Procrastination, ADHD, and The Intellectual Yes

Do you procrastinate?

If you have ADHD or you identify with ADHD tendencies, the answer is yes. 

Let’s be real here…

Procrastination comes with the territory of an ADHD brain. 

But here’s some good news… 

woman procrastinating at her desk

While we can’t solve for procrastination entirely (we’re not handing out new prefrontal cortexes here!) we can put scaffolding in place.

And we can build up supports that help us with task initiation while experiencing much less resistance.

So if you ever find yourself thinking to yourself, “I know what to do but I’m just not doing it” you’re in the right place.

Because in episode 172 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we’re looking at procrastination and ADHD through a new lens.

Tune in now and use the strategies we explore to support your brain

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode #172: Procrastination, ADHD, And The Intellectual Yes, You’ll Discover… 

  • An often-overlooked reason why we struggle with procrastination
  • The difference between an “intellectual yes” and a “full body yes” 
  • How to move through the procrastination and into action

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Episode #172: Procrastination, ADHD, and The Intellectual Yes (Transcript)

clock with note that says later

This week we are diving into a subject that I’d wager is quite familiar to most of the listeners in our busy-awesome community, and this is the subject of procrastination.

As I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, if you have ADHD or you identify with ADHD tendencies, you’re going to procrastinate. That comes with the territory of having ADHD.

For a little bad news – good news: while we can’t solve procrastination entirely – we’re not handing out new prefrontal cortexes here – we can put supports and structures in place to help us navigate the tendency to procrastinate with much less resistance.

I was inspired to look at this topic because we’re just about four weeks into the October cohort of my group program We’re Busy Being Awesome.

In this first month, we spend time: setting goals and then uncovering and coaching our brains on our beliefs about ourselves, having ADHD, our tendency to procrastinate, our ability to take action, our perfectionism and imposter syndrome, and our follow through.

The reason we make time to really uncover and explore these beliefs is it’s critical to understand what we think and feel about ourselves before we put tools and strategies in place.

Until we figure out the stories that we’re telling ourselves and the emotions we’re pushing away or avoiding. And until we can learn how to stop beating ourselves up every time we don’t follow our plans or do the thing perfectly, things won’t change.

Those strategies won’t stick.

Instead, we need to begin shifting how we think and feel about ourselves and our brains so that we’re building new productivity strategies and time management tools in a way that works best for our ADHD brains.

We can’t know that until we stop beating ourselves up and actually figure out what our brains really need. We need to stop trying to “fix” what’s not broken before we’re able to open up to find the scaffolding that’s supportive of our brain.  

I could spend an entire episode on this topic alone, I think it is SO key. Maybe I will. But for now, I’ll leave it at that.

So again, we spend time in the first month of We’re Busy Being Awesome finding what these beliefs are. And not surprisingly, many of us have a lot of thoughts when it comes to procrastination.

We tell ourselves:

“I’m just a procrastinator. I can never get started. It’s so boring, I just don’t want to do it. It’s too hard. I have no idea where to start. I have too many ideas, I don’t know which one to pick. I need the anxiety of a big deadline to follow through on anything.”

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I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.

One of the most common themes that I hear from people over and over is, “I know what to do but I’m just not doing it.”

You know this thought, right?

We tell ourselves this thought over and over, and we beat ourselves up for it. We get super hard on ourselves thinking, “I know what to do, what’s my problem? Why can’t I get my act together?” We alternate between shaming and blaming ourselves, which sounds like “You should know better. What’s the matter with you? You need to get it together. Stop being so lazy. It’s not like this is actually a hard task.”

Now, this is some harsh talk. For some of you, it may even be stronger. For others, it may be more sneaky.

Regardless of the specific words your brain offers you, this flip-flop between shame and blame usually makes us both hide and shut down from the situation. And not surprisingly, we don’t do “the thing”.

Reasons We Struggle With Procrastination

There are many different reasons we struggle with procrastination. To name a few:

  • Confusion about where to start when the project seems too big
  • Feeling overwhelmed thinking about all the things there are to do on your list
  • Having far too many brilliant ideas that you can’t choose just one
  • Getting stuck in front-end perfectionism believing you need your entire space to be “just right” before you begin
  • We get stuck in analysis paralysis and decision fatigue when it comes to making a decision about where to start or what goal to even set
  • Perfectionism and imposter syndrome love to sneak in around this time

In addition to these executive functioning reasons, there is also an important area that I think we use against ourselves.

This is the role of want.

Do you WANT to do the thing? Or desire?

Do you actually desire to do this thing or not?

I want to make a caveat here ahead of time that the information I’m talking about today is not to be used against yourself.

Check your brain if it starts thinking, “I guess this means I don’t want this thing enough… I just need to want it more.” NO. This is why we just talked about the huge impact our executive functions play in procrastination as well. Procrastination is not a choice. We’re not just lazy. There are literally obstacles in our way.

