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Let's Talk About ADHD and Task Paralysis

A look into why people with ADHD are more susceptible to putting things off




It’s 10pm on a Sunday night. You’ve had the weekend off work but haven’t been able to relax. You have a mental health article due at 5pm tomorrow, and despite being free the entire time, you haven’t started. You feel stressed, guilty, and unable to move forward. You have no idea what to focus on, or how to even begin... oh, wait!


Let’s talk about task paralysis.



What exactly is task paralysis?


Task paralysis itself is a form of procrastination. Anyone can experience it, but it is far more common in people with ADHD, who already have difficulties starting and switching between activities. Procrastination does not equal laziness, and can occur for a variety of reasons:

On the other hand, task paralysis occurs when you delay doing something because you’re waiting for the perfect conditions to do it. For example, you might feel like there’s no point in starting anything if you know you need to leave for an appointment later that day. Or perhaps you feel resistance to finishing a piece of work if you don’t think you can complete it by the deadline.


The truth is, the so-called “perfect conditions” almost never actually exist, and the belief that you need them is false – yet much harder to shake if you experience task paralysis as a chronic symptom of ADHD or other neurodivergence.



Why do people with ADHD suffer from this more than neurotypical people?


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disability that can severely impact an individual’s executive functioning – the mental skills required for planning, starting, and completing tasks – which makes it much easier for people with ADHD to become overwhelmed. As well as feeling unable to prioritise, make decisions and maintain focus, there are several ADHD symptoms typically associated with task paralysis:

  • Time blindness resulting in poor time management

  • Inability to listen actively

  • Avoiding tasks that demand a high level of focus

  • Impulsivity; constantly jumping between tasks

  • Overthinking or overanalysing problems

  • Rapid mood changes and emotional dysregulation

  • Losing train of thought

  • Brain fog

Many neurodivergent people also have an "intensity threshold", meaning that they are only able to focus on a task if it meets certain requirements. For example, if a task is not deemed interesting or important enough (regardless of whether the task is high-priority), they often find it difficult to start. When task paralysis is chronic, this can even extend to activities an individual really wants to do.




How does ADHD task paralysis negatively impact mental health?


A tendency to over analyse problems means that many people with ADHD have higher standards for themselves, making it even more difficult to start and commit to things they may find challenging. Research suggests that procrastination can serve as a compensatory strategy, allowing an individual to avoid tasks they view as unpleasant and beyond their capability. Unfortunately, the act of avoidance can reinforce those beliefs, creating a vicious cycle. Adolescents and adults with ADHD often develop low self-esteem due to feelings of failure and inability to control their impulsivity. It is unsurprising that anxiety and depression are two of the most common ADHD comorbidities.


As a woman with ADHD and someone who has experienced chronic procrastination for years, I can confirm that being in a near-constant state of task paralysis is neither an enjoyable nor sustainable way to live. It has caused me to miss out on countless opportunities which have genuinely excited me. I put off things that I enjoy because I believe I should be doing something more important or productive, which puts me on edge, but then cannot bring myself to begin my to-do list, resulting in guilt, so ending up in a depressive limbo is far too easy. To feel like you are consistently underachieving is extremely frustrating.


It's important for people to understand that task paralysis is not laziness and can be very difficult to get yourself out of. A lot of people seem to think that ADHD is an excuse for people to not achieve what they're expected to - you've probably heard someone naively state that "everyone's a little bit ADHD" - but it's classed as a disability for a reason! Attitudes like this can be very invalidating, cause people to question their difficulties, and feel stupid for not being able do things in the same way that people without ADHD often can.



How can you override task paralysis?


Some specific strategies that have helped me include:

  • Rewarding yourself THROUGHOUT the task, not just at the end

  • Moving your body – even if it's just stretching for a minute – to stop you feeling under-stimulated

  • Breaking down tasks into smaller steps AND including estimated time commitments for each in your to-do list

  • Colouring in planners with hourly slots to visualise how much time you actually have every day

  • Setting (visual) timers and alarms to remind yourself that time is passing

If you are wondering why these strategies work and want to find out more, check out these articles on InFlow and Life Skills Advocate!


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