If you have everything and the kitchen sink on your task list, it’s probably not working for you. Here’s how ADHD adults create the right kind of task list. One that helps you do what is most important to you.
- A master task list is critical to be able to remember and do what is important to you.
- To create the right task list you need to decide what to do, delegate, defer or drop.
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown
- The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury
- Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg
Does your task list make you want to run for the hills or maybe hide under the covers? You’ve tuned 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 re-imagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get your important work done without trying to do it like everyone else.
Yes, there are certainly many tools you could use to manage your ADHD and I know you’ve tried many of them. But there are certain tools though that are critical to your success at home and work. In this episode, we’re going to look at one of those essential must have tools, a task list. And we’re also going to look how you can avoid putting everything and the kitchen sink on it.
I know you know that it’s overwhelming when you put everything on your list and I bet you’ve tried many different ways to manage your list. You probably have written them down on pieces of paper as soon as you think about them. Because you don’t want to forget them, right? Maybe some of your tasks are still living in your notes from meetings. Others, well, maybe they’re buried in your email. And I bet you’re even putting some tasks on your calendar.
If this sounds familiar and your tasks are all over the place, you probably aren’t so confident right now that you know and can remember everything that you have committed to doing. So what happens as a result? Not only are you never confident that you know what you need to do, you’re also not confident that you’re necessarily doing the right thing. You just try to keep the hamster wheel spinning. Even though on some days it doesn’t really feel like you’re getting anywhere. It may just feel like you’re reacting to whatever comes your way.
It’s going to take some work, for sure. But it’s totally possible to escape the cycle. So you can be proactive and intentional in deciding how you spend your time and energy to get what’s really important to you done. To do this though, you’ll have to trust that the time spent slowing down and learning how to operate differently is time well spent.
This is especially true when you’re already overwhelmed with everything you have to do and don’t think you have the time to slow down. It’s definitely not an easy or quick fix and you’ll probably even feel uncomfortable at first and along the way because it’s not your usual way of operating. The first step is to decide where you’re going to keep all your task. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s a bullet journal or an electronic task manager like Asana. The only thing that matters is that it’s something that you will use.
The primary reason for the central task list – this master list – is to give you the confidence that there’s a place you can look to see what’s on your plate so you won’t try to keep it in your head. You won’t even need to remember it at any one moment because you know that there’s a place you can look any time you want.
Nice, right? The other reason to have one container to keep all your task is to help you make decisions about how to execute on those obligations. You won’t be able to achieve either of these objectives though if you’re currently writing your task in random places. And it’s impossible to remember what you need to do if you’re inconsistent about where you store your tasks, never mind making decisions about how to follow through.
Once you decide where you’re going to house your task, the next step you need to take is to decide, what am I doing when I’m being productive? It’s important you ask yourself this question since your task list guides you in deciding what to do. You’ll need to answer this question in detail in order to create the right kind of task list to guide your energy. Your immediate response to the question might be, that’s easy.
I’m productive when I’m getting all my work done. If this is your answer, you’ll need to add a little bit more detail. Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secret of Being Productive in Life and Business, writes that productivity is figuring out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort.
The way I interpret this, and I don’t really think about least wasted effort, but I interpret this as being productive. It’s just not about getting all the stuff on your list done, but it’s really about deciding what is most meaningful to you. That is what is rewarding to you. And then doing the activities that will allow you to do well in that area. Yet, your current list may actually be hindering your ability to be productive, to do what is most meaningful to you.
If you have a list, take a minute right now. Look at it. What do you see? Does it reflect what is most important to you, including projects like planning a family outing, getting the garden ready, scheduling time to see friends? Do you have tasks on your list related to your dreams and aspirations, like starting a business, starting a blog, going back to school, learning photography. Alternatively, like many tasks lists, does it consist of tasks like, email Terry, schedule, meeting with Ahmed, get an oil change. You know the things that feel most urgent to do right now. Because, after all for adults with add, there’s now and not now.
To create a task list that reflects what is most important to you, of course you first need to decide what is most important to you. I know obvious, right? The reality, though, is many of us don’t take the time in our fast paced lives to make this decision. But, if you don’t make this decision in advance, you may, as David Allen of GTD fame notes, waste energy and burnout, allowing your busy-ness to be driven by what’s latest and loudest, hoping it’s the right thing to do. But never feeling the relief that it is.
And yet making decisions can be a particular struggle for ADHD adults. The key to avoiding operating mostly in reactive mode is to carve out time and space to do the necessary upfront thinking so you can be sure you are focusing your time and energy on what is essential to you. One book I often recommend is “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. After reading or listening to this book, you’ll really get the idea that in order to go big in the areas of focus in your life that are important to you, you’ll need to limit what you do. Not easy, I know.
But then choose the right activities that will allow you to accomplish these big goals. I know this can be challenging, especially for ADHD adults. As so much as interesting. But once you decide what is important to you, it’ll be easier to focus your time and energy. And it’ll really help you be successful.
