I know, as an ADHD adult, planning may not be your strong suit. But I bet you are most interested in learning how to start and execute on your important work with greater ease, right? So, for the purposes of this article, let’s assume you have a solid plan. And focus on what comes next. Are you with me?
On occasion, I’ll receive an email from a new client, asking for “just a few quick tips” to help them start on some important work. I usually tell them, “I’m not sure. Sounds like a great topic to tackle for our next session.” But I know that is likely not a very satisfactory answer. Especially when they want/need answers now!
So, then we have a conversation. First, I want them to know I am not averse to writing long emails, when it makes sense. And we talk about how a conversation is often necessary when the answer is dependent on the nuances of the various contexts. Over time, they see this.
Instead, as our work continues, they more often come to rely on the toolbox of strategies and skills they are building. And answer the question(s) themselves when they are stuck. Below are some strategies you can use to build your own toolbox. So, you can get unstuck and back on track faster when you’re having a hard time getting started.
Know Your Why
Sometimes, accomplishing a task may be important to you. But you still have a hard time getting started because it is not intrinsically interesting. So, in the moment when you are deciding whether to tackle it or not, you may say to yourself, “I don’t wanna…” And, when you give in to this feeling, you don’t start, of course.
One of the keys to not going down this slippery slope is to know your why — reward. For example, one of my clients wanted to be better at following through on his administrative tasks. His reason — reward – was he wanted his colleagues to see him as a professional.
However, it’s not enough to know your why, you also need to remember it in the moment of choice. Not easy for adults with ADHD who have working memory challenges. With these challenges, you may not remember the reward for choosing to do a task that is not intrinsically interesting, but important to you.
To counter these working memory challenges, you need a mechanism for remembering your reward. In my client’s case, he put “admin time – be a pro” on his calendar. And, much to his surprise, he honored this weekly reoccurring time block. In part, he was able to follow through because he remembered his why and the motivation to do his admin work.
Think of a task you resist. Can you think of why you may choose to do it, even if it is not interesting to you?
IDENTIFY THE RIGHT NEXT ACTION STEP
Sometimes the reason you are having trouble getting started is because of the dependencies involved in completing the task. That is, you can’t do the task on your list because it is dependent on completing another task first. So, when you see the task on your list, you may say to yourself, “I’ll do that after I do…”
For example, what happens when you have on your task list “take in the bike for a tune-up,” but you don’t know where to take it? You likely gloss over that task, telling yourself “I need to find a place to take it.” And you stay stuck until you put that task on your list first.
You know where this is going. The key is to make sure the task is specific, small enough and doable. In the above example, the original task isn’t doable. Because the first task should be “decide where to take the bike for a tune-up. To make sure you have the right next action on your task list, ask yourself, “Is there something I need to do before tackling this task?”
Prepare to Start
In other cases, the reason for your procrastination may be that you are not ready to start — you don’t have what you need. To make the transition to starting easier try doing the prep as a separate task. For example, let’s say you want to work on a report on Tuesday. You might decide to collect all related documents and emails on Monday. So, you’re ready to roll on Tuesday.
Without these preparations you might get frustrated when you want to begin working on it on Tuesday. Because you are scrambling to find all the material you need to start. The time is ticking. And you are thinking, “I’ve to get this report done!” The key, of course, is to think about what you need to get started and do that step first.
Is there anything on your list right now that you could spend 20 minutes or so prepping for? So, you’re ready to start when the time rolls around.
Anticipate and Prepare for Potential Distractions and Interruptions
Regardless of how well you prepare to start your work you’re going to encounter distractions and interruptions. It is what it is. And while you can’t anticipate all of these, you may be able to minimize the occurrences of those that are likely to happen by:
- using an application, such as rescue time, so you don’t surf the web as much during your workday.
- wearing noise-canceling headphones, if noise is a distraction.
- asking to sit elsewhere in the office, if you encounter a lot of traffic where you are now.
Interruptions from other people might also be a challenge for you. If you struggle with knowing how to deal with these, you might be able to think in advance how to handle them. Check out Are You Allowing Interruptions to Run Your Day? for techniques you can use to manage interruptions.
The key is to prepare as much as possible in advance for any potential distractions or interruptions.
Plan a Time to Do Other “Urgent” Work
One of the most common distractions for adults with ADHD is feeling the need to do other work. So, when you try to start one task, you may think to yourself, “I should be doing XYZ.” And the pull of this other task might be so great you decide to do that instead of what you intended. I bet this happens to more often than you’d like, right?
One of the antidotes for this common problem is to decide when you’re going to do the other work. So, in the moment of choice, you can be confident there is another time you will tend to what feels urgent right now. And you can say to yourself about what you are intending to do, “I’m doing this and not that!”
This will help you manage your ADHD tendency to pay attention to everything in your environment. So, you can focus and do well at what you choose to do in the moment.
Be Willing to Withstand Some Discomfort
When a task is easy to do and your interest is high you encounter little, if any, friction. You can jump right in and you’re off to the races. In fact, you may even end up hyperfocusing on that task.
Then there are those tasks you resist doing because of your discomfort. Whether it’s because of lack of interest, the seeming enormity of the task, lack of clarity or other reasons, just the thought of starting these tasks makes you feel, well, skittish. You just want to run away as far as possible from these.
As a result, you will go down a slippery slope, beginning with the thought, “I don’t feel like doing this right now.” This is likely followed by the subconscious thought of, “I’ll do it later when I feel like it.” But all you mean is “not now,” as you have no idea when later is, right? And, if you don’t feel like doing it now, you likely won’t feel like doing it later, either.
It makes sense to procrastinate when you feel uncomfortable about doing a task, for sure. But the discomfort doesn’t really go away. Because, when you put off a task, you likely feel the stress of what you should be doing. So, you’re really just substituting one uncomfortable situation for another.
To remedy this, make it easier to start and not procrastinate, acknowledge when starting on a task is uncomfortable. And, also, be willing to withstand that discomfort. Then use a warm-up routine to make it possible to start these difficult tasks.
Use a Warm-up Routine
As you know, transitions — starting, stopping and task switching — are difficult for ADHD adults to manage. A warm-up routine can help make starting easier so you can begin and follow through on your most important work. To summarize, the steps are:
- Start with a super easy task.
- Include physical movement.
- Rinse and repeat.
Ready to create your own warm-up routine? For a more in-depth explanation of each of these steps, check out Motivation Is Not the Key to Success If You Have ADHD.
Manage Your Negative Self-Talk and Cultivate Helpful Self-Talk
Whether your self-talk is conscious or not, it can either help or hinder you from starting and executing. In fact, the frequent use of the following self-talk will contribute to your tendency to procrastinate:
- “I must be perfect!”
- “I have to…”
- “I should…”
- “I must finish…”
- “This is too big and important!”
If you want to reframe the above and adopt self-talk that will help you initiate and follow through on your important work, check out, ADHD & 5 Ways You Can Use Self-talk to Stop Procrastinating.
How ADHD Adults Start and Execute on Their Important Work Checklist
When you are stuck, refer to the list below. And then think about what you can do to address the feeling of “I don’t wanna.” So you can get going on a task you are resisting.
- What is the value — reward — for doing this task?
- Is there a task I need to do before this one that would make it easier for me to execute on this one?
- Do I have everything I need to get started?
- What can I do to minimize the distractions and interruptions I can anticipate?
- Is there is other work I’m worrying about completing? Do I know when I can tackle it?
- What will help me to withstand discomfort with tasks I might avoid?
- Am I using a warm-up routine consistently?
- Am I using self-talk that is helping me to execute?
Do you have other strategies that help you get started? Please send them my way!