I’ll Do It Later, And Other Lies Adults With ADHD Tell Ourselves

If you have ADHD, how often have you said any of these words?

I’ll do it later.

I’ll do it tomorrow.

I’ll just finish this page/article/email/task.

It won’t take much time.

This will be easy.

I don’t need a reminder.

I’ll remember it, don’t worry.

These are very common lies that we adults with ADHD tell ourselves. We don’t lie deliberately. We don’t even think they’re lies in the moment when we say them because we “have the intention to do them”. We really do believe that we will “do it later”.

But we rarely do in fact do it later. This leads to frustration, stress and other negative feelings for the adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and often even more of that for others around us, spouses, family, colleagues, friends etc.

Adults with ADHD have trouble with time management and arguably procrastination is one of the biggest problems for ADHD adults.

I’ve said them, my adult ADHD coaching clients have said them, I’ve heard them at the Vancouver adult ADD Support group I lead, and I’ve heard them from many, many adults with ADHD.

The problem is that all the good intentions in the world are useless by themselves. Intentions don’t really matter that much unless they’re malicious & hostile, then they do.

Intentions are not actions. But often we ADDErs think unconsciously if we have the intention to do something it will get done magically and then we don’t have to do anything about it, worry about it or plan anything to make it happen, create a reminder that works for us etc.

They’re basic examples of delusional optimism or magical thinking vs. pragmatic optimism or realistic thinking. Everyone has delusional optimism sometimes, but ADHD adults seem to have them more often than non adders.

Adults With ADHD More Likely To Be Delusionally Optimistic Because We’re More Likely To Be:

  • forgetful
  • time blind
  • disorganized
  • have trouble breaking down projects into smaller doable tasks
  • are easily distracted
  • are impulsive
  • have trouble considering the future
  • don’t like doing boring or repetitive things
  • have trouble planning.

So given all those things can you now see why when we say “I’ll do it later” warning flags should go off in our heads? But we’re forgetful and have trouble learning from past mistakes so they often don’t or we ignore them.

When you catch yourself saying one of these try & stop and be aware of your body to get out of your head and get grounded, become more present and start applying some reality filters. I.e., ask yourself some questions.

Here are some examples of reality filters to try out:

When, exactly, will later be?

How will I plan to do this?

How will I remember to do this? What kinds of reminders would work for me to remember it?

Was it easy/simple/quick the last time I tried to do something like this?

What might happen if I forget to do this?

You might want to create a simple plan and a reminder to practice saying them so that when you’re in the moment you’re more prepared to do so.

What are the most common ADHD lies you tell yourself?

What techniques have you learned to be able to deal with them more effectively?

12 thoughts on “I’ll Do It Later, And Other Lies Adults With ADHD Tell Ourselves”

  1. Pete, have you read Your Life Can Be Better by Douglas Puryear? One of my favorite ADHD strategies books. Puryear is a psychiatrist with ADHD. He has a mantra that he uses: “do it now, do it right, do the hard part first.” This helped me a lot at first but lately I have been putting off using it! 🙂 Love Dan’s comment here.

  2. Sometimes when I procrastinate on something, I’ve used apps to keep reminding me over and over till I actually do it. I found this to be effective (as long as the reminder is subtle, and not annoying).

    What do you think of this approach? Has anyone else tried it, and found it effective/ineffective?

  3. Hi Mike for some people for some things it will. For some the subtle & not annoying will work & with others the loud & irritating will work

  4. OMG!!! i read Dan’s post at the top and the first thing i thought to myself is that i should bookmark this and read it later like Dan said…. it’s amazing how easy it is to let these things slip past even when consciously trying to avoid it. The only thing that stopped me from putting it off and going to another web page was the second comment from Pete … what a reality slap

  5. This is a tough area for me and (coupled with attention to detail) the source of a lot of problems for me and inflicted on those around me. One of the ways this manifests itself is that when I think about doing something, I mentally check it off as if it were done. That is what the delusional optimism does for me. Then as time goes by and it hasn’t been completed several different things happen: (1) I am kind of surprised that I haven’t completed the task, (2) the delay often results in the task becoming bigger issue (failing to pay a bill on time leading to a late charge,),(3) if my wife gets involved by reminding me about the task or gets upset because my failure to act has caused the task to become a bigger issue (late charge), I get angry at her “unreasonable” response, and (4) this part is difficult to articulate, but there is a certain amount of mental fatigue that takes place while I procrastinate—the knowledge that I have a task to do dances around my head at some level of consciousness and creates a kind of mental static that can wear at me.

    Lately, when a task comes up I try to tackle it early so that it doesn’t become part of “The List” or where dreams go to die. I like the idea of questioning your internal “I’ll do it later” thought, but that implies a level of mindfulness that I feel I don’t really possess. How do you create the internal discipline to apply those reality filters? To ask: “When, exactly will I do this?” “How will I plan to do this?” “How will I remember to do this?”

    For example, I have begun using my smart phone more to keep The List, but have found it more useful as a place to put reminders. But here is the kicker, I haven’t been able to train myself or acquire the mental discipline to go straight to my phone when a new task comes up that I need to take care of. Any thoughts there?

  6. Pete Quily

    “One of the ways this manifests itself is that when I think about doing something, I mentally check it off as if it were done” a lot of adders think like this.

    One way is to realize it’s better to to a draft task wish list and than apply your reality filters of choice and then and only then call it a to do list. 2 stage list. have a list of the ?s to make doing stage 2 easier.

  7. Thank you all for sharing. I thought I was the only human in this maddening world of “I’ll do it later.” David, I totally identify with, “One of the ways this manifests itself is that when I think about doing something, I mentally check it off as if it were done.” OMG! What trouble that has landed me into!

    The other end of that spectrum for me is getting started on the thing immediately out of fear that I might not get to it at all. Sometimes it works out, but at other times it gets “filed” with the other to-be-completeds. That ends up making me feel even more wretched, confused and hopeless.

    That’s what brought me to this page…searching for an out of this madness!

    Some helpful strategies I’ve found though include:
    – setting up automatic payment for some things,
    – using my calendar more and
    – getting others to hold me to account. (I promise to pay Money to my nephews if I fail to complete certain tasks by a set deadline). This one has helped me most.

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