One of the biggest challenges for many adults with ADHD when it comes to executing is deciding what work to do. Ideally, what work you decide to do is dictated by your priorities. And your priorities come from knowing what is important to you.
But for many adults with ADHD, an inordinate amount of your time may be taken up by the urgent, especially until you learn to work better with your ADHD.
And, if your day to day life feels somewhat out of control, it can feel impossible to even think about what is truly important to you – never mind taking action in those spheres.
As a result the important stuff (time with family, professional/business development, self-care, community involvement, etc.) continually gets pushed to the back burner.
Does this sound true for you?
It Is Not An Either Or Question
No doubt, you need to get a handle on your day to day responsibilities in order to work most effectively toward your life’s work –aka your “Big Rocks.”
Otherwise the mental clutter and overwhelm will continue to get in your way. As GTD’s David Allen notes, getting a handle on your current responsibilities and tasks, “…clears the psychic decks to begin with, allowing your creative attention to focus on the more meaningful…”
At the same time, knowing your “why,” your purpose, can help you
- persist in figuring out how to work with your ADHD in order to get a good enough handle on the day to day.
- figure out how you can live your life’s purpose now, rather than waiting until you “have it all together.”
So, the question does not have to be, “Do I get my stuff together or do I do what is important to me?”
Rather, the question could be, “Considering my current capacity, how much of my time and energy do I want to spend in each sphere so I am both clearing my “psychic decks” and living / moving toward my life’s purpose.”
And at any given time, depending on your situation, the scale of time and energy may tip more one way than the other way. It is not necessarily a balancing act.
Heading In The Right Direction?
While it can feel daunting amidst all that you have to do right now, the first step is to hit pause and clarify where you are heading.
One framework you can use to do this is David Allen’s Six Level Model.
#1 The questions at the 50,000-foot level are, “What is my life’s purpose? What do I want my life to look like?”
[In my book, ADD to Done: Beyond Stuck, Procrastination and Overwhelm, I offer three exercises (Future Self, Peak Experience and Awards Ceremony) to help you explore these questions. You can also find some variation of these exercises by Googling the names.]
#2 At the 40,000-foot level you are answering the question, “What is my vision for the next 3-5 years that is in alignment with my life’s purpose? Again, you can use the above mentioned exercises to access this information. Just shorten the time horizon to 3-5 years.
Many adults with ADHD find the big picture, vision and goals, the easy part. This may be true for you, too.
#3 To bring these to fruition at the 30, 000-foot level you identify your goals and objectives for the next 1-2 years. At this level you will create new projects and actions so you can see a path and move incrementally toward your 3-5 year vision and life’s purpose. Otherwise, you run the risk of staying stuck in the “pie in the sky vision.”
#4 When looking at the 20,000-foot level you are identifying and clarifying your current family, professional and community responsibilities in determining your areas of focus so you can meet your 1-2 year goals and objectives.
Making decisions about what you are going to do, as well as what you are not going to do, is critical in minimizing the sense of overwhelm you may feel by “trying to do it all.”
#5 Then at the 10,000-foot level you are creating the projects that will allow you to achieve the short-term outcomes for your chosen areas of focus, such as finding a financial planner, writing your article for the annual report, organizing the temple picnic, etc.
You just need to plan these projects well enough so it is out of your head and you know the next few actions. Because, as David Allen notes, you really only need a high degree of planning for about 5% of your projects.
#6 The last level, the runway, is the list of all the actions you need to take – emails, phone calls, errands, next actions for projects, stuff to read, etc.
As an adult with ADHD this is, perhaps, the most challenging level, as you may struggle to distinguish between what is important to do amongst all the seemingly urgent tasks on your plate.
You can build this muscle, though, by practicing deciding what next actions from your projects belong on your runway. Another framework to help you build this muscle is the Urgent/Important Matrix, which I’ll cover in my next post.
Of course, what you put in these categories can change over time and overlap between categories.
Questions For You
So, as you consider your current capacity, what can you do and what kind of support do you need to get a handle on your 20, 000, 10, 000 and runway levels and be able to clear your psychic decks?
At the same time, what can you do today, however small, so you are also living / moving toward your “Why,” your life’s purpose and vision?