Sluggish when it comes to the basics of hard work
July 18, 2016 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I just got a new job in sales, after years of unemployment. My boss is great, the environment is great and the work is right up my alley. But my work ethic is slipping. I've seen this pattern before, and it doesn't end well. What can I do?

It's been an issue ever since childhood: my brain seems to produce physical resistance to anything repetitive, drudgerous or that requires constant intellectual "massaging." I know that adulting, especially as it relates to the workplace, requires a fair amount of this sort of thing, even in relatively creative fields like my own.

I was great at making this work at first, despite what feels like a core character flaw making this very difficult. But I don't know what to do to keep the fire that impressed my supervisor over the first few weeks going. It's taking me forever to do things that should be relatively easy: lay out pictures, click buttons on a form, write simple basic copy that uses the same structure over and over, or repost something on different social media and classified sites.

I hate that this pattern keeps coming up in my life- starting out strong and then petering out like a junky car.

Why is this happening, and what can I do about it before impostor syndrome becomes reality..again?
posted by marsbar77 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
When this happens to me, I think it's because part of my brain believes I should be doing something else. When I truly believe that what I'm doing is the thing I'm supposed to be doing with my time, with my life, in that moment, I focus much more.

As for what's really going on with your own brain, I absolutely can't say. However, if you can figure it out, it could help you. It might be worth exploring.
posted by amtho at 7:37 PM on July 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just read a book by Thomas Hartman on the ADD brain (he calls it a "hunter" brain vs. the "farmer brains" that rest of us have). HIs advice focuses on using what you are good at - break the job into lots of short term goals so you can focus and then feel accomplished as you knock out each step. The book has been around for a while, you can pick up used copies on Amazon for a penny.
posted by metahawk at 7:42 PM on July 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

I've had this problem, and ADHD meds are currently helping me with it. I am not a doctor and I can't say whether you might have ADHD, but if you do some research and it rings true it's worth it to bring it up with your doc. Meditation and exercise are also frequently recommended for people with ADHD.
posted by bunderful at 7:48 PM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yep, I used to experience this (and it seriously hindered my career) and it's been greatly mitigated through ADHD meds. It doesn't completely solve the problem - I still have to resolve to Do the Thing - but it gives me that extra bit of momentum I need to actually do it.

Before I started getting treated for ADHD, I would often sit at my desk and feel like the things I needed to do were sort of floating around my head in a cloud, but it was almost like I was paralyzed with an inability to actually start doing any of them. Now I can grab them, wrestle them into a to-do list, and pick one to start on.

There are other things that can cause this as well - depression, lack of sleep, other biochemical abnormalities. Might be worth talking to your doctor.
posted by lunasol at 8:26 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of people who thought they had a "core character flaw" find out they have ADHD. It might be worth getting screened.
posted by salvia at 8:29 PM on July 18, 2016 [13 favorites]

Agree with all of the above.

Another way to think about it though, is that it's your brain sabotaging you. With unemployment comes instability and that's something that so many of us comfort ourselves with. Now that you're employed, you could occupy your brain with higher level projects, but instead your brain is too busy beating you up with demeaning thoughts ("core character flaw"). Do look at the resources and ideas posted before, but also try to practice allowing yourself to be ok with being in a calm place.
posted by A hidden well at 8:43 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds a lot like me and I even do this with things I'm interested in like my own art and writing. I've started Strattera for ADD and it helps me focus better and not be as bored or impatient with things. It even seems to help me push through writer's block. Strattera is the only non-stimulant ADD med out there and the one most commonly prescribed for adults. I also take Wellbutrin (mainly for depression but it helps a bit with motivation) and Buspar for the anxiety that comes with believing you're a fuck-up who fucks up everything you try.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 9:09 PM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have this problem too. I solve it by creating perfect conditions to get into a flow state, and eliminating anything that might take me out of that state. Then once the conditions are right, I dive in and get it all done at once.

Drink a lot of espresso. Eat a meal. Drink water. Pee.
Tidy workspace. Make to-do list.
Sit so I can't see anyone else (maybe move desk) and am comfortable and upright.
I need to be fully clothed (even working at home, I'll put on jeans and shoes... pyjamas and bare feet make me lazy. For some reason a belt helps- maybe the compression improves my posture?)
Wear earplugs - this is non-negotiable. Earplugs are amazing.
Wear headphones over the earplugs, playing fast, repetitive music with no vocals (techno and drum-n-bass are good)
Put head down and work in long, unbroken blocks- 2-3 hours is my sweet spot.

