Everyone procrastinates from time to time, but for people living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) it can be an extra challenge.
ADHD symptoms such as difficulty focusing, poor time management and impulsivity may lead to putting off tasks and avoidance behaviour. For some people, procrastination can have a big impact on their work life and personal relationships.
The good news is there are many strategies you can use to overcome procrastination and help manage avoidance behaviours. The practical solutions below are ideal for tackling work tasks, but they can also be used in everyday life.
1. Set a deadline
If you work best when there’s a bit of pressure and urgency, try setting yourself deadlines for tasks. Alternatively, ask your boss to give you deadlines for new tasks they assign to you. Knowing someone else is expecting you to finish the task by a certain time can help push you into action.
For large tasks, try breaking them down into smaller steps and set due dates for each step. Just make sure you are being realistic about how much time each task will take.
2. Create the right work environment
Your work environment can have a big impact on focus, motivation and impulse control. Some jobs for people with ADHD may be more suited to your strengths while other types of workplaces may amplify your challenges.
If you work from home, dedicate a particular space in your house for work. Try facing your desk towards a wall and shutting the door of your office to reduce distractions. Consider noise cancelling headphones or listening to music.
In a shared workspace, try talking to your boss about workplace accommodations. Small changes in your work environment may help you feel more confident and in control.
For example, your employer may be willing to give you a private office or a quiet space where you can go for tasks that require focus and attention. Or they may allow you to start work earlier if you work best in the morning.
3. Focus on one thing at a time
Multitasking might feel more productive, but it often makes it more difficult to concentrate and focus on the most important tasks. Instead of trying to do several things at once, work through one task at a time.
Organise your tasks in order of priority and work down the list. If focusing on one task for a long period of time seems daunting, try breaking it up into smaller steps or setting a timer.
4. Use a to-do list
A to-do list can help you stay focused on what needs doing in your work day. Order the list by priority to avoid putting off the most important tasks. There are plenty of apps out there that can help with scheduling and organisation.
If you work best with a highly structured schedule, try breaking your day up into hourly chunks. Be realistic about how much time each task will take and make sure you factor in break times.
5. Set a timer
For tasks that you’re not looking forward to, try setting a timer. Say to yourself: “I’m going to work on this task for 10 minutes and then I can do something else.” Having that boundary in place may make it easier to get started.
6. Jot your ideas down to deal with later
If you find yourself getting a lot of ideas or unrelated thoughts while working on a task, try jotting them down on a notepad or sticky notes. That way you know the thoughts are there for you to come back to later.
Taking notes during meetings can also be a helpful way to manage your focus and attention.
7. Break large tasks into smaller steps
If a task seems too daunting, try breaking it into small steps. This can make the task seem more achievable and help you focus on the next step in front of you.
8. Work with your natural rhythms
Take note of how your energy changes throughout the day. Perhaps you find yourself most productive in the morning and lacking in motivation in the early afternoon. Or maybe you have a boost of creative energy in the late afternoon but find it hard to get started in the morning.
Try scheduling tasks in a way that works with your natural energy rhythms. For example, if you have to complete a task that requires intense focus, plan to do it when you have the most energy. For times that your energy dips, try scheduling a walk or a mindfulness activity to give your mind a break.
9. Reward yourself
For some people it’s hard to find motivation unless the task is interesting or fun. If boredom is a cause of procrastination for you, find ways you can experience dopamine (the ‘feel good’ hormone) during or after the task.
For example, plan a fun activity after you complete a task you’ve been dreading or play your favourite music while you complete a boring task. You could make a task more social by completing it with others or turn it into a game against the clock.
10. Get help
If you’re struggling with procrastination or other challenges that are affecting your work, it’s important to ask for help.
An occupational therapist can work with you to identify obstacles you might be facing and find solutions that work for you. They can introduce you to helpful tips and skills that you can put into practice at work.
An employment consultant can help you find work that plays to your strengths. They can also help you access workplace accommodations and ongoing support to help you thrive in your job.
If you’re living with ADHD and finding it hard to get or keep a job, you could be eligible for a program such as Disability Employment Services which helps find jobs for people with an injury, illness or disability.
Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed by tasks, bored at work or distracted, having the right skills and support in place can help you overcome the challenges and thrive in your role.