Though many people struggle with procrastination from time to time, living with ADHD can make it a particularly difficult symptom to manage. Those with ADHD often report having a rough time staying focused, avoiding procrastination, and generally managing their time.
If you find that you often struggle with procrastination and ADHD, you aren't the only one. Whether or not you have been formally diagnosed, you are in the good company of the many people with ADHD who face similar problems daily. Chronic procrastination is often more indicative of something like ADHD than it is of some moral failing. Even though procrastination can cause difficulties in your life, resist the urge to label yourself as "lazy," "defective," or "irresponsible." These labels are not helpful; more often than not, they’ll lead to shame (which is never beneficial) and confusion. If available, a diagnosis can be very helpful if you do have ADHD, as it gives you access to formal treatment and possible accommodations.
However, if you don’t yet know your diagnosis but want to solve your procrastination problem, it’s less important if your “real issue” is ADHD vs. procrastination. It is much more important to understand that, regardless of where your chronic procrastination comes from, outside of treatment, your personal strategies for solving the issue will be very similar.
That being said, if you have ADHD, problems with procrastination — or both, as is often the case — there are strategies and mindsets that you can use to not only overcome your procrastination tendencies but also to enhance your overall productivity if that's a goal of yours.
Today, let's take an in-depth look at the connections between procrastination and ADHD and go over some practical ADHD procrastination tips that can help increase your personal productivity.
What Exactly Is ADHD?
ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is often more noticeable in children, but many people overlook the fact that it equally affects both children and adults. The hallmark features of ADHD are:
difficulties with attention
impairment of "executive functions" like organization, prioritization, and regulating focus
Is Procrastination a Sign of ADHD?
Can ADHD cause procrastination? ADHD can definitely contribute to a person's procrastination tendencies. While it's not the only reason a person procrastinates, the challenges that ADHD and procrastination pose for a person's executive functioning skills can make it even harder to begin new tasks or complete outstanding tasks in what most might consider a reasonable amount of time.
People with ADHD might sense that an impending task will require focus and energy from them, and since those are precious and finite resources for those with ADHD, this inner conflict can cause anxiety and stress surrounding the task. Procrastination is often used as a coping mechanism in these moments, as it provides the temporary relief of seemingly taking a potentially difficult task off your plate. However, that relief is short-lived since it quickly gets replaced by the stress of a looming deadline with less preparation.
Accurate perception of time is also a difficult skill for people with ADHD, often referred to as "time blindness." Time blindness can often lead ADHDers to underestimate the amount of time certain tasks will realistically take for them to accomplish, resulting in leaving tasks to the last minute, leaving little or no time to give the task the attention it might deserve.
How To Deal With ADHD Procrastination
Managing your ADHD procrastination is a problem that you'll need to attack from several different angles. In practice, it will involve both using more effective strategies to accomplish your tasks as well as shifting your mindset around both the work that you do and your own self-perception. Let's have a look at several of the most practical tips for how to stop ADHD procrastination.
1. Break Down Tasks With SMART Goals
The SMART goal-setting framework is a useful way of looking at personal goals whether or not you have ADHD. When setting goals, it allows you to focus more intently on smaller, more actionable steps. In the long run, this can make your goals less overwhelming and overall make the individual tasks more approachable. Let's look at the SMART framework and what helps procrastination in those with ADHD.
For a goal to be "SMART," it should follow these criteria:
Specific: The ADHD mind can struggle with ambiguity. When you set a more specific goal, you provide yourself with more clarity and reduce the extraneous details that might be distracting you from the actual intention of your goal.
Measurable: In addition to providing clarity, incorporating measurements into your goals will provide you with more tangible milestones, and when you reach those milestones, the sense of accomplishment can be a natural release of dopamine and, therefore, a powerful motivator to continue.
Achievable: If you have ADHD, you might tend to be somewhat impulsive with your goals, meaning that "your eyes might be bigger than your stomach," and you'll end up setting goals that go above and beyond what your current abilities or resources can realistically do. While shooting high can be admirable, it should also be tempered with realism and achievability in mind. If you set your sights too high too soon, you run a strong risk of feeling overwhelmed and discouraged when you fall short. If you have big goals, try breaking those down into a series of mini-goals to make the process more approachable.
