Procrastination, the constant putting off of tasks, occurs more frequently and more strongly in people with ADHD than in those not affected. Procrastination in ADHD correlates with characteristics such as task avoidance, task procrastination, self-efficacy, conscientiousness and, to a lesser extent, impulsivity. Procrastination is also described as a consequence of a lack of self-control and a preference for short-term rewards.
There is a connection between procrastination and ADHD, which is reflected in characteristics such as distractibility, organizational problems and reward deferral aversion. Procrastination correlates negatively with a positive future perspective and positively with a present-oriented, hedonistic and fatalistic attitude.
Mindfulness exercises can help with procrastination. It has been found that ADHD-HI sufferers are better able to complete tasks for others and this is recommended as a coping strategy against procrastination. This could be explained by the affinity of ADHD-HI sufferers for the affiliation motive.
1. Procrastination - what is it?
Procrastination is the phenomenon of constantly putting off tasks. Everyone procrastinates from time to time when they should actually be doing something. People with ADHD procrastinate much more frequently and to a much greater extent than those without the disorder.
The symptom of procrastination can take on extreme forms - mail is no longer opened, the tax return is no longer submitted and the bin bags pile up in the kitchen.
This article refers to procrastination in a way that is relevant to ADHD: not the “everyone-postpones-something” procrastination, but the “I have a problem” procrastination. However, this already begins well below piles of garbage bags and enforcement measures by the tax office.
2. Procrastination is the most common symptom of ADHD
According to the data from the ADxS.org online symptom test (as of June 2020, n = 1,889), procrastination is the symptom most frequently mentioned by sufferers with the highest symptom severity. It was mentioned more frequently than attention problems in ADHD-I sufferers or than problems of hyperactivity, impulsivity or inner restlessness in ADHD-HI sufferers.
3. Procrastination in scientific research
Procrastination correlates clearly and consistently with the traits impulsivity, task avoidance, task procrastination, self-efficacy and conscientiousness with their facets of self-control, distractibility, organization and achievement motivation. Neuroticism, resistance and sensation seeking, on the other hand, showed weak correlations.
These results (with the exception of impulsivity) are largely consistent with the data from the ADxS.org online symptom test (as of June 2020, n = 1,889). These show a stronger correlation of procrastination (in ADHD) with internalizing stress phenotypes (ADHD-I, 0.33) than with externalizing stress phenotypes (ADHD-HI, 0.13). With regard to the individual ADHD symptoms, procrastination correlated above all with organizational problems (0.64), drive and concentration problems (0.58 each), distractibility (0.52), inability to perform (0.49), time problems (0.48), frustration intolerance (0.45), anhedonia (0.40), learning difficulties (0.39), impulsivity and impatience (0.34 each) and task switching problems (0.33).
Other sources describe procrastination as an effect of a lack of self-control and a simultaneous preference for short-term rewards.
Without even mentioning ADHD in their publications, the authors cited here list a number of ADHD symptoms, such as distractibility, self-control problems, organizational problems or reward deferral aversion. This all points to a strong connection between procrastination and ADHD.
If procrastination is an avoidance of unpleasant tasks (in the sense of a devaluation of their relevance, corresponding to a devaluation of more distant rewards), this is the result of altered motivation and reduced drive. This could be induced by a lack of dopamine in the striatum.
Procrastination correlates negatively with a subjectively positive future perspective and correlates positively with a present-oriented hedonistic and fatalistic attitude. The negative assessment of the future perspective could be understood as a separate expression of the symptom of a lower appreciation of pleasure or distant rewards.
Procrastination continues to correlate negatively with mindfulness, i.e. present-oriented perception.. Mindfulness exercises are a very helpful form of therapy for ADHD, which can increase subjective well-being, reduce stress and raise serotonin levels in the long term.
Another fascinating aspect of procrastination is that ADHD-HI sufferers find it much easier to perform for someone else the activity that they cannot perform for themselves. This goes so far that Passig and Lobo recommend as a coping strategy for procrastination that those affected do the activities they procrastinate for each other.
This approach, which at first glance seems very surprising, could be comprehensibly and conclusively explained by the special affinity of ADHD-HI sufferers to the (dopaminergically controlled) affiliation motive.