Thursday, January 24, 2013

Three Ways to Kick ADHD Procrastination to the Curb

Time Flies

One of the lessons I learn from being sick is how precious time is. Normally I don't notice time. It races by me like it's trying to break the land speed record, dragging me bouncing along. However, after 30 days of being sick on a couch coughing my brains out, I began to notice just how much time I wasted. I didn't blame myself for being sick, but I was acutely aware of what I could be doing instead.

Why wasn't I utilizing my time and getting a million amazing things done every day when I wasn't coughing out a lung? The answer was simple: I don't work focused enough. This might explain why I have a hard time finishing projects before I get bored. If ADHD introduces an aversion to boredom into my life, then when work slows down because I don't have a clear gameplan in mind or I am bored, then distractions are bound to happen. Boredom and frustration are walls to success.

Compare that to the wonderful bliss of hyperfocus. When I decided on a whim last Christmas Eve to make bookmarks for my daughters, I pulled out my supplies, laid things out on the table, and whipped the bookmarks out with a flourish. There was a clarity to the work becuase I was I knew what I was doing, and I enjoyed doing it. I could begin with the end in mind. Without that vision, the ADHD adult flounders. Hyperfocus is the ADHD adult's super power, but it's hard to engage when unfamiliarity or excessive tedium take us out of the zone.

Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started is a classic ADHD trait. Our brains seem Teflon coated so that when drudgery or complexity rears its ugly head, the task slides away from our attention as our brain latches onto something more interesting. If we're lucky, we can snap back to attention and refocus, but usually our brain takes us for a ride. There was that time I was a pasteup artist for a newspaper. I had emptied the bin and had nothing left to paste up, so suddenly I was wandering around the press room taking in the sites. My boss had a fit. It seems a new page was ready for me while I was a'wandering. At the time I simply couldn't understand why he was so upset. I would handle things differently now.

So how do we kick procrastination to the curb? Unlike painting bookmarks, for example, most tasks for me seem pretty dull to complete. You will likely have your own list of easy tasks and rather-eat-my-own-foot tasks. If I can't rely on hyperfocus to help me through to the end, I need to give my ADHD mind a boost. I use one of three tools to help me overcome the boredom and flounder less. First, failure and the resultant embarrassment are usually good motivators to keep me on task. Nothing keeps your nose to the grindstone better than imagining the look on your boss or client's face when you haven't finished what you needed to. Second, I have found that when a task seems overwhelming or chock full of stumbling blocks, I need to resort to a task list or outline. It helps me see the big picture so that I can move forward with faith and better clarity. Also, by breaking the project down into smaller steps, I can focus on the individual stages. Lastly, timers can be immensely helpful, especially if utilize them to help you race through the individual stages of a project.

You may need to experiment to see which motivating gimmick works best for you, but eliminating opportunities for boredom to derail your focus is key. Then you stand a better chance of engaging your hyperfocus and finishing the project quickly. Time is precious. We ADHD adults squander it too accidentally. Some mental spinning in place can be therapeutic when we are tired from a day of fighting for focus, but when procrastination interferes with our self-esteem and happiness, it is time to take back control of our time.