ADD and procrastination go hand in hand. It isn’t hard to see why. Procrastination is the art of putting something off, often because there are more interesting things to do, or because the required task seems boring, long, or unwieldy. All of this plays right into the sweet spot of ADHD. How easy is it find something better to be doing when virtually everything is a stimulus to an alternate train of thought? And, before a long, boring, task even begins, the ADD mind is looking for something that will provide more promising stimulus.
Everyone gets distracted, but what makes ADD different than normal distraction is both the level and the frequency of the distraction. A person without ADHD may clean out the basement without ever even noticing what is on the boxes he is using for organizing a pile of clutter. A person with ADD might not only notice, but be reminded not only of whence the box came, and perhaps, other “important” tasks or thoughts that are related, however tangentially, to what is on that box.
If you’ve ever picked up an empty storage box, seen the old writing from your time in the college dorms on the side, remembered that the alumni association was having some sort of event that you were meaning to go to because an old classmate said they would be there the last time you talked on the phone, and then left before filling a single box because you remembered that your cell phone needed charging, and never came back because while you were upstairs, you noticed that crack in the wall you’d been meaning to fix, you know what I’m talking about.
Procrastination Getting Worse
The catch to procrastination is that it often grows upon itself. I call this progressive procrastination, although there may already be a scientific term for it that I am unaware of.
Progressive procrastination happens in two ways. First, with each task that is procrastinated, the list of projects that require attention grows. Life never stops and just because you didn’t finish cleaning out the basement doesn’t mean that your small business taxes won’t come due until you are done. Rather, your taxes and basement are now both on the list and procrastinating on either one simply moves it further down (or up, depending on how you think about things) an ever growing list.
At a certain point, the list becomes unmanageable. Shortly thereafter, it becomes a fantasy. A list with thirty long-term, do them now, tasks is simply not reasonable. At this point, the average ADDer takes one of three roads:
- Keep adding to the list. — All of the tasks are real and need to be done, so there is no need to remove them from the list.
- Start over — If a list isn’t realistic, then it makes sense to make one that is.
- Try to “do better” — The list is a personal failure that can be fixed by self-improvement or improving how things are done. At this point, yours truly invents a new organizational system, or better yet, spends hours online researching all possible organizational methods including trying to find special ADD calendars, ADHD organizers, or other ADD management systems.
The problem with all three of these methods is that they set up the ADDer for more failure in the future.
Method one ensures that the list will never be done and that one will never feel the satisfaction of completing the list. Without the reward feedback of the feeling of accomplishment on a job well done, the mind not only fails to construct motivational pathways that may lead to success in the future, it lets those that sit unused wither away.
Method two may lead to the completion of the list, but it might be nothing more than a hollow victory. Most people with ADD are introspective from years of asking questions about why things seem to work differently in themselves than in others. They are not easily fooled into taking pride in accomplishing a “dumbed down” list of tasks. Furthermore, the tasks that were dropped from the list are further embedded in the psyche as “unimportant” or “delay-able”. After all, if they were dropped from the list in the first place, how important can they really be?
Method three is, of course, simply more procrastination. No organizational system in the world makes a list of necessary functions smaller. In fact, the time spent creating, developing, or finding the perfect ADD organizer may add to the growing list of procrastinated tasks because that time is not being used to complete other items before they fall onto the “to-do list”. In other words, if your list is long because you forgot you needed to do those things, then by all means, find a better organizational system to suit your ADD. On the other hand, if you can recite that list backwards and forwards because certain things have been on it for so long, you don’t need a new system, you need to do some of the things on the list.
I wish I had a great solution, but I suffer from progressive procrastination myself.
I’ll offer two tidbits in hopes that they may bring enough boost that we can make progress.
- You always overestimate your willingness to do something later. — This is that “I don’t really feel up to it, so I’ll do it when I feel better about it,” excuse. It is a lie. If you have a killer headache and don’t want to do something noisy, that makes sense. To see if you are fooling yourself however, go do one of the quiet things on your list. If you won’t do that either, then the problem isn’t your headache. What can be helpful here is knowing, in advance, that you are lying to yourself. That way when you hear it in your head, you know it is a lie. Don’t let that pass. Be offended, just like you would be if someone else lied to you. That indignation may be just enough to keep yourself from believing that you will feel like doing it later, because you and I and your brain know that you won’t.
- Procrastination is a pretty girl (or boy) lying because they can get away with it. — Have you ever noticed how sweet the little voice in your head is when it wants to procrastinate? “Oh, don’t worry. You work fast. You can get it done later. You always do.” Now see that pretty little voice batting its eyes at you with its bald faced flattery. Picture that smug little smile that says, “it worked before and it will work again. You are nothing but putty in my hands.” Procrastination always gets its way by being sweet and manipulative. “I know you have that big project due, but it won’t take long to help me with this video game. Come on. You know you want to.” — Trust me. If you picture that pretty girl or pretty boy who always got away with everything just because they were pretty and always sweetly lying their way into getting what they wanted, you’ll despise that little procrastination voice in your head and do the opposite just to spite it. The trick is making yourself see it, because when you don’t want to, the voice will sound a lot more like the truth. Good flattery always does.
What are your tricks for avoiding progressive procrastination? How long do they usually work for you before you have to regroup?