Learn how to be more strategic about how you prioritize your task and then execute so you can do what’s most important to you.
- Why trying to be more efficient usually does not work.
- 5 strategies you can use to decide on priorities.
- 5 strategies you can use to execute.
If you struggle to decide which tasks to do and in which order, you may end up doing either whatever feels most urgent or perhaps is the easiest or maybe the most interesting. There’s a better way to choose. You’ve tuned into Scattereded, 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 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’re joining 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.
I bet you often have days where you feel like you’re struggling with time, feeling like you’re falling behind as the minutes tick by knowing that you should probably stop working but not feeling like you’ve accomplished enough even on the days when you’ve worked long hours. And at the end of those days, you may say to yourself, I should have managed my time better. I should have gotten more done. You may even have compared yourself to others wondering, why can’t I work like everyone else? And this thinking leaves you feeling even worse. And then instead of doing your work, you might have Googled, time management and ADHD. Because you just want to figure this out once and for all so you can stay on top of your work. It can get better when you learn how to combine task management and time management.
Right now, you might start each day with a list of tasks that you want to complete. And maybe you look at your calendar to see how much time you have available. But you also likely make your list from memory based on what feels most urgent. Then you see how many tasks you can get done. But not really confident you can get done with the whole list. You hope so, though. But, as a former client used to say, hope is not a strategy. But that might be your strategy right now. That is, you hope you can get through your list. If this is how you’re operating right now, it’s likely because you just don’t have a different way of managing your task yet.
And the primary way you choose to work is guided by your sense of urgency. In part, this may be be because you don’t have the executive function skills, including estimating time, sequencing tasks, prioritizing, etc. to be able to strategically plan on how to execute differently. And because you have challenges with these skills, looking at your long list of tasks reminds you of all your open loops and contributes to your stress and overwhelm.
So again, you go through each day guided by, yes, a sense of urgency as to what you should be doing, but never really confident you’re doing what’s most important. And you may be tempted to try to be more efficient with your time. But this doesn’t really work. Because while you might get more done, you won’t feel confident that you’re doing what’s most important and this will contribute to your overwhelm as you try to cram in as much as possible into your day.
It might feel sometimes like you’re on a hamster wheel running faster and faster, shifting from task to task until the day is done, but again, not feeling like you’ve got enough done. Not only might you feel more stressed and overwhelmed, but you might not be confident that you’ve accomplished. Again, what’s most important to you, and that’s what you want. That is you want to be confident you’re doing what’s most important.
You want to be productive, which means doing what’s essential based on your values. Because eventually the dopamine hit, the temporary reward of ticking off the boxes it’s going to wear off. Then if you don’t get as much done as you had hoped, you might think you wasted your day. You might even think to yourself, I didn’t get enough done.
The first step you can take in being more strategic is to get a sense of how you’re using your time right now by using the urgent important matrix also called the Eisenhower Matrix. I’m sure you’ve heard of it and I’ve included a sample with the podcast on my website. I encourage you to take a minute to look at it. Okay, got it. Great. If you’re operating in quadrant one, you’re doing what’s important and urgent. No doubt there are last minute things that come up, but sometimes when you’re operating in quadrant one it’s because you’re putting too much on your plate or you’re not planning out ahead enough so that things end up being last minute.
If you have too much in quadrant one, this may lead you to alternate between perhaps panicking and or shutting down because you just can’t do it all. One of the ways to spend less time in quadrant one is to spend more time in quadrant two, which is activities that are important and not urgent, and this includes review and planning, tending to relationships, self-care, working toward goals, recreation, etc. Quadrant three activities are not important and urgent and may include phone calls, emails, busy work interruptions, and some meetings.
If you have a lot of activities in quadrant three, you likely need to work on setting some boundaries with others and choosing better how you spend your time. Quadrant four activities are not important and not urgent, and may include social media, excessive tv, too much planning, searching for the perfect, perfect tool, procrastinating activities. If you find yourself spending too much time here, you need to work on managing distractions and procrastinations.
Take some time to think about where you’re spending your time right now. How can you spend more time in quadrant two and less time in quadrant one and four? If you’re not spending your time the way you want right now, you can turn this around. The first step is to get all of your tasks on one list by doing a brain dump.
