The Everyday Rationales That Let Procrastination In
At some point, we all come face to face with things we’d rather not tackle right now. We tell ourselves, “I’ll just take a quick break” or “I’ll put that away later.” It’s normal to feel this way, and more than a little common. The problem is that ADHD brains don’t like U-turns; we never turn around to get those things done. To solve this, we need to find the “first dominoes” that pave the way to procrastination.
We all push undesirable tasks, unwittingly or not, into the future. It’s how our minds protect themselves, particularly in stressful situations, and make life easier for the moment – it isn’t an immediate threat; it’s a problem for another day.
These optimistic predictions, or rationalizations, sometimes work out. It is possible that you can do that task or project tomorrow. The seeds of possibility are there. But the odds of getting to the task as promised aren’t so good, especially for people with ADHD, who are more likely to struggle with procrastination and time management.
But before we can overcome procrastination, we must first identify the common pretexts and justifications that actually interfere with getting things done. Here are some that you may recognize, paired with remediation strategies.
Overcoming Procrastination: The Rationales That Let Inaction In
“I Can Do It Tomorrow”
It is tempting to put things off for later, especially when you’re tired or overwhelmed. Often you can do it tomorrow. But sometimes that’s true only in theory. Unexpected events can derail the best-laid plans. And perhaps you forget something else that also needs to be done tomorrow, so there’s less time than you thought.
If you catch yourself putting something off, take a moment to think about everything you need to do later. Check your schedule — and write down a specific time for doing the task, so you know there is time and you won’t forget. If you’re procrastinating because you don’t feel like doing it now, remind yourself that you will be no more excited about doing it tomorrow.
“It’ll Only Take a Minute”
It’s tempting to knock off a quick chore or do a fun thing before getting into something meatier. After all, it will only take a minute, so what’s the big deal? The problems come when you underestimate how sticky that quick task is — sending one email leads to reading the next one, which leads to clicking that link. Which leads to wasting time you don’t have.
Before patting yourself on the back for being efficient, pause to ask how likely you are to get stuck. What are your stickiest activities, where the only way you would get out in a minute is if you were abducted? Be careful with these and maybe avoid them when you have something important to get to. I had a client who would get fascinated by an NPR story while making breakfast, only to get lost in a deep dive and be late for work. We discussed not turning on the radio until he got into the car.
“I Don’t Need to Write That Down”
This is also known as “I’ll definitely remember that.” You dismiss things that should get put into a schedule or to-do list. I know, writing things down is slow and annoying and it breaks your flow — I have a parade of teenagers through my office who swear to this. Unfortunately, getting called on the carpet when something falls through the cracks (again) is pretty disruptive, too.
Uncertainty fuels self-doubt and sleepless nights, when your mind churns over what will blow up tomorrow. Remind yourself that the small inconvenience of writing notes can save you giant headaches later. Pause to think about how much better it will feel when you check off that upcoming task versus how bad it feels to possibly be caught in problems later.
“I Can Stay Up a Little Longer”
After busy days, it’s tempting to stay up late to squeeze in some fun. The problems of tomorrow morning don’t exist at midnight, so let the good times roll. Or maybe the goal is to catch up on work that wasn’t done earlier in the day. I had a client who would routinely stay up too late finishing homework. She would talk herself into believing that it wouldn’t take that long — but since she was always tired from staying up late, everything took longer.
Be honest with yourself about how much sleep you actually need. When you’re tempted to stay up late, think vividly about how hard it will be to get out of bed and how long and painful the next day will be. Resist the temptation to stay up “just a little longer.”
Overcoming Procrastination: Our Choices Spill Forward
Stressful situations make bad decisions more likely, and bad decisions, like dominoes, can create more bad situations. An irregular sleep schedule, for example, makes it harder to get anything done efficiently, which spills over into other facets of our lives.
What’s more, even when our optimistic justifications actually work out, they can make us feel like imposters, doubting our successes and fearing that we will be outed. When they don’t work out, it’s even worse — we feel ashamed that, yet again, we didn’t live up to our expectations.
It’s important to keep an eye out for these excuses, or first dominoes – the ones that take the rest with them. If you left a task undone, own it, fix it, and make amends. Set yourself up for success by telling people beforehand what you’re going to do, using social pressure as a motivator. Remind yourself how good you will feel knowing that you are prepared for tomorrow.
Even if you’re not perfect about preventing undesirable scenarios, making them a little less bad will create a difference you can feel. Partial progress is a worthy goal.