The Relationship Between ADHD and Chronic Procrastination

Shot of a young businesswoman throwing paper planes while sitting at her desk
PeopleImages/Getty Images 

Everyone procrastinates. When faced with a task that we just don't want to do, many of us will simply put it off until tomorrow. You might end up setting it aside until you're feeling less overwhelmed with all your other responsibilities, or you might simply wait until you have more energy to tackle the task on a new day. Problems can begin to occur, however, if you find that you're putting off and avoiding these tasks again and again and again and never getting to them "tomorrow."

Procrastination and ADHD

Many adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with chronic procrastination. This procrastination can cause problems at work when job responsibilities aren't completed until the last minute. It can cause financial stress at home when balancing the checkbook is constantly delayed or when bills are paid late. And it can cause problems in relationships when you continue to put off others, making them feel unimportant.

Here are some of the factors that can be at play in the relationship between ADHD and procrastination.

1. Problems Getting Started

For an adult with ADHD, just getting started on a task can often be very difficult, particularly if that task isn't intrinsically interesting. When you're so distracted by outside stimuli, as well as internal thoughts, it can be hard to even make it to the starting line. Sometimes just figuring out where or how to start is the challenge. Problems with organization come into play as you struggle to prioritize, plan, and sequence tasks that need to be done to get started and stay on track.

2. Getting Sidetracked

Once you finally do get started, you may find that you quickly become sidetracked by something else more interesting, so your original task gets further delayed. It can be very difficult when you have ADHD to regulate your attention. Once you're able to get your attention focused on a task, you may find that it's hard to sustain that attention as your mind wanders. It can be hard to stay alert, motivated, and on track when you aren't very interested or stimulated by the task at hand. You may find that when tasks are particularly tedious or boring, you delay getting to them until the very last minute, at which point you either feel such pressure that you are able to motivate yourself to finally get started and complete the task, or you get stuck not completing the task at all and have to face the consequences.

3. Last-Minute Propulsion

Interestingly, for some people with ADHD, putting off things until the very last minute can create an emergency-type situation—an urgency of sorts—that helps propel you forward to successfully get the job done. The ​fast-approaching deadline (and the immediacy of the negative consequences that will follow if the deadline isn't met) helps you to focus and complete the task. The problem is that this urgency can create quite a bit of stress and anxiety that can take a tremendous toll on you, as well as those around you. Inevitably, these last-minute rush jobs also tend not to be as high quality as they might have been without such procrastination.

4. Sense of Paralysis and Feeling Overwhelmed

On the other hand, you may experience a painful sense of paralysis when faced with a task or project—wanting to get started, but unable to make progress forward in any manner. You may experience a crushing sense of pressure. As much as you know that you need to get the job done, you just can't get moving.

5. Impaired Sense of Time

Sometimes it's the impaired sense of time that leads to problems with getting tasks started. If you have trouble estimating the time it takes to complete a task, you might put it off, thinking you're allowing enough time to get it done. ADHD can make it difficult to track the passage of time as well, so you may find that those deadlines sneak up on you before you know it.

6. Fear of Failure

There can be a number of ADHD-related factors that lead to chronic procrastination, including distractibility, forgetfulness, disorganization, problems with prioritizing, sequencing, and time management. In addition, if you have experienced repeated frustrations on certain types of tasks, you may naturally avoid those tasks to avoid the negative feelings that working on those tasks can bring about. Sometimes there can be so much anxiety associated with starting the task that those feelings create an even greater obstacle. The fear of not doing the task correctly, fear of imperfection, and fear of failure can all add to the procrastination.

Luckily, there are some strategies you can use to help overcome chronic procrastination.