January 2015

Gettings Things Done with ADHD


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is known for its hallmark symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity, but the impact of ADHD reaches much further. It affects a person’s ability to plan, organize, prioritize, and manage time. ADHD also affects a person’s ability to get started on a task and sustain attention long enough to complete the task. This is especially true when a task or project is tedious, mundane, or boring.

Parents of ADHD kids often complain about how their children fail to complete chores and homework. Similarly, ADHD adults struggle to complete these types of tasks. They may start a task, but switch to another task before the first task is done. This is because the ADHD brain seeks out novelty. When faced with a boring task, the brain literally seeks out distractions. This often leads to untouched or unfinished tasks.

It is, however, possible to get things done with ADHD. When ADHDers understand how their brains work, they can create strategies and systems that help them tackle their to-do list. Here are some strategies to help you get things done:

Don’t be a perfectionist. Perfectionism can create problems for both children and adults. It creates stress, which literally shuts down the brain. When it has to be perfect, it is unlikely to be done at all. Instead, focus on what’s good enough.

Focus on the positive. Acknowledge what you (or your child) did accomplish and what was done well. ADHDers get a lot of negative feedback throughout the day, so it is especially important to focus on the positive. This type of positive thinking provides motivation to do more.

Create a checklist. ADHDers have a difficult time holding multiple tasks or steps in their working memory. Make a checklist to ensure that all tasks or steps are accounted for. Then, focus on one thing at a time. Keep master checklists for recurring tasks and projects to save time and energy in the future.

Make it fun. ADHDers have a difficult time maintaining focus on mundane or boring tasks. When the task at hand does not provide enough stimulation, their brains will seek out stimulation from other sources, which leads to wandering attention and incomplete tasks. Listen to music while you clean, watch a movie while you fold laundry, or try to make a game out of whatever task you are trying to tackle.

Complete an enjoyable task first. This may seem counterintuitive, because we are often told to do the boring tasks first and reward ourselves with the fun stuff later. However, engaging in something you are interested in first energizes the brain. This mental energy carries over to allow you to work on less interesting tasks. Just make sure you don’t get so wrapped up in the fun stuff that you neglect less interesting tasks.

Take Breaks. Honor your limits and take frequent breaks. When you start to feel mentally drained or you notice your attention starts to wander, take a quick walk or do some other physical activity. This gives your brain a rest and reenergizes you so you can get back to the task at hand. Another option is to take a few minutes and switch to a less tedious task. Whatever you do, make sure you return to the original task.

Schedule sprints. You can live through 15 minutes of a dreaded task, right? Get any necessary supplies together and set a timer. You’d be amazed what you can accomplish. You may even find that once you get started, you are motivated to continue. If not, that’s okay! Schedule multiple sprints for large projects and chip away at them 15 minutes at a time.
Use a body double. A body double is another person who sits with you while you work on a project. The body double does not help or offer advice. He or she simply sits there and provides accountability to keep you on task.

The most important thing is to understand your own unique brain wiring. ADHD affects each person differently, and different strategies will work for different people. If you are struggling to figure out what strategies work for you, you may want to consider hiring an ADHD coach who can help you determine what will work best. 

Ally Martin is an ADHD Life Coach and the founder of Attention Solutions. She uses a strengths-based approach to help adolescents and adults identify their goals, overcome obstacles, and create strategies to minimize ADHD symptoms. For more information, visit attention-solutions.com.

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