ADHD Procrastination: Causes, Triggers, Solutions

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
May 21, 2024

Ah, procrastination. A fancy name for “being lazy” or something more nuanced? 👀

If I were unfamiliar with ADHD, I’d say the former. Yet, being far too familiar with this condition, I have grown to accept that procrastination is something more nuanced, as it doesn’t always happen just because someone is lazy.

What other reasons can there be, then? Well, that’s why we’re here today. Tune in as we will unravel such mysteries as:

  • The definition of procrastination
  • The biological underpinning of procrastination in ADHD
  • What triggers the ADHD procrastination cycle
  • Strategies and resources to judo chop procrastination into the Stone Age

Well, enough procrastinating (he-he-he), then.

Let’s dig in!

[ADHD and Procrastination] Understanding Procrastination in ADHD

Procrastination in ADHD is a complex phenomenon. Often misinterpreted as laziness or a lack of motivation, it's far deeper. It's essential to distinguish that procrastination in ADHD is not a voluntary choice and thus can’t be often altered by just lifestyle changes or “just trying better”.

Defining procrastination

At its core, procrastination is delaying or postponing tasks. For those with ADHD, this delay often (but not always) comes as a result of overwhelming emotions and decision paralysis

Why? Well, "doing laundry,” for example, isn’t a task. It’s a collection of smaller tasks, and ADHDers often cannot choose which task to start with

That’s because ADHD affects the brain's executive functions - skills essential for planning, organizing, and executing tasks. This impact can lead to difficulties in starting, prioritizing, and completing tasks.

Procrastination cycle in ADHD

This tendency traps ADHDers in a debilitating cycle. A task is perceived as overwhelming or uninteresting, leading to avoidance. This avoidance becomes stress and guilt as 

deadlines approach, resulting in a last-minute rush to complete the task.

And it’s not like we feel that great when slacking off, mind! That fleeting relief of ditching a task slowly grows into anxiety, stress, the feeling of inadequacy, and - if I’m being honest with you - that of a complete failure 🥴

Emotional Cascade

Procrastination often triggers a cascade of negative emotions. The initial relief of postponing a task quickly gives way to anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy, especially as deadlines loom closer.

This wild and fun ride can significantly impact our self-esteem and self-image. The constant struggle with procrastination can lead to feelings of failure and frustration, ironically, only further feeding this loop. 

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[ADHD Brain & Procrastination] The ADHD Brain and Procrastination

So, why does this cycle occur in the first place? 

Turning to John Science over here in the corner reveals a truth that I WISH people would get already: the brain of an individual with ADHD is structurally and functionally different, particularly in areas responsible for executive function and impulse control. 

These differences play a pivotal role in the tendency toward procrastination:

  • Executive Function Impairment: The executive functions, which include planning, prioritizing, and task initiation, are often impaired in ADHD1. Such an impairment makes starting and staying on task challenging, leading to procrastination.
  • Dopamine and Reward Systems: ADHD brains have an altered dopamine reward pathway2. This alteration means that the brain may not receive the usual 'feel good' signals from task completion, making mundane tasks feel unrewarding and thus easy to avoid.

ADHD vs. non-ADHD procrastination

It's crucial to understand how procrastination in ADHD differs from that in non-ADHD individuals. For those without ADHD, procrastination might stem from poor time management or a lack of interest. In ADHD, it's a symptom of deeper executive dysfunction.

  • Task Initiation Struggles: For someone with ADHD, starting a task can be the most significant hurdle. The brain's executive dysfunction makes transitioning from intention to action exceptionally challenging as if there’s a literal wall you can’t break through. It’s not that you’re too lazy. It’s that when you send your brain a request, it blatantly refuses to act on it! 
  • Impulsivity and Distraction: The ADHD brain is more susceptible to impulsivity and distraction. These factors contribute to procrastination, as we often find ourselves sidetracked by other stimuli or tasks, deviating from their original intentions. 
  • Procrastivity: faced by the overwhelm of actually doing a task we’re supposed to be doing (a.k.a the THING), we might divert our attention towards more manageable and predictable goals, thus effectively procrastinating. 

P.S. Is procrastination a sign of ADHD? Do note that ADHDers are, despite everything, humans. So, while we do often procrastinate because of how our brains are wired…sometimes, it is just laziness. 

[ADHD Procrastination Triggers] Common Triggers of Procrastination in ADHD

Now that we have looked at all the Hows and Whys let’s look more directly at things and happenings that can lead us towards ditching the tasks. Because knowing is half the battle. 🤓👆

Overwhelm and decision fatigue

One of the most significant triggers of procrastination in ADHD is the feeling of being overwhelmed. This can stem from having too many tasks, overly complex tasks, or a lack of clear direction.

