ADHD Paralysis and 6 Strategies to Overcome It

Demi Aspey
10 mins read
Apr 25, 2023

Right then, productivity warriors and creative geniuses, shall we tackle the notorious duo of ADHD paralysis and perfectionism? 🦸♀️💥

If you've ever found yourself stuck in the quicksand of indecision or tirelessly polishing a project to the point of exhaustion, you've come to the right place!

Join us as we confront the productivity-crushing forces of ADHD paralysis and perfectionism head-on!

At Deepwrk we tackle ADHD task paralysis daily with our body doubling app and have a few words to say on the topic.

What is ADHD?

Before we continue our journey, let's take a quick detour to explore what ADHD is.

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition affecting millions worldwide. 

It's characterised by a unique blend of symptoms that can make everyday life a bit more...well, interesting!

Core aspects of ADHD include:

  • Inattention: difficulty focusing, staying organised, and following through on tasks
  • Hyperactivity: a constant need to move or fidget, accompanied by feelings of restlessness
  • Impulsivity: acting without considering consequences or making hasty decisions

But wait, there's more! 

ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all condition. 

Instead, it comes in three flavours:

  1. Primarily Inattentive: predominantly struggles with focus and organisation
  2. Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive: mostly faces challenges with hyperactivity and impulsivity 
  3. Combined Type: a delightful mix of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity 

ADHD is a lifelong condition, but with the proper support, strategies, and sometimes medication, those with ADHD can live fulfilling, successful lives. 

So, let's embrace our unique brains and continue our quest to conquer ADHD paralysis and perfectionism! 

What is ADHD paralysis?

ADHD paralysis, also known as "analysis paralysis" (it’s nice when stuff rhymes!), is where individuals with ADHD find themselves stuck, unable to start or complete tasks despite knowing what needs to be done. 

It’s like a massive traffic jam when you’re only a mile from your destination.

ADHD Paralysis Traffic Jam GIF

Even if you don’t have ADHD, you may find yourself struggling with analysis paralysis, as it’s a common phenomenon.

But ADHD makes these symptoms a persistent bad neighbour who always seems to comment on the volume of your music. 

It’s essentially a mental gridlock that can be frustrating and confusing.

It's not rooted in laziness or lack of motivation (...despite what people may tell you!). 

Several factors contribute to ADHD analysis paralysis:

  • Overwhelm: ADHD brains can struggle with breaking tasks into manageable steps, leading to feeling overwhelmed and frozen in place🌪🧩
  • Decision-making challenges: Individuals with ADHD may have trouble prioritising tasks and making decisions, resulting in a mental standstill 🚦🗂️
  • Fear of failure: The dread of making mistakes or failing can cause ADHD paralysis, as the brain opts for inaction over taking risks. Perfectionism also has a lot to answer for with this one! 🥺🔥

By recognising ADHD paralysis for what it is, we can better equip ourselves with strategies to overcome it and unleash our true productivity potential! 

Types of ADHD paralysis

Decision Paralysis

When faced with multiple options or tasks, the ADHD brain may struggle to prioritise, leading to ADHD decision fatigue and an inability to make decisions and act. 🚦🤯

  • Example: choosing which freelance project to work on first or deciding on a design for a client

Fun fact: Did you know tech giants like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same “uniformed” outfits daily to avoid decision fatigue?

When your mountain of tasks feels too high to climb, prioritizing feels like you’re halfway up the rock and wearing sandals.

The fear of failure can feel physically paralyzing, leading to cold sweats and a brain that only wants to operate at 10% capacity. 

Perfectionism Paralysis

The fear of making mistakes or producing work that isn't flawless can leave individuals with ADHD frozen and unable to start or complete tasks. 🎭⛓️

The Real Kicker: “Perfection” rarely exists and is completely subjective, so this loop means you’ll never win.

All these forms of paralysis lead you to freeze in one way or another; it can feel mentally and physically exhausting.

For me, it feels like I cannot move my body or regain control of my brain.

A walk, yoga, meditation or light exercise seems to do the trick when my brain doesn’t compute!

Overwhelm Paralysis

When tasks seem too complex or numerous, the ADHD brain can become overwhelmed, leading to mental gridlock. 🌪🗄️

  • Example: Procrastinating on a large project or avoiding cleaning a cluttered workspace.

The Dopamine Kick: The ADHD brain craves dopamine, so when overwhelmed, we’re likely to reach for our phones or do something to boost our dopamine quickly.

Onerous tasks require delayed gratification, and our brains ain’t got time for that!

Emotional Paralysis

Intense emotions or stress can disrupt executive functioning in individuals with ADHD, causing a temporary inability to initiate or complete tasks. 🌩️💔

  • Example: Struggling to focus on work after an argument or feeling overwhelmed by negative feedback

The Truth: Most people will find high emotional states challenging to focus on, but for people with ADHD, emotional dysregulation can cause prolonged periods of paralysis until they reach a sense of calmness.

