Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, sometimes also referred to as ADD) is a condition that affects people in various ways, including making them inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive. It can affect both children and adults, and lead to various issues, for example when it comes to academic performance and social interactions.
A key issue that ADHD is associated with is procrastination, which is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. For example, a person’s ADHD could make it difficult for them to concentrate on a task, which could lead them to get distracted and therefore delay completing the task.
The association between ADHD and procrastination can have serious implications, so it’s important to understand it. As such, in the following article you will learn more about how ADHD and procrastination are connected, and see what you can do about it in practice.
Brief overview of ADHD
- Inattention. This is characterized by issues such as difficulty in staying focused, difficulty in remaining organized, difficulty in listening to and following instructions, tendency to be easily distracted, tendency to miss details and make seemingly careless mistakes, and tendency to forget things.
- Hyperactivity-impulsivity. This is characterized by issues such as extreme restlessness, constant movement or talking, interrupting others, acting without thinking, and difficulty in delaying gratification (i.e., in exerting self-control in the face of immediately available rewards).
Some people with ADHD are predominantly inattentive, which means that they are primarily or exclusively inattentive, whereas other people are predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and some people have a combination of both aspects of ADHD.
Many people without ADHD normally also experience some of the issues that are associated with ADHD, so having some of these issues doesn’t necessarily mean that you have ADHD. However, people with ADHD tend to experience more of these issues, and the issues that they experience tend to be more frequent, persistent, and severe, and lead to more problems in their everyday life.
The connection between ADHD and procrastination
ADHD and procrastination are associated, meaning that the more ADHD-based behaviors a person displays, and the more frequent and severe those behaviors are, the more likely that person is to procrastinate.
This is unsurprising, since many ADHD-based behaviors can lead directly to procrastination, as in the case of the tendency to be easily distracted, and procrastination is sometimes considered a direct symptom of ADHD. Accordingly, procrastination is sometimes used to help diagnose ADHD, as in the case of the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, which asks people how often they delay getting started when they have a task that requires a lot of thought. Furthermore, interventions for treating ADHD often address people’s tendency to procrastinate directly.
However, there is substantial variability in the association between ADHD and procrastination, for example because some forms of ADHD are more strongly associated with procrastination than others, and not all forms of ADHD necessarily lead to procrastination. Accordingly, not everyone with ADHD procrastinates, and even those who do may procrastinate to varying degrees and in different ways.
In addition, people can procrastinate for many reasons other than ADHD, such as anxiety, perfectionism, and depression. Accordingly, not everyone who procrastinates necessarily has ADHD, and people with ADHD who procrastinate may do so—partially or fully—due to reasons other than their ADHD.
However, ADHD is associated with many of the other issues that can cause procrastination, such as anxiety and depression, which further increases the likelihood that people with ADHD will procrastinate. Notably, ADHD is associated with learning disorders, such as dyslexia, and is sometimes characterized as such a disorder itself. This is important, since learning disabilities are associated with increased procrastination and increased issues as a result of procrastinating (e.g., stress), especially among students.
In summary, ADHD is strongly associated with increased procrastination, and procrastination is sometimes even considered a direct symptom of ADHD. Furthermore, ADHD is associated with other issues, such as anxiety, that can also lead to procrastination. However, different forms of ADHD are associated with procrastination in different ways and to different degrees, so not everyone with ADHD procrastinates, or procrastinates in the same way and for the same reasons.
Dealing with ADHD-based procrastination
If you have ADHD or think that you might, then you should generally talk to a licensed professional, such as a therapist, who will be able to diagnose it and advise you on the proper course of treatment, which may include things such as therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. This can be beneficial for reducing both ADHD-based procrastination, as well as ADHD itself and other issues that it leads to.
