How to Conquer the Misery of Getting Started with ADHD

Procrastination isn’t unique to people with ADHD, but it’s experienced more extremely and more consistently. Believed to be a challenge with planning, organization and task-management, procrastination is also caused by the rollercoaster of negative emotions triggered by the stress of doing certain tasks.

Why Do We Procrastinate? Tired Woman Face Buried in hands

According to Drs. Fushia Sirois and Tim Pychl, authors of Procrastination, Health and Well-Being, procrastination is an emotional management problem. In their 2013 study, Dr. Pychyl and Dr. Sirois found that procrastination is focusing on "the immediate urgency of managing negative moods," rather than on the task at hand. 

ADHD and Procrastination 

People with ADHD experience challenges with managing the ups and downs of intense emotions, such as frustration, irritation and self-doubt. After consistent experiences with “I’m not good enough,” “what will people think of me,” “this is hard,” or “what if I do a bad job,” these negative associations with certain tasks tend to worsen putting them off. Even for someone who recognizes the costs of delaying a task, the perceived threat of performing the task creates stress, depression, anxiety and poor health. 

Telling yourself or your loved one to simply stop procrastinating and get started only creates resistance and more stress. 

Here are three strategies to reduce procrastination when you’re living with ADHD.

Pinpoint the Discomfort  Girl Ignoring Parents

In his book, Indistractable, author Nir Eyal discusses a study, where participants who were told to avoid thinking of a white bear for five minutes, thought of the white bear on an average of once per minute. Suppressing the thought caused it to boomerang more prominently in their minds later. Resisting an urge can therefore trigger rumination and make the desire grow stronger. 

Consider a person with ADHD, where ruminating and mulling over the work that needs to be done can be stimulating. Add impulsivity, distractibility and frustration into the mix, and we have fertile ground for procrastinating. Plainly instructing yourself or your teen to get the work done, and “Don’t surf the net," "don't go on Facebook,” or “leave your phone alone and do your homework” can backfire. We don't realize the seeds we are unintentionally planting. At the same time, we tend to become critical and judgmental when our kids, partners, or even we defy our parameters. 

Quick Tips:

• Nir Eyal recommends that we focus on the discomfort that made the work difficult to get started on before the distraction occurred. For example, what made the task so emotionally tough before going on Facebook, surfing the internet, or getting caught up on the phone. 

• Examine what kinds of tasks you or your loved one tends to put off.

• What was the time of day? 

• What were the preceding behaviors or actions? 

• What were the distractors?

• Educate yourself on any patterns. 

Loosen Your Fears Procrastination Couple Looking at Each other in Eyes

Maybe you or your loved one hears those old internalized messages that you don’t measure up, which became magnified from some of your past slip-ups. Or you’re inadvertently pressuring your student to keep getting better so he can get keep up his grades or get into a chosen college. Fear of failure can cause you or your child to feel angry and resentful. Similarly, fear of success can make it too overwhelming to keep up with demands.

Quick Tips:

• Self-compassion builds resilience. Encourage yourself or your loved one that you're off to a great start and that you're doing what it takes. 

• Practice forgiveness if you or your loved one messes up. 

• Adapt an attitude of “it’s Ok to make mistakes.” 

Get Curious

The self-management component involved in getting started is known as an executive function. A challenge with getting started on tasks can mean a problem with sequencing, breaking down large projects or tasks into smaller tasks, and figuring out what to do, when, and in what order. Putting things off provides the rewards of temporary relief when time is perceived as ”now or not now.” Procrastination sets in until the "Now-zone" or deadline gets closer. 

Quick Tips: Procrastination Dad and Daughter Victory with hands

Brainstorm a list in writing of the smallest tasks involved in a larger chore or project. Get the support of a partner or colleague to select the smallest possible step.  

• Make a game out of the task. This doesn’t mean the task has to be “fun;” the pleasure comes from having some kind of game play out in performing the task.  

• If your loved one is resisting a task or project, get their buy-in by starting with what’s meaningful or most important to them, and build a win from there. Success creates more success. 


To sum up, after consistent feelings of “I’m not good enough,” “what will people think of me,” or “what if I do a bad job,” it's understandable if you're putting things off. To get started, 

• Pinpoint the Discomfort 

• Loosen Your Fears

• Get Curious

Experiment with some or all of these. I'd love to hear how it goes for you!




 PS. Need more assistance getting started with what matters to you? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some solutions you can put into place now!


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