Is it possible to become an ex-procrastinator?
April 12, 2023 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Probably not... but still looking for helpful tips on how to deal with very persistent avoidant behaviors.

The past year has treated me well. I bought an apartment, secured a long-term contract as a university teacher, and am six months into a relationship with the person I hope to start a family with. Life is going better than I ever thought it would and I am very happy about that!

What I'm not happy with, and never have been happy with, is with the way I'm living this objectively great life. I have the job I've been dreaming about, but I delay every single task and miss countless deadlines. I have the apartment I've been dreaming about, but I can't seem to get around to doing some essential upgrades and leave chores until the last minute. I'm with a lovely person, but my extreme procrastination and avoidance make it hard to spend quality, guilt-free time together. I struggle to manage and schedule my time and tasks, sometimes to the extent that I find it hard to feed myself properly.

I often wonder how life can go so well for a person as ill-adjusted as me. My way of dealing with my responsibilities is just really sub-par. I'll use today as a typical example. I was already a few days late with providing feedback to students on an assignment. Instead of doing the work (urgently) needed, or just sending them a message with an explanation, I wasted time by playing mindless online games at my desk for most of the day. Then I looked at my to-do list and arranged it in random order: it did unimportant stuff that ended up on the top of the list, and when I encountered a harder and more important task, I got back to gaming, then went to get a take-out meal and vegetated at home in front of the tv. In short, I got nothing out of this day: I didn't do the important work, I didn't learn anything, I just made sure time passed without me feeling anxious.

I have spent many, many days like this in the last decade-or-more. I have struggled with extreme procrastination and avoidance for years now. It has proven persistent and incredibly hard to change. Therapists in the past have focussed on some of the possible reasons (OCD-like tendencies, perfectionism, depressed mood at times) but I feel I haven't really gotten better at dealing with it. I want to love life fully and do the things I value, but I keep avoiding the stuff that really matters, because it is overwhelming me - because it's hard, difficult to get right, complex, or all of the above.

I want to break free from this destructive habit. I owe it to my partner, friends and loved ones, to my students, and to myself. I know I can't expect wonders, but it must be possible to make progress, right? Fellow avoiders, fellow time-wasters, fellow anxiety-driven procrastinators: what helps? (I am in therapy at the moment.)
posted by Desertshore to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
There are lot of people giving advice about procrastination (because there are so many people who find it a problem) Someone that seemed to have a deeper understanding of the problem, rather than trite solutions is Joe Ferrari. Ali Ward interviewed him on her podcast. You can check it out and if you think he makes sense, he has a book called Still Procrastinating. (If you buy it on Amazon, be sure to check the price for used copies - much cheaper.)
posted by metahawk at 4:03 PM on April 12, 2023 [5 favorites]

Are you sure that you are dealing with anxiety-driven procrastination, and not ADHD-related executive function difficulties, which are subsequently giving rise to the anxiety?

Here is a short self-screening questionnaire for ADHD. (Part A is the screening; part B helps characterize the "type". Scoring instructions are on the second page.)

If this is the cause, you can absolutely expect wonders.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:17 PM on April 12, 2023 [25 favorites]

I used to procrastinate a lot. Now I work a lot.

A couple of things that changed:

1. I always have a thing I should be doing that I’m putting off, so when I do other things I am avoiding that. When I have only one thing to do, and I can’t put it off any more, I clear my schedule and make it my obsessive purpose.

2. I also forgive myself for breaks, and tell myself that small things like a Twitter binge (or Metafilter, I’m trying this place out again after a long hiatus) is okay because it refreshes my focus.

3. I let myself play games sometimes, and indeed get lost in doing them, but then I delete them.

4. I had kids. Weirdly having less time overall and true “off time” required by awesome little humans makes it easier to work when I’m supposed to work—I know I’ll have to stop to do pickup or make dinner or do bedtime.