In addition to doing this, there are many anti-procrastination techniques that you might benefit from using, primarily to deal with your procrastination, and potentially also with specific aspects of your ADHD. These techniques deal with both emotion-regulation and time-management, and include the following:
- Break your work into small and manageable steps. For example, if you have a large project that feels overwhelming, such as writing a research paper, you can break it down into a series of small steps, such as creating an outline, finding relevant resources, and writing the introduction.
- Have an organizational system. For example, you can have a notebook where you write your to-do list at the start of each day, or an app where you keep important information that you need to remember.
- Set reminders for yourself. For example, you can put a sticky note next to your laptop if there’s something you need to make sure you do tomorrow, or you can use an app to send you a notification when there’s a task that you need to complete soon.
- Schedule your work according to your productivity cycles. For example, if you find it easier to concentrate on creative tasks in the morning, then you should schedule such tasks for that time period as much as possible.
- Follow consistent routines. For example, have a dedicated time each day when you work on a specific type of assignment, or a dedicated day each week when you do a specific chore.
- Improve your work environment. For example, if your current work environment has a lot of irritating noise, get noise-canceling headphones or go somewhere quieter. You might also benefit from having some white noise in the background, since this can sometimes help people with ADHD focus on their work.
- Eliminate distractions. For example, if you get distracted by notifications on your phone when you should be studying, you can do things such as mute the phone, disable the problematic notifications in general, block your access to the phone for a set period of time using a dedicated app, turn off the phone’s internet access, or leave the phone in another room.
- Prepare for future contingencies. For example, figure out which distractions might tempt you to procrastinate, and plan how you will deal with them.
- Figure out what you’re afraid of, and address your fears. For example, if you realize that you’re afraid of getting negative feedback from someone who isn’t really important, you can tell yourself that their feedback doesn’t matter.
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes. For example, if you’re writing a paper, accept that your work won’t be perfect, especially when it comes to the first draft.
- Start with a tiny step. For example, commit to writing only a single sentence or exercising for only 2 minutes, while giving yourself permission to stop after taking that tiny first step, to reduce the pressure associated with getting started.
- Switch between tasks. For example, if you’re stuck on a task and can’t make progress, switch to a different task until you’re ready to go back to the first one.
- Improve your social-support network. For example, you can find a role model to imitate or an authority figure to hold you accountable, or you can associate with people who motivate you to make progress while minimizing your contact with people who make you feel stressed.
- Get enough rest. For example, if you need to work hard on tasks that require deep concentration, make sure to take enough breaks that you don’t get burnt out. To encourage yourself to do this, you can remind yourself that even if getting rest can reduce your productivity in the short term, it will often be much better for you in the long term, both in terms of your productivity and in terms of your wellbeing.
- Develop self-efficacy. Specifically, this is your belief in your ability to perform the actions needed to achieve your goals. You can develop it in various ways, such as identifying the strategies that you can use to achieve your goals, and then thinking about how you can execute those strategies successfully.
- Forgive yourself for past procrastination. For example, if you need to get started on a task that you’ve been postponing for a long time, you can say “I shouldn’t have postponed this task in the first place, but that’s in the past, and what’s important now is to move on and just get this done”.
- Develop self-compassion. Specifically, you should develop the three components of self-compassion: self-kindness, which involves being nice to yourself, common humanity, which involves recognizing that everyone experiences challenges, and mindfulness, which involves accepting your emotions in a non-judgmental manner.
- Acknowledge and reward your progress. For example, you can treat yourself to some pleasant treat once you’ve managed to achieve your study goals for a week in a row.
When choosing which of these techniques to use, it can help to start by figuring out why you procrastinate, and when and how you do so, since this will help you find the best anti-procrastination techniques to use in your particular situation. Doing this can help you figure out how exactly your ADHD causes you to procrastinate, and can help you identify issues other than ADHD that are also causing you to procrastinate, such as anxiety and perfectionism.
However, if you realize that the main reason for your procrastination is that you suffer from ADHD, then you should generally aim to treat that first, using help from a professional if necessary. This should be helpful for dealing with your procrastination, and for dealing with other issues that your ADHD causes.