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ADHD

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Is procrastination a sign of ADHD? And 10 tips to manage it

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: May 29, 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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We all procrastinate sometimes. Who hasn’t watched just one more episode on Netflix instead of tackling that pile of laundry? But if procrastination becomes a regular habit and persistently interferes with your productivity and well-being, you might find yourself wondering if it could a symptom of something more and asking, “Is procrastination a sign of ADHD?” 

If you feel unable to initiate tasks or manage your time, it could indeed be a sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is often characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

In this article, we explore the relationship between ADHD and procrastination, shedding light on this often misunderstood symptom. We also discuss how to differentiate between typical procrastination and ADHD-related procrastination and the steps you can take if you think you might be dealing with the latter.

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Procrastination is a sign of ADHD, not a symptom

Procrastination is the process of putting off doing or starting something. It can be a choice or it can be caused by fear or anxiety, higher priorities, misunderstanding of urgency, not being prepared, lack of real interest, or reluctance to do a task. Everyone, at some point, for some reason, procrastinates. 

ADHD adds a layer of complexity to procrastination. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity that interferes with and impacts work, home life, and relationships if left untreated. While long considered a disorder in children, it’s now recognized as a lifelong condition that lasts well into adulthood if not throughout life.

Procrastination is a recognized symptom of the 3 types of ADHD. It’s also an avoidance behavior common for people with ADHD and without.

People with ADHD have imbalances in motivation, which leads them to procrastinate because they tend to hyperfocus on tasks they see as interesting but put off tasks they find tedious (like cleaning). Procrastination for someone with ADHD, because it’s related to ADHD symptoms, can become chronic.

What is procrastination with ADHD vs “normal” procrastination?

It can be tricky to tell the difference between procrastination behaviors that result from ADHD or if they’re a normal way to avoid unpleasant or difficult tasks. The main difference is that ADHD procrastination is more extreme and long-lasting. It isn’t just a personality trait or a bad habit — it’s a chronic behavior pattern that likely affects every area of your life. People with ADHD can procrastinate even the most essential tasks, like showering, responding to urgent emails, or paying bills. 

On the other hand, “normal” procrastination may only apply to certain tasks or situations. For example, you may procrastinate starting a boring or difficult task, like a challenging work project or washing the dishes. But when there are serious consequences to procrastination, you’re able to get started.

Let’s illustrate: Jane hates unloading the dishwasher, and always leaves it to the last minute. She finds the task dull and bothersome, and would rather be doing anything else. But when she needs to load new dirty dishes into the dishwasher, she’s able to force herself to get the job done.

Nicole also procrastinates on unloading the dishwasher — as well as washing the dishes at all. Every surface area in her kitchen is piled with dishes, but she still can’t seem to get herself to unload the dishwasher. She also procrastinates on other important tasks. Her bills are overdue, her managers are on her case about missing deadlines, and unloading the dishwasher still feels like an insurmountable task for her.

Nicole likely lives with ADHD (and its resulting procrastination), while Jane procrastinates to a level that’s typical for most people.

If you think — or know — you have ADHD, you don’t have to let ADHD procrastination get the best of you. There are things you can do, including the 9 ideas below.

10 tips to combat procrastination as part of ADHD

The following tips are evidence-based strategies that can help you manage the thought patterns that keep you from moving forward — concrete strategies for getting things done.

1. Remove distractions

As an adult with ADHD, it’s easy to get derailed by internal and external distractions. You may even find yourself using these distractions to avoid a task. Removing distractions involves taking steps such as using site blockers on the Internet to help focus, turning off your phone and email notifications, and taking care of personal issues before getting started on a task.

2. Get organized to avoid ADHD procrastination

Organization is key to avoiding ADHD procrastination. While you may hae a lot of tasks on your to-do list, a great way to start to get organized is to prioritize your tasks in a way that makes sense to you. Then:

  • Break up each task (more below).
  • Organize the tools, resources, and other supplies you need to do the task.
  • Do your best to estimate how long the task will take and set a timeline for the task.
  • Dig in and get started. The first, most important, step is just to get started; from there, can organize your task in a way its best for you. 

3. Set an early deadline

It’s no secret; if time isn’t an issue, it makes procrastinating more likely. Plus, effective time management is difficult with ADHD. Even if your task doesn’t have a deadline, setting a deadline will keep you on track to complete it. Setting an early deadline gives you a greater chance of completing a task on time.

