First, a heads up… This article is not just for those of you who work in creative professions, such as writers, designers, architects, etc.
Because, whatever your role, whether a small business owner, executive, academic or professional, you engage in activities that require you to harness your creative juices. Maybe it’s creating a presentation, writing an article, designing a product, planning a class, etc.
And you may also have the ADHD super power of having lots of ideas, which can be a gift and a challenge, as you know.
But follow though is likely not one of your super powers. Even though you may have tried the typical suggestions to accomplish your creative projects — breaking them down, estimating the time and scheduling them — you still can’t close the loop.
Part of the problem could be you are approaching these projects just as you would a more mundane, straightforward task, like clearing out clutter or filing papers. Executing on your creative projects requires a different approach.
So, as you read on, think about how you can change your methods in order to follow through on your best ideas.
Do You Do Your Best Work at the Last Minute?
Let’s start by looking at a dubious assumption you, like many adults with ADHD, may be holding.
While many ADHD adults say they do their best work at the last minute, I’m not sure this is true. What is more likely true is that their experience and, perhaps yours, has been one in which they often need to be pushed into a corner in order to get their work done.
If you also often rely on urgency — the adrenaline rush you get at the last minute — for motivation, stop for a moment and ask yourself, “Do I really do my best work under those conditions?” My guess is, while you may get the work done, it also comes at a cost, such as:
- your health and wellbeing.
- your relationships.
- the quality of your work.
If you want to avoid these costs and maximize your chances of doing well in your creative endeavors, read on.
First Decide On Your Objectives
Whenever I write about executing I point out the importance of first deciding on your objectives. And, for some of you, this may seem obvious.
But, yet, I often see people faltering out of the gate when they are unable to choose one idea — topic for a paper, focus for a training, etc. — over another for fear they will choose the wrong one.
So, to avoid having your ideas putter out before you even begin, first decide on your objectives.
For example, Laurie decided the objectives for her training are:
- Everyone will leave with an understanding of techniques to communicate better at work.
- It is engaging and interactive.
- The participants have handouts to remember what they learned in the workshop.
- The PowerPoint presentation clearly communicates the message.
Deciding on your objectives before starting to work will allow you to focus your time and energy on what you decide is most important.
Because Laurie is clear on her objectives she knows she is not trying to:
- cover all the ways to communicate at work.
- create a PowerPoint worthy of an expert designer.
- fill the whole time speaking, as she wants the training to be interactive.
As making decisions is often a challenge for many ADHD Adults, I know deciding on your objectives may be a challenge for you. If that is the case for you, seek out help.
And once you’ve formulated your objectives, when you get lost in what you are doing, always come back to them to remind yourself of what you are doing, as well as what you are not doing.
How ADHD Brain Fog Can Get In Your Way
Even with your objectives in mind, if you tend to do your work at the last minute, you may find that your ADHD brain does not always cooperate.
Despite your best effort to focus on your work do you ever feel like your brain is in a fog? Sometimes I describe this feeling as slogging through quicksand. However you describe it, it is hard to be at your best creative self in these moments.
Sure, there are strategies you can use in the short and long term to wake up your brain, such as:
- getting enough sleep
- taking medication and timing when you take it for when you most need it
- getting up and moving around
- listening to music
- eating well and drinking enough water
But, while all of the above are key to practicing good self-care and being productive, you may still encounter brain fog when you are trying to do your best creative work.
And, when your mojo is just not there, it may be best to call it a day and try again another time. Of course, in order to have the time to take a break, you need to have built in enough of a buffer.
Taking Time to “Turn Off” Your Brain Can Help You Be More Productive
The way to have enough of a buffer is to intentionally decide to pace your work by including breaks. This will not only allow you to account for the occasional brain fog, but it will also give you the time you need to let ideas percolate.
No doubt, if you often do work at the last minute now, it may be because you are procrastinating. It is also just as likely the last minute fire drills are due to your ADHD challenges with being able to create and follow through on a plan. And, if these are a concern for you, you’ll want to address them, for sure.
But intentionally taking time away from a task can help you be more productive as it gives you the time and space you need to:*
- take a step back when you are frustrated and return at a later time better able to focus.
- allow ideas to percolate and marinate. It is amazing how much more creative and better at problem-solving you can become when you stop working on something.
- practice good self-care, which will help you to work more effectively and productively.
- feel pulled to do your work, rather than resist it because you are working too much.
- engage in more mundane activities that distract you and don’t tax your brain, which seems to allow for greater insight into complex problems.
If, like many other ADHD Adults, you tend to think taking a break means you are wasting time and being lazy, especially when you have so much to do, consider the above advantages.
Then take a break!If you don't run your own life, somebody else will. - John Atkinson Click To Tweet
Decide What Pace Will Work Best for You
If you buy into the importance of taking breaks in order to be able to produce your best work, you are probably still wondering, “How am I going to get my work done, if I’m taking breaks?!”
In the example below, Laurie was considering a few options in order to complete her training project due in a month.
First, she thought of working every day for 1.5 hours. With this option she would have enough time to transition into the project and do some work before needing to stop. She thought this option might also prevent her from falling into the trap of hyperfocusing and going down to many rabbit holes.
But she wasn’t sure 1.5 hours would give her enough time to really engage in the project the way she likes. So, she thought of working 3.5 hours on 2 days of each week, with at least a day in between each work session. With this option she thought she would be able to take a deeper dive into her work.
The other option she considered was working on it at home on it for a full day the first week to really get a good start. Then decide the best way to pace herself for the remaining three weeks.
Contingency Plan – Expect The Unexpected
Whichever option she chose she knew things could go awry at any point. So, she blocked off a good portion of the Monday before the Thursday training to make sure she could deal with the unexpected without waiting until the 11th hour.
Whatever pace you decide will fit best for your work style and the type of work you do, be sure to block the time off in your calendar so it does not get eaten up by other people’s agendas.
Question For You
Think of a project you have right now. What kind of pacing will help you do your best work?