In addition to this, I think it’s really important that we explore the idea of want because we find ways to use this against ourselves, too. Nevertheless, it’s a key component when it comes to procrastination, and I think it’s often largely overlooked. We get stuck in this procrastination cycle of not doing the things on our list – even though we’ve broken down the tasks, we know the exact steps, we have crystal clarity around what we need to do, and we’ve processed emotions around doing them. And when we slow down and check in with ourselves, we find don’t actually want to do most of them at all. Yet we’ve decided we should.

The Question is: What Do You Actually Want To Do?

Do you actually want to do these things that fill your lists and your schedule each day?

When we slow down and consider this question, many of us look at our schedules and find that they are entirely built around everyone else’s needs, requests, and preferences.

We haven’t taken into account the things that we actually want to do.

We’ve built our schedules around unwritten rules that we think we “should” follow because that’s what a good employee, partner, parent, friend, or family member does.

Most of us think about our to-do list or our schedule for the day, and we don’t want to do any of it.

We feel a sense of dread or resentment or irritation or apathy when we think about doing these things. When you think about it that way, it’s no wonder we procrastinate. It’s no wonder we put these things off.

As ADHD brains, we’re lacking dopamine levels that help us with task initiation and doing the things we don’t want to do. When our entire day is filled with ‘shoulds’ and lacking “wants” it’s no wonder we feel stuck.

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Now, I’m not saying that we should only do the things that we feel immediate excitement and joy doing.

I’m not saying just because you feel bored doing your taxes, you should skip them. Or just because you don’t like doing school pickup, leave your kid at school. That’s definitely NOT what I’m saying.

What I am saying, is that we could do ourselves a solid and spend a little bit more time investigating whether the things we’re filling our days with are things we genuinely want to do.

This concept is especially applicable to bigger projects, goals that we’ve set, commitments we’ve made, and routines we’ve established.

Saying Yes (When You Really Don’t Want To)

Maybe it’s a goal that we’ve set or a new routine we want to follow.

Maybe we’ve volunteered to be on a committee at our kids’ school, or we take on a leadership role in a group without really examining whether we want to do this thing or not.

Instead, we tell ourselves, I should do this.

  • I should be involved in the day-to-day of my kid’s school.
  • I should be working on a goal like this since most people are.
  • Everyone follows a routine like this, so I should too.
  • Someone asked me to organize all the events for this group or that league, and I can’t say no. I have to do it.

-> Meanwhile, we don’t actually want to do it.

It’s not an actual full body yes. It’s an intellectual yes.

Our brain has gone to work finding all the reasons it thinks we should, but we haven’t actually fully committed. We haven’t felt it as a yes throughout our entire body. That deeper “why” is not compelling enough.

We don’t actually want to do the thing.

And when we slow down to see if this could be true, we might find there’s back and forth between the chatty part of your brain who’s just trying to follow the rules and blend in without ruffling feathers; that part of the brain is creating the intellectual yes. Meanwhile, what you as an individual actually WANT to do might be very different.

To-Do List Exercise

I invite you to think about the things on your to-do list right now.

Step 1

Pull up the task list on your phone, look at your schedule or calendar for the week, and as a whole, notice how you feel.

  • Do you notice your body constricting and tightening inward?
  • Or do you notice an expansion or a sense of lightness because you’re excited about what’s coming up?

This simple exploration of expansion or contraction when you look at your schedule can be really telling.

Step 2

Think about the items that, in your mind, you’ve been “procrastinating.” Make a list.

  • What are the things you’ve been telling yourself, you should be doing or you’ve managed to put off again?
  • Once you’ve made that list, go through it one by one. Do you actually want to be doing this thing?

Side note: Your brain might get nervous doing this exercise. It might resist making the list of everything thinking, “what if I don’t want to do any of it? What if the answer is no to everything? I can’t possibly just stop doing it all.” Firstly, technically you could. You could just stop doing everything. But also, you don’t have to. So remind your brain, that you don’t actually have to do anything about this list as you go through the exploration.

With this exercise, you’re simply creating awareness around the things that you actually want to do – you have that desire to do – versus the things you’re doing because you think you should for some reason or another.

Again, there is no shame here. No shaming no blaming. We are simply gathering data.

To Recap:

  • What are the things on your list that you want to do?
  • What are the things on your list you don’t want to do? Be honest with yourself.
  • Notice how it feels to decipher the difference between an intellectual yes and a full-body yes.
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Examples of The Intellectual ‘Yes’

Personal Example of an Intellectual Yes: “I should really meal plan and meal prep every Sunday so that Ryan and I have different dinners each night.” Yes, that sounds great in theory. Yes, it would be nice to have. But I do not feel a full body yes to that. I do not want to spend hours of my free time on Sunday doing that. No thank you.

However, I do experience the full body yes to prepping some core ingredients that make dinner super quick and easy.

For example, this might be making black beans in the instant pot, and roasting some vegetables that we can easily reheat, cooking up some form of protein, and hard boiling eggs. I can do it in an hour, and that feels like a yes.

It’s not an intellectual yes, my whole body says yes, that will be helpful. I do want that result and I am willing to put in the time for it.

