Procrastination, as we know, means willingly putting off until tomorrow what can be done today — sometimes against our better judgment. Psychosocial researchers call procrastination "preference reversal." We choose to do the thing we would rather do.
No matter what it's called, procrastination is part of the ADD experience. That doesn't mean we should beat ourselves up every time we do it. Our ability to focus and stay focused can't be turned on like a light switch. When we stare at a computer screen for 20 minutes, and can't get our words flowing, it's better to change our game plan and do a task that doesn't require our full attention. Putting off the task we planned on doing allows us to cross something else off our "to do" list, freeing up time to spend on the project we wanted to get done.
Here are some strategies for procrastinating the right way and getting more done:
Understand the Cause
Knowing what contributes to the cycle of unproductive procrastination can help you make better choices in using time efficiently. Tom found that, to make wise choices in using his time, he had to ask himself the reasons for his procrastination. Was he switching to a different activity because he couldn't stay focused, or was it because he feared he couldn’t do a good job or he didn't know how to start the project? We went through the list of things that could contribute to procrastination, and Tom found that his impulsive decision-making was causing it. Tom learned to slow down and think through his decision to switch gears when he chose to do something that wasn't a priority.
Set the Table
Accept the fact that there will be times when you are unable to concentrate. This will leave wiggle room for those days when productive procrastination to do a mindless task is a better choice than struggling to work on a priority. Susan found that tasks that require her full attention were better planned for the morning, not the afternoon, when her meds were wearing off. She also discovered that "tying up loose ends" and getting mindless tasks done in the afternoon helped her set the stage to get focused the next morning.
Jake figured out that clearing his desk the night before starting a writing project prevented his being distracted by clutter. After he cleaned up, he got things done.
When we can't focus on a task, we get confused about how to make good use of our time. Heather, an energetic working mom, solves this dilemma by asking herself, "What is the healthiest choice I can make?" She knows that lack of exercise leads to lethargy and inefficiency, so she goes for a walk. Gary squeezes in some extra meditation time at his desk at work, knowing that the positive benefits of being relaxed help him interact with his team members effectively. Tonya feels better about tackling projects when she cleans out her e-mail inbox first.
Be Slow to Switch Gears
Make your best effort to stay focused for at least 20 minutes before you choose to switch gears. Sometimes it takes that long for our mind chatter to quiet down. If you are still as scattered afterward, do something else to use your time productively.
This article appears in the Spring 2013 issue of ADDitude.
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