ADHD Procrastination: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, & How to Stop
Updated: Jul 27, 2022
While everyone procrastinates from time to time, some research indicates that folks with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be more likely to do so on a regular basis.
If you have ADHD, starting a new initiative or keeping on track once you've begun may be difficult. You may also find yourself putting off everyday tasks like doing laundry or paying bills, with the chronic procrastination adding stress to your life and hurting your mental health.
The Link Between ADHD and Procrastination
Many people are familiar with the experience of procrastination. Whether it's putting off doing the dishes, taking out the trash, starting that big project at work, or time management in general, we've all been there. For some people, however, procrastination is a more serious issue.
People with ADHD are more likely to procrastinate than those without the disorder, with an estimated 60% exhibiting procrastination behavior. While the exact reason for this link is unknown, it may be due to the fact that people with ADHD often have difficulty focusing on tasks, making it difficult to get started. In addition, ADHD can lead to impulsive decision-making, which can make it difficult to stick to a plan.
This type of everyday procrastination is not an issue of self control, as some may think, but likely is ADHD related procrastination. If you find yourself regularly procrastinating, it may be worth checking with a mental health professional if you have adult ADHD. While procrastination is often seen as a negative trait, understanding the link between ADHD and procrastination can help people with the disorder find ways to manage their symptoms and improve their overall time management and productivity.
ADHD & Executive Functioning
Research has shown that people with ADHD have difficulty with executive functioning skills like flexible thinking, self-control, and working memory. This can make it harder to complete tasks and result in other challenges like inattention symptoms, academic procrastination, and decisional procrastination.
For example, in a study on college students researchers found that procrastination may be evidence of executive function impairment. This means that if you're diagnosed with ADHD, you're more likely to struggle with procrastination. However, it's important to note that not all people with ADHD are procrastinators, and not all procrastinators have ADHD.
Is Procrastination a Sign or Symptom of ADHD?
Many people think so, but healthcare professionals don't currently recognize it as such. However, they do acknowledge that ADHD symptoms can lead to procrastination. These symptoms include:
Making careless mistakes
Having difficulty organizing tasks
Avoiding tasks that require mental effort
Becoming easily distracted
People with ADHD who are inclined to procrastinate may do so in an extreme manner that occurs repeatedly. This chronic procrastination can lead to severe problems at school, work, and in other areas of life. It's for these reasons that those with ADHD related procrastination can suffer from negative moods or strained personal relationships.
How ADHD Contributes to Procrastination
It's Hard to Get Tasks Started
For an adult with ADHD, just getting started on a task can often be very difficult, particularly if that task isn't intrinsically interesting. When you're so distracted by outside stimuli, as well as internal thoughts, it can be hard to even make it to the starting line. Sometimes just figuring out where or how to start is the challenge.
Problems with organization come into play as you struggle to prioritize, plan, and sequence tasks that need to be done to get started and stay on track. This can all contribute to why procrastination is such a problem for many adults with ADHD. If you can find ways to make the starting line more visible and the task more interesting, it can help you get over that initial hurdle and get things done.
It's Easy To Get Distracted
One of the main factors that can contribute to procrastination for people with ADHD is regulating attention so one doesn't become sidetracked and distracted. Once you finally do get started, you may find that you quickly become sidetracked by something else more interesting, so your original task gets further delayed.
It's not just that it's hard to get started on a task when you have ADHD. Once you're able to get your attention focused on a task, you may find that it's hard to sustain that attention as your mind wanders. It can be hard to stay alert, motivated, and on track when you aren't very interested or stimulated by the task at hand. This can make it difficult to complete even simple tasks, let alone a challenging task.
Sense of Time is Impaired
ADHD can make it difficult to estimate the time it takes to complete a task, which makes it hard to know when to start. If you have trouble estimating the time it takes to complete a task, you might put it off, thinking you're still allowing enough time to get it done. ADHD can also make it difficult to track the passage of time, so you may find that those deadlines sneak up on you before you know it.
Fear of Failure
Many people who suffer from procrastination do so because they fear failure. This is especially true for those with ADHD, as the unfinished task can lead to frustration and negative feelings. Planning, prioritizing, motivating, organizing, and decision-making can cause a person with ADHD to become overwhelmed and shut down. However, by understanding the causes and effects of procrastination, individuals with ADHD can learn to manage their condition and avoid negative consequences.
Top Ways to Combat Procrastination Caused by ADHD
Break tasks into smaller, more manageable parts
Big projects might be overwhelming. It's often simpler to get work done in smaller, more achievable stages. Use "chunking" - a method where you break up tasks into smaller, manageable pieces that you can tackle one at a time. For school, that would be something like breaking parts of a chapter into different sections and not moving to the next section until you fully grasp the current one.
For chores, this would involve listing out each task and breaking them down into individual tasks with deadlines.
Set deadlines and stick to them
If you believe you have all the time in the world to complete your work, it's easier to put things off. Set a deadline for tasks, whether or not there is one associated with your job. For example, you can set a due date on your bills based on when they are due.
Create a timeline or schedule for completing tasks
Consider how you can better manage your time and energy throughout the day to maximize your productivity. Organize your tasks in such a way that you accomplish them gradually over time, rather than all at once. Plan ahead for times when you'll feel energetic and focused and use that time to work on the projects you'd normally procrastinate on. Establish a regular routine, including getting up and going to bed at the same time every day
Give yourself rewards but not punishments
Reward yourself with something small each time you complete a task or "chunk" of a task. For example, a brief walk outdoors or something relaxing like playing with your dog.
If you do end up procrastinating try not to get frustrated or blame yourself - you don't deserve to internalize the blame and it will only hinder your progress. Remember that this is a lifelong skill you're developing, and there are bound to missteps, especially in the beginning.
Use organizational tools such as planners, calendars, or apps
These tools can help to keep track of tasks and deadlines, as well as appointments and other important dates. Planners and calendars are among the most commonly used, but now there are even apps that use AI to help people with ADHD stay on task. Digital technologies such as alarms, to-do lists, reminders, and mindfulness exercises can help you in maintaining your attention and being productive.
Seek out support from family members or friends
If you find yourself struggling with procrastination, one of the best things you can do is reach out to your friends and family members for support. These people care about you and want to see you succeed, so they will be more than happy to help you stay on track. In addition to providing moral support, they can also offer practical advice and assistance.
Use physical activity to boost dopamine & relieve stress
You probably know that exercise is good for your body, but did you know that it can also be good for your brain? When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters, including dopamine. Dopamine helps with focus and clear thinking, and people with ADHD often have less dopamine than usual in their brain. This means that a workout can have many of the same effects as stimulant drugs, which are often used to treat adult ADHD. So if you're looking for a way to improve your focus and concentration, hit the gym! And don't forget to take breaks for walking, stretching, or exercising throughout the day.
If you are one of the millions of people who live with ADHD, know that you are not alone. And while procrastination may be a common behavior for those with ADHD, it does not have to define you. There are many ways to overcome this obstacle, and seeking help from a mental health professional is often the first step. They can provide you with coping skills and strategies for managing your ADHD symptoms. In addition, there are other things you can do to increase your chances of success, such as pairing old habits with new ones, rearranging your working environment, and finding an accountability partner. What will be your first step?