If you’re an ADHD adult and want to procrastinate less, stop focusing on procrastination and get at the root causes. Here’s how to do that.
- Procrastination is a symptom.
- Force will not work to manage your procrastination.
- To procrastinate less you’ll need to come up with solutions for the root causes.
- Some of the root causes are perfectionism, fear of failure, focusing on finishing and finding the task too daunting.
- There are steps you can take to manage these causes and procrastinate less.
- Trouble Starting Your Work? Use These 6 Tips to Fix That.(blog)
- 7 Techniques You Can Use to Make Starting Easier (podcast)
- What All ADHD Adults Need to Do to Make Task Switching Easier(blog)
- Why ADHD Adults Need to Give up Perfectionism to Be Productive (podcast)
Procrastination is probably one of the most insidious problems for ADHD adults. I know it’s also especially frustrating when you’re procrastinating on something that’s important to you. Fortunately, though, you can turn that around.
You’ve tuned into Scattered Focused, Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults, like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills, to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
Like many ADHD adults, I bet you often assume the way to address your procrastination is to try to force yourself to do whatever it is you need to do. And when you try this, and inevitably fails, which I bet it usually does, you may decide you need someone else to force you to do the task. I know this may be true for you because sometimes when I’ve talked to people about their interest in coaching, they tell me I need someone just to make me do my stuff. Fortunately force is not one of the techniques I use in coaching. Not only because it’s not my jam to force people to do things, I also know it won’t work. That is, if I try to force them, they would likely resist doing the very thing they want to be forced to do. And then, well perhaps not consciously, resent my efforts to force them. Just like they resent other people who try to make them do something.
Bottom line force just doesn’t work. Whether you’re trying to do it to yourself or whether you want somebody else to try pushing you to do something. Not only will using force not work, but it also just won’t address the real problem. So you’ll inevitably end up back where you started, procrastinating. You see procrastination is not really your problem. Oh sure, I know it’s problematic for you, but it’s not the root problem. Rather, procrastination is just a symptom for ADHD adults. It’s a cue that you’re challenged in some way with performing, taking action when you intend. So, if you really want to procrastinate less, the place to start is figuring out the roadblock, the reason you’re putting off something. While you may procrastinate in different areas in your life, the reasons you procrastinate will be different and so will require different solutions. So, to minimize your procrastination, the first step you’ll want to take is to identify the various contexts where you’re putting off doing what you intend. So you can create the right solutions for each situation.
You can do this by first asking yourself: Did I make promises to myself or others to do something, but I’m still not acting. That could at least be one place you’re procrastinating, obviously. Another question, Do I have good reasons for deferring acting or am I just procrastinating? See, because intentionally deferring taking action is totally something different and necessary. And may not be procrastination. So, you’ll want to differentiate between the two. Another question, where am I saying I’ll do it later? Right later. If you don’t know when later is, there is a good chance you’re procrastinating. As you have no real intention of doing whatever it is that you’re going to do later. Another question. When do I say, “I’ll try” instead of “I will”? And the last one. Where am I giving up as soon as it feels hard?
Then, once you’ve identified the places you’re procrastinating, you’ll want to decide whether there’s a payoff for you in even doing the task. That is, you want to connect the dots between your tasks and the reward for you. Because, if you can to make this connection, and I know, you know this already, it will be really hard to engender the motivation you need to start. And, yes, you’ll continue to procrastinate. Again, you already know this. Yet, you may be telling yourself “I should” or “I have to” about a task. Which is just a way to try to force yourself to do something. And, as I’ve already said, it won’t work. To minimize your procrastination, you’ll need to figure out the reason you would choose to do a task that you’re currently neglecting. And then work on changing your self-talk to reflect your sense of agency. For example, I don’t know anyone that really likes dealing with emails. But you may actually choose to deal with them because of the payoff.
How many times have you said to yourself, “I have to do all these emails, but I don’t want to.” And then what? Did you dig in and get to work? Not likely.
An example you may have heard me share before is that of one of my former clients who was able to reframe this by telling himself, “I want to be seen as a professional and keeping up with emails is just part of the gig. I’m going to choose to do them because the consequences would be on me, if I don’t. People would see me as unresponsive. And I don’t want that.”
Do you see how that’s different? Bottom line, you need to find the payoff for you in doing a task where you’re currently procrastinating. And if you really can’t find a reason, the payoff, the value that you would choose to act, the best decision might be to choose not to act. And then you won’t be procrastinating any longer. Nice, right?
The next step is to differentiate between your active task list. That is, the tasks that you really are doing and are going to do and your maybe/someday task lists, those that you don’t want to forget, but really have no intention of doing right now. Your immediate response to me, may be “I’ve already decided. After all, why would I put a task on my list if I didn’t need to do it?” Okay. Got it. But, if your list is similar to many others I’ve seen, it may function more as a wishlist. Because, given your current capacity, you can’t possibly do all the items on your list right now. Even if they have value for you. So, while you continue to put off tasks you really have no intention of doing, they stay on your list, hanging on for dear life. And you continue to beat yourself up for procrastinating. Maybe even telling yourself, “I should do that!”
So, one way to trim your list, when you don’t want to forget items there, is to put the tasks you have no intention of doing right now on the maybe/someday list. The other way to trim your list for those tasks that you don’t intend to do is to intentionally defer the starting date to a later date. You’ll want to put this defer date on your task list.
