All of us put off unpleasant tasks from time to time, but some people may be more likely to procrastinate than others, such as those with ADHD. While procrastination is a common habit among all kinds of people, if the practice becomes pervasive in your life and is a common response when faced with any task, it can have a severe impact on your ability to get things done and reach your goals.
Whether you have ADHD or not, you can take steps to develop healthier time-management techniques that can help you meet your daily responsibilities.
What Is Procrastination?
Procrastination refers to putting off tasks, decisions, or activities until later without a good reason. Delaying something due to an emergency is different from putting off working on a paper because you're not in the mood. It's also procrastination if you do something less important, such as cleaning your room, while avoiding a more urgent and important matter, like writing a report.
Procrastination can have a significant impact on a person's ability to meet their responsibilities, reach their goals, and succeed in life.
Procrastination And ADHD
Procrastination is an extremely common complaint among those with ADHD because of the nature of the disorder. The core symptoms of ADHD include ineffective time management, forgetfulness, and a lack of focus, each of which can make procrastination more likely. People with ADHD may have difficulty sustaining their motivation to complete a task or even get started at all. They can often procrastinate without even realizing it.
Since the brain is wired differently in those who are neurodivergent, people with ADHD often experience impairment in executive function. This includes the ability to persist with a task even if it's boring or tedious to reach a goal. If you have ADHD, you may find yourself avoiding boring tasks whenever you can and seeking out high-stimulation or urgent activities.
In many ways, ADHD can be understood as a disorder of perceiving time as well as sustaining attention. People with ADHD have trouble processing the value of a reward down the line when faced with one that feels rewarding right now in a phenomenon known as temporal discounting. Procrastination can lessen the amount of anxiety over a task, which may be perceived by the brain as rewarding if the stress is significant. Those with ADHD may also over or underestimate the length of time a particular task will require. This can lead them to magnify the effort needed for certain tasks while leaving other, more complex projects to the last minute.
After a while, procrastination can become a difficult habit to break. Experiencing a loss of control over one’s habits can cause a substantial amount of anxiety and other negative consequences, including poorer self-esteem.
What Causes Procrastination?
Even if you're aware of your tendency to procrastinate and the consequences of delaying tasks, you may still do it. You may berate yourself and wonder why you can't seem to muster the willpower to do what you need to do. Yet, this constant self-flagellation usually only makes things worse.
While causes of procrastination vary, it's a habit that often develops over time and then becomes an automatic response. Procrastination, in many instances, is a response to anxiety. For example, if you feel anxious about a project deadline at work, those negative feelings may cause you to procrastinate to feel some relief. As the deadline draws closer, your anxiety may increase, and your procrastination might worsen in a cycle that reinforces itself. Even if you finish this project, you may have a greater aversion to similar tasks in the future because of the anxiety that you experienced.
Perfectionism and unrealistic standards can also be a source of procrastination. You may find yourself over-planning projects without ever getting started in the hopes of getting them right. This may be due to prior failures, a strict upbringing, or no specific cause at all. However, it's usually more productive to take a small step, even if done imperfectly, than to not act at all.
How To Manage Procrastination
Here are some ways you can manage procrastination, whether you have ADHD or not.
#1 Figure Out Why You Procrastinate
Determining the root cause of your procrastination can be an important first step to getting a handle on the situation. Consider any areas that you're particularly struggling with. What emotions do you feel when you think about doing these tasks? What thoughts go through your mind? It can be helpful to write this information down. Do you procrastinate to escape a sense of anxiety? To avoid having to face the pressure of a deadline? Identifying the fears or emotions behind your procrastination habits can help you come up with a plan to manage them.
#2 Break Down Tasks Into Actionable Steps
Large, complicated tasks are the ones that we tend to procrastinate on. They can feel overwhelming, especially if we're not clear on how to begin. Those with ADHD may find it difficult to mentally break down a task, so it can be helpful to work the steps out on paper. Working backward from the deadline may make it easier to break the task down into smaller segments. Making each step clearly defined and actionable can also make it feel more achievable.
#3 Use A Timer
Perhaps you feel overwhelmed when looking at your task list, even once each step is written down. Try setting a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and commit to working on the task until the timer goes off. You can use a physical timer or an app on your phone. Once the time runs down, you can choose to either reset the timer to stick with the task or take a 5-minute break. This helps on several levels including getting you started on the task, giving you a more concrete feeling of the passage of time, and letting you know how long a task reasonably takes.
#4 Take The First Step
Often, getting started on something is the hardest part. While you may still stop in the middle of your task, at least you will have done part of it. Additionally, you may find that the task is not as difficult or unpleasant as you feared once you get started. If the task still seems too difficult, try to find a way to make it even easier. Instead of writing 500 words, start with just 50, for example. Try to use the momentum you have at the beginning to keep yourself going longer.
#5 Reward Yourself
People with ADHD tend to have dysfunction in the reward system of their brains, which causes the brain to prioritize what it sees as highly stimulating or pleasurable. Usually, however, those activities that are rewarding in the short term are detrimental in the long term. If you're used to using certain things as distractions from your work or responsibilities, such as watching TV or playing video games, try to determine if there's a way you can turn those activities into a reward for completing tasks.
#6 Try Visualization
Many successful business owners and entrepreneurs employ visualization as a tool to help them reach their goals. Picture in your mind what it would feel like to finish the task that you keep putting off. Try to make the image clear and imagine the emotions that you would feel if you reached your goal. This can give you the push you need to get started and continue your efforts down the road.
#7 Determine Your “On” Times
People with ADHD, even those on medication, tend to have more fluctuations in their motivation and ability to focus than those without the disorder. For some, this can be early in the morning when they first wake up; for others, it may be late in the evening. Determine which times of the day you feel the most focused and in control and, where possible, adjust your schedule in a way that takes the most advantage of these times.
#8 Forgive Yourself
Chronic procrastination can have a significant impact on your self-esteem. Other people in your life might not understand and become frustrated, accusing you of being lazy or not caring. Many people who struggle with procrastination tend to beat themselves up about it, but this attitude isn't helpful and can induce more negative feelings. Instead, work on forgiving yourself and committing to doing better next time.
Online Therapy With BetterHelp
If you've tried the previous strategies, but procrastination is still causing you trouble, it may be time to seek the help of a professional. You can connect with a therapist through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform. A therapist can work with you to determine the root cause of your procrastination, whether it’s ADHD or something else, and equip you with management strategies to overcome these tendencies.
Perhaps you’ve been meaning to go to therapy, but have been putting it off because of the cost, long drive to sessions, or fear of speaking to someone about your struggles. Online therapy removes many of these barriers so that you can get the care and treatment you need to be successful. You can connect in a way that feels most comfortable to you, whether through a phone call, video chat, or in-app messaging feature.
The Efficacy Of Online Therapy
Online therapy can be a viable option for those struggling with procrastination in any area of their life. While those with ADHD are often treated with medication, therapy may help them achieve greater control over the symptoms that often cause issues with time management. One study assessed the efficacy of an internet-based CBT program for people with a habit of procrastination. Researchers found that “clinically significant change” was achieved by participants, making online therapy a useful option for those wanting to manage their time more effectively.
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