Another example is something that I thought was a yes but has since become a no

For those of you who have listened to this podcast for a while, at the beginning of 2022 I talked about process-based goals and a crochet project that I decided to pursue.

The project was a temperature blanket where each day throughout the year, you crochet a line of the blanket, and the color of that line coincides with the temperature of that day. So, by the end of the year, you’ve captured this rainbow of colors to represent that year.

Now, I chose this process goal when I thought my husband and I were moving back to Minnesota from Boston at the beginning of the next year 2023.

I thought to myself, this would be such a fun way to capture my last year in Boston.

Well, in the spring of this year, those plans changed a bit, and we thought that we’d be in Boston quite a bit longer. When that happened, my thoughts quickly shifted, and I no longer had that compelling reason why to stick with it. Rather than thinking, what a great way to capture the year, my brain was instead thinking, “what’s the point? Why bother? We’re not moving anyway.”

What I think is interesting here, is that even though I noticed my thoughts shift, for several months I still kept telling myself I “should” stick with it. “This was a project I started. I spent money on the materials. I talked about it on the podcast. I told myself I’d do it. I should follow through.”

But I kept procrastinating. And every time I saw my bag of yarn it was a little jab reminding me that I wasn’t finishing it.

In fact, it was only once we realized that our original plan to move home will work, and we can indeed stick with the plan to move home to Minnesota next year, that I was able to see this back and forth between the desire to create this blanket versus “I should because I already started it.”

It was once I finally sat down and thought to myself, “OK, self. We are moving back. Do you want to continue with the blanket?”

When I checked in with myself, I noticed it was all intellectual reasons.

  • I should do it because I started it
  • I already spent money on the supplies
  • It’s important for me to follow through

However, when I paid attention to anything outside of my chatty mind, it was a very clear no.

That’s not how I want to spend my time – at least not in this current season. This might change. But for now, it’s a no. And it felt so good to release that should. Once I released that should, it allowed me to expand my capacity to focus on the other things that I genuinely do want to have on my list.

Release That ‘Should’ Feeling

I think this is true for all of us in whatever projects were contemplating. When we allow ourselves to accept that we don’t want to do some of these things and we let that be okay.

When we allow ourselves to say no or we stop pushing ourselves to do the things we don’t want to do, it opens up so much more capacity for us to show up in the other areas of our life where we do want to put our attention.

Similarly, when we release this “should” of the bigger projects and commitments we don’t want to do, it also opens up our capacity to follow through on those smaller nagging tasks that part of us wants to get done, but we keep putting off because we don’t have the capacity for it.

For example:

Let’s say I’m on a handful of different committees for events in my city or my child’s school, and I also have some doctor appointments to schedule and forms to fill out to renew my license.

When I pause and slow down, I find that I am procrastinating on all of it. When this happens, I think it’s important to check in on those bigger commitments.

Do I want to be on each of these committees? Are these all full-body yeses?

Or are some of them mind chatter yeses because I think I should do it?

As a side note, I’m starting with these bigger commitments, because generally most of us want to get our doctor’s appointments scheduled and maintain our licenses, but we don’t have the capacity to do it in the moment because we’re stretched so thin everywhere else.

I’ve found for myself personally – and for many of my clients – that once we put down the heavy responsibility of all the extra commitments and projects and goals and routines that we’ve established because we think we should, we can instead recommit to the ones that we genuinely want to do, it makes following through on those smaller tasks so much easier.

Let’s Recap: Is It Really Procrastination?

If you notice yourself procrastinating on your projects, goals, or paperwork for that committee or sticking with that routine you set for yourself, check in.

Look at your schedule and your To-Do List

to do list

Do you notice a sense of expansion or contraction? Maybe it’s the mix of both. Maybe for some of the tasks and events, you feel expansion and for others, you feel a contraction. Make note of that.

Create a Procrastination List

Create a list of all the things you think you should be doing or that you tell yourself you’re procrastinating.

Check in with each one.

Is it an intellectual yes filled with “shoulds”?

Or is it a full body yes? Make note of that, too.

Accept Saying No & Lean Into Your Yes

Then, as gradually as feels comfortable for you, start leaning into it.

Lean into the yesses, and start exploring what acceptance might look like around the no’s. What would it be like to accept that you don’t want to do that thing?

Release That Feeling of ‘Should’

Finally, what might it be like to release that should, stop doing the things you’re dreading, and open up a greater capacity for yourself to focus on the things you really want to do?

I’m telling you from experience and from working with many other busy awesome humans, we can make a much bigger impact when we do.

If you find yourself navigating a lot of procrastination; if you have a lot of things you want to do, and maybe they’re even primarily full-body yes activities but you can’t seem to move forward on them, definitely come join us in We’re Busy Being Awesome. I’d love to have you in the next cohort.

Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week. If you’re enjoying the podcast or finding it helpful in working with your ADHD brain, would you be a rockstar and leave a review? When you do, you help get these strategies to even more people.

Also, have you grabbed the podcast roadmap yet? It has the most popular episodes all detailed for you so you can get yourself up to speed and ready to work with your ADHD brain, you can grab it now…

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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