That said, I also work insane hours to get it all done. Often 4:45am-6pm, missing meals, the whole bit. And I’m often late on grading compared to my ideal, which is one week—I should be grading right now in fact! But you can get a lot done when you should be grading. :-)

Your mileage may vary, but also consider the possibility that your workload may be particularly alienating or out of tune with your real desires. There’s a reason they call tenure “golden handcuffs”: you can have a really good life if you teach the same things all the time and grade a shit ton of pretty similar papers.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:17 PM on April 12, 2023 [6 favorites]

I have spent many, many days like this in the last decade-or-more. I have struggled with extreme procrastination and avoidance for years now. It has proven persistent and incredibly hard to change. Therapists in the past have focussed on some of the possible reasons (OCD-like tendencies, perfectionism, depressed mood at times) but I feel I haven't really gotten better at dealing with it. I want to love life fully and do the things I value, but I keep avoiding the stuff that really matters, because it is overwhelming me - because it's hard, difficult to get right, complex, or all of the above.

I'm not a therapist or a doctor, but my friend, you know it's anxiety causing your procrastination. Work on the anxiety. Anxiety is in fact one of the mental health issues that has a lot of scientifically supported treatments (like CBT). OCD is an anxiety disorder, so well, you see where I'm going. Also, I mean, if the complexity of a task overwhelms you, read up on executive dysfunction. Yes you can move past procrastination, by treating it like the symptom it is.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 4:19 PM on April 12, 2023 [8 favorites]

I still procrastinate but I do it a lot less often than I used to. This happened somewhat suddenly and I didn't really set out to do it. Here is what I did:

I started to do favors for my future self.

I don't want to do a task, but my future self is probably going to dread that task even more because it's been put off for so long and in the meantime 20 more tasks need to be done. So, let me take care of that now and Future Jim won't have to do it. Future Jim will be very grateful to Past Jim for doing that task.

It feeds on itself. Every time Now Jim has a task to do he thinks about how happy Future Jim will be when he realizes that task has already been done by Past Jim. Now Jim likes it when Future Jim is happy and when Future Jim is happy he thinks about what a great dude Past Jim is. Everyone is happy.

The task has to be done. One of the Jims is going to have to do it eventually. None of the Jims are going to get out of doing this task. So Now Jim steps up and takes care of it.

This sounds really silly, I know, but it works. At least it works for me.

I spent 50 something years putting off things and all it took was reframing it in my head.
posted by bondcliff at 4:40 PM on April 12, 2023 [66 favorites]

I often wonder how life can go so well for a person as ill-adjusted as me.

I suspect you may overestimate the number of "well-adjusted" people in the world. We're all just limping along.

From what you say it sounds like you know your procrastination is about avoiding anxiety, so I would start by asking yourself what the unacceptable outcome of you being on top of your to-do list would be. There are many possibilities -- fear of success and fear of running out of things to do both come to mind -- so that's something only you can sort out. Or possibly you and a therapist.

I can't tell you if becoming an ex-procrastinator is possible, but I do know that by looking at the reasons for my own anxiety-based procrastination I have gotten better about it over the years.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:56 PM on April 12, 2023 [3 favorites]

I’ve struggled with this for a long time as well and I was assessed for and diagnosed with ADHD, and medication helped but I still had a lot of days like you described. Then I started seeing therapy for some of my childhood trauma and discovered I have massive PTSD, it’s just that when I’m triggered my entire brain shuts down and I can’t focus on anything worthwhile, including doing things I enjoy, and I just do something, anything—refreshing the same internet pages, playing a mindless game—to distract myself from those feelings. I didn’t have any of the classic flashback symptoms, my nightmares were once a month or less, I had no idea that this could be a symptom of PTSD. And that it was largely triggered by fear of disappointing someone, which happened all the time with my work because I was triggered so often that I couldn’t get any work done and then constantly had more to fear regarding disappointment.

So… if you have any sort of trauma or difficult childhood, consider that as a contributing factor. The thing that helped me most, honestly, was flaming out hard when family drama brought all the trauma to the surface, telling pretty much everyone I had done no work in weeks and was likely not to get anything done for quite a while (and, in some cases, sobbing in front of my supervisors), and having them all be like “okay, that’s fine, please feel better.” Which the scared child in me was blindsided by because I had never experienced that before. I didn’t get that as a child, and as an adult I simply spent all my time rushing to put out fires so I never disappointed anyone. And so I didn’t learn that I could fail and it would be okay, meaning I was constantly shutting down over that fear of failure.

