Transitions are hard for ADHD adults. There’s a reason for that related to your ADHD. And here’s what you can do to make transitions throughout your day easier.
- Transitions are hard for ADHD adults.
- The first step to make it easier is identify those transitions you find challenging.
- Then you can adopt strategies to manage these transitions and decrease your stress and overwhelm.
- 7 Techniques You Can Use to Make Starting Easier(podcast)
- 7 Steps ADHD Adults Use to Be Productive Every Day (blog post)
- Are You Allowing Interruptions at Work to Run Your Day?(blog post)
- ADHD and Meetings: How to Take and Use Your Notes (blog post)
- CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast- Paced Life by Edward M. Hallowell M.D.
Transitions are hard for ADHD adults. There is a reason for that related to your ADHD. And thankfully, there’s something you can do to make transitions throughout your day easier.
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 such a work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins. And I’m really 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.
So, what are transitions? Simply put, any time you go from one state of being, place or task, you’re transitioning. When you go from sleeping to wakefulness or vice-a-versa, you’re transitioning. And, if you’re switching from one task to another, again, you’re transitioning. Likewise, if you’re going from work to home, home to work, that’s also a transition. Think about these moments. What are the challenges you have at various transition points throughout your day?
If you’re like many ADHD adults, your transitions can be fraught with pitfalls, unless you’re aware of these pitfalls and learn how to manage that better. There are many reasons why transitions may be hard for you. To illustrate the struggles, let’s look at the challenges Kiara had last week, Tuesday. While this is all fictional, of course, I’m sure it’ll resonate with you, nonetheless. When Kiara first gets to work, she needs to disengage from what’s going on at home as much as she can so she can switch her attention to her work.
But on this particular day, she had a hard time doing this. They had just gotten a new sailboat and she was really excited to pick out new fabric for the seats, which proved to be harder than she anticipated because there were so many choices. Her Pinterest board was packed full of possibilities. She really wanted to choose a fabric by the end of the week. She was also really worried about her son, Sam, how he was doing in school.
She often found herself ruminating about Sam’s troubles at school, not knowing what the solution might be. And because of that, her emotions were coming out sideways in ways that she didn’t want, both at home and at work. So once she got to work, not only was she having a time disengaging from what was happening at home, but she was also having a hard time deciding what she would work on at work.
She knew she needed to create a training program for the volunteers and finish the budget, but she just wasn’t sure what to include in the training plan and found the new budget software really daunting. So when she got to work on this particular Tuesday, she decided to work on her backlog of email. Sound familiar? Then she jumped from meeting to meeting and in between meetings she tackled whichever task felt the most pressing in that moment. Then during her lunch break, she looked for fabric for the sailboat seats and found it really hard to stop when she intended. So she ended up doing it for an hour half during her workday.
By the end of the day, no surprise, she was totally frustrated that she didn’t get enough work done. Obviously, I could go on with the scenario. But you get the point. She was having a hard time making the transition from home to work from her thoughts to her work task and from task to task.
She just wasn’t managing her transitions very well. If managing transitions is a challenge for you and you want to make them easier, which I’m sure you do, the first step to take is to identify where you get tripped up making these throughout your day. Then you can devise strategies to make these transitions easier. In one of my earlier podcasts, 7 Techniques You Can Use to Make Starting Easier, I focused on how to make, well, starting easier. So if you haven’t listened to that one yet, you’ll want to listen to it, to learn more about how to manage initiating – one type of transition.
But in this podcast, I want to focus more on transitions in general, and how to move from one state of being, place or task to another with greater ease, of course. So, you can experience less stress throughout your day and feel more grounded. Who wouldn’t like a less frenetic pace?
One of the places you obviously make transitions are with date and time sensitive items. You know the stuff on your calendar or the stuff that should be on your calendar. Insert smiley face with a wink right here. Anyway, to make these transitions easier, the first step you’ll want to take is to be super clear on your commitments. These are the, this is the hard landscape of your life. So make sure you put these commitments in your calendar, and include travel time, if necessary. Obviously, if you have a meeting to run or speech to give, for example, you want to be prepared in advance. Whether you are prepared or not, well that’s for another post.
But you may not think about preparing for all the items on your calendar. For example, let’s say you need to go to see your accountant after your last meeting. You might wait until after your meeting to get ready.
But what about if you can’t find the documents you need or your keys jacket, you know, everything you need to get there? You might end up scrambling to find everything and then maybe even getting to the meeting late. To avoid this and make these kinds of transitions as easy as possible, try looking at your calendar at the beginning of the day and gather whatever you need for each year calendar items. Then, in this example, before you go into your last meeting, make sure you also have your keys, jacket or whatever else you’d need, in addition to the folder with the documents that you put aside at the beginning of the day. Better than scrambling at the last minute, right?
If it’s in your calendar, it’s easier to think about what you might need to do to prepare for sure. But you know, you can’t anticipate everything that’s going to happen in the course of your day.
Obviously, things come up that aren’t in your calendar. But, if like many people, your calendar looks like a set of Legos, you may not have enough wiggle room to accommodate the unexpected. Though, you probably have enough evidence by now to suggest that the Lego calendar just doesn’t work, you might still continue to cram things into your calendar, hoping that things will work out. But, as a former client used to say, “Hope’s not a strategy.” And really is the unexpected really unexpected.
If you commonly have one to two hours of requests unaccounted for by your calendar that come up almost every day, you should probably expect 1 to 2 hours of time to be spent in ways that you just can’t anticipate at the beginning of the day. And what meeting ever ends exactly on time, right? The antidote to this challenge is to include buffer time in your calendar.
