The Sweet Spot of Procrastination
Once we start accomplishing something, we get that little dopamine reward from our brain, which feels good and makes us want to accomplish more. Here are a few ways to achieve that natural high.
I procrastinate a lot. I don’t tell you that with shame, just as I don’t apologize for the color of my eyes. I was given what I was given. Brown.
In college, I did rebel and covered my trusty browns with gray contacts so I could use my blue-eyed friend’s ID to get into bars. I also thought that gray made me look exotic. Note: People with ADHD should not be allowed to stick anything in our eyeballs that requires insertion and extraction on a consistent basis. Sometimes I left the contacts in for days, sometimes my eyelashes karate chopped my attempts at shoving them back in, and more than once, I rocked one gray eye and one brown, acting as though I was born with some magical eye mutation.
No matter how hard I may have wished for gray eyes or blue eyes or green eyes or cat eyes, at the end of the day, they still came out brown, so I decided to work with what I have.
That’s how I approach procrastination—not as a character flaw, but as a tool in our trusty ADD toolbox. You have to know how to manage it, instead of letting it manage you. I call it working the sweet spot—when you’ve left enough space in the deadline that you aren’t killing yourself with stress, but that it is close enough to get your brain’s attention and participation.
Sometimes finding the sweet spot is tough, though. Sometimes you don’t have time to find the sweet spot, and you just need to get your crap taken care of. With ADHD brains, our challenges lie mostly in getting things started. Once we get past our own mental paralysis, we kick some serious butt. And once we start accomplishing something, we get that little dopamine reward from our brain, which feels good and makes us want to accomplish more. Here are a few ways to achieve that natural high and get your crap done.
Take the three suckiest items with the shortest completion time from your to-do list and do them. Commit to only three things, and you take some of pressure out of the equation to conquer your whole list. I hear you saying: “Stacey, I have 27 items on my to-do list, and they all need to be done today.” I laugh and say, “Stop tricking yourself. You won’t complete 27 items, and if you overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectation, you’ll shut down and won’t complete one item. Three checks off your list are better than none.”
Set your timer for free time. When I’m working on something I’m not engaged with, I fight the constant need to get up and attend to random and unnecessary things around the house, like making sun tea or straightening the pillows on the hammock. I eliminate that pressure when I set the timer on my phone for an hour of work, which I’ll follow with 10 minutes of free time. At least I tell myself that. Most of the time, when the hour is up, I don’t want to stop, so I keep working and that free time is just pie in the sky that keeps my brain from feeling like someone has her thumb pressed on it.
Work with your natural rhythms. Morning person, night person, we love to categorize things and judge them as good or bad. I know a lot of night people who feel guilty because they’re less productive in the morning, which society deems to be the only acceptable time frame for productivity. Thank goodness that’s not the case. We’d all be in big trouble if the fire, police stations, and hospitals had banking hours. Go with your own flow.
Finally, stop looking at your damn phone. There is nothing less productive than being so tied to your phone that you have to interrupt yourself every three minutes to check your (insert social media preference here). Give yourself a break from your phone on a daily basis. There is a danger of using it to disconnect and escape from your environment, emotional engagement, and responsibilities. The phone is one of the biggest threats to productivity and personal connection we’re faced with.
Learning how to sit with yourself and others, and learning how to be fully present in your life, are beautiful techniques for to become more grounded, productive, and free-spirited in our endeavors — whether following a passion or attending to the boring, everyday stuff.