Don’t avoid work by reading this column

  • By Monika Kristofferson Office Efficiency
  • Friday, February 28, 2014 12:55pm

There’s a funny little thing that happens sometimes when we are under the stress of deadlines or feeling overwhelmed by too many projects, our brains occasionally have a little freak out.

The limbic system is responsible for important functions such as controlling our emotions, memory and our levels of motivation.

When we are under stress, our limbic system can get hijacked and cause a few not-so-nice things to happen.

Our brain can default from a “thinking” brain to a “feeling” brain, can take control over our behavior, default to good or bad habits and make it difficult for us to control impulsive behavior. When kids do this, it may look like a temper tantrum or hitting someone even though they know they shouldn’t. When adults have a limbic system meltdown, it may cause us to default to low-value activities and avoid important activities.

What do low-value activities look like? Let’s say you are under stress to finish a report by a deadline, you hate writing reports, you’re procrastinating and you know you’re going to face a negative consequence if you don’t finish the report on time. You may:

Log onto Facebook. Get a cup of coffee. Text a friend. Surf the web. Check your email.

Chat up your co-worker.

You know you should be working, but you’re just not.

When we don’t have good work habits in place, it’s hard to fight against the bad habits and the brain.

When we employ avoidance strategies, the payoff is getting out of work we don’t like to do, we don’t know how to do or we don’t want to do. We also avoid negative feelings such as anxiety, stress and frustration. Temporarily, all is well while we play “Words with Friends,” because that is something fun to do. To determine whether or not you are engaging in avoidance strategies too much, consider these productivity buster benchmarks:

Frequency: How often is this going on?

Duration: How long has this been going on?

Intensity: How intense or extreme is this habit?

Impact: How much of a negative impact is this having on your work and/or personal life?

If you find that avoidance strategies are causing you to miss deadlines, miss out on fun activities or affecting your work or personal life negatively, it’s time to look for some solutions. Follow these tips to help yourself become more productive:

Create good habits

Your brain will default to good habits or bad habits. Be sure to strengthen your good habit muscles so you will have a better chance of overcoming the limbic system when it wants to freak out on you.

Clarify what needs to be done.

When we are unsure of how to tackle a project or what is expected of us, it’s common to put the brakes on our work. Ask questions, get answers and get to work.

Learn new skills.

If you are heading for the nearest social media site (or exit) because you don’t have the skills to match your job description, it’s time to crack open a book instead of avoiding your work. Read a book, watch tutorials, take a class or do a web search to improve your skills and knowledge so you can take on the tasks that are coming your way with confidence.

Ask for help.

Chances are good that someone you know has been down the road you are heading down now. Reach out and ask for help instead of heading down the hall to the coffee pot.

Tackle the task.

Sometimes we just have to pull up our boot straps and get ‘er done. Face the work that you don’t want to do and just get it done and then celebrate when it is checked off your list.

Delegate tasks.

Delegation is a very powerful productivity tool. There are times when the best course of action is to pass work on to someone else who can do it as well as we can or better than we can.

Make it your goal to strengthen your good habits so they can counteract the limbic system when it wants to lure you with productivity-crushing activities.

Monika Kristofferson is a professional organizer, productivity consultant and trainer who owns Efficient Organization in Lake Stevens. Reach her at 425-220-8905 or