People with ADHD often see themselves as unproductive, or worse, as lazy and incompetent. Getting things done, especially boring, tedious tasks, may feel impossible, and you might feel utterly demoralized.
But it isn’t that you’re ineffective or inept or hopeless.
The problem really resides in not having the right ADHD-friendly strategies, according to Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, a clinical instructor and psychologist who specializes in working with individuals with ADHD and also has ADHD. He suggested adults with ADHD think of themselves as “producers in progress.”
Challenge: Sinking Motivation
For Olivardia the biggest challenge in getting things done is lack of motivation for tasks that aren’t urgent or exciting. Which is why he creates a sense of urgency with timers. For instance, he doesn’t like mowing the lawn, so he sets a timer for 34 minutes and 32 seconds, and tries to beat that time. “It provides some stimulation to the task.”
He also separates a task into steps that are so small they seem manageable and require little energy. For instance, when Olivardia writes a research paper, he breaks it down into these steps: 1) Outline paper 2) Make sure printer ink and paper are ready, and desk is clean 3) Write bibliography 4) Write introduction 5) Write methods section 6) Write results section 7) Write conclusion 8) Read draft and make any edits.
He might work on each step on a different day—or, if he gets into a good rhythm, he’ll tackle several steps.
And, finally, Olivardia reminds himself that boring or challenging tasks will be just that—boring or challenging—no matter when he does them. “There is no magic way of making them pleasurable, so the ‘right’ time is really now.”
Challenge: Too Much Unscheduled Time
For Bonnie Mincu, a senior certified ADHD coach who was diagnosed with ADHD in her 40s, the biggest challenge is big blocks of unscheduled time. As an entrepreneur, she controls her schedule. “[W]hen there isn’t an appointment or a deadline attached to a task, it’s not as likely to get done,” said Mincu, founder of the coaching practice Thrive with ADD.
What helps Mincu is being intentional about the tasks she’s doing, along with when she’s doing them. Instead of only creating a deadline, she also sets a start time. Instead of writing “work on website,” she identifies which web pages she’s working on, when she’ll work on them and what the results will look like.
Challenge: All Sorts of Distractions
For Dana Rayburn, a senior certified ADHD coach who also has ADHD, the biggest challenge is getting distracted. “Facebook, email, phone calls, text messages, TV shows, books, family and friends. You name it, and I can get distracted,” said Rayburn, who leads private and group ADHD coaching programs.
She developed a 3-step process to deal with distractions: notice, corral, and direct. Naturally, first it’s important to notice that your attention has actually shifted. For instance, while writing her responses to my questions, Rayburn saw an email notification and started completing a survey from her daughter’s school. “It took a minute for me to realize I was distracted from what I intended to do, which was answer the questions.”
Secondly, to control the distractions—so they’re not tempting her—Rayburn shut down her email. In other instances, she’s silenced the sounds on her phone, put her phone on airplane mode and turned off the TV.
What distracts you from getting things done? How can you stop these distractions from shifting your attention?
And, lastly, she redirected her attention back to the task—the questions.
Similar to Olivardia, Rayburn also likes to play “Beat the Clock.” She sets a timer for 20 minutes to see how much she can accomplish before the alarm rings. “Just knowing the timer is going can help me focus.”
Your Productivity Pitfalls
What stops you from being productive?
Not knowing the specific culprit is actually the biggest roadblock in getting things done, Mincu said. She frequently hears people with ADHD say: “For whatever reason, I didn’t do [the task].” However, there’s always a reason, and identifying that specific reason or reasons can help you find the right solution and strategy to overcome the challenge.
For instance, maybe you’re paralyzed because it seems like there are too many things to do. Your solution is to get a planner, and create a schedule, which helps you see that there’s time for everything on your list.
Of course, identifying your productivity pitfalls might not be that straightforward. This is when it can help to work with a coach or therapist, or ask a loved one what they’ve noticed. It’s also important to observe yourself. Every time you try to perform a task, what happens? How do you feel? What thoughts do you have? When you’re able to complete a task, what kind of task is it? What is your environment like? In other words, what seems to be helping you in accomplishing that task?
Getting things done when you have ADHD can be challenging. Because ADHD affects everything from your ability to sustain attention to your ability to prioritize. But, as the above individuals with ADHD illustrate, you can absolutely overcome your obstacles. The key is to identify your personal pitfalls and find ADHD-friendly solutions that work for you.