Procrastination or Executive Function Fail?

There’s a spot on my kitchen floor, a little cluster of dried reddish drips. I don’t know what it is. If it’s from 3 days ago, it’s tomato sauce. If it’s been there longer . . .  who knows.

I’ve walked past it dozens of times. I look at it. It annoys me. I wonder how it got there. I wish it would go away. It doesn’t occur to me that I can make that happen.

The greasy smudgey fingerprints on the cabinet that I can only see in exactly the right light? The 8-inch long thread that’s been hanging off the bathroom rug since the last vacuuming? The dryer sheet on the laundry room floor? Same thing.

What is this? Why can I sit here and catalog all of these little annoyances yet I still do nothing about them? It’s not like fixing them would take a huge amount of time or effort.

In fact, to demonstrate how minor they are, I’ll take care of them right now.

.

.

.

.

.

Done. It took me less than five minutes to wipe down the kitchen cabinets, trim the thread and toss in the trash, pick up the dryer sheet, and clean the spot off the floor. I bet it would also take only a few minutes to vacuum up the bits of dirt and grass scattered in the entryway from my running shoes.

But I’m sitting writing and not doing it, aren’t I?

Maybe later.

And this is how days go by and I keep right on walking around the mess, getting more and more annoyed by its existence yet still not doing anything about it. 

Procrastination Doesn’t Look Like This

These things are so minor that I don’t think avoiding them qualifies as procrastination. Look at some of the ways experts talk about procrastination:

  • delaying a stressful task

  • a way of coping with anxiety associated with starting or completing a task

  • delaying an action despite expecting to be worse off

  • may result in stress, guilt, crisis, severe loss of productivity, social disapproval

  • impedes normal functioning

  • issues of anxiety, low self-worth, self-defeating mentality, lack of confidence

I can’t say I have a whole lot anxiety about my ability to spray some Windex on the floor and wipe up a spot. Loss of productivity because I’m not snipping that annoying thread off the bathroom rug? Probably not. If anyone actually came to my house, social disapproval might factor into the greasy finger smudges, but only in the sense that I’d be quick to clean them ahead of time.

I know procrastination when I see it. It involves a useless avoidance behavior, which I often talk myself into thinking is useful. Instead of working on this really hard developmental editing project, I’m going to tag all of the files on my hard drive so they’re easier to find!

I recognize procrastination for what it is: my brain’s way of avoiding a challenging task, or at least of working up to it.

Executive Function Fail

I don’t go out of my way to do something in place of wiping up that spot on the floor. I just don’t do it. It doesn’t even occur to me to do it. My thought process is literally:

There’s a spot on the floor. Huh. That’s annoying. I wonder how it got there. Looks like sauce. Funny how it dripped in a circle like that. Wait, why did I come to the kitchen? Oh, right, there’s an empty water glass in my hand.

This feels more like simple executive function fail. Solving a problem, even a minor one, requires four EF-specific steps:

  1. identify the observed condition as a problem

  2. plan a solution by selecting and ordering strategies

  3. maintain strategies in short term memory in order to perform them

  4. evaluate the outcome and troubleshoot as necessary

Steps 1 and 2 trip me up badly. My brain recognizes that there’s a spot on the floor or a thread hanging off the rug, but it doesn’t necessarily identify that as a minor problem to be solved. Or it identifies it as a problem but doesn’t realize that a solution is needed.

I have no idea what the answer to this is. Being mindful helps. In this case, mindful isn’t some complex concept. It’s just a matter of being able to say oh, wait, I’m doing that thing again, which means I need to go get the vacuum/sponge/scissors and take care of this little annoyance that will only take a minute to fix and, oh,  think how good I’ll feel afterward.

Routines help, too. For example, If I’m waiting for The Scientist to get ready to go out, sometimes I’ll walk around the apartment, intentionally looking for little things to take care of. Inevitably there will be a pile of clean laundry that needs folding or dishes that need to be washed. Reminder software like Goal Fish is another good strategy for staying on top of household tasks in general.

I”m curious to hear if anyone else has other strategies for dealing with this. It’s been a lifelong source of frustration and one that I’d like to spend less time thinking about.

Related article:  Autisticook wrote a great post earlier this week about her experiences with executive function challenges and housekeeping, A healthy mind in a tidy house. She even bravely took photos!

97 thoughts on “Procrastination or Executive Function Fail?”

  1. Flylady.com is a website that has helped me get organized around the house. She breaks chores down into small, easily managed steps. She sends out a daily digest to help subscribers form habits, which has been helpful. There is also a calendar available to download to your phone.

    1. Thanks for the rec – I’ll take a look. There’s a similar (though not quite as large and well developed) blog on Tumblr called unfuckyourhabitat that I followed for a while. Then I realized it was stressing me out so I stopped. 🙂

  2. I love this post! I’ve had a hard time figuring out exactly what “executive function” means, and this has helped. I always assumed that I was a procrastinator, but, like you, it’s all of these little things. “Really, that tea glass is still there from yesterday? No, wait…the tea glass from yesterday is on the windowsill. When on earth is that first tea glass from???”