I’m in the middle of this now because this all happened about two months ago, but I’m creeping back towards regularly actually doing things I’m required to do, but that initial “it’s okay if you’re useless for a few weeks” gave me a bunch of space and freedom to first spend time doing things I enjoyed without guilt, which let me build in habits of continuing to do that while also making progress on work but also not freaking out if I didn’t get enough work done and then feeling like I couldn’t do anything relaxing or enjoyable and therefore just shutting down for hours. I feel better able to do my work now and I have a lot fewer days like that.

I know not everyone has that privilege or kind and understanding supervisors like that, but I think even just knowing that was what was happening helped. I also found a lot of benefit in some other aspects of trauma therapy as well as things I’ve been exploring with a spiritual director (which I never expected to be helpful, as someone with deep mistrust of religion due to significant abuse at the hands of Christians). One of the things that came up in spiritual direction was the use of tarot, which I don’t believe in as a divination tool but have found really helpful in breaking through the fog of scattered thoughts and focusing myself. Basically a card is either going to imply “take a break, and here’s how” or “focus on your work, this kind or this way” and either one feels like permission and/or structure that makes it easier for me to focus on just that one thing (whether it’s an enjoyed activity or a dreaded work task) without being overwhelmed by everything else.

I’ve also hated meditation for years and years, but recently tried the Balance app and found that its very structured approach to specific meditation skills was helpful in a way generic guided meditations never were. And also because they have a voice option that doesn’t sound like someone who runs a yoga shop and wants to sell me a kale smoothie (I know, I shouldn’t stereotype people, but there’s such A Voice to most guided meditations that I hate!). I think they’re still doing a “free trial for a year for early adopters” thing. Using that when I feel the procrastination anxiety creep in has, I have to very begrudgingly admit, worked. I’m actually pretty annoyed about it, so if you too are someone who hates meditation and got no benefit out of Headspace and Calm and all the rest, do know that I’m coming from the same place. Though I maintain that I dislike breathwork—I find labeling and visualization much more helpful. Which is part of why the app is useful because it breaks down and specifies different parts of meditation and I can figure out for myself what I like and don’t. So maybe check that out.
posted by brook horse at 5:05 PM on April 12, 2023 [29 favorites]

Some things that might help:
1. Accountability. Announce to your students when they will get the grades back. Also announce it to your friends/family. This creates interpersonal expectations to motivate you.
2. Smaller tasks. Set your goal as only grading 5 papers at a time. Avoid
3. Half-focus. Have the TV on while you do the grading. Allow your attention to drift back and forth, but keep making progress.
posted by dum spiro spero at 5:08 PM on April 12, 2023 [4 favorites]

Yeah, having struggled with some of these issues, it's only in the last several years that I've started to understand how deeply connected they are to avoidance of anxiety.

It was only when life pushed me into a place where I had multiple sources of intense anxiety coming at me from all directions almost constantly that my avoidance mechanisms started to fail me.

It's been very rough at times. But learning some more constructive ways of coping with anxious feelings has helped a lot. A big thing I've come to understand is that trying to avoid the anxiety just allows it to fester and get worse. Confronting it and learning to sit with it is essential -- and actually cuts it down to size. One of my mantras now is: "Make friends with your monsters".

Other things that help: Exercise, better sleep habits, reading absorbing novels before bed (from paper books, not from screens), relaxation via deep breathing, and self-compassion. Many of these subjects have been discussed here on the green, and over on the blue, over the years; some searching should turn up good threads with useful resources.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 6:02 PM on April 12, 2023 [6 favorites]

The human brain is really good at making up shit that doesn't exist and probably won't come to exist unless and until we believe it. Then, if we believe it, we do all sorts of things to make the made-up stuff become inevitable.

