none more flakey
February 20, 2012 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Help me become more reliable at work.

I'm fine at the skills my job requires (I think, or at least that's a different question). But I'm often a flake, especially on the one day a week when I am supposed to work on my own, out of the office. This day is the last day of my work week before the weekend, and three times in the 18 months I've been in this job, I just...haven't done any work. (It's really incredibly embarrassing to admit that, happened and I did it.) Many other times, it takes me much longer than I expect to finish my work for that day, and I very nearly miss a deadline.

I've talked to my closest coworker and my boss about this, but they don't have suggestions beyond, "Finish things faster," and "Try to tell us in advance if you are going to flake out." I...would like to do those things but I would prefer not to flake out at all, and I certainly don't PLAN the flaking out! I would also like to gradually take on more responsibility, but at this point, I wouldn't really trust me with more responsibility, so how could I expect my boss to? I would also like to be a reliable, trustworthy person generally. I'm grateful to have a job at all in such a terrible economy, and I would like to be good at it.

Have you learned to become more professional and reliable at your job? Are there books designed to help you with this? Thought exercises? Mantras? Anything? The only solution I can think of is, "Be better!" but I'm not sure how to do that. O halp.

Possibly relevant: First job out of college, although I have worked at other full-time jobs and did not have this problem, but I also had less responsibility at those jobs; I am being treated with meds and therapy for anxiety, which has helped substantially with the flakiness generally but I still feel like I'm only 20% of the way there and I would like to not get fired before I knock down the other 80%.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Give your immediate supervisor written goals for every week, and then hold check-in meetings (face-to-face) in which you sit with that document in front of you both. This will make you accountable for at least finishing what you need to by the end of the week. How you go about doing this is your business.
posted by xingcat at 9:43 AM on February 20, 2012

The Now Habit. It's a good source for understanding the reasons behind your procrastination and gives you tools to overcome it.
posted by Paper rabies at 9:45 AM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Lately I've had good results after spending ten minutes at the beginning of my work day writing out what I would like my day to look like. I use as much detail as I can manage, and I write and think as slowly as I can. Writing with a pencil in my best cursive really helps me to slow down and think about the details of my upcoming day. I don't have to actually accomplish any of my goals that I've written down, and it doesn't really matter if my day deviates dramatically from what I'd expected. I actually end up less stressed when unexpected things happen, maybe because I feel anchored by the vision I came up with.

Also, finding something interesting in the work I do makes it much easier to accomplish lots of work in a short amount of time. Mary Poppins is totally my workplace guru: "In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and snap! The job's a game!" If everything around you is more interesting than the work you're trying to do, no amount of effort is going to give you long term results.
posted by jwhite1979 at 9:52 AM on February 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

I find that I tend to flake out on my responsibilities if I never really get up and dressed for the day. As in: get up, make the bed, shower, clothing, shoes, have breakfast and then get to work. If I'm in pajamas, still laying in bed, that kind of thing, it is somehow easier to slack off - even when the work could be done in PJs, in bed ...

Timers are also great for focusing on work. Set one for 15 min or a half hour and use that time to get as much done as possible. You'll be surprised at how much can be done in a short time.

Good luck.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:53 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest being very anal to start with. First, approach each unstructured day one at a time. For the next one, set out a series of goals for the day. In some concrete form like a screen list or paper list. Assign a time to begin and end each. Check off as you go. If you have a job with an inbox, by which i mean unexpected tasks arriving, budget time in your time table for managing them, and deal with each one at a time. Dont forget to budget your lunch time and break times too.

This is actually how I manage my demanding days, and it will eventually become so engrained you won't need the concrete lists. The keys are allowing enough time, planning, and single minded devotion to finishing one task at a time.
posted by bearwife at 9:56 AM on February 20, 2012

Figure out the minimum you need to get done. Break it up into the smallest tasks possible. Estimate the time it will take you for each task.

This is the hard part: Pick the easiest one and do it. Then continue.
posted by callmejay at 10:27 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you spending time during your 'work at home' day, or at other times, thinking about how flaky and stressed you are, and how you're a flaky person in general, and how you're definitely going to get fired if you keep up like this? If so, it sounds like your anxiety issue is just finding expression in your concerns about being flaky.

If you're not doing some form of cognitive behavioral therapy, it sounds like you might really benefit from it. You're anonymous, so I don't know where you are, but many US therapists are somewhat hostile to CBT. So if you mention it to your therapist and get a "meh" reaction, you shouldn't be discouraged. It works phenomenally well with anxiety. You might pick up the book "Feeling Good", by David Burns (recommended many times on mefi)--it's the foundational book of CBT and has a program you can follow on your own.

I mention this because it sounds like you think you're doing a lot worse than you are--you've "almost" missed deadlines, means you haven't missed them. And it sounds like you've made a decision, and shared it with others, that you're a flake and that's all there is to it. That's probably not really true.

