Can ADHD adults complete tasks? Of course. Yet, I know it’s frustrating for ADHD adults to have every intention of following through, and then falling short. If this is happening to you, I imagine you’re wondering why, right?
First, the three components we all need to be able to follow through on our intentions are knowledge, motivation — the desire to do something — and skills.
If you, like many other ADHD adults, attribute your lack of follow through to not be motivated enough, you may think, “If I really wanted to do it, I would! I mean, sheesh, everyone else gets their stuff done…”
But, I bet, if you are like most of my clients, lack of motivation usually isn’t the problem. I mean you have the desire to do lots of things, right?! I bet you also often know what you need to do to follow though. So, lack of knowledge is usually not the reason you don’t follow through, either.
Yet, you just can’t seem to channel your knowledge and motivation to get to the finish line. If you are not able to close the gap between intention and action right now, because of your ADHD you likely lack the skills needed to execute effectively.
But you can build those muscles — learn the necessary skills.
First, Decide If You Really Intend To Do It
I know deciding whether you really intend to do a task or not may sound obvious. Yet, you may still be overlooking this critical first step.
Do you find yourself repeatedly saying any of the following?
- “I’ll try to…”
- “I need to get to that.”
- “I’ll do that later.”
- “I should …”
It might be that these tasks just do not belong on your active task list, whether it is a concrete list or just the one running around in your head.
But you keep telling yourself you should do the task because, well, you think you should… And, when you continue to not through, your feelings of overwhelm and shame just keeps building.
If you keep putting something off, it is time to slow down, take stock of everything on your plate and, considering your current bandwidth, decide if there are tasks you want to:
- defer to a later date.
- defer indefinitely by putting it on your maybe/someday list — a list of tasks you don’t want to forget but aren’t sure if or when you might do them.
- drop — remove permanently — from your list.
Deciding to defer or drop a task from your list does not necessarily mean that it is not important to you. It may just mean you are ready to acknowledge, like the rest of us, you can’t do it all. 🙂
Once you’ve decided what your active task list looks like, you can move on to the next step.
Review and Plan on a Regular Basis so You Know What Is Next
The next step you should take to close the gap is to have clarity on at the very least the next step you need to take
But, do you ever leave work, but are unable to turn off your brain? Instead, you have a constant loop of “I have to do…, Did I remember to…?, What about…?, Oh, man, I forgot…” One way to quiet the noise and maximize your ability to take action is to review and plan regularly.
Once a week do a deep dive. Check out The ADHD Adult’s Guide To The Weekly Review to learn how to do this. All my clients who do this say it is really a game changer!
Once a day take 10-20 minutes first thing in the morning or the day before.
- review your calendar and make any necessary changes.
- decide the 1-3 most important tasks you are going to do.
Once you establish a regular weekly habit of reviewing and planning, your daily habit will be much easier, really
Just a heads up… When you feel overwhelmed with everything you need to do, building this habit can be hard. The key to sticking with this habit even when it feels hard is to trust it is time well spent.
Make Sure You Are Heading In The Right Direction
As with many adults with ADHD, linear thinking may not be your strong suit. That’s ok. Ask for help, as Bill did in the example below.
Bill needed to deliver a presentation to a client and didn’t want to create a fire drill for everyone, as he usually did. So, with the help of his colleague Josh, he created a loose plan.
- presentation due March 15th
- have Gabby do last minute edits – March 13th
- deliver to Selena, his boss, by March 11th for review.
- complete one section per week for the next 4 weeks.
- write the introduction this week.
As is true for most ADHD Adults, you probably resist and resent too much structure, as it feels suffocating for you. Yet, you know if you do not have enough structure, you can stay stuck for a long time.
The trick, of course, is to find the balance between too much structure and not enough. Bill’s rough outline of a plan was good enough for him.
Having a loose idea of how to proceed can help you be more confident you can deliver on what may have seemed like an insurmountable task. And you also will have an easier time starting when you have an idea of how to proceed.
You need just the right amount of structure for you.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. ~ Arthur Ashe
Focus on Persistent Starting Rather Than Finishing
“I have to get this done!” When is the last time you said that about something you are putting off?
When you focus on the need to finish you may, unwittingly, be causing yourself to procrastinate because in the back of your mind you might be thinking, “There is no way I can get this done!”
And, as you become more convinced you cannot finish, the task becomes more daunting, and you become more stressed and overwhelmed. So, instead, you decide to organize your desk, surf the internet… You know how that goes, right?
But, when you focus on just starting, you feel less overwhelmed and stressed and will be less likely to procrastinate. To focus on starting you could decide to:
- Work on the task for ½ hr each day until it is finished.
