One of the executive functions necessary to accomplish any goal is task initiation or, in other words, getting started.
And since this is one of the common hurdles for many adults with ADHD, I often hear some version of the following when working with clients.
“I know what I needed to do. I even had it on my task list. I just didn’t do it, again! Maybe I just don’t care enough. It must not be that important to me, if I keep on not doing it, right?”
When you can tap into the value a task has for you, getting started can be easier. So, as a first step, when you are struggling with getting started, simply ask yourself, “what is the value for me of doing this task?”
Your answers may echo the examples below:
- I really don’t enjoy preparing for meetings, but I want to prepare for this meeting because I want the project to go well.
- Taking out the recycling every week doesn’t make sense to me. But, since it is important to my spouse, I want to make it a priority.
- I’m so tired at the end of the day to even think about exercising. But I know when I do exercise I feel better physically and emotionally.
For adults with ADHD, you may still struggle to get started even when a task matters to you. While determining its value for you is not the magic ticket, it is a critical first step.
Clearing Your Plate
Before you move on to thinking about what strategies might help you, make sure you are clear on your intentions. By doing this you will minimize the possibility of being overwhelmed by all your possible To-Dos floating around in your head.
Once you have decided which tasks you want to keep on your plate, decide what to do with the tasks that you are choosing not to actively pursue.
- defer them to a later date.
- defer them indefinitely by putting them on your maybe/someday list.
- remove them permanently from your list.
Deciding to defer or remove a task from your list does not necessarily mean that it has no importance for you. It may just mean that you are acknowledging that you can’t do it all!
Once you determine what you are keeping on your plate and the value of those tasks for you, you can focus on discovering what will help you work with your ADHD to make getting started easier.
Next is a look at your environment.
Is your environment set up to support or hinder you in getting started on those tasks that are important to you? A few questions to ask yourself to determine this are:
- Am I getting the sleep, nutrition and exercise I need to function at my best?
- Is my physical environment set up to inspire me to get started?
- Am I getting the support I need from the people in my professional and personal life.
- Is the way that I am thinking about this task helping me?
- Have I created a plan that takes into consideration my challenges around executive functions?
Once you have explored the factors in your environment that could be affecting your ability to get started on a tasks, you can decide what changes you want to make.
What if your environment is mostly set up to support you, but you are still stuck at the starting block?!
Yes, I know I already listed thinking as part of a supportive environment above.
But I think it is important to specifically highlight the role of fear, as it is so often one of the primary factors that gets in the way of getting started. You may have fears like:
- It is too hard.
- I’m not smart /good enough to do this.
- I’ll never be able to do this successfully (perfectly).
Whatever your fears, acknowledging and addressing them is key to moving forward.
Waking Up Your Brain
Even after you have tapped into your motivation, created the right environment and decided to face your fears, you may still have trouble getting started because the task, while important, is not intrinsically appealing to you.
Try some of the following strategies:
- If rewards are motivating for you, give yourself a reward for completing each step, the whole task or each time you get started.
- Do the task that you like least first. Check out this video, Eat Your Frog First.
- Set a timer and do as much as you can for a short amount of time each day. Perhaps knowing that you only have to work on it for a bit will make it easier to do.
- If the task lends itself to doing it fast, set a timer and race against the clock; make it into a game.
- Listen to music.
- Enlist the help of a body double, someone to sit with you, while you work.
ADDed Perspectives Bottom Line
As you can see there is no easy answer to figuring out what may be getting in the way of getting started. Taking the time to reflect and address possible reasons can get you closer, though.