This article on the Maker's schedule vs. the Manager's schedule was what led me to realize that I need uninterrupted stretches of time in order to produce good work. The Maker needs half-day or full-day chunks of time. The Manager does things by appointment and thinks in half-hour chunks. Open concept offices are meant for managers, not makers, and they absolutely kill me- I just can't get the ball rolling in that kind of tricklingly distracting environment. I CANNOT write in short bursts or nibbles- I can only write in a focussed sprint.

So I aim for 1 or 2 very concentrated sprints a day, of 2-3 hours each. Luckily when I'm in that state I work fast and well, so I can accomplish almost a full workday's worth of deliverables in one or two sprints like that.

Also - this article about the Instant Gratification Monkey is worth reading.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:24 PM on July 18, 2016 [19 favorites]

In the meantime, try to make it a game. Like mix it up by setting a timer for 30 minutes and seeing how much X you can do in that time. Take a 10 minute break and then set a timer for 30 minutes and see if you can beat what you did the first time. Or make-believe. It sometimes helps me to pretend to be exactly the kind of person who would calmly and happily do worlds most boring task over and over 35 times. It also helps if you set a reasonable goal and then give yourself a small reward when you reach the goal. You can put all the different tasks in little pieces of paper and stick them in a jar And decide what order you're doing things based on that. Really, it doesn't matter what you use to motivate yourself in the short run, as long as it works. Remember how miserable it is to not have a job. Remember that you're not actually being asked to do something impossible, merely something that is tedious. And while your brain is trying to convince you that doing a tedious thing over and over again is going to kill you or be a form of death, it's not true. I do a fair amount of self talk and which my brain will complain bitterly about something and I will say, you totally get to feel that this is stupid and you are meant for loftier endeavors. But part of being an adult is doing stupid and annoying shit. And so that's what you and I are going to be doing for the next X minutes. I know we both love each other, let's just get to it. So take what ever works for you. Experiment. And remember that this won't last forever. Take it one hour at a time and be kind to yourself in the process. You do not have a character flaw. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:33 PM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think a lot of people who thought they had a "core character flaw" find out they have ADHD.

It me. Yep, like others, I could've written this question word for word. ADHD meds are currently making a big difference.
posted by naju at 2:16 AM on July 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nthing ADD. Seriously, give it some serious thought & research (specifically, look at examples of how ADD may manifest in adults--it's not "can't sit still" for everyone). There's a great question here on the green on what ADD feels like.

For me, working in 20/10s (20 min on, 10 min off) helps incredibly, BUT I needed meds (fairly high dosage of welbutrin) to get to the point where doing 20 minutes of work wasn't like running through jello.

In the meantime, maybe drink a whole lot of coffee & try some 20/10s.
posted by Baethan at 6:39 AM on July 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

How is your sleep quality? I have so much more focus and endurance now that I use a CPAP for my sleep apnea. If you're a snorer - especially if you snore on all sides, not just your back - wake up with a dry mouth and/or a headache, or have severe morning foggies - get a sleep test. (And if it's "inconclusive," get another one or try to get a CPAP anyway to see if that helps.)

If you can't get a sleep test, wear a Breathe Right strip on your nose, sleep on your side or stomach, put an air purifier in your room, and make sure your sheets and bedding are clean and dust-free. This might help if you have a mild case of apnea.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:40 PM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I feel your pain, so I'm following this thread with interest.

One thing that could work is setting up a routine, or even just a series of modular tasks that you can pick and then do as a pre-choreographed set. Sitting around weighing which odious task to do next will only prolong the odiousness, whereas launching into a routine without much forethought will perhaps reduce that friction. It's like taking a nasty-tasting pill -- you don't want to chew it, right? Just swallow it and get it over with. Same with work, and a "set it and forget it" routine.

A great housework tip I gleaned from Home Comforts applies here too: pre-define what qualifies as "done" for a given task. Often tasks suck more when they're kind of nebulous and there's no clear end to them. There isn't that comforting light at the end of the tunnel. So at least in my domestic tasks, I tell myself, "Okay, once I've wiped the floor and sink, neatened clutter into piles, and put away all visible clothing, I have Cleaned My Room for the day." I'm much more likely to clean if I know I have a small series of pre-defined tasks that will completely absolve me of other domestic duties for the day.

Best of luck. This stuff is hard. You definitely don't have a fundamental character flaw and I have faith that you'll find some tools that will help you along (and it might not be the same tool that works every day).
posted by delight at 1:42 AM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I personally think I focus better when I'm avoiding caffeine (long-term, not for just one day), FYI.
posted by amtho at 7:01 PM on July 20, 2016

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