Procrastination is a different deal with me than with other people, but it is just as toxic.
‘I can’t clean up those papers yet because I am not going upstairs anyway right now.’
‘I will do that when I go upstairs in an hour.’
(or I do it and leave a pile on the stairs that looks like clutter)
‘I don’t have enough time to do everything I need to finish, so I need to wait until I have the uninterrupted time’
(No, you need to learn how to do one thing at a time instead of bouncing around and making a mess …)
‘Never mind the clutter, I have a plan to take care of it that goes in a flow hopping from thing to thing efficiently – as long as you don’t interrupt me, or ask me something unrelated, or need it done in a different order, or ask me to get help, all will be fine – you’ll see.’
‘Oh, and I need to be in the right mindset or zone in my head, and this could happen out of the blue. When it does, I need the flexibility to work uninterrupted – or I can’t get it done.’
Anyone who knows me well would be nodding their head in an agitated way right now. Yup, those are her excuses we are just supposed to put up with, on her terms. She was always ‘just about to do it.’
Let me interject before you stop reading and roll your eyes – I have figured out the core problems that cause this behavior and am slowly learning how to fix them (as much as possible).
Before I explain the fix, I should describe the problem so it is clear what was really going on, then my ways to fix it will make more sense.
With my obsession for perfect efficiency comes procrastination. There is always a ‘good’ reason in my head, because it is not the most efficient time or way to do X thing.
If I must get started on lots of things, I prefer to hop from thing to thing doing a little here and a little there, like an intricate efficiency web I am weaving into a 3D model with memory jogs, connections, and creative inspiration as I go.
Starting one thing and finishing it before starting something else is the antithesis of how my brain works. If anyone wants to know a way to emotionally torment and torture me, make me do that.
Asking for things to be changed or done in a different order than I planned puts my brain in a major short circuit, especially if I have no time to regroup (like GPS re-routing).
Asking me anything in this state of mind has me behaving and responding like Nigel in This is Spinal Tap being asked by Marty, ‘Why not just make 10 louder?’
I have tried to be reasonable at times because the requests make sense to me. I want to believe I have more common sense than Nigel. My IQ masks some of my dufus-ness. I just never understood why there was so much screaming in my head about it saying, ‘NO! Don’t do this to me please!!’ And then the ensuing anxiety and panic make me react in emotionally crazy or inappropriate ways.
It could be as simple as changing when to do the litter box, washing the floor, starting laundry, and doing the dishes (or asking the kids to do those things at a time I didn’t plan).
The short circuit in my brain is caused by how it makes connections to everything – and I literally do mean everything.
And my short term memory is terrible, so that just magnifies this problem.
All the things and projects I need to do or manage are in my head like a perfectly efficient interconnected 3D puzzle model.
If I had planned on things being done a certain way and a piece of that puzzle is taken out suddenly, my brain panics because there are so many 3D puzzle models connected to each other that it is not clear how rearranging that puzzle piece will affect other things I planned.
My memory hides some of the connections from instant view, so if I agree to rearrange the order of tasks I panic because I have to try to remember everything that depended on doing that task at that time, or everything that depended on ME doing that task instead of someone else.
Let’s just say that I really, really suck at that … and I make everything way more complicated than most things should be …
Here is a good example of the connections, memory problems, and the procrastination process.
I am packing for a trip, cleaning the house, doing laundry, going through stuff in the garage that I need for the trip (so might as well be efficient and go through everything while I am there), and I am home alone that day.
I start upstairs getting the laundry sorted and bring down one load at a time because the laundry room is small. So the other laundry is in piles on the floor.
I have the suitcase open that I am packing and remember that I need something in the laundry to go in there, so I write a post it note and put it in the suitcase.
I grab the things I set out before that should go in the garage while I am sorting in there, take that stuff downstairs with the laundry.
I set the garage stuff on the kitchen counter and go start the laundry.
Then I see the mop I need for doing the floor so I bring it out to the kitchen to remind me to wash the floor.
