Procrastination, avoidance, laziness, prioritising - advice please
May 8, 2018 5:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm having some major problems with procrastination and avoiding things I don't want to do or am worried about. I'm at a stage now where one of the issues is there are so many things I haven't done that I don't know what to prioritise. Looking for advice and strategies to get out of this rut and actually get something done.

Things I'm not doing that I should be doing range from voluntary activities (I have some reasonably responsible volunteer jobs and I'm having difficulty reading and responding to emails or doing things I have said I will); some behaviour that's crossing into hoarding about not sorting physical stuff out (rooms I can't use because they are too full); paperwork stuff to do with finances that is starting to cause me an issue because I haven't done it; things other people have asked me to do like put things on eBay; working on some of my own projects that in theory I want to do and enjoy doing; connections to people I'm not spending enough time on; marketing stuff for my freelance work ...

There are some things I have been wanting, planning or committed to doing for years (decades) that I haven't, and seem unable to, started. Other things are more recent; for instance, my desktop computer is 14 years old and grinding to a halt. Bought a new one about 18 months ago but haven't set it up yet because of fear that it will be too difficult.

Where do I start with trying to get back on track with some of this? I'm spending too much time doing distraction-type activities that don't involve any physical effort or uncomfortable feelings, or day-dreaming. I feel shame, self-loathing and frustration about the situation. One problem is that if I think about trying to achieve one goal I start thinking that another one is more important and I should be doing that instead - I realise this is an avoidant tactic but am not sure how to get around it.

I'm on anti-depressants and have had quite a bit of therapy, including CBT.
posted by paduasoy to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
One thing that gets me going is to set a reasonable start. For example, when my kitchen is super messy, I say "I'm going to pick up ten things to put away/throw away/etc." Or, at work, "I'm going to do two of these questions in one task." That little mind game gets me started and then I usually continue and it feels good. For me it's that initial step that's the hardest, and it is for many people. Right now you have a huge list of to-do but start with just one thing and do one step on it. Then reward yourself with a short break or keep going if you feel up for it! That's what I did this Sunday and ended up cleaning my whole place all day because the immediate feeling of accomplishment gave me encouragement. It can take awhile to get there but you're off to a great start! Big changes are all about small steps. You already have taken awesome big steps, such as getting on meds and trying therapy!

Also, please give yourself a break: if you're not loving them or feeling motivated to do them, take a break from any and all creative projects. As for the eBay stuff, tell people you're sorry but are behind and can't help them right now. Once things get easier in a few months, you can reassess things. In addition to starting small on the big stuff, just get rid of the little things you don't really have to do. Saying no can feel like you're letting people down but they can deal and will surely be fine. Having one less stress is going to make you productive and happier. I know this so well!

Again, tonight just take one corner of one room -- like your kitchen table -- and decide to deal with just five or ten things and then call it a night. (Oh, I can relate to all of this so well!)
posted by smorgasbord at 5:27 PM on May 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

The only advice I have right now is to just do a couple of things. They can be easy things. Just check a few things off your list so that you can break your procrastination streak and get the ball rolling.

Oh, just thought of another one: accept that it's going to suck. Budget lots of time for dealing with the issues that you're having the hardest time with, and just accept that you're going to be an anxious, miserable, distracted mess while you're doing them and forgive yourself. Just let yourself feel whatever you need to feel, and let yourself be unfocused and distractible and inefficient, as long as the task eventually gets done. Then let yourself feel super good about not having to think about that particular task ever again.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:00 PM on May 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yep, do one tiny thing - carry dirty dishes to the sink, move piles of stuff off your desk so there's open space, whatever seems doable.

Also, if you've had stuff sitting on your to-do list for decades, it's totally fine to let go of it. You're a different person than you were when you decided you wanted to do that stuff. If you have a wildly strong desire to do them in the future, you still can. But right now those things are weighing you down, and you should just delete any tasks that make you feel bad and don't carry awful consequences for not doing them (i.e., you probably still need to do the financial stuff). Get rid of the junk to open up some space for the stuff you want and need to do.
posted by momus_window at 7:12 PM on May 8, 2018

Three ideas for you:
- First of all, your list has a whole lot of things, including some basic life-maintenance-have-to-do stuff and some totally-don't-have-to-do-this stuff. So first, I'd declare bankruptcy on all commitments and say "no" to anything that isn't mandatory. Cleaning your room: mandatory. Putting stuff on eBay for people: not mandatory. The majority of your list is overachiever type stuff. For awhile, just be the person who goes to work, pays the bills, and does laundry.

