Is It Procrastination or Distraction?

Get the upper hand on procrastination and attention deficit disorder.

Posted Nov 04, 2011

Let's combat common psychological parts of attention deficit disorder (ADD): frustration and procrastination. I'll describe a tested antidote. But first things first. Let's start with ADD and you.

ADD and You

ADD is a condition where you get easily distracted. With attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) you are likely to be more active and impulsive.  Both conditions exist on a continuum.  However, even milder versions can be costly.  Here is a sample of common signs.

1. You know what to do and how to get organized but don't do what you know.

2. You impulsively make foolish mistakes. You know you can do better. 

3. You routinely misplace items. You put down your car keys. You can't remember where they are.

4. When it comes to mental concentration, you feel so resistant to starting that you could scream.

5. You blurt out your views and interrupt others.

6. You've get accused of not listening.

7. You feel impatient when you have to wait.

8. When frustration or boredom sets in, your mind jumps to many places.

Many behavioral signs of ADD present self-improvement opportunities.  For example, you can take steps to get better organized.  

If you identify with a number of common signs of ADD, you're not alone. Between 4 - 10 percent have significant signs of adult ADD\ADHD.

You are likely to find people with a lot of energy and creativity included in an ADD population. Here is a group who allegedly experienced ADD or ADHD: actors Will Smith and Bill Cosby, actress Suzanne Somers, scientist Albert Einstein, movie producer and director, Steven Spielberg, and World War II tank commander, General George Patton.   All showed passion for their work.  With a passion for your work, you are more likely to concentrate your attention onto it. Although ADD may remain a hindrance, it becomes a lesser issue unless it interferes with your work.

A Frustration Procrastination Connection

ADD is a magnet conditions that attracts other undesirable states, such as low frustration tolerance and procrastination.  Low frustration tolerance is a tendency to overreact to frustrating circumstances. This tendency may mimic ADD or ADHD. With a low frustration tolerance you are likely to avoid situations that require high levels of attention and concentration.  For example, at the first flicker of discomfort you may distract yourself by doing something easier or more pleasurable.  Now you are procrastinating.

Low frustration tolerance commonly leads to impulsiveness and procrastination. Procrastination interferes with self-improvement and accomplishing what is in your best interest to do. Work to build frustration tolerance and reduce procrastination and you may simultaneously see improvements in your ability to attend and concentrate on important tasks.

The phrase, attention deficit disorder, appears in over 19,800 articles on the American Psychological Association data base. Procrastination is highlighted or mentioned in 11 of those articles. None are seminal articles.  Yet, procrastination is a significant impediment for millions who suffer from ADD and related conditions, such as executive function disability.

Procrastination is not necessarily a sign of ADD. Millions of non-ADD college students will delay studies that they view as complex, frustrating, and possibly ego deflating. Nevertheless, ADD can predispose you toward a higher than average level of procrastination.

Over the years I've counseled over 1000 clients for procrastination. I found that ADD was a hotspot area for a significant subgroup.  When these two conditions operate together, increases or decreases in one is likely to be matched by increases and decreases in the other. 

If you experience ADD you are not responsible for how your brain is wired or the related environmental factors that are beyond your control. Nevertheless, if you want to improve it is your responsibility to take corrective action. Behavioral goals give you a place to begin, such as finishing what you start. 


A common sign of ADD is that you start one thing, make progress, then quit before finishing.  This also is an example of behavioral procrastination.

PURRRRS is an intervention when it is important to change from distraction to staying on task. Think of PURRRRS as a way to improve your planning and organizing skills, build frustration tolerance, and accelerate your efficiency and effectiveness.

The PURRRRS acronym stands for pause first, use your resources to slow down, reflect on what's happening, reason it out, respond effectively, review and revise, and stabilize by practicing the previous six phases. Here is how to use PURRRRS to address a behavioral procrastination pattern at the point where you are likely to quit.

Pause and stop to think about your procrastination thinking, such as "I'll get back to this later." Remind yourself of what you want to accomplish. Use an ongoing reminder to pause, such as putting a green dot on the center of your watch crystal. By taking this self-monitoring step, you can substitute a critical evaluation for an impulsive low frustration tolerance reaction.

Use your resources to resist letting your thoughts flow unchecked. Put your thinking into slow motion. Write out your delaying thoughts. Review what you just told yourself. This procrastination log makes your thoughts visual and accessible to examination.

Reflect: In this phase you expand on the issue. You gather information. You reflect on how you feel. You examine why you are so tempted to sidetrack yourself. In short, you think more deeply about what is happening to you that would lead to distraction and behavioral procrastination.

Reason: In this phase, you more deeply evaluate your self-talk: What does your thinking direct you to do? What is the emotional tone to these thoughts? How does this thinking jibe with distractions and delays? If you are getting off track, what's your plan to stay on task and in focus?

Respond: Give yourself constructive instructions and follow them by talking and walking yourself through the paces. As a form of insurance, wrap a piece of athletic tape around your wrist with written instructions-much like a football quarterback might do-to remind yourself of your planned actions and implementation schedule.

Review and Revise: Reflecting, reasoning, and responding are like sighting a target, pulling a bow, and releasing an arrow. However, you might miss the center. You may lapse in completing the process. This experience may cause you to see what you hadn't thought about before. You make adjustments. You try again.

Stabilize: Practice developing a proactive habit of recognizing, evaluating, and replacing distractions with attentive, productive performances. By practicing PURRRRS, you can better regulate your actions to carry through to the finish line.

PURRRRS applies to many ADD magnet conditions, such as depression, anxiety, impulsiveness, and substance abuse where you may procrastinate on executing solutions. By practicing PURRRRS across ADD-related conditions, you can gain more ground than had you not tried.

To help yourself get past your procrastination barriers, click on parts 1-3 of the free Combatting Procrastination video: What is Procrastination?  Basic Techniques for Combatting ProcrastinationSeven Principles for Combatting Procrastination.)

For a program on overcoming the more complex forms of procrastination, click on The Procrastination Workbook

Dr. Bill Knaus