12 Ways to Deal With Chronic Procrastination

Coping With Procrastination Related to ADHD and Other Causes

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Many adults experience procrastination, which is when you delay taking action on a task. While procrastinating on one or two tasks might seem harmless, chronic procrastination can have negative ripple effects on your life and well-being.

Chronic procrastination is the practice of consistently avoiding or putting off completing tasks or responsibilities, even when doing so can possibly result in negative outcomes.

While chronic procrastination isn't a disorder, it can be associated with mental health conditions. Many adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with procrastination.

Fortunately, there are ways to address chronic procrastination, such as breaking to-do items down into smaller tasks, setting deadlines, having a friend hold you accountable, and seeking professional help. Read on to learn some practical solutions to help you stop procrastinating.

Symptoms of Chronic Procrastination

Signs of procrastination can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Aversion to completing tasks
  • Delays in task performance
  • Distractibility
  • Increased stress
  • Lower task performance
  • Reduced well-being
  • Regret

While you're procrastinating and avoiding an important task, you may notice that you become productive in other areas of your life. For instance, rather than fill in a tax form, you might clean the whole house (even if you usually hate to clean).

You might avoid completing a task because the thought of it is stressful or anxiety-inducing. However, you may notice that the longer you put it off, the more your stress and anxiety levels increase as a result of leaving it unfinished.

Causes of Chronic Procrastination

There are many reasons you may be procrastinating. People typically associate procrastination with a lack of self-control. It can be easy to give in to temptation, or the instant gratification of doing something we enjoy, instead of spending time on a task that reaps no immediate reward.

But while self-control can be a contributing factor, it's possible that chronic or extreme procrastination is a symptom of one or more of the following:

  • Fear of failure: The fear of failure can keep you from finishing something—especially if you're afraid of humiliation or rejection. You might have low self-esteem that keeps you from going after what you really want.
  • Irrational beliefs: You may have underlying, irrational beliefs that prevent you from being productive. For instance, if you believe that you don't deserve success, you might avoid doing anything that could possibly lead to your success.
  • Learned helplessness: This is a state of mind in which a person believes that nothing they do matters, so they opt to do nothing at all. It's often related to a traumatic event and/or depression.
  • Perfectionism: If you are a perfectionist, you might not think anything you do is good enough. That mindset could be why you're unconsciously choosing not to do anything at all.

Procrastination is not a specific symptom of ADHD, but ADHD-related procrastination is most definitely a real experience.

ADHD procrastination often results from ADHD symptoms such as distractibility, disorganization, feeling overwhelmed, problems with prioritizing, and anxiety—all of which often make fighting procrastination even more difficult. ADHD procrastination can make it feel like you don't have control in your life, which can be frustrating.

People may experience what's often called ADHD paralysis. ADHD paralysis is when someone with ADHD has trouble figuring out how to begin a task. It can easily lead to feelings of overwhelm, and ultimately, procrastination.

Chronic Procrastination Treatment

There isn't a specific medical treatment for chronic procrastination, but psychotherapy can help you understand what the root cause is of your procrastinating. A therapist or other mental health professional can also teach you coping mechanisms to help combat procrastination.

Psychotherapy is one of the first lines of treatment for ADHD. But whether you have been diagnosed with ADHD or not, a therapist can help you develop better time-management and organizational skills.

If you have ADHD, a doctor may also recommend a medication that can help improve your focus and concentration. Common medications prescribed for ADHD include Ritalin (methylphenidate), Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine), and Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine).

These medications can cause side effects such as loss of appetite, sleep problems, increased heart rate, and irritability. Be sure to talk to a doctor if you experience these or any other side effects as a result of ADHD medication.

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How to Cope With Chronic Procrastination

In addition to treatment such as psychotherapy, you can use coping mechanisms in your everyday life to help you with chronic procrastination. While it may be challenging to overcome procrastination, that does not mean you are powerless. These 12 strategies can help you address chronic procrastination.

Discover Why You're Procrastinating

Whenever you find yourself procrastinating on a task, take a step back and ask, “Why am I procrastinating on this task?” If you know the underlying reason, then you can match it with the right solution. Here are some common reasons for ADHD procrastination (and procrastination in general):

  • Getting motivated is hard until things are urgent and a deadline is close.
  • Negative thoughts and feelings get in the way of doing the task. 
  • Not knowing how to do the task makes it hard to get started.
  • The task looks tedious and boring. 
  • The task seems large, complex, and too overwhelming.

