Let’s face it, procrastination isn’t just an exclusive club for those with ADHD. No one feels good about it but we all do it at least occasionally. However, we the ADHD can procrastinate more frequently. Struggling to plan, organize, and stay on top of tasks, our minds spinning with thoughts, fueled by a rollercoaster of emotions end up hurling us into distractions. Read on to learn why ADHD is more prone to procrastination and 3 steps to be more productive.
It may start with the idea of an unpleasant task. It could be a large project due for school or work that has you feeling stressed. You then feel that your desk is too messy to do the work, so you clean it. You then notice some files that need to be be organized. The thought of a walk to help you focus comes to mind. Next, you need a snack, and there is that podcast that needs to be finished before starting your project. Before you know it, hours have passed, no meaningful progress has been made, and you are more stressed than ever!
We all know better. So, why do we fall into this trap? Why is procrastination so tied up with guilt and shame, even though it’s something nearly everyone does? When we’re faced with the temptation to put something off, can we do something help us buckle down and do what needs to be done?
Don’t We All Procrastinate?
According to Drs. Fushia Sirois and Tim Pychl, authors of Procrastination, Health and Well-Being, the answer is not simply laziness or poor time management skills. Instead, their research suggests that procrastination is is a problem of emotion regulation and that learning to manage negative moods effectively can help us overcome it.
Dr. Sirois noted that some people might procrastinate from time to time depending on the circumstance. For instance, in their health, but maybe not at work. When sampling the population of college students, rough estimates showed regular procrastination as high as 50% on campuses. Whereas about 80% to 95% procrastinate occasionally but necessarily to a large degree. So, procrastination is actually quite high in college samples.
When looking at adults who are out in the workforce, procrastination estimates are still fairly high. Those engaging in regular procrastination range between 15% to 25% in an effort to deal with tasks they don’t want to deal with.
It’s time to flip the narrative…
The common wisdom out there is teach somebody to manage their time better and they’ll stop procrastinating. Or, tell them they’re lazy and crack the whip to get them going and that’ll reduce it. This faulty sort of perspective is merely reacting to the symptoms of procrastination rather than getting to the root cause.
Emotions are at the core of procrastination. A lot of research suggests that the types of tasks that we procrastinate on are ones that we don’t enjoy. These can range the full spectrum from simply boring to gut wrenching. The tasks that result in negative emotions are the tasks that are more likely to result in procrastination.
So, from the emotion regulation viewpoint it seems we’re not avoiding the task per se. We are actually avoiding the negative emotions associated with that task. It’s a coping mechanism. If you’re someone who hasn’t had a lot of experience managing your negative emotions effectively — your inner resources for coping with a task that might be really difficult and result in avoidance. Procrastination gives you immediate momentary relief…the sense of relief is in essence a reward.
Why Do Those With ADHD Procrastinate More?
In the ADHD world – decreased emotional regulation is a core symptom. Emotions like frustration, irritation, and self-doubt are frequent visitors. Procrastination is the pesky visiting neighbor that overstays the welcome. Years of consistent thoughts and experiences that result in self-talk like “I’m not good enough”, “What if I mess up?”, “This is hard”, “What will people think?”, or “I can’t do it” make starting tasks even more daunting. This not helpful!
But, take a deep breath, grab a comfy seat, and don’t stress. There are a few basic mindset shifts and methods that will allow you to kick procrastination to the curb, ADHD style. Let’s help you outsmart that pesky neighbor and reclaim your productivity prowess!
3 Steps To Productivity
- Practice Self-Compassion: Maybe those old internalized messages that you don’t measure up, which became magnified from some of your past slip-ups are holding you back. Fear of failure can cause anyone to feel anxious or maybe resentful. On the flip side, fear of success can make it seem too overwhelming to keep up with demands. These thoughts can result in feelings of guilt and shame, which cause more negative thoughts and feelings, this will slow progress even more. Just forgive yourself and drop the side of guilt and shame. Normalize making mistakes and look at failures as opportunities to learn.
- Pay attention to your thoughts: Believe it or not, your thoughts are in your control. You CHOOSE to think a certain thought. Whatever thought you choose to believe will determine how you feel and also play into the result. You can choose to believe everything you think or you can debate the validity of the thought. I’ll share a secret with you..your brain lies!
- Break tasks down: The self-regulation component involved in starting a task is an executive function skill that ADHDers are deficient in called task initiation. If this skill is lagging then there are also problems with sequencing and breaking down large projects into smaller tasks. Procrastination gives temporary relief until the deadline gets closer. To deal with this, chunk the task into mini-tasks down to the the smallest possible step. Write the mini tasks down, estimate the time each will take, and put them in order of importance. Check them off as you go for a dopamine boost. It takes practice and often a little guidance to form the habit.
The truth is, we all find ourselves procrastinating from time to time. For those of us with ADHD, procrastination can be a dangerous cycle that will lead to greater stress and health issues if allowed to spiral out of control. Remember that the most important thing is to practice self-compassion, identify your thoughts causing your feelings so that you can reframe them to be more realistic, and practice breaking tasks down to mini steps to get yourself over the task initiation hurdle. Be patient with yourself and as you work on overcoming procrastination. It takes time to break patterns but it all stems from how you think and feel.
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