The brain will tell us that it knows exactly how we're going to feel in a given moment at a particular time in the future. It acts like it's got a crystal ball and is perfectly capable of seeing the future, telling you your fate. It imagines a situation, it decides -- sometimes based on scant evidence, such as how a single similar situation has gone only once in the past -- how the situation is going to go and how we're going to feel as a result. That's right: it tells us it knows our future emotional response before we've even had a chance to encounter the stimuli to elicit such a response.

None of that is real. It's made up. It's a thought. Thoughts don't exist. Thoughts are just stories we tell ourselves. Usually formed by parts of the brain that aren't even conscious but are just responding to fragments of information about our environment in ways that were programmed millennia ago. In any event the uncomfortable easily-avoidable situation is grounded less in reality than we think it is. It's not even real ; it's a thought. We fool ourselves into thinking that we'll feel things we don't want to feel, before we've even given ourselves a chance to just experience the experience, move ourselves through it, and see how it goes.... before we even can entertain the possibility that it might go differently than the control-freak clairvoyant our brain keeps telling itself that it is.

You are far more capable of dealing with the situations you're avoiding,than your brain is telling you, but you'll never know that unless you give yourself a chance to just get into them, go through them, and be present with whatever comes up.

Remember: the thoughts you're having about how things will go -- the things you're avoiding - you're avoiding something that doesn't exist. What you think is an uncomfortable future reality hasn't happened, doesn't have to happen, and the story you're being told about its inevitability is just shit your brain is making up.
posted by jerome powell buys his sweatbands in bulk only at 8:42 PM on April 12, 2023 [5 favorites]

Some search terms to try, see if something resonates:

Demand avoidance
ADHD (as mentioned above)
PTSD and CPTSD (as mentioned above)
Fear of failure
Fear of success
Fear of commitment
Attachment theory, especially avoidant attachment
Autistic/sensory burnout
Burnout in general
Revenge procrastination
Procrastination as a bullshit detector (“if it’s bullshit, why bother?”)
Procrastination as an anxiety/shame detector (what overwhelming negative emotion are you avoiding or afraid of?)
Procrastination as a control mechanism (“you can make me do the thing, but only on my own terms”)

Some reframing mechanisms:

“Is this serving me?”
“I will do it, but I don’t have to like it”
Body doubling (basically invite a friend to keep you company while you do the thing, which I find to be shockingly effective)
posted by danceswithlight at 9:12 PM on April 12, 2023 [12 favorites]

Oh, also:

Psychedelic therapy
Being legitimately too busy to procrastinate
Momentum from context shifts (dog needs a walk, you need to leave the house for an evening class/meetup, etc. - when you come back your energy will be different)
Avoiding one thing by doing another thing
Ludicrously tiny pomodoros
posted by danceswithlight at 9:35 PM on April 12, 2023 [7 favorites]

I think you should seriously consider investigating the possibility that you have ADHD. I also came to this realization and process after seeming to have everything set up to succeed with job and personal life and struggling in exactly the way you describe.

Why do I think this is so important? As an ADHD person, tips and advice and entire mindsets for thinking about procrastination creating by people with different brains have been wholly unhelpful and often done more harm than good for me. You cannot simply beat your self into submission to stop procrastinating.

Another reason – the causation for the anxiety and procrastination may be counter intuitive. "Anxiety-driven procrastination" may be backwards – for me, it was anxiety disorder caused by attempting to overcome procrastination without understanding my brain. My anxiety was always primarily a subconscious habit and coping mechanism for getting enough stimulation to get tasks done and was alleviated by stimulant medication and a vast array of other reframings and restructurings of my work and personal life.

I can't say if you have ADHD, but everything you describe sounds like me and many other people I know with ADHD. You would be doing a disservice to yourself not to give yourself the benefit of the doubt here that the issue is not some fault of yours, but an incompatibility between the way you've been taught and been trying to regulate your behaviour and the way your brain actually works.

For me, understanding this about myself doesn't mean I never procrastinate (far from it), but it does happen less and when it does the mental experience has never been so horrid as it was before the diagnosis.