- My best solution for getting over avoidance is to recreationally do something every day that proves to you that you can face painful things: exercise, yoga (and not like an easy stretching yoga), meditation.

- You can also kind of do the equivalent of a debt snowball (if you've heard of that) with anxiety. Ask yourself, what one thing can I do with the next [whatever time you have, smaller increments when you're just getting started] that will most reduce my anxiety? Then you gain some peace of mind that makes it easier for you to tackle the next thing.

Good luck!
posted by salvia at 7:28 PM on May 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

It could be anxiety. Anxiety doesn't need to feel like being nervous or agitated... it can take the form of all the things you included in the title. That was the case for me. For a long time I just thought I was lazy and undisciplined, but when I went into a deep depression I talked to my physician, who prescribed a medication that has really helped. (I still have depression and anxiety, but I can function a lot better.) A general practitioner can prescribe the first-choice meds. If those don't work, a psychiatrist has more expertise.

Please, when you find yourself thinking, "I should be able to do these things," stop. Don't fall into the trap of believing that anxiety/depression makes no sense because you don't have real problems. What you're experiencing IS a real problem.
posted by wryly at 7:53 PM on May 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Let go of all those 'volunteer' commitments. You are not able to face them. Giving them up means someone else has the opportunity to do them, who will probably enjoy them. Stop with the 'shoulds' and look around, do the one thing that's really bugging you - clear the counter, chuck a load of laundry in, strip and remake the bed - whatever will make you feel good. Then, look at what you've done and say "Good job! Now I can get into a clean bed" or whatever. But pay attention to what you have done and take the time to feel good about it.
Also, maybe your antidepressant isn't the right one, or needs to be stronger. It can take a few tries to get it right.
You are okay. You are aware. Things will get better. Been there.
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:42 PM on May 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

Consider using a body double to get the around-the-house and financial stuff tackled -- they don't have to help, they can be on a laptop or phone in the same room or nearby.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:01 PM on May 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding wryly, look into anxiety diagnosis and treatment.

When my anxiety is well-treated, it’s amazing how I can just pick a thing and do it and go on to the next thing without agony.

When my anxiety is not well-treated, I have the same prioritizing problems you describe: there’s too much to do and so much of it is pressing and at the same time I’m overwhelmed by guilt and shame about the stuff that has been on my list for too long, until I can’t decide what to do and I do nothing. And even if I get started on something, I get distracted by thoughts that it’s the “wrong” thing and I really ought to be doing something else that is more urgent/important/worthwhile (except, of course, I can’t decide what else to do, either).

If the anxiety is only moderately bad, I can lifehack my way out by making a list and the choosing something literally at random, and working pomodoros.

Good luck, you’re not alone at this.
posted by BrashTech at 4:36 AM on May 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm shocked no one has mentioned ADHD, because this sure is common behavior for people who have it. For many people, the solution to getting started is medication, and there are plenty of strategies to keep yourself going. I think you should suggest this to your therapist.
posted by AFABulous at 7:50 AM on May 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Some portion of your list could probably be helped by this Opposite Day approach to making and moving through a to do list.

Another thing that helps me with avoidance is making myself aware of how very sick I am of thinking about and even dreading the thing. I try to get a little angry at the thing and that gives me extra motivation to just get it off my to do list already.
posted by salvia at 8:28 PM on May 9, 2018

I found Mark Forster's Do it Tomorrow to be a useful read when facing the same issues. It talks you through the process of getting caught up. I didn't adopt his entire system but the book did help me cope with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the backlog.
posted by Morpeth at 3:09 AM on May 10, 2018

I don't have any advice that hasn't been already said, but I wanted to confirm: I have ADHD and anxiety, and this is EXACTLY how I feel. Worth looking into.
posted by dust.wind.dude at 12:56 PM on May 10, 2018

I get analysis paralysis a lot - there's a lot to do and I have no idea where to start. Something that's worked for me is making a task jar - just write down what needed to be done on pieces of paper, put them in a jar, pick one at random, do the thing. Even just doing ONE suggestion is enough to break through the paralysis and motivate me enough to do a bunch of other things.

You might also find some value in scheduling your tasks. This can be tricky to do when you're also dealing with analysis paralysis, and admittedly there aren't a lot of good options that will do this for you (I was using SkedPal but now I can't afford it). But you can do it manually too.
posted by divabat at 9:46 PM on May 12, 2018

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