You want to get stuff done. I know. If you’ve followed the suggestions from the last post, How to Tame Your To-Do List When You Have ADHD, you’ve decided on your active tasks/projects. Now it’s time to craft the tasks so you can use your to-do list effectively. Ready?
Maybe you are currently alternating between avoidance and overworking. While not the only answer, a master task list can potentially help you accomplish your most important work. But, if it is not well-crafted it can just add to your stress and overwhelm. Maybe you’ve had this experience?
As I pointed out in my previous post, one of the reasons your current to-do list may be getting in your way is it is too long. Check out that post to learn about the techniques you can use to address the challenge of having too many active tasks.
In addition, your to-do list may not be working for you because it is too complex, doesn’t have enough information or you lack accountability. Below I’ll explore these challenges of a poorly crafted to-do list. And share with you the workarounds you can use to craft one that really works for you.
And, as you adopt these strategies, your brain will no longer be cluttered with thoughts of all the tasks you want to or must do. Because you will be getting these thoughts out of your head. Moreover, you’ll be putting them into a container you will be confident is accurate.
Then, as you climb into bed at the end of a long day, your mind will no longer be churning. Instead, you will be thinking, “Ah, still a lot to do, for sure. But I’m clear on what I need to do.”
#1: Precisely Define the Tasks on Your To-Do List
If you’ve followed the suggestions from the last post, you’ve decided on your active tasks/projects. Now it’s time to look at those tasks and make sure they are clearly defined. Because, if your current list is like many I see, it may be just a list of ideas, such as oil change, XYZ report, gift for Ted, team meeting.
That is, as you look at these tasks, it is not immediately clear what action you need to take. And this confusion may lead you to gloss over the task because you have questions, like:
- Where should I get the oil changed?
- What’s supposed to be in the XYZ report?
- Should I go in on the gift for Ted with Mary?
- When’s the best time to have the team meeting?
To make it easier to start and follow through on each task it needs to be actionable, though.
So, when you look at the task, you know exactly what you need to do. And are able to do it because it is the right next step. To do this, as you write down each task, ask yourself, “What is the exact very next action I need to take?” You want your list of ideas to look more like this:
- Ask Tia where she gets her oil changed.
- In next week’s one-on-one, discuss the expectations for the XYZ report with Zack.
- Decide whether to get the gift for Ted with Mary.
- Review the calendar and decide on the best day for a team meeting.
Do you see the difference between the first list of ideas and the above actionable task list? Your turn. This is a skill that will take some practice, for sure Look at your list of tasks. Change them as needed to make sure you have the right next action.
#2: Make Sure You Have All The Information You Need
Another drawback of your current task list may be that you don’t have all the information you need to easily get started on the task. Because, in your haste to write something down, you just jot down a word or phrase. Your hope is that this will be enough to help you remember to do the task.
But when you look at the task on your list you think, I’ll get to that later. Because maybe you need some piece of information not readily available, like a document, a phone number, email address, etc. It could also be the case that you no longer know what you meant by the word or phrase. Sound familiar?
I know in the moment you don’t feel you have enough time to add details. But without those details you may end up procrastinating, right? The key is to slow down and remind yourself that doing so will save you time in the long run. Above all, you have to trust this is true in the moment when you are writing the task down.
Go ahead, review what you have written. Make sure it will make sense to you two days or a month from now. Include as much information as possible to make it easy to do when you get to it. Remember, that might mean including a phone number, document, brief notes, etc.
#3 Include the Right Kind of Accountability to Ensure Follow Through
I know the mere mention of accountability may have you heading for the hills. Especially if you have a long history of people — parents, teachers, bosses, spouses — checking up on you. Their constant questioning may also fill you with shame. Especially when you don’t follow through, right?
So, because you associate accountability with feeling like a failure, you resist it. Makes sense. But you also know accountability can help you follow through. In addition, accountability can help you learn how to work with your ADHD effectively to operate optimally. I know that’s something you want.
The key is to create the right kind of accountability — the kind that allows you to learn new skills, adopt new strategies and still feel good about yourself.
But you’re probably wondering if this is possible. Not always. As your boss or colleagues to whom you are currently accountable may not be willing to design the right kind of accountability. That’s okay. Well, it’s not really okay. But you may not be able to change this. You get that.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up on accountability altogether. You just need to be strategic by following the 3 steps below:
- The obvious first step is to find someone you trust. As you will want to be sure you can form a collaborative partnership.
- The next step is to design the accountability. That is, create the plan including the deliverables along with due dates.
- The third step, which is often overlooked, is to reflect together on why the plan is or is not working. By doing this you can uncover your challenges and address them along the way. Then you will do better as you learn more about what gets in your way and what helps you.
Check out How to Form Accountability Partnerships for Adults with ADHD to learn more about how to do this to help you follow through with the tasks on your to-do list.
Putting It All Together – An Effective ADHD Task List
One of my readers suggested summarizing my posts. Because, after all, adults with ADHD might not want to wade through a lengthy post. 😊I get it. So, just in case you got a little lost along the way, here are the tips from the previous post and this one:
- Reduce your task list as much as possible to only active tasks.
- Make sure the task is the right next action.
- Define each task in actionable terms.
- Include as much information as possible with each task — email address, phone number, documents, etc. — to make it easier to execute
- When possible design accountability for each task.
Coming Up Next…
Of course, the purpose of your to-do list is to help you execute. In the next post, I’ll focus on best practices for using your to-do list effectively to get your important stuff done
So, stay tuned…