Category Archives: Overwhelm

From PROcrastination to PROductivy

I recently went to an event where my friend and fellow life/ADHD coach Amy Falk gave an excellent presentation on overcoming procrastination. With her permission, I pass on a summary of her talk in this week’s newsletter.

Amy uses the following definitions of procrastination:

  • An attempt to cope with tasks that are boring, overwhelming or anxiety-producing.
  • Doing one thing to avoid doing something else.

Tongue planted firmly in her cheek, she then quotes a definition of “tomorrow” as “A mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation and achievement is stored.”

“Productive procrastination” is where we do everything else on our to-do list than the item we are avoiding. True, we get a lot done, but not the most important one. “Activity” does not equal “productivity.”

People procrastinate for many reasons, which one(s) of these are yours?

  • Overwhelm
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of Failure
  • Fear of Success
  • Rebellion/Passive Aggressiveness/Resistance to control
  • Lack of Clarity
  • Lack of Self-Efficacy
  • Lack of Self Confidence
  • Biology/Neurology (ADD/ADHD)
  • Nature’s Ritalin (“I work better under pressure.”)

Before you can overcome procrastination, you need to really understand where it’s coming from. Sometimes just sitting down and reflecting, journaling, talking to a trusted friend or co-worker can help. Sometimes you’ll need to go deeper with a coach, a psychotherapist, or other trained professional. The list above can help, but it’s really just a start, and it’s not all-inclusive.

“Just Do It” is a great slogan for Nike, but can be a terrible phrase for those who are stuck. “Just Start!” is much more realistic.

Here are Amy’s suggestions.

  • Break It Down – create a list of each separate step in a larger task.
  • Use a Timer – work on something for a small increment of time, use a timer to keep you from hyper-focusing.
  • Accountability – Let people know what you plan to do. Be specific!
  • Create Real Deadlines – False deadlines rarely work.
  • Body Double – Have someone with you as you work. Having another’s presence reminds you of your plan to work on a particular They don’t even have to be working with you, they can be doing their own thing, but can remind you to stay on track.

Many thanks to Amy for letting me use information from her presentation. If you would like to learn more about Amy, check out her website at

If you have come to one of my presentations, or have been reading my newsletter, you will note that many of the suggestions above are familiar. Whether or not you have ADHD, many of the solutions for procrastination are similar. Even so, there’s no “one size fits all” for everyone. Working with a trained and certified life coach or ADHD coach can really help. If you would like to schedule a complimentary session with me to see if coaching is right for you, email me at


Tool #10 – Making Change? Get Support!

Change is hard, there is no doubt about it. Some people can make and maintain a significant change on their own, but they tend to be in the minority. For most of us, it takes the support of others to keep us on the straight and narrow, especially when the going gets tough. There’s a reason that support groups are so popular: it’s because people have a much higher rate of successful change with they have people who will support them, encourage them, and hold them accountable. When you work with a support person or group, you make your plan, then you tell them what your plan is, when you are going to do it, and how they’ll know that you did it. Research shows that when we tell our intentions to others, follow-through increases.

You might want to join an established support group, such as Weight Watchers, an exercise group at your local gym or Y, or one of the various kinds of groups provided at many houses of worship. Or you can start your own group. Find one or more friends who have a common goal and work well together to help each other.

Support can come in many forms, not just in groups. Do you have a friend who you can turn to, who will help you through the rough parts and keep you honest if you start to backslide? You don’t want to use someone who is harsh and critical, but you certainly don’t want what I call a “poor baby” person either – a person who will accept your excuses and unintentionally support your failure. You need someone who will “hold your feet to the fire” when it would be easier for you to “cave in”. Someone who will encourage you, gently nudge you, and see through your excuses.

You can hire support people; professional support can be the most effective at all for many kinds of changes. Nutritionists, personal coaches, therapists and life coaches are all examples of people who are trained to help you in your quest for change. They can function as cheerleaders, educators, and mirrors – reflecting back to you what they observe, helping you learn about yourself and discover the roots of what is holding you back. Life coaches are trained specifically to help people find the obstacles to a desired change. They help people examine beliefs, mindsets, and habits that might be getting in the way. They have no agenda, so can often be more objective than a friend or family member can be.

No matter where you find support, be it a group, a friend, or a coach, don’t be afraid to reach out when you are looking to change your life. It can make the difference between success and failure.

