How to stop procrastinating, if you have ADHD

Most ADHDers like me have read several articles on procrastination, which give a lot of tips about schedules, todo lists, etc. They work for a while, when they’re new and exciting, but, after a while, we find them as much of a chore as the initial task, and fall back onto old patterns. So, there is one big problem with these kind of “tips”:

You’re asking the wrong question.

Instead, ask yourself:

Why do you procrastinate?

On the surface, all procrastination is the same. We postpone stuff we know we should be doing, and prioritize less important things. But the “why” is often different, therefore the solution is different too. If you figure out the “why”, then you can focus on dealing with the real issue. You can take painkillers for a headache, but if you have a brain tumor, they will only work for a short while.

So, what lies beneath that “urge” to do something other than what you know you should?

Maybe you’re expecting that doing the task will make you feel really bad in some way (bored, stressed, etc.), you focus on all the negative parts of it, and you see the stress you feel anticipating those bad feelings as “proof” that it will be even worse when you start. Maybe you feel anxious that you’ll make mistakes, so you wait for “just the right moment” to start and minimize them. Maybe you fear you may fail at it, and feel, deep down, that it’s better to be known as “lazy, but smart and with great potential” than the “idiot who tries hard but can’t do anything right”. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these, or something entirely different.

There is always an emotionally charged underlying reason that makes us act irrationally. Dr. Russel Barkley is right that ADHD is primarily an emotional regulation issue.

It’s often hard to determine what the underlying issue is, since we tend to repress it and focus instead on the excitement of the “other thing” we want to do is (gaming, wasting time online, etc.). It takes a lot of self-reflection, and observing how we feel the moment we decide to procrastinate. A therapist can really help with uncovering the reasons, and guide you to fix them.

No matter what your schedule is, how many reminders you set, or how good your TODO list is, it won’t fix the anxiety you feel when starting that task. By all means, keep these tools too, they are useful, but don’t expect them to fix the underlying issue and make you find work easy.

Similarly, don’t expect that figuring out the “why” will magically make you stop procrastinating. It will take work to overcome it, but at least you know what to look for. And you will see improvements that last for a lifetime.

What is your “why”? Post it in the comments, so that it may help others figure it out too, if it’s something similar 🙂

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