I put the stuff in the garage and then after sorting through more things I find some of what I need for the trip and I set it down by the litter box cabinet, knowing I will be doing that shortly and it will remind me to bring that stuff upstairs.
I go back in the kitchen and put dishes in the sink and am just about to start washing the floor and then I remember that my travel mug is in the dishwasher and I need that for the trip.
I think to myself, ‘no problem, when I empty the dishwasher I will see it and it will remind me’ (so that goes into a ‘checked off and done’ part of my brain and out of short term memory).
I wash the floor, then hear the laundry finish, so I put stuff in the dryer and look around for things I needed to go upstairs.
I grab the paper piles from the stairs and put that stuff in the office, to put away later. I need to be efficient and get the laundry in the washer while the dryer is going.
Oops, I just remembered that there was stuff by the litter box cabinet to bring upstairs to pack. I need to remember to get that stuff when I do the litter box.
I take down the next laundry pile to wash, then go do the litter box.
I see the stuff I need to bring upstairs, but also figured I would go through some more stuff while I was in there anyway (efficient).
I organize more stuff in the garage and pull out more stuff that I need for the trip.
I put all that stuff down on the kitchen counter while I go and fold the clothes in the dryer.
Oh yeah, I need the zip fizz in the pantry for the trip but my hands will be full going upstairs this time. I will set the zip fizz on the top of the dryer and that will remind me to bring it upstairs later while I am doing laundry in here.
I put the washer stuff in the dryer, grab the stuff to bring upstairs with the laundry, and go upstairs.
I put the laundry on the bed and put the stuff I need for the trip in the suitcase. Then I grab the next laundry pile and bring it down to put it in the washer.
I see the zip fizz and also some other protein bars I want to bring. I put them in a ziplock to bring upstairs, and hear that the dishwasher is done.
I set down the ziplock bag while I empty the dishwasher because I have another load to run after. I see the travel mug I need and set it aside with the zip fizz to bring upstairs.
I finish unloading the dishwasher, and reloading. I see the mop I didn’t put away and put it in the pantry. Then I take the ziplock bag and travel mug upstairs to put in the suitcase.
I put away the laundry on the bed, and then put the stuff away in the office that I left there a while back.
Knowing the laundry is probably ready to be changed, I grab the next pile and bring it down, then fold and change everything out. I leave the folded laundry on the counter to bring up after I go back into the garage to finish putting all that stuff away that I was organizing.
I found more stuff for the trip, I bring that upstairs with the laundry and put everything away. I see the post it note in the suitcase about the thing I needed earlier, and go get the item from the laundry and put it in the suitcase.
I lay down on the bed tired, thinking ‘wow – I got a lot done today – go me!’
My brain is kind of on auto-pilot through all this, not so conscious about the process, just knowing what I need to do in order like a robot. However, if one thing fails in this balancing act, everything crashes down. Oddly, my brain always plans for perfection and then is shocked and offended by chaos … more about that later.
Okay, now for the brain going haywire part.
In my life I was rarely alone for that length of time to do things the way I naturally want do them (efficiently and one thing reminds you of something else while hopping from thing to thing).
So, in that kind of typical several hours on a Saturday afternoon, can you see how my mind will erupt in the middle of that with an interruption or change of order or offering ‘help’ – or asking me to ask someone else to do it so I have some free time?
It isn’t that I don’t want help, it is just that so many things are dependent upon me doing them in order to remind me of other stuff. To try to remember all those connections and make sure I don’t forget stuff is maddening. It takes more effort to regroup than it does for me to just finish what I was doing. (This is where my logic fails, because it is possible to plan ahead in order to delegate, if you are organized …)
Also, if someone came home in the middle of that or was home the whole time, and wondered why the garage was a mess, laundry was everywhere not put away, the open suitcase was spilling out with stuff, and papers were stacked in the office, it would make me look like a train wreck. The anxiety worrying about judgments is very distracting and I don’t work as well under that pressure (but that is the only way others see me working …)
If even one piece to that puzzle was assigned to someone else at the last minute I go into panic mode!