What are the symptoms of ADHD paralysis?

Symptoms of ADHD paralysis may include:


Putting off tasks, even when deadlines loom, due to feeling stuck or overwhelmed. 📆⌛️

  • Example: Continuously delaying the start of a project or perpetually rescheduling appointments

Difficulty initiating tasks

Struggling to start tasks, despite realising the importance. 🚦🛑

  • Example: Spending excessive time planning or researching without starting the task

ADHD overthinking & inability to complete tasks

Encountering roadblocks that prevent task completion, often due to overthinking or fear of imperfection. 🎯🔗

  • Example: Abandoning tasks midway or constantly revising work without ever considering it complete

Lack of focus

Experiencing challenges in maintaining concentration on a task, leading to a cycle of switching between tasks without progress. 🔍🔃

  • Example: Bouncing between multiple projects or constantly checking emails and social media instead of focusing on the main task

Feelings of frustration and self-doubt

Experiencing negative emotions due to the inability to initiate or complete tasks may erode self-confidence. 😞💔

  • Example: Feeling inadequate, doubting one's abilities, or overly self-critical

Brain Fog

When the not so Lavendar Haze of confusion and forgetfulness permeates the brain like a Taylor Swift song on repeat (we love you, Tay Tay). 💃😶🌫

  • Example: Trying to remember what you just did or being unable to recall instructions to complete tasks. Often feels like a thick fog is blocking your brain's vision

Brain Freeze

When your brain simply can’t, won’t and nopes.

Usually occurs in high-stress and overwhelming situations where decisions have to be made, but it can pitch up whenever it feels like it. 🥶🫠

  • Example: Responding to difficult objections from potential clients and recalling all the sweet benefits of working with you. Never seems to happen when choosing what pizza to order, funnily enough.

Task Hopping

Why do one thing when you can do everything, everywhere, all at once?

It’s common for ADHDers to hop between tasks, mainly due to impulsivity, lack of focus and task avoidance. 🙄🐝

  • Example: Constantly checking your email, phone notifications, and, you guessed it, THE FRIDGE, while you should be focused on the project at hand. Oops!

Why does ADHD paralysis happen?

ADHD paralysis occurs due to disruptions in the brain's executive functioning, the cognitive processes responsible for planning, organising, and initiating tasks. 

Executive Function encompasses a range of cognitive abilities that enable us to plan, arrange, begin, and finish tasks effectively.  

Conversely, ADHD paralysis represents a distinct expression of hindered executive function in people with ADHD. 

Here are some key factors that contribute to ADHD paralysis:

Working memory challenges

The ADHD brain can struggle to hold information and manipulate it for short periods, leading to difficulties in planning and executing tasks. 📝🔁

  • Example: forgetting steps in a process or losing track of priorities

Difficulty prioritising and decision-making

ADHD can impair the ability to prioritise tasks and make decisions, leading to inaction and feeling overwhelmed. 🚦🤹‍♀️

  • Example: struggling to decide which project to tackle first or choosing between two equally important tasks

Impaired self-regulation

Individuals with ADHD often have trouble regulating their thoughts, emotions, and actions, leading to impulsivity and difficulty staying on task. 💥💔

  • Example: becoming easily frustrated or overwhelmed, leading to task abandonment

Perfectionism and fear of failure

A desire for flawless work or a fear of making mistakes can lead to inaction and ADHD paralysis. 🏆🔗

  • Example: overthinking and second-guessing every decision, resulting in a lack of progress

Why freelancers and remote workers may struggle with ADHD paralysis and perfectionism

As a bunch of freelancers and remote workers, we have a whole heap of unique challenges to face!

ADHD Paralysis Freelance Beast GIF

Freelancers and remote workers with or without ADHD might grapple with analysis paralysis and perfectionism for various reasons. 

Here are a few common factors:

  • Reputation management: freelancers often rely on positive reviews and referrals, which can fuel the desire for flawless work ⭐️📈
  • Lack of immediate feedback: working independently means less frequent feedback from colleagues, potentially leading to self-doubt and overpolishing projects 📨🔮
  • ADHD iImposter syndrome: remote workers may feel the need to prove their worth, causing them to overcompensate with excessive research and perfectionism 🎭💼

Awareness of these challenges can help remote workers develop strategies to combat perfectionism and boost productivity!

6 actionable strategies to overcome ADHD paralysis

Come on then, what can we do to get our ADHD paralysis in check?

Okay, okay, we’ve got you!

Now that we've uncovered the mysteries of ADHD paralysis let's equip ourselves with actionable tips to conquer this adversary and unlock our true productivity potential! 

