4 Ways Busy People Sabotage Themselves

From The Harvard Business Review:

You’ve left an important task undone for weeks. It’s hanging over you, causing daily anxiety. And yet instead of actually doing it, you do a hundred other tasks instead.

Or you’ve been feeling guilty about not replying to an email, even though replying would only take 10 minutes.

Or maybe the last time you needed stamps, you went to the post office to buy a single stamp because you couldn’t find the 100-pack you purchased a few months ago. You know it’s around… somewhere. But you just don’t have the time to clean your desk to find it.

. . . .

1. You keep ploughing away without stepping back and prioritizing.

When we’re busy and stressed, we often default to working on whatever has the most imminent deadline, even if it’s not particularly important. Stress causes our focus to narrow to the point where we’re just keeping going, like a hamster on a wheel. We respond to emails and go through the motions of getting things done, without actually stepping back and considering what’s most important to work on. You might find yourself spending several hours on a task that wasn’t that important to begin with, even though you have a mountain of other things to be doing.

The solution is to step back and work on tasks that are important but not urgent. Use the “pay yourself first” principle to do items that are on your priority list first, before you jump to responding to other people’s needs. You might not be able to follow this principle every day, but aim to follow it for several days of the week.

. . . .

4. You use avoid or escape methods for coping with anxiety.

People who are overloaded will have a strong impulse to avoid or escape anxiety. Avoidance could be putting off a discussion with your boss or avoiding telling a friend you can’t make it to her wedding. Escape could be rushing into an important decision, because you want to escape needing to think about it further. This can lead to a pattern of excessively delaying some decisions and making others impulsively. Avoidance and escape can also take other forms — an extra glass of wine (or three) after work, binge-watching TV, or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. It might even be ticking less-important things off your to-do list to avoid the urgent task that’s making you anxious.

If you want to deal constructively with situations that trigger anxiety for you, you’ll need to engineer some flexibility and space into your life so that you can work through your emotions and thoughts when your anxiety is set off. With practice, you’ll start to notice when you’re just doing something to avoid doing something else.

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review

6 thoughts on “4 Ways Busy People Sabotage Themselves”

  1. As a former cognitive behavioural therapist I observe that people tend to repeat the same mistakes because ultimately they believe they have the right answer, but it didn’t work for other reasons.

    The key to change being the acceptance that they have spent years repeating the mistake and getting them to accept that it doesn’t work and to try something new instead.

    The worse that can happen being that the new answer doesn’t work, but at least you now know more than you did before.

    • Or reading SF to avoid watching the news, which these days are full of nothing but people sabotaging themselves while trying to ruin others.

      • Or writing SF. 😉

        In my tale trying to childproof the world is a bad thing.
        Much better to train the child to be able to take on anything that comes their way …

  2. I do a lot of stupid, self-destructive things. So what? They make me what I am. I also get a few things right. If I mess up the things I get right by diverting energy to changing the things I get wrong, what is the net? I guess I will keep shuffling along, doing my best.

  3. Based on my own experience, I warn the obsessive-compulsives among us that this only seems to get worse as you age, with more tasks joining the “I can’t face that right now” pile, and more paralysis triggers setting in with a single undone complex task, when it used to take 3 or 4.

    It seems to be a “harder to learn new things…” issue, since the tasks that I’ve never done before are considerably more daunting than the ones where I’ve broken the ice before, and I didn’t used to be that risk-averse in a learning situation. It’s not that the tasks are objectively difficult; it’s that they’re in some way new.

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