ADHD and Procrastination
by Rosemary Hollinger
Procrastination. We all do it, but people with ADHD do it more often and better than Neuro-Typicals. Take this article for instance. I’ve known I had to write it for two months. The deadline is in 4 days, so, of course, I started it today. I could tell myself that this way is more efficient because I saved myself a lot of time by not engaging in the constant revisions that my inner Perfectionist (discussed by Andrew in the next article) would have required. But that’s just an excuse. For me, two other barriers to action drive my procrastination. First, I need the adrenaline boost that comes from an impending deadline, and, second, the whole idea seemed overwhelming (all rationality aside). Whatever it is for you, it is not because you are lazy or a disorganized mess. Researchers believe that it is caused by the inability of people with ADHD to self-regulate their negativity relating to the task at hand.
Here are the strategies that I used to overcome my procrastination: hopefully, some of them will work for you.
- Just Get Started: The feeling of being overwhelmed will subside once you take the first couple of steps. Even writing just one sentence can be enough to get going. Sometimes that one sentence is brilliant and ignites your interest; other times, it’s less than brilliant and ends up in the trash. The point is to set a goal to simply take the first step. Then the next step will be easier.
- Set Aside a Limited Amount of Time: Don’t put aside an overwhelming amount of time to work, but enough time to actually accomplish something. I set aside 30 minutes to work on this article with the idea that I could get the first paragraph or two done in that time. It worked! Once I had momentum, I completed 3 paragraphs.
- Split the Project into Pieces: I divided the project (writing the article) into chunks. I had a mental outline of what I wanted the article to look like, and I divided it into smaller sections: introduction, types of procrastination, strategies, and conclusion. Every time I completed a chunk, I took a break or rewarded myself.
- Set a Deadline with Breathing Room: I set the aforementioned deadline, which was 4 weeks before the anticipated publication date. I knew that would ensure it was done on time and actually give me leeway for revisions.
- Get a Work Buddy: I was working with a work buddy. Andrew provided social pressure and support to get the article written in a timely fashion because I had a commitment to get my draft to him by the initial deadline I set.
- Minimize Distractions: I turned off my phone to limit distractions for 30 minutes.
There are many solutions for procrastination and an ADHD coach can help you find a solution that works for you or your task. Be prepared to experiment with different approaches and recognize that different projects may require different strategies. Procrastination can be controlled.
What’s Holding You Back?
by Andrew Macdonald
Procrastination can seriously hold a person back from moving ahead with their life. So what are its causes in people with ADHD? There are 3 main types.
- Arousal: Thrill-seekers who wait for deadlines and the adrenalin rush to get things done.
- Avoidant: Those who basically have a fear of failure.
- Decisional: Procrastinators who are unable to make a decision.
The rest of this article focuses on Decisional procrastinators. Decisional procrastinators may have challenges seeing themselves in the future and this may be due to problems associated with perfectionism. What is perfectionism? Basically, it is very rapid decision-making in the brain, that decides a matter as either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. Because the decision-making is so rapid, it excludes a lot of information that would become apparent if the brain was given more time to think about it. It makes sense knowing that people with ADHD have weak executive functions, that they will use rapid thinking to make decisions, as a means to conserve limited executive functions. Perfectionism (rapid thinking) is a major form of distorted thinking that allows the right side of the brain, which deals with intuitive knowings and emotions to overwhelm the left side of the brain that deals more with thinking and speech. Thus with rapid thinking and decision making, emotions “flood” or “overwhelm” the person. At this point, they are not thinking clearly.
Do you ever talk down or berate yourself or someone else over some little matter that didn’t work out exactly as you would have liked? Or get infuriated at your own or others’ little mistakes? Or be so intent on your way of doing something that you can scarcely listen to another point of view, having already decided why your way is the best way that something should be done?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have perfectionism.
To understand why the brain might use rapid thinking or black or white thinking as it has become known one needs to take oneself back to their childhood. Research shows ridicule and rejection are associated with reactiveness. When children with ADHD for example get ridiculed or rejected by their peers they become prone to reactiveness. They may respond by:
- Becoming aggressive as, for example, some schoolyard mass shootings have.
- Withdrawing and turning to drugs or alcohol.
- Taking on an “as good as” posture where they push themselves to be as good as their peers but deep down inside lack self-confidence.
In any case, in all three of these scenarios, they don’t soothe and calm themselves. At any point when they need to make a decision they are in a hyper-aroused state and rapid thinking can come to the fore. Unconscious childhood emotions can be triggered causing “flooding” and “overwhelm”. In such a background it is clear to see why a person might use black and white thinking to make decisions. Unconscious memories of rejection may be driving such thinking and behaviors.
So what can a person do? To begin with, accept the challenge and realize that while a person may have been ridiculed or rejected as a child, as an adult they have full choice and can use it to change their present and their future. Begin by reevaluating your relationships for any lingering rejection issues, toxic or negative relationships. Be kind to yourself and others by practicing self-compassion and others compassion and to ease rapid thinking practice self-regulation. Frequent deep breathing, frequently visualizing oneself in the future successfully dealing with these situations and balancing exercises can all help soothe and calm oneself and slow down the brain in daily life which can successfully overcome perfectionism. Overcoming procrastination then can become a whole lot easier.
Business, Life, and ADHD Coach
Andrew is from Sydney, Australia and has a Graduate Certificate in Professional Accounting. He has a background in accounting and as a Business Coach and currently resides in Costa Rica. To request a complimentary coaching session, email Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you wanting to know more about ADHD and Procrastination (including other strategies to deal with it)? Take a look at the article “What Stops Me From Starting?”.
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