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Procrastination with ADHD

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Procrastination with ADHD

1. Procrastination - what is it?

Procrastination is the phenomenon of constantly putting off tasks. Everyone sometimes puts off doing something that they should actually be doing. ADHD sufferers procrastinate significantly more often and to a much greater extent than non-affected persons.

The symptom of procrastination can take on extreme features - mail is no longer opened, the tax return is not submitted at all and the garbage bags pile up in the kitchen.

This article means procrastination to an extent that is relevant for ADHD: not the “everyone-postpones-something” procrastination, but the “I have a problem” procrastination. However, this already starts well below the piles of garbage bags and enforcement measures of the tax office.

2. Procrastination in ADHD the most common symptom

According to the data of the ADxS.org online symptom test (as of June 2020, n = 1,889), procrastination is the symptom most frequently mentioned by affected persons 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 significantly and consistently with the traits impulsivity, task aversiveness, task delay, self-efficacy, and conscientiousness with their facets self-control, distractibility, organization, and achievement motivation. Neuroticism, Resistance, and Sensation seeking, on the other hand, showed weak correlations 12

These results (with the exception of impulsivity) essentially coincide with the data of 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). In terms of ADHD individual symptoms, procrastination correlated primarily with organization 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 the effect of a lack of self-control while preferring short-term rewards.3

Without even mentioning ADHD in their publications, the authors cited here list quite a few ADHD symptoms, such as distractibility, self-control problems, organizational problems, or reward deferral aversion. All this points to a strong link between procrastination and ADHD.

If procrastination represents avoidance of unpleasant tasks (in the sense of devaluing their relevance, corresponding to devaluing more distant rewards), this is the outflow of altered motivation and reduced drive. This could be induced by dopamine deficiency in the striatum.
Procrastination correlates negatively with a subjectively positive future perspective and correlates positively with a present-oriented hedonistic and fatalistic attitude.4 The negative assessment of the future perspective could be understood as a separate expression of the symptom of lower appreciation of pleasure or of more distant rewards.

Procrastination continues to correlate negatively with mindfulness, i.e., present-oriented awareness.5. 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 do for someone else the activity they cannot do for themselves. This goes so far that Passig, Lobo recommend as a coping strategy for procrastination that sufferers do each other’s procrastinated activities for each other.6

This approach, which seems very surprising at first sight, could be explained understandably and conclusively by the special affinity of ADHD-HI sufferers to the (dopaminergically controlled) affiliation motive.7