Adopting the right habits help ADHD adults be more productive. Here’s how to do that with greater ease.
- Adopting habits can be a challenge for ADHD adults.
- ADHD symptoms is what makes it hard to both form habits and persist in using them.
- There are 4 techniques you can use to make it easier to adopt and utilize habits consistently.
- The ADHD Adult’s Guide to the Weekly Review
- Have ADHD & Want Better Daily Productivity Without Overwhelm?
Book: Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise
As an adult with ADHD you struggle with routines. Yet, you think the right ones will help you be more productive every day, right?
You’ve turned into Scattered, Focused, Done – Reimagining 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 essential 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 reimagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
You’ve heard and likely agree having habits is one of the ultimate solutions for being productive in your daily life. Makes sense. Because once you have an established habit, presumably you can follow through without much effort. Sure sounds like it could be the answer to many of your challenges as an ADHD adult. But it’s definitely not the golden ticket.
As, when ADHD, adults try to impose too much structure in any form, it can backfire. Because when you have too much structure, it can feel like a straight jacket. Not very motivating image I know. Yet, establishing the right habits will definitely make life, well, just easier for you. So let’s look at how you can do that in a way that works with your ADHD. From your own experience, as an adult with ADHD, you know you don’t have a highly organized internal sense of structure, which can lead you to be easily distracted, impulsive, and unable to tolerate boredom. And of course, this makes it difficult to be productive and reach your goals. Yet, a certain amount of structure is critical to being successful. And the right structures – routines – will make it easier for you to perform everything from daily chores to demanding intellectual work. As the right routines can help create some semblance of order. Order that does not come naturally to you right now.
In fact, for ADHD, adults adopting the right habits is one of the most powerful ways to make execution easier. Because, as I said before, you no longer need to decide when or how to do something. You just do it because, well, it’s a habit. More specifically, routines will help you intentionally decide where to focus your attention. It’ll also help you get started, as it becomes like a magnet pulling you forward. In addition, it’ll make it easier for you to remember your intentions. And last you’ll be able to persist when the habit becomes more automatic. How else do you think habits can help you in your life right now?
But again, please remember, as you listen on, while structures are definitely helpful, the exact kind you choose will depend on your needs and preferences. That is not every idea that is right for someone else will be the right one for you.
So, as you listen, think about what you need right now and what habit will support you in doing what you need to do with greater ease. But, as you also know, ADHD adults are typically fond of routines. So, if structure is so good for you, why might you resist it so much? It doesn’t seem to make much sense. That is until you explore the resistance through the lens of the ADHD brain. And then you’ll get why, well, it may seem illogical. It makes sense that you resist something that could be helpful for you. As an ADHD adult is really hard for you to adopt habits because you, for one, find it difficult to persist and maintain interest in routines, especially after the initial interest wears off. You also may get overwhelmed and give up easily because you have challenges managing your emotions. And then you may literally forget your commitment to the routine because of your memory challenges.
Of course, you may also switch gears suddenly because of your impulsiveness. And then there’s distraction. Sometimes you may get distracted by all the other internal and external stimuli in your environment. And of course, you’re prone to seek out novelty at the expense of routine. So maybe now you’re thinking, “Okay, Marla, so adding structure will help me manage my ADHD. And my ADHD makes it hard for me to add structure. What do I do?!”
So now it’s time to learn about the challenges of adding structure. So you can create the right workarounds to be able to successfully adopt the structures – routines and habits – that will help you build a bridge between your intentions and your goals. Ready?
Let’s start with the myth that it takes 21 days to adopt a habit. This is a myth for ADHD adults because of two very important facts about your ADHD brain.
First, remember that the ADHD nervous system is interest based, rather than importance or priority based. What this means is that it’s going to take you longer than the much touted 21 days because you’ll have to be creative and figuring out how to persist and find the reward in a habit, while important to your success may not be all that interesting, at least intrinsically.
Second. It’s important to remember that the hallmark of ADHD is inconsistency. So, even when it seems a habit of somewhat regular, you may all of a sudden stopped doing it for no apparent reason. At least no apparent reason to you. Maybe it’s just lost its allure, it’s interest for you. Happens. Not to worry, though. It’s not that the habit isn’t important to you. Probably not. It’s just that your brain is constantly scanning the environment for stimulation. And many habits and routines by their very nature are not very interesting.
So the goal is not to be consistent, but rather to narrow the gap between when you inevitably fall off and get back to the routine you were trying to adopt. But, without self compassion and acceptance of your ADHD brain, you may decide when you fall off the wagon, that the habit either must not be that important to you or you’re just not capable of adopting habits. Neither of these points are likely true. It’s just that, well, you’re going to be inconsistent. So instead of dropping the habit altogether, remind yourself of this and try to start again, as soon as you can. Because, if you’re accepting and compassionate with yourself, you’ll likely be able to get back on the wagon sooner, rather than later.
