Work Avoidance Behavior


When I was in grad school I called it Thesis Avoidance Behavior. “T.A.B.” was a frequently used acronym in my house for a while.

I’d like to expand on Celine Roque’s insightful post Procrastination Can Be Your Ally and a comment that was left on my last post by croila. Celine talked about the reasons why people sometimes do anything but the task they should be doing, and croila, who is new to web working, expressed concern about her own self-discipline because she finds herself sometimes more inclined to clean her toilets than to get down to work.

My response to her, and the point of this post, is that I think it’s perfectly natural, and even healthy, to step away from your work (literally or figuratively) and busy your hands (or brain) at another task.

I’m a translator and tech writer. For a long time, I thought my tendency to get up in the middle of a sentence to do some household task, call the insurance company, or pop into my newsreader was a sign of lack of discipline. I was hyper-conscious of the fact that I wasn’t doing my work and I felt guilty. All of that stressed me out.

It was only after a few years of being my own taskmaster that I realized that these activities actually served an important purpose. I started to recognize a pattern. I tended to step away when I was stuck on a sentence, when my concentration was fading, or when the words weren’t flowing easily. Eventually I realized that I was no longer (consciously) thinking of my work when I was doing these other things. I was taking a real mental break. I also noticed that when I got back, I was as good as new.

So, as I said to croila, don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t fight the urge to switch gears as often as you need to and know that some days you have to do it more than others. Get to know your own personal pattern and once you’re going with your own flow you’ll be much less stressed. After all, one of the biggest benefits of web working is that you don’t have to come home to a stack of dirty dishes, clothes to be folded, and a dog that needs to be walked because he hasn’t been out in hours.

So go walk your dog. It’s OK!



I agrre that a little bit of something is never too bad, but I would like to know how you managed to write your thesis. I’m a Ph.D.candidate and keep putting things off although I can see time is running out. I just cant help it. I keep programing things but never stick to the schedule.


oooohh, thanks everyone for this enlightenment. this is leading to ‘we can’t be guilty for putting things off’ — which should help us all feel good for keeping those deadlines, even when we choose to lose sleep and get jealous of our on-time-all-the-time friends.
blogdog, i hid in a nearby hostel for a week concentrating on a report, and my officemates took all their laptops to move to my space too, and with it, all their music, talk and wondering out loud how we can possibly eat and where. you have found a great editor with a truly sacred time to concentrate. help, my problem is how to get away from people… i write, but i have no mind space in the office!and as with croila, how to begin!

thanks for your comforting blogs :)


I did the same thing when I was working in a physical office. I’d get stuck, and then I’d go to the cafe for coffee or take a walk around the campus. I just found that I was able to work through things while walking. It’s not really work avoidance; it’s a chance to think uninterrupted while away from the phone and the email inbox.

I used to have an editor who would go work at a booth in the local IHOP because he had fewer interruptions there than he did in his office. Fastest, most thorough editor I’ve ever had. He wasn’t avoiding work at the IHOP. He was avoiding everything else but work — and getting better coffee, probably.

To croila: I understand what you’re going through, especially on nice, warm, sunny days with chirping birds and people out doing yard work. My work day is set up so that I perform the same few rituals, and once those are done I can get into the real work of the day. I feed the dogs, make the coffee, and then clear my email inboxes and respond to any important social-network stuff. After all of the nagging (and barking) issues are taken care of, it’s time to do the real work. It’s the only thing that’s left to do. Adopting this routine as a daily habit works for me.

Sure, there are days when you feel completely uninspired. Give your main task a shot anyway, and see if you get wrapped up in it in spite of yourself. If not, there’s no sin in getting the simpler tasks off your to-do list while thinking about work. Laundry ranks up there with status reports; they all need to get done.


Work at home folks can be really sheepish about putting on some laundry or running an errand in the middle of their work day, but when you’re on site, no one thinks of it when you run into that one guy in the kitchen and spend half an hour bullshitting about his vacation or taking an hour out to go to the gym.

One of the reasons I love to work at home is because the method is out of view, it’s all about the results.

Or, I totally agree. :)


I appreciate what you’re saying, that it’s important to take breaks. But my problem seems to be forcing myself to commence work to start with! It’s okay once I’ve started, I’m fine and get into a good “flow” – it’s just taking that initial step.

I’m in the position where I’d probably be allowed to do more work from home if I asked. But, oh good grief, forcing myself to just START it is the problem!

These are great articles, by the way. I’m glad I found this site :-)

Pamela Poole

Marcia, we need those days, you’re right. I hope you’re still taking them! I am also utterly incapable of traveling without my laptop!

Pamela Poole

Oh JT! That’s not good! I can’t write a reverse post. I go through periods like that, but at some point my brain or body will just insist I change gears. I do think you should train yourself to take a break every now and then!

Marcia Robinson

I totally agree that a little work avoidance is completely necessary in order to maintain one’s sanity.

As a full time working mom, with husband and kids, I would take G.O.D days as I pushed to finish up my Masters. Those “Goof-Off-Days” were important, even though I had to work hard to fight off the guilt.

No luck yet trying to take vacations without laptop!

JTPratt's Blogging Mistakes

Write a reverse post. For me usually I work too much and don’t get anything else done. I fall asleep at the laptop and I find myself trying to type while on the toilet. When I use someone else’s PC I find myself trying to use a trackpad that’s not there I use my own laptop so much.

I need to learn a little work avoidance!

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