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ADHD Secrets to Overcoming Procrastination

Overcoming procrastination is a big challenge for adults with ADHD. Of course, procrastination is a challenge for most people, so there's a lot of advice about how to overcome it. Regardless, I bet you still procrastinate. And I bet you think it's your fault.

Many ADHDers blame themselves because they continue to struggle with procrastination. You dutifully follow the advice of every new book, Web site, blog and seminar claiming to have the latest "cure" for procrastination. Nothing works. Since all the testimonials state unequivocally that this latest method is "the best ever," it must be your fault, right?

It's Not Your Fault

Wrong. It's not your fault at all. I recently read a "time management tip" that suggested the best way to overcome procrastination was to start things right away. If you could start things right away just by deciding to do so, procrastination's not the problem, is it? But let's dig a little deeper to get to the root of the problem.

Why do ADHDers procrastinate? Most people procrastinate because they don't want to do what they're putting off. They simply prefer to do something else instead. However, they are capable of overcoming procrastination. They can decide that even though it's unpleasant, boring or just not pressing, it is important and therefore they will do it even though they don't want to.

Your Brain Works Differently

As an ADHDer, you procrastinate because your brain is not activated. If your brain isn't turned on, you can't force yourself to take action. The first key to overcoming procrastination for an ADHDer, then, is to know how to turn your brain on. Paul Wender, a renowned ADHD researcher has identified four things that activate your ADHD brain: "sense of interest, challenge, novelty, and sometimes, urgency." It's little wonder you only get moving on tasks you'd rather not do when you face a looming deadline!

Since we've all been taught we should focus on what's "important" instead of what's interesting, challenging, new, or even urgent, it's easy to feel there's no way to stop procrastination. You're not doomed to procrastinate, but because your brain works differently, your strategy for overcoming procrastination must be different too.

Overcoming Procrastination

The entire personal productivity industry exists to teach people how to sift what's important from what's urgent, and how to focus all their energies only on what's important. This strategy works well if your brain is activated by importance. But importance does not activate the ADHD brain.

There are parts of your job you love. There are probably also parts you hate. In between are "filler" activities you neither love nor hate. They don't activate your brain, but if your brain is already "turned on" you have no difficulty doing them.

The secret to overcoming procrastination is to divide and conquer (your job, project or whatever you're trying to accomplish.) If you put off starting a project, you'll end up scrambling at the last minute to complete it. You use the "urgency" of the situation to ignite your brain. It works, but it likely aggravates the people you're working with. It also forces you into a corner.

You no longer have time to enjoy the activities you love. You rush through the filler activities, not delivering the quality you're capable of, and you still end up doing the parts you don't like to do, but under far more unpleasant circumstances. In fact, the whole experience is likely to cause you to procrastinate even more the next time.

What's Your Process?

Instead, look at your work as a process where many of the steps you take are repeated for each project. This allows you to consider why you procrastinate more carefully. You don't "always" procrastinate. You only procrastinate when you don't find the task novel, interesting or challenging. But if it's not novel, interesting or challenging, you have no choice but to procrastinate. It's only by waiting until the last minute that you'll at least have a sense of urgency to activate your brain.

Some of the activities in your process must be done in a particular order, but other activities can be done currently. Still others can be done at any time before the end of the project. You may even be able to delegate some tasks you never considered before. Analyse the component activities of your process and separate them into the things you love, the things you would rather not do and the filler activities.

Building Momentum Makes It a Snap

The next time you're tempted to procrastinate as you start a new project, simply pick out the parts of the process you find most interesting, challenging or novel. Start doing those activities to activate your brain. If you give yourself permission to only tackle the "fun parts," you won't even be tempted to procrastinate. You'll be eager to start those activities. Once you're on a roll, tackle some of the less enjoyable or filler tasks until you run out of steam. Once you lose interest, return to do one of the activities you love until you build up momentum again.

As the deadline approaches, the growing sense of urgency gives a last little push to get those disagreeable tasks done. You'll still rush to finish the project, but you'll only have a few tasks left instead of the entire project. You'll even enjoy the parts of the process you love. On your next, you'll want to start work, at least on the parts you enjoy.

Overcoming procrastination for an adult with ADHD is a matter of learning what activates your brain and making sure it's turned on before you try to work. It seems obvious, but it is the complete opposite of productivity guru's "best practices" for overcoming procrastination.


Once you discover the secrets to overcoming procrastination for adults with ADHD, you can almost completely eradicate procrastination. If you'd like to learn more about delivering projects the right way, sign-up for the STRONGER Entrepreneur email course on project management.

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