Flailing in a job that's a poor fit
February 3, 2015 12:08 AM   Subscribe

How do you maintain consistent performance when you're simultaneously bored and overwhelmed?

In general, I'm not great at making myself do things I don't want to do. A serious fire under my butt can kick me into gear, but only for so long.

This has begun to create problems at work. I have little enthusiasm for my assigned duties, so I struggle to muster the proactive follow-up and diligent organizational habits that would help me succeed. This leads to (a) listless days where I procrastinate and pick at my work haphazardly in the hours of unstructured time between meetings and (b) panic when something's inevitably fallen through the cracks.

I've been in this position for awhile, and I don't have a consistent system of task management to show for it. I do most things on a random, ad hoc basis, and it's making me feel adrift throughout the day and nervous about what's slipped my mind. I'll get all fired up about a new system, and use it for two days before I slip into some kind of learned helplessness/overwhelmed combination.

I need a career change, but I suspect that my habits could continue to plague me even in a job I love and care about deeply. Each job will have the administrative tasks that need to get done, no matter what. Furthermore, when I do leave this job, I'd like to leave on a high note.

My questions are:

- How do you muster the energy to organize and consistently perform tasks that both bore and overwhelm you? How do you keep this up when the initial glow of self-improvement wears off?

- How do you create structure that actually keeps you accountable from hour to hour? Weekly check-ins aren't frequent enough for me, but my supervisors and colleagues don't have the bandwidth to hold my hand throughout the day.

Note: I've been screened for ADHD and was told that I don't have it. I do have anxiety, though.

In other areas of my life, I'm quite content.

Many thanks for your help.
posted by delight to Work & Money (10 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
What helps for me is to put aside 5 minutes in the evening to make a list of the things I need to address at work the next day.
posted by deanc at 12:17 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's a weird tip I learned working in Marketing....

If you make a ToDo List of 10 items and complete 2 each day - you were 90% effective in your day.

posted by jbenben at 12:42 AM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Every night before I leave work I write down three things I will get done the next day. When I find myself drifting from one task to another or wandering around the internet, I get back to one of those three tasks.

Sometimes they're big things, but sometimes they are of the "this will take five minutes but I've just been putting it off" variety. Three things, every day.
posted by lyssabee at 5:56 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Set schedules are usually how I handle things.

8:00-9:00 Look through email, drink coffee, set my day.
9:00-10:00 Do all items on To-Do list that are 'quick hits' things that can be done quickly and get people off my back.
10:00-11:30 Work on long-term project
11:30-12:00 Dick around on the internet to clear brain.
12:00-1:00 Lunch
1:00-2:00 Go through email, attend to whatever needs to be done, re-schedule items as indicated based on new emails.
2:00-4:00 Work on long-term project
4:00-5:00 Update to-do list, send status updates if required, type up notes from any meetings, clarify unclear things with people.
5:00 Go home.

The structure is helpful and building some downtime into your schedule will keep you sharp and your brain happy.

ALL jobs are dull and easy after a while. That's the beauty of them!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:57 AM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

1. Action precedes mood. Replace "I don't feel like doing x, therefore I need to change my mood so that I will feel like doing x, and only then will I start doing x." with "I don't feel like doing x, and I probably never will feel like it because x is the worst, but I'm going to start doing stupid, terrible x anyway right now because I'm such an x-doing badass."

2. Check in with yourself. Take five minutes each hour to walk around, to focus on your breathing, or whatever gets you out of procrastination/distraction mode and into what's going on right then.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:14 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you have to submit weekly reports on what you've accomplished? If not, implement that for yourself. I find it's easier to stay on-task if I'm working toward that report, and I can even game things to getting stuff done by writing out my weekly report first, then making sure I actually accomplish everything. Just a bulleted list, including all the mind-numbing administrative tasks.
posted by xingcat at 7:18 AM on February 3, 2015

If you're a woman who has difficulty from anxiety and has been told you don't have ADHD--despite being simultaneously overwhelmed and bored when faced with tasks--go to a different doctor for a new ADHD screening. It presents quite differently in women. ADHD presents in women as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, rather than the recklessness and restlessness shown in men.

Otherwise, I find lyssabee's very simple system for getting things done is best, Make a physical list of three things that must be done. Cross off the thing when it's done. Come back to the list when you drift. Don't allow the panic over things not on the list to interfere with the list. Don't obsess over putting the perfect thing on the list. Just put three necessary work tasks on the list. Do them.

Meanwhile, get a second medical opinion.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:26 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll get all fired up about a new system, and use it for two days before I slip into some kind of learned helplessness/overwhelmed combination.

Stop trying to find a magical "system" that will make hard and/or tedious shit less shit. Write down a to Do List. Update it daily. If you need help forming this habit, get a life coach or something so you are paying to check in with someone else once a week.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:28 AM on February 3, 2015

I do most things on a random, ad hoc basis, and it's making me feel adrift throughout the day and nervous about what's slipped my mind. I'll get all fired up about a new system, and use it for two days before I slip into some kind of learned helplessness/overwhelmed combination.

The basic idea behind a kanban board can be bent pretty easily to fit almost any kind of work requiring that things be done in sequence, and they're good for helping prioritize the tasks you need to attend to next.
posted by flabdablet at 8:17 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

The GTD system differentiates between todo items that don't actually get done and action items, i.e. very specific tasks. I find spelling out the action items, no matter how trivial, gives me the momentum to get through the most mundane tasks. And I mean really spell it out....if I'm paying a bill, my tasks are 'find checkbook', 'find stamp and return sticker', 'open bill', 'mail bill'. I'm sure it would be painful for someone else to watch, and I resisted this for a long time b/c it seemed so dumbed down, but I find it makes the difference for me if I'm struggling with moving forward. It also works for tasks that are nebulous, just starting at point A, and not worrying about point Q until we get there keeps the monkey mind at bay.
posted by snowymorninblues at 10:48 AM on February 3, 2015

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