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How to Prioritize Your Life When You Have ADHD, Part 2

how to prioritize when you have ADHDIn an earlier piece, we explored how adults with ADHD can identify their priorities. Because often it can seem like everything is equally important and pressing. Your phone is ringing. Constantly. Your inbox is receiving new emails. Every few minutes. You have a meeting you need to prepare for. And there are 10 other things you need to do.

But sometimes this isn’t the issue at all.

Many of Casey Dixon’s clients tell her that they have a problem with “prioritizing,” but really they have a problem with following through. “They know what they need to do and why it’s important [but] they have a hard time doing it.”

Following through on tasks is a big challenge for adults with ADHD, which is understandable, because it involves so many moving parts. It involves executive functioning, which is impaired in ADHD. So simply telling yourself (or having someone else say), “just do it” won’t work. If you could just do it, surely you already would have done it.

The good news is that that are strategies — like the ones below — that help you work around these challenges. So if follow through is tough for you, Dixon, PCC, BCC, an ADHD coach who primarily works with demand-ridden professionals with ADHD, suggested these tips to ignite action.

Create fake deadlines.

If a project is due tomorrow, individuals with ADHD might pull an all-nighter and hyper-focus to get it done. Having an urgent deadline sparks something in your brain, which helps you focus better. Dixon suggested creating a sense of urgency on purpose to capitalize on this. For instance, you have a paper due next Thursday. You tell your professor that you’ll bring a draft of your paper to office hours on Monday.

Dixon worked with an attorney who was avoiding a complicated client, which only pushed back the work. To help her take action, they decided to schedule a weekly meeting with that client. This compelled the attorney to prepare in advance.

Dixon also had another client who was having difficulty keeping her home organized. To create a sense of urgency, she started hosting a monthly dinner with friends at her house.

According to Dixon, “instead of just saying ‘that’s important to me, I should just do it,’ say, ‘This is important to me, how do I make it feel more urgent so I can do it?’” Because when you create a sense that a task is looming, it signals to your brain that this is something to pay attention to — and it helps you to act.

Set a timer.

Setting a timer also creates a sense of urgency — and it gives you a challenge, which helps with focus, too. For instance, you might set a timer for 15 minutes and see how much you can get done during that time, without any interruptions or distractions. You might make progress on everything from writing a blog post to folding laundry to reading a book.

Create a game, competition or challenge.

Make following through on your priority a fun or interesting or competitive endeavor. For instance, another client of Dixon’s felt that getting to work on time was truly important to her. She wanted to arrive at work at 9 a.m. She made a bet with a colleague that if she arrived after 9:15 a.m., she owed her lunch. This helped to keep the goal at the forefront of her mind.

Set boundaries.

Dixon suggested stepping back and asking yourself: “Where am I spending my time, energy and attention?” Since these are finite resources, it’s vital to think about how you’re using them. It’s also vital to set solid boundaries around the activities and people that divert you from what’s important to you and deplete your resources.

Dixon shared this example: A professor needs to write a research article. But his students tend to get all his time and attention. He creates a clear-cut boundary: He’ll only communicate with students during his specific office hours.

Overall, think about a place you can start. Think about what interests you about a task. What do you find enjoyable? Start with that. Don’t hesitate to get creative, either. Think about how you can make a task fascinating or fun or into a game. Think about how you can create a concrete sense of urgency. Because just doing it doesn’t work. But thankfully other strategies really do. The key is to experiment and find the strategies that genuinely support you.

Kitchen timer photo available from Shutterstock

How to Prioritize Your Life When You Have ADHD, Part 2

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). How to Prioritize Your Life When You Have ADHD, Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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