Stop Procrastinating! ADHD Time Management Strategies

By Michele Novotni.

5 simple ADHD time management tips and strategies to procrastinate less at home and on the job.

Many ADDers find it helpful to do something they love first, rather than as a reward, to "light up" the brain.

We all procrastinate. Unfortunately, folks with attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) procrastinate more than others. Although it seems harmless, procrastination causes conflict in personal and professional relationships. When we fail to complete tasks on time, others see this as a sign of disrespect, incompetence, or laziness. To change this habit, realize that procrastination is a purposeful behaviour. It lets us avoid doing something we would rather not do. And it works -- for a while.

Because procrastination is essentially a mind-set, cognitive-behavioural therapy techniques can help even chronic procrastinators break the habit. If you've been putting something off for days (or months), focus and try the following ADHD time management tips:

1. Do something pleasant first

Once your interest is piqued, it's easy to apply that positive involvement to the task at hand. Rather than follow traditional behavior-management cues and reward successful behavior after the fact, many people with ADHD find it helpful to do something they love first, to "light up" the brain. After that, it's easier to move on to less enjoyable tasks.

For my clients, these pleasant activities have included basketball, computer games, dancing - even taking a bubble bath. (Set a timer for 20 minutes to make sure you don't get so absorbed in the pleasant task that you forget to do the necessary one.) Any stimulating activity you love will work.

2. Create the right work environment

People who have ADHD often function best amid unconventional surroundings. Experiment to find your best working environment. Instead of wearing earplugs to ensure silence, for example, you may find that you're more productive when listening to loud music. If you use ADHD medication, it's generally best to schedule difficult tasks for times when your symptoms are fully covered.

One of my clients knew that she worked best under pressure. Unfortunately, this meant she'd begin to work on projects only the day before they were due, no matter how involved the task. She'd either turn her work in late or exhaust herself by pulling all-nighters. We solved this problem by having her set her own deadlines for completing portions of the project. This way, she could still work under pressure to finish each portion "on time" - and would have the entire project completed by the actual deadline.

3. Eliminate negative self-talk

What we silently say to ourselves about doing the task at hand has a strong impact on how (or whether) we do it. People with AD/HD tend to beat themselves up by playing and replaying negative messages in their minds.

Instead, try telling yourself positive, but realistic, messages -and see what happens. Once you replace "This will take forever, and it's so late already... " with "I might not be able to finish this today, but I can do the first two steps within the next 30 minutes," you'll see that it is easier to begin.

The messages you send yourself when you complete something on time can also be powerful deterrents to future procrastination. Procrastinators are used to feeling guilty about missing appointments and deadlines and turning in work that doesn't measure up to their ability - and they don't enjoy that feeling. Once you begin experiencing the relief you feel after finishing something well, it will be hard to go back to the guilt.

4. Just get started

Merely to start a task - even if it's started poorly - makes it easier to follow through. Next time you find yourself avoiding something, take a "first sloppy step." If you need to write something, for example, start by typing random letters on the page. It is gibberish, but at least you will no longer be looking at a blank page.

5. Take one step at a time

Break large tasks into pieces. One of my clients came to me several months after her wedding, worried because she still hadn't sent out thank-you cards for her gifts. She felt guiltier about it by the day, and she was approaching the problem by thinking she had to find a block of time when she could sit down and write 150 cards. I gave her "permission" to write and mail only five cards a day until she was finished. This helped her begin - and, eventually, finish - the task.

If a project can't be completed piecemeal over several days, keep up your momentum by focusing only on the next doable step. Write this step on a sticky note and post it within your line of sight. Put on your blinders, and focus on this rather than on the task as a whole. When that's done, move on to the next step in the same manner. Before you know it, you'll be done.