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for Attention Deficit Disorder Adults

Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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ADHD Derailment delays college graduation

How to avoid your study plans veering off-track

DERAILMENT is the last of the “4 D's” that ADHD college students (and anyone involved in a course of study) need to watch out for, after Disorganization, Denial, and Distraction.

Although Derailment can be the ultimate result if the other three problems are left unchecked, it's also a problem on its own.

The dictionary defines “Derailment” as:

  • to cause (a train, streetcar, etc.) to run off the rails of a track.
  • to cause to fail or become deflected from a purpose; reduce or delay the chances for success

Two big (non-academic) ways ADHD students often get tripped up are 1) unexpected roadblocks, and 2) perfectionism.

DERAILED by Unexpected Roadblocks

Anyone who waits until the last minute before beginning an assignment needs to count on everything going well, with no unpleasant surprises.

Unfortunately, many ADD / ADHD students don't even look at the assignment until the night before.   At that point, you can't afford to have anything go wrong.  But how often does that happen?

At the very least, the paper is likely to take much longer than you thought it would.  But there are a number of other possible roadblocks:

  • You have questions about the assignment and can't reach the professor.
  • You find that some preliminary work was required.
  • You can't find your notes and handouts from the class.
  • You can't access the study environment or library materials that you need.
  • You suffer a laptop or internet connection breakdown.

Any of these not-uncommon conditions can keep you from turning in the paper on time.  That can affect your grade.  If enough instances like this happen, you could fail the course.  And this kind of habit is what derails you from reaching your academic goal.

As a ritual, make it a point of performing these “pre-steps” for every assignment before you plan to begin the work.

  1. Look over the assignment in advance.
  2. Be clear about the different action steps required to fulfill it.
  3. Estimate how long each step will take.
  4. Get your materials ready.
  5. Plan in your calendar when you'll do each step.*

*Even if you don't begin working on it until the night before, if you've done Pre-Steps 1 through 4, you won't be derailed by unexpected surprises.


The second reason for derailment is a tendency I find in many people with ADD-ADHD:  Perfectionism!    I don't know what percentage of ADD students could be called perfectionists, but it's a challenge for at least 75% of my ADHD Coaching clients.

If you tend to be a perfectionist, you're probably spending much more time on each assignment than the professor intended.  So you can run into problems in getting all your work done.  This tendency, when compounded with a habit of not starting until the last minute, provides a perfect storm of all-nighters.

Before you make yourself crazy over every assignment, ask the professor for pointers on how to determine what is actually required, and where you're going into overkill.   If you fall into hyper-focus over unimportant details or excess research, set a timer for intervals to work rapidly and try to get each step finished before the timer goes off.

Have you been derailed by unexpected roadblocks or perfectionism?  What kinds of problems resulted?

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Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.



    This was a great blog! I am a witness to working on a paper the night before and running into all of the roadblocks mentioned!! I also fall into the “Perfectionism” group to the point that I did not complete my Master’s degree thesis for graduation because of hyper-focus, over analyzing,etc. I plan to return and complete my degree in the near future and will use your wisdom and class information to help through to graduation. Your ministry to the ADD world is a blessing. Thank you!

    GO Robyn! I hope you do go back and get that MA degree. Let me know!

    Lynn Root

    You can never hear this enough, the dreaded 4 D’s are ever present. But these short, to-the-point strategies ratchet down the fear and frustration and remind me that if I just keep a grip on to the solutions, stay glued to the steps, I will come ok at the other end. You nailed it again, Bonnie! Thanks.

    Lynn, I’m so glad it helped. “One step at a time” isn’t exciting, but it’s progress.

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Bonnie, there are no words to express how deeply I’ve been affected by your blog! I’ve only read a few things, but they have created such a complete mind shift that the tears shed have washed away my struggles forever!

For the first time in my life I feel understood and hopeful that I can put some tools and systems in place to help me overcome!”

—Michelle near Seattle

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Find out what's REALLY stopping you with free "Procrastination Tree" Tool for Adult ADD / ADHD.