It’s just too hard to plan when you have some of your task in an email, some on stickies, some on a notepad, and yes, some in your head without doing a brain dump. You might even forget some, and it’s fine to have more than one list as long as you’re consistent about what you put on each one. For example, if you have clients, you might have a CRM or a customer relationship management tool you use for prospects and clients. And then another list for non-client related task.
You can put your list wherever you want as long as it’s centralized. I happen to prefer electronic task managers, but the key for you is that you choose one that you’re going to use, and I know that having a long to-do list can be scary. Because after all, it reminds you of all your open loops and then when you look at your list, you think that you can’t possibly do everything on it.
Please remind yourself in those moments that you don’t have to do it all right now. Capturing your task is just the first step. I also recommend as part of this process that you have a list of maybe someday tasks. These are all the tasks you don’t want to forget about but really have no intention of doing right now. The second step is to add due dates to all your tasks. I know for some there might not be a hard deadline, such as calling to schedule an oil change.
I encourage you to give these a deadline anyway. Whereas the report for your boss might be due in a week. Having due dates can help guide you in deciding how to use your time. The third step is no doubt hard to do, and that is to estimate how long a task is going to take. As estimating time is just a challenge for ADHD adults. In some cases, you may be able to rely on past experiences of doing similar tasks.
And in other cases, if you really have no idea how long something will take, you may need to estimate using worse and best case scenarios. Maybe you could try processing this aloud with somebody else. And in other cases, breaking down a task can help you better estimate how long each part of a task will take. Even though estimating how long a task will take is hard to do, I really encourage you to give it a try, as again, this will help you in planning how to use your time.
For ADHD adults, a list of tasks can seem equally important, so to be able to distinguish between which tasks are more important than others, in addition to deadlines and how long the task will take, the fourth step is to write down next to each task what is important about doing it based on its significance, interest, or reward. For example, you might write down, keep engine running next to schedule oil change or get a good performance review next to the report for work.
You get it. The idea is you want to be clear on the importance of doing the task. The fifth and last step in order to figure out priorities amongst all your task is to give each task a priority, number one, two, or three. And the way to do this is to ask what will happen if I don’t do this and what will happen if I do do this?
By taking the time to note down the due dates the importance of doing a task and a priority number, it can help you make decisions about how you use your time better. And once you have a relative sense of priorities amongst your tasks, the next step is to decide, of course, how you’re going to execute on them. One way is to follow through on your priorities by allocating specific blocks of time for different types of tasks. I’m sure you’ve heard of this time blocking.
This can help you concentrate on one type of activity at a time. For example, you may work on your finances every Friday morning. Then you don’t have to worry about when to do the task as you have time set aside. You could also schedule your day by time blocking it. Well, this works well for some people. I also know that time blocking may be just too much structure for others.
It’s just not made for everyone. Another way to tackle your task is to use the 1 3 5 Rule developed by Alex Cavalcoss. Instead of being faced with your whole list at the beginning of each day, you choose one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks. You get to decide what big, medium, and small means. And you can also adapt it to suit your own needs on any particular day.
So for example, if you have a lot of meetings in one day, you might cut down the list. And, if you commonly get tasks thrown at you each day, you may decide to leave some of the spaces open. You may also decide to batch similar tasks. As you know, task switching comes with costs, including lost time fatigue, giving into distractions and loss of concentration. And when you can batch items such as errands, emails or phone calls, etc. that can help you avoid these costs.
Making decisions about executing also means planning when you do different tasks according to your energy patterns. Some people might be most productive in the morning and others don’t hit their stride until later. You’ll want to do those activities that require a heavy cognitive load during your peak energy times and use your low energy times for tasks that are well less demanding, but still need your attention. While certainly not as predictable, another way to execute is to tackle a task when the mood strikes you. It’s easier than swimming upstream, for sure.
Another way to execute is to have themes for your days. For example, one of my clients decided that Mondays was for prospective clients, Wednesdays for active clients, and Tuesday and Thursday was for miscellaneous administrative task. This last way to execute is to delegate by asking or hiring someone else to do a task, not a bad way to get some stuff done if it works for you.
Being strategic about how you prioritize your task and then execute can help you do what’s most important 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, which I hope you have, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might benefit. And until next time, this has been Scattered Focus Done, and I’m Marla Cummins. Wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.