How can I stop avoiding stress?
April 14, 2006 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Any time I feel like I am under any sort of stress or have a decision to make (even an easy one), I seem to go through these cycles of avoidance, which usually involve checking several e-mail accounts and web sites that I follow. Then when that is done, and I return to work, I realize the stress is still there so I repeat the cycle again. This keeps me from getting much work done. How do I stop this cycle?
posted by rwatson to Work & Money (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Make a to-do list and religiously work to cross stuff off of it, even if it's a decision and not an "action" item.

Of couse, I am following your lead, answering this, rather than tackle something tough at work, so take it with a grain of whatever.
posted by Danf at 10:03 AM on April 14, 2006

You could try taking adult ADD medication
posted by Paris Hilton at 10:09 AM on April 14, 2006

I have ADD. ADD medication sucks the big one. To Do lists work very well for me.
posted by vaportrail at 10:12 AM on April 14, 2006

god DAMN do I ever do the same thing.

Shutting down the computer instead of putting it to sleep can definitely help, as then you can't pretend it'll only take a second to check your email one more time.
posted by bonaldi at 10:13 AM on April 14, 2006

I have the same problem. Sometimes I isolate myself from the computer so I have no choice but to focus on my work. Sometimes I use an empty conference room; sometimes I go to a cafe (without my laptop of course). More generally, I just try to remind myself regularly that I will be even more stressed if I don't focus on what needs to be done.
posted by brain_drain at 10:17 AM on April 14, 2006

The problem is that sometimes it is something on the computer I must do, so solutions that don't necessarily involve leaving it would be appreciated. Thanks!
posted by rwatson at 10:20 AM on April 14, 2006

Cringe-busting! I break each activity down into its smallest (though still reasonable) component parts, sometimes with an estimated time attached to each. It feels really good to cross off each bit, and you start to find they blend together. It's also easier to get started when you're not facing a huge, insurmountable-looking project, but something more like "Open up spreadsheet A. Enter X in A4..."

I'll also work off of a rewards system - anything from "ten minutes reading mefi" to bigger, money-costing things for the huge yuckys.
posted by kalimac at 10:21 AM on April 14, 2006

I don't think this is a case for ADD medication. I do the same thing and I don't have ADD. The best solution I have found is to reward myself with an internet break when I accomplish a certain amount of work. If it's something you have to write, for example, and you're having a tough time getting started, tell yourself you can check your email and favorite websites once you have written a page. I find that once I've pushed myself to get over the initial hurdle of beginning whatever project is causing me stress, I get into it and no longer feel the need to avoid it. Then the breaks begin to come further and further apart.
posted by amro at 10:26 AM on April 14, 2006

Remove your network cable and stick it in the back of your filing cabinet [reaches for cable].
posted by craniac at 10:29 AM on April 14, 2006

ADD medication should have an effect whether you "have" ADD or not. I don't personally believe it's really a "disease", but the drugs obviously do something.

Also, turning off the computer won't help if all the work you need to do is on the computer. I'd love a program that would block email and, say, while I'm trying to get work done. But I'm to distracted to write it.
posted by Paris Hilton at 10:31 AM on April 14, 2006

Use a timer. !5 minute increments.

That's how I'm getting my school stuff done!
posted by konolia at 10:35 AM on April 14, 2006

Read up on meditation. Try breathing meditation. Breathe in, know that you are alive, and breathe out, etc. It can just take a few minutes, or as long as you want. I have to do it in order to go over a big bridge. I like Jack Kornfield's tapes.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 10:55 AM on April 14, 2006

I wonder how many people here have this same behavior. I know I do.
This "condition" needs a name!
posted by BillBishop at 11:06 AM on April 14, 2006

Picture how good you'll feel when you're done with the task. Much better than the cheap pleasure of internet surfing. /hypocrite
posted by salvia at 11:34 AM on April 14, 2006

I have the same habit but if I weren't using the internet it would be something else (The only time my apartment in college was ever cleaned was when it was time to start studying for exams). I also have ADD and will engage in this behavior if I allow myself to whether I am medicated or not.

The only answer for me is to just make myself address what I have been avoiding. For me it takes a moment of clarity where I realize that I expend more energy avoiding and dreading the task than I would completing it.
posted by Carbolic at 11:46 AM on April 14, 2006

I do the same thing. Things that help:

1. Break it into pieces and make a list of what needs to be done. Do the really easy, braindead things first. By the time you get to the hard thing, it's usually not as bad, because you've got a little more idea of what you need to do.

