being done perfectly. Obviously the solution isn’t to just have kids; but I’d try and find something that CAN’T be done perfectly and actively focus on that. If that makes sense… Like if you have space for 3 apples but you have 4 apples and you really don’t want to have to get another basket for 1 apple… actively tell yourself it’s ok. 2 baskets is FINE.

    And therapy. Therapy helps too :)

  133. RagingADHD*

    I have learned that the #1 obstacle for me when I’m procrastinating is that I am thinking of the thing in a large, vague, amorphous chunk. It’s just this heavy, dark mass of obligation lurking out there, and I have no idea what to do about it or whether I am even capable of doing it at all. It’s daunting.

    The second big obstacle is thinking that I have to create and stick to a perfectly optimized plan and order of operations, and if I don’t go about something with maximum efficiency, I am wasting time. Of course, it’s a much worse waste of time to just not do anything at all. Remember, a lot of stuff can be done out of order with no ill effects on the finished product. It will still move you forward.

    There’s common advice to break projects down into tasks, but sometimes even that step is overwhelming because I may not know where to start or fully understand all the tasks that need doing. And sometimes the tasks are actually multi-step deliverables / milestones that require further breaking down. Instead, I find that its’ very helpful to chip away at the edges of the chunk and break off one (1) concrete task that I know how to do, no matter what it is or when it’s “supposed” to happen. Like, instead of “get quote from vendor,” I’ll break it down to “Find vendor’s contact information. Find file of prior sample to attach. Draft email.” etc.

    Often, doing a couple of the tiny micro-tasks is enough get some momentum going and help me plan the rest. So instead of plan then do, sometimes it’s do, then plan. It’s all okay.

    Sometimes the contemplation phase of a difficult task/project is ignored as an actual step that takes time and thought, but it’s actually really important. So I will put “think about project” as a to-do on my list, and make time for it. Not only does this recognize that contemplation is a productive task, it also makes it seem easier. Because just thinking about it is pretty low-stakes, right? It’s not a huge commitment.

    It’s also helpful to make prep time a distinct to-do on your list, to address the very easiest, low-hanging fruit portions of the preparation, like gathering materials, setting up file templates, drafting a contact list, making a rough outline, making a rough timeline, etc. I try to get all these things set up in one place (physical or digital), like a mise-en-place of ingredients when you’re cooking. This helps build momentum of doing things toward the project, aka greasing the skids. Again, these are very, very easy, low stakes things to do, with no real right or wrong way to do them.

    I also play some mental games with myself in renaming things. Like, if I have to write something, I don’t tell myself I’m “writing the Very Important Presentation.” I’m just making notes, or making an outline, noodling on it, or roughing something out.

    Overall, I guess what it boils down to is accepting that it’s okay to have a messy process. If you are delivering good results on time, don’t worry too much about doing the backend work “correctly”. It’s correct if it gets a good result. That acceptance can make the work much more enjoyable and help you keep moving it forward at a reasonable pace with less stress and fewer last-minute panic crunches.

  134. Garblesnark*

    I have a person I pay $5 to tell me I actually must do the thing I’m procrastinating on and I must start on it now. If I don’t start, he makes me tell him why I’m not starting, and then list what I have to do to be able to start. He’s very good at it. Works every time.

    I will say that I tried for years to get other people to do this for me. I would go to my spouse and say, “Do I have to do the work project that is due in an hour and will have horrible consequences if I don’t turn in?” and he says, “you are an adult who can make your own choices.” So my spouse, while lovely, is not qualified for this job.

  135. Indolent Libertine*

    When I do this – and this has been a lifelong struggle for me and continues, right down to latching onto the obscure other thing that MUST be finished first!!!1!1 – it’s almost always because of anxiety about the thing I’m putting off. Until pretty recently I would put off paying the bills until the last possible moment because I was afraid I’d discover there wasn’t enough money in the checking account to pay everything that was due (this was almost never true once I was no longer a starving student, so it’s been decades since I really had to worry about that but old habits die hard), and somehow knowing that for sure would be worse than having my head in the sand and not knowing. Which is objectively nonsense, but that’s how my particular lizard brain works. I don’t have any sort of diagnosis but I have a brother with what would today be called ADHD and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I meet the criteria for the same label. I generally need the pressure of an actual hard deadline, like the due date/time for a paper in school or the time a plane is going to take off, with or without me, to finally get into gear and get it done.

