Task Anxiety Awareness

Task Anxiety 101 – Part 1

By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
The second of a series of articles from
my upcoming book, TaskMaster™
– see article list below

Task Anxiety 101 - Part 1

Get out your notebook

Before I go into a bit of background explanation about task anxiety, I am about to ask you to make another list.

For those times when you attempt to complete something or in response to attempting to begin something, make a List of Ten activities you find yourself doing INSTEAD.  What is it that YOU do that leaves you chronically behind and befuddled.

As I asked in the first article in the TaskMaster Series:

What were some of the tactics you used to deal with your anxiety about not knowing how to tackle a particular task?
(Those supposed “procrastination” activities you took on instead of what you intended or needed to do)

I find it more useful, AND more accurate, to reframe those tasks as “avoidance” activities: avoiding task anxiety.

So now it’s time to get to work on changing a few things.

I’ll get you started by sharing my own list of activities I do when I “go unconscious” about my own task anxiety. To get the benefit of this section, you need to connect PERSONALLY – so take the time to write out your own List of Ten, so that you will be able to do the four exercises that follow.

I’ll bet you a year’s free coaching, if you don’t actually DO the exercises, there will be no new insights — and you will dismiss them as a huge waste of time and energy as you read about them.

(At the bottom of this article, I’ll give the skeptics among you a couple of credible scientists
to check out, with links to what they have to say about optimizing internal processing.)

Remember that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

HOVER before clicking – often a box will appear to tell you what to expect


Notice that in my list below, there is nothing wrong with any item on it in and of itself.

  • Some of the things on the list are things that really need to be done, and
  • Everybody deserves a little goof-off time.

Notice that about the items on your list as well.

What’s “wrong” with these items is only a matter of timing and volition:

  • when you find yourself drawn to them


  • how strongly they pull you “against your will.”

The items on YOUR list, especially now that you have allowed yourself become aware of them as your “recentering” behaviors, will alert you that it is time to re-examine your systems to be able to retrain some tasks.

TaskMaster: Madelyn’s List of Ten

  1.  Read an IMMENSE stack of decorating books or magazines

  2.  Hyperfocus on taking care of the e-glut

  3.  Edit or reformat a chapter of one of my books

  4.  Edit a blog article awaiting publication (or write a new one!)

  5.  Make a masterlist of everything I need to do

  6.  Cook a huge batch of food – for leftovers to freeze & eat later

  7.  Try to make MicroSoft Word work the way I need it to
(or Sherlock the latest quirks of WordPress)

  8.  Reorganize left-over containers, putting lids back with containers

  9.  Empty all the trashcans in the house

10.  Sit on my chaise with notebook and pen & match goals to values

Go back and take a look at your List of Five Feelings.

Were you feeling any of these immediately prior to launching into any of your avoidance activities?  If not, what were you feeling?  Add these feelings to your list.

That’s right – numbers 6 through 6,000, if necessary.  With typical ADD logic, we’ll still call it the List of Five Feelings (you’re only going to examine them in groups of five, so let’s not make work for ourselves).

Four Paired Awareness Exercises:

Gather all your lists and take out a fresh sheet of paper.  Now, were going to combine the items on those lists in a couple of ways that might prove enlightening.  Don’t start by looking at your behavior – simply combine items from your lists and take a look at how the statements reflect your experience of yourself.

Pay attention to any emotional reactions, negative or positive, that float to the surface as you work on the pairings.  Check in with your body, too.  That clenched jaw or sudden urge to go to the bathroom might be a clue to an emotional reaction worth Sherlocking.

1.   Put the items together using this language:

“When I feel (feeling) I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into (avoidance activity).”

Some examples:

  • When I feel worthless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into making to-do lists.
  • When I feel invalidated I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into phone calls with my friends.
  • When I feel hopeless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into reading decorating books.

Jot down anything you notice as you read the statements you come up with as you combine the lists (aha!s, duhs or ho-hums)

2.   Now shuffle things around and see what that inspires.

Swap feelings or activities from one statement with those in another to come up with new feeling/activity pairings.

Don’t take the time to write these down unless one really makes you stop and think.

Some examples:

A. When I feel invalidated I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into making to-do lists.
When I feel hopeless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into making to-do lists.

B. When I feel worthless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into phone calls with my friends.
When I feel hopeless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into phone calls with my friends.

C. When I feel worthless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into reading decorating books.
When I feel invalidated I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into reading decorating books.

If you have a strong oppositional reaction (I never do that activity when I feel that way!), when do you do that activity? What do you DO when you have the feeling that you’re working with for this statement?

Write any new discoveries on your lists as well as on your statements page.

Feeling/Category Parings

Look back at the four categories (physical environment, health & well-being, money matters & work tasks, personal relationships) and assign the category of any avoidance activity you came up with in Part 2.

Keep that notebook handy for the third and forth exercises.

3.   Make new sentence pairings, using this language:

“When I feel (feeling) I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into the area of (key area for major activity).”  Add words if it makes the sentence work better for you.

