“Lost time is never found again.” Benjamin Franklin
If you have ADHD and/or are a chronic procrastinator, you’ve probably wondered why you can’t just get things done before the last minute. It’s not like you want to procrastinate; it’s this thing that just happens. And it keeps happening, no matter how many times you tell yourself it will be different next time.
Procrastination is a passive habit, which is partially why it is so hard to break. You have to be really creative and clever to outsmart your brain’s desire to avoid a project in front of you.
You want to be successful. And I want that for you too. So today I wanted to share with you some strategies that really do work. These tips work because they help you get around your urge to procrastinate. You don’t have to try to change who you are. Instead, you just need to change the way you work.
1. Always know what you will work on next
For me, the worst procrastination happens when I finish something and I’m wondering what I should do next. Big projects on my to-do list can start to seem like such a big commitment that I don’t even know where to start. So I don’t start, and the day gets away from me.
This won’t happen to you if you are prepared.
Every night, look at your to-do list. Decide which goal or goals are most important to work on tomorrow. What work will be the most meaningful?
Put 5 tasks on your to-do list, so that when you get to work tomorrow, you have 5 choices for where to start. When you finish one, now you have 4 choices of what to do.
You can even get more specific and rank them in order of importance. Start with the most important thing, and work from there. Don’t give yourself any option to deviate from the list — this is your plan, and this is what you will do.
2. Create super specific to-do tasks
If you procrastinate on big project because you are afraid to start or afraid to fail, try turning the project into as many tiny steps as you possibly can. Maybe you don’t feel confident that you can give a huge proposal to your company’s executive team. But I know you have the ability to google examples of good executive proposals. I know you can open a Word doc and write a paragraph about your idea.
Small steps are easy to do. They aren’t scary. And once you do one, the next one seems even easier.
It’s easy to go days without making progress on a big project because when you look at a task that’s too large, you know there’s no way you’ll be able to complete it today — so there’s little motivation to start chipping away at it.
You can fix this by turning every big project into a series of really small steps.
Spend time once a week (or even daily) turning your to-do’s into really specific actions. Close your eyes and visualize these specific actions. Instead of “edit blog post”, you might write:
- read blog post
- make changes in the doc
- send feedback/notes to the writer
- create title
- add blog post to the content calendar
Just like the last tip, this one is about leaving yourself no choice but to make progress. Every task should be so small that you can clearly answer yes or no if you did it.
3. Change your environment
If a place that you “work” frequently has become more of a place that you procrastinate frequently, you are more likely to fall into procrastination mode out of a kind of muscle memory. If you can, leave that place and go somewhere new like the library, a coffee shop, or another office or conference room in your building.
If you’re in an office where you can’t leave your desk, there are small ways to change your environment and make it easier to start working.
Instead of typing on your computer, see if there are steps you can do with on paper first. For example, outline a report you need to write using a pen and paper before typing it up on the computer. This accomplishes two things:
- it gives you an easy task to start with
- it changes what you’re looking at, so you approach the project with fresh eyes
4. See the value in certain kinds of procrastination
Do you ever use negative self-talk when you’re procrastinating? Do you think about how you’re lazy or stupid or how you always leave things to the last minute? This ADHD mind chatter is deafening.
That perspective is not motivating. The worse you feel about yourself, the less likely you are to feel ready to do the work you need to do.
Instead, consider this: sometimes procrastination is actually part of the process of doing amazing work.
When our minds are clear (like they are when we do things like taking a shower), our brains start using that free space to make connections. Information starts to fall into place. This free space is where great ideas come from.
So the next time you’re choosing to do a little task before starting on your big to-do, don’t get down on yourself. Acknowledge that this is part of the process. It is just one of many steps you will take in completing this project. Know that when you are done with this task, you’ll move on to the next step of your project.
Your confidence and new perspective will help that to actually come true.
5. Think about why you procrastinate – and work with it
Do you procrastinate because you need the pressure of a deadline? We know for the ADHD brain, that pressure increases dopamine and adrenaline and allows you to get stuff done. In fact, while neuro-typicals often crumble under this pressure, the ADHDer engages in hyper-focus and meets the deadline. If this works for you, try setting smaller deadlines for yourself over the course of a project. Break the project down into steps that you can complete in the weeks leading up to the due date.
Treat these deadlines like you would any other – even if that means working up to the last minute. The idea here is that by getting things done along the way, you have more overall time to do a better job than you would trying to do every single thing under the gun.
6. Hold yourself accountable – get an accountability partner
If you procrastinate because you struggle with motivation or accountability when you’re working on your own, try involving other people. Often, the pressure to not let other people down is far more motivating than the desire just to get the work done.
Ask a peer to help you put together an outline for your proposal, and set a date where you will have all of the necessarily materials ready for them to meet with you and help you.
Identify what’s really causing your procrastination, experiment with any of these strategies and soon you will make progress towards your goals, one step at a time.