How you write your tasks on your list can help or hinder you when it’s time to execute. Here’s how you can craft each one to make follow through easier.
For better follow through:
- clearly define each task on your task list in actionable terms
- include as much information as possible with each task — email address, phone number, documents, etc.
- design and include accountability tasks to help you follow through when it’s time to execute.
Are you confused sometimes when you look at the task on your tasks lists?
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused Done – Re-imagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD, adults like you 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 your important work done without trying to do it like everyone else.
You want to get stuff done. I know. And, if you follow the suggestions from the last podcast, How to Create a Task List That Works for You, you’ve decided on your active tasks and projects. That’s a great first step. But you also need to make sure when you put a task on your list, it is clearly defined. So you know exactly what you need to do. Because, without this clarity, your task lists may end up just contributing to your stress and overwhelm. Really. Because you just haven’t decided what exactly you need to do.
And so when you look at the list, you might think to yourself, “What’s that about?” Because you can’t ever remember what you’re supposed to do. You might also just gloss over a task because it’s not actually the first step. And you can’t do the tasks that you put down on your list for other tasks.
For other tasks you might pass over them telling yourself, yeah, I’ll get to that later without knowing when later is. Because you have no due date. Then there are some tasks that are just too complex and you haven’t broken them down enough. So they feel really daunting and therefore you just don’t start. Ready to see what you can do to address these challenges and make sure you’re clearly defining the tasks you put on your list. Let’s get started. So as you climb into bed at the end of a long day, you can feel more grounded and calm. As well you’ll still have a lot to do. You will have more clarity on exactly what that is. Like many of us, your current list may be just a list of ideas such as:
- oil change
- gift for Ted
- team meeting.
That is, as you look at these tasks, it’s 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 change?
What’s supposed to be in that report? Should I go on a gift for Ted with Mary? When’s the best time to have the team meeting? One of the keys to making sure you’re clear on what you need to do for each task is to make sure that it’s actionable. So, when you look at the tasks, you think to yourself, I can do that. Now, of course you may not feel like doing a task. We’ll leave that topic for another podcast. But for today’s topic though, we just want to make sure when you look at the task, you know exactly what you need to do and are able to do it because it’s 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:
- So, instead of writing down oil change, if you’re not sure where you need to get your oil change, the tasks might be: “ask Tia where she gets her oil change.”
- And, instead of writing down report, if you don’t know what’s supposed to be in the report, the task might be: “in next week’s one-on-one discuss the expectations of the report with Zack.”
You’re probably getting the point here. But let me just share the other two examples. You might have gift for Ted on your list. But, if what’s holding you up from getting it is you don’t know if you’re going to go in on it with Mary, the task might be: “decide whether to get the gift for Ted with Mary.
The last one was about a team meeting. But you haven’t scheduled the team meeting yet because you aren’t sure when the best day or time is for one, so you just keep glossing over it. In this case, the task might be: “review the calendar and decide on the best day for a team meeting.”
Are you seeing how helpful it is to make sure what was just a list of ideas now becomes an actionable task list? So, when you look at your list, you can feel confident you know what to do and so you can do it.
Go ahead. Look at your list. See if your task list is actionable. If it’s not, take some time to practice building this skill. So, as you’re looking at each task, ask yourself:
- Can I do this task?
- If not, ask yourself what might be getting in the way? Is there a task I need to do before I can do this one?” Is it just too complex and do I need to break it down into smaller pieces?
Then go ahead. Change each task as needed to make sure the task is doable and actionable.
Another drawback of your current task lists may be that you don’t have all the information you need to easily get started on the task. That is, maybe you do know what tasks you need to do. It’s doable for sure if you just had the missing piece of information. So, when you look at the task on your list, you think, “I need to dig up that email with the request” or maybe “it’s, I need to find her phone number” and then again it could be, “Oh right, I need that email address.” And, then after thinking about what you’re missing, what’s your next thought?
You got it. “I’ll get to that later.” Right, later. But, again, you don’t really know when later is to you do you? I often talk about critical moments of choice. In this case, one of the critical moments of choice was when you wrote the task in your task manager and neglected to add the piece of information that would have made it easier to follow through. It’s likely in that moment you just didn’t feel like you had enough time to find the email or phone number or whatever it is that you need now.
But, without those details, you likely end up wasting more time and energy thinking and worrying about doing the task. But not doing it until of course you’re pushed up against the wall and it’s urgent. 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 that this is true in that moment when you are writing down the task. I know this isn’t easy when you have so much to do. So it will take some practice. And the more you practice adding all the information to your tasks, the more you’ll experience the reward of doing so. And then I bet over time that visceral connection to the reward will help give you some of the motivation you need to slow down in the moment and trust it is the right thing to do.
Go ahead, review what you have written down. Make sure it’ll make sense to you two days or a month from now. And include as much information as possible to make it easy to do when it’s time to act. Remember that might mean including a phone number, a document, brief notes.