    What has helped me with these things is “cleaning organizing.” As in, having little tubes of lysol wipes sitting on every wipeable surface. Having a soap wand (one of those things you use for dishwashing, where you fill the handle with soap) hanging in the shower, so that I can clean the shower right then and there. That kind of thing. So that it’s more natural. “Yuck, the shower is getting gross. Oh, that’s what that wand is for. Okay, I will make the shower not gross. Yay! Done!” I’ve tried the whole, “cleaning cabinet/closet” thing, and it does not work. Instead, my vacuum cleaner is always plugged in, waiting, in the room I vacuum the most. And I have cleaning supplies scattered around the house in various “out of the way, but still obvious” places (can’t be too close at hand, since I have a toddler). It’s not perfect, and I’m still working on it. “Hmmmm, I really need to figure out a cleaning organization for my dining table area. Oh, look, my computer!”

    1. Having the vacuum cleaner plugged in close to your highest traffic area is a great idea. So are all of the cleaning supplies being handy. I would vacuum more often if I didn’t have to haul the darn thing out of the closet. Out of sight, out of mind?

      Also, I have a confession: I hire someone to come in and clean twice a month. She does a thorough cleaning of everything and is super good at it. It might sound like a bit of a luxury, but I’ve come to see it as a necessary accommodation (which thankfully I can afford). Without it, either my husband ends up shouldering an unfair amount of the cleaning burden or my house rapidly goes from okay to college dorm to frat house before I decide it has to be cleaned. Also, weirdly, I feel some pressure to keep the house in reasonable shape between cleanings so that it isn’t too bad when the cleaning lady comes. Social stigma! And having someone else cleaning occasionally forces me to pick up all of the stuff that ends up scattered around because I don’t like people touching my stuff. 🙂

      1. Yup. I admit that most of my cleaning happens in frenzied chunks, when I find out that I’m getting a rare visitor.
        I am jealous of the cleaning lady! Some day. 🙂

        1. Yes, cleaning frantically before visitors is a time honored tradition in our house.

          The cleaning, even if it’s only once a month or occasionally, is well worth it when you’re in a position to do that.

      2. IInterestingly: When I finish my PhD, I can expect a fairly well-paying job. The first thing I plan to do with the money I’ll be earning after I graduate – before I look into buying a car or a bigger place, or even look into better furniture or paying off my credit card – is hiring someone to clean for me. I have not the executive function to keep on top of it and my partner deals with anxiety/depression and so also can’t keep on top of it. We could make ourselves miserable trying, ooooooor I can just hire someone to do it for us when I can afford to.

        I’ll hire someone to do it for us when I can afford to. For pretty much the same reason I do everything electronically. I can’t stay organized in meatspace and I’m sick of making myself miserable trying when I could just bypass.

        1. I definitely find it worth budgeting for and any time I’ve had to cut back financially, I’ve found there are quite a few things I’ll give up before I’ll give up having someone clean occasionally.

    2. I know this is an older post but I’m just reading it now and wanted to say thank you. I love your ideas for tubs of wipes and having the cleaning squeegees in the shower with you. I’ve thought about doing that before in the shower but did not want to shower with obnoxious chemicals, but if I use some natural soap such as what I bathe with, I can do the squeegee things as part of my shower routine once a week. The wipes will likewise make it a lot easier to clean up. One in each bathroom and one on the kitchen counter, one near the laundry sink. Perfect! As for the vacuum cleaner, it’s plugged in half the time and my challenge it so wrap the cord up and put it away. With cat and do fur and litter bits from cat feet it seems I am always using it. Ah well, I am grateful that we have a wonderful home that needs cleaning. ❤

  3. Oh, yes, this, this, this! Maybe it’s also some of my ADHD mixed in (horrible immediate short-term memory) but yeah, the spot on the floor is a bit of info that just doesn’t stick to my brain long enough for me to think formulating a plan might be a good idea.

    Take dust. It’s not very attention-getting. It’s not until there’s a visual difference that i can see, that I even think about dusting. Then it’s cool because I can see my cleaning making things look different. I just have to hope nobody drops in while my dust is evolving…

    I find little bursts of doing cleaning stuff works best, and I mean “little” like spraying the counters with a water-vinegar mix while I’m nuking my coffee. By the time I’ve had my coffee, the water’s had time to loosen any gunk, plus there’s visual reminders (the counter’s wet, the spray bottle is out). Then it feels logical or part of a pattern to wipe the counters clean, in an “if-then” way.

    It’s so hard to get others to understand it’s not laziness, it’s just…things haven’t gotten to the tripping point of noticing and taking action yet. That’s one of the benefits of routines, (which I haven’t set up all that great, but it’s a work in progress), they don’t depend on noticing stuff. .

    1. “Don’t mind my dust. It’s evolving.” 😀 I’ll never look at dust the same way again.

      I’ve been trying to do those micro cleaning tasks more often, especially in the kitchen. It plays kind of nicely into my impatience with waiting. If I’m waiting for something to boil, I tend to wander off and next thing I know it’s long past boiling and well on the way to burned in the bottom of the pot because oops, I went off and got involved in something and forgot I was cooking. Forcing myself to stay around the kitchen and look for small tasks to do solves two problems at once. Assuming I remember that’s the plan.

      Cleaning routines feel hard to adopt. Why is that? I’m usually all about routine and it does feel like having a set time or day to do stuff would make it easier.

      1. Interesting point, because I am all about cleanliness — not so much about routine. Remembering that somehow seems hard. Why is that?

    2. I even manage to spray surfaces and then completely forget to wipe them off afterwards! I end up feeling very guilty when I come back later and realise my husband had finished it off and not even mentioned it to me (after more than a decade of executive fail, maybe he’s used to it)

  4. Oh.
    My.
    Goodness.
    Thank you. Thank you for simply “saying that outloud.”

    I am married to an Aspie.
    I was raised by an Aspie.
    I am parenting two Aspie daughters &
    Plus a non-Aspie son.
    I am positive that I am an Aspie, too.
    But no one believes me.

    When I read the lists, they seem to apply more to males than females. I see traits that I learned to mask early on. I have incredible powers of observation and mimicry. I was awkward and stilted socially, but I was accepted at my small country school. I found my niche. I tried
    to be a “Super” student. I had crippling anxiety from perfectionism and fear of authority figures. I was severely depressed at times. I became an expert at deflecting attention from those who might have seen through my defences. I surrounded myself with needy, broken people…who were naturally self-centered and never took the time to notice that I might have issues. I created a “helper” identity. I felt worthless when I was not saving someone. (Pretty much never saved any of them…so I felt pretty worthless.)
    I was in a disastrous first marriage
    which ended when he shook his head and walked out, but marrying my Apsie husband saved my life. I could easily call him Spock. He is so logical and rational. He is not, nor has he ever been, interested in being saved. And he bluntly told me so right at the beginning of our relationship. He had a great mom and has oodles of confidence (in that sometimes obnoxious Sheldon-style). I suppose I am the Leonard to his Sheldon. I am more soft around the edges, more approachable, and always analyzing human behavior. And I am the peace-keeper and interpreter in our Aspie-filled household.

    Why am I saying all this?
    Ummm, when I read about the “spot,” and your thoughts and reactions to it…
    Holy Freakin’ Moly!!! That! That is ME! All day long, everyday, I struggle with spots…and my inability to deal with them. I totally agree with procrastination vs. executive function fail. There is a huge difference. I once read that clutter is delayed decision-making. That made sense to me. It helped nudge me to take action on the spots. But, for the most part, it is still a total fail for me.

    My husband has a high need for order, but I can’t give it to him. Five people live in our house, plus a half a dozen pets. We are chaos personified.
    Most of us are collectors, bordering on Hoarders. We could be on the TV show.
    My husband labels it entropy.

    Fortunately for him, he travels out of state frequently, and maintains order and minimalism in his hotel rooms.

    I am working on gaining some control with my therapist. I know that all of us would benefit from less visual chaos. And it does help to have a third party break it down into bite-size chunks.

    But, more than anything, thank you for that moment of clarity and recognition.
    Even if no one ever believes me, I now feel validated. I know that I am not a lazy house-keeper. I am not a failure. I just have to find a way around the hurdle that others seem to leap so effortlessly.

    I think I will just go soak in this thought for a bit.

    1. Just want to post to say that I identify with what you’ve written so much! Especially the first two paragraphs describing yourself, to a “T”. So, one suspected “aspie” to another, I’m with you. I also don’t know how to get out of the “helper” identity. I learned that I wasn’t very good at conveying love to people I cared about, but that I could show love by “doing,” and that, I was good at! So, whenever I try to back off from being a “helper,” I feel horrible, like I’m throwing away the one way I’m good at showing that I care. Gah!

      Sorry about the me-rant. I just wanted to say that I’m glad for your feeling of validation! 😀

      1. ” So, one suspected “aspie” to another, I’m with you. I also don’t know how to get out of the “helper” identity. I learned that I wasn’t very good at conveying love to people I cared about, but that I could show love by “doing,” and that, I was good at! So, whenever I try to back off from being a “helper,” I feel horrible, like I’m throwing away the one way I’m good at showing that I care. Gah!” Amen, AMEN!!
        So many commenters here, besides Cynthia, put words to my thought-feelings, THANK_YOU!

    2. I see a lot of typical aspie traits in you, just from what you’ve written here, especially things like perfectionism and the social coping mechanisms. Have you seen Rudy Simone’s Female Asperger’s Traits? I think you might find it more helpful than the typical lists of traits, which as you say are mainly based on males.

      My first reaction to you mentioning your husband’s need for order was “well why doesn’t he create some?!” 🙂 My husband figured out early on that if he didn’t pitch in, things around the house were not going to get done. But I see that your husband travels a lot, which probably means he has less opportunity for helping out at home.

      It’s good to hear that you’re working with a therapist on aspects of your life that you’d like to change. It sounds like that gives you a sense of control or progress, even if you aren’t where you’d like to be yet.

      I have another post coming soon, maybe next week if I get up the courage to publish it, that I think you might also find helpful. It addresses some of the emotional issues that you talk about–that feeling of failure and the way it can arise from the things that we’d like to be able to do but just can’t seem to get a handle on. I wrote this post as sort of a warm-up to the much more difficult content of the other one.

  5. I strongly second the advice about flylady. I don’t subscribe anymore, but those reminders helped me back on course for a while a few years back. The info. and scheduled activities saved me: in saving money on having to hire someone to rescue-clean my house a few years back and more vitally: I have some habits which prevent the house from getting to what is called the ‘can’t have anyone over syndrome: ( spells out c h a o s ).
    Unfortunately I still have bad problems with procrastination and high anxiety from important social chores, duties like paying bills, paperwork, taxes, and decisions.

    1. It’s great to hear a second endorsement of flylady. I took a look today and the structure the site can provide looks really helpful. Did you find it easy to stick with the program? My biggest problem with these kinds of things is starting out all gung-ho and then letting them slide.

      Procrastination is hard to beat. There’s a sort of mental inertia around the chores you mention that can be so challenging. I have all sorts of ways to trick or guilt myself into doing routine paperwork, etc. and it still feels hard at times to get started.

      “spells out c h a o s”

      I love this!

    2. “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome” – oh that is brilliant!

      I had a look at flylady a few days before this post but I found the tone of voice made me anxious. Like I’m a bad person if I don’t want to look in the mirror today. I know it’s all in my head but I will have to work on my residual insecurities before being able to use flylady comfortably.

      Funnily enough unfuckyourhabitat seems far more natural to me. Maybe I like being cursed at, ha! 😛

      I manage bills and such by direct debit whenever I can. It’s not perfect (especially when the bank is being assholic and blocks my direct debit which immediately sends me into a spiral of despair and debt) but it makes things more manageable. At least that way I don’t have to worry about the electricity suddenly getting cut off.

  6. I’ll also see things that I know need to be organized or put stuff in random locations….and then not organize them. It’s already been a week since I got back from vacation, but I still haven’t gotten around to organizing some of the stuff I bought during that time. I have a tendency to wait until they get to be such an eyesore that I just can’t avoid it. I tend to repeat what I need to do many times and it’s worked for me about 90% of the time. I find it’s easier to break down the tasks into smaller chunks and not do them all at once. So for ex. I don’t vaccuum my house all in one day, I break it down so that I do it one room at a time. I also have to remind myself to watch for visual cues to do chores, such as the laundry hamper being full.

    1. Stuff in random locations is an ongoing battle in our house. The counter between the kitchen and living room and the dining room chairs and tables are prime targets for “I don’t know what to do with this” stuff.

      Doing things in small chunks seems to be an effective strategy. The idea of a large task seems to be so overwhelming that it’s enough to keep us from even starting. I think there’s also an element of time agnosia at work. For example, I don’t take out the vacuum to vacuum the entryway because it seems like a big chore, but when I force myself to stop and really think about it, in reality it would take less than five minutes. That’s totally doable and not at all the huge chore it feels like in my head.

      1. Oh, small chunks. Have you heard of ‘unf*** your habitat’? My mate uses it and seats it works. You do 20 minutes only of a cleaning/tidying/deal with clutter task and then take a 10 minute break (called 20/10). Its popular with folk who have problems such as ME as you only do a set time on the chore and then rest.

        1. Yes! I mentioned it in a reply to someone else. I thought the daily Tumblr reminders were helpful and really liked their cleaning/etc. guides. The 20/10 thing is hard for me because I have so much trouble getting started that when I do get started, I’m reluctant to stop because then I have to go through the whole struggle to get started again. *sigh* But I can see how it would be an incentive for people who don’t want to spend an hour cleaning and who don’t struggle as much with the stopping/starting.

  7. Sometimes I get stuck in #two.

    There is a stain on the floor.
    *Is it attracting bugs?
    Bugs are more undesirable than aesthetics-but
    *Should I clean it up or set a trap for bugs by putting poison around it?.

    A week later, it gets cleaned up in the once a week kitchen wipe down Starting from the top cabinets to the floor and it no longer an issue.

    This category of stains are on a schedule and I cant waste time worrying about insignificant details.
    There are other problems I must attend to, and the needs of the larger problems, like rent, keeping the gas filled again when it hits a quarter, etc, make it seem so insignificant.

    1. You make a great point–these are really minor problems I’m talking about. I wonder if my OCD tendencies are playing into my perseverating on insignificant disruptions to the expected order of my environment?

      1. I took the test for ocd, but it is so rooted in logic and problem solving, it is a definite ASD trait. Logic is clear cut and doing the same job twice seems like an inefficient use of time. Wouldn’t it be more like ocd if you kept cleaning the floor every time there is a speck of dust on it??
        I heard that ocd is more like vacuuming the floor at 3am because you thing some crumbs may be scattered throughout the day and you cant sleep because you think there is surface dirt on a carpet [on thursday]you clean every friday..

        1. You’re right, noticing details that are “out of place” is also an ASD trait.My OCD tendencies are primarily obsessional (mostly confined to thought rather than action) so it can be hard to tell what’s going on sometimes. I have realized that in situations like the ones I described, I can fix it by just doing the thing rather than thinking about the thing over and over. 🙂

  8. Yes to all this post. I have both procrastination issues and executive function problems.

    What my procrastination looks like: Me taking a month to fill out my PhD application due to irrational fears of inadequacy resulting in me needing to find the perfect way to write my application essay, me freezing in anxious indecision when told I won’t be allowed out of my room until it’s clean as a kid and deciding I can just read books all afternoon.

    What my executive function issues look like: Ohshit, that’s due today?! Also my endless cycles of “Mess builds up -> reach aggravation point -> clean all of the things -> vow not to let it build up this much again and set up a plan so it doesn’t -> plan breaks down over about 2 weeks -> mess builds up”

    1. Also my endless cycles of “Mess builds up -> reach aggravation point -> clean all of the things -> vow not to let it build up this much again and set up a plan so it doesn’t -> plan breaks down over about 2 weeks -> mess builds up”

      Yes!!

      (says someone who is currently on a “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!!” day.)

      1. Yes.

        And whenever people give me advice for it, they give me advice as if it’s a procrastination problem. Because I was gifted growing up, and so obviously can’t have any learning/developmental issues (sarcasm alert – making fun of my parents and schoolteachers here. I’m walking, talking proof the two aren’t mutually exclusive). Hence it must be procrastination.

        Except procrastination advice fails miserably. Procrastination is not my problem when it comes to chores. And now that I’ve started taking EF advice on board, I notice I’m starting to see a reduction in the severity of that cycle. I still get the cycle, don’t get me wrong. But my place doesn’t get as disgusting as fast, and my cleanup isn’t as time consuming because I’m able to stay on top of some stuff to some degree.

        1. I’d take “it must be procrastination” any day, over “you’re a horrible slob and you’re so lazy because you’ve never had to work to get good grades so don’t think that makes you so brilliant because you’re still a slob. And also, disgusting.”

          You’re right on about neither of it being effective advice though.

          1. I get that too, but usually those people aren’t trying to give advice. And, yeah, “Must be procrastination!” <<<< "You're a lazy disgusting slob!" on the suck-o-meter.

      1. Yeah.

        Funny thing is, I usually psych myself up ridiculously, realize I’m being ridiculous, say “This is ridiculous. I’m just going to do something and I don’t even care if it’s good!” and then it turns out pretty good.

        But even though I know that, when I’m in perfectionism procrastination mode, I can’t shake the feeling that if I start before I have it figured out, I’ll screw it up somehow.

    2. I have both too, and they’re very different. I also tend to know when I’m procrastinating but it’s less likely that I’ll recognize EF fail in the moment. The funny thing about procrastination is sometimes I can trick myself into procrastinating by doing something else I actually need to do. Earlier this week I finished two guest blogs I’d put off for weeks because I was avoiding writing something really hard. So I felt only half bad . . .

      1. Yeah! I’m completely unaware of EF fail when it happens, until the consequences become so obvious I can’t help but notice them.

        Procrastination, on the other hand, tends to be characterized by me obsessing over the thing in question. Procrastination is me being entirely too aware that I have to do a thing and choosing not to because the thought of doing it is making me anxious/overwhelmed/stressed/whatever.

        EF is characterized by me becoming aware of a deadline the day it’s due and then mad-dashing it to get it done.

        Some times I can do both procrastination and EF fail on the same thing – that’s when I try to get started early, freeze up and postpone it, and then forget about it until it’s due.

        The ability to do both at once often trips others up since they see only the procrastination half since that’s what they expect to see from me.

  9. I am a list maker. If it is on the list, I do it. If not, I just look at it and get annoyed.

    For work, I am incredibly organized. I have a very large number of accounts and partners that I service. I do things and create “Cut & Pastes” so I remember to 1) follow the rules. 2) pass on the knowledge 3) get the “$&*#” done. I do certain things the same way every week. My routine helps to save me. It drives my boss a bit crazy, but most of my clients are grateful that I am always there and very responsive. My EF can drive people crazy because I want to tell them things. It doesn’t dawn on me that the NT person will take umbrage to the information presented. I blurt out stuff isn’t correct or the rules and it drives them nuts.

    For home I have a time table for everything. Yes, I am sure it is obsessive, but the routine helps me remember what I need to do. Especially the routine of where I put things. If I don’t clip my keys on my purse, I loose them. If I don’t sort the mail/recycling every day there is an awful pile of things after the week is over. If I can’t find a place to put something, it usually stays in the place that where it entered the house. Once I have a place for things then it goes back to the correct spot every time. I have always had a hard time throwing things away. “’cause you never know if you will need/want it later”. I now make myself go thru things and put them in the toss or give piles. I’ve collected “gifts” over the years, because I haven’t been able to say no thank you.

    Luckily my husband has become more more understanding about me after my diagnosis last year. So while I am still quirky (understatement) it doesn’t cause the friction that it used to.

    1. Lists! I’m an obsessive list maker for work. Not so much at home, except for grocery shopping because if it’s not on the list, I’ll come home without it. The kind of routines you describe are essential for me too. I will leave my keys in the door, send them through the wash or put them somewhere truly bizarre if I don’t make a point to put them in the same spot every time I walk in the house.

      Its great that your husband is more understanding now that you have an explanation. It also sounds like you’re making an effort to temper some of your habits, like with the occasional decluttering.

      1. I’m too good at making lists, when I make one I stare at it and go “that’s so much to do” and then I go read a book because I can’t deal with it. And then I forget.

        Shopping lists: only when I’m having someone staying with me for a few days who might get angry or disappointed with me for forgetting something. Or when I’m having someone over for dinner and forgetting something will make me seem like an idiot who can’t cook. Otherwise I don’t bother with shopping lists because I’m not a very impulsive shopper and I don’t beat myself up if I forget to buy something. (Although forgetting to buy toilet paper can become a problem sometimes).

        1. Ohhhh, shopping lists. I make so many long, extensive lists. None of them make it to the store with me, but at least they’re good lists. 😉

        2. I get so upset with myself if I get home and realize that I didn’t buy something on the list I needed to make a meal I was planning. Which is silly because I could just make something else, right? It’s not as if I only have ingredients for one meal.

          Toilet paper is definitely problematic, though. 🙂

      2. Lists are good when I remember to write things down. But it’s far too common that I won’t be able to acknowledge that a problem exists long enough to write it on the list. Even if I get that far, by the time I figure out what strange location I left my list at, I’ll have forgotten what to write down. The EF fails just keep cascading and it makes me look like a hopelessly disorganized fool.

        My list is currently blank, by the way. It’s not because I don’t have things to do, but because I couldn’t remember what they were long enough for them to make it onto the list.

        1. I think this is a common problem. I often have notes on scraps of paper laid out all across my desk. It’s not neat or very organized but at least those things are getting written down. There are so many EF barriers to overcoming E F dysfunction. It’s a conundrum.

  10. I tittered at this as nothing ever occurs to me, EVER!
    I’m always amazed at other peoples clever solutions. God help us, we must appear so naive and although I’m LOL ing, I know that this has caused me such sadness in my life.
    What insight for me, thank u x

  11. Oh yes, I am BAD at this. My worst is leaving half drunk cups of tea about the house and spending the day with a vague sense of unfinished business.

    Of your 4 points, my failing is number 3, I think – remembering to do something about it. Oh and for anyone with an android phone, I can really recommend an app called Regularly. I set household tasks and rather than set a date I can say the task needs to be done weekly/fortnightly/monthly/yearly and then it *gently* reminds me to do it.

    1. I downloaded Regularly and it looks awesome. I cracked up at the inclusion of “menstruate” as a task. If only I could do that on schedule! 🙂 I set up the default tasks and will try to add stuff as it occurs to me throughout the week to build up a little database of reminders. Thank you for the rec!

      1. 😀 yes the menstruate on cue is rather optimistic. My favourite thing is that it doesn’t nag me, I ignore things that nag.

    2. This looks promising, thank you for the recommendation! I will have to stop procrastinating here and actually make a task list in Regularly to see if it works for me. 😛

  12. So, erm. I finally get around to the end of the comment thread to say “thank you” for linking to my post and saying it is a great post and calling me brave for publishing my photos. Which. Just wow. I think that is that “mix-of-emotions” thing which is so hard to describe because it makes me feel embarrassed because really I’m not worth it, but still oh this is making me feel so incredibly happy. Tentative? Smile? More happy than embarrassed. 🙂

    All I can say is that overnight, the views on my blog have EXPLODED and that’s just all kinds of awesome. 😀

    1. You’re quite worth it! Your comments here are always so insightful and helpful and genuine and I’ve been enjoying your blog so much. I need to go back and read the entries that I’ve missed.

      And I’m trilled that I was able to send you some readers!

  13. “There’s a spot on the floor. Huh. That’s annoying. I wonder how it got there. Looks like sauce. Funny how it dripped in a circle like that. Wait, why did I come to the kitchen? Oh, right, there’s an empty water glass in my hand.”

    Isn’t ‘being distracted before you reach your goal’ also part of problems with EF? Because that’s how a lot of things end up not being done in my house. I started changing my duvet cover, then realized I should also change the mattrass cover. Then turned the mattress over. Realized I should vacuum. Than saw the edges of my carpet were still not cut since moving here 7 months ago. Ended up cutting the carpet to size in the whole room.
    A day later I changed my duvet cover.

    1. Yep, that sounds familiar. That’s why once I get started, cleaning can take me hours longer than it should because I find all sorts of little cleaning projects that I should do in addition to the usual maintenance tasks.

  14. Thank you for this. Thank you so much. You verbalized something that I have been unable to verbalize for, literally, decades.

  15. Thank you for being brave enough to write this. It is something I have never been able to explain to anybody – not even to myself to be honest. I do procrastinate, but this ‘see-become annoyed-do nothing about it-repeat’ thing is not procrastination. I do think about it, and many times I am aware of what is going on, thinking “I am doing this again, noticing something and doing nothing”, but even knowing does not prompt me into action.

  16. Definitely executive function failure. For me it also involves a lot of side-stepping and calculating consequences.

    One spot might be easy to clean. But I need to think about that first: do I spray it or wipe the floor? If I wipe the floor, I need to remove that box there first. Where should I put the box? Maybe if I clean out the box first and put the stuff somewhere else? Where would I put the stuff? If it has paper work, do I read and catalog it first? If so, I should reorganize my binders first… And so on ad nauseam.

    I get totally overwhelmed by an unimaginable chain of events that I need to contemplate before I ever wipe that spot.

    1. And that’s how a minor bit of cleaning turns into an excuse to a weekend long excursion through all of the boxes in the attic. 🙂 I’m so glad I no longer have an attic.

      Our brains are very interesting places.

    2. Oh brilliant! This is so recognisable! I always get stuck on the cataloguing bit. Cataloguing is fun but I have to have thought of a good system first! Cue another 5 hours spent on thinking up the perfect system. 😛

      1. Oh, the perfect system! I could just write notes and pin them on a board, right? Maybe find a color-coded sticky note system that works. But then I’ll forget them, and I will need to dust off the board and notes every six months, burying all the clippings and notes of stuff I never did, never went to, but which are so overdue no one even remembers what they were about.

        Or I could use the computer. Some online to-do list! Obviously I’ve tried all of them over the years, but perhaps it’s time for a new feature analysis, try out a couple, get the apps. Then I think, why not self-host this? Yeah, at which point I kickstart my server space, install new stuff, notice a database problem I need to figure out, get lost there.

        A few days later I’m bored with it all — and that box and spot are probably still there. It’s funny, but also somewhat worrisome.

        In all seriousness, it *is* something I would like to learn to control. In a job, a relationship, this is impossible to maintain.

        1. The perfect system does not exist. I guess I’m “high functioning” in the eyes of the non-autistic world because I recognise that. BUT. I will NEVER stop striving to achieve that perfection. The closer I get, the happier I am. Unimatrix Zero.

  17. wow.
    i have recently been having trouble with my son seemingly procrastinating about everything. getting dressed and ready in the morning, getting ready for bed at night, putting toys away…
    hes 6 1/2. we are homeschooling, or at least starting to, its been informal so far.
    either way, it seems like hes procrastinating. my brother was JUST like this as well.
    as i assume aspergers in both of them, now its giving me perspective. maybe its not intentional procrastination, and maybe if i stop labeling it as such, and start being more positive, i can try to not put down my son’s actions that might not be intentional.
    so frustrating though. :/

    1. Ericka, I think that because you realise what might be causing his behaviour, it could become a lot less frustrating! Instead of seeing it as his unwillingness to listen, to help you out, to start taking responsibility – you can see it as just something he needs your help with. An area where you can help him cope with things that don’t come naturally or easily to him. You sound like a great mum simply for being open to that perspective!

        1. OK, keep in mind that this might only be what works for me, so I hope others will give some feedback as well:

          Make extremely clear what the end goal is. Not “clean up your room”, but “make sure there is nothing lying on the floor”. This helps enormously.
          Break the task down into separate steps. Sometimes a task is so complex that it seems overwhelming. Start with what you want him to do first, and explain that this is the first step towards the end goal, but it’s ok if you only complete the first step because that’s better than doing nothing.
          Ask him what he needs help with when he seems to be doing nothing at all.
          “Basically, I need to be 100% in charge of how I fulfill the instructions or getting super-specific instructions, and anything in between is bad.” That is a quote from Alyssa, another adult on the spectrum, and her post on cognitive access (basically what we’re able to understand) might give you a little more insight as well, even though it’s about adults in a teaching situation.

          I hope this helps!

          1. thanks! super specific. i get it. break it down. i see i see. 🙂 makes sense. i guess im that way too, i want someone to tell me exactly how to do things, or i cant figure it out. there is no “figure out your own way” – its not my way, its someone else’s. lol. i mean, this applies to certain things, but not all things, for me.

    2. One of the things that can be a big barrier for kids at that age, especially kids with AS, is knowing what to do and in particular where to start. So for example, “pick up your toys” or “get ready for bed” can be confusing and overwhelming. It’s not that they don’t want to do it, just that it seems impossible.

      It’s helpful for each big task to have a specific list of steps showing what he has to do in which order. For a 6-year old, a visual list is best. So you could take a photo or draw a picture of each step (get your pajamas from the drawer, take off your clothes, put on your pajama pants, put on your pajama shirt, put the clothes you took off in the hamper, brush your teeth, etc.). Explain to him that he should follow the photos and do each thing, then come back and check what’s next. You might need to walk him through it a few times but if he gets stuck or forgets something, you now have a place to send him to reorient himself rather than having to nag.

      Also, punishing for this kind of behavior is pointless (as you’ve probably noticed 🙂 ) because it’s not willful disobedience. It’s a differently wired brain. Gradually, once he develops routines based on the visual schedules and reminders, you’ll probably find that he needs fewer reminders but he may still need to rely on the visual cues. One other tip I’ve heard to encourage “buy-in” is to have your son create the task lists with you so he feels like he’s a part of the process. Present it as “It seems like you could use some help remembering what you need to do to _________ so we’re going to think of all the stuff you have to remember and put it on this (board, poster, whatever) to help you out.”

      1. The other big big big thing, and autisticook mentioned it above, is knowing what the desired end goal looks like.

        When I was a kid, I didn’t know the difference between when “clean your room” meant “clean up the clutter”, when it meant “make your bed,” when it meant “clean the window” when it meant “vacuum the floor,” when it meant which combination of the above, and when it meant all of the above.

