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3 Ways Procrastination is My Best Motivator

Woman with ADHD holding a clock in both hands for guidance
Getty Images / tolgart

Every month I have a deadline, and every month I say I’m going to start writing at the beginning of the month. My goal is to get projects checked off early so I can blissfully careen into my deadline feeling like, for once, I was on top of things.

And at the end of every month, well, I get everything done, but it’s more of a flurry of writing where I crank out all 20,000+ words I need to have done in a matter of days, not weeks.

This month has been more of a rush than usual: I wrapped up my last work cycle, went to Orlando five days later, and waltzed back in with 10 days before I jumped on my next flight to Philly for three days. This is all while needing to get at least 11,500 words done in just 10 days. Then I took three days off, filling my time with “Lockup” on Netflix, and playing 2048 on my phone. Thanks, procrastination.

It’s cool, though.

As someone with ADHD, procrastination can be an unexpected motivator. People who have ADHD are prone to procrastinate, which means we are then forced to hit deadlines at the last minute. That extra pressure can be motivating. As a freelancer, I’ve fortunately only had to ask for an extension once or twice. (And one of those times was honestly more because I sliced my finger open and spent five hours in the emergency room getting stitches). ADHD wires me to thrive under stress — even though life would probably be better if I didn’t procrastinate so much.

But, like ADHD, procrastination is a part of me. Here are three reasons why procrastination is my best motivator.

Making schedule changes while under pressure

Having the pressure of a deadline looming means I have to get things done. Self-imposed deadlines have sadly never worked for me, which is why I can’t just decide I’m going to get everything done by the 15th instead of the 30th. It is what it is.

When I’m under pressure, it forces me to adapt and get things done. For example, last night, I knew that I had a busy day ahead of me. I got into bed as my Fitbit was telling me to wind down at 12:15 a.m. — a reminder I usually ignore. Per my Fitbit, I fell asleep at 12:26 (which seems unusually fast!) and woke up at 8:31. I told myself I’d be at my laptop by 9:30 this morning. It probably helps that my “commute” meant that I was out of bed at 9:28 and at my laptop at 9:31. According to my productivity tracker, Qbserve, I was working around 9:50 a.m.

Hyperfocus quells the distractions

“Attention deficit” is right there in the full name of ADHD. For me though, procrastinating means the paradoxical ADHD symptom of hyperfocus may be more likely to kick into gear. Hyperfocus can be entirely nonproductive, like when I spend too many hours listening to podcasts while playing 2048.

But other times, in the midst of a flurry of needing to get things done due to procrastination, hyperfocus can be my best friend. When I’m sailing toward a deadline it can be difficult to make myself stop working, especially on projects I’m interested in.

If people with ADHD can figure out how to harness their ability to hyperfocus on things that are important, we can invest our time where it matters.

Developing strategies to interrupt hyperfocus can be ideal — for instance, Qbserve makes my computer make a doom sort of noise when I’ve spent more than two hours on “distracting” activities.

Software, calendar reminders, or enlisting actual people to help interrupt hyperfocus and ensure your focus is where it needs to be can help make the most of this ADHD trait.

Procrastination can boost creativity

This may not help in every employment scenario, but it sure helps me. Many entrepreneurs and modern-day thinkers are procrastinators, so it can’t be all bad — and especially so if you’re creative.

We’re also less likely to forget about tasks that are in progress, rather than ones we haven’t yet started. This phenomenon, known as the Zeigarnik effect, was first noticed in 1927 and published in 1938. To me, the implications of this research may certainly be relevant from the standpoint of ADHD.

Procrastinating, while leaving the task at hand hanging in the balance of the mind, so to speak, can lead to more time spent thinking on how to approach the work needing to be done. Procrastinating on wrapping up a task that you’ve started may lead to greater, more creative outcomes.

In a 2010 study, researchers noted that “reflective rumination” significantly increased creativity scores, and indecision increased rumination. The full circle of these findings, again, lends well to the inner workings of the ADHD mind. Since we’re typically creative overthinkers and procrastinators, people with ADHD may truly reap the creative benefits of procrastination.

So, it’s not just in my head: There’s some research that also says procrastination can be our best motivator. As long as it’s implemented correctly — and perhaps with some degree of purpose.

Using procrastination to your advantage

The key to not being dragged down by procrastination is to figure out how — and if — procrastination is actually motivating for you. Take some time to reflect if you are more or less productive as a result of procrastination.

If procrastination is preventing you from hitting deadlines and you truly aren’t getting necessary tasks done, strategize how you can use procrastination to your benefit. Or, see if you need to implement organizational tools to make work more manageable, such as using a planner, breaking things down, or finding a coach (formal or informal) to help you stay on track.

Maybe you’re like me and find that crunch time before a deadline is helpful, motivating, and doesn’t stress you out. If this is the case, it’s definitely OK to embrace this part of you — and get things done.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

Article resources

ADHD-US-NP-00013 MAY 2018

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