I know. It’s not always possible. But that way you’ll be able to adapt your schedule as needed and make the transitions not so harried when the unexpected happens. You can also use these buffers to close the loop on one task or event before moving on to the next, as well as get ready for the next task or event, like a meeting. For example, a meeting really isn’t finished until you process the notes. So the information is available to you when you need it later. And wanting to look over the agenda and be ready for the next meeting is probably also a good thing. So you could be centered and feel present when it starts. Having buffers in your calendar will allow you to do this. And I know when you’re busy, your tendency is to, well, go faster. Because you have a lot to do.
But what happens then? For one, you might not feel like you’re able to perform at your best, whether it’s at home or at work, especially if you end up making more mistakes because of your frenetic pace. I know you might not believe it until you experience it. But in the long run, really, adding buffers to your calendar will help you do probably better work, maybe even more work and save you time. So where can you add buffers in your day and give up planning your day with everything back to back So your calendar looks like a set of Legos?
In addition to getting clarity on the hard landscape of your life, you also want to get clarity on how to execute on your projects. You know, all of those tasks on your list that require more than one step. You don’t have to know all the steps in a project, but at minimum you want to know the very next step.
If you can plan out a few more, that’s great, too. Because when you have this clarity, it’ll be easier to start. Rather than procrastinating because you’re not sure what to do. And it may be easier for you to stop working on the previous task when you know exactly what you’re moving on to next. You saw this in the earlier example, when Kira came into the office and dug into her email in part, because she didn’t know how to start working on the training program and found the thought of using the software to create the budget just too confusing. Of course, gaining this clarity isn’t a guarantee your transitions will be easier. But it may help.
Similarly, she might’ve had an easier time disengaging from thinking and working on the cushions for the boat if she could have had dedicated time in the future to do it, that she knew she would have.
Likewise, if she had some sort of solution focused plan to help her son, maybe she would have been able to worry less during the day about him. In both cases, she might’ve been more confident and get around to doing the work that she wanted to do once she got to work. In the same way, planning projects can make transitions easier, planning your day can also make it easier to transition. Because without a plan for when you’re going to tackle the task, you may just do whatever feels, yes, most urgent in the moment. Even though it may not be the most important. And if that sense of urgency arises about a different task, you may just switch over to that.
You may even say to people that you’re good at multitasking – switching back and forth. I’ve certainly heard this a lot from people. But this task switching means your attention is divided up and you’re likely not fully present and focused on any one task. Which means you may not be doing your best work.
Not only are you not doing your best work, but you likely get waylaid by distractions in the transition. Because it’s harder for ADHD adults to tune out these distractions when they task switch. This is one area where the research is unanimous. Multitasking does not work. As Dr. Ed Hallowell notes in his book, Crazy Busy, Multitasking is a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.”
One way to avoid multitasking is, yes, to plan out your day. Because, with just a list of tasks, it can be hard to transition from one task to another. As you have no intentional plan. It might help to set a timer when you’re working on a task. And remind yourself, “I’m doing this and not that.” Say it a few times. “I’m doing this and not that.” And, as random thoughts come to mind, write them down on a piece of paper next to you.
So you can be confident that you won’t forget them later and feel compelled to do them in that moment. Try to be strategic in planning out your day. For example, if there’s a task that you tend to hyperfocus on, have a hard time stopping, maybe you schedule time to do this task just before a meeting. So you have to stop. However you decide to plan your day, give yourself enough buffer and be intentional on working on one thing at a time for whatever amount of time makes sense, given the context. But having a plan will make things, especially transitions easier.
While there’s a lot that goes in to managing transitions, one of the last tips I want to offer you is to do some upfront thinking about how you can manage distractions. So when they inevitably occur, you don’t go too far off course. Because, a plan, no matter how good it is, can only help you if you can execute on it, obviously, right? Distractions are one type of transition you really can’t afford when you’re trying to follow a plan. Because you might forget entirely what you were doing and then continue going down one unrelated rabbit hole after another. You might also waste time because you need to ramp up and reengage in the task each time you need to start again. And, obviously, you might not do your best work. Because you’re not giving yourself the time you need to be creative and thoughtful.
Last, of course, through all of these transitions, you might become more overwhelmed and stressed. Maybe even angry or frustrated? The key is to identify what commonly gets you distracted during the day. And then figure out how to manage these. So you can minimize the number of transitions you have in your day. For example, you might say to your colleague, when she pops into your office, “I really would like to discuss this report with you, but I need to get this other report done. Can we talk later this afternoon at three or four?” If email is a distraction for you, you might set aside two to three times a day to answer emails that are not urgent. Sometimes people have in-house messaging apps, like Slack. Maybe you decide you’re going to check it only once an hour.
Obviously these are just suggestions. What you decide to do to manage distractions and minimize transitions will obviously depend on your own preferences, as well as the expectations of your particular environment. Because maybe, for example, because of the nature of your work, you have to check your email more frequently. But the key to manage your distractions is so you can decrease the number of transitions in your day.
Of course, there will be times when for whatever reason you decide, it makes sense to interrupt what you are doing to tend to something else you didn’t intend to do. In these moments, give yourself just a beat to transition. So, for example, if someone stops by your office and you decide to chat with them, maybe you ask them to give you a moment so you can take notes about where you’re leaving off in your work. So that it’s easier to get back to it after the conversation. Likewise, if you decide to respond to email in the middle of working on something else, take just a moment to make a note of where you are on that task before switching to the email.
That is, you want to be more mindful in making any kind of transition. Rather than ricocheting from one interruption to another, which will just leave you feeling, yes, overwhelmed and stressed.
Transitions are hard for ADHD, adults. What transitions do you find particularly pernicious? What can you try so that they are easier? And so you can feel more grounded as you go through your day. And don’t get derailed while making a transition.
That’s it for now. As always, 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 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.