Faced with numerous choices or steps, individuals with ADHD can become stuck in a state of indecision, leading to procrastination. Indecision is often exacerbated by a fear of making the wrong choice or not performing perfectly. 

Fear of failure and perfectionism

Speaking of perfectionism, let’s talk about it a bit more! ADHDers are prone to being perfect and precise about how things should be…but often lack willpower or ability to make things perfect. 

This paradox leads to nothing happening at all. As we deduce that we cannot do the task perfectly, obviously, the only logical choice is not to do the task at all! 

Perfectionism in ADHD is not about high achievement but rather about setting unrealistically high standards that are impossible to meet. This mindset can lead to a constant fear of failure.

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[ADHD Procrastination Tips] Strategies to Overcome ADHD Procrastination

But fret not! Every challenge and obstacle can be overcome as long as you properly strategize against it. 

Let’s look at a few ways how we can defeat procrastination. 

Time management techniques for ADHD

Time management can be particularly challenging for those with ADHD due to difficulties with executive functions. However, specific techniques can make a substantial difference.

  • Pomodoro Technique: This involves working for a set period (typically 25 minutes), followed by a short break. It can help maintain focus and momentum, making tasks more manageable.
  • Visual Timers: Visual cues can be more effective than abstract concepts of time. Using visual timers or time management apps can help individuals with ADHD better understand and manage their time.
  • Scheduled Breaks: Regularly scheduled breaks can prevent burnout and maintain a steady pace. These breaks also offer a reward system for staying on task.

Breaking tasks into smaller ones

A common issue for those with ADHD is the overwhelming nature of tasks. Breaking tasks into smaller, more manageable steps can make them seem less daunting.

  • Task Decomposition: Divide larger tasks into smaller, actionable steps. This approach can reduce feeling overwhelmed and make starting and continuing tasks easier. This is also where using a planner app can help, as it will provide you with a very direct and visual reminder of things you still need to do. 
  • Prioritization: Focus on one small task at a time. Prioritizing tasks can also help manage the workload more effectively, reducing procrastination on overwhelming tasks.

Using External Motivators and Accountability

External motivators and accountability can be powerful tools in combating procrastination for those with ADHD.

  • Accountability Partners: Also known as body doubling, working with a friend, colleague, or coach who can provide reminders and encouragement can significantly reduce procrastination. Because it’s one thing to disappoint yourself and a fully different one to disappoint someone else!
  • Reward Systems: Setting up a reward system for completing tasks can be an effective motivator. These rewards could be small treats, breaks, or enjoyable activities.
  • Public Commitments: Making commitments to others about task completion can increase accountability. Knowing that others expect results can provide an added incentive to overcome procrastination.

[ADHD Procrastination Tools] Tools and Resources for Managing Procrastination in ADHD

For individuals with ADHD, having access to the right tools and resources is key to effectively managing procrastination. From digital aids to professional guidance, a variety of supports can be leveraged to tackle the challenges associated with ADHD-induced procrastination.

Digital Tools and Apps Designed for Focus and Productivity

  • Productivity Apps: Apps like Numo have features that can help you stay focused on your tasks. From its planner to the noise generator, these apps use these if you feel like your productivity needs a boost. 
  • Task Management Software: Tools like Trello, Asana, or Microsoft To-Do can help organize and prioritize tasks. They offer visual task boards and customizable lists, which are particularly useful for the ADHD mind.
  • Note-Taking and Organization Apps: Digital note-taking apps like Evernote or OneNote can be instrumental in capturing and organizing thoughts and tasks, reducing the anxiety and procrastination associated with forgetting important information.

Professional Help: ADHD Coaching and Therapy

Professional assistance can provide personalized strategies and support systems to manage procrastination.

  • ADHD Coaching: Coaches specializing in ADHD can offer tailored advice and accountability mechanisms. They work to develop personalized strategies that align with the individual's lifestyle and challenges.
  • Therapy: Therapists, particularly those with expertise in ADHD, can help in addressing underlying issues related to procrastination, such as anxiety, fear of failure, or self-esteem issues. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) often effectively changes negative thought patterns that lead to procrastination.

Support Groups and Communities: Sharing Strategies and Experiences

Being part of a community that understands the challenges of ADHD can be incredibly beneficial.

