Do you find it hard to decide what to do each day? Maybe you get overwhelmed trying to prioritize. So you’re never quite sure if you are doing what is most important to you.
No doubt, prioritizing is a challenge for ADHD adults. I know it can feel impossible sometimes. After all, everything seems important. And it all needs to be done right now if not yesterday.
But since we all have a limited amount of time and can’t do everything, we have to prioritize. That is, we need to choose among many options of what to work on now. And we need to choose what to ignore, at least for the time being. We need to tell ourselves, I’m doing this and not that.
The good news is that prioritizing is a skill you can learn. So you can be confident in your ability to choose what is most important to do each day.
Why It Is Hard for ADHD Adults to Prioritize
One of the reasons it’s hard for you to prioritize when you have ADHD is the challenge with executive function skills, such as planning and organizing tasks. It’s hard to prioritize when you don’t have a systematic way to do it.
When you prioritize you also need to know how long a task will take and how much you can do in the time you have. This can be hard to determine with your ADHD-related challenges with time blindness. So you may think you can do more in a day than you can and, as a result, take on too much.
Another reason you may take on too much is because of a common ADHD tendency to be overly optimistic about how much you can get done.
When you’re dealing with a backlog and feel a sense of urgency that everything needs to get done now you may also try to take on too much. It’s also possible that you take on too much because you’re dealing with a backlog. And feel a sense of urgency that you need to get everything done NOW.
Prioritizing takes time, of course. You may not do it right now because you have so much on your plate. And you don’t feel you have time.
What Happens When You Don’t Prioritize
When you don’t prioritize you may end up doing whatever you feel like moment to moment.
Alternatively, since you haven’t decided what you’re going to do with your time, you might allow other people’s requests to run your day.
Sometimes, you may operate out of habit. You get up and start scrolling on your phone. Then you get to the office and immediately start digging into your email.
Other times, because your ADHD brain is an interest-based nervous system, you end up giving in to distractions, doing whatever gives you an immediate reward – release of dopamine. So you do whatever activity is interesting, challenging, novel, or urgent.
Then again, you may end up doing what’s easiest.
Ready to see how you can turn this around?
How To Decide Your Priorities
1. First, you will need a list of all your tasks. If you do not have one, you will need to create one. Include all of those tasks:
- that are pulling at your attention right now.
- all those things that you have to do and want to do,
- tasks that you have been procrastinating on for a long time.
You get it. Do a brain dump. Put it all down on a list, paper or electronic.
2. Once you’ve done a brain dump, make sure your tasks align with your values. Knowing your why can help you connect to the reason you would choose to do the task.
- Get a gift for Mari – Care for family
- Research Health Insurance – Take care of health and finances
- Sign up for yoga class – Self-Care
If you can’t think of a value that aligns with the task, consider taking it off your list.
3. Next, identify deadlines for the tasks on your list. Not all will have a hard deadline. Give a deadline to those that you can estimate. Maybe you want to have something done in the next two months. Deadlines can help guide your decisions about what order to do the tasks.
4. Consider the consequences of not doing a task. This can also help guide your decision about whether and when to do a task.
Everything can feel equally important for adults with ADHD. Thinking about your task in the above terms can help you see more clearly that there are different levels of importance and time sensitivity.
Executing On Your Priorities
You’re only part way there. The next step is deciding how to execute the task.
1. Time Blocking
One way to follow through on your priorities is to allocate specific blocks of time for different types of tasks. This can help you concentrate on one type of activity at a time.
For example, you may work on your finances every Friday morning. Then you don’t have to worry about when to do the task, as you have a time set for it.
You may also time-block all or part of your day as shown below.
While this works well for some, this may be too much structure for others. Time blocking is not for everyone.
2. 1-3-5 Rule
The basis of the 1-3-5 Rule developed by Alex Cavoulacos of the Muse is that there’s only so much you can get done in a day.
Instead of being faced with your whole list, at the beginning of each day you choose 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks. You get to decide what big, medium, and small means.
You can adapt it to suit your needs on any particular day. So, for example, if you have a lot of meetings in one day, you might you cut down the list. If you commonly get tasks thrown at you each day, you may decide to leave some of the spaces blank.
1 Big Thing
3 Medium Things
5 Small Things
3. Batch Similar Tasks
Task switching comes with costs, including lost time, fatigue, giving into distractions, and loss of concentration. Batching items, such as errands, emails, or phone calls, etc. can help you avoid these costs.
4. Plan Around Your Energy Levels
Plan when you do different tasks according to your energy patterns. Some people might be most productive in the morning, and others don’t hit their stride until later. How about you?
Decide to do those activities that require a heavy cognitive load during your peak energy times. And use your low energy times for tasks that are less demanding, but still need your attention.
Also, consider what works for you in terms of whether you’re productive with longer focused work sessions or shorter intense bursts.
5. When The Mood Strikes You
While not a predictable way to execute, tackling something when the mood strikes you can be helpful. It’s easier than swimming upstream, for sure.
Of course, if you could choose to delegate in some way by asking or hiring someone to do a task.
7. Have Themes For Your Days
Another way to batch tasks is to have themes for your days. For example, one of my clients decided that Monday was for prospective clients, Wednesday for active clients, and Tuesday and Thursday was for miscellaneous administrative tasks.
If you don’t have a list, create your list. Then choose what would help you execute.