How to procrastinate less (without forcing yourself to just "do it") if you're an ADHD woman
If you have, or think you may be ADHD, it’s very likely that you struggle with procrastination. In fact, even if you’re neurotypical you may resonate with some of what I’m sharing in this blog so do read on for some insights I hope you’ll find helpful!
This blog outlines the top three reasons we procrastinate and gives you some handy ways to work your way around them. Leaving you feeling more productive and less worried about wasted time.
Reason 1 - The task is WAY too big
This is probably the most common reason people avoid the “task in hand”
If you find yourself doing literally ANYTHING other than what you were planning to get started on, ask yourself this -
Is what I’m trying to tackle a task, or is it actually a project masquerading as a task?
What I mean here is that when we find ourselves avoiding doing “the thing” it’s often because it’s so big our brain can’t figure out where to start.
For example, “create presentation for…meeting/event/etc”
Now it’s not unreasonable to consider this a task, sure, it’s something which needs to be done.
But creating a presentation is a complex beast including (not exhaustively)
Deciding on the subject
Researching/pulling together info on said subject
Whittling down to the most important information
Creating an outline
Creating the slides (designing each one perhaps!)
Deciding what does and doesn’t go on the slides
Making sure it will work with the tech you’re going to be using…
Still with me? See how HUGE this task actually is compared with a simple “create presentation” entry on your to do list?
What to do about it
When you find yourself stalling, avoiding and procrastinating over something you need to get done, ask yourself if you’re trying to tackle a project in one fell swoop…
Break it down.
Brain dump out ALL the possible things you might need to do to complete the task (project)
Then see if any of these things can be broken down into even smaller things
Figure out if there’s a natural flow to what needs to be done:
For example, do you need to gather information first (although watch out for this as a sneaky procrastination tactic too as procrastination can be very “productive” while we’re busy avoiding the hard stuff)
THEN you can move onto the outline, then design one slide, then another and so on
Breaking things down into small tasks means we can take consistent steps forward without going into freeze mode because we’re overwhelmed by the size of the task we’re facing.
We all know how to eat an elephant right…? This is exactly the same approach!
(If you don’t know, keep reading for the answer)
Reason 2 - It’s really boring
This is less obvious as it is more of an ADHD specific problem, though not exclusively as humans are built to be pleasure seekers by nature.
Research has shown that the ADHD brain develops in a way which means that dopamine isn’t processed in the same way as in a neurotypical brain.
Dopamine is one of the main neurotransmitters in the “pleasure” centre of the brain. With an ADHD brain, it’s often the case that it has to work harder/more consistently to fire the reward response of dopamine (I’m keeping this deliberately simple - this point is about things being boring remember - short and sweet for the win!)
An ADHD brain is constantly trying to find that dopamine reward, meaning that boring tasks are like kryptonite… In some people, this can even feel physically painful when faced with a mundane, routine task, so it makes total sense that avoiding it by procrastinating and doing something which is actively more fun or rewarding becomes a go to response.
I remember whilst doing some temp work I had to send 8 letters out by email to confirm whether the individual had been accepted to a programme or not, and whether they would receive a scholarship if they had.
EIGHT emails. It took me all day. Well, it didn’t take me all day, it took me around 90 minutes (there was some cross checking of spreadsheets which was also challenging for my brain) but the physical sensations of not being ABLE to do them lasted 8 ½ hours - yup, I finally started doing them at 5.30pm when I was meant to finish work at 5pm…
This challenge is very real for those of us with an ADHD brain (and I had no idea I was ADHD back then) but there are things we can do to help:
(for someone who doesn’t experience this and is thinking “what an idiot, why didn’t she just do it and get it over with” I politely suggest that you cannot and will never understand this so please keep your suggestions to yourself…)
Break it down - as above, even boring tasks can be made more manageable by making the steps as small as possible
Make it more fun - as I’ve mentioned already, our brains are constantly on the hunt for dopamine. Putting some favourite songs on to boost your mood can help (as long as they don’t distract you too much)
Or creating a challenge, how much progress could you make on this is 5 mins for example, can make things feel more like a game and therefore more fun
Reward yourself - after every tiny step, give yourself a “reward”. This can literally be something as small as giving yourself a mental “high five” for doing it but this will light up the reward centre in your brain, means you associate doing this boring thing with a dopamine hit and therefore make you more likely to want to do it.
