How to overcome procrastination and overwhelm as a creator with ADHD

Personal Development

With ADHD, it can feel nearly impossible to focus on one task at a time and make forward progress.

You feel like your brain is always on, thinking about the next big idea or how to accomplish everything at once.

For creators with ADHD, to-do lists and content plans can feel like a neverending uphill battle. It can be tempting to either try doing everything all at once, or to get hyper-focused on an unimportant element of your content. Getting organized and operating around a sense of structure might feel unattainable.

But having ADHD as a creator doesn’t have to be bad news. Creators can overcome their diagnosis and challenges with ADHD, and instead use them to their creative advantage. That’s exactly what Noah at ProvocaTeach did in March 2020 after sitting on an idea he had but never acted on for many years.

Let’s take a look at the intersection of ADHD and creativity and the lessons we can learn from Noah at ProvocaTeach and his creator journey.

How Noah overcame procrastination and started his creator journey

Noah is a high school mathematics teacher by day and has big dreams of improving and adapting education.

When he was a student, Noah felt like he could’ve explained concepts at school better than his teachers. When he started studying education in college, he quickly realized that the standard curriculum didn’t touch on how to handle the real issues students were facing. The real issues for Noah were more around the day-to-day drama students experience—like lack of sleep, family issues, and other personal matters—rather than the actual content itself.

I daydream about what a better and more adaptive education system could look like — one that really addresses the challenges that students face day-to-day. I try to make stuff on the web about those daydreams.

-Noah at ProvocaTeach

When the pandemic started, Noah was working as an on-call substitute. As school systems began closing down, his role was no longer needed.

Without the substitute roles, Noah felt a sense of boredom and was looking for something to help fill his time. Noah always had strong opinions about the education system and thought, “Why don’t I turn this into a blog or a website?”

Enter ProvocaTeach. He purchased the domain name for his website and used the purchase as motivation to lock himself into starting the project he had always wanted to start.

The idea had been on his mind since he was in college, but he felt there was too much on his plate to get started. The pandemic offered Noah the time he needed to put his dreams into action. In the time since he started his creator journey, Noah felt compelled to share his experience with other creators, particularly regarding being a creator with ADHD.

What is ADHD?

When you hear ADHD, what comes to mind? Often, we think about an individual lacking the ability to focus or sit still. Sure, that might be part of the signs and symptoms, but ADHD is so much more than that.

Rather than simply the inability to focus, a better description might be the inability of an individual with ADHD to control their focus. Sometimes they might get fixated on a specific detail or element of a project that doesn’t matter. Other times, they may jump from task to task without finishing what they already started.

When this pattern of behavior happens, particularly for creators, it can feel tempting to beat oneself up over the lack of progress and inability to finish what they start.

Dr. Thomas E. Brown uses the metaphor of a conductor and an orchestra. When the conductor is out of sync or off base, the entire orchestra follows suit and quickly gets thrown off rhythm. As a creator living with ADHD, this metaphor resonates with Noah and is also one of his biggest challenges regarding managing ADHD.

Building your creator ecosystem with ADHD

One of the most challenging parts of living with ADHD, particularly as a creator, is regulating yourself to do the right thing at the right time.

There was so much that I could potentially do for a project at any given time. I could be writing. I could be learning about marketing. I could be fixing some bugs on my website. Part of my journey was learning how to compartmentalize.

-Noah at ProvocaTeach

There are two pieces of advice Noah shares that helped him through these tough internal conversations:

Use external resources to your advantage
Surround yourself with supporters you can trust when problems arise and you need advice

Knowing when to lean into things and get the work done versus when to lean into external sources or systems of support is crucial for creators with ADHD. External resources can help you figure out what your regulated creator process should look like or how to model your process after other experts. Support from external sources could be research, podcasts, books, or other experts, as a few examples.

When Noah first started ProvocaTeach, for example, he attended webinars with Angel at ConvertKit to help him get his project up and running.

Having a support system is another secret sauce creators with ADHD can leverage. You need to have someone to talk through ideas with and receive feedback from—that could be a spouse, best friend, family member, or mentor. This person should be able to help you identify and understand if you’re in the right headspace and working in the right frame of mind.

The tie between ADHD and creative output

Of course, there’s a relationship between creative output and ADHD that we can’t ignore.
For any creator, the desire to receive instant rewards from content isn't unusual. That’s the dream, isn’t it? To put content out into the world and see an immediate impact or reward for your hard work and creative ideas.

On top of the desire for immediate reward are the expectations creators set for themselves. While this varies across the board, when we believe success looks a certain way and those expectations aren't met, we judge ourselves and deem our efforts unsuccessful.

Where this can hurt a creator with ADHD is when they decide that something doesn’t feel immediately rewarding, so they abandon ship and jump to the next idea or piece of content. Noah has struggled with the concept of instant rewards — or the lack thereof.

Instead, you have to put out your content and give it time. Give your creations a couple of rounds to succeed before giving up and starting something new altogether. This requires consistency and the willingness to stick to something—even when the next shiny object might be in sight. There’s power in committing to consistency and holding yourself accountable to following through, even when there isn’t an immediate return.

How to use ADHD to your creative advantage

It might sound like ADHD hinders your abilities and success as a creator, but the truth is it isn’t all bad. While it might feel exhausting to jump from one idea to another and feel like you’re not making enough progress, keep in mind that there are ways you can leverage your diagnosis to your creative advantage and make it one of your greatest assets.

Since ADHD has to do with the regulation system of your brain and the inability to control your focus, you're left with plenty of creative wiggle room. Having minimal or no boundaries around your brain’s thoughts is great for creativity. A constant stream of ideas can be valuable for creating content on your creator journey.

At the end of the day, an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t have to prevent you from fulfilling your creator dreams.

If there’s anything we learned from Noah it’s constant creativity is something to be embraced. There are systems you can put in place to combat the challenges of being a creator with ADHD and you can simultaneously use your creativity-generating power to your advantage.

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