For now at least, I suggest you take general procrastination advice with a grain of salt as my lack of success in using it to improve always made me feel worse. I suggest also trying to forgive yourself a bit more and acknowledge your successes.

My favourite resource for this is the Something Shiny podcast which talks a lot about the relationship between emotions such as anger and anxiety and the ADHD brain.

There are lots of great threads on this site about ADHD diagnosis and I'm sure if you asked more questions about it folks here would have more suggestions for you.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:21 PM on April 12, 2023 [10 favorites]

For actual tips and reframings, the answers to my previous question How to do the thing when you're afraid of the thing and also feel okay were extremely helpful to me in breaking out of some avoidance task procrastination cycles, with the caveat that in the end, taking a few months break was the real key to breaking out of the avoidance cycle and resetting from an overreliance on anxiety to cope.
posted by lookoutbelow at 10:33 PM on April 12, 2023 [4 favorites]

I often wonder how life can go so well for a person as ill-adjusted as me.

Seconding that you need to reframe your understanding of how things are for a baseline successful person. I think the very best adjusted people with the smoothest executive function might not have these issues but all the rest of us successful people deal with varieties of these issues. That being said, I think you understand that you have anxiety issues which are exacerbating this.

It is important to be kind to yourself and understand that you are not a machine for productivity - i.e. you mustn't compare yourself to a notional perfect person and feel bad for falling short. You are a person and not a piece of industrial equipment. That doesn't mean you mightn't be happier with some of these issues solved but don't be too hard on yourself.

What I would do:

First, pursue screening / therapy / whatever to deal with ADHD and/or anxiety issues. A lot of systems-driven productivity / anti-procrastination advice needs to be adjusted for people who have these underlying issues because tactics designed for average-executive-function people to raise their performance to an elite level may be profoundly anxiety inducing and triggering for people with anxiety issues and below-baseline executive function.

Second, if you are looking for systems to organise yourself, a lot of people are fans of approaches based on Getting Things Done. The original system from the book is very paper based but many people have adapted it in various forms to electronic tools, personally I use a heavily customised version of something called Amazing Marvin. My own system is much adapted but the fundamental point is to capture absolutely everything into a system so you never have to ask yourself "what should I do next?". I will warn that I think this system is excellent for helping someone with baseline executive function reach elite levels of performance and you should approach it with caution if you are prone to anxiety around long to-do lists - a core part of the system involves dumping everything out into a long list and some people actually find that a triggering experience. If that's you then don't do it. It also takes a certain level of executive function to manage the system itself so you will need to judge whether something like this is suitable for you.
posted by atrazine at 2:11 AM on April 13, 2023 [3 favorites]

This is a very small piece of advice, but I've managed to cut down on procrastination at work by starting something WAY before it's due and then doing just a very small amount of work on it every day. It feels overwhelming to, say, evaluate 50 RFPs to see if they're a good fit for my researchers. But if I do 5 a day for 10 days, that's no big deal at all! It can also be something like, "I will work on this for 5 minutes a day for 2 weeks until it's done."
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2023 [3 favorites]

Just to offer one more possible reframing if you're evaluating the patterns you're stuck in as potential ADHD symptoms. Brain is deficient of dopamine and desperately searching for it. Can't do task without dopamine. You have a slightly to somewhat overdue task (by my estimation anyway). You make yourself feel absolutely dreadful about it and treat it as a catastrophe as a means of trying to get enough dopamine to do it (dopamine comes from anxiety and anger as well as excitement). Most neurotypical procrastinators don't feel as bad I suspect, but this is classic ADHD maladaptive coping for me. This doesn't work because you're desensitized to this strategy and it's highly unpleasant. You avoid the anxiety and try to get the dopamine via the closest available source and habitual coping mechanism of mindless games. The mindless games habit was established when the actual reward value of the games in dopamine terms was higher and it's not actually that satisfying any more. You feel dreadful all day still due to lack of dopamine and the brain trying to go back to anxiety as a means of trying to change this cycle. I know this cycle because this was my cycle! Research productivity strategies online and resolve to suddenly actually follow them this time was the next step but never worked. I promise you this can get better but there are no simple fixes and no end of "strategies" could have fixed this for me.

