Like most of us managing a modern office, my inbox occasionally becomes a thicket of unanswered emails, half-written messages that need to be sent and more “Sorry I’m so late getting back to you!” notes than I ever thought I’d write. It’s usually fine, we all manage, that’s life.
But every so often, I have that one email I need to write but I just can’t force myself to take care of. You know the type: it’s something you have anxiety about even after leaving the office, and you know you’re making it worse the longer you put it off. Maybe it’s not even an email. Maybe it’s a memo you have to write, a phone call you have to make, a meeting you have to set up, or whatever else in your workflow.
I’d bet you probably thought of one specific thing on your to-do list while reading that last paragraph, right? I even changed my phone message to “don’t leave me a message. Send a text, please”.
I am sure there is a therapist with a term for my particular shortcomings. Excuses excuse, right? Mine is the clock. I’d rather call you back and get to the point or simply handle it in a text, so I can get back on my gerbil wheel.
Psychologists call this kind of avoidance self-sabotage: It’s when we put off or ignore a situation or task to our own detriment because doing it would force us to confront our fears or anxieties. This often manifests itself in extreme procrastination (not that I’ve ever had problems with that), and there are many reasons we fall into these patterns (The root of my phone message procrastination? Simple; limited bandwidth. I don’t want to listen to a message then call and discuss the message).
Back to my therapist drivel. Self-sabotage is particularly dangerous to our goals because it’s self-reinforcing. By putting off tasks we don’t want to do, we experience temporary relief at the thought of not having to do them, so the cycle continues.
The problem is, there’s really no trick for breaking out of that cycle: One way or another, you’re going to have to confront the thing you’re avoiding. You can, however, ease into it by focusing on self-compassion and going easy on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for putting it off for this long — that’s already happened and there’s nothing you can do about it, just act now to set things right.
So today, take care of it. For me that meant finally writing that email; the emotional burden it lifted was incredible. Start your week on the right foot by diving in and cleaning your box!. Nothing feels better than a shiny mailbox waiting for a pile of dirt!
Have a great week!