A RESEARCH STUDY RELEVANT TO ADHD COACHINGFerrari, J.R., & Sanders, S.E. (2006). Procrastination rates among adults with and without ADHD: A pilot study. Counseling and Clinical Psychology Journal, 3, 2-9.
Individuals with and without AD/HD exhibit procrastination. In fact, the authors of this study cite earlier research indicating that the prevalence of procrastination among individuals without AD/HD is 70% among college students and 20% among adults (Ellis & Knaus, 1977; Harriott & Ferrari, 1996).
Looking more closely at procrastination, Ferrari and colleagues (Ferrari,1992; Ferrari et al., 1995; Ferrari, O’Callaghan, & Newbegin, 2005) have identified three types:
• Avoidance procrastination: delaying tasks to avoid revealing perceived lack of ability or other “flaws”
• Arousal procrastination: delaying tasks to experience the “rush” of working close to a deadline
• Decisional procrastination: delaying decision-making situations, indecision
The 2006 study, reviewed here, was designed to compare the prevalence of these three types of procrastination among adults with and without AD/HD. The larger purpose of the study was to begin exploring the possibility of “empirical support for the inclusion of frequent procrastination tendencies in the diagnoses of AD/HD symptoms among adults” (Ferrari & Saunders, 2006, p. 4). The ACO research committee found little research published specifically on the topic of AD/HD and procrastination since this 2006 article.
This exploratory study (i.e. a study undertaken when not much is known about a specific topic) examined the prevalence of avoidance, arousal, and decisional procrastination among adults with and without AD/HD.
Study Sample Convenience samples (i.e. subjects not selected randomly and not selected for any specific characteristics) were used to obtain adult study participants with and without AD/HD. The 29 participants with AD/HD – all part of a support group in which the study’s first author (Ferrari) gave a presentation on procrastination – had clinical diagnoses and were receiving medication and behavior treatment (unspecified) at the time of the study. 82.8% were taking at least one, and 44.8% sometimes a second, prescribed medication for AD/HD. The 167 participants without AD/HD were attendees at public presentations on procrastination hosted by the first author (Ferrari).
Measures In addition to a consent form and sheet of demographic questions (e.g. age, race, marital status, and the like), study participants were given three standardized procrastination scales to complete. One scale specifically measured decisional procrastination. Another measured avoidant procrastination. The third scale was a general procrastination scale that the authors used to measure arousal procrastination. Each of these scales had been previously used in research and found to be both a valid measure of procrastination and a reliable instrument (i.e. providing accurate, replicable results).
Outcomes Comparing demographic characteristics of study participants, the two groups appeared to be well “matched” (i.e. having the same demographic characteristics) on being for the most part “married with children, well-educated, white-collar professionals living around the same Midwestern urban area” (p. 6). Differences in procrastination were not evidenced between men and women in either the AD/HD or non-AD/HD group. On the other hand, scores on measures of all three types of procrastination were significantly higher, indicating greater procrastination, among the subjects with AD/HD than those without AD/HD. (Note: In research terms, a result is called significant if it is “statistically significant,” that is, unlikely to have occurred by chance.) Additionally, among individuals with AD/HD, the scores on avoidant and arousal procrastination were closely related.
Some Strengths and Limitations
• The use of valid and reliable measures means that the authors are measuring what they purport to be measuring.
• The use of a comparison group is important in establishing the fact that procrastination rates are higher among individuals with AD/HD.
• While typically convenience samples are not ideal because they do not control for many possible confounding differences between two groups, the fact that the comparison group happened to be closely matched to the AD/HD group on a number of demographic characteristics adds weight to the study findings.
• Measuring three types of procrastination broadens prior knowledge about procrastination among adults with AD/HD.
• Use of the general procrastination survey as a measure of arousal procrastination needed more explanation/justification to be convincing.
• Neither the type of AD/HD, nor the presence of co-morbidities was addressed.
• The small number of participants with AD/HD, as well as their fairly homogenous demographic characteristics, make it difficult to generalize the results to other adults with AD/HD who may have different characteristics.
• The fact that study participants with AD/HD all participated in an AD/HD support group also distinguishes them and makes it difficult to generalize the study results. (For example, might participation in a support group mean that they are more challenged by AD/HD than others? Conversely, might it mean that they are more motivated to learn new strategies and skills than others? Either way, they may differ in key characteristics from individuals not participating in a support group.)
Implications of this Research for Coaching Practice:
• Three types of procrastination have been identified in individuals with AD/HD: avoidant, arousal, and decisional procrastination.
• This study suggests that, while not a diagnostic criterion for AD/HD, procrastination does appear to be significantly more common among individuals with than without AD/HD.
Questions for Coaches to Consider:
• “Procrastination” is often viewed negatively? Under what circumstances could it appropriately be reframed as neutral? Useful?
• The authors of this study define procrastination as “a needless delay of a relevant and timely task” (p.3). How would you define it? How often do you elicit a definition from clients you work with?
• How common an issue is procrastination in your practice?
• In what ways might understanding the three types of procrastination (avoidance, arousal, decisional) assist you in coaching?
• When working with individuals to address procrastination, how might you approach each of the three different types of procrastination: avoidant, arousal, and decisional procrastination?
• In the introduction to this study, Ferrari & Saunders (p. 3) cite research demonstrating a number of issues associated with chronic procrastination, including:
… low self-confidence and self-esteem and high depression, worry, public self-consciousness, social anxiety, forgetfulness, disorganization, dysfunctional impulsiveness, behavioral rigidity, and lack of energy (Beswick, Rothblum, & Mann, 1988; Effert &Ferrari, 1989; Ferrari 1991,1992,1993; Lay, 1986).
o How often do you notice these related issues in your clients exhibiting procrastination?
o What do you see as the relationship between “overwhelm” and procrastination?
o How might awareness of these associated factors aid progress in coaching?
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Note: This review was written as a service to ACO members by the ACO Research Committee and represents the perspective of that committee.