    I don’t really have any magic advice, just commiseration.

  136. Immortal for a limited time*

    Hello, fellow procrastinator! I could have written your letter. I am just going to reinforce that you are not alone and (based on my own experience) you are actually doing fine — more than fine! — even though the tendency to put things off causes you some distress. It’s okay. I think I read somewhere that procrastination is just a form of perfectionism. I recently heard this discussed on a podcast (perhaps Adam Grant’s “Work Life”?) and was pleased to hear his guest say that what might feel like procrastination and avoidance could actually be planning in disguise, in the sense that we let our thoughts about our approach to the project percolate until we’re READY to start working on it in earnest. If you’re a high performer who gets glowing reviews, then you are not missing deadlines, nor are you disappointing your superiors or coworkers. You just FEEL like it’s not the right approach.

    I’m a runner/cyclist/hiker-type person, and I’ve always found that an idea or a solution to a problem can come to me during those activities, probably because occupying my mind and body with something else is exactly what the other part of my brain needs (i.e., the part that is constantly worrying about the Big Thing). Those less-important tasks that we like to tackle first are probably serving the same function as a run or bike ride would. I have finally come to accept this as I approach retirement. Let yourself adopt a different perspective on procrastination; one that views it in a positive light rather than as a problem you need to “fix.” Embrace it! You’re doing great.

  137. ShA*

    I have experienced this on and off throughout my life and many of the suggestions below are great. One I didn’t see was something I’ve struggled with since I started working from home and doing both housework/work-work:

    I struggle a LOT to start bigger projects on days when I have lots of non-project interruptions (such as an electrician appointment, picking up a relative from school earlier than usual, etc). When I have several “interruption” days in a row, I find myself struggling hard when I finally DO get a single day with a big block of time, because that’s when I want to “catch up” with relaxing a little bit since I don’t get to do that in my evenings anymore, either. I don’t have a great answer on what works for this except that I seem to do best when I have several uninterrupted days in a row (usually 4-6 hours/day) for big projects. Good luck!

  138. Slowlyslyly*

    Oooh BIG time former procrastinator here! My big trick is timeboxing everything and seeing how quickly I can do it. I LOVE it. Why do deadlines motivate me? Clear sense of purpose, move forward, no need to fiddle— get the point across! So I do this for big tasks too— give myself a day or two or set a deadline on the edge of reasonability — so I can only move forward and not second guess.

    I will note — details suffer a little here but I try to make proofreading another task I have to do, as well as call in people to proofread/double check my work or even my big approach. It’s ok if it’s not: it took me so little time to get here! Let’s try it again!

  139. Safely Retired*

    So I see:
    – a high performer
    – glowing reviews from bosses and coworkers
    – meet all my deadlines
    If only we all could have such problems! My thought is that instead of trying to change what seems to be fundamental to your nature, accept it. Forget the angst and the self help books. You are doing great!
    Also, I would not be so sure that while you have not started on the work, it isn’t out of your mind, and once you do start you can get it done in part because you have been mulling it over all along.

    1. happybat*

      I agree. It might be time to accept yourself as someone who needs an imminent deadline to perform. You are not alone! (hi)

      I was really helped by a colleague who helped me to recognise that the bit I took for procrastination was often something closer to working up a head of steam – I needed to take the ‘worrying, thinking, reading’ time in order to do all the ‘doing’ in a blaze of activity right before the deadline. Of course, sometimes it is just procrastination, but even if it is, I never managed to stop procrastinating by calling myself names or feeling guilty.

      If you are managing to meet your deadlines, and do good work, maybe it’s time to work on self acceptance?

      1. Safely Retired*

        I’ve been reading countless ways to cope with procrastination. Given that the OP is doing so well, it seems to me that they have achieved their own way of coping. The key is that they do get things done.

  140. Anonymous 5*

    a couple people have mentioned the “accomplishment” list so this is a bit of a repeat. But in case it helps give you ideas, my list system looks like this:

    to DO–the “brain dump” of all the stuff hanging over my head
    to DAY–the curated list of the most crucial items for the day ahead, usually assembled the night before
    to DONE–my “accomplished” list

    I will often give myself a half hour or so on a weekend morning to write out an uncensored “to do” list to get all of this rolling. This way, I don’t have to worry that I’m going to forget something. But it also helps me see that the list is manageable and helps me triage the stuff for the specific days.