I would also mention that your concern about being flaky, rather than just going with it and considering your "work at home" day a day off, indicates that you're probably not as unprofessional as you think you are. And I bet if you think about it, you'll find lots of ways you're trustworthy.

Anyway, check that book out--and if the first few pages ring true for you start trying some of the exercises. Clearly I could go on about this, but instead I'll recommend that book and CBT in general, and also recommend that whole mindfulness-based stress reduction thing. I was reluctant at first due to it's hippie-sounding name, but it's a champ.

Oh, and I'd leave my boss out of it in future were I you. You're probably doing a better job than you think by far, and you don't want to sow the seeds of doubt with him/her. And good luck!
posted by supercoollady at 10:51 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, it's all a matter of context. When I need to get work done, I put myself in a place that counts as Where Work Gets Done.

This means that I specifically don't do work at home. Home is for sleeping, and playing with cats, and watching TV, and playing video games. If I tried to do work there, I'd be battling against everything I've come to associate with that space. So, I go to the office. The office is for working (and, yes, procrastinating by reading the internet... like now). When I need to get work done, I literally "get in the zone."

So, do you have to work from home that one day a week? Could you choose to go to the office? Or could you designate a local coffee shop as The Work Coffee Shop, and go hang out (and drink tasty things) and do work? Or maybe there's an unused corner of your house that you can turn into The Work Corner, with a special desk and chair you only sit in when you are getting work done?

These are suggestions that work for me, because what leads to me flaking is feeling like I'm in Hang Out And Do Nothing space when I need to be in Work Hard And Accomplish Things space. In general, though, the trick is to recognize your shortcomings and organize your life accordingly. If you know you'll flake if X, Y, and Z, then make it so you don't encounter X, Y, and Z when you need to not flake.
posted by meese at 10:56 AM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

For starters, talk to the professional who prescribed your meds about the "flaking out" component -- just so the prescribing people are monitoring it. It sounds like you are on top of that.

Now, for me, the life changing change in behavior came when I came across David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) here on metafilter. The bottom line for me was coming up with a system that was external to me, so that I could look into it and it would pretty much direct me on what I should do next -- it fixed that 20% of the time that was holding me back (as you describe it). Here is the book, you can find it in any book store. It was, honestly, a bit of a faith-based time investment in the beginning, but it pays off once you get it rolling. Good luck.
posted by cgk at 11:34 AM on February 20, 2012

I feel your pain and I have been there.

What is the reason that you are working out of the office, on your own? Is there any way that you can start working in the office on that day? Are you working at home on that day, or somewhere else?

Review how you start that day as compared to the days when you go to the office. Do you let yourself sleep later? Do you treat yourself on that day before you start work, like with a big breakfast or a longer walk with the dog or with a little bit of TV? If so, stop it. Stop it now. Days working at home should start the same as days when you are going to work. You need to wake up and get ready for your day with the same feeling of Work Mode that you have for days in the office.

Look at the workspace you have for yourself on these out-of-office days. Are you sitting in a place full of distractions? Is there a TV or a radio? Is it comfortable? Create yourself a workspace where, when you sit down, you're in Work Mode. If you must sit at the couch or kitchen table, make it just as useful and comfortable as your office workspace is. Remove the distractions. Not everyone can focus with music in the background, and other people can't focus without it. Figure out what is best for your focus.

I've known for a long time that I have to go further than other people in order to focus and finish my work. It has always been much worse at home than anywhere else. I finally set up a specific place to work at home, and that helped a little. But it still took a lot of energy for me to get things done. However, I know two tools that work well for me: earplugs and Internet blockers. Earplugs are like magic for me, even in already quiet rooms. There's something about hearing my own breathing that calms me down and allows me to focus. Internet blockers... well, I would turn off my internet if I could, but often I need it for certain work tasks. But blockers can be used if you find yourself drifting off to websites or email when you should be on task instead.
These two things work for me, but it took trial and error to discover them.

I can't imagine that it would be easy to resist the allure of breaks and treats when you're not in the office, whether your treat is a snack or a TV break or playing with the dog. I would start something, go off for a cup of coffee, and never come back. So, if you're starting your day out right and you have a great place to work, I'd review where you're going wrong. Are you getting enough accomplished before you get a treat? What do you need to do to get yourself back to work after you've had a little break? I think, for myself, that I would find the most success at taking a break after I'd not only finished the first task but also started the second task. That way, I'd be thinking about finishing the second task on my break, and I'd get back to work a little faster. If I took a break after the first task, I'd leave with a feeling of accomplishment that would make me think I could take a longer break. And then hours would pass!

