ADHD Tips on How to Stop Procrastination and Get Things Done!
If you have ADHD chances are you’re no stranger to procrastination. It’s mystifying how we postpone doing things we know will bring us closer to our goals and make us happier.
Anti Overwhelm Tip: There’s no need to remember all these tips now. Next time you feel a case of ‘The Procrastination Flu’ coming on, visit this page and pick one of these anti-procrastination measures. Then get on with the show! So why do we sabotage ourselves so blatantly?
1. We Don’t Know Where to Start
There are usually two reasons why we hesitate starting a particular task:
- The task is complex and/or overwhelming with multiple layers and objectives
- You lack the information, knowledge or skill necessary to accomplish the task
Ponder the Idea
Instead of digging in quickly, take some time to let new ideas and plans mature in your imagination.Just sit down, relax and let yourself reflect upon the possibilities. Let the idea incubate for a few days if necessary. This makes it easier for your intuitive mind to put the pieces of the puzzle together and allows the best solutions to surface.
Picture the End Result
Even if you don’t know exactly how to accomplish something or where to start, picture the end result.Imagine how you will feel once you’ve accomplished your objective. Doing this will prime your energy field for success. With the help of your imagination, you are beginning to create a new reality.
As I’ve discussed in “How to Set and Accomplish Long-term Goals” the visualization process will also help you foresee what’s required to succeed.
Do you need to set up a special room in the house? Do you need any special tools? These kinds of questions can usually be answered by visualizing the process first.
Mind The Learning Curve
If you’re trying to accomplish something you’ve never done before, you’ll have to consider the learning curve. Don’t force yourself to run before you can walk. You’ll only fall down.
People with ADHD can be impatient. They often forget to factor in the extra time needed to learn new things. This causes frustration and ultimately, procrastination. When starting a new project remember to allow for an incubation period. Do research, get info, prepare.
Accept that you will need to take some time to learn a new skill, read up about unfamiliar topics or go out of your comfort zone before getting started. When you prepare thoroughly enough in advance, you can hit the ground running.
Don’t Over Plan
Unless you’re a psychic, you can’t make exact predictions about how things are going to unfold. Once you’ve pondered the idea and made the necessary preparations, then you can dig in.
You might procrastinate simply because you want to have all the answers beforehand. You may try to prepare for every eventuality because you’re afraid something might go wrong. The reality is simple. Thinking something through is only the 1st step in a longer, more elaborate process.
Once you’ve done the preparatory work, you have to start DOING. Only then can you learn from your mistakes, figure things out and move forward.
You can’t steer a parked car.
Take ‘Baby’ Action Steps
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step. When a task seems too daunting or complex, just break it up in smaller chunks. Pick one thing, one small action step – even if it’s tiny – and get it done.
Then move on to the next step. Don’t feel bad if you work best when a task is divided into tiny steps. Setting small, manageable goals for yourself will help you get things done while staying motivated. Every time you finish a task, no matter how small, you’re one step closer to your goal. It’s better to make slow progress than to procrastinate and make no progress at all.
Do Something… Anything!
There will be times when you procrastinate because you’re not entirely sure about what the right course of action is. Maybe you don’t have the financial means or the time to do what you really want to do. Don’t let that stop you.
Like Theodore Roosevelt said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
If you find yourself waiting for the perfect conditions or circumstances, you may be waiting forever. Find something, anything that you can do – even if it’s only in the general direction of your goal – and get started. You’ll be surprised how other opportunities will start presenting themselves the moment you get moving.
Focus Only On the Next Step
Once you’ve decided on what to do next, focus only on that task until it’s finished. Imagine you’re climbing a mountain. The best way to make it to the top is by focusing on the next few yards.
Keeping all your other tasks (the whole mountain) in the back of your head is a distraction. At the very least, thinking about the mountain will induce an unproductive degree of anxiety. Stay in the moment and forget about everything else.
2. We Feel an Inner Resistance or Have a Lack of Motivation
Nobody likes obligations, even self-imposed ones. The things we have to do somehow feel forced upon us. We can feel like a rebellious child that just plain doesn’t want to do something. We procrastinate because, deep inside, it gives us a sense of control.