In addition to the 21 days to habit myth, there is another myth you may be holding onto. And that is that you need to feel like doing it, are motivated to execute on the habit.
Of course, it’s obviously much easier to tackle anything when you really feel like doing it. But what happens when you just can’t muster the mojo because your interest just isn’t there. If you tell yourself that you’ll do it later, which probably is often the case, when you feel up to it, the work may simply not get done. Because what if you just don’t feel like doing it? Then what happens is your sense of self efficacy — the belief in your ability to follow through — takes even more of a beating, leaving you with even less motivation than before. When this happens, you may try to rely on another myth — the one that tells you that you just need to use more willpower. You tell yourself, “I just need to try harder!” You may even be steeped in shame and blame. And then come to the conclusion that, well, maybe you’re just lazy.
If you are lazy, you wouldn’t be listening to this right now, trying to figure out how to be more productive. I bet you’re working plenty hard, albeit, not as efficiently or as effectively as you would like. Remember, willpower is the energy needed to control your thoughts, emotions, impulses, and focus on tasks How easy is this for ADHD adults? Right. These are all areas that are challenging for you because of your ADHD. So ADHD makes it hard for you to direct your energy in a way that is necessary to exert control in these areas. And, besides, the willpower you do have is a limited resource. So, just as you can’t rely on motivation to follow through on your habit, you also shouldn’t rely on willpower either. So far I’ve shared with you. why it may be hard for ADHD, adults to adopt habits. It’s important to have this information. But it’s not all doom and gloom, for sure.
You just need to learn how to adopt habits in a way that will work with your ADHD brain. Let’s get on with seeing how you can do that.
First, take a minute to choose a habit you want to adopt to help you be more productive. Once you have one in mind, think about how you might use the four strategies I’m going to share with you to create this routine. And, to better illustrate how you can use these tips, I’ll use the example of Rick who wants to be more intentional and would really like to start a habit of planning out his days. Otherwise, he just starts wherever and then jumps from one thing to another, depending on whatever catches his attention. Sound familiar?
The first step Rick took was to identify the first critical moment in his day when he wasn’t intentional. He realized that this critical moment was when he opened up his email first thing in the morning, which was a sure recipe for going down one rabbit hole after another.
So, to be more intentional, he decided to sketch out his day on a piece of paper before he even looked at his email. Not easy to do. I know. Since, like many, opening up email was such a habit in itself. But identifying the critical moments that can hinder or support you in adopting your habit is also the first step.
The next step is to create a warmup routine. This warmup routine can include any one or more of five triggers to form habits. These five triggers will prompt you to execute on the habit. The five triggers are location, time, emotional state, other people and preceding action. So, in Rick’s case, his warmup routine included making his coffee at 8:30 (time). And then, after making his coffee, which making the coffee was the preceding action, he would sit at the counter in his kitchen (location) to plan his day.
And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he did his planning with an accountability buddy, a friend who also worked at home (other people). These triggers are all things that helped him adopt his habit of planning each day.
The third strategy Rick used was to make it so small and doable that there was almost no chance of not being able to follow through. Otherwise, if it felt too daunting or onerous, he might not do it. Stephen Guise author of the book, Mini Habits, describes the strategy as doing something stupid small. For Rick, this meant picking only 1-2 tasks he must absolutely do each day in addition to what was on his calendar. Remember, he was just trying to get into the habit of daily planning at first. Like Rick, if you can make the habits so small in the beginning, you will feel less resistance to getting started because it just won’t feel so daunting. And then over time, your confidence in your ability to persist in your habit will contribute to your sense of self-efficacy.
And then, in time, you’ll be able to build the habit in the way that you ultimately envision. Check out Guise’s book, Mini Habits, for more ideas about how to make your initial habit, as he would put it, stupid small.
The fourth tip I want to share with you is to focus and acknowledge the progress you make rather than seeking perfection in adopting the habit. Because, just as making it small and doable initially can make it easier to start, so to can be compassionate and patient with yourself. One way to help you do this is to think of adopting your habit as an experiment. And just be curious about the results. Then remind yourself that, since it’s an experiment, not an exam, you can’t fail. Nice, right? Just like any other experiment, you can tweak your habit as you go along until it is one that really works for you.
So what’s one habit you’re going to try to adopt this week that will help you be more productive? If you’re not sure, you can start by checking out two articles I wrote. One is, The ADHD Adult’s Guide to the Weekly Review. And the other is, Have ADHD & Want Better Daily Productivity Without Overwhelm?
I’ve also included the links to these two articles with this podcast on my website. So, I encourage you to check them out and think about what habits might help you be more productive.
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, check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you did, 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 reimagining productivity with ADHD.