Some examples:

  • When I feel worthless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into the area of [managing my] physical environment.
  • When I feel invalidated I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into the area of personal relationships.
  • When I feel hopeless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into the area of health & well-being [with a task that is stress-free].

4.   Shuffle THOSE pairs and see what you come up with.

Working with the feelings/category pairings, swap feelings from one statement with feeling from another to come up with new pairings.

For example: 

  • When I feel invalidated I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into the area of managing my physical environment.
  • When I feel hopeless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into the area of personal relationships.
  • When I feel worthless I tend to avoid tasks by redirecting energy into the area of health & well-being  with a task that is stress-free.

Pay attention to any oppositional reaction as well as the aha!s, duhs and ho-hums.  Write it down if it makes you aware of anything new or brings something up you hadn’t thought of in quite that way before.

Awareness is the First Step

These areas will be swept clean after you’ve spent more time dealing with your ADD brain, but for now they serve a purpose: avoiding task anxiety.

They give you places to malfunction when you try to fit into an uncomfortable way of handling tasks.

  • Task anxiety is what science used to call a “limbic system” activator — so your body is primed to “fight, flight or freeze,” NOT to get things done!
  • EVEN those who push through and MAKE themselves tackle the tasks on their To-Do lists are, according to the latest studies, up to 50% less effective than they would be if they handled the task anxiety FIRST.

Identifying these areas will go a long way toward intentionality; awareness is always the first step, and “labeling” is the second.

For the Skeptics Among You

ARE YOU AWARE that there is solid neuroscience behind these little tips?

  • According to scientific studies conducted in the past few years by Dr. David Rock and his team, and Emotional Regulation Research founder, Stanford’s Dr. James J. Gross:

the degree to which your “limbic system” is aroused is
the degree to which your prefrontal cortex is deactivated.

  • Task completion is decision-dependent — and deciding depends on prefrontal cortex activation.
  • The PFC of the ADD brain-style is already under-performing, relative to the neurotypical population — and the research above was NOT carried out using the ADD population!
Here’s the GOOD news:

Simply identifying what’s going on, whether you actually DO anything about it or not, helps to bring the PFC back online.  And there is SO much more you can do!

Onward to Task Mastery

Before we make any more lists or do any more exercises, I want to understand the value of the most important silly little assist you’ve probably never heard of: The Cookie.  If you aren’t using it now, NO WONDER you’re struggling!

The next article will introduce the concept – so don’t miss it.

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned. There’s a lot to know, and a lot more to come.

© 2012, 2017, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
(reblogs always okay, and much appreciated)

Shared on the Senior Salon

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the TaskMaster™ 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

If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), 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. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

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

Articles in the TaskMaster™ Series

Linklists: Easy for me to keep updated for access from ALL related articles
– easy for YOU to jump to the article you want –
(hover before clicking on any link to see more)

Other Related Articles on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

A bit of Related Neuroscience

More Related articles ’round the ‘net – WELL worth your time

Additional articles about procrastination

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my articles periodically to update content and 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!"

14 Responses to Task Anxiety Awareness

  1. Pingback: HELP needed and offered #Flash4Storms | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Impulsivity & Anger: Don’t Believe Everything You Think. – The Militant Negro™

  3. Pingback: Impulsivity & Anger: Don’t Believe Everything You Think | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Pingback: Get Off That Couch. Get Going. Part 1. – The Militant Negro™

  5. Pingback: Getting off the couch & getting going – Part 1 | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  6. Pingback: Executive Functions & YOU | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  7. Roisin says:

    Reblogged this on Just, sit. and commented:
    Part of mindfulness, is learning to tackle tasks. Once you’ve mastered the basic elements of mindfulness, you can use this awareness to challenge, gently and with love and kindness, issues such as raised in this blog. This is for ADD – however, with the plethora of social media distractions as well as the current political climate, we can all suffer from distractedness.
    I am finding her way of listing behaviour and observing which feelings and thoughts precede the distraction, really useful, and helps me to get back on track – with kindness – after all, it really is ok to goof off occasionally – and with creative projects sometimes you need to go off on a tangent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing this story with your community. And you are so right that we all struggle with many of the challenges of the diagnostically ADD/EFD population in today’s world. I love your use of the word distractedness rather than distractibility, which is what they call one of the key features of the ADD brain-style. I think it is a useful distinction.

      I am thrilled that you believe that some of my techniques might be useful in other situations, whatever the source.


  8. milliethom says:

    An interesting and thought-provoking post. I’ve only recently become a procrastinator in my writing and this information has given me some positive things to focus on and apply to my own way forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear. I hope you’ll take at least a gander through the other articles in this particular series – and take some time to run through the exercises described.

      My clients who actually DO the exercises have breakthroughs – the ones who merely glance off of them don’t experience a great deal of change. Getting your own subconscious to work with your volitional pathways works the magic – but it takes more active brain-engagement than reading or listening provides to rearrange highways and byways upstairs.

      Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment – and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays!


  9. Pingback: Executive Functioning Disorders – not just kid stuff | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  10. Pingback: Where is my Resilience? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  11. andy wolmer says:

    great insight


  12. Pingback: URL

And what do YOU think? I'm interested.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: