I am wondering if anyone has experienced conflicting feelings of failure associated with their work? Essentially, I am struggling to continue my students and maintain a proactive attitude while continually facing an ever growing list of tasks.

I find myself struggling to even start the list in the morning, and when I do I either fixate on one particular task or rush it (which I later chastise myself for). Throughout my undergraduate degree I worked hard and made great progress, however upon reflection I find that unless I am sure my work is ‘perfect’ I am very reluctant to submit it, and will later feel guilty about it.

I guess most of these behaviors are associated with the fear of failure and/or self belief, or something such like. But I wonder if anyone else has experienced them in their work and if you have discovered any strategies/advice you think would be beneficial.


2 Answers 2


I don't know if this is the best approach or if it works for everyone, but here is what I did in the past when I was paralyzed by just looking at the never ending list of things to do.

I simply broke down every task into more manageable pieces. Now I have an even longer list, but the good thing is non of the items on the list looks scary. After making tasks manageable, I set deadlines for every task. Deadlines forced me to stop working on a simple task just because it didn't look "perfect". At the end of the day if there is still time and I have energy, I can easily start working on the items that didn't look "perfect" to me without delaying any other task(But at the time I was burning out, and I realized that. So I stopped working on the things that didn't look "perfect" to me. Instead I took a break to clear my mind.).

If you can prioritize the tasks and break them down to more manageable pieces it is great. If you can't, may be you can ask a friend to help you. After completing a task without over thinking about it and without missing a deadline, what I felt was success and that is what kept me going.

This way I kept my sanity and started to regain self respect, instead of punishing myself for not committing to work and spending the day paralyzed.

  • This is pretty good advice. Working with others who are struggling in similar ways can help. I recently learned that several Asst Prof who I think are “very productive” are parts of writing groups. They were basically paid coaching services to try to get over the very issues you described. Now they have continued to be friends with and encourage their group members after the paid portion is done.
    – Dawn
    May 19, 2018 at 11:59
  1. To do lists can be nice for staying organized.

    But to do lists can drive you nuts.

    So, one idea would be to try a different approach. Here's one option among many possibilities: Put your deadlines in Google Calendar. Check your calendar at reasonable intervals, and close it when you don't need it.

  2. A work buddy can be helpful. You check in with your work buddy at regular intervals, such as twice a day. You encourage each other by providing positive feedback when you get through something tedious or unpleasant.

  3. Sometimes it's fun to plan specific rewards (that are meaningful to you) for accomplishing specific things.

  4. When a person is going through a difficult patch, sometimes it's surprising what new thing in life can turn things around. For me, after a recent difficult patch, the first thing that made a difference was to get a hamster. The second thing was that I discovered a beautiful place to walk, with lots of interesting trails and a map of the area that had some mistakes, which made making my way around the trails doable but a bit challenging.

  5. I don't know if perhaps there are some tricks to getting through some of the more tedious responsibilities in your job. Perhaps talking to colleagues will give you some good ideas along these lines.

  6. When a person is feeling this way, checking in with your primary care provider (G.P.) can be a productive step. I was particularly concerned about this sentence: "I find that unless I am sure my work is ‘perfect’ I am very reluctant to submit it, and will later feel guilty about it." I would suggest that you print your question out and show it to your doctor. I have written a couple of answers here on the subject of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Of course, I don't know whether that might be part of what's giving you difficulty. But you might want to take a look and see if anything in those answers is helpful for you.

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