When you are having trouble getting The Thing done, use this to see why you’re having trouble and what to do next.
(here is the caveat that this is aimed at adults and older teens, and may not be the appropriate tool for all forms of procrastination or all people)
Step 1: Do I honestly intend to start the task despite my lack of success?
- Yes: Then, it’s a brain problem, head to the next question.
- No: Then be honest with yourself and anyone else expecting you to do the task. If you’re overcommitted, don’t enjoy the thing you got signed up to do, or are just trying to maintain appearances, this is a great time to reevaluate your priorities and boundaries. It is far better to call the folks depending on you and say “Hey, I know I said I would do X but I have found I’m unable to do that now. I wish you best of luck in finding someone to do The Thing” than for them to find out too late and scramble to replace you in that task. You can end it there or go on with something like “and I am happy to help out with this-other-thing-that-I-actually-like, at time-frame-I-can-actually-commit-to.”
Step 2: Am I fed, watered, well rested, exercised, medicated properly, etc?
- Yes: next question
- No: Guess what? Those things are critical to executive function. Make sure your body and mind
have what you and your care team have talked about as baseline selfcare. (You can check our our self care checklist here: https://www.facebook.com/vitalitynw/photos/a.546929958811150/1208688315968641/?type=
Step 3: Does the idea of starting the task make me feel scared or anxious?
- Yes: Anxiety brain. Figure out what you’re worried about first. Are you taking The Thing to an overcomplicated or unrealistic scenario? Are you too busy thinking up every possible scenario
that could happen? Is this you avoiding relying on other people? Are you afraid you’ll fail?
- Try the three questions technique for worst, best, and most realistic outcomes
- Feel your feelings. If you’re going to go ‘worst case scenario’, do it- but do it realistically. Odds are pretty good that you not doing The Thing isn’t actually going to end with you being a social pariah living in a dumpster in your least favorite climate for the rest of your life.
- Set a timer. Wallow in the anxiety for your timed allotment, then get started.
- Try the Freeze frame technique: https://www.pbs.org/bodyandsoul/203/heartmath.htm
- Meet with your care team to talk about other ways your anxiety can be reduced
- No: next question
Step 4: Do I know how to start the task?
- Yes: next question
- No: ADHD brain. Time to make an order of operations list, ask someone else for help, or read the instruction manual.
Step 5: Do I have everything I need to start The Thing?
- Yes: next question
- No: ADHD brain again. The first step in that order of operations is to gather all the materials up to prevent that mid-task-panic of “oh no, I was supposed to do/add xyz to make this work”
Step 6: Why am I having a hard time switching from my current task to this thing I am supposed to be
- I’m having fun doing what I’m doing! Having fun is actually a super important part of your health (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19592515/) so as long as The Thing is not time sensitive, enjoy! If your task is time sensitive, next question.
- I have to finish what I’m doing: Might actually be a problem with set shifting. Does the task actually need to be finished before starting the thing you need to do? Are you getting trapped in a behavior cycle?
- The next task will be boring/boring-er than the current task. Good news, y’all. Being bored is actually a critical part of helping increase creativity
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28479110 so it might just help the first task get done better. That’s the last thing an ADHD brain wants to hear though, so let’s also bring out the coping skills of Reframing. What would make it exciting? What would completing The Thing help you feel better about? What are you looking forward to about your procrastinated task being done?
- I might not have enough time to complete the task. First, functional time blindness or inability to truly estimate how much time a task actually takes is a huge component of all sorts of mental health issues, so time yourself. Whatever you’re procrastinating probably wont take as long as you’re thinking. To avoid getting stuck in another set shifting loop, consider using the pomodoro method https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique, or if you’re more prone to inhibition issues, using something like the forest: stay focused app or other tech that helps you ignore additional distractions. https://www.forestapp.cc/
- I just want to make the person who asked me to do it angry: Time to check back in with question one and those intentions at the beginning. If you are intentionally trying to make someone mad at you, that’s not a healthy pursuit. Whether that is how you were taught to communicate or you trying to get a point across, you may have a lot more success with nonviolent communication techniques. https://chopra.com/articles/using-nonviolentcommunication-nurture-your-relationships
Step 7: Have I already procrastinated so badly that I now cannot finish the task in time?
- Yes: You probably just got caught in a guilt/perfection cycle, aka “since I can’t do it perfectly I wont even start” . Having part of something done is almost always better than none of a thing.
Consider asking for an extension, for help doing the task, or just getting as far as you can. Repeat to yourself “some is better than nothing” or “done is better than perfect” or “I am doing what
my brain is capable of in this moment, and that is what I can get done”
- If this is a situation where partially done will not assist with class, team goals, etc- it’s okay to not succeed every time. Use this as a learning experience to help you make a plan to avoid the challenges that you had this time.
- If you didn’t fully understand the material for a class or team function, doing part of the work may help you better understand the topic for the next time the thing comes up.
- The rest of the world is happy to institute their zero tolerance policy on failing to finish things on time, and sometimes that is a negative feedback loop because it can teach folks with executive function issues that even when you try, it’s not worth bothering. Consider whether the value of doing The Thing is only worth doing in the context of doing the task the way other folks need it to be done- sometimes you’ll find a lot of
beauty in starting and doing things in your own way, on your own time.
- No, there’s still a chance to finish on time. Please remember that functional time blindness! There are only two real times, now and not now. Get yourself doing part of it, even if that’s just
opening a document and titling it, just taking the basket to the laundry room, just writing a schedule. If you don’t start now, set a timer, a reminder, and ask for some accountability help to
make sure you start doing the task on time.
Step 8: I’ve completed the checklist and still don’t know what’s wrong!
- Were you totally honest with yourself? Take another look.
- Are you overwhelmed? Anxiety loop/ inhibition issue. Are there actually too many things to do right now? When you write a to-do list, don’t ever put more than 3 things on it. You can write
down more than 3 things in the order of operations list from step 4, but only look at 3 things at a time so that you’re not getting distracted by how many other things might need to be done later. If you’re having trouble prioritizing, ask for help!
- Still mystified? Talk it out with a friend or professional helper like a counselor or a organizational coach.