If I’d given myself permission to do something I enjoy eg. reading for 5 mins (yes I would have to be strict about stopping!) after sending 2 emails for example it would have made it far more rewarding and wouldn’t have taken me all day to get them done…
Figure out what works for you to make things more fun and more rewarding and see whether your procrastination pixies chill out for a few minutes…
Reason 3 You don’t trust yourself to make the (right) decision
The sneaky, but probably most impactful reason why you’re procrastinating could be a lack of self trust…
Is what you’re avoiding doing something which could have knock on effects for your life or others lives?
If you’re ADHD, and especially if this has gone undiagnosed for decades it’s very likely that you’ve been taught that you CAN’T trust yourself.
If your judgement has been undermined, you’ve been told repeatedly that the decisions you make are “wrong” (in other’s opinions at least) or not the way things should be done, then it makes total sense that you might not trust your ability to know what’s right.
This can lead to a feeling of paralysis when faced with a decision, even if on the surface it feels like a fairly minor decision.
When the choice you make will have an impact on others too, it enhances the “freeze” feeling because we’re worried we’re going to get it “wrong” - just as we’ve been told repeatedly that this is what we do over the years…
This starts in childhood where our natural creativity might have ended up in our being told off for making a mess, or our dream of becoming a professional musician is stifled in favour of following a “traditional” career path such as becoming a doctor or a teacher.
By the time we become “proper” grown ups (by which I mean responsible for our own living environment, income and overall wellbeing) these beliefs that what you choose is “wrong” can be so ingrained that when faced with making a decision about something now, it causes you to avoid doing this at all costs…
What to do about this:
We humans tend to operate in an all or nothing way the majority of the time. Things are either right or wrong when we imagine them, however, the truth is usually somewhere in between.
It’s likely if you feel stuck around a decision (and are therefore procrastinating) you’re imagining the worst case scenario happening for any choice you make.
When you notice this reluctance to decide, try consciously to think what the worst case scenario truly is, and then also think about the best case scenario.
By reminding yourself that the best case scenario is as likely as the worst case (neither is very likely, it will almost certainly be somewhere in the middle) it can relieve some of the tension around making the decision.
Doing this for both/all options can also help you figure out which has the most likelihood of leading towards what you want.
In the grander context of life…
A lack of trust in your own decisions can be debilitating, frustrating and cause all sorts of problems in itself.
You may find you leave all decisions to other people in your life and then feel as though you have no autonomy, or you may become a perpetual people pleaser which can lead to resentment that you never get what you really want or say what you really want to say.
Building self-trust is a key part of cultivating a better relationship with yourself, and by default with others as a knock on effect of this.
In ADHD, this is especially important as we’re operating in a world which isn’t designed with us and our needs in mind, meaning that almost everything can feel harder.
When we’re also battling a lack of self trust, we can feel even more ashamed, helpless and isolated which means our self-esteem is being constantly worn down.
While it may seem that this isn’t linked to procrastination, the truth is that having a strong relationship with yourself, trusting your own judgement and your ability to decide what is right for you is incredibly important, and empowering.
When you know you can trust your decisions, the likelihood of procrastination goes down HUGELY as you become clearer on what you need and much more decisive - wins all round.
So, the three main reasons you may find yourself procrastinating are:
1 - the task is too big (*and you eat an elephant one bite at a time obviously!)
2 - what you’re trying to do is really boring (kryptonite for us ADHDers)
3 - you may not trust yourself to make decisions
I hope the ideas I’ve shared will help you reduce how much you procrastinate, however, if you feel that procrastination is really getting in your way please know that
You’re not alone in this and
You don’t need to struggle through it without help
I guide busy brained women who are, or think they may be ADHD to feel empowered in their lives through my signature blend of practical tools and techniques and deeper, compassion led coaching.
This leads to them feeling capable, clear about what they want and confident about making changes in their lives to support themselves and work WITH their brains.
If what I’ve shared with you in this blog resonates and YOU want to procrastinate less, feel more productive and start feeling as though YOU are the one guiding your life you can book a FREE call with me about working together, just click HERE.