Finally, you must stop talking to your boss and coworkers about your shortcomings. You're going to end up with a reputation as a flakey person who sometimes gets it together rather than a reputation as a mostly-together person who sometimes flakes. Do not discuss this kind of thing with bosses even if you're being reprimanded for missing a deadline. There are no excuses or reasons for missing the deadline. Flakiness is not an excuse. Flakiness is how you get fired. Stop giving your boss reasons to fire you.
posted by aabbbiee at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sometimes more responsibility and being busier makes you MORE productive, not less. I really could have written this question my first job out of college. When you were in equally low-responsibility jobs, you were in school. I suspect you didn't have this problem in those jobs because you were generally busy in other areas of your life. As someone who has gone through something really similar, I have found these factors contribute hugely to my work productivity:

1. Environment. Can you ask to NOT work from home? Some people are just not the work-at-home types, especially when it's only one day a week.

2. General Life activities. How busy are you outside of work? Being busy generally makes me %110380383 more productive at work. This could be anything: going to the gym, taking a class, have a standing date with friends, go dating, go window-shopping, go read at a coffeeshop, go to shows/events/sports stuff, whatever. Just keeping busy. A lot of downtime begets a lack of motivation for some (me).

3. Taking on enough responsibility and workload to actually be engaged at work. It seems counter-intuitive if you can't get even the few tasks you do have done, but if you're not actually all that involved with your work how can you really get into it? I realize how much work you get may not be up to you, but just keep it in mind. Maybe you could convince your boss to help you rise to the challenge.


4. Getting a few years away from undergrad. Post-undergrad time is largely kind of awful. It is really hard to find your bearings and not lag in inertia or depression/anxiety about your life and who you are. It's a transitional period. Don't sell yourself short.
posted by Katine at 2:52 PM on February 20, 2012

Maybe you SHOULD plan to flake out. Seriously. Maybe you are flaking because you need some more downtime. Since you get to work at home that one day a week, you have some options. You can plan to do a half day on Fridays and a half day during the weekend. That way you can reward yourself with the afternoon off if you have a good productive morning. Or if sleeping in is important to you, you can sleep late on Friday, do a few hours work and repeat on Saturday.

Or maybe you structure your day so you do the full 8 hours, but take a long lunchbreak (2+ hours) and work into the evening. Or take regular 15 minute breaks after each hour of completed work.

There are lots of options for building more flexibility into your day, which might (MIGHT) help acknowledge and accept the flakiness without losing overall productivity.
posted by lollusc at 5:34 PM on February 20, 2012

I hear you - I have some of the same issues that you do. So here are some ideas, some of which work for me, and some of which have worked for other people:

-On your day off, leave the house the same time you would usually leave for work, take a walk around the block, and come back into the house in "work mode"
-I nth working in a coffee shop designated for working, as well as Getting Things Done. I'm working through that book now.
-Over-promise, under-deliver. If your boss asks how long a project will take and you think it will take a day, say you can have in done in 2 days.
-Check out the Pomodoro Technique, which I discovered on MiFi. The idea is that you set a timer, work for a short time block, then take a break, repeat a few times, then take a long break. This works really well if you have trouble focusing or if the work is boring or if you find your mind wandering.
-I have the same issue, regarding work taking me longer than I expect it to take me. I noticed that my co-worker is very efficient, so I've asked him for tips and it has been enormously helpful.
-I'm not sure what kind of work you do, but learning keyboard short-cuts will make you more efficient in almost any industry.
-Also, use templates and check-lists whenever you can. For example, part of my job is analyzing website traffic, so to make the report faster, I have a checklist of things to look at, so I don't have to think about what to do next.
-Keep a running list of things that are just taking you too long. Then you can keep yourself on the lookout for better systems for completing those tasks.
posted by Jade_bug at 9:04 PM on February 20, 2012

4. Getting a few years away from undergrad. Post-undergrad time is largely kind of awful. It is really hard to find your bearings and not lag in inertia or depression/anxiety about your life and who you are. It's a transitional period. Don't sell yourself short.

I'm about to be in your position soon, and have talked to a fair number of older people about where they were at this point in their lives.

Katine's point was expressed to me by almost everyone I talked to. It seems like the upcoming stretch of time is going to be shitty.

I got a sense of communal beauty after realizing the commonality of this meme. It made my anxiety about the future more okay. We're all going through the shit together. Human beings fail, and fuck up, and are anxious, and figure things out. And it's okay. What else are we supposed to be, if not human?

I can't offer you any solutions as to how to actually fix your problem. If it's any indication of my life's similarities to yours - I actually recently bought The Now Habit. I recommend it heartily.

