Overcoming Chronic Procrastination

Strategies for Adults With ADHD to Reduce Procrastination

Procrastination. PeopleImages/Getty

ADHD and Procrastination 

Almost every adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has experienced procrastination at some time in his or her life. Procrastination is when you delay taking action on a task. Some people say they become highly productive when they are procrastinating! Rather than fill in a tax form, they clean the whole house, even though they usually hate to clean. Other people try to forget about the urgent task and do something fun instead.

While pushing tasks to one side ‘to do’ later might seem harmless in the moment, it can have negative ripple effects. 

ADHD symptoms, such as distractibility, disorganization, feeling overwhelmed, problems prioritizing, and anxiety, can make fighting procrastination harder. However, that does not mean you are powerless to break your procrastination habit.

Following are 12 practical solutions to help you to stop procrastinating.

1. Why Are You Procrastinating?

Whenever you find yourself procrastinating on a task, take a step back and ask, “Why am I procrastinating on this task?” If you know the underlying reason, then you can match it with the right solution.

Here are some common reasons adults with ADHD procrastinate.

  • The task seems large, complex, and too overwhelming.
  • The task looks tedious and boring. 
  • Not knowing how to do the task makes it hard to get started.
  • It is hard to get motivated until things are urgent and a deadline is close.
  • Negative thoughts and feelings get in the way of doing the task. 

Now that you know the reason, you can use the following suggestions to help you.

2. Break Down a Large Task Into Small Steps.

If you have a large or complex task that is causing you to feel stuck or overwhelmed, break it down into smaller, doable parts.

A large project can feel like climbing a mountain. However, when you chunk the project down into small steps, the mountain seems to shrink to the size of a small hill.  

Sometimes, ADHD symptoms can make visualizing a project difficult. It can be hard to understand how all the pieces fit together. Ask a friend or someone you trust to help you think through and organize the steps. But beware! Many adults with ADHD become so engrossed in the details of planning they never get to work on the project. Planning becomes a form of procrastination.

3. Set Deadlines For Yourself.

When you have broken the task down into small parts, create deadlines for completing each part. It is easier to be successful when you have various, small short-term goals, compared to one large long-term goal. It is less overwhelming and easier to stay motivated.  Every time you complete a short-term goal, reward yourself with a treat. 

Creating these smaller goals also allows you to move away from last minute panics as a big deadline approaches.

4. Use Positive Social Pressure.

Having an accountability partner often provides the motivation to start a project and keep you in action. Make a commitment to your partner, a friend, or co-worker. Tell them your goals and timeline. This gentle social pressure can help propel you forward. 

Another option is to work on the task with another person. The social connection helps keep the project stimulating and engaging.

5. Make Boring Tasks Appealing.

A boring or tedious task does not stimulate the ADHD brain enough for you to want to take action. If this is the reason for procrastination, ask yourself, “How can I turn this boring task into one that is interesting?”

There are many ways to make a task more appealing. Here are a few examples.

  • You could turn it into a competition with yourself. How many plates can you wash in five minutes? Use a kitchen timer to help you.
  • Make it fun by playing music while you work.
  • Have a reward waiting for when you have finished.

6. Rotate Between Two Tasks.

Try rotating between two tasks. This can keep your interest levels high, and allow you to feel focused and motivated on both tasks. You can set a timer and spend equal time on each task. This is another way you can make boring tasks more appealing!

7. Make a Small Commitment of Time.

It can be hard to start a task if it seems big, with no end in sight. However, it is much easier to begin if you are only going to be working on it for 10 minutes. 

Set your timer, and work for 10 minutes. Then review how you feel. Sometimes, those first 10 minutes breaks your feelings of resistance, and you feel keen to continue. If not, set your timer for another 10 minutes and continue to work in small time chucks.

8. Limit Distractions.

Turn off your cell phone, email, Facebook, and anything else that distracts you from getting started. Also, be aware of internal distractions. You might say to yourself, “I will do these other little things first and then get to the important task.” However, it is often these other “little things” that contribute to the cycle of procrastination. You feel very busy and are accomplishing a lot, yet are avoiding the primary task that must get done.

9. Seek Training When Necessary.

Are you avoiding a task because you do not know how to do it? If so, why not educate yourself.  You might do this by enrolling in a formal training course. Or you could do this in a more causal way, such as asking a friend to show you, or watching a video on the web. When you know how to do something, the resistance melts away and it is easy to take action.

10. Delegate to Someone Else.

Sometimes it is empowering to develop a new skill yourself. Other times, it is appropriate to delegate to another person who already has the skills. For example, you do not have to learn how to fix your car. You can take it to the garage where there are trained mechanics. Do not feel you have to do everything yourself.

11. Replace Negative Thoughts With Positive Ones.

Our thoughts and feelings are very powerful. When you talk to yourself in a positive and gentle way, and remind yourself of your recent successes, it can be easier to take action. In contrast, when you are stuck in negative mode, it can be hard to break out of the avoidance cycle. If you find that negative thinking is a major contributor to your avoidance of tasks, you may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. 

12. Connect With Your Doctor.

Let your doctor know about your procrastination challenges. Medication, when appropriate, can be an important part of your ADHD treatment plan. Though medication will not prevent procrastination, it can help you to focus and make getting started on tasks a little easier.

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