ah, the sweet sound of deadlines rushing by
January 31, 2007 8:32 AM   Subscribe

How do I get over my laziness, procrastination, and foot-dragging in my office job?

I have fallen into an embarassingly lazy state. I turn things in at the last minute or late. I have come to regard almost all deadlines as fuzzy. I still make the major deadlines, and I'm still doing my job, but I tend not to complete non-essential job duties unless someone chases me.

I've always been an overacheiver in the past I am horrified to realize that I've become mediocre in my job rather than excellent. It's making me feel awful about myself, and I really don't want to be the slacker everybody hates working with.

But every time I promise myself to be productive or to tackle the things I've been putting off or do whatever it takes to meet an upcoming deadline, I decide a second later that there's no real reason to work that hard when I can just finish the thing late or not do it at all like I've been doing for months. "She'll email me again if she really needs it," I tell myself.

Obviously, my heart is not in this job right now. But dragging my feet is only making it worse. How can I fake it? And make myself stick to deadlines and quality standards with very little outside reinforcement (my boss is hands off and wants to stay that way)?

(Should I mention that part of the trouble with being productive is I am anxious in some way about just about everything I've been putting off, and I don't have time for therapy right now because I'm training to be an ACROBAT for goodness sake?)
posted by nevers to Work & Money (32 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
I'm training to be an ACROBAT for goodness sake

Could this be the problem? Does your job still seem "real" to you, now that you're training for a different career, assuming your ultimate goal is to be a professional acrobat?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:42 AM on January 31, 2007

Response by poster: Lentro, that's definitely a problem. I've always had issues with procrastination, but apathy increased considerably when all I wanted to do was go train on the trapeze on my lunch break and then go rehearse or train as soon as work was over. Got any suggestions?
posted by nevers at 8:48 AM on January 31, 2007

I feel the same as you a lot of the time, nevers (well, with the exception of the trapeze during the lunch break thing, though that *is* pretty cool).

I try to put it into perspective. It's my day job. Lots of people have dayjobs while they pursue their bigger dreams in life. We're lucky to have cushy office jobs and to not have to something truly awful for minimum wage. I have trouble working on my projects because the deadlines ARE fuzzy and most of the time I can get away with slacking. But it makes me feel like crap to not be putting in at least a half-assed effort, if not my full-ass. So, when you are at work, try breaking your projects down into smaller tasks. Set a timer or stopwatch and work for 20 minutes before you allow your mind to wander.

If the Internet is preventing you from getting your work done, try using a tool called Temptation Blocker. You can set it up to block certain applications (I block Trillian & my web browsers when I need to buckle down) for a desginiated period of time. I would suggest giving yourself a planned break once you either finish a project (if it's smallish) or once you have done actual work for a preset amount of time.
posted by tastybrains at 8:59 AM on January 31, 2007 [4 favorites]

Are your co-workers also lackadaisical in their attention to goals and deadlines? If so, perhaps you could find another job. I've found that this sort of thing rubs off rather easily on normally diligent people from their work environments.
posted by kindall at 9:01 AM on January 31, 2007

I think that the anxiety is a huge contributor. The more stressed I am, the more apathetic I become. Distractions are convenient excuses, and I have many, but I feel like anxiety and stress are the reasons I shirk my responsibilities. When I am not stressed, I am 100% more likely to handle my tasks efficiently and quickly, especially if I have a focus or new hobby that I can't wait to get back to.

I am very interested in this question because my procrastination is getting worse and worse and worse lately, which makes me more stressed, which makes me more inclined to put things off, which makes me stressed, etc.
posted by chelseagirl at 9:08 AM on January 31, 2007

Best answer: I second tastybrains. Try to get small, specific tasks done; the 20-minute timer is a great tool.

Make a list of all the tasks, per project, that need to get done.
Use this checklist as a guide to what to do next every time you come back to your desk from a trip to the bathroom/coffee machine/office supply room; start in on a different project each time, and do at least one of the little tasks, or spend 20 minutes on that task.

Remember these two things:
1. You have to be at work anyway, and the day will go by faster if you get involved in your work
2. All these tasks/projects need to get done eventually; might as well get them done instead of having them weigh on your mind.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:10 AM on January 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Re: anti-procrastination tools: I have Temptation Blocker. I use TimeTracker. I bookmarked Get Back to Work. I tried webolodeon. Read The Now Habit and Getting Things Done and Eat That Frog. Each tool helps for a few days, but then I avoid it or the habits it suggests. Gahh.

Kindall, I do think the atmosphere in this department makes it hard, but I'm reluctant to quit a job that allows me to leave at 5 on the dot every day and is two blocks from the trapeze I train on during my lunch break.

I shall now stop refreshing this page and responding to every answer and go work for a while. Yup.
posted by nevers at 9:14 AM on January 31, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's tricky, but there's a few things you can try or consider:

1) Acrobatics (any performing art) is hard to make a living at unless you're very skilled and very lucky in equal amounts. The real world is when you're in the air, but you'll probably need to keep a day job to enable that for the foreseeable future. Reconcile to that, and realize that doing your job is not optional if you want to pursue your vocation.

