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How to beat procrastination whether you have ADHD or not

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Procrastination is the habit of putting off activities we need to do and replacing them with something more pleasurable or less overwhelming. No matter if you have ADHD or not you’ve probably procrastinated at some point. In this article, we’ll talk about why we procrastinate, why it’s more common in people with ADHD, and how to beat procrastination.

Why do people procrastinate?

Procrastination: a memory issue?

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There are several ways to explain the cause of procrastination. Studies point to prospective memory as being responsible for procrastination in people with ADHD, especially in the inattention subtype.

Prospective memory is responsible for reminding you to perform a scheduled task (delayed intention). When it fails, a person with ADHD continually forgets his to-do tasks and therefore they accumulate, so the person is used to procrastination and its negative consequences.

People with ADHD are more prone to procrastinate because in addition to prospective memory problems, they also have difficulty moving attention from one task to another and tend to be hyperfocused on rewarding or interesting activities.

The role of emotions in procrastination 

What about everyone else? When the problem is not prospective memory, procrastination is explained by inadequate management of emotions.

What do emotions have to do with putting off tasks and spending time on something less important?

Well, our brain rejects those tasks that are stressful for us, that trigger anxiety or are associated with unpleasant environments. In other words, your procrastination problem may have to do with the habit of avoiding an unpleasant emotion. When this is the problem, it is necessary to identify which tasks generate negative emotions and seek professional help to solve them.

Six ways to beat procrastination whether you have ADHD or not

If you are reading this, you are probably aware that postponing your job impacts your professional progress, your economic stability, and your social life. Whether you have ADHD or not, these tips will help you beat procrastination.

1. Schedule external reminders for the day’s activities 

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Some studies have shown that using external resources, like alarm clocks, can help people with ADHD break the habit of procrastinating. External reminders are a basic tool to start overcoming procrastination. You can set reminders yourself or ask for help from friends and family.

2. Reward your effort

When you receive an external reminder that there is a task to do and you decide to do it, you are overcoming the habit of procrastination. Once you finish the task you can reward yourself with 15 minutes of relaxation or a snack.

Your brain will learn that doing a task results in a benefit and, little by little, you will create the habit of not leaving for tomorrow what you can do today.

3. Identify what emotions you postpone the most and what emotions you associate with them 

If you stop to think about what makes you reject or postpone certain activities, you will find a starting point to beat procrastination.

Let’s look at an example:

A college student with ADHD may procrastinate due to a lack of skills in a subject or thinking that he is not capable of coping with said tasks. In the first case, academic reinforcement would make him feel more secure and reduce the anxiety caused by assignments. In the second case, confronting reality with the idea he has of his abilities would help him regain his self-confidence. In both cases, the interventions are aimed at resolving the emotion that the student associates with the task and therefore will improve their way of approaching it.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is especially useful in these cases.

4. Delegate those tasks that are too stressful for you 

Sometimes it takes time to identify what you find stressful about certain tasks. In those cases, you should make use of other tools so that your efficiency is not affected by procrastination.

Delegating is another way to take charge of a task on the spot. When you delegate, you are guaranteeing that a pending will be attended to on time by a trained or skillful person.

Of course, not everything can be delegated, but it is a strategy that you can use responsibly to break the habit of procrastinating. It will prevent your to-do list from growing.

5. Change perspectives

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Another way to beat procrastination is by changing your perspective. Behind each activity we carry out, there must be a motivation: to obtain a university degree, gain experience, earn a salary, or the satisfaction of being part of something special.

Sometimes procrastination is related to the loss of perspective. When you notice that you have great difficulty fulfilling your duties, take a break, and reflect on your reasons for being where you are and doing what you do. If you find it useful, you can make a list that serves as a reminder and motivation.

6. Get into the habit of taking short breaks and setting reasonable objectives

Whether you have a lot of to-dos piling up or you’re just tackling the day’s tasks, alternating work periods with short breaks will help you meet your daily goals.

These two strategies will help you take baby steps toward accomplishing many small goals instead of running a marathon to accomplish a full day. In this way, your brain will be rewarded every time you complete a proposed objective, but remember to reward your effort at the end of each one.

You can use apps and track your daily, weekly, and yearly progress.

In short, procrastination is not limited to ADHD and should not be viewed as impossible to overcome. Overcoming procrastination is a process that consists of small steps to first achieve small goals. Working on controlling your emotions and making use of technological tools will help you along the way. In the end, procrastination will be a thing of the past.

If you consider that you or a loved one has a case of procrastination that interferes with its proper functioning, request an appointment to be advised by one of our specialists.

Edited by: Maddison Henley, PA-C

Animo Sano Psychiatry is open for patients in North Carolina. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, please contact us.

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