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Is Procrastination a Sign of ADHD in Adults?

Procrastination - delaying completing a task or job that isn’t particularly exciting or enjoyable - is something we all do from time to time.
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Is Procrastination a Sign of ADHD in Adults?

04/10/2022
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Procrastination – delaying completing a task or job that isn’t particularly exciting or enjoyable – is something we all do from time to time. Whether it’s putting off everyday tasks like doing the dishes until tomorrow, or leaving a work task until the last minute, we all have a tendency to avoid certain tasks because we either don’t want to do them, don’t have the energy to do them, or because we find them overwhelming and don’t know where to start.

For the most part, procrastination isn’t problematic (provided you come back to do the job before the deadline), but continuing to put off the same tasks, or not getting round to finishing them off later, is a somewhat common symptom people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tend to experience.

This leads some people to question if procrastination is a sign of ADHD in adults. In this article, we’re going to look at procrastination and ADHD, the link between the two, and how to distinguish between everyday procrastination and when procrastination could be indicative of ADHD.

Are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Procrastination Linked?

Firstly, it’s important to establish the link between ADHD and procrastination. Procrastination is one of the many recognised symptoms of ADHD, and people with ADHD will often struggle with procrastination as a side-effect of other recognised ADHD symptoms, such as impulsivity and inattention.

There are several reasons why people with ADHD may procrastinate, with most research pointing to it being a coping mechanism. People with ADHD can sometimes struggle with executive functioning skills (time management, memory, self-control, multi-tasking etc). Due to people with ADHD sometimes experiencing issues with their executive functioning, it can make starting a task difficult. This can cause them to get distracted easily and move away from the job at hand and onto something else – otherwise known as procrastination.

There are a number of ways ADHD symptoms can lead to procrastination, including:

Organisation issues

People with ADHD often struggle with organisation. This means it can be hard to know where to start a challenging task, what to prioritise, or decide a plan of action to get a task done. With this in mind, sometimes even getting to the starting point can be a struggle.

Distractions

People with ADHD often find that they get easily distracted because they have lots of thoughts all at once, each competing for attention. Even if a person does manage to start a task, they could be easily distracted a little way in, or they might find it’s difficult to maintain focus on just one thing. Motivation can play a role in this.

Last-minute propulsion

Lots of people say they work well under pressure, namely because the urgency of the situation pushes them to really focus and get it right the first time. Whilst this can and does produce results, it can also mean that there is a lot of internalised stress and anxiety in the process, and this isn’t a good thing.

Tracking time

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It can be common for people with ADHD to struggle with keeping track of time, meaning sometimes, deadlines appear before they even know it. On top of this, it can be slightly more difficult to estimate how long a task might take. If the estimation is wrong, it can lead to a last-minute scramble to try and get the work done, causing further anxiety and frustration.

People with ADHD may procrastinate more than people without the condition, but as mentioned, it isn’t a direct symptom and is instead a side effect of inattention, which is an ADHD symptom. It’s also important to note that not every adult with ADHD will have issues with procrastination. Some people with ADHD have hyperfocus, and this can have the opposite effect of procrastination and actually help a person storm through their to-do list in good time.

How Chronic Procrastination Affects Adults with ADHD

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Procrastination can cause problems when left unchecked and unresolved, especially for adults with ADHD. This is because, in the workplace, leaving tasks until the last minute or putting them off entirely can cause issues across the wider team. It can make it hard to keep on top of several tasks at once, and this can affect performance and output.

Procrastinating and leaving jobs to the last minute can mean there’s little time to refine or fix any errors, and this can have a negative impact on the quality of the work that is being produced. Depending on the job at hand, this could have deeper consequences, but it’s important to remember that it’s not the fault of the person with ADHD – procrastination can be very a part of their condition.

It’s not just the workplace where procrastination can negatively manifest itself; it can cause problems at home, too. For example, putting off carrying out general household maintenance tasks, like a broken step or a leaky tap, can lead to more serious issues later on. In a similar way, putting off doing the dishes or drying the laundry can lead to mess which, when it gets to a certain point, can feel overwhelming, only adding to the urge to procrastinate as it’s not clear where to start. If paying bills is put off, this can cause financial issues.

On top of this, procrastination through ADHD can take an emotional toll. People with ADHD will be aware that they haven’t done something or have left it to the last minute, resulting in a number of internalised negative emotions like feeling shame, guilt or frustration. For adults with more severe ADHD, procrastination might be a more frequent side effect and, according to research, could even lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, both of which can be damaging to overall mental health and even personal relationships.

The Difference Between Normal Procrastination and ADHD

As mentioned previously, procrastination is a completely normal aspect of life. We all do it from time to time, with lots of people being aware that they do it. The issue is, how do you tell the difference between ADHD-related procrastination and typical procrastination? After all, ADHD can and often goes undiagnosed in adults, with some estimates suggesting that as many as 75% of adults with ADHD don’t actually know they have it.

When left untreated, ADHD can cause difficulties in a person’s life, with chronic procrastination being one of them. So, what’s the difference?

Severity

Most people who procrastinate find that, although it’s somewhat of an annoying habit, it’s not extremely problematic and rarely causes any issues or ongoing stress. However, people with ADHD often repeat behaviours. If procrastination is repeated, it can begin to cause more prevalent issues at work, at home, and in relationships. In people with ADHD, procrastination is more severe.

Other ADHD Symptoms

The most telling aspect of whether someone might be procrastinating as a side effect of ADHD is whether they are experiencing any other symptoms alongside it. ADHD comes with a number of symptoms, like issues with concentration, making careless mistakes, inattention, impulsive behaviour and focusing on short-term satisfaction rather than long-term goals. Low self esteem and internalised emotions can also be common ADHD traits.

If a person is experiencing procrastination in addition to other ADHD-typical symptoms, it may be a sign that something else is at play.

Treating ADHD Procrastination

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For a person with ADHD, symptoms are best managed through a treatment plan put together by healthcare professionals. The treatments on offer vary from person to person, but there are two types of medication that may be given. Stimulant medications have been shown to be most effective for people with ADHD who experience high levels of procrastination because they can help ease other symptoms, like time management issues.

Aside from medication, occupational therapy can be useful as it helps to address time management and a lack of focus. An occupational therapist can also help a person with ADHD understand more about why they put off specific tasks, and once this is figured out, steps can be taken to address it.

ADHD Treatment at The ADHD Centre

Diagnosing and treating ADHD is important. At The ADHD Centre, we specialise in helping people get the right diagnosis and treatment. If you’re an adult and are experiencing procrastination in addition to a number of other ADHD symptoms, such as inattention symptoms and amplified emotions, we can do an assessment for you. We pride ourselves on our people-focused approach.

You can choose to have an adult ADHD assessment online, or you can come to one of our clinics to see a consultant psychiatrist in person. They will offer advice and support for you if you have an ADHD diagnosis, and will talk through a holistic treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms.

We understand how frustrating ADHD and its symptoms can be, especially if you experience severe procrastination that is beginning to impede other aspects of your life, so why not contact us today to find out more about how a mental health professional in our team can help? Call us on 0800 061 4276, or email us at enquiries@adhdcentre.co.uk.

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