    1. pennyforum*

      I’ve a similar system bastardised from bullet journaling.

      Everything to be done is in a page of a notepad so I know what I have on the radar and I can write down more if nessecary. But if its more than a A5 page I see what I can ask for help on

      Three things get written on a postit note and stuck to my laptop in the last 10 minutes of the day. That’s my get it done today list for the next day.

      Last 10/30 minutes of the day go through inbox/notepad and pick out tomorrows objectives. Things done get an X through the first letter, no longer relevent get strike through.
      If 30 min rip out the notepad page and rewrite in a tidy manner. If its not worth writting down again its not worth doing.

      Crumpling up notepad pages and postit notes is a good dopimine hit.

  141. Not that Jane*

    When I find that I’m procrastinating on getting anything done, I write a numbered list and then use a random number generator to “force” myself to do one of the things on the list. Rinse & repeat. It breaks the logjam of feeling like I have too many things or that doing any one of the things is somehow impeding progress on the others.

  142. DefinitiveAnn*

    This may have been addressed already, since I am 316 comments in. The “Discipline” section of the book “The Road Less Traveled,” addresses procrastination that is focused on work that we don’t particularly like, and the impact of procrastinating. If you have a task that you don’t enjoy that takes you 30 minutes to an hour every day, and you do it FIRST THING, then instead of spending 6-7 hours doing work you like but dreading the task you dislike ALL DAY, if you do it first you spend 30-60 minutes doing something you don’t like and the rest of the day enjoying the work you like.

  143. Barefoot Librarian*

    Okay, so I am in the ADHD boat myself, but I think some of the tactics I’ve come up with for myself might also help you even if you are neurotypical. They don’t work all the time, but they are tools I try to at least apply. I’ve got exactly the same problem you have and I’m at a director level at my org so I have to produce high level, complicated content regularly. It can be tricky and I’ve had a lot of late nights the day before trying to use stress and a deadline to work for me where normal executive disfunction fails.

    Some of my tactics:
    1) productivity playlist….nothing with lyrics, but I find movie scores and video game music (especially “overworld music”) works great. Video game music is designed to make you want to spend a ton of time focusing on a task. It can sometimes trick my brain into focusing on what I’m doing on a screen. Bonus: after a while, when you hear that music you go into work mode automatically (most of the time).
    2) Chunking my time – There’s another term for it that starts with a P but I can’t recall what is. I have some big, colorful timers (think cooking timer) on desks and tables around my house. I will sometimes just flip one to 20 or 30 minutes and tell myself I can take a 15 minute break when I’m done but I have to work on something continuously for that time. Then I open the hardest task I have and just do SOMETHING, even if it’s reword a paragraph. Often I get to the end of the timer and I’m over the hump and able to work on it.
    3) Varying what I’m doing with my physical body. I sit in different places and chairs, sometimes I stand and work, sometimes I lift a weight with one hand while reading something, sometimes I tap my foot in rhythm with music, sometimes I get up and do five squats per page of work. If my body is moving, it helps my brain focus. This is the same idea as a fidget toy but for the whole body.
    4) Parallel work/work buddy – sometimes I get a friend who’s also working to sit on Zoom with me and we work side-by-side. I know they can’t see my screen but it helps me pick up my phone less or mess around on the internet less.

    Good luck. I feel your pain on this issue.

    1. Office Plant Queen*

      For #2 the word you’re thinking of is pomodoro. I believe it comes from those cute little tomato timers!

    2. Lana Kane*

      For your 1st point, I put on a sound generator (I love MyNoise). No lyrics, just continuous sounds. If I’m extra distracted I use headphones. I’m kind of in shock at how well it’s been working for me.

