You're not weird, just normal for ADHD
It's a known fact that procrastination is a big factor in people with ADD / ADHD. So last week I put out a 2-question survey to see just how much we really do procrastinate. I also wanted to see if there might be some truth to the idea that some of us sort of enjoy the rush of last-minute panic.
Here are the results from ADD readers:
The great majority — 93% — said they “often procrastinate.” A full 83% said they come up against deadlines (only 9% didn't have deadlines in their lives). This would seem to indicate that most of these procrastinators are not feeling very stressed about the deadlines. Why not?
Why we continue to procrastinate so much:
The answer is the way most of our brains are wired, based on the response to the survey question:
“Which response is MOST like you, when you are under the pressure of a deadline coming up fast?”
- 16% feel overwhelmed and paralyzed at a deadline, like a “deer in the headlights.”
- 36% of us feel our brain kicking into gear once a deadline is approaching.
- 48%, almost half, say their response to a deadline depends on the situation.
The “fight” response of adrenaline shows up in these responders more than twice as often as the “flight” response. That means that people with ADD / ADHD are more likely than not to feel confident that they will perform well as they get closer to the deadline. Once they really feel the pressure of the deadline, their brain starts to focus.
Of course, this confidence is sometimes too optimistic, judging from the fact that procrastination was the most often cited challenge that ADD Adults said they have at work. But these results explain why the procrastination habit is so persistent. That doesn't mean the habit can't be broken; just that we need to find the right strategies that will work for our ADD brains.
Oh my gosh, I am such a procrastinator and I hate it! I feel like a failure most of the time because I wait until the last minute to do stuff. I started taking medication for it. I guess it hasn’t kicked in yet. (ADD meds, not procrastination meds!)
Medication is great for focus, but may not help procrastination. If you procrastinate by focusing on the wrong things, medication could help you focus REALLY WELL on the wrong things!
Hu man zee
This is it exactly – the medication I take helps my focus tremendously, on all of the things I am doing to avoid taking the steps to get a job/project done.
Needless to say, it’s always an all-nighter when something is done. Significantly, it almost *always* has to do with confidence; either I am reluctant to start because I want it to be *perfect* and am not sure of my abilities, or I’m afraid I won’t be able to accomplish what I set out to do. Of course, either way I shoot myself in the foot.
I agree with ADDicted to Stress below, it would be helpful to have some strategies although, I know the adage, how do you eat an elephant, blah blah blah. My way is wait until I’m really hungry and then start chowing on it’s leg.
I love what you are doing here with the questions and responses. Love your blog and always look forward to finding a tidbit to help me and my mate find ways to get stuff done without killing each other’s souls (we’re both affected darnit).
This procrastination has been in me for umteen dozens of years, in high school I waited till the evening before to start writing my book report….stayed up all night and thru the morning, finished in time to go to shcool and I got an “A” grade. This book report was three or four months in the making and discussions in school. Most people started a month ahead of time and finished okay. I waited until the last evening to start.
Two times, my junior year and my senior year…one was English class in literature and the other was American History class. Both same as last desperate one evening only…stayed up all night….got an “A’ in both and in the senior year, looking back…..if I flunked that singular item, I might not have graduated from High School back in 1958. But I did, and even went on to college….
In college, this ADHD cool-cat flunked the first semester, I had to go back again and I did finally finish. My Dad said at the graduation ceremonies….Congradulations Son, I thought you would never make it ! (heh) (heh) (you think it is funny ?)
Procrastination….yep. I sure know how to to it….even now a days…..However, Today I know why and no longer feel depressed like I used to. Thanks to people like you. Like alcoholism, of which I am an expert….it always remains. It is how to behave day x day. AA says no drink only one day, today. So BB says no sweat procrastination….just kick some ass and get the right stuff done – just only for today. Only one day….one day at a time. However, I still do drink but I am not a habitual drinker. I still do procrastinate, the procrastination is getting smaller, just a little smaller – bit x bit = one day at a time……whew !!!! In both ideas, my inner Spiritual Development is mandatory.
ADDicted to Stress
And those strategies might be? I would love to see a list. I’ve often said to people that my best work is done when I rush to meet a deadline and then there just happens to be some time afterwards that pops up. I get the rush to get it done but then the time to reflect after. But for some reason I couldn’t have known about the reprieve, then I think my brain follows the adage: “give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile.”
Make a commitment to read Bonnie’s guide “The Keys to Following Through,” but don’t just read it once. Keep it as a tool that you will refer to for one specific situation you are struggling with. Then notice and write down what is working plus write out the way you would have handled the struggle in the past. It is a real learning process.
As I get older, it seems instead of kicking into hi gear, I fold like a lawn chair and cannot perform at all.
Cathy, This is your wisdom kicking in. Writing out a mind map as Bonnie suggests will get you re-energized because you will start with the end in mind and then fill out the steps to get there. Good luck.
I have recently wondered about the procrastination issue. Can someone tell me if its actually a function of ADHD or is it due to low self confidence and low self esteem that prohibits a person from even attempting a task in the first place due to a perceived impending failure? The fight response to meet a deadline is just that; a rush of adrenaline response to a threat whether from a teacher or employer or possibly a relationship.
