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How to Manage Procrastination in ADHD

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How to Manage Procrastination in ADHD

Asian woman is sitting in a room looking at her computer screen. She has a focused facial expression and if resting her hand on her face.

Procrastination in ADHD is more common than you may think. While most people with ADHD will report difficulty with concentration and attention, procrastination (along with task incompletion and delaying) are core symptoms that create challenges when living with ADHD. ADHD can cause issues in everyday life: work, school, self-care, and interpersonal relationships. It can impact friends, family members, and couples, especially if the person who doesn’t have ADHD feels as though they are always the one organizing, checking the time, completing tasks, tidying, planning, reaching out, etc. Work and school can be challenging, as deadlines and protocols can be tricky for an ADHD brain.

Whether you were diagnosed with ADHD early in life or have come to the realization in adulthood, you may have always struggled with procrastination. As long as you can remember, you may have been in an uphill battle against time management, organization, motivation, decision paralysis, and more. If you knew that your ADHD was the ‘why,’ or you had no idea, you were still up against the same obstacles. We see people here at our therapy practice in Woodland Hills who aren’t sure how their ADHD has impacted how they manage their projects, tasks, and chores, and you may feel the same way. There are signs of procrastination in ADHD.

3 Signs of Procrastination in ADHD

1) You delay tasks:

Delaying tasks and having a hard time starting tasks are a cornerstone of procrastination. However, we often don’t think of this as a sign of ADHD because we often think ADHD

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is simply having a hard time staying focused on a task, a.k.a. difficulty concentrating. If you are struggling with indecision, initiating tasks, and taking charge of things at work, then you are likely dealing with procrastination.

Procrastination allows you to avoid beginning and therefore eliminates all your questions about how to approach the issue and your fears that there will be a chain reaction of other issues. For example, if you have to do a project or report for work and there is a deadline, you may want to start it early and get it off your plate, but you either can’t decide how to begin, or you simply cannot seem to make yourself start. The night before the deadline is probably when you get it all done because now you have to.

2) You have a hard time prioritizing:

For those with ADHD, along with anxiety and/or low self-esteem, all tasks appear equally important, and therefore, it is hard to decide where to begin. This is not simply a matter of how you rank tasks on a scale but of your awareness of the interconnectivity of things. An example of this might be that you want to clear off your dresser at home. Some people might simply begin going through things on their dressers; someone with ADHD will realize that they will need places to put what they are giving away, donating, or selling. There are probably already piles, or bins started somewhere with those categories. If there are existing bins, they might be tucked away behind a different project, which will have to be pulled out and dealt with. Everything you touch or look at is interconnected to another item, another idea, or another project in your mind. This can be very overwhelming.

3) You expect things to be perfect:

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Perfectionism is often the quiet monster behind ADHD that causes procrastination. Contrary to the mainstream misperception, most people with ADHD have very high expectations of themselves and, therefore, can have a hard time completing tasks. Where someone may look scattered from the outside or display procrastination traits that look like apathy, it is actually usually a fear of failure that is overwhelming someone who has ADHD. Therein is the link between procrastination and perfectionism. When we have highly unrealistic expectations of ourselves, such as wanting things to be perfect, this can cause a lot of anxiety and paralysis. When we get paralyzed by these high expectations, we respond by avoidance, distraction, and, ultimately, procrastination.

3 Ways to Manage Procrastination in ADHD

1) Work with your strengths:

In general, people with ADHD are encouraged to start the day by achieving something. Getting that first spike of dopamine as a reward for putting away the folded laundry, or doing the last of the dishes from last night, sets the brain up to pursue dopamine in the same way all throughout the day. In this way, ADHD becomes a strength. You have the ability to set yourself up on a self-perpetuating loop of achievement pursuit and reward by accomplishing something before you hit social media or turn on the television.

Identify the time of the day and the settings you work best at and in. Is it a particular hour or a way of working, e.g., before ten in the morning or using a paper and pen? To-do

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lists on your phone are great if you’ll use them, but not if you won’t. Do you prefer the tactile experience of writing things down and then crossing them out? Lean into that. Write down some of the things you’ve already finished so you can cross them off immediately; now you have a list you’ve “started” and don’t want to leave half-done.

Working with your strengths includes not only chores and errands and tasks for your job or school but for self-care as well. If you like to start your day off with a workout, prioritize that. If you’d rather work out in the evening to decompress, do that. Whatever you feel is most important for you to achieve takes top priority in your ideal time spot. If there are a couple of things, you can try alternating them or committing to splitting the time between them both. Because you spend so much energy trying to stay on top of your ADHD, you definitely need to make space to rest and re-energize. Managing your burnout and figuring out ways to feel invigorated is a necessary ADHD hack that will enable you to achieve everything you set your mind to.