  144. Office Plant Queen*

    For me, if I realize I’m avoiding something, it usually helps to stop and ask myself why. Do I feel broadly disorganized with too many things to do? In that case, going through and ticking off all the quick and easy things helps declutter my brain and make space for the larger project, even if those small things aren’t high priority. Do I feel stuck because I haven’t thought through the necessary steps to get started? Then I need to find step 1. Do I feel stressed about this particular thing because it’s already late? That one’s tricky, but accepting that it being even later won’t solve the issue and making myself do it when I’m at my highest energy point in the day can work. Does it call on skills that I’m bad at/take a lot of energy, like composing emails? I usually have to stack up a bunch of them in a row and knock them out, again at the point in the day when my energy is highest. Is the task just really boring? It depends on the day, but sometimes timing myself (to create a mini game or deadline pressure) helps, and so does adding additional sensory input – music, chewing some minty gum, putting on lip balm I like the scent of, or standing up/adjusting my chair height so I’m working from a different angle than usual.

    Whether or not this works for you probably depends on if your procrastination comes from executive dysfunction, like mine does. Find obstacle > remove obstacle is usually pretty straightforward, although it definitely isn’t always easy. If it instead primarily comes from feelings of anxiety, a desire for perfectionism, or something else, that might be a little more complicated. But still, I think asking why should help you get to the root of the problem

  145. Hardly Workin'*

    Definitely a problem I’ve had, moreso before I got treated for ADHD (which was the root cause in my case). A trick that typically worked for me is to just pick the smallest possible unit of work, which could be anything from “write down the title” or even just “make the file.” The idea is to make it so small you couldn’t possibly fail at doing it. Setting the goal of “I’ll fill out this page” can seem daunting if it’s a long one, but “I am going to fill out one field, maybe two if I feel up to it” is a small win, and once your brain gets the Good Chemicals for Doing a Task, it’s much easier to finish out the rest of it.

  146. Procrastianon*

    Strangely enough, Marie Kondo helped me with my own procrastination issues. I first started reading her book because I wanted to declutter of course.
    Since her approach is focused inward “what do I want to keep as part of my life” instead of outward “how do I create a presentable home” it really helped train both decision making ability and trust in my judgement. Since the decluttering process involves slowly facing more emotionally fraught categories of items, it gets easier over time to make harder decisions elsewhere as well.

  147. Mendlyn*

    I’ve found the Pomodoro Technique to be really helpful. You set a timer for 25 minutes then work hard on a task. Once the timer goes off, you take a short break. Get up from your desk and do something else. Then get back to your desk and set another timer. Repeat as necessary. It really helps me keep from getting distracted. If I sit too long or have a long To-Do list this technique keeps my mind from wandering. Best of luck!

  148. Lizzianna*

    I picked up this habit when trying to get my house organized, I’ve used it at work too – I have “Procrastination Wednesdays” when I make myself tackle at least one thing I’ve been procrastinating. I have several hours blocked out on my calendar. I keep a running list of things that I know I need to be doing but am avoiding, I can only work on things I’m avoiding during those blocks.

    I’ve also found success using the Pomodoro technique. Breaking it into 20 min chunks with a 5-10 min break makes the bigger tasks more doable.

  149. BikeWalkBarb*

    Thought of one more thing I do. I used to keep a running to-do list but that puts everything at the same hierarchical level of importance. I’m head of a division with top-level things I need to work on that no one else has to worry about at the same level, and some doing-rather-than-managing because we’re fairly small and I’m still our SME in some areas.

    My weekly to-do list is now organized by those top categories I’m responsible for–things like organizational development, resource development, policy. Being constantly reminded of those areas helps me choose to move forward with something because no one else is going to be able to deliver on that. The “other” category may tempt me–that’s the low-level stuff like travel reimbursement–but it never has as many items as these primary functions.

    I also use the bullet-journal labeling technique of having a bullet I can either fill in because it’s done, top with a caret because I made some progress, or add an arrow to signifying that I’m pushing that one out. It’s Thursday so it’s very satisfying to have several filled-in bullets (and I didn’t inflate by adding things I’d already finished, either, although hey if that gives you a running start that lends momentum, I say do it).

  150. GettingStarted*

    I don’t know if this is your issue or not, but for me the problem is getting started. Most of the time if I get myself started I’ll go gangbusters on a project, only coming up for air if I finish, collapse from exhaustion, need a biology break, or similar. Sometimes, though, it takes me many tries to get started, and I hope out right away. In those cases, depending on what else I have to do and my schedule, I may do some of those smaller tasks then try again or I might log off and do non-work stuff for an hour or two then try again.