For sure, you need notes and anything else with your task in order to act when it’s time to. And so far I’ve been focusing on making sure you have all the information you need on your task lists to be able to act when you’re ready to tackle the task.
But the task may still languish on your list. That is, you just don’t do it. I know you have a few of these on your list right now. Of course, there are lots of reasons you may not be following through on these. But one of the reasons may be you have no accountability. In simplest terms, accountability is keeping your commitment to yourself and others, right? And there are three different types of commitments you can use to do this – Personal, public, and partner. Whichever type of accountability you choose, the point is to use it to enhance your ability to start and follow through on what’s important to you. Yet, I know all too well, the mere mention of accountability to others may have you heading for the hills or hiding under the covers. Especially if you have a long history of people – parents, teachers, bosses, even spouses – checking up on you. Their constant questioning may also fill you with shame. Particularly if you don’t follow through, right?
So, because you may associate accountability to others with feeling like a failure, you resist it. I get it. It makes sense. So maybe your preference now is to rely on your own internal accountability. That is, you’d prefer to be accountable to yourself to follow through. But, because of part of the challenges of ADHD is being able to self-regulate and perform at the critical moment of choice, you have a hard time keeping these commitments to yourself, right? But this doesn’t mean you lack integrity or your goals are not important to you. Let me say that again. Just because you don’t follow through doesn’t mean you don’t want to or the goal is an important. And you can definitely build your personal accountability muscle, if you want to. You can use tools like a calendar task manager as well as creating helpful environments. But, even if you decide to improve your capacity for personal accountability, asking for help from others could help you immensely.
The other type of accountability, public accountability, such as declaring on Facebook that you signed up to do a half marathon may be helpful for some people. After all, stretching yourself is a good thing, right? But, if you have a history of not following through, such a public declaration may be a horrifying prospect. So, please, don’t do it if it feels over the top terrifying. That leaves us with the third type of accountability – accountability to others. The kind of accountability that might give you the heebie jeebies because you think it entails people hounding you with questions like:
- When are you going to…?
- Did you finish…?
- You aren’t done yet?
- Did you remember…?
You know the count of accountability than in the past made you feel so bad you resisted it. Luckily, there’s a solution. And that solution is to create the right count of accountability, the kind that allows you to learn new skills, adopt new strategies, and still feel good about yourself. Because you have to be willing to participate in it, right?
And, if you don’t feel good about yourself when you’re doing it, you’re unlikely to participate in it. So this leads us to the design of the accountability. And there are steps you can take to design the accountability that will help you follow through and feel good about yourself. The first step, find someone you trust as you will want to make sure you can conform a collaborative partnership. That is, this will be someone you can feel good about yourself even when you make missteps. Because you will. And it will be helpful if you share similar values. Yes, you want them to prod you into action for sure. But not in a shaming or blaming kind of way, right? That’s just not going to work for you. So the second step is when you design the accountability, create a plan. And this plan should include when and how you’ll check in with each other.
And of course. What are you accountable for. That is what are the deliverables when you check in. And this is an important piece. So, listen carefully. As part of the design process, agree on how they’ll approach you when you don’t follow through. Because sometimes, even though accountability will help you, you still won’t always follow through a hundred percent. Remember, one of the hallmarks of ADD is inconsistency. So an example of this might be:
“Hey Sue (or whatever your name is), you want it to email me when you finished your expense report yesterday. Just wanted to check in and see how everything was going.”
How does that sound to you? If you don’t like it, think of something else, but in any case, include that as part of the design process. The third step, whether you follow through or not on what you’re accountable for is to approach it from a perspective of curious accountability.
This means, if you did follow through, reflect on what is it that helped you to follow through. Because by doing this you can learn what helps you to execute and apply this information going forward. You should also of course, use curious accountability for those situations when you don’t follow through. As this learning can help you strategize about what you could do differently next time. Above all, please avoid the shame and blame and use curious accountability as an opportunity to learn. If you’re interested in learning more about forming accountability partnerships, check out the article I wrote aptly titled,” How to Form Accountability Partnerships for Adults with ADHD.” And, when it comes to your task lists, this is the key and why it’s in this podcast is, you want to be sure to include your accountability task as one of your tasks so you don’t forget.
So, for example, you might have a task like, “spend an hour doing the expense report and email Bob afterwards” or maybe it’s “text Charlotte when I begin and end the hour of writing the introduction for my paper.” Because you want to remember that you’re accountable to someone else.
In today’s podcast, I’ve gone over three keys to crafting your tasks in your task list. First, make sure you clearly define each task in actionable terms so you can do it when it’s time to act. Also, the second thing is include as much information as possible with each task, whether that be an email address, a phone number, a document. Whatever it is. So when it’s time to act, it’s easier to execute.
And the third thing that I suggested to you today is to design some sort of accountability to help you follow through when it’s time to execute.
Of course, the purpose of your to do list is to help you execute. So in the next podcast I’ll focus on the best practices you can use to follow through so you can get your important stuff done. So I’ll see you next time.
That’s it for now. Again, 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, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, please go ahead p
ass 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.