The setting you are in can be monumental when it comes to getting down to work with ADHD. Do you need some ambiance and gentle background noise, such as a coffee shop or other common space? Or do you need to block the world completely out? There are playlists with ambient noise, such as raindrops on a windowpane or lofi beats music, that you can plug into. If you find that these work so well for you that you hyperfocus, set a timer to go off and shake you out of your trance. Try working for set amounts of time and see how much you can get done in these intervals. Making it a game of sorts is a great way to keep your motivation high.

2) Find Accountability partners:

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Most of our clients have reported that their task completion increases when they are partnered with others or have group work. There are many ways you can explore accountability partnering if your work or personal life does not offer one easily. Take the time to remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help. A lot of people struggle with procrastination. You might even inspire people around you to seek support, as well! If you are seeking support for your ADHD and aren’t already in therapy, a therapist is a great person to have in your corner.

At work, you can have morning check-ins with others to go over what was accomplished yesterday and what is on the agenda for today. Depending on how closely you work with this person, you can tackle some tasks together. If you work for a big company or work remotely, your coworkers might be in different departments or tasked with the same things as you. That’s okay, as long as they’re on board with your plan!

At home, someone you trust can spend time with you and body double for you. Body doubling is when a person who has ADHD is in the room with someone else; the presence of the other person makes it easier to begin and complete tasks that otherwise feel too overwhelming. Your body double might be someone you live with or a friend who is happy to come over once a week and talk to you while you clean.

You can join a social media group that offers weekly or daily check-ins. The great thing about the online world is how interconnected we are able to be with people we might otherwise never get to meet. While you may not know many people in your day-to-day life who have (or know they have) ADHD, there are thousands of people online with whom you are able to connect if you so choose.

There are great shared apps where lists can be made, checked off, and viewed by multiple people. Recruit a friend or family member (whom you may know in person or have found in an online group) and create an inspirational environment for both of you. Cheer each other on. Lean on each other when there’s a task that feels like a big deal to start working on. Admit when you’re avoiding something on your list. Allow people to support you – the people who love you want you to feel good and are happy to help you get there, the same way you would be happy to help them.

3) Practice Positive Affirmations:

Before you wonder how positive affirmations can get a task done, I want you to listen up! Positive affirmations are aimed at changing the way you think about your day, the

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task at hand, and your overall skill set. You can’t sit and do nothing, say some words, and magically have your task done. But you can use your affirmations to find and keep your motivation.

Your ADHD and perfectionism probably paralyze you. Not knowing where to start to achieve your best possible results, you opt not to start at all. Positive affirmations such as “done is better than perfect” aim at removing the negative chatter in your head that gets in the way of you doing the work. This concept might seem ridiculous to you at first, but that’s the point of using affirmations. You keep trying until they start to make a change in how you think and how you speak to yourself.

Determine for yourself what your highest priorities are, what your strengths are, and where you need the most support. Tailor your affirmations around that information. Sometimes, an affirmation is a reminder: “I feel best when I get a good night’s rest,” or “When I start my day with a walk, I can handle my stress better.” Sometimes, it’s more aspirational: “I am capable of organizing myself and my time,” or “I will not leave this until the last minute.” Other times, you may need to rely on some comfort. Nobody is perfect. Nobody gets it right all the time. But the way ADHD impacts your brain may make you feel extra pressure or exceptionally low when things don’t go the way you would have wanted them to. An affirmation like, “I tried, and that was brave,” or, “Nobody gets it right all the time,” might help you.

What affirmations would you say to your best friend in the world in any given situation? You may be inclined to hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold anyone else to, but why? And even if you do, why not try to change that narrative? The people in your life who mean the most to you are flawed: they forget things, they misread social cues, they misunderstand situations, and their priorities get skewed sometimes. If you wouldn’t be hard on them, don’t be hard on yourself. Imagine overhearing your negative self-talk being said to your best friend by someone else; how would you combat those words? Say those affirmations to yourself, even if you don’t believe them at first. Practice makes progress.

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Your history with procrastination may go back all the way to your childhood, and you may have had very negative experiences with it. Adults who didn’t understand the way your brain worked may have tried to motivate you to “just start earlier,” not realizing that that felt physically impossible for you. You might have been called lazy, your grades may have suffered, and your self-esteem might have taken some big hits because of it. Nobody taught you how to manage procrastination with ADHD, and it harmed you. There might be some work to do to go back and heal that inner child as you work on creating a plan and recruiting a support network to help you thrive with ADHD. The important thing is that you recognize what your needs are and give yourself permission to meet them. Be honest with yourself about what that will take and how you can create a supportive environment for yourself. Have patience and grace with yourself and faith in yourself!

Let’s Tackle Your Procrastination and ADHD Together Here at Embracing You Therapy!

Here at Embracing You Therapy, we understand how life with ADHD might have left you feeling defeated and lost for solutions. We know that with an individualized treatment plan, we can identify the unique strengths of your ADHD and find ways for you to thrive in your life!

Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.

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