Relevant: Goals have to make sense for you personally, especially if you have ADHD. When you're prone to getting distracted, it's all too easy to give up what you're currently doing if it doesn't hold some inherent value to you. Make sure that any goals you set line up in some way with what you value, what you're interested in, or what you aspire to in the long term.
Time-Bound: Deadlines and timelines are often great motivators when used appropriately. Give your goals clear endpoints to prevent yourself from putting them off indefinitely.
Many aspects of the SMART framework are good tips for warding off ADHD procrastination on their own, so we'll cover some of them again in other procrastination tips in this list, but it's useful to have SMART itself in your toolkit.
2. Set Clear Deadlines
Deadlines are very helpful for ADHDers because, when used correctly, they instill a healthy sense of urgency that can motivate you to complete the task on time. Make sure that any deadlines you set are clear to you, meaning that you understand the precise tasks that are due on those dates and what "complete" looks like. Make use of visual reminders, alarms, or both to keep your deadlines top-of-mind and avoid last-minute crunches.
If a task or goal is large enough and the deadline seems too far away to really "matter" to your current brain, try breaking up the goal into chunks and setting smaller deadlines leading up to the final deadline. This gives you natural milestones along the way to not only keep you motivated by these smaller accomplishments but also help to make your efforts more consistent along the way.
3. Be Realistic About Time
An often overlooked aspect of how to overcome ADHD procrastination is learning not to fall into the trap of time blindness. Be brutally honest with yourself when it comes to how long certain tasks take and overestimate whenever possible and reasonable. If you are able to do so, try timing yourself in completing common tasks to give yourself a more accurate idea of how long they really take.
It's also useful to consider common distractions and interruptions that might distract you and then plan accordingly. If you build in a bit of buffer time into your plans to account for things that might go wrong, this can give you more realistic time estimates, which means less stress and pressure for you in the likely scenarios where something gets in the way of your productivity.
4. Don’t Multitask
Multitasking is the siren's call for people with ADHD. In the battle between ADHD vs. procrastination, multitasking is the shiny distraction that looks like a handy tool. After all, who wouldn't attempt to accomplish more than one task in a single session if they thought that it might save them some time and effort?
However, multitasking is often a counterproductive habit, especially for people with ADHD. Even a neurotypical brain doesn't truly multitask, instead briefly focusing on Task A before hopping to Task B momentarily and then back and forth. While it might seem to the multitasker that they are getting more done, this is an illusion, and more often than not, the multitasking is actually making both tasks take longer than if either was the sole focus.
5. Use Prioritization Techniques
A big source of procrastination in ADHD can come from a lack of prioritization. If you have a lot of tasks and you don't know where to begin, try using one of these methods to decide which ones are most important and which can be left until later.
The ABCDE Method requires you to go through your task list and rank them in order of most to least importance. The levels of priority in the ABCDE Method are:
These tasks should be done as soon as possible.
Beneficial to complete.
These are still important tasks, but they are not as urgent as A-level tasks.
Complete if time permits.
These are usually wants, not crucial tasks that NEED to happen. If time allows you to complete them, you can go ahead and get them done, but if you never get around to it, it won't cause problems.
Delegate to others.
These are tasks that you want to be completed, but you don't necessarily need to have a hand in that completion beyond giving them to someone else. If you want these completed, be sure to delegate them to someone you can reasonably trust to get them done.
Upon reflection, these tasks are unnecessary. They don't need to be completed, no one else is counting on them, there won't be any consequences for abandoning them, and you can reasonably take them off your to-do list to free up time with no ill effects.
