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Adult EF Skills 101: How can I stop procrastinating? 😖

NOTE: This article is part of a series called Adult EF Skills 101. Each post is inspired by the course, Adult EF Skills 101, designed to teach the essential executive function skills for success in the "real world". Learn more about the course by clicking here.


A few days ago, I looked at my calendar and realized that I double booked a client and a networking meeting. I could have taken action right away and rescheduled one of them with a full week’s notice. Instead, I did nothing.


Rescheduling the networking meeting is still on my list.


Do you relate?


  • Are you avoiding updating your resume, despite wanting a new job?

  • Is the inside of the microwave still covered in spaghetti sauce which exploded 2 weeks ago? 

  • Are you scrolling through Instagram instead of leaving for your workout?


If so, you aren’t alone.


In this blog, I share a strategy that you can use today. It is a framework to help you START any task. 


First, let’s quickly cover what causes procrastination.


TL;DR: click here to jump to the summary. 


What is procrastination?

A few weeks ago, I guided a client, Luca, in creating a spring cleaning checklist.

One week later, he joined our meeting disappointed. Another week passed and he didn’t clean a thing. Now, with his parents visiting later that day, he was embarrassed and overwhelmed. 


According to Dr Tim Pychyl, procrastination is, “the voluntary delay of an intended action despite expecting to be worse off because of the delay”.


In other words, procrastination is choosing not to do “the thing” even though we know our future self will suffer. 


Procrastinators, especially those with ADHD, know what they should be doing, often they know it is time to start, but they can’t.  

Procrastination is rarely caused by poor time management. While time management may play a slight role, procrastinators know what they should be doing, but cannot get themselves started. 


Procrastination is a deficit in the executive function skill of task initiation. 


Why do I procrastinate? 

Procrastination is an emotional reaction to a task. Here’s how it works: 

  1. We think about “the thing” we should do

  2. The thought triggers a negative emotion 

  3. We cannot manage the negative emotion 

  4. We do not do “the thing” 


According to Fuschia Sirois, Ph.D., “People engage in chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”


In nearly all cases, procrastination is caused by one or a combination of four emotions: 

  • Fear

  • Anxiety 

  • Boredom 

  • Confusion 


Remember that networking meeting I still haven't rescheduled? The cause of my procrastination is fear. I am scared of how someone else will react to my request.


Why do you procrastinate?

  • Fear

  • Anxiety

  • Boredom

  • Confusion


How can I stop procrastinating? 

Sometimes, starting a task feels like pushing a boulder up a mountain. But, here's a secret…. the boulder is already at the top. And, once the boulder starts moving, momentum will take over. 


All you need to do is START. 


We developed a framework to help you stop procrastinating and START any task. Here’s how it works: 


the word start as an acronym

Specify the Task

  1. Prioritize your to-do list by identifying your 3 MITs.

  2. Choose the task you will start with. 

  3. Break the task into steps that feel doable. Extremely doable!


Tackle a portion

It is time to get going. Read, set, complete step 1! 


Assess your progress

When you are done with step 1, ask yourself two questions: 

  1. What is step 2? 

  2. Do I have the energy and time to do it? 


Repeat or rest 

If the answer is yes to both questions, keep going! If you do now know what step 2 is but you have the energy and time to continue, specify the second step and tackle it. 


If you do not have the energy or time to keep going, it’s time to rest. A true rest rejuvenates your energy stores. Have you ever felt rejuvenated after scrolling through Instagram or TikTok? I sure haven’t. 


Instead, go outside and get sunlight, do 4 rounds of box breathing, or get some exercise. 


Thank yourself 

Acknowledge the progress you made, no matter how small. When I complete a task I usually procrastinate, I like to reward myself with a cold brew coffee! 


We often forget this critical step but, it is vital for building the skill of task initiation. It is important to remind ourselves that we are growing.


How do I break down tasks into doable steps? 

Magic ToDo has you covered! This free tool breaks down any task into bite-sized chunks. Check out the image below to see how it broke down the task of moving apartments. Click here to give it a try.



a list explaining the steps of moving apartments


Looking for more support? 

Sometimes, we need a teammate to get started. If you are ready to START living the life you dream of, check out our upcoming LIVE course: Adult EF Skills 101. You will receive coaching to address your concerns and be a part of a supportive community that will help you reach your goals. 


white male with long, dark hair, standing in front of a green background, wearing a black jacket

More Tools! 

Here is a list of our favorite task initiation tools that you can incorporate into the START framework: 


Timers

  • Use visual a timer (like a sand timer) to see the passage of time 

  • Set a one-minute timer to emotionally regulate, the START. 

  • When you “tackle a portion” work for a specific amount of time instead of doing all of step 1

  • The Pomodoro technique is another powerful tool that works well with START. You can learn more about it here


Modify your environment 

  • Sometimes we need a change of environment. Try listening to music or a podcast, working at a coffee shop, or working in different locations of your home as you switch from task to task. 

  • Minimize distractions before beginning a tedious task 


The 5 Pillars 

  • Get adequate sleep 

  • Move your body every day (it doesn’t need to be a crazy workout) 

  • Eat a balanced diet full of whole foods 

  • Spend time with people who bring you joy 

  • Emphasize positive self-talk 


Routine

  • Create morning, evening, and weekly routines 

  • Eat the frog: start your day with the most tedious or difficult task 


Conclusion

If you, like many of us, find yourself procrastinating, especially when facing tasks that seem daunting due to ADHD or simply the overwhelming nature of modern life, the START framework can make a significant difference. 


This approach focuses on specifying the task, tackling a portion, assessing progress, deciding whether to repeat or rest, and importantly, thanking yourself for any progress made. 


To aid in this process, utilize tools like Magic ToDo for breaking tasks into manageable steps, timers to manage and limit time spent on tasks, adjust your environment to minimize distractions, and follow the 5 Pillars for maintaining overall well-being. 


For those looking for more structured support, join our upcoming LIVE course, Adult EF Skills 101, where you'll receive personalized coaching and be part of a supportive community aimed at helping you achieve your dreams. By applying these strategies, you will take meaningful steps towards overcoming procrastination and moving closer to your goals.


Want to join our next cohort of Adult EF Skills 101?


We know adulting is HARD. It demands strong executive functions. Luckily, we've made a course to cover the fundamentals so you can make the best of each day. In this course, you will:


  • Learn how to plan your priorities 🎯

  • Learn to get started (task initiate) 🔨

  • Learn how to keep things tidy 🧺

  • Learn how to find and keep a job 🧹

  • Learn how to communicate effectively 🗣️

  • Learn how to budget 🤑




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About the Author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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About 👋

Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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