        Just as a few examples.

        Even if it seems obvious to you what a given end goal looks like, it might not be so obvious to your kid. If you then get angry with the kid when they fail to meet expectations they didn’t know were there, you set it up so that next time, they’re anxious because they’re not sure what you want and they know if they mess up, you’ll get angry. Add in a few times of them getting chastised for not doing enough, and now your kid is too anxious to do anything out of fear that it’ll be the wrong thing and they’ll get yelled at.

        1. you’re right. and i should know this too because its happened to me. its like i forget to put my kid in my own aspie shoes. thats TOTALLY right, why would you do something when you might do it wrong? if mom can do it right why would i do it and do it wrong and get yelled at?

          i HATE my “yelling” ! ive been working on orange rhino and other such things to try to NOT yell because i know its not effective and its hurtful. 😦

          1. How old is your boy? When I was about 5-6ish, I found it helpful to have an adult there helping me clean. Not doing it for me, but rather modelling how to clean a room as they do it with me. “We always want to clean from the top down, because that way you never have to back-track. Start up high. Is the stuff on your top shelves the way it should be? Is everything in its right bin? No? Well, let’s fix it. I’ll do this half and you do that half.” Etc, all the way down (or whatever your system is). I’ve done it with my niece a few times, and it seems to work pretty well, though I’m not sure how much of that is because she responds to that approach and how much of it is because she’s on best behavior for a grownup she doesn’t see very often. Plus, she’s younger, so that might have something to do with it.

            1. yeah i have done that once in a while with him. but its not always practical these days because we have a little 8 week old little sister around here now….
              im thinking hes just as aspie as i am… and he does not deal well with change. being 6 1/2, having a baby sister is a big change… and i dont think hes quite used to it all yet… 😦

              1. Oh the sweetheart! Yes, new baby sisters or brothers are very confusing. And congratulations by the way! But I called him a sweetheart because I remember it so well, getting a new baby brother (twice, in my case). What I did to cope with the change was mimic my mother’s behaviour. Including suddenly reverting back to baby speech because my mother used that with the baby. And trying to feed and change the baby. I was told not to do those things, but maybe if your aspie boy shows the same copycat tendencies you can keep in mind that he is only trying to make sense of the situation that way.

                1. he hasnt really done that. but he does have a baby doll, and a made for his size sling… he does use them occasionally. he is really good with his sister, very helpful, even thinking of things on his own, like trying to offer the pacifier in the car – without even being asked.

                2. I’m glad you find it helpful! My mother usually thought it was helpful too, until it suddenly wasn’t and I was told “the baby already has a mother, you know”. Very confusing for a girl like me. 😛

      2. this makes sense, and i should have known that. im like this myself. dont just tell me “chop green peppers” – tell me how you want me to chop them. id rather do it right the first time than have you need to correct me later. (a specific example that happened to me at a job once.)

  18. ” There’s a spot on the floor. Huh. That’s annoying. I wonder how it got there. Looks like sauce. Funny how it dripped in a circle like that. Wait, why did I come to the kitchen? Oh, right, there’s an empty water glass in my hand.”This is totally me! Not the specific example but everything. I see all these things out if place or something doesn’t add up and my mind goes off on a tangent for a bit then I remember what I was supposed to be doing.

  19. I’ve been referred to as having “Cleaning ADD.” I’ll start by saying, okay, I want to clean the kitchen (attempting the clean one room at a time method) so I start by cleaning out the fridge, which means then I need to take out the trash. I have to walk through the garage to do that, and then realize there are some things in the garage that I want to throw away also. Then when I finally make it to the trash bin outside, I wind up doing yard work.

    So yeah-cleaning the kitchen = trimming the crepe myrtle. And I still don’t have a clean kitchen.

    The crepe-myrtle looks nice, though. 🙂

  20. I’ve spent years hating myself for being a lazy untidy person but knowing I seem to find it stupidly hard to do this sort of stuff. Suspect it is part of me being on the ASD… your blogs are my latest obsession – reading every single one and every one is making really scarily profound sense to me. I’m emailing links to my husband who is replying: yes, yes, yes, yes that is you. So thank you.

    1. Oh, I’m so glad that you’re finding the posts helpful and that you can relate to them. I did much the same thing with other people’s blogs when I was first exploring so I have a good idea how you’re feeling. 🙂

  21. somehow i find being able to sort out my EF problems from my anxiety induced procrastination is super duper helpful so thank you!

  22. Wow, reading this I had to laugh as it sounds so like me. I thought processes are very similar. I do tend to leave it until I can do them all at once when I am doing my cleaning routine. As I have two children who also have ASD that I home educate, I find that routines are essential for ensure all those “annoying” little jobs get done. I also google calendar my cleaning schedules so I know what I am doing when. My house is lived in, organised, but not always tidy. I would love it to be a model home, but I would be more stressed about it if it were. I must admit, as an Aspie with ADHD too, I find when I am on my ADHD meds my EF is reduced and I can process and think a lot more clearly to adjust my behaviours, but without them, the thoughts are so fast that I doubt I could even remember what I thinking about 15 seconds before the current thought.:) Loved the article.:)

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