2. If what you have to do is too small to break into pieces, or you've done all the easy parts and have hit the hard part: Tell a friend, "Hey, if by this afternoon [or whenever, just set a date] I am not finished with X, I will owe you $20."

Once you've set an arbitrary deadline, and have someone to enforce it, it becomes a lot easier to just suck it up and get it done.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 11:54 AM on April 14, 2006

Try to isolate exactly what is keeping you from doing your work and then try to figure out how you can remedy that issue. Most of the time it has nothing to do with the actual work but is a fear of which you are not truly concious. Maybe the task isn't challenging enough for you so you want to give yourself the minimal amount of time to do it so it becomes a challenge. Break it down, try to find out why you won't do it. Find a way to challenge yourself. What do you enjoy in life? If you are constantly scouring the web - what are you looking for? For me it's the chance to learn something that I didn't know yesterday and that can help me tomorrow. It's the only way I can feel like a day on this earth was worth while. I make a point of doing my work differently every time I do it so when I complete even the most mundane task I learned a new way to do it. Find the passion that feeds you and incorporate that passion into your work somehow.
posted by any major dude at 12:08 PM on April 14, 2006

Thirding what's been said about not only making a list, but breaking it down into its smallest possible components and attacking the bits that give you the least anxiety first. I've heard it called "gradual approach."

I struggle with the same issue, and finally created a system that works for me after failing miserably with every electronic to-do program and organizer I'd run across. I use what is basically an outline method, with the projects at a top-tier level, then broken down into component steps and substeps or whatnot. I also have a little section for what I would like to or need to address on the current day. Because I totally suck at date-based systems, this is a prioritized list, though in special cases there is also a spot for entering the date. For the curious, I use Omni Outliner. The software isn't important, though; it's that it works perfectly with my needs and system, and is flexible enough to allow me to personalize it to a high degree.
posted by moira at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2006

I do the same thing often, and I've found the to-do list helpful (as well as breaking tasks up *on* the to-do list so they're achieveable) as is meditation. Get up, change your surroundings (fresh air always helps), meditate (even if it's 'only' for 5 minutes) - it's the equivalent of a soft reset. there are also a few threads about productivity on mefi that might help - things about locking out one's browser etc. Try the meditation first though - it's a real help.
posted by rmm at 12:59 PM on April 14, 2006

I'm going to throw out an idea that I've been thinking of trying (in addition to the to-do lists). I'm a law student, and I'm starting to think about how lawyers have to bill all of their time at work every day. So I'm thinking of downloading a program to keep time that allocates it to each "client," and making my projects the "clients." The idea being that if I'm on the clock, I'm working, and if I'm not working, I'm not billing. Then, after sitting at the computer for two hours, I can see how much time I actually "billed" aka worked.
posted by MrZero at 4:09 PM on April 14, 2006

I've tried many things to combat this. Meditation, as mentioned above, has helped. Also I downloaded Tempation Blocker which will shut down any program for any amount of time you choose, and can only be reopened within that time period by entering a ridiculously long code, which gives you plenty of time to give up and do the right thing.

It's really important to me to get this problem licked while technology is only just this attractive-- because if/when stuff gets even more interesting and readily relevant then I'll really be hooked.
posted by hermitosis at 5:38 PM on April 14, 2006

There's a difference, IMO, between simple procrastination ("Eh, I'll do it later. Lemme check my email.") and real avoidance ("OH SHIT! THIS IS SCARY! THE INTERNET WILL HIDE ME!").

If you're really doing the second one, the internet isn't the problem. The fear is. The way to stop the cycle is to be less afraid. The first step will probably be figuring out what's scaring you.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:37 PM on April 14, 2006

These are some really helpful suggestions, guys. In fact I think this is one of the best Ask MeFis I've ever seen. I am going to try to implement what I can.
posted by rwatson at 11:49 PM on April 14, 2006

Check out the Procrastination section in this helpful online psychological self-help book for more tips and info.
posted by syzygy at 2:38 AM on April 15, 2006

What are some good sources on meditation?
posted by rwatson at 2:23 PM on April 15, 2006

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