One reason your task lists may not be working for you is you simply have too much to do. Sure it reminds you of your obligations. But, if you don’t know how you’re going to get it all done, having one list can really be just as overwhelming as having several lists. So, after completing your master list, you may start to avoid looking at it. Then you’ll lose confidence in its usefulness because it’s not up to date. And subsequently probably revert to your old way of doing things, like trying to keep your task in your head or writing them in random places.
One way to counter this tendency is to sort your task into one of four categories, categories: to do, delegate, drop or defer. Once you do this, you’ll have a better sense of your current active to-do list. That is those things you’ve decided will help you accomplish what is most meaningful to you.
The first step is to decide whether a task has to be done. You might use the Urgent – Important Matrix to decide this. You can Google, “ADHD and Using The Urgent-Important Matrix” to find an article I wrote about this. I’ve also listed a link to the article on my website where this episode is posted. If you haven’t seen this matrix before, it’ll definitely be easier to understand if you have a visual. But, briefly, it has four boxes. One box is labeled urgent and important tasks. Another is not urgent but important. The third is urgent and not important. And the fourth box is not urgent and not important.
Go look at the article and see if it might be helpful for you to sort out your task. But since you likely don’t have total control over what you need to do, you’ll also need to have conversations with people such as your spouse or boss to collaborate on setting your priorities.
For example, you might test out the waters with your boss by saying: “Here’s what I think I should be doing right now, but I don’t have the bandwidth to do it all. So I wanted to check in with you and see what your priorities are. Then I can decide what to work on.”
The task on your list should either be ones that must be done by you or ones that you’ve delegated and are still responsible for making sure they get done, so you’ll need to follow up. I bet you don’t do enough delegating. In fact, a lot of adults with ADHD don’t do enough delegating. Sometimes it’s because they think they should do it by themselves or are behind the eight ball because there isn’t enough time to delegate. Sound familiar?
I’ll leave how to delegate for another episode, though.
But briefly to decide whether to delegate, ask yourself, does this task require me to use skills that are not my strong suit or to my liking? Can I delegate, barter, or ask a hired professional, a colleague, a family member, or a friend to do it?
Just as delegating is often hard for ADHD adults, you may also often think you have to do everything now or it won’t get done, or you might be afraid you’ll forget it. But, when your task lists is impossibly long and you really can’t do it all, you’ll also get frustrated. So the other decision that you’ll need to make is intentionally defer some of your tasks either indefinitely or to a later date. And doing this will definitely ease the overwhelm and stress you feel from trying to do it all right now.
Those that you choose to defer indefinitely are the ones you don’t want to forget about, but you have no intention of doing right now or at least for the foreseeable future.
These can go on your Maybe/Someday List. This list might include trips, interesting business ideas, new hobbies, etc. They’re just stuff that really you have no timeable for, but you don’t want to forget. Then there are those tasks you definitely want to do, but just not right now. These are the ones you can choose to defer to a later date. If you do defer a task but you don’t wanna forget it, you’ll want to park it in your task manager.
When you put it on your list, be sure to include a due date to prompt you to come back to it. This due date could be weeks or even months from now, or maybe even a year from now. For example, let’s say you want to do a podcast for example. But you just can’t do it right now. You may put it on your list to start researching how to start a podcast and put the date three months from now or later.
Intentionally deferring tasks to a later date not only decreases your overwhelm, but also gives you the confidence you won’t forget them. But for now they’re off your plate. And, as your priorities change, you may decide later to drop these deferred tasks, to do them or to delegate them. Nice, right?
Limiting your focus will allow you to do more than you might imagine you can do. So, if you can see little value in doing a task, relative to everything else you need to do or you just don’t have the capacity to do it, you might decide to drop it. It’s important to remember that just because you dropped something doesn’t mean it’s not important. It’s just a recognition that you can’t do everything.
So, as part of the process of you creating your task lists, you have to also be able to say, “No.” But you may really struggle to do this now.
One of the reasons, according to Vanessa Bohns, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, Cornell University, is we don’t want people to reject us. We don’t want people to think poorly of us. So we are really managing the impressions other people have of us. As an ADHD adult, because of your history, perceived or otherwise, of falling short, this may be particularly true for you. You want to prove you’re capable. So, you may often say, “Yes,” without really knowing whether you can accomplish the task or not.
But, when you take on too much and fall short, you may end up letting down the very people you wanted to impress. Sound familiar?
You can check out my article, “Six Guilt Free Strategies ADHD Adults Can Use To Say No,” for more on this. And a good book, if you want to read one, is “The Power of Positive No” by William Ury. Because, when you can learn how to say, “No,” you will be in a much better position to say, “Yes.” Yes to what is important to you as you will have more capacity.
What can you do to make your, to do list one that is more in alignment, what is meaningful to you?
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and 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, 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.