    Your mileage may vary

  151. MicroManagered*

    I had a therapist suggest to me once that I could just acknowledge that the procrastination is doing something for me — like maybe I need that pressure, or get something out of it being there. She “gave me permission” to just acknowledge it, remind myself, and know that I’ll get the thing done (because I always do) and trust myself.

    So that’s actually what I try to do, instead of being wrapped up in the anxiety about not getting it done. That doesn’t happen. And then sometimes there are times when I know I need to get my ass in gear early and not save things for last minute. But I can trust myself to know when those times are and do the right thing. Releasing myself from the judgment about procrastination has been super helpful to me.

  152. el l*

    OK, 2 heretical thoughts:

    1. Whatever it is you’re procrastinating on – think of another task you fear doing even more. Works for me.
    2. What if the self-improvement is itself a form of procrastination?

  153. Tomato Fan*

    I have found the Pomodoro technique (or a modification, probably) really helpful. I have a couple of ways I think about it beyond just 25 on / 5 off.

    1. Some tasks are fun but not really what I should be spending time on. For these, I set a timer for 20-30 minutes that is the *maximum* amount of time I will spend on those tasks in any one sitting.
    2. Some tasks are just too big! You cannot eat the frog in one bite, in my opinion. For these tasks, I set a *minimum* amount of time. When the timer goes off, if I desperately want to switch to something else (maybe a task that I “shouldn’t” spend time on), I can! I can pick another frog if that’s my parameter for the day, or I can pick a little backlog task I can finish.

    One more thing: is this a problem? If you’re meeting all of your deadlines and getting glowing reviews, it’s possible that those glowing reviews are because of how you work. Maybe people really appreciate that you uncover the long-ignored tasks, as long as you meet deadlines. Of course, if it’s stressing you out, something about how you’re handling tasks is a problem, but in part, it may just be that you feel like you should always be working on your deadline work, and that may not be a good or realistic goal.

  154. Saph*

    I am delighted to inform you (and anyone else here it may help) that you are not in possession of a problem! Or at least, the problem you have is smaller and more manageable than the one you are currently focusing on. Here’s the key: “I meet all my deadlines, but planning is like pulling teeth and I’m almost always stressed over deadlines that are months ahead.”

    One thing I want to address is the reason that ADHD has been such a consistent theme in the comments. What you are describing is a form of executive dysfunction – for some reason or other you are unable to consciously choose to do what you intellectually believe you should be doing. Everyone experiences this and, in fact, pretty much every possible symptom of ADHD *some of the time*. The ADHD diagnosis has to do with how disruptive the symptoms are to multiple areas of your life. Because of this, ADHD communities often have a high emphasis on coping and management strategies that perhaps they absolutely rely on, but that doesn’t mean these strategies wouldn’t be just as helpful for many people who don’t have a diagnosable neurodivergence, but just, perhaps, really have a problem with procrastination.

    Now on to your not-quite-a-problem: what you are describing is a strategy called Productive Procrastination and, from how you describe it, you’re actually *very* good at it. You know why? You’re a high performer who receives glowing reviews and meets their deadlines. You’re *killing* it. You are achieving everything you are responsible for and you’re doing it well and you’re doing it on time! The only problem you describe is the emotional aspect – you are horrifically stressed because you have a model of how responsible high performers do work and you never fit that model. This was me my whole life, feeling like a fraud because even though I went to top schools and grad schools and had excellent results, *I* felt like it was an ongoing fluke because I could never do the most important thing I should be doing when I *thought* I should be doing them.

    You are suffering because you haven’t found a way to square the fact that the image you have been taught about the only way great work can be done on time is by doing the most important thing first. This is just not true, and once you’re able to internalize that you’ll be able to start building a much more useful and accurate model of how far behind (or how on top of!) your priorities you actually are.

    My suspicion is that the reason you don’t actually drop balls is because you’re using Productive Procrastination to its highest potential – you’re never doing the most important thing unless you absolutely have to. BUT. When you do it, it is partially done. Maybe it was the less important thing you procrastinated *with* last week or last month. Maybe it’s just what your mind was on when you thought you should be focused on something you were staring at. But when you sit down to get it over the finish line, it’s not 0% complete.