If you want to focus on targeting the anxiety as an unhelpful habit/addiction, this book, Unwinding Anxiety, also included several helpful reframings for me that changed my relationship to anxiety. The actual suggested fixing strategy was less applicable for me because I decided getting dopamine elsewhere was the number one priority rather than tackling anxiety directly.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:12 AM on April 13, 2023 [4 favorites]

This is a feeling I can relate to. Sometimes I notice I'm trying to like, drug myself into calmess with mindless phone or games. But it only works exactly as long as I'm playing and no longer, so all it does is make time go away...

Two things that helped a lot:
- Stopping to ask myself "what do I want to do right now?" I needed to get out of a beatings-based motivation system. I'd stop and picture different possibilities for what I could be doing and it was amazing to me to realize that, no, sometimes what I want to do is my job! I really want to get X thing done and off my plate. Wow.
- in order to ask that question, break the cycle on whatever you're doing. You'll need to sit with yourself a moment to figure out what you want. Turn your phone upside down or look at the ceiling, so you can stay out long enough to wake up a bit and think about the question. And remember you don't have to finish one thing to start the next one. You can turn off your phone in the middle of the game if you're bored and would rather be doing something else. Don't dive back in "to finish this game" after you've decided to do something else, you don't owe it anything, just play as much as you're actively enjoying and no more.
posted by Lady Li at 9:35 AM on April 13, 2023 [4 favorites]

I just made sure time passed without me feeling anxious.

Protip: You still felt anxious, but you were masking it with some faux-worthwhile activity like TV or a game. ("It's important to do these things so I can relax! My friends all do these things!")

Also, your list of urgent things to do is augmented by your anxiety. Many of those things can wait until the day after tomorrow, and don't need to be on your urgent list. Or, you may not want to do some of them at all, ever. You have my permission to drop them entirely if you want.

When I had similar behaviors, I found that after a microdose of Xanax, the drive to procrastinate
simply went away.

But this assumes it's really anxiety. Consult your experts.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

This is me! I barely made it through high school and undergrad because I procrastinated so much. When I went to grad school, I didn't procrastinate at all.

Like you, my procrastination was linked to anxiety. I studied philosophy in undergrad, which I was very passionate about and which was very tied to my self worth. I was barely able to open a book and actually absorb the words on the page because I was so overwhelmed, let alone write essays. I would basically do everything I could to run away from myself.

I was briefly prescribed ADHD meds, which helped somewhat with just "leaping in" and being able to stay with the content, but they didn't help the anxiety and actually made it worse - but that's just me. In the end, most of my efforts to try and fight this failed and I limped along in various jobs barely able to write an email some days.

I ended up going back to school to take a bunch of pre-reqs and pursue a graduate degree in a field I was interested in but not intimidated by, and reader, I did not procrastinate a single fucking time. I didn't change at all as a person or get better at managing it, but the behaviors disappeared without the anxiety. I'm talking finishing essays several days before they're due and always done with the group project first shit. There are still times I run into the anxiety - having to write personal statements or anything that's meaningful for me still makes me squirm inwardly, but I'm better able to recognize those feelings and deal with them now (especially since it's not every day all the time!).

When I am feeling overwhelmed, I still use the pomodoro technique. This is basically setting a timer for a certain interval where you will work (I think the actual method is 25 minutes but I've done as little as 5), then taking a timed break, and so on. For me, it really helps make tasks less intimidating and ease into them. If I were you, I would set a timer for 5 minutes and just get a feel for what responding to the students would look like - how many do you need to get done, maybe open a few assignments and skim to see how much feedback is needed, maybe mark one assignment with the biggest most glaring piece of advice you see - and then stop. Set a timer, take a 15 minute break, walk around, drink some coffee, whatever you need to do. And repeat. Maybe limit yourself to 4 5-minute bouts a day. Often, getting started is the worst part and once you start you can keep going for a while. Try to avoid words like "have to" "just finish" "get it done" etc and treat yourself gently. You're not doing the whole thing all at once, you're just doing one bite at a time.

