The Link between Procrastination & Task Anxiety

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Part 1 about Procrastination —
part of the Intentionality Series, supporting
Organization and Task Completion

The terror of tiered tasks

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

I’ve developed a new philosophy…
I only dread one day at a time.
Charlie Brown
(Charles Schulz

A tiered task is one where you need to “insert tab A into slot B”, but first you need to insert some other tab into some other slot — which you can’t do until you insert still another tab into still another slot.

That’s it! Most people with attentional challenges can stay tracked for about three “tiers” before they begin to hear the warning signals of impending Boggle and run screaming to avoid it!

I know I do.

Domino Problems*

In an earlier article in a related series, I used a humorous — but not altogether unfamiliar — example to explain the concept of “tiered tasks.”

I walked you through a you-are-there decision tree that made things practically impossible during an attempt to put away groceries in a hopelessly cluttered kitchen.

*From my upcoming book, Stuff and Nonsense – the organizing miracle cure
that doesn’t start with “throw out your stuff”

Don’t go look now — click the link at the END of this article when you’re ready for a humorous example — unless the next section leaves you scratching your head in confusion.

The purpose of that anecdotal example was to illustrate how quickly things get complicated when stuff runs rampant.

Its underlying principle, however, is relevant to the subject of this article as well as the life of every single procrastinator on the planet: how a supposedly simple task becomes more and more complex with each “in order to” — until the task seems far too complicated to undertake at all.

So we don’t.

It certainly may look like chronic procrastination to anyone looking on. And boy howdy do those onlookers love to sling that label around (as if they believed that merely pointing it out would shame you into activation!)

When it doesn’t work, and it rarely does (for more than a step or two, anyway), they lob one of the other terms in their arsenal of invectives your way.

Arsenal of Invectives

  • LAZY!
  • Uncommitted
  • Self-sabotaging
  • Fearful of success (or failure)
  • Willfully disobedient
  • Impulsive  
  • Oppositional  
  • Passive-aggressive
  • Under-achiever!!!

They’re not USEFUL terms

While slinging those judgments might make the slinger’s ego feel justified in his or her frustrated annoyance, they actually make it more difficult for the supposed “procrastinator” to proceed on task.

They are similar to those stinky fish dragged across trails to confuse the noses of tracking animals – they’re “red herrings.”

In this case, they confound the thinking of the supposed “procrastinator,” who is more than likely to conclude that the slinger is more than likely correct.

Without intervention, things go down hill from there.

  • The person with the problem frequently gives up.  Even knowing they can’t win if they don’t try, they don’t try.
  • Why?  Because the number of hoops they must jump through first, coupled with the judgments of those who frequently mean to be “motivating,” leaves the person with the problem in High Boggle: they can’t believe they could EVER win
  • They can’t really believe that anything they do to solve their “procrastination” problem will be successful, since they are clearly (fill in the blank with the invective that shuts you down most effectively)

Those “labels” may not have been accurate to begin with, but they have now become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Don’t Go There

There’s no cheese down that tunnel – and you’ll end up far from where you want to be.

While a scant one or two percent of you reading may actually deserve one or the other of those labels at this point, looking at your lack of follow-through through those lenses won’t leave you in a very resourceful state.

I would like to suggest that you try on at least one other possible explanation before you stand in line for the tattoo that will brand you for life.

What is more likely to be going on is a perfectly understandable avoidance response — activated by overwhelm.

As soon as everyone involved understands the brain-based dynamics of task anxiety and stops slinging invectives, we stand a shot at actually getting a poor “procrastinator” back into action.

From the very first step on the action trail, it begins to be easier to stay on the action trail [an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force ~ from Newton’s 1st law of motion, sometimes referred to as the law of inertia]

That first step’s a DOOZY, however — primarily because it flies in the face of what passes for conventional wisdom.

Don’t let anybody who doesn’t struggle with activation tell you otherwise — I don’t care WHO they are!

When neuro-diversity is part of the action profile, it usually takes a truly desperate soul along with an understanding, determined, comprehensively-trained, brain-based coach to convince most people to even TRY IT another way once they’ve tried and “failed” a certain number of times.

Here’s what you need to understand and accept to convince yourself to refuse to accept attempts to “motivate” with flagellation: you need to make things “easy by default.”

It’s SO much harder to get back into the game when every action or decision to be made seems to be complicated by another action or decision that needs to be made FIRST!


Madelyn’s 3-point Procrastination Primer

1. The greater the number of items to accomplish on the way to completing any particular task, the higher the likelihood of so-called “procrastination.

2. The higher the number of decisions to be made on the way to completing any particular task, the lower the probability that it will begin or end in a timely manner.

