Despite how much social media makes it look like everyone is on top of all their work, fitness, family time, and hobby goals, the fact is that procrastination is incredibly common. One study found that 80 to 95 percent of college students procrastinate on their schoolwork, and it’s not like that habit gets broken on graduation day.
For those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the problem can be even more entrenched, according to psychologist Michele Novotni Ph.D., former president of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association. She notes that those with ADD or ADHD tend to procrastinate more than others, and that can lead to high levels of stress — sometimes worsening the condition’s symptoms and leading to negative self-talk.
Putting some simple strategies in place can help, especially if you focus on small, realistic steps toward getting more done.
1. Start with a one-minute task every morning.
Sometimes, unpleasant chores can start to stack up throughout the day, making procrastination more likely. That’s why it’s useful to kick off the day by first deciding on a single “one-minute task” that you usually tend to put off, advises Crystal Lee, doctor of psychology and owner of LA Concierge Psychologist. That might mean making the bed, clearing dishes out of the sink, jotting down a to-do list, or sorting yesterday’s mail.
A small task that’s easily accomplished in a minute or less, done within 15 minutes of waking up, can kick off your day with a “win,” Lee says. It will give you more of a sense of momentum going into the morning.
2. Figure out why you’re procrastinating.
When procrastination becomes chronic, it can be difficult to tease out why it may be happening. Do you put off a work project because it’s unpleasant, or you feel nervous about the outcome? Are chores left undone because you want to binge watch a TV show instead, or because you feel like you can’t concentrate on one task at a time to get things accomplished?
When you examine the scope of the work, you might find that it’s not as daunting as you’ve built it up to be, advises HealthCentral patient expert Deborah Gray. She says, “You might also find that you’re procrastinating due to fear of failure or perfectionism. You could be scaring yourself with your own expectations.”
3. Stop waiting for the mood to seize you.
Hoping that procrastination will be quashed by a sudden change in mood isn’t likely to get the results you want, Gray says. Very rarely will you magically get excited to do a project that you’ve been putting off.
Setting a deadline instead of waiting for a mood change is a better tactic, she suggests. Even if it’s an artificial deadline — no one will fire you for not washing the dishes, for example — it can still help set up a timeframe for completion. Those with ADD and ADHD benefit greatly from more structure, says Novotni, so a deadline can help push you toward starting tasks even when you’d rather avoid them.
4. Change your location.
Unless the tasks you want to accomplish are in your house, it helps to get a fresh start by going to a coffee shop, taking a walk first, or even switching rooms in your home, says psychologist Mike Dow, Ph.D., doctor of psychology, and author of the New York Times best seller “Heal Your Drained Brain.”
If you switch to a new location and it helps to beat your procrastination, keep up the habit, he suggests. For example, his mind has become accustomed to pairing a certain coffee shop with writing, so whenever he walks in, he feels more like doing that task.
5. Visualize being done and rewarded.
One of the most powerful ways to get started on a task is by taking a moment to consider how it feels to already have it be over, Dow says, and attach a reward to the accomplishment. For instance, he gives himself an “Instagram break” as a treat for working for an hour. That’s much better for him than scrolling through the social media site as a procrastination tool, because then he’s using Instagram to reward good behavior instead of cementing poor behavior more firmly into place.
“When you’re visualizing being done, also be sure to think about all the big accomplishments you’ve already achieved,” he suggests. “Then, use that positive energy to create action.”
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Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition. Her articles have appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN, MyFitnessPal, and WebMD, and she has worked on patient education materials for Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group. Find her on Instagram at @bossykind and on Twitter at @EMillard_Writer. Her online portfolio is at elizabethmillard.pressfolios.com. When not writing, she’s also a yoga teacher and organic farmer.