The other day a friend told me they’d read somewhere that the cause of procrastination is depression.

I’m not one for single cause statements like that. Sure you can blame procrastination on depression, because in the grip of depression you can’t do shit, in my experience, at least anything of consequence, much less of premeditated intent. 

Here are some other (actual) sources of procrastination: fear: a need to build sufficient tension in order to act, perfectionism: disinterest in the task at hand, chronic distractibility and… 

Perfectionism. Well, enough said about that. If it’s perfect living in your head, why ruin it?

As you probably know, all these causes can and often do fall under the heading of ADHD.

Since ADHD, and particularly ADHD in creative professionals is how I market myself given my training and closeness to both identifiers, I will put my focus there in terms of writing something of use to the reader…so if you’ve googled ‘productivity hacks’ ‘ADHD productivity strategies’, ‘how ADHD impacts creativity and productivity’ ‘Accountability and support for ADHD’ or ‘time management techniques’, chances are you are that reader.

If you’ve struggled with procrastination to the extent that you consider it a defining characteristic of who you are, chances are you don’t feel too swift about it (or yourself). That needs to change. Procrastination doesn’t have to delight you, but negative feelings are how we stay stuck staring at a problem rather than shifting to a solution focus. What is called for is neutrality of feeling. We find answers when we are curious, and curiosity comes from an objective stance. So the first challenge, if you wish to change your sense of helplessness around putting things off, is to attain that objective stance. 

Curiosity does not mean ruminating on ‘Why do I procrastinate?’ That is staring at the problem and identifying with it. You’ve been doing that. How’s that working for you?

No, an objectively curious perspective generates a more scientific-type inquiry such as ‘What am I thinking/feeling at the moment I put something off?’ ‘When specifically do I procrastinate?’ ‘Are there things I don’t procrastinate on and what are they?’ ‘What makes those things doable?’

Secondly, I don’t suggest undertaking this exploration in isolation. You can, at least at first, by using the questions in the previous paragraph as journaling prompts. Then, as you accumulate answers, the antidotes most likely will require some external engagement.

You may find, for example, that even though you miss deadlines, you do very good work the day before they arrive. Up until then, you find you cannot marshal the concentration needed to complete or even begin. That’s one piece of evidence pointing toward a chemical need to cultivate ‘eustress’, or useful stress in order to focus.  It will be useful at this point to look at ways to generate focus that don’t involve producing shame and anxiety. So you reach out, which you’ve already started to do, by reading blogs. Next, try scheduling a consultation (see what I did there?)

The conventional wisdom these days in dealing with procrastination induced by isolation and lack of accountability is to find a work buddy, or body double. This is very effective because you are mandated to show up for someone else at a certain time. You don’t even have to think of someone because it can be a stranger, via apps like ‘focusmate’. This is great because you’ll have a reputation to protect, otherwise you’ll get bad reviews on the app and no one will want to partner with you.  

There are plenty of tricks and techniques such as downloading software to block certain sites. I can’t speak to how effective those are. I’ve never tried them because I’d probably just disable them. (If you’re reading this and have had success with them, please tell us about it in the comments.) Having a destination to do your work can be an antidote to procrastination, especially if you’re paying for a co-working space. 

Thirdly, if you suspect you have, or have been diagnosed with ADHD, cultivating mental command through mindfulness techniques is great, but you may also want to look into whether you need some chemical help to be able to do that.  I do. Meds have leveled the playing field for me so that I can do the work of self-development and harness the myriad of tools available to create my work. So why rule it out? If you’d like to approach this strictly through diet, more power to you. I haven’t been able to do that consistently but that doesn’t mean you can’t. With diet especially, get support if you go that route. Depending on the extent of dietary change required, it can necessitate a wholesale lifestyle shift including where you live, who you hang with and even the nature of your employment, because eating is social as well as necessary. Company, as I constantly like to say, is stronger than will. The one time I cured my allergies was while adhering to a macrobiotic diet for three months while living in an ashram. Then a bunch of us snuck away for ice cream and that was that.

It can also help to google ‘focus music with binaural beats’. You’ll be taken to a plethora of it on YouTube. Music, like food and medicine, effects us on a celular level!

So in brief, here’s the cheat sheet of my main points regarding antidotes to procrastination via bullet points:

  1. Shift from staring at and judging the problem to a stance of objective curiosity with ‘How’ and ‘What’ questions, not ‘Why’.
  2. Get out of isolation as you endeavor to find a solution. Get help and support.
  3. Deal with the biochemical component of your neuropsychology. Focus music, Meditation, medication and diet are all ways to do this.

Thanks for reading. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.