ADHD Procrastination – The Relationship & Ways To Manage 2023
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting both children and adults.
Around 366 million adults are diagnosed with ADHD globally and it’s the most common psychiatric disorder in children. It can significantly impact a person’s life, affecting their learning, employment, and personal relationships.
Although there are many symptoms of ADHD, most typically fall under inattention or impulsivity. Understandably, these symptoms can lead people with ADHD to experience procrastination. However, procrastination is not yet officially recognized as an ADHD-related symptom.
This article will discuss ADHD-related procrastination, its risk factors, and how to manage it.
Is Procrastination A Sign Of ADHD?
Procrastination can be a sign of ADHD when combined with other ADHD-related behaviors. However, it’s not considered an official ADHD symptom.
- Approximately 366 million adults have ADHD and it’s the most common psychiatric condition in children.
- The core symptoms of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and restlessness.
- The research on ADHD procrastination is mixed, with some supporting the idea that executive function deficits cause the link between ADHD and procrastination, while others say it relates to inattention or prospective memory.
The Relationship Between Procrastination And ADHD
If you’re asking, “Does ADHD cause procrastination?” The answer is no, not directly.
There still hasn’t been enough evidence to find a direct link between procrastination and ADHD. However, some common ADHD symptoms can make people with ADHD more likely to procrastinate. Furthermore, procrastination seems to worsen as ADHD symptoms worsen.
So, is procrastination a sign of ADHD? Officially, no. After all, many people without ADHD experience procrastination. However, evidence suggests it might be more likely to occur due to other ADHD symptoms, like intention.
Executive Function Deficits
Some experts consider procrastination a functional disorder associated with ADHD inattention symptoms. Whereas other research suggests challenges with executive function are the cause.
People with ADHD typically show executive function deficits, which can account for the difficulties around inhibition, vigilance, switching, planning, and working memory. This indicates that the impairment in executive functioning associated with ADHD may influence the relationship between this neurodevelopmental disorder and procrastination.
Prospective Memory Issues
However — in contrast — recent research from 2019 found a link between prospective memory and procrastination ADHD. Prospective memory means you can remember to perform a planned event. And as it worsens, the connection between ADHD and procrastination strengthens, so people with ADHD experience more procrastination. In contrast, if someone’s prospective memory deficit is mild, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is less likely to cause procrastination.
All in all, many theories present conflicting evidence for the link between ADHD and procrastination. More research is needed to unpick this relationship.
The Difference Between Normal Procrastination And ADHD
The definition of normal, everyday procrastination is the act of delaying something that has to be done, usually a task we deem tedious or unpleasant. We may also delay a challenging task or procrastinate when we have multiple tasks to complete, as these tasks can cause negative feelings that trigger procrastination throughout the day.
While this may sound simple enough, some researchers argue that procrastination has two facets: adaptive and maladaptive. Both forms of procrastination involve giving in to an immediate temptation rather than working toward a long-term goal. However, there are specific differences between the two.
Adaptive procrastination involves positive forms of delay, like self-managed time management, when working under pressure to meet deadlines. Adaptive procrastination is what we would call “normal procrastination.”
Then, there’s maladaptive procrastination — when someone voluntarily delays a task that has to be done, even though there will be consequences. Maladaptive procrastination is associated with poor academic achievement, financial difficulties, and low work efficiency and often coincides with anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, researchers suggest that people with ADHD tend to maladaptively procrastinate, often helping them to avoid or put off tasks that they find challenging. Unfortunately, maladaptive procrastination can significantly impact their lives.
ADHD-Related Procrastination Risk Factors
As we can see, people with ADHD tend to experience procrastination for many reasons. However, evidence shows there are several risk factors associated with chronic procrastination ADHD, including:
- Problems with time management.
- Issues around sequencing.
- Difficulties with prioritizing tasks.
These can strengthen the relationship between ADHD and procrastination, leading to more procrastination.
