If you’re like most ADHD adults, procrastination is a constant challenge for you. You’re often rationalizing reasons not to start on something. You often leave things to the last minute. And no doubt, you absolutely dread doing certain tasks, especially big, important, challenging tasks.
Instead of attacking those big, important tasks, you default to easier tasks that just take up a bunch of your time and energy – so you don’t have time or energy left for those big, important tasks!
Your to-do list is never-ending. Ditto for your piles…and your sticky notes. And just thinking about all your to-do’s stresses you out: your undone to-dos are always in the back of your mind, creating a constant anxiety about what’s not getting done.
And all of this procrastination results in a feeling that you’re underachieving vs. your potential, which leads to beating yourself up, even feeling hopeless. Well…I have been there. And I can help! That’s what this post is all about.
Some Procrastination Truth Bombs
Let’s start with a few “immutable truths” about procrastination. First, you need to know that EVERYONE procrastinates. You, me, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey. True fact. So you’re in good company.
But more importantly, you’re not lazy. (And Oprah is definitely not lazy.) Laziness is procrastination without caring about it. You care about it – or you wouldn’t be reading this! Another immutable truth is that procrastination is actually in our DNA.
What? I’m Wired for Procrastination?
That’s right. At its most basic level, procrastination is about two things: conserving energy and avoiding discomfort in the short-term (and seeking comfort in its place). These two fundamental survival skills were wired into our brains more than 200,000 years ago: Hungry? Let’s hunt and eat. Not hungry? Let’s kick back in the sun and save our energy — ‘til we get hungry again.
But increasingly, and particularly in the last few hundred years, we are expected to do more and more things on behalf of long-term needs. And those long-term needs – for instance, to study hard so we can get the good job and then work hard to make a good living — require us to do things that are hard; that we’re not always good at.
Indeed, most of the things that move us forward over the long-term create discomfort…and burn a lot of energy! Just think about an important project you’ve been putting off: It doesn’t provide a short-term benefit; it provides short-term dis-comfort; and it will eat up a lot of your energy. So why wouldn’t we procrastinate on that?! Why wouldn’t we want to escape from that?! And sure enough, we do escape: into email-checking or other busywork that’s comfortable. Or, we escape into social media, YouTube, TV, mindless games. And our escapes are almost always false friends: Obviously, because they are contributing to our procrastination and long-term misery, but also because they do not conserve our energy.
What Are Your Go-To Escapes?
Take a moment to jot down as many as you can. We tend to do many of these without even thinking about it, so the more aware of them we are, the more control we can have over our attention and energy. OK, now I want to show you how to better identify and minimize the discomforts that lead us into temptation – and procrastination.
The 6 Psychological “Barriers to Action”
In my approach, there are three “levels” for crushing procrastination. First, we must identify the psychological barrier to action that’s got us stuck or discouraged or just uninterested in the task at hand. The next level is where we challenge that barrier with a disarming question or two — to produce a mental shift. The third level is the application of procrastination “brain hacks,” which I think of as the nuclear warheads in the war against procrastination.
Given the space allowed here, we’ll identify those barriers to action, and dip our toe into questioning them a bit. These two steps alone will go a long way toward helping you get and stay in action.
We often don’t start because we’re waiting for conditions to be “just right” – “I’ll be in the right mood then,” “I’ll have the right energy,” etc. But conditions will never be perfect.
Perfectionism also takes the form of, “Well, I don’t know how to do this perfectly, so I can’t start it, because if I do, I’ll just be unhappy with the result. So I’ll wait until I know exactly how to get to that perfect outcome, and then I’ll begin.” These manifestations of perfectionism are also huge barriers to finishing projects.
Does this resonate with you? If so, consider trying an intentional act of imperfection. Seriously – pull the trigger on something before you feel “ready.” It can be liberating!
2. Temporal Discounting
Temporal refers to time, and discounting refers to how we discount, or care less about, things that are further out into the future. I.e., we tend to value immediate – or short-term – rewards over future rewards. (Again, it’s in our DNA!)
E.g., the perceived pain of blowing your deadline that is three weeks away has much less weight than if that deadline were three hours away: “Ah, I’ve still got three weeks…” vs. “Holy @#$%! I’ve only got three hours!”
Temporal discounting is also often explained in terms of one’s Present Self and Future Self. What your Present Self does or doesn’t do today impacts your Future Self. But Present Self is more inclined to act on behalf of Present Self – i.e., default to short-term comforts/escapes. Hence, your Present Self is always screwing your Future Self.
Does this one resonate? Feel free to vent in the Comments! And consider thinking more about your Future Self next time your Present Self says, “Dude, we got plenty of time on this! No worries!”
3. Irrational Avoidance
This usually comes in the form of either an irrational fear — fear of failure, fear of some confrontation involved in the doing – or, an irrational hope, like the hope that, if you wait long enough, some magic bullet solution will appear to us that makes the task easy.
I mentioned that Oprah Winfrey procrastinates. She talked about this in an interview, saying “I procrastinate especially where it involves some kind of confrontation. For example, whenever I have to say ‘no’ to someone.” And Oprah has to say ‘no’ a LOT. What kinds of irrational avoidance might be keeping you from starting a big project? Please share. And then question their rationality!
4. “Where do I start?!”
Particularly with big, complex tasks and projects, we don’t know where to start, so…we don’t…start! We also might be confronted with so many undone to-do’s that we can’t decide which to-do to do first! And so we don’t…do…any of them!
If this one rings your bell, consider whether you can give yourself permission to…just start. Anywhere! Or, just “close your eyes and throw a dart” to determine which of your many priorities to attack first.
5. “It’s HARD!”
We hesitate to start on a difficult task…because it’s difficult! We’re not GOOD at it! Which causes tremendous discomfort. A simple tip here is to simply ask, “OK, what, specifically, is hard about this?” Dimensionalizing that difficult element can begin to dissolve this barrier.
The task is boring. It’s mundane. It doesn’t “light us up.” Laundry, expense reports, dishes. Stuff that we just…can’t…be…bothered with…Ugh! But these mundane tasks can actually have great inherent value. Consider reminding yourself what would happen if you never did the laundry. Not pretty.
A Summation and an Invitation
When we have a better understanding of our procrastination – why it’s happening; what our barriers to action are – we are better able to crush those barriers to action and beat procrastination!
Want to start crushing more than just procrastination? Want to learn how to get prioritized? Manage time? Get and stay motivated?
My award-winning ADD Crusher™ Program focuses on these and more. It’s a set of powerful tools recommended by ADHD coaches the world over to help teens and adults escape the overwhelm and live to their potential.
Use coupon code TOTALLY10 to save 10% off any purchase at ADDCrusher.com. .
About guest blogger Alan Brown:An ADHD/productivity coach and host of Crusher™TV (www.CrusherTV.com), Alan P. Brown is the creative force behind ADD Crusher™, the award-winning “virtual coach” video series for ADHD teens and adults. Undiagnosed for decades, Alan’s untreated ADHD manifested in underachievement, failed relationships, substance abuse, and worse. Once diagnosed, he found it difficult to learn coping strategies from books, so he developed his own evidence-based “brain hack” strategies while building a successful advertising career and several start-ups. A featured presenter at ADHD conferences in the U.S. and abroad and a TEDx speaker, he is the #1 best-selling author of Zen and the Art of Productivity. Get Alan’s free eBook, “5 Things You’re Doing Every Day that Make Your ADHD Worse” at www.ADDCrusher.com.