Do Something Fun First
Sometimes the only way to soothe your inner-rebel is to make things more entertaining. So, do something fun before attacking a chore. Watch an episode of your favorite television show, read a chapter of a good book or play one level of your favorite video game (Hey… I only said 1 level!). The idea is that you need to get into a positive, upbeat frame of mind. Once you’re on a happier frequency, you’re more likely to get started on more challenging stuff.
Do Something Fun Afterwards
Think of something fun to reward yourself with once you’re finished. You’ll find that when you sandwich boring or demanding tasks in between fun ones you’ll be one step closer to getting things done.
Do It For a Limited Amount of Time
Give yourself a definable amount of time – like 30 minutes – to spend on a task. Then take a break. The thought of having a clear end in sight will get you going.
Make It Matter
Think of how you’ll feel once you’ve finished a task. Now compare it to the feeling you’ll have if you don’t.
What are the positive consequences of accomplishing this task?
Complete sentences like:
“Finishing this task will make me feel…”
“Once I’m finished I can…”
“Finishing this task will create more…”
“If I finish this task I will be able to…”
What are the negative consequences if this task is left undone?
Complete sentences like:
“If I don’t do this I’ll have to…”
“Postponing this now could end up causing…”
“Not finishing this task will make me feel…”
“I would prefer to finish this task than deal with…”
Look at these two scenarios and find ways to increase your commitment. Ask yourself why you’ve set upon this task and consider how it will improve your situation.
Make the outcome matter to you on an emotional level.
Don’t Wait For Motivation
Motivation is like a fickle friend. Don’t count on its arrival to get things done. You could end up waiting a long time.
If it comes naturally, great! Just don’t bet on it.
3. We are Perfectionistic or have High Expectations
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
People with ADHD tend to be perfectionists.
Their vivid imaginations can easily envision the perfect outcome to every endeavor. Having high standards is commendable. But if your perfectionism is stifling your progress, you may want to loosen the reins.
Accept What IS
The first way to release some of the tension is to accept things as they are – now. Maybe something didn’t pan out the way you expected it to. Maybe you feel you’ve lost time. Maybe you wish things were different. Maybe someone let you down.
The truth is that you can only move forward from where you are now, even if it’s not the ideal situation. When I find myself fretting about things that can’t be changed, I think of the Serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr
“Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference”
Change Your Perspective
Find ways to ‘de-perfectionize’ your expectations. Once you become aware of your tendency to set the bar extremely high (for yourself or others) you can find ways to counteract the impulse.
Ask yourself questions like:
“How can I achieve a result that’s good enough rather than perfect?”
“What can I do to create even the smallest amount of progress in the situation without needing it to be perfect?”
“What could I do to make things work if I simply had to right now?”
“Is this really so important in the bigger scheme of life?”
“Does it really matter that much?”
Find Your Inner Coach
People with ADHD are prone to engage in negative thoughts. They can be bombarded by what Author Daniel Amen calls automatic negative thoughts or ‘ANTS’ It’s important to catch yourself when you engage in negative thinking. When you notice your thoughts are taking a turn for the worse, try something new.
Ignore that insatiable, critical voice inside your head.
Create an opposing force: The Inner Coach!
Encourage yourself every time you win and for every step you take in the right direction. Even when you make a mistake or things aren’t perfect, be sure to reward yourself for making progress… no matter the amount. Give yourself positive feedback and be sure to keep moving forward, one step at a time.
4. We’re Afraid to Fail or Succeed
Nobody likes to lose face. We all fear looking stupid when we fail at something. We’re only human. For people with ADHD, fear of failure can take on an extra dimension. Maybe you’ve enthusiastically initiated many projects but never actually completed any of them.
This can lead to a defeatist attitude: “Why would it be any different this time?”
In some cases the thought of succeeding is just as scary. Success comes with added responsibilities. People’s perceptions and expectations of you may change. You may have to go out of your comfort zone.
All this anticipation, over-thinking and emotionality can lead to procrastination. Sometimes it just feels more comfortable to delay things that might cause change or possible turmoil in your life.
