Do you sometimes wonder if it is just me or do I do this because of my ADHD? Similarly, are you dumbfounded that you keep repeating the same behaviors and do so despite knowing what you need to do to change? As the classic ADHD self–help book suggests. You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy.
You have executive function challenges because of your ADHD. Remember, you also have executive function strengths. Being aware of these challenges and strengths is crucial. As this understanding can help you manage your challenges and capitalize on your strengths.
One way to manage your executive function challenges is by taking medication, exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep, and other forms of self-care. You can also improve your executive function challenges by adopting compensatory strategies. Below I’ll share just a few to give you an introduction to the various components of Dr. Brown’s Model of Executive Functions Impaired in ADHD shown above.
How To Get Started – Activation
When trying to get started on a task, the first step is identifying the reason you would choose to do the task. That is, what is the reward? For example, a former client, a professor, followed through on his administrative tasks because he valued being seen as a professional. Make sure you get in touch with your why.
Next, make sure you know how to do the task and have everything you need to start. You might need to do some preparation work, such as finding documents or getting more information. Doing all the upfront preparation work will help you start on the primary task.
Also, a warm-up routine can help put you in the right mindset and get you physically closer to starting the task. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, suggests these steps.
- The first step should be so easy that there is virtually zero chance of not doing it. Maybe it’s getting your coffee and opening up your computer.
- Make sure you include physical movement, as well. Even if you do all your work at the same desk, you could start by getting up to get coffee, for example, and then return to your desk.
- Do your routine the same each time. If you get coffee in the green glass, don’t use the blue glass. After a while, this habit will be the cue that, This is what I do before I... Then you will rely less on willpower. And you will be pulled by your warm-up routine to start on your primary goal.
Rinse and repeat!
You also may find it useful to have some external accountability. It may be enough to tell someone your intentions and then check in with them at agreed-upon times. Alternatively, you may need more real-time accountability by working with others. You can do this in person, virtually with accountability partners you know, or use a service like Focusmate.
How To Focus and Shift Your Attention
Transitions, starting, stopping, and task switching are also challenges for ADHD adults. Some of the above strategies will also help you start your work.
But to focus you also want to consider what kind of environment you need. Do you need absolute quiet or do you need some background noise? Can you sit and focus intently on your task or do you need some physical movement? This will be different for different types of tasks. When planning what you’re going to work on, also consider where you’re going to work and how you can set up the environment to help you focus.
One consideration is that ADHD adults have quite a bit of floating attention, which can mean you are prone to distractions. When you give your floating attention a job to do, you can minimize the chance of being distracted and better focus on your primary task. Some ways to do this are using a fidget, listening to music, working in a cafe, or even walking on a treadmill.
But, you may find your challenge is being able to stop because you are hyperfocusing. To break the hyperfocus set a timer in advance and then move to a different spot to work. You could also schedule an appointment or meeting so you have a reason to stop. Don’t forget to set the timer to remind you, though. 🙂
How to Sustaining Effort
While you may be able to complete short-term tasks, you may have a more difficult time finishing long-term projects. Part of the reason for this may be because you have a difficult time sustaining effort over the long run. Knowing this at the onset can help you plan for these challenges by:
- when possible doing the project with someone else.
- breaking down the project into as small parts as possible and delivering those incrementally.
- have frequent check-ins with the relevant people to review what you’ve done, what you have left to do, and what challenges you are facing.
- body doubling to make sure you are working on the project.
Accountability in the way mentioned above can be immensely useful in helping you persist. So that you can close the loop and deliver on time. The key is that you set up accountability so it feels useful and compassionate.
How to Manage Frustration and Modulat Emotions
I know sometimes you may feel like your emotions are running the show.
There is a lot I could write about emotions and ADHD. And I didn’t want to give you just a sound bite. Instead, if this topic interests you, I encourage you to check out my blog and podcast listed below. So you can learn more about how your ADHD can contribute to emotional dysregulation and what you can do to address these challenges,
- Are Your Emotions Steering Your Life? Time to Take Back the Wheel!
- Feel like Your Emotions Are in Charge Not You Because of ADHD?
How to Utilize Working Memory and Access Recall
Is memory a challenge for you?
One aspect is working memory, which is the brief storage (15-30 seconds) and manipulation/processing of information to carry out a task, is limited for ADHD adults. Following a recipe or directions are examples of when you might use your working memory. Part of the reason for limitation is your ADHD-related challenge with being able to focus and tune out extraneous distractions.
One key to better using your working memory is to avoid multitasking. Instead, focus on monotasking. If you are cooking, listening to music might be helpful. But having a conversation at the same time might mean, well, a burnt dinner, perhaps? Instead, remind yourself. I am doing this and not that.
How about your ability to remember to do something in the future or retrieve information (recall) from your long-term memory? Is this a challenge for you? Some researchers believe this challenge is due to the information not making it into your long-term memory. While others believe the filing system in the ADHD brain is so organized it makes retrieval hard. Maybe it is a little bit of both.
Whatever the reason, the antidote is, as much as possible, not to rely on your memory. Instead, adopt tools and learn new strategies to compensate for your wonky memory. Check out how to use checklists to remember what you need to do, and ADHD and 20 Ways to Remember What You Want.
If you’re curious to learn more about memory, check out this post, ADHD Adults Who Use These Tips Improve Their Memory
How to Monitor Action and Regulate Behavior
Last is a brief introduction to the 6th component of Dr. Brown’s model of executive function challenges for adults with ADHD. According to Brown:
Many persons with ADHD, even those without problems of hyperactive behavior, report chronic problems in regulating their actions. They often are too impulsive in what they say or do, and in the way they think, jumping too quickly to inaccurate conclusions. Persons with ADHD also report problems in monitoring the context in which they are interacting. They fail to notice when other people are puzzled, or hurt or annoyed by what they have just said or done and thus fail to modify their behavior in response to specific circumstances. Often they also report chronic difficulty in regulating the pace of their actions, in slowing self and/or speeding up as needed for specific tasks.
Part of the antidote to this is knowing the contexts when this is more likely to happen to you and having a plan for how to address it.
For example, if you need to set boundaries, you may use strategies from William Ury’s book, The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes.
The first step, when you are dysregulated, is to go to the balcony. This is how Ury refers to the time necessary to think and gain clarity about your needs and values. It can be 5 minutes, an hour, a few days, or more. The key is that you take as much time as you need.
For example, a friend recently shared with me that her company wanted her to pay for her hotel room for a mandatory retreat. She and a group of her colleagues did not want to spend their own money on this. They met, took their time to craft the message, and decided that their colleague, Ben, would represent the group in delivering the message to the CEO.
The group identified what they were saying yes to, which was going on the retreat to be part of the team. Then they respectfully set a boundary, which was asking for the company to pay for the hotel room. And asked the CEO what workaround he thought might be possible for this so they would not have to pay for their stay.
The key is to have a strategy to help guide your actions when you know you have difficulty regulating what you say, do, or think. Part of becoming better in this realm is developing the ability to slow down and be mindful, which may be a heavy lift if you tend to be impulsive. But, with practice you can slow down to do this.
Everyone’s ADHD symptoms are different and affect each person to varying degrees. Taking medication, exercising, eating well, getting enough sleep and other forms of self-care will give you a leg up in addressing the neurobiological component of ADHD.
And then you can adopt additional strategies to compensate for the effects of your ADHD executive function skill challenges.