Tips to Overcoming Procrastination with ADHD

“A writer’s concentration is not only like mercy, it is mercy, mercy toward oneself. It is allowing imperfection. It is allowing mess.”
-Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark (pg.16)
Don't let time melt away: Me, being a goof at the Antoni Gaudi exhibit in London.
Procrastination is a lot like writer’s block. Each grants your excuses for delaying priorities. It’s tough, I know. We’ve all been there, intending to finish that report, paper, presentation, assignment, short story when something enticing trolls along. So you get up, put off your work til “later.” What’s the harm?

Later… In rolls anxiety and guilt, hand in hand, making your shoulders sag and your skin itch. Forgive yourself. It happens to the best of us, those of us with and without ADHD. So let’s learn how to prevent these merry lads from knocking on our doors…

Relax. Put your pen to paper.
Most of us get anxious when faced with a mighty goal. Think of the traditional hero’s journey. Every hero rejects his or her task before embarking upon it. Oedipus, Superman, Holden Caulfield, Lara Croft, Harry Potter…

What would their stories be if they never set off? For now, don’t worry about the finished project. Just get something down. Reread the given materials to get a better sense of what’s expected. Free associate if you need to. And begin. No one is judging your first scribblings. And you shouldn’t either.

As I mentioned in my post Tests, Trials, and Tribulations with ADHD success looks a lot different than it feels. You have to trudge on step-by-step before you can reach the finish line.

Break it down
Project looming? Keeping your end goal in mind, break the process down to steps or craft an outline. By piecing apart a huge assignment, you create more manageable goals for yourself that are easier to accomplish one by one.

Check off each step as you finish. Resist jumping between steps and wasting time shifting your focus. Reward yourself with each completion. Allow yourself fifteen-minute breaks between steps—walk around the block, call a friend, watch a funny short film. We’re developing positive reinforcement so that you can make headway.

I also enjoy giving myself a bigger reward to look forward to. Perhaps you’re meeting friends tonight for dinner or have tickets to tonight’s big game. Whatever your fancy, having post-work plans gives you something to anticipate and helps you feel less bogged down in what must be done.

Recognize your work style
Do you work best under pressure / on a tight deadline?
Or does your work come out better when you take longer periods of time to visit and revisit it?
I don't intend to give you a scapegoat for procrastination, but some people work best on their toes. They need a hard deadline to get their adrenaline pumping and creative juices flowing. For me, the pressure of a looming deadline stirs my anxiety. I prefer to take as long as I can with a project to make sure there are no errors. That’s the perfectionist in me.

To help you evaluate your work style observe your end product, but also how you feel throughout the process. Are you jittery when working on a tight deadline? Are you too nervous to finish your project in a timely fashion? Upon completion, do you feel relieved, satisfied, energized, or exhausted? It’s important to tune into your body’s rhythm and recognize what style works best for you.

Procrastination on ADHD medications
Procrastination can worsen when on prescribed medications for ADHD. While medication is designed to work with your unique brain chemistry to hone your focus, when tempted by non-priorities (ex. video games, email, house cleaning, social media sites, YouTube, FunnyOrDie etc… You know, those pleasurable time-sucks.) you may find yourself focusing on activities that you shouldn’t be. Before sitting down to work, disconnect from the internet, shutdown your Xbox or Playstation 3, and tuck away your smart phone (in another room if need be). Clear your mental, physical, and digital workspaces to ensure the least amount of external distractions. Perform these cleansing in your spare time to avoid cleaning your entire home before sitting down to work…that’s procrastination too… And I’ve been there.

Procrastination and meetings / social plans
You don’t want to let down your friends, colleagues, and family again, but somehow the same thing happens every time. You set a time to meet, intend to get ready well in advance, but when the actual date and time comes along, you look up to find yourself half-dressed with five minutes to reach your intended destination. :::head thwack::: You’ve done it again. You can already hear the comments and friendly jibes. You’ve heard them so many times before.

First off, be realistic about how long it’ll take you to get ready. Consider timing yourself to get a better grasp of how much time you’ll need prior to the arranged meeting.

Next, set another alarm that goes off fifteen minutes or so before you need to be out the door. Make a habit of sticking to such schedules so that eventually they become second nature to you. You’ll reframe your internal clock and avoid the eye rolls that accompany your habitual hour-late arrivals.

 What techniques help you to manage procrastination? What was the hardest experience you endured as a result of procrastination? How did it make you feel?