Choose Your Goals Wisely
People with ADHD love to explore. They are attracted to the exhilaration associated with trying something new or different. Unfortunately, once the initial excitement of a new job, project or hobby wears off, so does the motivation.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you select your goals wisely. Be sure to choose goals that you know will hold your long-term interest. It often helps if you make sure your objectives are in line with your passions. Identify the things that have interested you throughout your life.
Try pre-visualization. This can help you get a sense of what it would feel like to engage in a particular activity or goal. However, sometimes you just have to try things to find out. All I’m saying is be sure to pause and reflect upon your true interests and desires before jumping into something new.
Stare Fear Down
“Fear is the mind-killer.” I like this famous quote from the sci-fi novel ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert. It sums things up quite nicely. Being afraid of fear only gives it more power. Be defiant in the face of fear. Stare it down.
We all have fears. None of us can escape this fact. It’s part of being human. The best way to deal with your fears is to face them head on and push forward – regardless of any perceived negative outcome. Get that positive momentum started!
Accept a Good Fumble
When I made a mistake as a kid, my mom used to say: “If you never do anything, you can’t do anything wrong”. When you fall, pick yourself back up and keep going. Trying and failing is nothing to be ashamed of. Not trying at all is.
Get Help or Redirect Your Focus
In some cases people with ADHD require therapy to overcome their insecurities. Accepting the fact that you aren’t like everyone else can take time. And, even if you accept the reality of your situation, you might still need to find ways to love your “difference” and not judge it.
Dwelling on the problem will only get you stuck in what is called a ‘stress-response-loop.’ First of all, know that things are not as bad as you’re painting them out to be – secondly, unhook yourself from negative thoughts. Redirect your focus to an activity that is fun or lightweight.
For example, when I feel that I’m getting stressed, I’ll listen to my favorite music. I might also watch a film that cheers me up or go visit a friend. Sometimes I even vacuum the living room! You can do anything at all as long as it’s an activity that directs your attention away from a downward spiral of negative thoughts.
Accept Your Power
As strange as it may seem, fear of success is often caused by a sense of losing control. You may fear that success will create certain expectations of you – expectations from which you won’t be able to hide.
You may fear that your successes will be fluke occurrences… and that you’ll eventually be found out and labeled a fraud. In short, you’re afraid that you will no longer be in control of the situation. The only way around this problem is to accept your power and take control.
Remember this. You are always in control of your own trajectory. You may have to adapt in the face of obstacles, but no matter what happens, you have authorship over your life. Owning this power is your responsibility. No one can do it for you.
5. We Lack Rest and Relaxation
People can push themselves to the breaking point even when they really need to take some time off. Sometimes a lack of focus and motivation is confused with a lack of sleep and relaxation. Don’t make this mistake.
Give yourself time to replenish your energy – you’ll find that you’ll be more productive and succeed faster when you give yourself time to recharge your batteries. In short, be kind to yourself.
Sometimes I feel stuck when trying to complete a task. For the life of me, I just can’t focus. No matter how much I want to get things done, something’s telling me I need a break.
Later, after being rejuvenated, I find myself completing the task easily. Once I’ve recharged I don’t have to push myself at all. You follow the logic, right?
6. The Task is Painfully Boring
There are always tasks you really wish you could avoid. Many people with ADHD find it so difficult to focus on tedious tasks that they just postpone them… until something unpleasant happens. Not filing tax reports, paying bills or opening your mail can have serious consequences.
Ask For Help
People with ADHD can have difficulty asking for help. They may feel they’re already a burden to others because of their ‘differences.’ Try to ignore the impulse to do everything yourself. When you set up your daily to-do list, look for things you can delegate to someone else. Even delegating small tasks can have a large impact on your daily energy level.
Break It Up and Take Breaks
There’s a reason the word ‘break’ appears twice in this title. I’ve mentioned this already, but I can’t stress the importance of this concept. If you can’t get someone else to help you, break the task up into small bits. Spread the task over a few days or take several breaks when doing it in one day.
This will desensitize you from any negative association you may have with the task while increasing your tolerance level. Here’s an example on how I tackle the laundry on days when my tolerance level for tedious tasks is particularly low:
- I quickly sort the laundry before taking my morning shower: 5 minutes.
- I throw a batch into the machine before breakfast: 2 minutes.
