People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are especially prone to procrastination.
That’s because the executive functions of the brain, which are responsible for processing and organizing information, “along with other tasks involving inhibition and self-regulation of behavior,” are impaired, noted Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, a psychotherapist and author of several books on ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals.
This makes it tougher to separate tasks into smaller steps. Starting projects, therefore, becomes very overwhelming, she said.
Sarkis described ADHD as a disorder of motivation. “The brain has difficulty motivating itself to do tasks, and it is also difficult for it to tear itself from other tasks.”
Boredom also fuels procrastination. Psychotherapist Terry Matlen, ACSW, referred to boredom as the “worst enemy” of people with ADHD. “It is actually a painful experience.” So boring tasks, such as paying monthly bills, get put off until the next day, and then the day after that, she said.
People with ADHD don’t particularly enjoy procrastinating. Rather, “it’s a way to avoid discomfort, whether it’s related to executive function or boredom.”
Of course, procrastination causes many problems. Not paying the bills can lead to late fees and even utilities being turned off, Matlen said. Not exercising can lead to deteriorating health, she said. Not getting tasks done at work can lead to poor performance reviews, Sarkis said.
And all of this can lead to battered self-esteem. “Most adults with ADHD who have not been treated appropriately, come to clinicians with significant issues with low self esteem due to … difficulties [with procrastination],” said Matlen, also author of the book Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD.
Procrastination can affect all areas of a person’s life. But, fortunately, there also are many ways to overcome it. Here are eight.
1. Identify where procrastination prospers.
Figure out where procrastination is an issue for you. Do you get late fees because you don’t pay your bills on time? Do you miss deadlines at work? Do you start studying the night before your exams? Do you spend hours looking for important documents because you put off organizing your office?
2. Pinpoint the catalyst.
According to Matlen, dig deeper to find out what’s really preventing you from accomplishing a task. “Is it that it’s hard to figure out how to do something? Is it that you don’t put aside the right amount of time needed to complete the chore or project? Is it too boring to face?”
3. Find a system that works for you.
Accept that procrastination pervades certain parts of your life, and find “a system that works,” Matlen said. For instance, when it comes to paying the bills, set up email reminders, and pay your bills online, she said. “Online bill paying has been a life saver for many…”
4. Ask for help.
For instance, delegate bill paying to another family member, while you tackle a task that they don’t want to do, Matlen said. If you’ve been putting off organizing the garage, ask several loved ones for help. Then “go to their garages and help them.”
Also, ask loved ones you trust to “help you break tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces,” Sarkis said.
5. Work alongside someone.
“Some find that working with others, side by side, helps a lot,” Matlen said. For example, you might organize your pantry, while a good friend “works on her scrapbooking.”
6. Have an “accountability person.”
“This is someone you check in with about your tasks and assignments,” Sarkis said. For instance, call, email or text that person what you’d like to complete that day, she said. “Studies have shown that just the fact that you are telling others what is on your to-do list helps it get accomplished.”
7. Work with an ADHD coach.
An ADHD coach can help you break down projects into smaller pieces, preventing overwhelm, Matlen said. They also can help you in other ways, such as providing you with encouragement and accountability, she said. For instance, you might “work for 15 minutes at a time and then check in with your coach.”
8. Make sure your treatment is working.
The most important tip, Matlen said, is to “make sure that your ADHD treatment regimen is adequate.” For instance, if you’re procrastinating on too many projects and tasks or feeling depressed or anxious, talk to your practitioner, she said. “[A]nd review the medications you might be taking, to see if they are working as effectively as they should.”
People with ADHD have an especially hard time with procrastination because of the disorder. But by applying specific strategies and ensuring your treatment is working, you can absolutely get things done.