  • Local Support Groups: Local ADHD support groups provide opportunities to meet others facing similar challenges, share strategies, and offer mutual support in a more personal setting.
  • Workshops and Seminars: Attending workshops or seminars on ADHD and procrastination can provide new insights and techniques to manage symptoms more effectively.

These sound great and all…but what if you don’t have any worthwhile ADHD support groups nearby? Well, that’s where Numo can step in, providing you with an awesome community of like-minded individuals!

Let’s look more in-depth at what it offers. 👀

[Numo: ADHD Procrastination App] Overcoming Procrastination with the Numo App

ADHD often feels isolating. While a common condition, the statistics are a funny thing. Thus, it’s often difficult to have many friends who experience ADHD. And then, even more rarer, to find someone whose ADHD symptoms are similar to yours!

So, that’s why we have created Numo - to be that unifying space where ADHDers can link, sync, and find help and comfort among fellow souls. 

  • A Platform for Shared Experiences: Here, users can share their stories of struggle and success with procrastination, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding.
  • Exchange of Practical Strategies: What works for one individual with ADHD might be a revelation for another. The community serves as a reservoir of practical tips and tricks, from how to start a daunting project to maintaining momentum through a task.
  • Emotional Support and Motivation: The journey with ADHD can be an emotional rollercoaster. Numo's community - what we call squads and tribes - offers strategies and emotional support. It's a place where users can find encouragement during low moments and celebrate each other's victories, however small they may seem.

Static Noise Generator: Creating a Focused Environment

The human mind is intricate, more so for someone with ADHD. Getting distracted and overstimulated in the process is so simple that I honestly sometimes feel shocked to learn that others don’t experience life the same way! 

Numo's static noise generator is a finely tuned tool designed to create an auditory shield against the cacophony of everyday life.

  • How It Helps: The gentle hum of static noise serves to drown out erratic environmental sounds. This consistent auditory backdrop aids in maintaining a state of focus, which is crucial for initiating and completing tasks.
  • Scientific Backing: Research suggests that a consistent, sound environment can enhance cognitive performance in individuals with ADHD. We use this insight, offering a range of static noise options to suit different preferences and situations.
  • Real-World Application: Whether it's completing a work project, studying for an exam, or simply managing daily chores, the static noise generator can be a steadfast ally. By turning it on during work or study sessions,  you can create a more controlled, distraction-free zone, making it easier to break the cycle of procrastination.

ADHD Planner: A Tool for Structure and Organization

And the one and only Numo planner that we have mentioned a few times but…why not do it again for a good measure? 😅

The secret sauce of our planner is that it’s so shiny and colorful (and also gives you points for completing tasks 👀) that you just…want to use it.

But you can’t use it if you don’t finish tasks, eh? That’s how we trick you! 

  • Reminders and Alerts: Forgetting is a common trait in ADHD. Numo's planner combats this with timely reminders and alerts, ensuring that important deadlines and tasks aren't overlooked.
  • Visual and Interactive Interface: The planner is designed with engaging visuals and an interactive interface, making the process of organizing and scheduling less daunting and more engaging for ADHD users.

So, if that sounds enticing to you, then come along! We’d be happy to have you 😉

[Conclusion] Conclusion

So, what have we learned today?

Let’s do a quick summary!

  • Procrastination in ADHD Is More Than Laziness: It's a complex behavior linked to ADHD's impact on executive functions, not just a lack of willpower.
  • Neurological Factors Play a Key Role: ADHD affects the brain’s executive functioning and reward systems, influencing the ability to initiate and complete tasks.
  • Emotional Factors: Feelings of being overwhelmed, fear of failure, and perfectionism are common triggers for procrastination in individuals with ADHD.
  • Practical Strategies Are Essential for Management: Techniques like breaking tasks into smaller steps, using time management tools, and applying structured approaches can effectively counter procrastination.
  • External Support and Digital Tools: Accountability measures, digital aids for organization and focus, and professional assistance can substantially help manage procrastination.
  • Community Support Offers Shared Learning and Encouragement: Engaging with others with ADHD through support groups and communities can provide valuable insights and emotional support.

Procrastination can be a tough dragon to slay. Let’s be honest: humans already are kind of lazy bums. Our brains just want to work as little as possible. Adding ADHD into the equation makes for an equation that is really not doing us any favors.

But with a proper approach and discipline, it can be just another notch on your belt! Keep at it.


1 BMC Psychiatry. Empirical examination of executive functioning, ADHD-associated behaviors, and functional impairments in adults with persistent ADHD, remittent ADHD, and without ADHD
2 Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome
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