One advantage of creating a maybe someday lists or deferring the start date to a specific date in the future is it will give you the confidence you won’t forget the task, even if you’re not ready to act on it now, or in the case of the maybe someday list, maybe ever. The other advantage of course, is you’re making a decision not to do the tasks right now and are no longer procrastinating. That means you can stop heaping, shame and blame on yourself for not doing something you weren’t doing anyway. Nice, right?
The next step is to create an action plan for those tasks your choosing to do now, your active tasks. Here’s some ideas to get you started. At minimum, list the very next action step for each project. If you can list more steps, go ahead and do that. But please don’t get caught up in feeling the need to create the whole plan all at once. As long as you at least have the next step, you’re good to go. Also, make sure each step is manageable. That is, it’s small enough and actionable. That is, you know, precisely what to do and are able to do it. If you’re having a hard time acting, think about whether you need to break the task into even smaller parts.
I know you’ve already heard this advice before. But it’s part of the whole plan for procrastinating. Anyway, alternatively, when you’re stuck, think about whether you’ve missed a step and need to do a different task before you can accomplish the one in front of you. As much as you can decide on the date of the deliverable, as well as interim due dates for certain parts. And continue to reevaluate this as you go along. The reason for this, as you know, for ADHD adults, there’s a sense of time blindness. So you do want to place this in time, even if you have to change those. And then decide when you’re going to take the next action step. Rather than just leaving it to sometime in the future. Later. To enhance your chances of executing, you may want to think about the best time in the week and each day to work on the specific type of task.
It would also be helpful to be prepared to work which could include making sure you’ve had enough food, water, you’ve exercised, you’ve dressed, whatever it is that you need to do. Last, think about any potential roadblocks, including distractions. And try to minimize these in advance. For example, you may decide to turn off your phone and email notifications while you’re working. The more upfront thinking you can do in creating an execution plan, the easier it will be to follow through. And the less likely you will be to procrastinate. Okay, now you’re in the home stretch. You know the payoff of the task, you’ve decided you want to act now and you had a good enough execution plan. But when it comes to that critical moment of choice, the moment you intend to act, maybe you don’t. Maybe, instead, you tell yourself, “I don’t feel like it.”
And this is followed by the unconvincing promise that, yes, “I’ll do it later.” And, while you may not say this, like many ADHD adults, underlying the statement is the questionable idea that “I need inspiration.” Of course, you see how problematic this is. Do you know when you’re going to get this inspiration? No, of course, you don’t. So later is, yes, just, well, not now. And, if you can wait until you feel like doing it great. After all, why swim against the tide if you don’t need to, right? But, in many instances, you can’t really wait until you feel like doing a task. So, the key is to figure out what will help you to act even when your mojo is just not there. We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s take a step back for a moment and look at a few other reasons for your procrastination.
I know you already know perfectionism, it’s twin fear of failure, and seemingly overly complicated tasks can keep you from starting. But did you also know the pressure you put on yourself to finish can keep you from starting? And contribute to your procrastination? What can help in solving many of your problems when it comes to procrastination, including perfectionism, fear of failure, overly complicated task, lack of mojo is to focus on starting, to focus on starting again and again and again – persistent starting, while also being willing to take imperfect steps along the way. Let’s look at an example of how you can do this. Like many, Ari struggled to keep on top of his email. He thought he really needed to write perfect emails each and every time. And told himself, initially, I need to make sure there are no mistakes in my emails and be sure to add plenty of details. So they get my point. I know it’s going to take a lot of time, but I just can’t send out emails that are not just right.
So no surprise, Ari would often avoid tending to his email because he didn’t have the time to write what he thought was the perfect email each time. And that in turn led to an ever-growing backlog. So to get more efficient at responding to emails, Ari practiced replacing his old messages with messages like this, “A short email response is better than no response at all.” Another one is “they just want an answer and don’t want to wade through a tome to get to the point.” Or “If I don’t include something and they have questions, they’ll ask.” The last one, “If I spend less time on emails, I’ll have more time to work on my important projects and get home sooner.”
Reframing his self-talk was the first step. He also needed to remember this in the moment he intended to act. So he kept this list on his desk where he could see it. Because, remember your memory might be a little wonky. Even a good plan is not very helpful if you can’t remember it when you need it. Anyway, the second reason Ari procrastinated was because he put pressure on himself to finish all the emails, telling himself, “I have to finish. I have to get through these all right now!” But he didn’t have time to get through all of them every time he worked on them. So, he didn’t even start. It was just too frustrating. So instead, Ari addressed this by putting aside several 30 minute blocks of time during the day to work on processing and answering his email. And then he reminded himself, “If I start and focus on my email for just these 30 minutes, I’ll get through as much as I get through. All I need to do is to keep on starting.”
Of course, reframing his perfectionist self-talk helped him get through his emails in the time he had available. The third reason Ari procrastinated, when it came to his emails, was because of the overwhelm he felt when he spotted ones that seemed really complicated and he anticipate will require a lot of time. To address this, when he noticed he was becoming overwhelmed, he would remind himself, “I can do this one step at a time.” And then he would ask himself, “Okay, what is the first step I need to do to answer this email” And continue to ask himself, “What is the next step?”
So, as you’re looking at where you’re currently procrastinating, what is small step, one small step, you can take to plant seeds and move the project forward. And when can you take that next step?
Remember, procrastination isn’t the problem for ADHD, adults. It’s just the symptom. And, once you uncover the reason you’re procrastinating, you can then focus on using some of the solutions I suggested.
That’s it for now. As always, I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults, with ADHD, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today, which I hope you have, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might benefit. And until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla Cummins wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.