Humans are so complex, it’s hard to say whether a behavior like procrastination is just one thing. It’s very common for people with ADHD to procrastinate, and one typical reason is avoidance. In your case, it sounds like you’re saying that you avoid starting due to fear of the outcome (possible failure). You may have very high and rigid standards for yourself, or you may be reacting fearfully due to past criticism.
SUGGESTION: Write down what would be the best case, worst case and most realistic case of what would happen if you got started, and compare it to the same for NOT starting. Putting it down on paper logically may break the fear-based impasse.
For me procrastination results from several triggers; when I start a project that will involve multiple and varied components for which I have no clearcut step-by step instructions; I have the big picture of the end goal and major steps to take to achieve it, but each step is new and something that I need to research and learn in order to accomplish that it becomes so overwhelming that I even procrastinate in writing down each step, breaking it down into manageable steps and scheduling them as mini deadlines, because I look around at all the other things that I need to do it seems to me in order to allow me to devote myself totally to the bigger project and as a result nothing gets done. How’s that for a run-on sentence? Well that’s how my ADD brain works. Also in another situation where the end goal does not motivate me but I’ve committed to it, I start late but should finish on time if I didn’t totally freeze up and find myself in a fog in the last crucial moments critical to completing the task on time. So for me it isn’t fear of failure, but it is fear of success that causes me to procrastinate.
Sounds like disinterest rather than fear of the end goal. But, since you know that you tend to freeze up under pressure (rather than kick into gear), what you consider to be “last minute” needs to start a lot earlier!
Thanks for point that out. You are very perceptive. At the time that I wrote my comment I was procrastinating on something that I was not at all interested in and was not motivated. In fact when I have a great interest in a project, I jump right in and actually over focus. As the deadline nears the adrenaline sets in and I always finish it on time.
I procrastinate because my brain operates in the “Now and not now mode.” This means that I have so much to do all the time, that I can only focus on what is due “now” and can’t focus on much else, the “not now.” Hence, until the deadline approaches, I can’t focus on it because my ability to focus on multiple tasks is limited.
You could give yourself mini deadlines to complete steps of the project, within the parameters of the final deadline.
I really love the options that Bonnie offers to help learn and apply strategies for success. It occurs to me that with ADD we have compensated for many concerns overtime, and there are so many aspects to consider. Even with shared aspects like procrastination, there will be very specific (very individual) ways of managing through it. For example, the alarm on your phone or alarm clock in your house will help you stay on track and start your day on time, but using the tips and tricks to stay on time through the day (while interacting with others) will need to happen. Some of us have compensated by making the decision to be an hour early to every travel event to have that cushion of time. But if others control timing it can be a worry too. Yesterday I was in a work environment where it is understood that the manager’s calendar will change all through the day as standard operating procedure. To me this seemed like a commitment to procrastination in real time. As we struggle there are also other influences around us to try to manage too! Learning to compensate in the environments that we don’t control will be important.
I enjoy all the blog comments because it helps to know what others are thinking! Now I will switch gears from my planned procrastination time to getting back on track. Good luck to all!
RE your manager’s “Commitment to procrastination in real time” — interesting concept! Either he’s being flexible for his own time being “off,” or responding to people around him being late.
Yes… now that you pointed this out I think it is that his own time is “off” and I should think of ways to help with that. Say for example with children it is suggested to give them a 5 minute warning. Perhaps I can try something like that to get him ready to transition. A few years a go I bought a little machine that I wanted to use for speech practice. You set it to guide the speaker with several settings. Then it shows a green light, yellow light, and red light. I wonder if this little device could help a manager prepare to transition. Hmmm…
Kim S Racchini
I call it my “procrastination adrenalin” that helps me get things done. I would like to know how to get that to kick in early in a project so I don’t waste time worrying about not getting things done. I would rather spend that time with the satisfaction of knowing I am done, but how can I get started?
You can’t really force adrenaline, but I’ve identified 9 different reasons we have trouble getting started, with solutions for each. They’re explained in my Thrive with ADD downloadable class, “The Keys to Getting Started” with audio recording and complete notes.
Wow I really found this email on ADD and procrastination insightful. When I was growing up in grade school I struggled with my focus. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t like others. We didn’t have Ritalin or Adderal. I grew up feeling stupid and insecure. When I was working I procrastinated on projects and actually liked that rush. I’ve also been diagnosed as Bipolar. (I might have been manic!). In my adult life I used cocaine, I go to NA. My psych doctor won’t prescribe ADD meds because she feels it might trigger my addiction. Sooo, I still struggle but I have more awareness to cope. Thanks everyone
I’d learned in my ADHD Coaching training that studies were done showing that treating ADHD with stimulant medication correlated to LESS likelihood of recreational drug abuse, and that ADHD cocaine abusers who were prescribed medication treatment reduced their need for cocaine. In a quick Google search I found this article from the National Institute of Drug Abuse: Medications Reduce Incidence of Substance Abuse Among ADHD Patients. It’s from 1999, but there’s likely to be something more recent on the topic.