But I can tell you that you're not alone.
posted by justalisteningman at 9:16 PM on February 20, 2012

I do this type of thing and my therapist suggested I might have ADD in addition to my anxiety disorder. Maybe you might too?
posted by tweedle at 10:21 PM on February 20, 2012

Ok, you've got lots of great practical advice about how to structure your environment and your work days, so I don't need to address that part, but nobody yet has said much about finding out *why* you are flaking out. Do you talk about this in therapy? Have you focused your attention on learning what you are getting out of flaking, rather than just on trying to force yourself to stop? I think you need to do this. Otherwise your tendency will always be to flake, and you'll have to continually fight with yourself.

Here's one possibility: You purposely sabotage yourself, because then if you fail you know you haven't done your best job. You will have failed because you flaked out. And hey, next time you can always not flake out, and that gives you control over the outcome. But what if you really give your all, and stop flaking and do your best work? What if you still fail then? What if you are still rejected, fired, demoted, or just not esteemed? Well, then you will have failed because you truly couldn't hack it. And that feels worse. The idea is scary.

Could be some other motivation, but I somehow feel really strongly that your question doesn't just have a practical solution and rather involves more introspection to truly resolve.
posted by parrot_person at 2:46 AM on February 21, 2012

I didn't note in my answer that I have been diagnosed with ADHD, but only recently and after more than 10 years in the working world. This diagnosis (and subsequent medication) has changed my life. I probably should have added this as a disclaimer.

However, as others are saying, the years after college when you're new to the working world are really important. It's a big transition. You really can feel like you're flailing about even when you're doing okay, and that can be depressing. I had a big fancy job out of college, and I was miserable in it. I felt like I made a lot of mistakes, and that wasn't even including all the incompetence I felt due to my lack of focus. But I learned so much about myself, stuff that is key to my personality and the way I function. It built up a lot of confidence in my best abilities. That confidence allowed me to look objectively at how I was flailing or failing in other areas, and come up with solutions (like earplugs). But it took time and experience. It took years.

I also want to point out something that took me a long time to learn with regards to bosses. I was used to authority figures who were there to help and counsel me. Sure, I was used to reprimand, but it was the kind of reprimand that was meant to make me a better student (more disciplined, etc.). Bosses serve an entirely different function. They are not there to make me a better person; they're there to make sure that I do my job to serve the organization for which we both work. It's a very different role than a teacher or professor or adviser or even school administration.
This is why it is a good idea to find a mentor who is not your boss and look to that person for guidance. Discuss your feelings (very valid, very common feelings) with a person who understands the situation, but is not in your chain of command. I know you probably feel like you've been in your position for awhile now, but 18 months is really no time at all. If you feel like you want to spend more time at this organization, you might approach someone in another branch and ask them to mentor you.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:32 AM on February 21, 2012

Your message sounded familiar to me, even though, rather than just out of college, I've been a professional for 15 years, and I've rarely been called out for my flakiness (because I'm good at faking it.) So let me give you two bits of advice:

1) Whatever it takes to figure out how to fix this problem, do it now. Bad habits are hard to unlearn, especially if you continue to get away with it.

2) Check out the already recommended "The Now Habit" -- I checked it out (after reading a summary here) even though I'm a big time eye roller when it comes to self-help. But it really, almost freakishly, spoke to me.

Good luck.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:05 AM on February 21, 2012

I am self employed , so I work on my own and have that problem all the time .
Recently , I had a revelation : "study skills " ,"learning skills", "Programs for Academic Success Skills" . It can be some course that they teach to the first year students , or workshops as a part of student's counseling service ... I am not really familiar with that system . I did found pages published by Texas A & M university for their student counseling services , there were more than hundred pages , and they give answers to most of the questions that you asked ! ( or , I always wanted to ask-- if I'd know where to ask )
Probably , there should be books about it , too -- but I did not found them yet .
It is essentially about studying on your own -- as opposed to studying under tight supervision .
posted by Oli D. at 12:59 PM on February 21, 2012

Limit distractions. There have been a lot of posts on how to limit Internet access to only work stuff. If you don't need the Internet for work, turn it off. Put the router in a cupboard. Unplug the tv. Put the remote in the cupboard.

Reward yourself. Start the day with a printed task list. For every task completed, give yourself an actual gold star or sticker. For every 5 tasks, give yourself a piece of candy or other treat. No lunch til 1/2 the tasks expected are done, then go have lunch somewhere nice, even if it's the park and a sandwich. No Friday fun until most/all the tasks are done. Then you get a new Lego minifig, nailpolish, that thing you wanted on ebay.

Catch yourself doing something right. When you've had a pretty good day, giove yourself attaboys. Hey, I got some stuff done today. This feels good. What did I do differently? I'll have to do that again. I deserve this beer/tea/nigt out w/ pals. It feels great to be productive.
posted by theora55 at 5:59 PM on February 21, 2012

« Older Work visa in the USA   |   Are there any good novels that use Greek trade in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.