Adult ADHD and Urgency: Dealing With a Now or Never Impulse

September 5, 2017 Noelle Matteson

Adults with ADHD often feel a sense of urgency. ADHD's symptom of urgency has both up- and downsides. Learn about ADHD's now-or-never mentality here.

People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experience a sense of urgency. In fact, people with ADHD have a complicated relationship with time in general. ADHD-ers often suffer from "time blindness” that makes time management difficult because we often can't accurately measure time. It can make both everything and nothing seem urgent. Today, I would like to address this “now or never” aspect of adult ADHD and urgency.

ADHD's Urgency Makes Delaying Gratification Difficult

When I really want to do something, I feel a strong urge to do it right away. Delaying gratification is very difficult. “Later” feels like “never.” For example, if I want to watch a movie (I love movies), I feel as though I need an immediate fix and get really excited if I’m able to watch it. Obviously, I often have to wait. By the time I watch the movie, I may have already lost interest in that particular film and moved on to another interest.

These strong urges that are difficult to control result in what is often described as “poor impulse control,” and many people with ADHD are susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction because of this impulsivity, amongst other reasons. On a quest for dopamine and serotonin, an ADHD brain responds even more strongly than a non-ADHD brain to pleasure and urgency.

Urgency of ADHD Has Both Up- and Downsides

This “now or never” sense of time does not mean people with ADHD are necessarily unproductive. If one is living in the “now” stage, everything is urgent. Someone might wash the dishes before noticing the floor is dirty. After sweeping the floor, the person notices a magazine on the table. She reads the magazine until spotting a pile of magazines that need to be put away—the list goes on. There is little sense of “I’ll do this later” because the fear is “I’ll do this later—and that 'later' will never come!”

Much of this behavior is due to the ADHD brain's inherent unreliability, and that makes planning difficult. Putting something off until later means it may not be done. I do not know whether an idea or fact will stick in my head for years or if I will forget to do something extremely important. Also, as mentioned, my interest in a task or hobby might dissipate at an unknown time. Then I will not get the same pleasure from doing the task. Perhaps I will do it while frustrated and bored, or I will not do it at all.

How to Deal With ADHD's Urgent, “Now or Never” Attitude

One way I deal with this sense of urgency is by writing things down. I journal about how much I love something and write down tasks and ideas. It is especially helpful to have a single place to write things down, though I know this is difficult for a lot of people with ADHD.

Often, I have to trick myself into doing something I don’t want to do. It might mean making a game of a chore, rewarding myself, or creating a comfortable and stimulating work space. Additionally, my ADHD medication usually calms me and helps with impulse control.

What are your experiences and tips for dealing with this sense of urgency? Please let me know in the comments below!


  1. Tartakovsky, Margarita. “Cutting Down on Chronic Lateness for Adults with ADHD.” Psych Central.
  2. Sherman, Carl. “The Truth About ADHD and Addiction.” ADDitude.
  3. Littman, Ellen. “Never Enough? Why Your Brain Craves Stimulation.” ADDitude.

APA Reference
Matteson, N. (2017, September 5). Adult ADHD and Urgency: Dealing With a Now or Never Impulse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 26 from

Author: Noelle Matteson

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September, 19 2018 at 3:40 pm
As a parent sometimes I use my child's "now or never" attitude to my advantage by conveniently suggesting an exciting activity just to distract my child, or to stop some undesirable behavior. This strategy has mixed results. Unfortunately it's not particularly effective when trying to curb behavior in the middle of a tantrum. It can also backfire if I'm not able to immediately produce the exciting thing I suggested.
September, 21 2018 at 12:29 pm
Thank you for sharing, Brian. I guess it is sometimes feasible to harness that impulsiveness, but, other times, it just isn't possible, especially if someone is already super emotional. Best wishes!
Steven Lewis
July, 12 2018 at 2:42 pm
I have b uilt my life around my brian instead of trying to alter the way it functions.
I currently work part time for the nhs, i do scrap metal and treasure hunting. Also i write novels, always have three mabe four on the go, this allows me to flip between worlds. My NHS work gives me the time line and grounding the others provide the buzz and flexability.

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