Creative Procrastination Spiral

Posted Wednesday, July 13, 2022 by Sri. Tagged JOURNAL, ADHD

I'm just wrapping up a challenging 3-year project, and I finally feel free to imagine and plan future projects for my own priorities, which as always are to (1) not be bored and (2) support myself financially and emotionally. When my part of the project closed two weeks ago, I jumped immediately into some forward-looking projects baseed on what I'd learned and was going at a fast clip. Today, though, the sheer number of projects and their dozens of associated tasks has put me into a familiar situation: overwhelmed by choice, understimulated by results.

I have the habit of monitoring me sense of clarity about what I'm doing, which I experience more as an emotional response than a rational one. The emotion that I'm feeling today is a kind of light panic as it dawns on me that finishing any one of the projects dancing in my head will take a lot of time and effort applied over time; this is a major buzzkill for my ADHD-patterned brain, which starts to shut down because it's SO BORING to contemplate doing a lot of work that I'm not clear about yet for no guranteed reward in the next 15 minutes. I think it would be accurate to say this is the essence of my creative struggle: keeping my brain engaged long enough to do the hours of prototyping, designing, engineering, and polishing to complete a work.

But I digress...I want to describe what the panic feels like in rational terms while I am in a safe space under no time pressure; by "naming the demon" that I'm feeling, I gain a measure of control over it. There are two elements that I can identify:

  1. The first panic response is my reaction to having so many cool project ideas. The very act of having ideas generates the hit of dopamine my brain needs to actualize thought into action, so it's pleasurable. However, I also know from experience that making things is time-consuming, requiring hours of learning from boring material and struggling with the uncertainties that are part of the design process. It's hard. I already feel like I'm going to fail, and my motivation starts to wane before I even get started.
  2. The second panic response builds on the first, which is the hope that choosing the exact right thing to do first will make the best us of my limited ability to focus. But what is the right thing? What do I need to do first? This is still going to take time, and now I am not even sure how to pick the right task! Motivation sinks even further.

I think these are common traps, and the first thing that I try to do is recognize that I'm falling into this spiral of thought. It's most prevalent when I'm working solo, as I tend to be when working on my own projects. I'll end this post with a few questions to guide the next part of this article.

Q. How does an ADHD creative survive during the boring parts of the process by making them exciting?

Q. How does an ADHD creative maintain strategic focus when working on just one thing for a long period of time is so antithetical to the way our brains work?