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The 4 Stages of Meeting a Deadline

If you have ADHD, you might notice certain patterns repeating themselves in your life.

ClockDeadlines are an example. Often the process goes something like this:

  1. You get a deadline. That deadline seems abstract and far in the future. Definitely not something you need to worry about right now.
  2. You start to have thoughts about maybe working on whatever you have the deadline for. But every time the idea enters your mind, the motivation just isn’t there. You have so many other things that are more enjoyable that you could be doing.
  3. You reach the point where, if you’re going to meet your deadline in a reasonable, not overly chaotic way, you better start now. But you don’t.
  4. You reach the point where, if you don’t start right this second, you’re absolutely screwed – and you might still be somewhat screwed even if you do. Think: night before the deadline for a big project, day of the deadline for a smaller project. At this point, your brain kicks into gear and you go from 0 to 100 in a panic-fueled dash as the clock ticks down.

For people with ADHD, there’s something about those final moments before a deadline that finally gets us firing on all cylinders. Often, we need to get to a point where waiting any longer simply is not an option before we find the motivation to dig into whatever task or project is imminently due.

That’s part of the motivation deficit that comes with ADHD. Before we get to the point of total urgency, we know in theory that we should start working toward the deadline, but in place of the self-control and initial liftoff we need to direct our energy to the task at hand, there’s a barrier, and a lot of ideas about other things to do that would be more interesting.

There’s not a perfect solution to this tendency. You can recognize it and try to be aware of these patterns as they repeat in your life. You can seek out environments where everything is on a short deadline anyway, so your penchant for last-second work is less of a disadvantage.

As with a lot of aspects of ADHD, the best you can do is probably to get past self-blame by recognizing that this is an ADHD-related pattern – and then, to the extent that it’s possible, structure your life to accommodate the characteristics of your personal relationship with deadlines.

Image: Flickr/Jon Newman

The 4 Stages of Meeting a Deadline

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). The 4 Stages of Meeting a Deadline. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Mar 2019
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