Many ADHD adults rely on urgency to get stuff done. And, consequently, are often stressed. Use these tips, if you’re ready to change that.
- ADHD adults often rely on urgency as a primary means of motivation.
- Too much reliance an urgency to get started and follow through can be stressful.
- The key is to diversify your motivators.
- Doing more upfront thinking and organizing your environment can help reduce your reliance on urgency.
Articles and Books:
- How ADHD Adults Do Better by Doing Less
- The ADHD Adult’s Guide to the Weekly Review
- 7 Steps ADHD Adults Use to Be Productive Every Day
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown
Is it even possible for ADHD adults to choose what to do when everything feels so urgent? I think it is.
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused, Done – Re-imagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD, adults, like you who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills, to be able to get your central work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins. And I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to re-imagining productivity, with ADHD. So, you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
One of the things we often talk about in the online membership group is how adults with ADHD can better choose what to do when everything feels so urgent. In fact, recently, both in the forum and in the mastermind group members shared the following about this topic. And by the way, I did get their permission to share this with you.
In any case, one member said:
“I’ve often tried actually putting every goal and task and action item on the wall or the floor in an effort to help me better organize and prioritize and strategize. And every time I’ve gone through that sort of exercise, I’ve nonetheless ended up back at square. Overwhelmed self-critical unproductive, spinning my wheels.”
Does that sound familiar?
“I struggle with either scheduling too much leading to stress and anxiety or not scheduling enough leading to not getting enough done”
Because of the struggles illustrated by these two comments, adults with ADHD tend to over rely on urgency for motivation. Because, well, that’s what they’re used to doing to get things done.
But if you’re used to relying on urgency, I bet it causes you a lot of stress. One of the keys, in order to change this, is to diversify your motivators. But before we look at how you can do that, let’s look at why all tasks seem to have equal weight for ADHD adults. Some think the primary challenge for ADHD adults is not being able to pay attention. Consequently, the thinking goes, you’re doing task at the last minute, when you’re up against the wall. This, you and others may think, is the reason everything feels urgent.
That’s just not true. The reality is that you pay attention to everything. In fact, your ADHD brain is constantly scanning the environment for stimulation. Whereas in the neuro-typical brain, the various areas of the brain work together. So that extraneous stimuli are not so distracting. But, because of your brain wiring, unless you use strategies to counter this tendency, you pay attention to everything at once, such as the email you need to send your boss about a project or the work on a report that is due next week.
And you may also so be thinking at the same time about the research you need to do for your family vacation. There is just no pause to consider the consequences in that moment of doing one over the other. In part, this is because there’s no gatekeeper in your brain. So, your brain is overwhelmed with ideas.
And because of your challenges with working memory, this is where you hold and manipulate, ideas temporarily to decide the best place to focus. You just don’t have enough capacity to juggle multiple perspectives. If you did, you might be able to decide which tasks to do now, which tasks to defer, which one you may delegate or just ignore. But instead you just go wherever your brain takes you. And when you can’t decide what to do, you may avoid making decisions. That is, you just shut down because it’s all too much.
Or you may just think without acting – ruminate – because you’re afraid of making the wrong decision. And the last thing you may do is act without thinking because you just want to do something. This is when you jump on whatever feels most urgent in the moment. It’s frustrating. I know. Knowing some of the reasons you may tend to do whatever’s urgent is a helpful first step for sure in figuring out work arounds. And it can also be really validating to know the reasons this happens for you. At least some of the reasons.
The next step is to take back control from your brain by doing more upfront thinking. This means making decisions in advance of when you need to act. I’ll get to this in a moment. And then you need to trust this upfront thinking. The third thing that’s really important is designing your environment to minimize the chances you’ll be distracted by all the stimuli, including whatever seems urgent in the moment.
When you start taking these three steps, you’ll be able to minimize, not get rid of entirely of course, latching onto whatever your brain tells you is the most urgent in the moment. And start making decisions more often that are in sync with your values, intentions, and goals. Rather than relying on urgency as your primary means of motivation to tackle various tasks.
As I said, upfront thinking is about making decisions. And the first decision you’ll need to make is to make sure you have clarity around your values. Once you’re clear on this, you’ll need to make a few more decisions. I know you’ve already heard you can’t do it all. And by now you may be really tired of hearing this. Because there’s just so much you want and need to do. But, come on, really you can’t do it, right?
The next decision after clarifying your values is to decide what is essential to you. Once you commit to this vision, you’ll have a better sense of what you want to spend your time and energy doing. But instead of focusing on the negative, what you can’t do, to decide what is essential to you, ask yourself these two questions:
- Where do I want to excel – go big? You may decide you want to excel as a parent, in your business, in your volunteer, work in school, or maybe in a hobby or sport.
- Then the second question is, What are acceptable tradeoffs I’m willing to make to be able to go big in these areas?” Tradeoffs, of course, is what you’re not going to do.
Once you’ve decided where you want to go big it will be easier to choose where to focus your time and energy because you’ll then want to choose the activities that support you in excelling in these essential areas.
For example, while you may really enjoy running, you may decide you’re not going to train for a marathon because you want to spend your time and energy going big in your profession and being a parent. So you also won’t join the marathon running group, even though it sounds super interesting. But you may decide to coach your daughter’s soccer team because that’s important to you to spend time with your daughter.
If you’re interested in learning more about choosing what is essential, check out my article, How ADHD Adults Do Better By Doing Less. I’ve included a link with the podcast on my website.