3. The more each item or decision depends on the completion of a prior step, the more likely it is to result in shut-down — and the greater the likelihood that the project will be tabled for another time.


Mr. Amygdala doesn’t like those kinds of complications

The amygdala, remember, is that part of the brain that reacts with fear and anxiety, activating your fight-flight-freeze programming in response to any threatening stimulus. That, in turn, shuts down the PFC (pre-frontal cortex), the higher order thinking/decision making part of the brain needed to figure out the problem and work through the steps to its solution.

Don’t blame the amygdala. It’s just doing the job it evolved to do – keeping you alive – and it doesn’t want you fretting over completing some pesky project when you need to marshal all resources to fight for your life or run for it.

It’s not taking any chances; it commandeers those resources.  It can respond in fractions of a millisecond – your PFC is outclassed in that race!

Phillip Martin, artist/educator

Thanks to Phillip Martin, artist/educator

The problem is, the amygdala isn’t sufficiently evolved to handle the challenges of the particular century in which you happen to live.

It can’t discriminate between the danger of a charging rhino and the consternation of a complex decision that has you more than a little perplexed and concerned.

It reacts to your level of stress, the alarm is sounded, and the race is off — LONG before the sound of the starting gun even reaches your PFC (in brain time).

Will Power Won’t

Once the amygdala has sounded the alarm, attempting to exert your “will” power won’t change much of anything at all.

Will power is a function of the higher-order cognitive skills modulated by the PFC – which is taken off-line by activation of the more primitive circuits of the brain in the limbic system (which is Mr. Amydala’s turf).

  • Your will power fails when your “wisdom” is overpowered by your animal instincts
  • It won’t return at levels you can access until the negative emotions subside.
  • You know that, intuitively, which is why you instinctively choose to wait to take action.

The problem is what happens ONCE you delay taking action. When you embrace negative labels about your behavior, even subconsciously, your reticence is at risk of becoming a life-sentence, rather than a momentary pause to collect yourself,

Negative labeling is like throwing gasoline on a fire,
attempting to douse the flames!

So how DO we get Mr. Amygdala to crawl back into his cave and leave us alone to accomplish much of anything AT ALL? Be sure to read the NEXT part of this article for the answer to that and more!

To work through them in order, click the LinkList:

LinkList following Top Ten Reasons to Reframe PROCRASTINATION
(lack of ACTIVATION, not “motivation”)

Shared on Senior Salon

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Transitions Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on
(in case you missed them above)

Organization & Intentionality Related Articles:

Related articles around the ‘net (watch out for the labeling!)

BY THE WAY: I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

23 Responses to The Link between Procrastination & Task Anxiety

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  17. clickbank says:

    I seldom write responses, nevertheless I read over a huge amount of information here at The Link
    between Procrastination & Task Anxiety | ADD . .
    . and-so-much-more but had a couple of questions for you
    if you don’t mind. Is it just me or are a few of the above remarks seem
    as if they are provided by brain dead folks?
    And, when you’re writing on other various web-sites,
    Let me stay in touch with you. Would you post a list of all of the
    social media pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook site or twitter feed?


    • ADDers often comment out of frustration – it’s really not an easy condition to manage. Not only are they NOT “brain-dead,” most of them have brains in overdrive (thus, the frustration). But thanks for YOUR attempt to sort-of “stick up for me” – I truly appreciate the intent.

      I don’t do very MUCH with “the socials” at this point — and won’t until I can afford to have a staff to help me manage the time it takes to do so. But THANKS for asking.



  18. Thank you for liking my humor concerning procrastination. I learned a lot on your site, but now I think I have ADD too, besides MPD (now known as DID). I think the world only needs a few more alphabetized mental problems before total confusion erupts.


    • OMG and WTF are two of my particular favs in the “initial” dx dpt, and the fact that “everyone knows you as Nancy” is PERFECT!

      And, um – I think we’re too late – as I see it, total confusion has ALREADY erupted.

      Thanks for ringing in and for being a Voice for one of the MOST confusing of the alphabet disorders. Congratulations for the triumph of healing that represents – I know it has not been easy. My admiration and respect goes with you.

      The omg-ADD! response is common, because EFs show up with the same affective symptoms, regardless of cause. (see ==> What ARE Executive Functions)

      That’s why I like the idea of “looking through the ADD lens” to ID and use whatever helps.

      btw – LINKS in this comment are BOLD.


  19. Jean Latting says:

    Thanks, Madelyn. I joined! Looks like a great group.


  20. Jean Latting says:

    GREAT article, Madelyn! I just tweeted it and am about to post it on FB


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