For someone with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), completing a task can be fraught with challenges. Distractions such as e-mail, Internet, TV and other tasks abound. People with ADHD often face a special challenge in remaining productive, especially in distraction-driven environments (such as the office or even a classroom).
To get a handle on distractions and boost your productivity, here are 12 useful strategies for accomplishing what you need.
- Employ the two-minute rule. Procrastination is a big barrier to productivity for individuals with ADHD, and leads to all-nighters and missed deadlines, according to Sandy Maynard, M.S., who operates Catalytic Coaching and specializes in ADHD coaching. “Entering a phone number into a database right away can save lots of time later looking for it or figuring out what a single number on a scrap of paper with no name goes to,” Maynard said.
- Pick a planner that works for you. Structure is essential for someone with ADHD. Without it, “it can be hard to achieve top productivity,” said Laura Rolands, M.S., an attention and ADHD coach who operates LSR Coaching and Consulting. However, “planning and maintaining a calendar, which are examples of structure, can feel constricting and uninteresting,” she said. That’s why it’s so important to pick a planner that fits your personal needs, and one that you’ll actually use. Rolands wrote a valuable how-to on picking the best planner for you.
- Make time to plan. Carving out some time each day to plan provides maximum focus and productivity, according to Rolands. She recommended setting aside 10 to 15 minutes per day for planning.
- Time your tasks. Using a timer or alarm helps in several ways, according to Rolands. “First, if someone is procrastinating on a task, setting a timer and just working on that task for a set amount of time can help them make progress and ensure that it will not be too painful to work on that particular task.” Once the timer dings, you can move on to your next task. “Second, if working on an enjoyable task, it can be helpful to set a timer so that the whole day is not spent on that one activity,” she said. You can use a timer for any task, whether that’s working on a project for your job, running errands or doing household chores.
- Start small. To avoid getting overwhelmed with new ideas and tasks, take smalls steps, Rolands said. Let’s say you’re trying to incorporate planning into your routine. Each day, spend 10 minutes on planning for three weeks. After you cement this habit, add more time to your planning routine or work on a new activity.
- Organize smarter. Consider what you need to organize to make the biggest difference on your efficiency, Maynard said. “Organizing the most important part of the office first can jump-start you working smarter not harder.” She gave these examples: “Is it my files on my computer? Is it my reference material on the bookshelf? Is it my planner? Is it my purse, my briefcase, my ‘to do’ notebook?”
- Be super-selective when de-cluttering. According to Maynard, “Clutter and disorganization can be a hindrance to productivity if you are losing or wasting time looking for things.” Instead of asking, “’What can I use this for?’ — which is dangerous as an ADDer can think of a million uses for almost anything — ask, ‘How can I do without this?’ Can the information be retrieved elsewhere?’”
- Avoid multi-tasking. If something is very familiar to you, doing two tasks at once isn’t a big deal. If a task is unfamiliar and complex, though, give it your full attention, Maynard said. For instance, drinking coffee while learning how to drive is dangerous, but after you become a skilled driver, you can do this safely, she said.
- Understand the scope of a project. Perfectionism is another productivity-zapper for people with ADHD. Knowing a project’s requirements helps you gauge how much effort to put into it. Maynard recommends doing “only what is asked for on small or un-important projects. Save ‘going all out’ for important projects that will get you a raise, a promotion, or get you noticed in the big scheme of things.”
- Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s common for individuals with ADHD to underestimate how long it’ll take to finish a project, Maynard said. Usually, it takes twice as long as you originally planned.
- Regulate interruptions. You can spend all day on e-mail, phone calls and the Internet. Plus, “an interruption or reminder that there is something else you need to complete will take you away from the task at hand,” Rolands said. To stop these distractions from shredding your productivity, check e-mail and return calls several times a day, Maynard said. With the Internet, “define exactly what you need before you start surfing so if you find other interesting information, you can remind yourself that that is not what you are looking for,” she said. Don’t hesitate to shoo people away from your cubicle, close the door to your office or find a quiet place to read, Maynard said.
- Enlist a productivity partner. Support helps tremendously with productivity, and it can come in various forms. For example, if Rolands’s clients commit to plan their day for 15 minutes, they e-mail her once they’re finished to tell her they’ve completed their planning. “This helps them to stay on track and not forget about planning in the time between coaching sessions,” she said. Friends or colleagues also can be productivity partners and keep you accountable. Rolands said that individuals with ADHD can help each other, too.