Often well-known productivity methods assume everyone has the skills needed to use the strategies. For example, David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done, assumes you already know how to plan and get started. But, of course, that’s not necessarily true for adults with ADHD.
And these assumptions result in a lot of frustration for ADHD adults who try to use systems like GTD “right out-of-the-box.” It’s not that GTD or other productivity systems are bad. There are a lot of good ones out there. It’s just that you might first have to hone your foundational skills before you can implement them effectively.
So, if you are having trouble implementing a system, consider whether you have the necessary foundational skills. And then think about whether you want to develop them. One of the foundational skills you need is the ability to know your “why” for doing a task.
I often suggest strategies in my posts for remembering this. Of course, you have to know your why before you can remember it, right? But I recently realized I’ve been assuming people know or can easily discover this on their own. I bet it won’t surprise you that it’s actually not all that easy.
I guess this is just one of those “duh moments” for me. We all have them. To get up to speed I want to explore with you how you can find your why. Because right now you may over-rely on urgency to motivate you. This can lead to procrastination and doing work at the last minute.
If you want to change this, it’s important to diversify your motivators. Knowing and remembering the reward — your why — can provide some of the motivation you need to get started.
Ready to find out ways to find your why?
Choosing to Do a Task to Achieve a Larger Goal
If there are many moving parts involved in achieving one of your goals, it is likely there are also tasks that are not in your wheelhouse. It might be because the task is not intrinsically interesting to you. Alternatively, it might be because the task is not in your area of expertise. And, even if you could muddle your way through, you would be better off spending your time and energy on those where you have more expertise.
Ideally, in either of the above instances, you can offload them, fast! Either by delegating, hiring someone, bartering or simply deciding not to do them. In reality, though, there are tasks that don’t come easily to you, whether because of lack of interest or competence, that still land on your plate, right?
In these instances, you might have an easier time executing if you remember the larger goal involved. Especially in the moments when your automatic thoughts, such as “I don’t feel like doing this right now” kick in. So you can avoid going down the procrastination slide.
For example, you may find it a challenge to keep up with your email. So, maybe you don’t take the time you need to process it fully. But, you know, whether you work for someone else or have your own business, keeping up with this communication is an integral part of being successful. So, if you want to be successful, whatever that means to you, it would help to remember in the moment why you would choose to keep up with your email.
Are there tasks you are avoiding, but you need to do — can’t offload — to achieve an important goal?
Honoring Your Values by Following Through
Another strategy to make execution easier is to uncover how following through is important because of an underlying value you hold. The example below illustrates how tapping into this can even help you follow through on low-interest tasks where the reward is certainly not obvious.
Although Elijah told his spouse he would take out the recycling, time after time he would neglect to follow through. Even when it was overflowing. I know it doesn’t surprise you to know that Elijah didn’t notice that it was overflowing. So, day after day he passed it by.
Part of the problem also was it wasn’t that important to him. He wondered aloud to me, “What’s the big deal? After all, it’s not like it’s stinky garbage.” But it was a flashpoint for him and his spouse, and Elijah finally decided he wanted to get off the merry-go-round of the continual arguments.
He just didn’t know how to do this.
Eventually, he identified two values as reasons he would choose to follow through. They were honoring his spouse’s needs and maintaining a peaceful household. With these in mind, he became more invested in figuring out how to honor his word. He decided to take it out every morning on his way out. No need to remember the day or assess whether there was enough to take out. He just took it out.
And felt good about following through, too. Sure, he was glad they weren’t arguing anymore about it. But he also felt good because it was the right thing to do — in alignment with his values.
Check out What Are Values? for a great overview of the importance of identifying your values, as well as a process for doing this.
Executing to Avoid Negative Consequences
To be honest, avoiding negative consequences is the least effective means of motivation. It’s certainly doesn’t work as well as using your values or goals to motivate you.
Think about it.
When you’re afraid of a consequence your cortisol levels increase. Meaning your feelings of stress and overwhelm are also intensifying. And then you are likely not as productive as when you are moving toward something you want — a value you want to embody or goal you want to achieve. You are just running away from something.
In many cases, like those below, you can reframe your reason, though:
- Rather than trying to avoid a ticket, maybe you decide not to speed because you value safety.
- And you might decide to take out the recycling to be a good steward of our land. And not because you want to avoid an argument.
- Your reason for keeping up with your email could be because you value good lines of communication with the various people in your life. Instead of using your fear of getting in trouble as a reason for staying on top of it.
You get it.
Then again, as a last resort, you may need to rely on avoidance of negative consequences to motivate you. Maybe doing your taxes falls in this category? As being a good citizen may not cut it when it comes to providing the necessary motivation. Can you think of other tasks where avoidance of negative consequence is the only motivation you have as a reason for following through?
Remembering to Remember Your Why
Hope you’re with me so far. Because now comes the hard part. Once you know your why you need to remember it again and again in the critical moments of choice. But, in part because of ADHD related working memory and recall challenges, this is not a sure bet.
For one, ADHD adults do not have enough working memory to easily hold multiple perspectives at one time. Consequently, in the moment of choice, when you’re choosing to start or not, the only perspective you may be holding is, “I don’t feel like doing this now. Maybe I’ll do it later.”
That is, you’re not making your decision based on multiple perspectives. If you were, you might think to yourself, “I don’t feel like doing this now. But it will really help me reach my goal. So, maybe I’ll push through this feeling.”
An additional challenge with remembering your values and goals to help you execute is the difficulty with recall. That is, because the filing system in your brain is inefficient, you may not be able to remember the reasons to choose to do a task. Especially one that doesn’t interest you now.
The best you can do is devise different ways to remember, such as:
- putting a note in a location that makes sense relative to the task
- adding a statement/cue words to a calendar item
- creating a screensaver
- carrying some sort of totem to serve as a reminder
- reflecting on your why during your weekly review
Easier Execution for ADHD Adults
The key when it comes to motivation is to diversify your motivators. So, you are not relying exclusively or mainly on urgency to help you get started and follow through on your important work.
Using your why as a source of motivation is a good tool to readily have your disposal, for sure.