The wrong kind of task list can overwhelm adults with ADHD, rather than helping them. How about you? Do you have a task list? Is it helping you follow through?
As is true for many of my clients when I first start working with them, you may have several lists — a sticky over here, a piece of paper over there, notes from your last meeting, etc. In the moment, you think writing it down somewhere — anywhere — will help you remember to do it, right?
But are your lists helping you execute? If you are not following through on many of your tasks, your list(s) might be partly to blame. And you might have so many open loops it is making your head spin and leaving your overwhelmed.
Following the five steps below will help you create a task list that works for you, rather than causing you more confusion.
Your ADHD Can Make It Hard To Manage a Task List
There are many ways in which your ADHD can make it hard to manage a task list.
First, you may not keep all your tasks in one place because of organizational challenges. Because they are not in one place, you might forget about your tasks altogether. “Out of sight out of mind,” right? And then you may become frustrated and find it hard to persist in trying to manage everything you have to do.
If you do write all your task on one list, but tend to work too fast, as is true for many adults with ADHD, you may scribble something down only to look at it later and wonder, “What am I supposed to do?” So you continue to gloss over it because of your lack of clarity. And this just adds to your frustration!
Are there other ways your ADHD contributes to your difficulties in managing your ability to manage a task list?
#1 Be Consistent in Where You Capture Your Tasks
The first key to managing your tasks is to be consistent about where you capture them. This means, in most cases, having only one task list, whether it is paper or electronic. So, if you have not yet chosen a task manager, now is the time.
If you do use more than one list for your task, it is still important to be consistent. So, for example, if you use an app for your grocery list, always put grocery items on that list and not on your other list.
Definitely time to ditch the multiple stickies and scraps of paper scattered around you.
# 2 Capture Your Tasks The Moment You Think of them
When a task comes to mind do you sometimes say, “I need to write that down.” But, when you don’t write it down immediately, you forget about it? Alternatively, do you sometimes write it down on a random piece of paper and say to yourself, “I need to put that on my task list later.” And you forget..
Chances are pretty good because of your memory challenges you will forget.
So, instead of trying to rely on your memory and causing yourself more problems down the road, just write it down as soon as it comes to mind. And don’t write it down just anywhere. Write the task in your chosen task manager.
I also know because you’re so overwhelmed with everything on your plate you may often work in a hurry. If this is true for you, you will also need to practice slowing down. And trust the extra few minutes it takes to write a task on your list is time well spent and will save you time in the long run.
Really, it’s true.
#3 Be Precise In The Next Action Needed
Consistently writing your tasks in the same place as soon as you think about them is the first step in creating a better task list. But, if you are not clear about what you need to do, this will not be enough to help you execute effectively.
For example, when Stuart looked at his list — do XYZ report, fix bike, call Matt, email Sue — it actually caused him more confusion because he thought:
- “I don’t have time to do the XYZ report.”
- “Right, I have to fix the bike as soon as I figure out where to take it.”
- “Where did I put Matt’s number?”
- “I still have to get that information from Ahmed so I can email Sue.”
He was clearer on what he needed to do and much less overwhelmed when he identified the right next doable action like the ones below:
- review last year’s XYZ report and develop outline for this year’s report
- text Mary to ask for the phone number of the bike shop she uses
- email Dario to get Matt’s number
- call Ahmed to ask him to send his requisition request
Go ahead and experiment. Rework your list so your tasks are doable because you have the right next action and it is a small enough chunk.
#4 Include Information To Make It Easier To Do The Task
If you’ve gotten this far, you know you need one list and you also know you need to identify the right next action.
Yet, even when you have pockets of time to do something on your list, you may gloss over it because a phone number, email address or other information necessary to complete the task is not readily accessible. To avoid these situations include this information when you first write the task on your list, like Stuart’s examples below:
- review last year’s XYZ report and develop outline for this year’s report (see attached report)
- text Mary to ask for the phone number of the bike shop she uses (555.222.1414)
- email Dario to get Matt’s number ([email protected])
- call Ahmed to ask him to send his requisition request (333.666.5252)
Having all the information you need to complete the tasks will make it easier to quickly do items on your list on the fly. Nice, right?
Give it a try.
#5 Always Include A Due Date
OK, this is one adults with ADHD really struggle with wondering, “Do I include a due date for tasks that really don’t have a hard and fast deadline? If I do, how am I going to be able to distinguish those from the ones that really have to be done by a particular date?”
There is no easy answer for this one. So, you are going to have to experiment to see what works for you.
But, because adults with ADHD have a poor sense of time, I recommend you include a due date as a guide. Otherwise, you may look at those tasks without due dates and think to yourself, “I can do that later.” And you know what a slippery slope this is, right?
Yet, I also realize, if your due dates seem artificial, it will be a challenge to choose to get started to meet the self-imposed deadline.
One tactic David Nowell suggest is to “connect the dots,” by reminding yourself why you are doing the task and describing the payoff in vivid sensory detail (the smells, the visuals, the feelings). By doing this you can bring the reward into the “now,” making it easier to choose to do a task by the due date you chose.
What do you think? Do you want to include a due date or not for tasks that don’t have hard deadlines?
#6 Have an Execution Plan for Your Tasks
Of course, not knowing how you’re going to follow through on the tasks on your list contributes to your overwhelm, right? So, in addition to making sure you have all the right information in your task manager, you’ll want to make sure you have a plan to be able to follow through.
One way to do this is to have blocks of time when you regularly do certain types of task. For example, you might:
- put aside 1-3 blocks of time during your day to work on email.
- have a block each week to work on a specific project.
- assign themes for each day of the week when you focus on certain types of task.
Of course, you’re going have many tasks that do not neatly fall in these blocks of time. During your weekly review and daily planning time you’ll can decide how are you going to follow through on these task.
Question for You
What will you do today to create a better task list?