Good luck!
posted by autolykos at 12:20 PM on April 13, 2023 [3 favorites]

I struggle to manage and schedule my time and tasks, sometimes to the extent that I find it hard to feed myself properly.

This is me. This is me on medication, even, but I am much more effective, productive, and self-loathing thanks to medication, education, and various techniques to help my fidgety brain. Please at least rule out the possibility of ADHD and then work through the list of other possibilities before deciding that you are somehow vaguely "ill-adjusted." Yeah, no. One or more things are going on; please take care of your current and future self by getting help to figure out what that is.

Congrats on building such a nice life for yourself. Good luck in getting to a place where you can more fully enjoy it.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:41 PM on April 13, 2023 [3 favorites]

Having an "accountability buddy" helps a lot.
posted by alex1965 at 2:24 PM on April 13, 2023 [2 favorites]

Is it possible the issue is more with the guilt than with the procrastination itself? Personally, I'm proactive about things that capture my interest, but tend to procrastinate on the things I have to do. If your behavior is making others frustrated, that's one thing, but you never mention anything like that in your post. I've accepted that the mounting anxiety of a deadline is a great way to get me to do things that I'm not otherwise driven to do, and I use that to my advantage (e.g. by asking others to give me deadlines for tasks like this).
posted by panic at 2:47 PM on April 13, 2023 [2 favorites]

I have found it helpful to better understand my own beliefs and patterns re procrastination. For me, the amount of inertia to start a task is a different concept than the amount of motivation required to sustain doing a task/ doing the task in general. My inertia and motivation levels tend to follow a consistent but non linear pattern depending on the how close the deadline (or how stressed I am). I tend to do best when I accept that for some tasks I will never have high motivation to do them, so the best I can do is try to optimize when I have the least amount of inertia to start them. I suppose a reasonable analogy is one's circadian rhythm. Early birds and night owls alike tend to do best when they adapt their workload to their more awake / less awake times. However, the answer to whether an early bird can become a night owl (and vice versa) and whether someone can change one's natural state on the procrastination index is... it depends.
posted by oceano at 3:32 PM on April 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

From an anonymous Mefite:
I just want to chime in on the ADHD thing. Your description of your avoidance behavior matches mine perfectly. I struggled with this for decades. I also have associated depression and anxiety. I went through lots of therapy, and various anti-anxiety medications. What finally changed it for me was ADHD medications. I am now on both an SSRI for anxiety and a stimulant for ADHD, and it is lifechanging. For the first time, I can just do stuff. It's like my brain turned from a slippery procrastination-and-dopamine-seeking animal to a task-accomplishing machine. I can just point myself at a job and do it. It's truly magical. And as a bonus, now that I can accomplish all of my responsibilities, my depression is way better!

The process of getting an ADHD diagnosis as an adult was long and onerous. It took me over 18 months through my HMO, including at least 4 doctors. If I had to do it again though, I would start today.

Do take those self-evaluations. For me, it took a while to come to learn to identify my experiences with the descriptions in the evaluations, so think about the questions for a few days, and try to spot what they are describing in your life. Also, ADHD is a developmental diagnosis. That means that as an adult, you will need to provide information about your childhood to get a diagnosis. It will be helpful to track down childhood report cards, and to have honest conversations with parents or others who knew you as a child. Good luck!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 3:41 AM on April 14, 2023 [2 favorites]

There was some line on Instagram or somewhere similar that procrastination was avoiding getting hurt. And by getting “hurt” I mean the pain of boring work, if not doing well enough, of embarrassing myself in front of peers, whatever. Once I realized that it was a lot easier to deal with for me. Particularly “ok, I will do this for 5 minutes” which seems much more manageable to me than breaking it up into steps (which still felt like “too much” to me). I think the time things also works for me in dealing with a physical pain, “ ok, I can hold this plank for 10 more seconds” rather than “I have to do planks until I collapse.”
posted by raccoon409 at 7:49 PM on April 14, 2023 [3 favorites]

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