    When you start to see this way of being productive as valid (and frankly, it can be a superpower – more on that below), you will find yourself better able to finesse and control it into outcomes that you are more comfortable with. And you will be able to enjoy your success with the pride you deserve. For me, this looks like working on whatever I feel like for most of most days, allowing myself to be energized and proud of all the great work I’ve achieved (rather than drained and stressed by the work hanging over me I thought I needed to be doing), and always finding a high energy, high focus moment to get the last 20% across on whatever I absolutely have to do today. It’s a form of accepting your brain for what it is and working with it, rather than forcing it to achieve something it is perfectly capable of doing in a particular way just because it *feels* somehow more “correct,” and rewarding it for everything it is so good at!

    And to close, that note on the superpower potential. When I stopped trying to force my brain to behave like I thought it should and started doing things in a way that suited it better, I started to achieve *miracles* in my professional and personal lives. The thing about diversity is its strength comes from actually enabling the varied potentials of different kinds of people. Sometimes that’s diverse experiences or perspectives, but it can also be about diverse capabilities. The thing about people who can only work at a high level with important deadlines etc in the way you assume is the only valid way – strictly doing the most important thing first, then the next then the next, is that they (and most people who accept this paradigm) accept that there are things at the bottom of the list that never get done. That’s why it seems like a magic trick when I, with my different brain that I don’t work with antagonistically, suddenly drop impossible projects out of the sky that hadn’t moved for four years. Without missing a single deadline or priority! How does she do it?!?!

    I just do things that aren’t urgent often. I deploy my focused energy strategically and only do the Most Important Thing when it’s already 80% done from days it wasn’t the Most Important Thing, but that deadline is tomorrow so it’s time to finish. I finish it in an hour with Most Important Thing First energy. The rest of the day is minor to major miracles that will deploy over the course of my week, month, year, career.

    Your problem isn’t the procrastination, it’s the stress. Trying to force a change on yourself that you have seriously tried already but never took will never be as efficient and effective a solution as finding ways to empower yourself as you are.

    Like I said, you’re killing it! Keep being awesome!

  155. Rosaz*

    1) If you’re reading productivity books this won’t be new but – be mindful of when your best hours of the day are. I do the stuff I really don’t want to do in the morning (and in the office because motivation is more of an issue remotely for me) and in the afternoon I let myself knock out whatever actually feels manageable.

    2) Definitely not a quick fix but – if you can (and haven’t already) try to find a job whose mission is personally important to you. Something being important to my boss/ part of our team’s goals often won’t force me through the stuff I want to avoid, but if I can directly connect it to helping vulnerable clients get service or whatever, that can get me to push through it.

  156. Annie*

    Procrastination/resistance is a big struggle for me too, so, sympathies.

    Things that help sometimes, not all the time:

    – Keep things visible. Todo list, ToDo app, email flags, whiteboard, whatever works. Multiple options in the toolbox means I can change things up and use novelty to get around the anxiety/resistance.

    – Find mental quiet. Not literal quiet; this sometimes involves big music, sometimes soundscapes or rain sounds. Sometimes other sensory goodness, colors or textures or whatever – anything that gets my brain to unclench a bit. Often quiet + visible is enough to let my thoughts wander towards the work that’s both more interesting and more scary.

    – Block distractions. For me that’s a screen time app (I use Forest and Opal); setting my phone, Teams, etc. to Do Not Disturb (or even Offline status); closing/hiding the things I don’t want to work on.

    – Movement. Standing desk, different location in the house (I work from home), exercise ball, stretch break, pacing when I need to think through things.

    – Scheduling & time tracking – this one is very sporadic, but can be helpful in breaking through the fog.

    – Body-doubling/co-working – I use FocusMate, there are lots of options. I tend to break this one out when resistance is particularly strong.Ill sometimes schedule ahead if I know circumstances will lean towards distraction/resistance.

    – Baby steps. Step 1, sit at the desk. Step 2, open the program. Step 3, open the file. The trick is to keep coming back, keep nibbling, not to aim for big progress all at once.

    – Coworkers. I have a couple of people I can go to for a working call or a sanity check on whatever I’ve managed to scrounge together – this can be surprisingly helpful in moving past whatever the current roadblock might be.

  157. hazel herds cats*

    1. Sleep. Sleep is huge. Sleep is massive. Sleep is everything. When I am sleeping soundly, 7.5 hours a night (what my body needs), it’s almost as if I don’t struggle with procrastination.