Avoiding a Task? Break It Down

In my January newsletter, I briefly summarized the 10 Joy of Getting Things Done Tools that can help you succeed with your goals, such as New Year’s Resolutions. This month I will go into detail about Tool #3: Break It Down.

Think of a task that you’ve been putting off just because the sheer enormity of it is daunting. There are lots of jobs that we’re afraid to start because the thought of them brings knots to our stomachs.  For many people, it’s cleaning out their office or a specific space in their house. The best way do deal with such a task is to break it down into a series of smaller tasks that aren’t so menacing.  By focusing on each small task, we can actually make progress without ending up feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing.

Good teachers do this for their students all the time when they assign long-term projects, such as research papers. They break  the assignments up into smaller goals, and assign a due-date for each.  You can do the same for your own large jobs.

If you are cleaning up a room or organizing a space, put all of the items that are out of place into boxes.  I personally prefer big clear plastic bins, but heavy cardboard ones will also work. Just go through the area, throwing everything that is not where it should be into the boxes. Don’t make any decisions about the stuff as you put it in the boxes, just get it in there quickly. (One exception: have a special box for items you know you will be needing soon.)

The area will suddenly look clean, and all of the clutter has been broken down into discrete units (the boxes).  Now you can clean out one box at a time in a space that is not overwhelming you with its messiness.  One caveat: when you use this method, be sure to have a plan for cleaning out those boxes!  Otherwise, they can become permanent storage, which is probably not what you had in mind.

You can also divide up a project by just working away at it for predetermined “chunks” of time – maybe an hour, maybe only 20 minutes if that’s all you can face doing at one sitting. Simply set your timer and dig in. Think only about what you are currently working on, not on the whole project. Try to do one time-chunk per day, or maybe two per weekend, or whatever schedule works for you. See the March, 2011 JoyofGTD Newsletter for more information about using a timer.

Almost any project can be broken down into manageable segments.  With a little thought, you can make a big, overwhelming project into a series of small, accomplish-able ones.

Even More Reasons We Avoid – Part 3 of 3

This is the final installment of a 3-part series about avoidance, a problem many people grapple with. The first two, Why Are You Avoiding? and More Reasons We Avoid may be viewed in separate blog posts.  Understanding our reasons for avoiding problems, decisions or tasks can often lead to facing them.  Here are some more things to think about as you work to understand your own procrastination.

We avoid cleaning up because we don’t know what to do with our stuff. I see this a lot with people who are trying to clean up. They have an item that sits out on a counter or table because they don’t know what to do with it. They don’t want to get rid of it, but they don’t know where to keep it. So, they put it back where it was, thinking, “I’ll figure out what to do with this another time.” It’s another case of deciding by not deciding. What you are actually deciding is, “This is where I’m going to store this item long-term,” because as long as you are avoiding dealing with it here and now, chances are very small that you’ll find a place to keep it further on down the line. So things typically find homes on floors, tables and counter tops, instead of having a home that is truly “away.” Consider creating a “drop dead date” for the decision. When the date comes, either find a real storage place for the item, or get rid of it.

We avoid cleaning out because we don’t have anyplace to put our stuff. What if you know where you’d like to keep an item, but that place is full to bursting? Sometimes this is a circular problem. You can’t put your clutter away because all of your storage place is so full that there is just no room to store it appropriately. And people get stuck cleaning out the storage space because they just don’t know how to approach it. Here’s an approach that many people find helpful. Pick just one small area of your house, maybe a closet, maybe a cabinet, maybe just one shelf. Get a couple of sturdy boxes. I particularly like the 66-quart latchbox that Sterilite makes because it’s strong, see-through, and stackable, but any kind of sturdy boxes will do, including good cardboard boxes.

Now throw everything on that shelf or closet or area into the boxes, so that you are starting with a fresh space. Go through the boxes one at a time — which is much easier because you’ve broken the task into manageable units. But be sure the boxes don’t become a graveyard for the stuff you’ve put in them! Decide on the maximum number of boxes you can — and will — deal with at one time. For some people, it works to fill just one box, clean it out, then fill it again. Others can fill 10 boxes, clean them out, and fill them again. Be realistic, decide on what number works for you.

If you find that dealing with your stuff is too painful on your own, coaching can help. Together we can figure out what is getting in the way of getting rid of that stuff. Is it your logistics? Are you overwhelmed? Do you not know where to start? We can work together to tackle your “stuff problem”, and find systems that help you get on top of your stuff.