1. Break tasks into smaller steps

Divide overwhelming tasks into manageable subtasks, making initiating and completing them easier. 🧩🏃‍♂️

  • Example: instead of "write a report," break it down into "research topic," "outline sections," and "write a first draft"

Action: Set boundaries and clear timeframes with clients, colleagues, and others

Learn to say no or ask about the priority level when you're too busy—label priorities as red, yellow, and green.

Get people to highlight their tasks with a priority colour so you can decide whether you can take on the work.

You can also try online body doubling or ADHD coworking to breakdown and batch your tasks.

2. Set realistic goals

Establish achievable goals to reduce the pressure of perfectionism and minimise the risk of paralysis. 🎯🌟

  • Example: Focus on writing a solid first draft rather than aiming for a flawless final product

Action: sleep is vital for any brain, especially those with ADHD.

Aim to get at least 6-9 hours per night of uninterrupted sleep. Try to stay off your phone 1 hour before bedtime. Avoid caffeine 6-8 hours before bedtime.

When you feel your brain is exhausted or overanalysing things, do not ignore it. Get the rest and come back with fresh eyes!

3. Implement time management techniques

Use the Pomodoro technique ADHD tailored or time-blocking strategies to maintain focus and momentum. ⏰🚀

  • Example: Work on a task for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break before resuming

Action: Give yourself more time than you assume a task will take.

When you finish, make a note of how long it took. Keep a list of task types with this time tagged to them. It will help you get a more accurate view of your timings.

On the flip side, you know when you procrastinate right up until the impending doom of a deadline sets in?

It’s related to Parkinson’s Law - the theory that work will expand to fit the allotted time rather than how long the task takes.

4. Prioritise tasks & identify the easy wins

Identify the most important or time-sensitive tasks, but start with the easy, quick wins. 📈🎢

  • Example: Create a daily or weekly to-do list, ranking tasks by priority or deadline. Start with tasks that will take under 30 minutes to complete, and get ‘em ticked off first! Oooh, what’s that? It’s the juicy dopamine of task completion!

Action: Remind yourself the most challenging part is getting started.

Affirm to yourself that you are capable and it only takes five minutes of work to get going. Then, offer yourself a reward for 20 minutes of work. Once completed, be sure to reward yourself. Rinse and repeat.

It’ll boost your dopamine, and you’ll find that you’ve overcome the biggest hurdle once you've started. 

5. Practice self-compassion

Acknowledge that it's normal to encounter challenges and setbacks. Embrace imperfection and allow yourself room for growth. 💖🌱

  • Example: remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that progress is more important than perfection

Action: Speak with a client or colleague about your concerns.

Highlight where you think issues may arise and ask for feedback on navigating these best to deliver expected results.

There is no shame in asking for help! 

6. Move your body

If your brain ain’t moving, shift your body instead!

Exercise (of any variant) has immense benefits for the brain. It stimulates blood flow and oxygen around your body and brain, leading to clearer focus, improved memory AND our feel-good friends, endorphins!

  • Example: 15 minutes of light to moderate exercise is enough to get your blood and heart pumping. Have a go-to exercise that’s easy to start and requires only a small amount of effort.

Action: Get out into nature for a walk, and if it’s pelting it down (if you’re in the U.K., let’s face it, it’s a given), try a home workout.

Yoga, a YouTube exercise video, or even a quick HIIT session will do the trick.

Remember, it has to be something you enjoy, so put on your favourite tunes and let yourself be uplifted!

By following these actionable tips:

  • Break tasks into smaller steps 🧩🏃♂️
  • Set realistic goals 🎯🌟
  • Implement time management techniques ⏰🚀
  • Prioritize tasks & identify the easy wins 📈🎢
  • Move your body 💪🚶♀️
  • Practice self-compassion 💖🌱

We can triumph over ADHD paralysis and unleash our boundless productivity and creativity! 

Overwhelm. Anxiety. Task Paralysis. Time Blindness. Burnout.

We hope our exploration of ADHD paralysis has been mind-opening for you!

ADHD Paralysis Now it Makes Sense GIF

A quick note to remember is that ADHD paralysis is just one of several interconnected challenges individuals face with ADHD. 

These include:

We’re going to unpack all of these as we go along. We provide powerful tool of ADHD body doubling that improves productivity and focus.

At Deepwrk, we’re changing the dynamic of remote work to help people find their flow.

We will learn to cultivate resilience, improve our well-being, and maximise our productivity as we navigate the complex landscape of ADHD.  

Remember, you're not alone in this journey; every step forward counts! 

Want to learn more and understand better ADHD? Explore our articles with the best ADHD books for adults and the top ADHD podcasts. And if you are looking for physical ADHD products that can help you better manage ADHD? We got you - check out our article with the best ADHD products and gadgets.

Sources & References

  1. Bolden J. (2019). “Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week”: Executive functions mediate the relation between procrastination and attention problems.
  2. Ferrari JR, et al. (2008). Procrastination rates among adults with and without AD/HD: A pilot study.
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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.