    2. Which things need to be done well and which things just need to be done? As another raised with insane expectations, I had to unlearn perfectionism. (I spent a semester in High School in and out of the hospital with multiple surgeries. I was in the Honors program in a High School that didn’t give + or -, only whole grades. Reading my report card, 7 A’s and 1 B, my father’s only comment was “What happened with the B?”)

    3. Is procrastination your only issue with regards to executive functioning? I’ve learned to be aware of what requires executive functioning and to be deliberate about how I use my capacity for such each day. I’ve built more capacity over time, but it isn’t something I have massive reserves of, like I do analytical capacity, curiosity or empathy. So I have excellent boundaries concerning what I use it for.

  158. DJ*

    Great topic and looking forward to reading through all the responses.
    There’s satisfaction in ticking off several easy tasks vs part of a difficult one! So I procrastinate too.
    What helps me is:
    Tackling it when I’m in the mood as I knock it off more quickly then!
    Break it down in parts so I can at least do some of it when not in the mood
    Be aware of my good and bad times
    Schedule adequate time
    Tell myself I’ll work on it for x time
    Use the urgent important not urgent important urgent not important and not urgent not important quadrants trying to keep anything from progressing into the urgent important and urgent unimportant quadrants. I try to tackle everything that is in the NOT urgent important quadrant. I also identify and list everything that belongs in this quadrant.

  159. MT*

    This could have been written by me just a couple of years ago. And honestly could be written about me now. I am, and always have been, a serial procrastinator. The only thing that’s really changed from then to now is that I took a step back and looked at whether this truly was a Problem, or I just thought it was because I felt like when I looked around everyone was more organized and diligent than me.

    Ultimately where that left me was to see that, like you mentioned, I didn’t miss deadlines, the work I produced was of good quality, and that it was much more important to look at those actual results and compare those to my expectations of being a good employee rather than worry that my process was wrong. In short, I learned to give myself grace and trust in my ability to produce timely and quality work. It’s been very freeing to no longer feel the stress or shame of being a procrastinator and just enjoy that this is who I am.

  160. A Person*

    It’s been so validating reading all these comments about how “eat the frog” doesn’t work for other people! I’ve realized the methods I’ve set up have some similarities to others. My organizational strategy is a bit weird, but here’s what works for me:

    * ANYTHING that comes up to do that’s not on my to-do list is either flagged for later (if it’s in Slack) or written down in my physical note book and flagged there
    * I find it really helpful to go through all the stars in the notebook or flagged messages that have come up (I snooze to an appropriate time depending on urgency) and either do the thing (little tasks) or add to the prioritized to-do list (big tasks)
    * I also at least read all the email that has come in, sometimes do similar snoozing or starring

    While it takes a bunch of time, I need that mental space of “nothing is urgent right now” to let me jump into doing the bigger tasks – for me that’s generally writing a document or figuring out a new process.

    I’ll also section off blocks of time on my calendar for things I know I need to do and don’t want to. Sometimes that big “START X DOC” calendar reminder forces me to at least START on the thing, and then it’s easier once I’ve started. But I try to section them off in a way that I’ve gotten a decent amount of my organizational work above done.

  161. Sparkle Partycake*

    As a fellow procrastinator, I invite you to consider the fact that this may simply be how you work, and not a problem at all.

    You meet all your deadlines, and you’re a high performer. Is it possible that the reason you consider your procrastination a problem is because we’re constantly told procrastination is bad?

    Maybe you need some runway time before you dive into a more challenging project, and doing smaller, easier tasks helps you rev the engines. That’s ok. It’s only a problem if it’s having a negative impact on your life.

  162. Designer*

    I’m also a big procrastinator. A couple of things I’ve done to manage it that I find helpful:
    1. Just give into it. If I know I’m not going to tackle it until the day before it’s due, I’ll just block off time the day before it’s due, and not stress about it until then.
    2. OR: Make starting the project less of a friction point by making the first working session not a real working session. So instead of starting in on the meat of the project, I just do the initial setup. I’m a designer, so for me, that means opening a fresh file, doing all the file setup, pulling together assets & brief, maybe copy and pasting in the text content I’m working with, but not much more. All pretty mindless and low-stakes, and can be done while listening to a podcast and having a snack to make it fun. Then I let myself off the hook. Once that part’s done, it’s a lot easier to come back and keep working on it, since it’s technically already started.

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