“I’m a Serial Procrastinator:” Why Getting Started Is Endlessly Hard
Getting started on a task — particularly a dreadful chore or daunting project — can feel physically and mentally unbearable at times. Here, adults with ADHD share the circumstance under which they struggle with motivation, procrastination, and task initiation.
We don’t know where to begin. We predict (or assume) failure. We lack intrinsic motivation. We fall back on perfectionist tendencies to overcompensate for all of the above. The reasons why we struggle to get started on tasks and projects — particularly ones that do not captivate or reward us — are varied and complicated. But the underlying cause of a great many task initiation problems is this: executive dysfunction.
For many adults with ADHD, executive dysfunction brings weak prioritization skills, time blindness, and an inability to orchestrate concurrent tasks — all critical for managing daily life, and even the simplest of tasks. In a recent survey, shared their complex struggles with getting started. Below are some stand-out responses; share your stories in the Comments section below.
Getting Started with ADHD
“My OCD says: ‘Before we start, let’s tidy up our workspace, organize our diary, and get today’s admin out the way.’ My ADHD says: ‘Yes! Let’s tidy up our workspace, but let us also rearrange the bookshelf, de-clutter our cupboards, donate old clothes, do some laundry, feed the dogs, cook lunch, wash the cars, tend to the garden, worry, think, worry.’” – Anneke
“I’m a serial procrastinator. Even before I start a task, I’m convinced that I won’t be able to do something right or that it will take too much time. For example, doing the dishes; I always feel like it will take an hour when, in reality, it usually only takes 10 minutes. Then the sinks get filled and stuff ends up on the counter and it takes a half an hour or more.” – Kami
“I have a hard time starting a task because I get so overwhelmed when I see what has to be done. Then once I do get started, my perfectionism kicks in and it takes forever to finish. I want to execute the task flawlessly since I know it probably will be a while until I do it again (considering how long it took to get started in the first place.)” – Anonymous
[Use This Free Resource: Finish Your To-Do List Today]
“I have trouble getting motivated, especially if it’s for a task that I really don’t want to do but have to do. Most of the time it’s a self-esteem problem; I never think I’m good enough, so even if I want to try I never do because I’m afraid I’ll fail.” – Hannah
“I’m a bit of a control freak so I’ve always tried to file my taxes on my own, but after another year of procrastinating until the last possible day, I finally hired an accountant to take care of it.” – Keelie
“Finding the motivation to start something is excruciating. Hyperfocus helps, but I spend days beating myself up for being behind on tasks. I’m trying to cut myself some slack and accept that it is just how my brain works, but 54 years of conditioning is hard to reverse!” – Anonymous
“Starting tasks feels infinitely more difficult than finishing them. In physics, static friction is always a greater force than kinetic friction; a still object takes more force to move than an object already in motion.” – Anonymous
[Dear Organizing Coach: I’m All Preparation and No H!]
“Any task related to money causes me immense stress. There is a huge mental block between knowing I need to do the task and actually being able to do it.” – Anonymous
“I am very linear: I can’t start a task until everything else is finished. I also find it hard to break big tasks down into manageable steps. Organizing and completing paperwork is the hardest for me to start.” – Donna
“I get frazzled by where to start and how to start. I overthink the whole process before I even begin. I feel ashamed that such small things can be utterly paralyzing.” – Anonymous
“I have real difficulty starting mundane tasks, like dishes, laundry and math homework. Exciting tasks, like writing an interesting paper or painting a portrait, are daunting too. I need to be up against a deadline and I always procrastinate until the very last minute.” – Beth
“I avoided opening all my snail mail for a few months by putting the letters in a drawer, until I got a letter stating I would have to go to court if I didn’t pay a bill. Following this I contacted all my billers and made the request for emailed bills!” – Anonymous
“I get bright ideas and have the energy to get started on them, but then the energy dwindles and it is a fight to continue. I have to use a reward system to keep myself going.” – Anonymous
Getting Started with ADHD: Next Steps
- Learn: 6 Ways to Get Started on That Project
- Read: The Mystery of ADHD Motivation, Solved
- Understand: What’s My Motivation? (No, Seriously, I Need to Get Started.)
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