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ADHD and Procrastination

Dr Edward Hallowell ADHD Expert
Dr. Edward Hallowell

Foreword by Rick Green:

Dr. Hallowell had a profound influence on my life for ten years, and then I actually got to meet him. 

You see, I had read every book that he had authored or co-authored about ADHD, so the opportunity to drop by his house and sit down and just listen to him was profound.

The following is part one of our conversation that day. Keep in mind that this is our full interview – we haven’t edited down – except from my long, meandering, semi incoherent questions. We’ve removed those. You’re welcome.

I want you to have the experience that I had that day listening to Dr. Hallowell talk.  It’s his conversation, written down, and as an audio recording if you prefer that. 

Okay let’s not procrastinate, let’s talk about procrastination.

– Rick Green

Listen to interview here, or read the blog below

ADHD or Normal Procrastination?

Dr. Hallowell:

I don’t know why it is more severe in ADHD but it certainly is.  People with ADD, I think their minds get so crowded with things to do that the important things they simply don’t think of. 

So I’m not so sure it’s that they are actually procrastinating, as they just don’t get around to doing the important things because they’re so quickly taken off task.

I’m not sure it’s the typical procrastination, you put it off because you don’t want to do it.  My favourite line about that, Ernest Hemingway was asked “How do you write a novel?” He said “Well the first thing you do is clean out the refrigerator.” In other words you’ll find any excuse not to do it.

So there’s some of that at work, but I think that’s with everybody. I think with ADD folks it’s more that they forget what’s most important because they’re so easily enchanted by something trivial.

I’m not so sure that it’s the classic procrastination, although that’s at work in all of us, but I think in the ADD person their mind is just so full of possibilities that they easily forget what’s the thing that they’re really supposed to do.

Prioritizing & Getting Things Done

I mean one of the challenges of modern life; I mean in a way modern life has turned everybody into having ADD. You know? You look like you have it whether you have it or not. One of the challenges is to prioritize.

The great thing about modern life is you can do so much.  The curse of modern life is you can do so much. 

So now more than ever-in human existence, it’s never been like this before, we’ve never ever, ever, seen an era like what we’re living in today.

Now it becomes fundamentally important that you know what matters most. 

One of my laws of modern life is if you don’t take your time, it will be taken from you.  So if you don’t decide what matters most, someone else will decide for you. 

The world is artful at seducing you to go down blind alleys, or to do someone else’s bidding. So by the end of the day you say ‘gee I didn’t do what I really wanted to do’ and honestly you have no one to blame but yourself because you didn’t make clear to yourself what mattered most. 

So you’re very easily taken off track.

Stop ADHD Procrastination

The key to deciding what matters most is to have a method to deciding what matters most.  Now maybe it’s prayer, maybe it’s talking to your dog. Usually it’s interacting with some entity, a spouse, a therapist, a boss, a colleague, a coach, perhaps God, perhaps your dog, you know?

Perhaps a garden, but usually it is in some kind of connection, some kind of dialogue, because the ADD person is notoriously unable to do it alone. 

You get the Chinese menu syndrome; there are so many things.  Well I want to do this, but I want to do that, but I also want to do this, oh and this is very interesting, oh that’s very exciting, well how could I say no to this, and this committee is great, and that project is wonderful, and this book is excellent, and that job is great, and this social engagement is.

I have ADD myself, we ADD’ers are notoriously enthusiastic about everything and so as a result we sabotage ourselves with our own enthusiasm.

Develop a Roadmap

It’s best to have somebody that you talk these things over with, somebody who can hold your feet to the fire a little bit and say, wait a minute Ned you can’t do 12 things in the next one hour, or at least you can’t do them well.  So you really had better just work on your book between now and lunch, and then see patients between lunch and 5:00 o’clock, and then have fun with your wife and kids between five o’clock and 10 o’clock, and then ten o’clock think about getting into bed and maybe going to sleep, and that kind of dialog allows you to kind of set out a road map.

We need road maps.  People with ADD need road maps because otherwise we just branch out, we vector.  We’re like you know a crystal, we just ramify in seconds, and suddenly we’re going hither and yon, everywhere and nowhere.

