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!

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