ADD/ADHD and Procrastination

“I’ll do it later” is the mantra of many an ADD/ADHD client. Postponing action is a habit. At the time they say they’ll do it later they may fully intend to do it. But, because time is fluid for people with ADD/ADHD brain wiring, no particular time is set to do it, and often the task vanishes from awareness. “I’ll do it later” is a process that can build a nightmare of incomplete actions on a desk and or a brain packed to the brim with to do items of varying importance. Either state can lead to overwhelm and paralysis.

144What’s the “I’ll do it later” mantra all about? People with ADD/ADHD have executive function deficits that make decision-making, consistently engaging in action and completing tasks difficult. Their frontal lobes are under-stimulated. Urgency and bling (things that are new, exciting or crisis-driven) motivate them to act. The “I’ll do it later” tasks typically are those that have no urgency, or are boring or overwhelming. They don’t hold enough emotional charge to ignite the frontal lobe of the person with the brain-based disorder of ADD/ADHD. So, non-urgent tasks are set aside until some type of urgent need brings them back into focus. Postponing tasks until they absolutely have to be done is a way to create urgency, to create the condition that the brain needs to engage. 

Last week I was helping a client pay his bills and manage the paper flowing across his desk. As we worked he set aside two folders of bills to review. “I’ll do it later,” he said. He has ADD. I wondered if he would remember to do the task and be able to accomplish it alone. Since it had been delegated to the amorphous “later” category, I feared it would slip from awareness.

When I returned a week later, the folders were still there. He may have lost sight of the folders in his busyness. Or, looking at the reality of money flowing out of his company may have been an overwhelming task he’d rather avoid doing. Completing the task also required a kind of focus that is difficult for people with ADD, especially an emotionally charged task like reviewing bills.

When I returned this week to find my client’s desk overflowing with paper plus those folders I suggested he review them while I was working beside him. In my company, with my support, he was able to focus and complete the task. My being there provided the stimulation his frontal lobe needed to be able to As soon as they were off the desk he was able to get traction on other actions he needed to take. He was able to get re-organized.

The lesson? If you have ADD/ADHD, know that “I’ll do it later” really means “My brain is not up for this now” or “I don’t want to deal with this now because it’s too boring, overwhelming, etc.” It is also a good way to plant the seeds of negative energy. Tasks that are incomplete, especially those that you tend to avoid doing, are sources of negative energy. That energy becomes a block to being able to complete other tasks. You may not be conscious of the negative energy blocks you’re building, but their energy keeps you distracted and feeling lost in having too much to do. The energy of those “I’ll do it later” tasks gets more overwhelming with time, making them even harder to face and complete.

Most professional organizers advise “do it now!” But, that can be hard for people with ADD, especially for those boring, overwhelming tasks. Tasks like that are best done in the presence of or with the help of a supportive other. “I’ll do it later” can then become “I’ll do it with Debbie” (or some other person). Listen for your own “I’ll do it later” tasks with curiosity. What tasks do you postpone? Which ones can you make yourself do now? And, which ones are best done it support?  

Remember, “I’ll do it later” is not your friend!