Procrastination! Why we do it and what we can do about it
I broke a record. Really, I did.
For the first time since returning from traveling, I unpacked my suitcase in a timely fashion. No, not the night I got home, or even the day after. Not even the week after. I unpacked it exactly 12 days after arriving home.
Typically, my suitcase, filled with wrinkled airplane- stinking clothes lies on my bedroom floor for weeks. It’s not that I don’t WANT to unpack it. Or that I’m lazy. It’s that it simply becomes part of my bedroom landscape and I totally forget it’s there. Now, my bedroom isn’t all that large, by any means. And I actually MUST see it every morning and every night, since it sits three feet from my bed. But though I may SEE it, I don’t actually LOOK at it so that it registers a screaming reminder to unpack it.
People with ADHD, though often visual, are also extremely gifted in looking but not seeing. Thus, if a chore is not screaming at us visually, or if there aren’t pending scary consequences for not attacking a task, we simply don’t see or think of what it is that needs to be done.
Many of us have poor visual memories, as well. I, for example, cannot picture in my head the layout of my own house too well. I also cannot read maps or give people directions to my home, mainly because I rely on visual cues that are there at that moment- in this case- when I’m actually driving somewhere. For example, I know there are a church and a drugstore on the corner of a street I typically need to turn on. Or that when the red bus sign comes up, I’ll need to turn soon. Yet, I don’t know the names of those streets, even though I’ve lived in this area for many, many years. Almost never do I remember highway numbers and routes; numbers just don’t help me to navigate where I need to go. Instead, I remember that I need to follow signs with the name of the city on it. Going to Detroit? Follow that arrow Ann Arbor? Go THAT way! Thank goodness for other visual cues that get me to where I need to go. Thus, driving at night is difficult at best.
Procrastinating creates all kinds of difficulties for me and most others with ADHD. Family members become annoyed at the messes we leave. They seem to see it; but we don’t. Or if we do see it, we find anything else in the world to do rather than take care of it. It’s not that we want to be messy. It’s that we’d rather be doing something else. That, and often times, such basic of chores are actually difficult to execute. Why? Because of the multiple steps involved and the seemingly infinite decisions needed to initiate and finish such tasks.
For example, it’s not simply unpacking a suitcase that causes us to run run run. It’s asking yourself:
- Does everything need to be washed?
- Where do I put the out of season clothes (if you’ve traveled to another climate), which leads to another bag of worms: exactly where do I put out of season clothes?
- Do I hang it up, or fold? Where are the hangers?
- Do I really want to be doing this when I can be watching my favorite TV show, instead?
You’re probably wondering what triggered me to finally unpack that suitcase and why in 12 days VS the typical 30 (or more). The truth is, there were items in there that I needed to retrieve a few times and it dawned on me that by not putting everything away, I was actually creating more work for myself. And isn’t that the case with many if not most of the times we put off doing something? By not paying bills, we end up misplacing them, causing endless hours hunting them down. Then, we’re penalized with hefty fees for not taking care of the problem in the first place.
Here are some tips to help you manage your procrastination:
- Assess what it is about the chore that is holding you back. Until you know why you are avoiding it, it’s hard to solve the problem. For example, if it’s due to boredom, come up with novel ways to attack the job so that it’s not too painful. If it’s due to lack of room in your house, or financial issues, etc., come up with a plan to deal with the underlying problem.
- If there is no major underlying reason, ask yourself: am I happier with the status quo, or will I be happier if the issue is taken care of?
- Ask yourself how long it will take to finish the task. Most of the time, it’s something that only takes minutes to do. Yet, we have this “feeling” that it will take much longer. Remind yourself that in 10 minutes (the time it took me to unpack my suitcase, for example), you will feel incredibly good about yourself.
- Note that you are making a choice: doing it or not doing it. You can choose to procrastinate and have whatever project it is hovering over you. Or…you can choose to jump in and just do it.
- Reward yourself. You’ve heard this a lot, but it bears repeating. If you can endure the pain of getting an unpleasant task done, reward yourself once it’s been completed.
- Sometimes we procrastinate because we worry that we won’t do a good enough job. Remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ll feel better getting it done as best you can rather than continuing to let it sit.
- Procrastination almost always leads to stress. Ask yourself which is worse: attacking the project, or allowing stress to attack you. It’s your choice.
Some of our members started listing chores they’d like to attack. Let’s continue the momentum!
Are you up to the task? Can you choose one project you’ve been holding off doing? Share it here and we’ll cheerlead you into getting it started. As for me, I’m going to put that unpacked suitcase back where it belongs!
Terry wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for ADHD.