Destructive Procrastination - Perspectives? Approaches?

For the last 3-4 months I have been locked into an incredibly destructive procrastination mode. My normally productive life has become a morass of dishes in the sink, laundry piles on the floor, and unaddressed work requirements.

I am actually slightly less overwhelmed with work than over the previous few years, and the Celtling is more self-sufficient which allows me a bit of “me time” now and again. My home is smaller, and I have no yard to care for, so those chores came off the list as well.

It’s as if, having coming out of constant-emergency mode, I have lost all impetus. If I once sit down in the armchair, I set up like concrete. Often on a Saturday I am shocked to realize I’ve been sitting for four or five hours straight flicking through TV channels and surfing the net. This is utterly unheard of for me. Normally even to watch a two hour movie I’d need to be crocheting or mending, or taking some other productive action in parallel.

Depression? Doesn’t fit. I am enjoying what I always enjoyed, and not sad or irritable. But it’s definitely true that I sometimes sit down to a task and simply can not force my mind to concentrate on it. When I think about a task the day before, I’ll be clear on what needs to be done, but when I sit down to do it it’s like the knowledge leaves me entirely.

I’ve talked to my Dr. and my counselor, and neither thinks medication will help. My counselor is still cogitating on what he thinks is up. (Or he’s just not going to tell me yet. :: roll eyes :: )

Procrastination has always been an issue for me, but now it feels like it’s in control. It’s to the point of missing deadlines rather than just flirting with them.

So what do you think, Dopers? You are not my Doctors, and I don’t intend to take you advice unless I have decided on my own that it is both wise and productive.

What, other than depression might cause this?

What perspectives or thought tangents might help me nail down what’s going on here?

What are your strategies for fighting procrastination?

Thanks for any input you may have!

I hope you get some good answers here since I have a very similar problem. Since I retired I find that I can spend hours playing computer solitaire. Not what I had in mind for retirement. I’m not depressed either (been there, done that). I wonder what it is that, when life gets less stressful, turns some of us in to, well, lumps. Anyone?

I went through a period like that in peri-menopause–especially the concentration thing. It eventually got better.

I’ve dealt with bipolar/depression since the mid 1980s and am quite familiar with the “can’t deal with it now” syndrome! It can easily lead to paralysis by analysis, as well as everything feelng like such huge chore that even a small step feels both ovewhelming and pointless.

I have found that ruminating on the “why” really doesn’t get me anywhere. Strategies that help include fear of starvation (in that l absolutely must work to keep everyone fed and bills paid), and taking frequent baby steps, like daily, to stay on top of mundane tasks. I have found the app extremely helpful in that regard. For instance, one of my daily tasks was to do at least one cleaning organzing thing in each room in the house before going to work. It could be a very tiny thing such as fold an item of clothing and put it away so the entire daily task might take as little as five minutes. There are lots of sites like that - unfuckyourhabitat and flylady are also good.

Other strategies that work for me: get out in nature, even for 20 minutes, preferably with a dog. Get up really early and take a walk or clean house. Be social (outside of work), faking it until l make it, because doing stuff IRL with people l know, even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store together or stopping by for a brief visit, gets me out of my own head.

Also l have come to realise that living in a mess really, really, really makes life feel unpleasant. And that unless l am in a seriously dark place, it only takes 30 minutes or less per day to keep things presentable and maneagable.

Jeez that all sounds lame but it’s helped me. Sorry for not hyperlinking, l am on my tablet.

Very helpful! Thank you.

If not depression could it be a low grade infection or even lack of REM sleep?
Before all the cancers were discovered I did the same thing… Just wasn’t well

have you, by any chance, moved from a period of extremely high stress to now being in an period of much lower stress? Since you’re asking for our opinions, I think, my experience moving from high stress to a less stressful (not saying no stress), is that 1) my brain took the opportunity to reboot and 2) I had to retrain myself to function and get things done without the impetus of stress.

If you have been very stressed for a while, you may need (or have needed) a time period without getting much done.

Now that it’s starting to bug you a bit, it may be time to re-learn how to do things without the same level of pressure.

If this sounds remotely plausible, I can mention some of the things that worked for me. They may or may not work for you.

I wouldn’t get too down on yourself, btw. Everyone needs a re-boot now and then.

I’ve also been feeling recently that I was letting things pile up while I frittered away my time, and I came up with a strategy that has been working okay so far.