4. Break up large tasks

Big projects can feel overwhelming and are easier to put off. When you’re overwhelmed by the size of the task it’s harder to start. To make things easier, break up large tasks into smaller, more realistic chunks or subtasks. 

Write out the subtasks required for a larger project and tackle them as individual jobs or tasks, each with its own separate deadline. 

5. Create and use lists

Lists can help you visualize what steps to take and llet you record progress toward completing tasks and moving through your day. Break down each day’s list of tasks and responsibilities by the hour and allot a timeframe for each. Time management and creating lists can be invaluable for structuring your day’s activities, staying on task, and sidestepping procrastination.

6. Avoid multitasking

Thinking you have to complete many tasks at once can make starting on any one of them daunting. Streamline your workload by sticking to a process of doing 1 thing at a time instead of tackling multiple tasks at once. Avoiding multitasking can help you maintain your focus as well as your concentration. And it lets you focus on doing instead of procrastinating.

7. Tackle the hardest part first

Sometimes the hardest part of completing a task is just taking the first step – other times, another part of the process is the most challenging. Rather than trying to get yourself to get through a project and all the while dreading the difficulty to come, try tackling the hardest part first and get it out of the way. After that, the rest is far easier to work on and complete.

8. Take exercise breaks to overcome procrastination — really

Stepping away for a bit and clearing your mind can be beneficial and actually motivating. Besides being great for your health, taking a short break for walking, stretching, or exercising is a great way to jumpstart your thought process. If you’re having trouble getting started, exercise is a great way to find energy so you can return to the task at hand feeling renewed.

 It also offers a way to break from one task to another.

9. Reward yourself

People without ADHD tend to have less trouble with procrastination because their brains naturally reward them when they work on tasks — even doing the dishes can feel good. Without this natural tendency, it’s helpful to give yourself a small reward after you finish a task. Your reward can be anything from a short nap or a hot bath to a piece of chocolate or a leisurely walk in the park.

10. Enlist help

If you have ADHD and have a supportive friend, partner, or family member, have them help you break tasks into smaller pieces, monitor timelines, and work through overcoming procrastination. Even if they help in the beginning, creating new habits to help you stop procrastination is useful.

If you don’t have supportive friends or are struggling to go it alone or just need more support, find a ADHD therapist or medical provider to help with ADHD therapy or medication. ADHD is a chronic disorder and ADHD medication and therapy are effective ways to manage symptoms and the impacts of ADHD on your life.  A combination of both medication and therapy is often best.

Understanding symptoms of adult ADHD

ADHD is a complex condition. There are 3 types of ADHD — predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. Common symptoms across types in adults can include: 

  • Difficulty focusing or staying focused or being restless
  • Being hyper-focused on a single task or situation
  • Procrastinating or being unable to start — or complete — something
  • Fidgeting or squirming, impulsivity, and/or trouble prioritizing
  • Inattentiveness or an inability to pay attention
  • Trouble setting and managing priorities
  • Disorganization and poor time management
  • Forgetfulness
  • Low tolerance for frustration and a quick temper

There are also less common symptoms of ADHD, which add to the  complexity and include:

  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Time blindness
  • Mood swings
  • Problems forming or keeping relationships
  • Anxiety
  • Being overly sensitive
  • Problems with working memory

Even if you have some of these symptoms, you don’t necessarily have ADHD. Children and teens need at least 6 of these symptoms that persist for 6 or more months to be diagnosed. Adults need at least  5 symptoms to be diagnosed. The only way to get diagnosed is to see a licensed healthcare professional. 

Is your procrastination a sign of ADHD? Find out.

If you find yourself struggling to complete tasks that your peers have no problem tackling, and your procrastination is unmanageable, you may have adult ADHD. The good news is that you can get a judgment-free evaluation, diagnosis, and a tailored treatment plan all from the comfort of home. 

Simply find a provider on Klarity and schedule an initial consultation with a licensed ADHD professional. Appointments are often available in as little as 24 hours. And providers for therapy and medication management are available on Klarity.

Sources

CHADD, Diagnosis of ADHD in Adults, https://chadd.org/for-adults/diagnosis-of-adhd-in-adults/

National Institute of Mental Health, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Teens: What You Need to Know, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-in-children-and-teens-what-you-need-to-know

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