Dealing With ADHD Procrastination
Various forms of ADHD treatment exist to lessen the influence of ADHD on procrastination. Some focus on avoidance behavior to reduce procrastination, while others look at overcoming ADHD-related procrastination through tools that help with time management.
Work On Your Time Management Skills
To improve time management skills and overcome procrastination with ADHD, you can prioritize tasks with to-do lists and set a specific timeframe for each. You can also break tasks into smaller chunks (more on this soon).
Procrastination is an avoidance behavior — a way of getting out of uninteresting or challenging tasks, especially if you’re already feeling overwhelmed. It’s crucial to limit distractions when combating ADHD procrastination since they can eliminate temptations. This may involve creating a routine, turning off notifications, and facing your desk away from a window.
Limiting distractions is like a focus booster, reducing the attention deficit from ADHD as well as ADHD procrastination so you can complete tasks. This is especially beneficial for academic procrastination, as it can help you finish the work by the deadline.
Use Organizational Tools To Prevent Mistakes
It’s easy to make careless mistakes when you have ADHD. This could look like:
- Forgetting to complete tasks.
- Making impulsive decisions without considering the consequences.
- Underestimating the time and effort required to complete a task.
Someone with ADHD could do this by setting realistic goals, using checklists and to-do lists, and getting enough sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition.
Break Big Projects Down
Larger tasks can feel overwhelming. And research shows that people with ADHD have lower sustained attention — meaning they often struggle to focus for as long as those without ADHD.
So, breaking big projects and large tasks down into smaller chunks, often with breaks interspersed, can help reduce procrastination and prevent unproductivity. This also works for complex tasks that you may struggle with.
In the case of adult ADHD, this could be paying bills or doing chores. For child ADHD, difficult tasks may be doing their homework or sitting still and having to focus for a long time period.
Take Short Breaks
Taking a short break of 5-10 minutes during stressful activities can improve focus, help complete tasks, and decrease restlessness and hyperactivity for those with ADHD who struggle with procrastination by giving the brain a chance to rest and recharge, increasing productivity.
Assign Someone As An Accountability Partner
Assigning an accountability partner — or a body double — can help someone who procrastinates. Evidence suggests that close social interactions can activate the body’s reward system, improving our motivation and sense of reward for completing a task.
Listen To Your Productivity Cycle
If you struggle to perform everyday tasks because you’re easily distracted, get to know your productivity cycle — also known as your circadian rhythm. Listening to your productivity cycle involves identifying when you’re most productive throughout the day and scheduling work for this time each day. Working around your circadian rhythm can help reduce your tiredness, improve alertness, and reduce symptoms of hyperactivity, helping you focus for longer.
Seek Support From A Mental Health Professional
Seeking mental health support from a licensed professional can provide individuals experiencing ADHD procrastination with the tools and strategies they need to manage their symptoms effectively.
Evidence suggests that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy may be effective in helping people manage procrastination — including chronic procrastination — and ADHD as it supposedly lowers hyperactivity, impulsivity, and procrastination.
Mental health support can also help address some other symptoms associated with ADHD, such as negative moods and low self-esteem.
The Bottom Line
Procrastination is a common challenge that many people with ADHD face. Although procrastination isn’t officially considered an ADHD symptom, evidence shows that a large portion of people with ADHD do struggle with getting a task done on time.
Some experts suggest procrastination ADHD is due to the inattention symptom, while others state it’s to do with executive functioning. And some propose it’s prospective memory!
Whatever the cause, it’s reassuring to know that with the right tools and support, people with ADHD can manage procrastination and succeed in their personal and professional lives.
+ 17 sources
Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here
- Song, P., Zha, M., Yang, Q., Zhang, Y., Li, X. and Rudan, I. (2021). The prevalence of adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A global systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Global Health, [online] 11. doi:https://doi.org/10.7189/jogh.11.04009.