When I get home from work, as soon as I put down my bag I set my kitchen timer for 15 minutes. (Today I fell back into old habits and went straight to my computer, but when I saw this thread I remembered and went back into the kitchen.) Then I take care of chores until the beep. This includes putting away groceries, doing dishes, starting a load of laundry, sorting the mail, paying bills, and any kind of decluttering or cleaning.

It typically doesn’t take anywhere near 15 minutes to take care of everything urgent, so then I have to spend the rest of the time doing smaller things that are easy to put off. I just spent a couple of minutes going after dust bunnies in my bedroom.

A change in perspective on procrastination is what helped me.

Procrastination is a way for your brain to avoid stress. You have a problem that’s very frustrating and it’s causing you stress. The brain, your faithful servant, needs to find a way to get rid of this stress. There are two ways the brain can do this.

The first way is to come up with a reason to avoid the problem for now. Anyone who has ever procrastinated knows how good it feels to put off a problem until the next day and continue with their Scandal marathon on Netflix. Of course the problem is still there and eventually you’ll have to deal with it. And of course things only get more frustrating the longer you put them off. Things never get easier if you avoid them.

However, there is another way of removing stress that procrastinators don’t acknowledge. The second way is to solve the problem right away. This achieves the same exact goal that putting off a problem does, but with the added benefit that you resolved your problem.

Everyone who uses either method is driven by the same thing - to avoid stress. Only the people who do not procrastinate were somehow taught the much more productive way of doing it.

What you should learn to do is focus on how much stress you’ll avoid by doing something right away instead of putting it off for later. If something is bothering you, think about how much better you’ll feel if you just do it now. Think about how horrible you’ll feel if the problem stays on your mind for the next few weeks.

I have a 5-step checklist process, when a task arises to be done.

  1. Determine whether it really needs to be done at all. If yes,

  2. See if there is a workaholic around, eager to do it. If no,

  3. Sit down and think through an efficient plan for getting it done.

  4. Get the job over with as quickly as possible.

  5. Return to leisure mode…

Two possible candidates from my own life:

  1. How’s your vision? One of the things I notice as my eyeglass prescription gets out of date: I’m not consciously aware of the eyestrain or the change, and yet I start avoiding things that require my eyes… which is just about anything, really. I’ll do things like play solitaire or watch TV because I can do those without having to really focus my eyes.

  2. Is there some looming thing that you’re avoiding? I sometimes find myself saying “I can’t mow the lawn tonight or do dishes tonight, I have to do this tax return.” But I don’t really want to do the tax return and as a result, I wind up getting nothing at all done. I’d have been better off either actually doing the thing I dread, or giving myself explicit permission to do something else.

And maybe a general suggestion: sometimes I just need to get something - *anything *- done. The positive feedback from even a small accomplishment is enough motivation to set out and start something more important. Often, the first task I pick is something trivially easy, like making sure all the paper on my desk is in a single, neat stack. Or watering the houseplants.

This sounds very like writer’s block. Actually exactly like it. I have a strategy for this which really works. Adapted to the broader problem, it would be something like:

  1. Get a timer.
  2. Decide to do something that needs doing. Not finish it, just work on it. Pick something very easy, like folding towels.
  3. Decide how long you know you can keep folding towels. If it’s one minute, fine, set your timer for one minute.
  4. When the timer goes off, make a decision to reset the timer and continue folding towels, or do some more nothing.

The reason this works is that you have to keep deciding to do small things, in a small way, which sets up a flow.

I know that one of the main reasons I procrastinate is because there is some large obstacle I don’t want to think about or somehow can’t bring up to consciousness. Often it turns out to be a surprisingly valid reason for not doing something, which could have been addressed if only I could have made myself think about it.

Yes, literally several years of constant emergency mode. Now releasing, and it’s like I don’t know how to move without the energy panic provides.

Thanks for this! I tried setting the timer when I sat down today, and it helped immensely. I got up again in a reasonable time period and avoided that horrible moment of realizing that the entire day is gone and I’ve accomplished nothing.

See, this is me normally. I am the original “hurry up and get it done so we can play” person. Normally.

Really good suggestions, thanks! Writer’s block is a perfect description of what happens when I sit down to a work task - reading contracts or analyzing proposals. My brain just turns off and refuses to function. I feel betrayed by my brain, if that makes sense.

I seem to have lost the link to the peri-menopause comment, but that’s also a possibility I hadn’t considered. I am the right age, and have all the right bits, as it were.

Thanks everyone! Using a timer to avoid the brain fog time suck has really helped today. I got several loads of laundry done, although my resume is still crying to be updated. LoL!