Now that you know the reason, you can use the following suggestions to help you.

Break It Down Into Small Steps

If you have a large or complex task that is causing you to feel stuck or overwhelmed, break it down into smaller, doable parts. A large project can feel like climbing a mountain. However, when you chunk the project down into small steps, the mountain seems to shrink to the size of a small hill, helping you to work more efficiently and productively.

Sometimes, ADHD symptoms can make visualizing a project difficult. It can be hard to understand how all the pieces fit together. Ask a friend or someone you trust to help you think through and organize the steps. Just be careful to avoid the trap of becoming so focused on the details that you don't make any progress.

Many adults with ADHD become so engrossed in the details of planning they never get to work on the project. Planning becomes a form of procrastination.

Set Deadlines

When you have broken the task down into small parts, create deadlines for completing each part. It is easier to be successful when you have various, small short-term goals, compared to one large long-term goal. It is less overwhelming and easier to stay motivated.

Every time you complete a short-term goal, reward yourself. Creating these smaller goals also allows you to move away from last-minute panics as a big deadline approaches.

Use Positive Social Pressure

Having an accountability partner often provides the motivation to start a project and keep you in action. Make a commitment to your partner, a friend, or co-worker. Tell them your goals and timeline.

This gentle social pressure can help propel you forward.

Another option is to work on the task with another person. The social connection helps keep the project stimulating and engaging.

Make Boring Tasks Appealing

boring or tedious task may not stimulate your brain enough for you to want to take action. If this is the reason for procrastination, ask yourself, “How can I turn this boring task into one that is interesting?” There are many ways to make a task more appealing. Here are a few examples.

  • Turn into a competition with yourself. How many plates can you wash in five minutes? Use a kitchen timer to help you.
  • Make it fun by playing music while you work.
  • Have a reward waiting for when you have finished.

Rotate Between Two Tasks

Try rotating between two tasks. This can keep your interest levels high, and allow you to feel focused and motivated on both tasks. You can set a timer and spend equal time on each task. This is another way you can make boring tasks more appealing.

Make a Small Time Commitment

It can be hard to start a task if it seems big, with no end in sight. However, it is much easier to begin if you are only going to be working on it for 10 minutes. Set your timer and work for 10 minutes. Then review how you feel.

Sometimes, those first 10 minutes of effort break through your feelings of resistance and you feel keen to continue. If not, set your timer for another 10 minutes and continue to work in small time chunks.

Limit Distractions

Turn off your cell phone, email, Facebook, and anything else that distracts you from getting started. Also, be aware of internal distractions that can also have an effect on your ability to concentrate.

You might say to yourself, “I will do these other little things first and then get to the important task.” However, it is often these other “little things” that contribute to the cycle of procrastination. You feel very busy and are accomplishing a lot, yet are avoiding the primary task that must get done.

Seek Training When Necessary

Are you avoiding a task because you do not know how to do it? For example, research has shown that while students often put off difficult courses out of anxiety, preparation was useful in reducing such fear and procrastination.

If so, why not educate yourself? You might do this by enrolling in a formal training course. Or you could do this in a more casual way, such as asking a friend to show you or watching a video on the web.

When you know how to do something, the resistance melts away and it is easy to take action.

Delegate to Someone Else

Sometimes it is empowering to develop a new skill yourself. Other times, it is appropriate to delegate to another person who already has the skills. For example, you do not have to learn how to fix your car. You can take it to the garage where there are trained mechanics. Do not feel you have to do everything yourself.

Replace Negative Thoughts

Our thoughts and feelings are very powerful. When you talk to yourself in a positive and gentle way and remind yourself of your recent successes, it can be easier to take action. In contrast, when you are stuck in negative mode, it can be hard to break out of the avoidance cycle.

If you find that negative thinking is a major contributor to your avoidance of tasks, you may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Connect With a Doctor

Let a doctor or mental health professional know about your procrastination challenges. Therapy and medication, when appropriate, can be an important part of your ADHD treatment plan. Though medication will not prevent procrastination, it can help you to focus and make getting started on tasks a little easier.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.