That’s why I say ADD is a gift and a curse, and if you can marshal that power then you’ll get somewhere, and that’s usually best done and in some kind of dialogue and then once you get it going you don’t have to do this every day.

Structure is Your Saviour!

Once you develop a routine then we can become wonderful creatures of habit. Once we have routines we stick with them.

Creating that routine, that’s the challenge.

Very important for people with ADD to make friends with structure, we tend to think of structure as our enemy and structure’s just for boring people, for people who have attention surplus disorder.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Structure is your saviour, your friend, your ally.  

I love the example of Shakespeare and Mozart, two of the greatest creative geniuses who ever lived.  Shakespeare, all his plays all his poems were written in blank verse, dadum, dadum, dadum, iambic pentameter. 

Within that structure he created infinite variety, but he needed that structure, that trellis, to allow the lines of his poetry to grow.  Same with Mozart, he wrote with in very tight forms, very, very tight musical forms and yet within those forms he created infinite variety.

Without the structure you have chaos, without structure you have horrible misses.

With structure you have art. So it’s very important.

A lot of people with ADD resist structure. What they’re really resisting is the pain, the discipline, of having to choose and prioritize and they legitimize it, they give themselves permission in the name of a free spirit. 

Well, they are a free spirit who gets nowhere; they’re a free spirit who does nothing.  Make friends with structure it is a tremendous ally. 

What Matters To You?

When you set your goals don’t give in to the sort of silly, superficial, megabucks, win the lottery way of thinking, that’s not really what you want. 

Think about what do I really want. I want happiness.  Okay. I want fulfilment. I want a sense of my life matters. 

Okay, how can you get there? and don’t just say winning the lottery, studies show the lottery winners, they get a burst of happiness and then they even out. They were right where they were, you know.

So it doesn’t work, the money cure doesn’t work, I know we’d all like to be part of the experiment but it’s been really well studied and it doesn’t work.

Once you get out of poverty increases in income don’t tend to do much for your sense of your fulfillment in life.  So what does fulfill you? and that’s usually pursuing something that matters to you and making progress in getting closer to it.

That may be a professional goal, it may be in my case the greatest goal in my entire life, my dream was to give my kids the happy childhood I didn’t have and with my wife’s help we’ve done that so far.  They are 23, 20, and 17, it’s still a work in progress but so far we’ve done that and every day I feel huge fulfillment for that.

It was a big goal but it wasn’t an unrealistic goal, you know and it was an achievable goal. It took a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice but it’s been enormously fulfilling, far more than winning the lottery ever would have been.

Fulfillment, The Key to Happiness

So try to think for yourself what really will give me fulfillment and don’t give in to these knee-jerk, you know, rich and famous all this or get on the cover of People magazine.

We live in a star culture that tends to superficialize or our deepest desires, and don’t let that happen to you.  Think with another person, and you can’t decide this in 30 seconds, it’s not a sound bite question, what matters most to you?

Think deeply.  People don’t do that enough, think deeply in connection with another person, people, group, you know where do I really want to be in five years, in ten years, and 15 years and don’t just think in terms of money, although money matters.

Think in terms of interpersonal life, think in terms of where in my career, or what direction do I want to be heading, what impact? I don’t want to have?

People with ADD have trouble with this because they want to go in so many different directions, and this comes back to talking about structure, but I think everyone these days is afflicted with the disease of superficiality.

You need to resist that and really ask what will give me the deepest and most sustaining fulfillment?

I mean the reason I can call myself a happy man without even thinking twice is I just bring my kids and my wife to mind, and I smile. 

It’s a reflex, you know, and then in my career I’ve pursued the career that I wanted not that I was told to want and as a result I’ve sort of cut a new path in the world of ADD which to me is tremendously exciting, and you’ve (TotallyADD) done the same thing, and as you know it has nothing to do with how wealthy I am, in fact I’m not a wealthy man, but I’m very rich in spirit, and that matters a whole lot more.

We hope you enjoyed this chapter of our interview with Dr. Hallowell.

See part 2 of our interview Getting Help For ADHD

To order the full 1 Hour interview click the image below.


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