4 Ways to Tackle Task Avoidance

I turned 48 this year. And just a few months ago I went to my first (ever!) eye appointment. Why did I put off going to the eye doctor for so long? It wasn’t until a year ago that I started getting nervous. What exactly do they do to you during an eye exam? And what health problems have crept in after all those years of neglect? What if I have eyeball cancer? And that puff of air they shoot into your eyes? Holy hell.

I’m the queen of task avoidance. Besides putting off eye appointments, I avoid lots of things—returning emails, washing piled-up dishes, calling the parents. I also drag my feet on important projects at work. While some friends and co-workers think I have this amazing work ethic, I often waste time because it’s so hard for me to get some things done.

There are many reasons for task avoidance among ADHDs—even us inattentive types: This task totally sucks (it’s boring) . . . I’m completely overwhelmed . . . I don’t know how to start . . . I’m not organized yet . . . It’s just too hard! (Somebody needs to call the whaaaaaaambulance.)

Here’s my reason for task avoidance: It’s how I cope with stress. I’m a worrier. Because I’m ADHD and an introvert, I’m in my head A LOT. What if I don’t do it right? What if I look stupid? What if I don’t get it done on time? Add to that how much I suck at executive functioning. I have a hard time organizing my life, planning events, and tracking progress on projects. These things might seem easy to some people. But to me they’re stressful. Deep down I want to believe that if I avoid these tasks—Poof!—the stress is gone! But, of course, that doesn’t work for long.

If you’re still reading this, stress and task avoidance might go hand-in-hand for you. If so, read on for four strategies that can you help you tackle your stress-induced task avoidance.

1. Confront your emotions

That guilt, shame, or worry could be from negative self-talk. When I catch myself switching to email instead of working on a paper, I stop and make note of what I’m feeling. Right away I hit on a self-criticism (“I won’t do it correctly.”). I then have a reply to that negative thought (“You’ve written other papers just like this one, so you obviously know what you’re doing. You’ve got this.”).

2. Clarity is control

A task can seem daunting if you’re not sure how to do it. If so, just ask someone for help. Or get your boss to give you more detailed instructions. At my job, I can consult one of many lengthy manuals and handbooks for guidance . . . But I just email the person who’s expecting my end product. So, ask yourself a few questions to get better clarity, such as: 1. Why does this task need to be done? 2. What steps do I need to take? 3. What should the end product look like?

3. Win with the right incentive

It’s nice to know there’s a reward at the end of a task, especially if it’s an ice-cold beer. Seeking rewards partly comes from the dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates our feelings and encourages us to seek out pleasure. Sometimes that pleasure is just the satisfaction from a job well done. Um, that usually doesn’t work for me. I and many other ADHD types are dopamine addicts. We have low levels of the stuff and constantly want more. So amp up the incentive. Did you finally get around to washing the dog? Go head and enjoy that ice-cold beer. If you’re having trouble thinking of rewards, check out this link.

4. Overpower your distractions

What do you do when you’re bored at work? Do you check your email for the 20th time? Do you scan your Twitter account for a new crazy Tweet from a certain U.S. President? Sudoku is my vice. Well, it’s one of them. The best way to handle your distractions is to be aware of them. The next time you’re staring down a tough project, write down all the little time-wasting things you feel like doing instead. Taking inventory will help you be more mindful of your tendencies to sidetrack. Maybe turn some of those distractions into incentives (see #3) if that gets you your dopamine fix.

In case you’re wondering, I scheduled that eye appointment—and I actually kept it! I survived the puffs of air. I got my first retinal scan (no eyeball cancer). Except for my need for reading glasses, my eyes are pretty healthy. Yay!

Now I have a doctor appointment to schedule . . . But I haven’t logged into my LinkedIn account today.

That’s okay. LinkedIn will still be there once I get that doctor appointment on the calendar.

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