2) A little career development can reengage a person with a job that's grown dull. You mention that your boss is hands off when it comes to enforcement, but how would she react if you asked her about some help with career development? Even something as simple as learning a new basic skill that you don't currently have can liven things up.

3) Attention and concentration are attention and concentration whatever you're doing. You can look at focusing on the task at hand in your dull job as development of essential skills that you'll need for performing. It's the hoary old zen "chop the wood and carry the water" thing, but there is a lot of truth to it.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:14 AM on January 31, 2007

I'm with you, nevers. I work in finance, but all I think about all day is getting home and playing music, writing music, recording etc............

With me, I think it's a maturity/ self discipline issue. And I'm 36 with 2 kids.
posted by mistsandrain at 9:24 AM on January 31, 2007

I don't know if this will address what sounds like maybe a problem of motivation, but I've been reading The Now Habit and it has been very helpful for dealing with my own procrastination and habits of screwing around.
posted by cadge at 9:25 AM on January 31, 2007

Best answer: This may seem simplistic, but I work in a similar environment and having an appointment book has worked wonders for me. I don't use the time increments, but I do map out a few days' work at a time. I'm totally fine with moving items to the next day, but after it happens once or twice I find myself getting itchy to just finish it.

Along the same lines as what's mentioned above, I try to break down big tasks into smaller increments -- it's easier to actually do, and you get a better sense of accomplishment crossing off multiple items.

Another little trick I use, which may or may not work for you: I put personal stuff in my book, even though I rarely refer to it away from my desk. What I'm reading, what I had for lunch, things I need to remember to do. I think this informs my subconscious that when the book is open, work is as important as the rest of my life.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:37 AM on January 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

Ditto the recommendations of the Now Habit and Getting Things Done.

Some people whose behaviors include those you describe have ADHD diagnoses. Independent of what you might feel about the 'disorder' label, you might find some writing on ADHD of use.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:42 AM on January 31, 2007

You do not have time to not go to therapy. This is perfectionism in its basic form. Overachievers who then fall into procrastination? Textbook.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on January 31, 2007

I respond to "non-essential" stuff in almost exactly the same way, but I do it because my boss is a complete and utter gunch. I deal with this by throwing myself more completely into the essential parts of my day, then I have a very good reason for not doing her bullshit scut work. Ahem.

I agree with suggestions upthread to keep a book or calendar - I use the Moleskine page-a-day. I use it for not only tracking appointments, but scheduling blocks of time to do the stuff that's been hanging out on my to-do list, but that I really don't want to do. I also use it for jotting down personal stuff, as mentioned, and I keep a small supply of Post-Its in the back so I can scribble out a grocery list during boring meetings. It's much more "Katrina's Stuff" that way, rather than my Daytimer, which was "Stuff For Katrina's Job". I purposely do NOT keep my work to-do list in it for that reason. It's on a separate sheet that I leave at the office. ...and FTR, I would rather be making jewelry...
posted by ersatzkat at 10:01 AM on January 31, 2007

I always recommend flylady.net on threads like this and here I am doing it again. Her web site is mainly for getting your house in order but she has fantastic insights on how perfectionism can paralyze you, and how to set up simple little routines to break out of procrastination.
posted by selfmedicating at 10:05 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Right now you're burning up all your energy trying and failing to force yourself to do things, and removing any possibility of enjoyment from your work at the same time. This leads to a situation where you subconsciously want to lose your job because it's making you miserable. Stop fighting yourself and decide to relax and follow your feelings. Trust your subconscious; when you treat it gently and make a point of listening to what it's trying to tell you then you've got a chance of getting somewhere.
posted by teleskiving at 10:23 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I say forget about the procrastination problem entirely: quit your job, run away, and join the circus.How are you going to be a trapeze artist if you're not willing to make dangerous leaps into the unknown?
As they say, this is life, the one you get, so go and have a ball.
posted by bink at 10:30 AM on January 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is it affecting your job? Are you not turning in work, or turning in shit work? Have people mentioned to you or your boss that you're slacking and need to get with it? Do you fear for your job?

If the answers are no, then don't worry about it. You don't want to make a career out of what you're doing, so there's no real reason to go above and beyond, because you're not going to be rewarded for it in the short term, and hopefully you won't be there for the long term.

I am an over-achiever. In school I finished papers early and then did extra credit assignments. In my 'side job' I exceed expectations and meet deadlines well ahead of time. Because it matters to me.

At my real job, it doesn't matter WHEN or how fast I get things done, as long as it gets done and gets done well okay. And so that's what I strive for, as it were.

