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Procrastination may be causing you distress, but you can find a path to managing your time and increasing your productivity.
Everyone procrastinates from time to time, but when you live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), procrastination may be something you deal with often. It’s not always about willpower or motivation, though.
With ADHD, procrastination is often a result of attention deficit as well as difficulty regulating your emotions.
Procrastination may cause you great distress as well as challenges in your work or school performance, and it may impact your relationships.
Symptoms of ADHD can be managed, though. And there are ways you can work on managing ADHD-related procrastination.
One important step may be seeking the help of a mental health professional who specializes in ADHD. They can work with you to develop a plan that’s tailored to your specific needs.
But you can also try a few techniques on your own that may help you start on your path to managing your time and increasing productivity.
These are some ways to overcome procrastination:
Buddhists introduced the concept of mindfulness many centuries ago. This practice of being conscious of everything we say and do can be used to help adults living with ADHD improve their executive functioning.
Executive functions are cognitive skills like memory, planning, time management, organization, and self-control. Developing these functions may help you work on reducing procrastination.
In one pilot study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders, researchers guided adults living with ADHD through eight sessions of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). At the end of the treatment period, the group of participants saw slight improvements in measured executive functions like self-monitoring, working memory, planning, and organization of task materials.
When asked what was helpful about the training, one participant stated, “I can spend the whole day in a haze, but when we focus consciously on our breathing, I’m able to turn it around.”
You can begin practicing mindfulness one step at a time. Although a guided practice may be more effective for people with ADHD, you can also try it on your own.
Here are some of the basics:
- Pause a few times every day to breathe deeply. Focus on how it feels to inhale and exhale.
- Check in with your body from time to time. Are you hot or cold? Comfortable or tensed? Does something hurt?
- Scan your body for tension. From your toes to your head, check each body part for tension. Release as you identify it.
- Become aware of your thoughts. Do regular mental check points to ask yourself what you’re focusing on and what you should be thinking instead.
- Observe and count your breaths. With a watch or your phone, breathe as usual but count every breath during 1 minute.
- Let your mind be free. If you find you’re “forcing” yourself to focus, take a break and let your mind wander for 5 minutes. Set an alarm so after those 5 minutes you can go back to your task.
If you live with ADHD, you may find planning, organizing, and focusing on a task challenging. This may lead to procrastination. Seeking ADHD treatment can help you manage these challenges.
“ADHD symptoms can make sequencing and prioritizing work difficult,” explains Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, a psychiatrist in Houston, Texas.
But making a few changes in your environment may help you manage these tasks.
You could start by asking yourself how your work environment can be optimized to support focus. Are the colors or nearby windows distracting? Is there clutter on your desk?
It may help to “limit distractions by turning off cell phones, TVs, and going to a quiet area,” says Amanda Levinson, certified cognitive behavioral therapist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Nikki Lacherza-Drew, a licensed psychologist in Allendale, New Jersey, advocates for using positive reinforcement (rewards) to stay on track.
Let’s say you have a daunting task on your to-do list. What’s something that would motivate you to accomplish it? It doesn’t have to be task-related.
Rewards will look different from person to person, but may include:
- going for a walk in the park
- buying yourself that pair of shoes you’ve been wanting
- watching an episode of your favorite Netflix show
- getting your favorite snack or meal
Once you set a reward for your task completion, it’s important to wait until the task is completely done to indulge.
For simpler tasks, like paying bills or setting an appointment, you can also set simpler rewards. For example, you could place your favorite soda in front of you and wait until you pay the bill or make the phone call before drinking it.
Breaks are a fun reward, but they can also be an important part of staying on track and managing procrastination.
Francesco Cirillo made this idea popular with his Pomodoro Technique, which helps people “to work with time, instead of struggling against it.”
This is how it works:
- Identify a task you want to complete.
- Set aside X minutes to work without stopping and without interruptions. You set the time, and it can increase slowly.
- When your set time is up, take a short break (about 5 minutes).
- Repeat this process 4 times and then give yourself a longer break (20 minutes).
To help you avoid turning these breaks into procrastination, consider setting alarms for when the break starts and when it ends.
Getting organized can help you be more productive. This may sound easy, but if you live with ADHD, it can be a challenge. This is why implementing simple organizational techniques may be necessary at first.
Organization may start with simply identifying and writing down your tasks. You can use a pen and paper or consider using an online tool like Trello.
Instead of focusing on all the pending tasks, list only those you want to complete today. If you find this challenging, list only those you’d like to work on for the next 4 hours.
Once your tasks are organized, Gonzalez-Berrios recommends “[breaking tasks] down into small parts and finishing each of them one at a time.”
For example, you may want to pay all your outstanding bills today. For this, you could start with categorizing them: overdue bills, upcoming bills, and next month’s bills. Then, you can work on overdue bills first.
With larger or more complex tasks, you can also identify the smaller steps that make up the broader task. For example, pretend that your task is to plan a welcome breakfast for new interns at your company.
Breaking this into smaller parts would look like:
- identifying the number of new interns joining the company
- picking the welcome breakfast date, time, and location
- getting final budget approval from your finance team
- making a list of possible caterers and selecting one
- meeting with the caterer to decide on a menu
- creating and sending out invitations to new interns
You could even break these small tasks down into simpler steps.
In his New York Times bestseller “Atomic Habits,” author James Clear discusses the benefits of habit stacking.
Per Clear, the idea is simple: “The more you do something, the stronger and more efficient the connection [between your brain and your behaviors] becomes.”
Habit stacking doesn’t have to be complicated. Clear recommends picking one habit you already developed. Then, pair it with a new habit you want to incorporate into your life.
Let’s say you want to get into the habit of writing a to-do list every day. You could pair this task with an existing habit you repeat every day. For example, drinking your morning coffee. Then, you would perform both tasks at the same time or during the same time period.
According to the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM), when employees are held accountable in the workplace, they:
- feel competent
- perform better
- are more committed to their work
- report high satisfaction with work
Could this work for you in your daily life? It may be worth trying.
Consider finding your own personal accountability partner to keep you on track.
Gonzalez-Berrios calls this “positive social pressure.”
You can let your partner know what tasks you want to accomplish and when, and then ask them to check in with you throughout the day.
Living with ADHD comes with unique challenges, like having difficulty focusing on a task and procrastinating. However, these difficulties can be managed and often overcome.
Seeking the support of a mental health professional who could help you develop coping skills is recommended. Practicing a few techniques on your own may be helpful, too.
Pairing old habits with new ones, rearranging your working environment, and finding an accountability partner are just a few of the ways you could take your first step toward overcoming ADHD-related procrastination and attention deficit.