Do you struggle with procrastination? We all procrastinate — or put things off — sometimes. But those of us with ADHD or executive function challenges tend to procrastinate even more … often to the point where it interferes with daily functioning at work, home, school, and relationships. But if this is a pattern you want to change, it is absolutely possible to do so. Here are 5 common reasons you may be procrastinating, as well as some corresponding strategies to address them.
1. The task is too complex or overwhelming.
If a large or complex task is making you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or stuck, it can be helpful to break it down into small, manageable steps with corresponding deadlines. For example, if you find yourself procrastinating on house cleaning, consider breaking down the task into smaller mini-chores and scheduling specific blocks of time to complete it. You can vacuum on Saturdays, clean the bathroom or kitchen on alternate Sundays, do laundry on Wednesdays, etc.
2. The task is too difficult.
Sometimes, you might procrastinate on a task because it’s too difficult. What’s most important is to recognize when you need help and to get help when you need it. So, next time you find yourself procrastinating on a difficult task (such as a college project), it might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions: Do I need help with this project? If so, what’s making it so difficult, and how can I get the help I need to succeed? Examples of getting help might include clarifying the project with your professor, finding a tutor, or working together with classmates.
3. The task is boring and unmotivating.
You might find yourself procrastinating because the task is simply too boring or tedious … especially if it doesn’t stimulate the ADHD brain enough for you to want to take action. If that’s the case, it could be helpful to ask yourself the following: How can I make this task more appealing or motivating to me?
Let’s use the mundane task of doing laundry as an example. Here are some ways to make the chore more pleasant or appealing:
- Pair the laundry with something you enjoy, like listening to upbeat music, podcasts, or completing it with a family member.
- Schedule a reward right after you complete the laundry. For example, relax and watch your favorite TV show.
- Make laundry into a game: Set a timer and see how many shirts can you fold in 5 minutes or compete against a family member to see who can fold the most shirts in 5 minutes.
- Add positive social pressure to increase accountability. Call a friend or speak to a family member when you begin the laundry task, and follow up with them an hour later to let them know your progress.
4. Difficulty getting started.
How often do you avoid starting a task because it just seems too big to even begin — as if there’s no end in sight? One way to manage this is to commit to getting started with the smallest actionable item, and then reviewing how you feel before moving forward. Suppose, for example, you feel overwhelmed by a house project, such as painting your bedroom. Consider committing to the first 15 minutes to simply set up for the project — gather paintbrushes, rollers, and paint. After that, you can review how you feel, and decide when you would like to proceed to the next step. Sometimes, simply getting started is enough to make you want to continue. If not, consider taking a short break, and then tackle the next step of the project, such as covering the furniture.
5. Poor timing of the task.
Are you more of a morning person or an evening person? We all have our own internal clocks or times of day when we are more likely to be productive, focused, and energetic. The key is to get to know your own internal rhythms and to schedule challenging tasks accordingly. For example, if you tend to be sluggish in the morning and more productive in the evening, you might want to schedule studying or bill paying later in the day. If you tend to feel most energetic in the mornings, you might want to tackle your emails or project due to your boss earlier in the day.
In summary, here are some steps to consider if you’d like to begin to tackle your patterns of procrastination:
- Choose a specific task that you tend to put off or procrastinate.
- Look over the list of common reasons for procrastination, and choose one that seems to resonate with you the most.
- Choose a corresponding strategy that you believe might be helpful, and practice it over the next week.
- Keep track of your successes (or struggles), and take note of what’s been helpful for you.
With mindful practice and self-observation, it is possible to reduce your patterns of procrastination and gradually turn these strategies into new habits.
Andrea Yellinek, MS, OTR/L, CACP
ADHD & Executive Functions Coach