Eat The Frog Technique
Somewhat simpler, the "Eat the Frog" technique asks you to tackle your most challenging task first thing in the morning. It comes from the proverbial idea that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, the rest of the day will seem much more pleasant in comparison. Whether or not that would literally be the case, there is something to be said about taking on your most difficult work when your brain is freshest. Not only does this method allow you to arrange your tasks for the day according to when you have the energy for them, but it will also instill a sense of accomplishment early in your day, which builds up your productive momentum before you can overthink the task and feel the urge to avoid it later in the day.
6. Use Lists
To-do lists and task trackers help you to document all of your outstanding tasks so that nothing falls through the cracks. It also allows you to organize these tasks by priority and deadline so you can plan your workload accordingly. Finally, crossing off completed tasks as you go can be a great dopamine boost that keeps you motivated.
7. Hold Yourself Accountable
Accountability helps your tasks, deadlines, and consequences feel more real to you. Consider something like an urgent task from your boss. The potential consequences of not meeting that deadline could be huge, anything from social embarrassment and shame to the loss of your job. Now compare that urgency to your workout schedule. If you miss one trip to the gym, the consequences at the moment are likely fairly minor, and you can always try again tomorrow. But if you tell yourself that it's very easy to continually miss your workouts every day.
The difference here is in the amount of accountability. Though not every task needs the pressure and urgency of losing your job or worse, it can be helpful to build in a small amount of external pressure to ensure you complete the tasks that matter to you. Try sharing your goals and your progress toward them with trusted friends, family, or even a support group. By having someone else expect something from you, you can make your deadlines feel more real and avoid procrastination.
8. Take Strategic Breaks to Decrease Task Avoidance
Plan your work sessions to account for breaks. Breaks allow your brain to rest between stints of work and can ensure that you don't deplete your mental energy by trying to get the task done in one big, intimidating, crunch-time session.
Set regular timers while you're working to ensure that you know when a break is coming and time the break itself to make sure you get back to things promptly. Breaking up your day in this way, it can make the task feel far more manageable and will decrease your urge to avoid it and procrastinate.
9. Build In Physical Activity
The human body needs physical activity to function properly, including mental performance. Those who get regular physical activity or exercise, especially those who struggle with procrastination and ADHD, can manage some of their restlessness and focus issues by keeping their blood flowing. Do what you can to incorporate some type of movement breaks into your day to make your tasks less sedentary. This is also a handy method of maintaining a work-life balance.
10. Avoid Overstimulation
A common symptom of ADHD that can lead to procrastination is overstimulation. If you work in an environment that has a lot of distractions or have work habits that cause more information than necessary to bombard your senses, this is a recipe for creating overwhelm.
Wherever possible, try to tailor your work environment to make it more conducive to focused work. Try turning off any unnecessary notifications that might take you out of your work, and if helpful, wear a pair of noise-canceling headphones to block out distracting noises. You could even listen to white-noise or ambient music to truly dial yourself into the task at hand.
11. Reward Yourself to Increase Engagement and Motivation
Even if it might feel a little juvenile at first, try implementing some type of reward system for finishing tasks and give yourself permission to celebrate when you meet goals. It doesn't have to be anything huge, either. Rewards could be anything from a short break to eating a snack you love or a session of engaging in your favorite hobby. By rewarding yourself, you reinforce your brain's association with the positive habits you're trying to build and a release of dopamine. This can go a long way toward increasing your motivation and making you less likely to procrastinate on similar tasks in the future.
12. Get Support From an ADHD Coach
An ADHD coach or a therapist specializing in ADHD can be highly beneficial in learning how to stop ADHD procrastination. Programs like Agave Health's CBT programs can give you a better idea of how your brain works and provide you with the support you need to stay on track in the meantime. Not only do these programs provide guidance and useful strategies for avoiding procrastination, but they can also build in more accountability to allow people with ADHD to report their goals and progress to someone else they can trust.
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Managing ADHD procrastination is much easier when you have the proper tools, strategies, and support for the job.
Agave Health provides comprehensive care to adults with ADHD and can help you make the necessary adjustments to better manage your condition and learn how to avoid ADHD procrastination. If procrastination and ADHD are holding you back from where you want to be, try Agave Health today to tap into your full potential.