ADHD and Procrastination: 5 steps to help you complete tasks in the workplace

With ADHD, procrastination can be a struggle. That is often evident in the workplace.

It’s Monday at work, and you’re already feeling overwhelmed. With no idea where to start, you flick between social media to checking emails, not beginning any task. As the week goes on and the emails flood in, you begin to feel increasingly paralysed and before you know it, it’s the end of the week, and you’re worried your manager will start to notice you’ve failed to complete any of the tasks that were set.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Procrastination is a common struggle for people with ADHD, making it hard for us to start and complete tasks [1], [2]. Research has linked procrastination with struggles in organisation, time management and motivation [1]. For example, people who procrastinate generally underestimate how long it will take to finish a particular task [1]. As discussed in our article on time blindness, this difficulty with estimating time may provide partial clarity about why procrastination can be so prevalent for those with ADHD.

So how can we reduce procrastination on workplace tasks? Below are five steps you can take when you feel reluctant to get started. If you want to work through these procrastination struggles with someone else, our ADHD Coaches are trained to support you.

1. Make a “bad things will happen if I don’t do these tasks in this time frame” list

Sometimes it can feel like there are too many tasks and nothing is urgent. Creating a list with titles such as ‘I need to do X tasks by the end of the week or bad things will happen’, can help you separate the important from the unimportant. Take the time to consider the consequence of not completing a task. The consequence needs to be specific and negative to go on this list. For example ‘my team leader will send me an email asking where the report is’.

2. Create subtasks for the tasks in your list

Once you have your list, it’s time to break tasks into sub-tasks. Struggles with working memory mean that tasks that aren’t broken down can feel overwhelming. So, note down who you need to contact, which resources you need, and which sections you need to write, review or send off to complete your task.

3. Estimate how long these tasks will take – then double it

With ADHD, we can struggle to estimate how long something will take accurately. Some jobs will be repetitive enough that you can develop a sense of time spent. But other tasks are new. If in doubt, I recommend doubling your estimate. This takes into account issues that arise as well as transition time.

4. Put those tasks into a specific time or day in your calendar

Now you have your sub-tasks and estimates; it’s time to figure out how to put them into your week! Whichever planner you use, it should show how your time is spent. So placing your tasks into that planner will give you a better understanding of how much time you have (and don’t have!) to complete your tasks that week.

5. Add dopamine to the start of each task

And finally, once you know what to do, have time estimates and know when you’re going to do it, you may still need support to get started. This is where dopamine, particularly starters and sides, can be a significant support. Remember the more challenging it feels to start a task, the more dopamine you are likely to need.


Hopefully, this article gave you a better understanding of procrastination and how to complete those overwhelming workplace tasks. If you try these five steps, feel free to leave a comment letting us know how it went!


Talk to you soon,

Skye



Author:

Skye Rapson is an Academic, ADHD Coach and the Founder of Unconventional Organisation. She has worked in the field of adult education for over seven years. Skye has studied in various fields, including Psychology, Sociology, and Public Health, and is now a Doctoral Candidate in Population Health. You can read more about Skye or connect with her on LinkedIn.


References

[1] J. Bolden and J. P. Fillauer, ‘“Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week”: Executive functions mediate the relation between procrastination and attention problems’, J. Am. Coll. Health, vol. 68, no. 8, Art. no. 8, Nov. 2020, doi: 10.1080/07448481.2019.1626399.

[2] M. Altgassen, A. Scheres, and M.-A. Edel, ‘Prospective memory (partially) mediates the link between ADHD symptoms and procrastination’, Atten. Deficit Hyperact. Disord., vol. 11, no. 1, Art. no. 1, Mar. 2019, doi: 10.1007/s12402-018-0273-x.





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