In our Symptom Spotlight series, we shine a spotlight on different ADHD traits. This week: procrastination.
Always putting things off until the last minute? Everyone procrastinates, but ADHD procrastination is more extreme – you can’t “just do it”, even though you can see the impact on work, school and your relationships.
There’s 3 “styles” of procrastination.
Perfectionism – if you can’t write that case report perfectly, you won’t do it at all.
Emotional avoidance – revising pharmacology is boring and difficult, or you don’t know where to start. So you don’t.
Productive procrastination – you don’t want to start your ANKI flashcards… you clean the bathroom instead.
I frequently indulge in all three – I’m slowly improving my perfectionist tendencies, but I still struggle to get started with anything boring or brain-intense. This is the only reason my flat stays tidy – it’s procrastination, and a distraction from my desk.
People with ADHD don’t procrastinate so much because we’re lazy – it’s related to our difficulties regulating thoughts and emotions. This is why telling us to “just do it” can be likened to telling someone with clinical depression to “just cheer up”.
However, I would never get through medical school if I allowed myself to procrastinate all the time.
Here’s some ADHD-friendly strategies that help me to minimise procrastination.
1. Break it up. If the thought of sitting for ages staring at Passmed makes you want to drop out on the spot, set a timer for 20 minutes and start. If you’re still not enjoying it when the alarm goes off, you can stop. Make sure you stick to that. You can always come back to it later.
2. Incentivise. Think of a treat, that you can only have once you’ve finished the task you’re putting off. Admittedly this one requires a bit of self-restraint if the treat is easily accessible already. However, you could give it to a flatmate to hold you accountable.
3. Don’t beat yourself up. Guilt isn’t going to make you feel any better about your procrastination, and will only reinforce your avoidance. Instead, I tell myself “I’m going to watch that lecture because I will feel really relieved when it’s done, in fact I’ll feel relieved if I only get half of it done”. I give myself a good reason to do the thing, and I give myself an “out” too. This avoids guilt-tripping myself if I genuinely run out of time.
I read recently that procrastination can be like convincing yourself that you’re drowning… without realising the water is shallow enough to stand up in. ADHD makes a lot of challenges seem insurmountable, but I promise that you’re more capable of completing (and smashing) that item on your to-do list than your dopaminergic system is telling you.
Interested in learning more about the symptoms of ADHD? Our Symptom Spotlight series is a great place to start!
You can read some interesting research about procrastination and ADHD here.