Dear Amy: I love my job and career.
My manager is flexible and kind, my coworkers are helpful and fun to work with and the work is challenging and enjoyable. It’s what I want to do with my life.
But, when faced with tasks, I somehow lack the motivation to finish them until the very last second. This has been a problem in a lot of areas of my life (mostly housework and previously, schoolwork). I don’t have ADHD or depression, but I do have some anxiety, and I don’t know if it is related. I am in therapy for other things, but have yet to hit on a solution.
Sometimes, my brain is screaming, “Shut that browser window and do the thing they’re paying you to do!” but then I watch myself NOT do that.
The work gets done and it gets done well and on its due date, but for the days or hours leading up, I find myself unable to avoid distraction. I can’t find the motivation.
Is this uncommon? I don’t want to sabotage my life or career. The work does get done, but in the moments where I should be doing it, instead I’m cruising around online, sending emails, doing unrelated research — anything but the thing itself. How can I curb this behavior?
— Happy But Unmotivated
Dear Unmotivated: I’ll skip over my mini-lecture about “time theft” at your workplace, and get right to what I think is going on.
I suspect that your issue is not actually motivation, but procrastination. And yes, your anxiety is both a source and a product of your procrastination.
First of all, you could consider this behavior as part of your “process.” My house is never cleaner than when I have a deadline, but during this time, I find I’m mentally noodling on the work I have to do.
Here are my personal tips:
Start each day by making your bed (!), followed by a bit of outdoor exercise. Keep it simple — walk around the block, unplugged from your phone.
Get a notebook and a black and a red pen.
Casually break down your day and your larger tasks into a list of small reminders, using bullet points in black, with an open circle or square next to each one. When a task is completed, fill in the open space with the red pen.
I cannot stress enough the satisfaction of coloring in that open square!
(“Make the bed.” DONE!)
Set yourself a loose timeline of things to do before noon, and things to do by 5 p.m., and make sure to include tasks that you enjoy.
Set up a reward (or bribe) system, such as: “After I send five work-related emails, I will visit the break room.”
Deliberately adjust your final deadline to a day ahead of schedule. Beating the clock will feel great.
Set aside 30 minutes every Sunday to open your work at home and at least look at it. This will help you to kick off your week with less messy angst.
Readers will surely want to weigh in.
Dear Amy: I am a 36-year-old single man.
I don’t really want to get married for a bunch of reasons (like the high infidelity and divorce rates and all the responsibilities, expenses, obligations, etc.). Family life isn’t really appealing to me.
I work with a lot of older adults and at least once a week I get questions like: “Why aren’t you married? Have you found a mate yet? Where is your girlfriend? When are you going to get married?” I’ve also been asked if I’m gay.
When I respond honestly and say that I don’t really want to get married, they usually argue with me.
I don’t get offended by these questions, but they’re just too awkward.
What’s a good response?
Dear Wondering: I do enjoy these “what should I say?” questions because they give me the opportunity to do a little armchair scripting.
After the first round of queries, which you handle pleasantly, when the inquisition goes deeper, you can say, “Let me leave it at this: I am an International Man of Mystery.”
Dear Amy: “Worried” reported that she had exaggerated a claim for her professional qualifications.
Thank you for telling her to make it right!
I am shocked by how often people are faced with a very clear choice, and yet don’t know what to do.
— Honest to a Fault
Dear Honest: These solvable dilemmas are the beating heart of this column.