Procrastination and ADHD

Are you one of those people for whom it could be said, “I’m procrastinating right now”?
I have that. And I recognize it from descriptions of ADHD. And recall that one of the ADHD doctors (Dr. Thomas Brown, perhaps? Not going to look it up, though) has pointed out that motivational tricks used for most people don’t work particularly well with ADHD people. Instead, he finds that they respond only to actual interest, novelty, or urgency. The promise of rewards (for example) does not work for them, possibly because time sense tends to be very skewed.

The question of procrastination came up on Quora recently, and Sara Wedeman wrote a rather extensive reply, some of which I’m excerpting here. (The question is “How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?”)

Of the seven predictors she identified in her doctoral thesis, I found these familiar:

  • Issues with Authority Figures (“I am the boss of me” syndrome)
  • Reality Interference (having too many things on one’s plate)
  • Issues re-Frustration Tolerance (easily frustrated and/or avoid the experience)
  • Unrealistic-to-completely-absurd planning skills

Reality Interference is a consequence of the others, but it’s likely to come up after the ADHD person is old enough (like, twenty). And lots of ADHD people also suffer from issues with authority figures. But lo and behold, frustration tolerance was the best single predictor.
And who has frustration intolerance? Yeah. People with ADHD. To quote:

There are nuances.
It’s not just a question of avoiding doing something that is frustrating, difficult, and anxiety provoking: the mere anticipation of frustration prevents the procrastinator from even starting.
People who procrastinate tend to avoid things they imagine to be frustrating – even if they turn out not to be so. Typically, they begin only when the consequences of notcompleting the task become, in their minds, more painful than the consequences of completing it.
Once that tipping point (pain of not doing exceeds pain of doing) is crossed, and they actually begin the task, they are often shocked to discover it was never that bad at all.
And, in fact, we see that often in advice on overcoming procrastination. “Get the first ten minutes in; you might discover that it’s not so bad. Not pleasant, but not so bad.”

Her suggestions for potential fixes?

  • Start with the low anxiety parts of the task first. That way, when the crisis hits, you’ll at least be better prepared.
  • Set exceptionally low goals. For instance, if you have a sink full of dirty dishes, set the goal of washing one fork. You’ll be surprised at how well this works. I mean it!
  • Set a timer, for a maximum of 20 minutes. Your goal is to do the task you’re avoiding for 20 minutes. After that, you must stop. It is a requirement.