Ask the Experts

Q: I Busy Myself with Unimportant Stuff While Missing Critical Deadlines

It’s easy to keep your hands and mind occupied with “busy work” while procrastinating on important responsibilities. Here, learn strategies for interrupting this unproductive, stressful cycle without making massive life changes.

Q: “I’m so overwhelmed with responsibilities, ranging from extremely important to a mega amount of random thoughts. I don’t know where to start, so I immerse myself in something that keeps my mind off all the important stuff I’m not completing. During that time, I’m anxious and frustrated that I’m doing this but I can’t stop! I’m really screwing my life up. What can I do to start facing and completing the work I’m ignoring? I know the strategy of chunking this work into smaller, manageable pieces but I have no success with that.”  — Jdrazz

Hi Jdrazz:

Let me first assure you that you are not alone. More than half the population procrastinates in some form or other. We are all wired to put things off – even the important stuff – BUT we also have the capacity to override this tendency. Here are some strategies to try:

Ask yourself “What is the ONE thing you can do that will make everything else easier?” Try changing the narrative in your head from “I’m so overwhelmed with EVERYTHING I need to do” to “What is the best thing to begin with?” By asking this one question, you have released yourself from feeling anxious and overwhelmed and instead can focus on making that one step to get going.   Also try asking, “What could possibly get in my way?” I love this question as I am slaying my demons before they slay me. Writing them down will make them even more powerful and easier to confront.

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Make getting started super simple. Just starting a task with something easy and small — even if it’s begun poorly — can set us up for success. Research shows that even the worst procrastinators can improve by creating a very small goal to begin. One decision to make, one email to write, one piece of clothing to put away, one bill to pay. You get the idea. Chances are good that once you start, you’ll keep on going.

Have you heard of “body doubling?” A body double functions as an anchor. The presence of another individual focuses a person and makes it possible to stay focused on important tasks. Perhaps you can enlist a friend or family member to sit with you. This close proximity can help you stay anchored, focused and on task.

Forgive yourself. We get super angry with ourselves when we procrastinate over and over again. And research shows that all that negativity is making the problem worse! So instead of getting on your case about it, forgive yourself. You’ll be better off for it.

If you would like more tips, check out our 1-hour “Kick Procrastination to the Curb” video, chock full of tools to get you unstuck and started. Good Luck!

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Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, answers questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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