(like ‘have one of the kids empty the dishwasher, they are just watching TV, you shouldn’t have to do this’ – it is a reasonable suggestion, except that It would make me forget my travel mug, zip fizz, and protein bars that I left on the counter to remind me to bring upstairs – the kids put them away with the other dishes).
I just never was able to explain that very well, and after a while people stop giving you the benefit of the doubt. Plus, it is unreasonable to expect anyone to be ok with my way of doing things all the time anyway.
I try to see changes to my plans as valid, because it actually is in many cases. I just have a difficult time trying to explain how at this point it really is better if I just finish what I was doing because it would be confusing to try to explain to anyone else all the connections (or even remember them all on the spot). Plus, there is the anxiety and panic to deal with because of the fear of my house of cards toppling over without that puzzle piece where I put it.
That is my wonky brain not being able to communicate my feelings, pouring out high strung anxiety, and doubling down in victim or stubborn mode.
Then there is a fight because I am obviously trying to be supermom and I never ask my lazy kids to do anything to free up my time. I have to be told to tell them what to do.
I am unable to properly explain what is going on in my head, so any retort in my defense sounds like an excuse to not do something else or me being a control freak.
All true, but not for the reasons that are assumed.
(I am getting to the why …)
The logic makes sense, though, and I beat myself up about it, like why can’t I just do these simple things without a problem?
Why can’t I get organized enough to delegate tasks the way a normal household works?
Why am I such a failure?
Why doesn’t anyone believe me or understand me?
Why doesn’t anyone see what I actually do get done when no one is around?
That is the unavoidable ‘chaos’ that I resented with a vengeance. Chaos made it impossible for me to show what I am capable of doing. Chaos blocked me from doing things perfectly.
But chaos is a given, so to expect it not to happen makes me unreasonable, illogical, and extremely naive.
My wonky brain will not automatically factor in chaos, so I fail way more than I succeed in most people’s perspective.
I wallow in depression and loneliness, and then anger and resentment; because I can’t explain it either, but my brain is telling me I am right and that no one really understands me.
The chaos, no backup plan, communication blocks, and stubbornness justify every negative assumption about me with this destructive behavioral pattern and my unreasonable expectations over time.
So, by now it is obvious that project management may not be the right career choice for me … just saying …
The thing that my brain does unfortunately can’t be changed, but it can be put into perspective. I can learn how to be more organized and how to do things in a way that allows for delegation and removes the control freak element.
I just didn’t know a plan B to what I was doing. I need a plan B and a plan C and to channel my ‘future focus’ to slow down and imagine all the steps.
I had to come to terms with the fact that it doesn’t matter if this way of doing things is less efficient or doesn’t work out perfectly in the order I planned.
What matters is not acting like I live on a deserted island and to stop treating people I love and care about in a demanding and controlling way to accommodate for my cognition and anxiety problems.
I need to start planning for chaos, and listen to people who are trying to help me do that (instead of resenting them like a sulking toddler).
I need to communicate better about what I am feeling and how I can be helped. Many of the worst problems having to do with this could have been easily solved if I asked for help with a Plan B and was open to learning other ways of doing things.
I cannot expect people to be sympathetic and open minded about what I struggle with if I have not given them the same respect when it comes to how they have struggled with me and my crazy problems.
Managing the ridiculous amounts of unnecessary procrastination would go far in helping me to be more organized.
I knew a lot of this about myself before, but I didn’t understand WHY my brain was fighting me so much and basically lying to me about the need to plan for chaos. THAT was the missing link that allowed me to see these issues from a new perspective.
Working with a therapist has helped me identify the areas that my brain is most likely to mislead me, and I have learned how to convince myself that I do not need to be perfectly efficient.
The anxiety that comes from that struggle in my head can be managed because I know why it is happening. It isn’t out of control anymore.
And I am sure reading The Idiot’s or For Dummies Guides would not hurt!