Stop Procrastinating

Q: “All the Joy Is in Planning. Then My Motivation Evaporates.”

If you’re great at starting projects, but not at finishing them, you may need more structured plans of attack or better tools for addressing general overwhelm. No matter the types of projects you abandon, it’s important not to confuse avoidance (emotional coping) with uncertainty (closely tied to ADHD symptoms) when considering root causes.

Deadline, young female project manager looking at the sand glass, millennials at work
Deadline, young female project manager looking at the sand glass, millennials at work

Q: “I’m highly motivated at the start of a new project. I buy supplies, make preparations, but then never start the project or leave it half-way done. It’s as if all the joy is in the planning. Then my motivation evaporates. Why is that?”

Beginnings are exciting because they hold so much promise. For many people, beginnings are the best part of any process. Our options are open, and we feel creative and optimistic. It’s the middle and end that often cause trouble.

In thinking about the beginning, middle, and end of our projects, researchers define three key stages: inception, planning, and action. The issue you describe seems to be related to the action stage of projects, which is much different than the earlier planning stage.

Research shows that meaning is needed to carry out the early stages of a project1. A lack of meaning at the inception or planning stage of a task makes the task aversive and hinders engagement. However, if a project is meaningful and enjoyable, it will not be a chore to brainstorm and plan it.

In contrast, once we get to the action phase of a project, meaning is no longer the main driver of forward momentum or the defining feature of task aversion. Structure is. Uncertainty around structure and how to carry out the project fuels procrastination. Could it be, then, that you feel immobilized when you get to a project’s action phase because you’re not sure of its next steps?

[Quiz: How Seriously Do You Procrastinate?]

If you do have a sense of structure for the project, your loss of motivation might instead be related to overwhelm and negative feelings around seeing it through. That avoidance becomes procrastination. Sometimes, these emotions – frustration, anxiety, and self-doubt – only come out when the “rubber hits the road.” So even if you have a plan of action, you have to be ready to deal with the inevitable resistance – the “I don’t want to” feelings. There are several strategies – from setting effective intentions to practicing self-compassion – that can help you carry on despite these uncomfortable feelings.

It is important to understand the difference between procrastination – characterized by avoidance as a coping strategy – and other forms of delay. With attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) especially, needless delay could come from symptoms of inattention, like disorganization and forgetfulness, that make it difficult to prioritize and create structure around projects. Developing insight into why you’re experiencing unwanted delays in your life is very important to adopting an appropriate strategy for more timely and effective goal pursuit.

ADHD Procrastination: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done” with Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., which was broadcast on November 12, 2014.

View Article Sources

1Blunt, A., Pychyl, T. (2000). Task aversiveness and procrastination: a multi-dimensional approach to the aversiveness across stages of personal projects. Personality and Individual Differences, 28(1), 153-167.

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