Hello Caller: How can I stop procrastinating at work?

Hello Caller is our new advice column in which psychotherapist Ms. X answers readers’ questions on manners, morals and mental health. This week, Ms. X tackles the procrastination-guilt-procrastination shame spiral.

Dear Ms X.

I am really struggling with motivation at work.

On the outside, I really enjoy my job, but when it comes down to actually doing anything, I procrastinate to the point where I feel stressed that I haven’t done anything all day, but I still can’t bring myself to actually do anything (I’m procrastinating writing you this letter!). I then go home and stress about all the the things I didn’t do, and the next day, I get in to work early, to cross some things off the list, and STILL DO NOTHING.

How do I get shit done?

J (aged 30)

Hello Caller,

Procrastination is clinically very interesting from a therapist’s point of view but crap to be experiencing, particularly as a chronic state.

To get to the bottom of your procrastination predicament, I have some questions for you. They may prove useful as a jumping off point for you in working this out for yourself.

When did it start? Do you have goals beyond the place in your career you are at right now, or having finished study and started your career, have you gotten stuck? This would not be unusual at the age of 30. It is a relatively common plateau time.

Speaking for myself, I have experienced those points in life when we’ve achieved certain goals, dismissed others, but not imagined or planned for what comes next. So we end up hanging around in a kind of limbo, one that probably looks okay from the outside but isn’t that great on the inside.

Do you feel blah about your personal life as well, or is it just an at-work situation? Do you procrastinate at home?

And ask yourself what the procrastination is meant to achieve. Is there an unconscious desire to make life more dramatic and interesting by putting everything off till the last minute? Like casting yourself in an action film that only you are watching?

Or does the procrastination sit further down the mood scale, more in the apathetic “Meh – who gives a fuck?” territory?

I know I am asking a lot of questions here but I am trying to establish if this has a depressive element within it for you. If you do find yourself procrastinating in all areas of your life or have lost interest in things you used to enjoy, it may mean you require some meds to kickstart you back up. That’s not a given, just something to consider if this is a persistent mood for you.

Try and really work out what is driving it so you can solve it. You might want to try some talk therapy if it feels too much to undo on your own. Caller, you can also write back to me with more detail if you want to.

In the mean time – LISTS. Make a list and bloody do it.

I mean it. Unless you feel that losing your job and financial security is a tip top path for you, make a list and just actually do each thing. Be unrelenting with yourself. No breaks or rewards until the first five are done, that kind of thing. Put your big boy pants on. No excuses, no shrugging or “Meh”. Even if only to do your job so you are not a total pain in the arse to your workmates.

And maybe your job is boring to you now – maybe you need to set new goals or take on some new responsibilities to change shit up a bit.

Personally I suspect many people involved in extreme adventure sports do them because they hate their day jobs. So you could always start throwing yourself around outdoors in Lycra and see what happens in your mind and mood in relation to procrastination.

Think about what you want and what you like doing and are good at. You should talk to smart people you trust about this. Do not talk to parents or aunties who always wanted you to do something because of their own frustrations or stymied goals – anyone with an agenda beyond your improved life is not to be consulted.

And, once more with feeling, make a list. A hot tip from a colleague: shorter lists can be best when starting out – just five things that are absolute priorities, not a list of 45. So, short lists as a starter.

And follow through.


Ms. X

P.S I kept thinking about you after I wrote my reply, Caller. Then I happened upon this documentary trailer.


Now I don’t know what it MEANS exactly but I think you need to get out more. Get some perspective. Watch and do some interesting shit. Like these kids. Engage in life even if it sometimes ends in salty tears.

Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to hellocaller@thespinoff.co.nz, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.

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