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ADHD procrastination is one of the biggest complaints I hear as an ADHD Coach. There are many reasons why people with ADHD procrastination and sometimes procrastination can even be useful. However, usually procrastination doesn’t make you feel good. You feel lazy, unproductive and the thought of the unfinished task looms heavily on your mind, spoiling any enjoyment doing other activities.
While it is not a new idea, breaking big projects or tasks into small, manageable chunks is a great way to beat procrastination and get things done. Evidence that this idea has been around for hundreds of years I the Chinese proverb that states “A journey of 1,000 miles starts with just one step.” A seemingly impossible journey that appears overwhelming at first can be broken down into simple stages and completed. After all, you know how to take a single step, then after that you take another. Take enough single steps and you are there! Mission accomplished. When you think of a task like this, then you can do ANYTHING. It’s a very empowering thought. A modern saying in the same vein is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
When I was little I wasn’t a good eater. I would look at a plate of food and not know where to start, so I would barely touch any of the food on my plate. My mum realized this and would put a small portion on a side plate, which I would be able to eat and then she would put another small portion on the side plate and I would eat that too.
When something seems so big it seems impossible, just focus on a small part you are working on. Don’t start thinking about everything you still have to do because that will make you feel overwhelmed and you will freeze (which has the same outcome as procrastination).
So the next time you are faced with procrastination and resistance to starting a project, follow these steps:
- On a piece of paper or on your computer, break the project down into steps.
- If one of the parts still feels overwhelming, it’s because it needs to be broken down further. The idea is to make each item so small that it’s no longer painful. For example, if your project is to send your CV to Mr. X, here is what your action list would look like:
- Find CV on my computer
- Print CV out
- Address envelope to Mr. X
- Put CV into envelope
- Go to the post office to buy stamps
- Stick stamps onto envelope
- Post off the CV
While you might feel a bit stupid for breaking the project down into such tiny steps, e.g. stick stamps on to envelope, please don’t. It doesn’t matter how basic each step is. What matters is that you are moving forward on a project that is important to you.
- As you are working through each step, don’t worry about the next step. Or step number ten. When you get to that step, you will be able to do it.
- Tick each step off when you have completed it. The sense of accomplishment keeps you moving forward.
As always, celebrate your success of a job well done!
Yes indeed, ME, if you can get that first step started, you will soon see the benefits of moving forward and the satisfaction (or $) will make it easier to repeat in the future. The problem is that first step. Making it smaller does help, since you can usually find a small action that is not too scary to carry out, even if it is only sharpening the pencil.
Hi Matti, you are so right, even a small action like sharpening a pencil can get you moving in the right direction!!
Without considering the bi-product benefit of procrastination that makes sure what you ‘do’ expend energy on is actually valuable (lists can be a dangerous effort if you list everything; which is often the result in an exercise like that), and assuming that even valuable actions get avoided as well; then i think the task deconstruction approach to solve procrastination is too much treating the symptoms verse the cause and can even be self-defeating based on human nature’s likelihood of being far too comprehensive with the ‘listing’ effort.
A bolder way to approach this dilemma might be to mature the inherent delayed (deferred) gratification complex most humans are born with and those with an A.D.D temperament might seem more susceptible to.
First the individual needs to understand the benefits will outweigh the costs intellectually of a (proven valuable) task, this is of course easy. But then through simple exercises the less intellectual behaviour picks up on this and it becomes more instinctual.
For example a wide-spread epidemic in the real business world (even with ‘normal’ people) is the completion of expense reports before the corporate card bills pile up and the individual actually suffers a personally incurred late-charge from the procrastination.
The fact of how wide spread this is and the fact of how absurd that almost every month individuals are suffering material personal charges, and the fact that the task is very trivial to complete, makes this a good example and an ideal candidate to introduce the change-behaviour.
If this ‘expense report’ exercise was available to an individual then the individual would just agree without question to do their expense report before any other task as soon as the information became available to complete it; ‘as a personal experiment‘.
Typically after the seventh time of doing this (in my experience) the individual starts to actually feel the elative benefits of not having an expense report hanging over their head (some people even have stress dreams directly associated with outstanding expense reports).
This elative benefit becomes a stronger motivator than the impulsive procrastination behaviour and the behaviour can then be applied to other procrastination vulnerable tasks.
The goal is to have the individual actually constellate the elative behaviour so they can recognize it as a concrete ‘thing’ they want more than the ‘intangible’ thing they want to avoid. This is a much stronger motivator than pure intellectual reason in avoiding procrastinating behaviour. With some imagination I’m sure everyone has some reoccurring tasks that this exercise could be applied to for them to constellate the elative emotion and therefore let them map it to individual actions.
That’s my opinion anyways. Of course you don’t need to post this as it might seem a bit antagonising, but I just read a load of your posts and although I’ve had personal thoughts that might seem to run against the advice, I think this item compelled me the most to mention something.
Best Wishes Though 🙂