- I toss it in the dryer when the cycle is finished: 1 minute
- I fold the laundry in the afternoon or evening: 5 to 10 minutes.
- I place everything in the cupboards the next morning: 3 minutes.
This practice allows me to avoid becoming overwhelmed or mind numbingly bored while taking care of basic household chores. Don’t be hard on yourself if you need to take lots of breaks mid-task. I do it ALL the time. I break tedious tasks up into smaller pieces and take breaks whenever I feel I need one.
You’re not obliged to take long breaks. Just remember to give yourself (and your brain) time to let go and relax once in a while. You’ll find you get a lot more done if you allow your mind to wander at regular intervals.
Time the activity. See how long it actually takes to finish a given task. The reason for doing this is twofold. Firstly, you’ll realize that many things you dread doing don’t really take that much time. This will motivate you to just get them over with versus postponing and dreading them for days (or weeks).
Secondly, you’ll get a better ‘view’ on the amount of time required to accomplish something. This will help make the activity more tangible and less abstract – which offers benefits to your visually-oriented mind.
Sometimes it’s easier to literally get your head around “5 minutes of dishwashing” rather than embracing the thought of “Doing those darn dishes again.”
Timing Tedious Tasks
People with ADHD often have a distorted perception of time. They frequently over or underestimate the amount of time a task takes. TIP: Make a list of your most common weekly activities and guess how much time it will take you to accomplish them. Then, for one week, take note of how much time you actually spend on them:
• Doing dishes estimated 15 min.- reality 5 min.
• Answering emails estimated 10 min.- reality 30 min.
This will give you a better idea of the time required to finish things on your daily to-do list.
Find ways to make boring chores more fun. Play your favorite 80’s tracks while cleaning, put on a film while exercising, etc…
Because we do maintenance tasks frequently, there are always opportunities to simplify them. For example, see what you can do to minimize the amount of steps a task involves. Give yourself a little challenge by asking, “If I had less time to do this, what could I change about the process to make it faster and easier?”
7. We Feel Overwhelmed by An Endless To-Do List
There will always be more to do. We make list after list and feel that there’s never an end to the madness.
Once you let go of the expectation of finishing all of your to-do lists, you can relax. Accept that to-do lists exist because you’re driven to accomplish things. They are tools to help you get things done, not tasks in and of themselves.
To-do lists are designed to help you break tasks down so you can actually make great things happen. You will always find something you still want to do, experience or have. And that’s a good thing. In short, accept and love the beauty of exploration. It’s a wonderful part of the human experience.
8. We Try to Use Force or Pressure to Get It Done
Sometimes people resort to pumping themselves up in order to overcome their resistance to getting started. They use motivating statements like “This time I’m getting it right!” or “This time it’s got to work!”
It’s similar to how athletes force themselves into a certain state of mind. Even though this is not an entirely flawed strategy, I believe that the use of too much mental force or pressure usually delivers less than optimum results.
Putting pressure on oneself causes stress. Stress will decrease the blood flow to the frontal lobe of your brain, which causes lack of focus and clarity.
In short, it reduces your performance and productivity.
If you have ADHD, putting pressure on yourself can easily backfire. Studies reveal that when people with ADHD are forced to concentrate, their brain releases chemicals that induce the opposite effect. This means that pressuring people with ADHD into a focus situation actually impairs their ability to focus.
It’s Not That Important – Care less!
Instead of pressuring yourself, consider whatever you’re about to do as not being that important. It’s a challenge, I know. But having this attitude creates space and allows for a more creative and productive energy. Taking the pressure off yourself will help you to relax. This is a far better state to be in if you want to get things done, trust me.
Don’t Force the Focus
Also, whenever you feel like your brain is being strained in order to figure something out, take a moment to relax. Instead of forcing your brain to concentrate, let it wander for a moment. Don’t force the focus – you’ll notice that the harder you try the more difficult concentrating becomes.
Reread These Tips When You’re in a Bind
I realize this is a long list. But true to my slightly obsessive, ADHD style, I felt that I needed to be thorough. As I said before, come back and reread these tips when you’re in a bind. As you notice how effective they can be, one at a time, they’ll eventually sink in.