We all succumb to procrastination from time to time. But for people with ADHD, the tendency to put things off can become especially problematic. You’ve probably already discovered that telling yourself you’ll “do it later” is a recipe for disaster. Chances are you won’t remember you had to pay that bill or follow-up on that important project at work until you get a late notice in the mail or your boss is breathing down your neck.
The trouble is, we tend to think about the act of procrastination as the problem when in actuality it is merely a side effect.
The real issue is what we are telling ourselves about the task at-hand or our ability to successfully complete it.
If we are telling ourselves that what we are about to do is boring, pointless, troublesome, or that we are likely to fail, we will begin to experience negative feelings as a result.
In an attempt to alleviate those feelings, we avoid or put off doing what we need to do.
To illustrate this point to my clients, I ask them to imagine that they get a phone call from me one morning and I invite them to go on an outing. I then proceed to tell them that it’ll be the most boring thing they’ve ever done and they’ll absolutely hate every minute of it.
It’s at this point I ask them how motivated they’d be to join me. They laugh and say, “Not very!” Exactly.
While my imaginary scenario might seem over the top and ridiculous, the fact is we do it all the time!
This cycle of negative self-talk and avoidance makes up what I call the “Procrastination Iceberg”.
What we focus on is the act of procrastination, but it’s what’s underneath that needs to be addressed.
For ADHDers, attempting to muster up the motivation to do this task or that is often an uphill battle, even under the best circumstances.
When you consider the effect that these negative beliefs have on motivation, it’s no wonder that so many people with ADHD also struggle with procrastination.
The following is a list of common procrastination triggers and what you can do to overcome them…
“I don’t feel like it”
This is probably the biggest culprit when it comes to procrastination.
Because ADHDers struggle so greatly with focus and follow-through, they will often put tasks off and wait for the “perfect time” to start. Or they begin to rely on the stress and anxiety of waiting till the last possible moment to propel them into action which only creates an endless cycle of chaos.
Here’s the thing: You’re probably never going to feel like it. But the good news is, you don’t need to feel like it to get it done.
Instead of waiting for the perfect time, set yourself up for success.
Have a snack; go for a brisk walk; start with what feels like the easiest part of the task first; set a timer and work for 15 minutes; play music; find a change of scenery; take advantage of those times of the day when you have more energy.
“There are too many steps and it feels overwhelming”
If the task/activity feels too daunting and you’re not sure where to start, take out a piece of paper and write out the steps required to complete it.
Writing it down is important because just the act of getting it on paper and out of your head can put things into perspective. Clients have often told me that once they map out the steps on paper, they discover that the task/activity isn’t as complicated as they thought.
Does the first step still feel too big? Break it down even further.
Have an email that you’ve been putting off sending? The first step could be creating a draft and filling in the subject line.
Want to organize your kitchen? Start by organizing one drawer, shelf, or cabinet.
“I’ve never been good at this”
I hear this one from my clients a lot.
Sadly, many people with ADHD have long histories of feeling inadequate and incapable.
The first step toward overcoming these feelings is to ask yourself if it’s really true that you’re not good at whatever it is you’ll be doing.
Take a moment to think about instances where you may have done something similar and been successful. Maybe you’re great at organizing boxes in the garage but getting your desk in order has been challenging.
Ask yourself what it was about that particular situation that allowed you to be successful and think about how you might approach the new project in a similar way.
If you can’t recall a past success, remember this: Just because you haven’t been successful in the past, doesn’t mean you never will be.
Embrace the power of yet- “I haven’t been successful YET, but I’m working on getting better”. Think about what you could do differently this time around or who you might ask for help.
“It’ll be really boring”
Boredom, or even the mere threat of it, is like kryptonite for ADHD brains.
I’ve had clients tell me that they avoid getting to appointments early for fear that they’ll be left sitting in the waiting room with nothing to do.
If you find yourself putting off a task or activity because you’re dreading being bored, brainstorm ways to make it more fun.
Maybe you might save listening to a favorite podcast or audio book for when you’re doing the dishes. Go to a coffee shop or favorite restaurant to work on that report. Play music, dance, involve a friend… Whatever gets your juices flowing.
The next time you feel like putting something off until later, take a moment to ask yourself what’s really going on below the surface.
What are you telling yourself? What are you feeling as a result? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Confused?
Once you identify the underlying cause, you’ll be in a better position to take the necessary steps to overcome procrastination and (FINALLY!) get things done.
Infographic: Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC/Canva