Cameron Gott, PCC
ADHD Coaching for Leaders & Professionals


The Global Creative Blog

Procrastination, Urgency and the Adrenaline Response Cycle


If you have ADHD you are no stranger to working to deadlines, crushing your work when there is no other option. Working under pressure can be an effective go-to asset in the workplace but habitual use of this approach can make you vulnerable to an over-reliance on adrenaline where you can become too dependent on urgency and pressure to get things done. This adrenaline dependency can establish itself as a not-so-effective response cycle characterized by:

  • Delay - procrastinate to the 11th hour

  • Engage - heroic effort and mad dash to completion

  • Recovery - crash and recover

So why do smart people fall into this way of work?

We certainly have more to do these days. Productivity keeps going up nationally not just because we are all getting more productive.  It's also increasing because our work teams are getting smaller.  Professionals now have the responsibility of 1-3 positions.  Prioritizing tasks is essential in these times.  Unfortunately we can start to let urgency create the priority for us.

Global Creatives are doubly vulnerable to this adrenaline response cycle (ARC) by how we approach work and how we view time. Like time, process and structure can be difficult to understand, create and sustain. Global Creatives will often over-depend on urgency to complete tasks since urgency creates structure, process and priority in the moment. Global Creatives will often attempt to apply the urgent methods they use in short cycle environments to long cycle projects (managing personnel, saving for retirement, Covey’s Important/not Urgent Quadrant II designation) with limited and often damaging results. With too much reliance on urgency, Global Creatives are prone to chronic stress which creates cortisol, suppresses the immune system, and can lead to heart disease.

Epinephrine (adrenaline) is an important hormone that, when released into the bloodstream causes an increase in heart rate, muscle strength and blood pressure. It allows the body to be alert and responsive when the amygdala or emotional center of the brain sends a strong negative message to the hypothalamus which, in turn, activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). Epinephrine also increases stress in the body. Long seen as a negative element, research is now showing that short, acute stress episodes can actually be beneficial to brain development – growing new neurons and improving performance.

Research in neuro-science, psychology and professional coaching shows that individuals can create and sustain new positive habits. Here are some good places to begin:

  • Embrace a growth mindset and bring a mindfulness practice to the process of change.

  • Become a student of time, process and structure. Allowing for creative interpretation can be helpful here. Research is showing that procrastination is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Have a clear sense of resources and utilize these resources on a regular basis.

  • Think and act strategically. This can lessen the hold of ARC and shift us from thinking urgently. A simple pause and assessment of resources can give us enough time to detour around the limbic system to access the executive function area of the brain (Pre-Frontal Cortex).

  • Get super clear on final positive outcomes but set up adrenaline ‘sprints’ to complete the smaller intermediate steps with positive accountability in place.

Global Creatives can counter the negative effects of ARC by using the very strengths they tap in their high performance periods and ultimately diversify motivators to create the change they want. Making space for vision, inspiration and collaboration can help lessen the effects of ARC. Mindfulness can be a wonderful practice which begins with awareness. When individuals pay attention to processes and structures they can begin to create their own.