- CDC (2022). Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
- Oguchi, M., Takahashi, T., Nitta, Y. and Kumano, H. (2021). The Moderating Effect of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms on the Relationship Between Procrastination and Internalizing Symptoms in the General Adult Population. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 12. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.708579.
- Niermann, H.C.M. and Scheres, A. (2014). The relation between procrastination and symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in undergraduate students. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, [online] 23(4), pp.411–421. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/mpr.1440.
- Altgassen, M., Scheres, A. and Edel, M.-A. (2019). Prospective memory (partially) mediates the link between ADHD symptoms and procrastination. ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders, [online] 11(1), pp.59–71. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-018-0273-x.
- Cambridge Dictionary (2023). procrastinate. [online] @CambridgeWords. Available at: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/procrastinate
- Pollack, S. and Herres, J. (2020). Prior Day Negative Affect Influences Current Day Procrastination: A Lagged Daily Diary Analysis. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, [online] 33(2), pp.165–175. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2020.1722573.
- Beutel, M.E., Klein, E.M., Aufenanger, S., Brähler, E., Dreier, M., Müller, K.W., Quiring, O., Reinecke, L., Schmutzer, G., Stark, B. and Wölfling, K. (2016). Procrastination, Distress and Life Satisfaction across the Age Range – A German Representative Community Study. PLOS ONE, [online] 11(2), p.e0148054. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0148054.
- Adamou, M., Asherson, P., Arif, M., Buckenham, L., Cubbin, S., Dancza, K., Gorman, K., Gudjonsson, G., Gutman, S., Kustow, J., Mabbott, K., May-Benson, T., Muller-Sedgwick, U., Pell, E., Pitts, M., Rastrick, S., Sedgwick, J., Smith, K., Taylor, C. and Thompson, L. (2021). Recommendations for occupational therapy interventions for adults with ADHD: a consensus statement from the UK adult ADHD network. BMC Psychiatry, [online] 21(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-021-03070-z.
- Gutman, S.A., Balasubramanian, S., Herzog, M., Kim, E., Swirnow, H., Retig, Y. and Wolff, S. (2019). Effectiveness of a Tailored Intervention for Women With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and ADHD Symptoms: A Randomized Controlled Study. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, [online] 74(1), p.7401205010p1-7401205010p11. doi:https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.033316.
- Oflazian, J.S. and Borders, A. (2022). Does Rumination Mediate the Unique Effects of Shame and Guilt on Procrastination? Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, [online] 41(1), pp.237–246. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-022-00466-y.
- Sprich, S.E., Knouse, L.E., Cooper-Vince, C., Burbridge, J. and Safren, S.A. (2010). Description and Demonstration of CBT for ADHD in Adults. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, [online] 17(1), pp.9–15. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2009.09.002.
- Yıldırım Demirdöğen, E., Esin, İ.S., Turan, B. and Dursun, O.B. (2022). Assessing sustained attention of children with ADHD in a class flow video task. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, [online] 76(7), pp.497–506. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/08039488.2022.2064545.
- Kopec, A.M., Smith, C.J. and Bilbo, S.D. (2019). Neuro-Immune Mechanisms Regulating Social Behavior: Dopamine as Mediator? Trends in Neurosciences, [online] 42(5), pp.337–348. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tins.2019.02.005.
- Anon, (2023). Circadian Rhythms and Circadian Clock. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/emres/longhourstraining/clock.html
- Lunsford‐Avery, J.R. and Kollins, S.H. (2018). Editorial Perspective: Delayed circadian rhythm phase: a cause of late‐onset attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adolescents? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, [online] 59(12), pp.1248–1251. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12956.
- Munawar, K., Choudhry, F.R., Lee, S.H., Siau, C.S., Kadri, N.B.M. and Binti Sulong, R.M. (2021). Acceptance and commitment therapy for individuals having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A scoping review. Heliyon, [online] 7(8), p.e07842. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e07842.