Also, I would highly recommend reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I’ve also included a link to his book with the podcast. It’s an easy read and really helps you to see how picking the areas where you want to go big can help you be more productive. Not a reader?
The audio book is just as helpful. Once you have clarity on your values and what is essential to you, then it’s time to choose those tasks and activities that will help you excel in these areas, like deciding to coach your daughter’s soccer team.
I know there’s a lot of upfront thinking involved in this process. And maybe it’s not something you’re used to doing on a regular basis. But I’m confident once you get used to doing this, you’ll feel so much more grounded and less like you’re winging it day to day, doing whatever feels, yes, urgent in the moment.
So, I want to share with you an example of a former client who is a managing partner in a law firm and wanted to be a really good mentor to his associates. But he found himself frustrated in this role. One of his frustrations was when his associates would interrupt his own work on an ad hoc basis.
He allowed them to do this because he assumed it was his responsibility to answer their questions whenever they had them. Another frustration was their individual shortcomings he was hesitant to address. He allowed them to interrupt him and come up short in their work until he clarified for himself what it meant to be a good mentor. That is, what he needed to actually do to go big in this area and excel.
With regard to the interruptions, he realized he didn’t need to allow them to interrupt him at any time. So, he instituted office hours each day for non-urgent matters. He also decided to be more coach-like in his mentoring to help them figure out the answers to their own questions. So, they needed to rely on him less. And after, all being a good mentor is about helping them rely more on themselves. He also tackled the hard topics.
He broached the subjects, and offered help. One associated needed to improve her writing. Up until then he had just been rewriting her work, which he didn’t really have time to do. He also addressed another associate’s need to deal with a personal mental health issue as a requirement to continue working at the firm.
I use this example to illustrate that you’ll need to decide what it would take to go big in an area that’s essential to you. In this case, he wanted to be a good mentor, and he also wanted the associates to do their work well. To do this he needed to address and hold the associates accountable for doing their work and solving their own problems as much as possible. While, of course, offering support where it made sense.
But how do you remember to do all of this? You know, one of the challenges of ADHD is remembering to remember.
So, it’s all too easy for ADHD adults to forget what they know when faced with something that feels urgent or just really interesting, right? And you’ll always be faced with decisions you need to make about what tasks to take on and what activities to participate in. And you’ll also need to remember your values and what you decided is essential in order to choose the right task and activities, and, yes, avoid doing what feels most urgent in the moment.
While, you may have other routines or habits for reminding yourself of this a process for weekly review and planning is, bar none, one of the most important cornerstones for any plan to be more intentional and resist the ADHD pull of instant gratification. This is a time when you can really ground yourself by reviewing and updating your task lists and your calendar, as well as planning ahead to be able to execute.
If you want ideas on how to do this, check out my post, The ADHD Adults Guide to The Weekly Review, for suggestions on what you could do. And, yes, I’ve included a link to this post with the podcast on my website.
Okay, so you know your values, you know, what’s essential to you, you’ve chosen the right task and activities during your weekly review. And maybe you’ve even scheduled blocks of time to work on big projects. You’re in the home stretch, but you’re not done yet.
The other time for upfront thinking is a process for daily planning. While this is certainly informed by the review and planning you did in your weekly review, the weekly review and planning is just not enough. Because you know, you’re still apt to forget day to day what you decided once a week. But whether you do your daily planning the day before or in the morning, the first step is to firm up your calendar.
If you have any tentative appointments or optional calls, make a decision whether to attend or delete them. Otherwise, I bet you’ll spend part of your day, hemming and hawing, “Should I go? Should I not go?” Then you guessed it. You need to decide what you’re going to do for the rest of the day. Otherwise, you’re likely to jump on, yes, whatever feels the most urgent.
Then you need to trust the decision your “past self” made that you have the right plan, at least for that day. If you want to know a little bit more about how to do daily planning, you can check out the article, 7 Steps ADHD Adults Use to Be Productive Every Day. There’s a link to this post with the podcast. Okay, you’re rounding third base. I’m sure you know from experience that you might still not make it to home base. That is, follow through on your intentions for the day.
There’s still a chance you might jump on whatever feels most urgent in the moment. So, to make sure you make it to home base and do what you decided is most important for that day, you’ll need to check in with yourself during the day. One way to do this is to ask yourself periodically, maybe even every hour, if you need to:
- What am I doing?
- What should I be doing?
- Why is that important?
And, as you’re working, tell yourself, “I’m doing this and not that. I’m doing this and not that.” It’s the best mantra. And then, as random thoughts pop up, which they will, you might try writing them down on a piece of paper. And, if there are tasks that pop up that you need to do put up on your task list later. So, at the end of the day, you can more or less feel good about being intentional and doing what’s important to you rather than what your ADHD brain tells you feels like the thing to do in any moment.
I know what I’ve shared with you involves making a lot of decisions. And I also know making decisions can be really hard for ADHD adults. So, if you can enlist the help of a thought partner to help you explore and decide your values, help you decide what is essential and how to persist in a weekly and daily planning habit. I know you can do it because I’ve helped many ADHD adults through this process. And it wasn’t easy. But if you allow yourself enough time and get the support you need, I’m sure you could do it too.
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me. And as always stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, please check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two, which I hope you have from today’s podcast, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might also benefit. Until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done, and I’m Marla Cummins wishing you all the very best on your journey to re-imagining productivity with ADHD.