- Do as much as you can in an hour or whatever amount of time you decide. And then, when you stop working, decide when you will work on it again.
- Spend just 15 minutes reviewing the task. It’s a start! Then decide what you need to do next and when you will start again.
When is the next time you can start something you have been putting off?
Boredom Happens! Here Is What You Can Do About It.
As an adult with ADHD there are going to be many times when you feel bored and restless even though your work is important to you. Be careful not to jump to the conclusion that you are not motivated. It is more likely that you are just aroused or alert enough in the moment.
Maybe the task was boring from the onset. Alternatively, maybe you were chugging along just fine when all of sudden you get to the last 10%, need to close the loop, and it feels like wading through quicksand.
And, while no amount of positive self-talk, upbeat music or new environments can change the fact that your mojo is just not there, there are strategies you can use to still get to the finish line. Check out How ADHD Adults Can Stay Focused on Long Term Projects for some tips.
Just don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself, “I’ll do it later when I feel like it.” When are you going to feel like it and when is later? No doubt, this is a slippery slope.
Along with using strategies to follow though even when something is boring, the key is to accept you are just going to be bored sometimes. I guess this falls under the life maxim, “It what is it is.”
Better than fighting reality or giving up, right?
Don’t Let Fear of Failing Keep You Stuck
Speaking of giving up, I bet fear of failing has kept you, not only from following through, but from even starting something you really are motivated to do. You likely don’t start because, maybe unknowingly, you are trying to delay your anticipated failure.
And you’ve already heard, maybe more times than you would like, that failing is part of life. Obviously, no one likes to fail. But you also know if you don’t try and face the risk of failing, you can’t succeed.
The keys are to acknowledge your fears and build the resilience so you can forge ahead in spite of the possibility you might fail.
And none of the typical solutions alone — breaking down your tasks, avoiding distractions, etc. — will help you until you address the fear that is keeping you stuck.
Below are steps you can take right now to do this.
First, since your thinking is driving your fears, practice positive self-talk, such as:
- “I might make mistakes, but that does not make me a failure.”
- “Even if the worst happens, I’ll be ok.”
- “Feeling afraid is really uncomfortable, but I don’t want that to stop me.”
- “My past is not a prediction of my future! I can get support so I can succeed.”
Second, write out what you think will happen if the worst happens, and decide how you will deal with each anticipated outcome. If you are not sure, ask for support in thinking through what you might do.
Third, don’t go it alone. Reach out for help from a friend, family member or a coach.
Last, if, despite your best efforts, you are unable to make headway, you might need the help of a therapist to help you address the deeply seeded emotions underlying your fears.
Make Sure You Remember Your Intentions
In order to follow through on your intentions, you need to remember them. Ok, I know you know that…. But it’s also not easy for ADHD Adults.
No worries, really.
Because, being aware of these challenges will allow you to put strategies, like some of the following, in place so you can remember your intentions.
- Take time to do your weekly and daily planning (see above).
- Throughout your day ask yourself, “What am I doing? What Should I be doing? Why is this important?”
- Set a timer, if necessary, to cue you to ask the above questions at critical moments throughout your day.
The bottom line is, while your memory is a little, well, wonky, there are strategies you can use to remember what you want to do. So, what can you do to remember your intentions today?
Willpower is Overrated! A Better Way To Manage Distractions
You know it is easy for adults with ADHD to get derailed by internal and external distractions. And, when you get distracted, you may tell yourself “I just need to try harder!”
But, since we all have a limited amount of willpower, trying to manage distractions by relying on self-control is an iffy proposition, to say the least. So, instead of trying harder, ask yourself, “What distractions keep me from doing my work and how can I minimize them?”
Not sure? Here are a few common distractions and tips to manage them:
- Internet – Use a site blocker, like Freedom.
- Message alert pop-up for new email – Turn it off.
- Personal Issues – Maybe you need to take care of it so you can move on. Alternatively, maybe you can put it aside by telling yourself, “I’m doing this and not that!”
- Phone Calls – Turn off the ringer for a short time so you can work.
- People knocking on your door – If possible, tell them, “I really want to give you my full attention, but I need to do this first. Can I let you know when I am available?”
- Random thoughts – Write them down on a piece paper so you can remember them later
What are other distractions that keep you focusing and following through, and what can you do to manage them?
how adhd adults complete tasks
Pick one of the above strategies and try it this week.
Think you might need help closing the gap between your intentions and action? Contact me today for a Complimentary Consultation to see if any of my services might be a good fit for you.