If your job is the same, don't worry about it. Just get through the day so you can get to the things you really want to do.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:57 AM on January 31, 2007

Best answer: Make a list called "things I have to do today", and when you're done them, go home. The hard part is remembering to make the list, so leave yourself cues like leaving the pad and paper on your keyboard. You most certainly have underlying anxiety as well as a lack of incentive (would doing a great job matter if you could get away with a half-assed job?), but you'll quit that job soon enough, so focus on getting through it with a minimum of guilt, self-loathing, and depression.
posted by Succa at 11:07 AM on January 31, 2007

Things to Do Today:

1. Run away and join the circus.

posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:28 AM on January 31, 2007

Seriously, though, I find the timer trick helps me.
Set a timer for 15 mins. Do one task for the entire time (say, return business emails, or do monotonous paperwork) then take a 3-4 minute mental break. (go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, stand up and stretch, eat candy, whatever will get your mind refreshed)
then start from the top. If you have a few different things to do, you can alternate between them during the 15 mins, or continue working on one thing for each session.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2007

I'd been meaning to post a similar question. I am looking forward to checking back in a while to see what everyone suggests.
posted by procrastination at 12:21 PM on January 31, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far, everybody. I go back and forth between thinking that doing a mediocre job is fine (misanthropicsarah, the answers are indeed no, although I'm always a little worried that will change) and thinking that it's ridiculous and embarassing for me to be such a slacker compared to the quality of work I could be doing. While my heart isn't in the job right now, I do like the field and hope to keep working in it in some fashion, since circus is unlikely to pay all the bills and since my body won't be able to do circus forever.

Among the productivity tools I've tried, I've never kept a calendar or agenda beyond marking vacation days and meetings, so I'll give that a shot, and also try to implement 15 to 20-minute bits of productivity. Lentrohamsanin's zen answer is good stuff, too.

I'm biting my tongue on the "run away and join the circus" comments because this question is not about the logistics of that, which I have worked out pretty well. But thanks for the encouragement.

Will mark a best answer or two tomorrow.
posted by nevers at 1:09 PM on January 31, 2007

(We all want to run off and join the circus, It's pretty cool that you're actually doing something about it!)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:33 PM on January 31, 2007

Another vote for The Now Habit - I learned a lot about my procrastination problems from that book. Hasn't fixed them, but at least I understand why I'm doing it and what I need to do next.
posted by crocomancer at 1:55 PM on January 31, 2007

The point I was making was, I bet you won't have a procrastination problem when you're on a trapeze. I think you will find your focus and work ethic are just fine when you are doing something that makes your soul sing. I think you should pursue the trapeze thing now, while you're young. You can always get another boring job after you're retired from acrobatics, if you find yourself missing it.
posted by bink at 2:22 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a lot of your work involves stuff with a really crappy work-to-reward ratio. I read somewhere that one of the major causes of burnout is spending lots of time achieving nothing. If you're anything like me your motivation instantly appears whenever something new and potentally really useful pops up -- anything where a little of your time mixes with a lot of your expertise to create something really valuable. (And your motivation instantly disappears when you're handed something that any monkey could do and wouldn't matter if they didn't.)

It's been my experience that a lack of motivation is due almost exclusively due to a lack of anything to get motivated about. This is often known as "work", or "the office" and is normal.
posted by krisjohn at 4:02 PM on January 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

(there's something so deliciously ironic about this post)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:14 PM on January 31, 2007

I'm like you. I thought I was alone in anxiousness actually exacerbating the situation. Glad to know that's not the case. I am going to try the written diary of everything I do during the day, work related or not. Never heard that before, and it could be eye opening I suppose.
posted by xammerboy at 8:23 PM on January 31, 2007

So I also suffer from this problem. I have the added complication of working from home, so NO ONE'S THERE TO STOP ME from just taking a nap anytime I want, or surfing the web for 3 hours straight. It's tough. :)

I'm still struggling with my motivational problems, but I'm hoping that once I conquer this then nothing will stop me! :) Then again, it could be one of those problems you always have... ugh. But anyway, I have been improving, using some of the techniques listed above.

The only advice I didn't see here was try tackling your easiest task first. Easy can be amount of time it takes or emotional stress on you- I judge it as whichever task repulses me least when I think about it. It gives you an instant reward for motivating yourself and makes it easier to get the ball rolling. Sometimes it's just intertia that keeps me from working- once I get started I have no problem continuing.

But of course you gotta tackle those nasty projects eventually... that's when the "breaking down tasks into smaller tasks" helps.
posted by thejrae at 7:15 PM on February 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Follow-up: I quit the job. I mean, if nothing ask.me suggests helps, there must really be no hope, right? It really felt like the only solution. So far being a part-time acrobat is great. I am only now starting being a part-time freelance writer, which is what will actually bring in $$, so another follow-up is due in a few months.
posted by nevers at 7:05 PM on April 8, 2007

Response by poster: Update #2, quitting the job was so the way to go. Life is 10,000,000,000 times better now. I teach and perform acrobatics and write and edit on a freelance basis, and I'm earning less and paying a bunch for health insurance but it is absolutely without a doubt worth it. Doing some of the same work I used to (the writing and editing) is so much easier when I don't wish I were doing acrobatics instead -- since I DO get to do as much acro as I want to these days. Also, I seem to work much better when I am in total control of how I spend my time and don't have to feel self conscious about (for example) taking a ten-minute break every twenty minutes of work, which would be pretty unacceptable in an office. And if I just barely make a deadline, nobody even has to know since I am finishing it at the last minute in the privacy of my own home. So much less guilt. I spent one day doing freelance in the office recently, and it was amazing how much of the old foot-dragging and resentment came right back.
posted by nevers at 2:03 PM on December 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

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