ADHD adults need downtime if they want to be productive. Really.
But I also know this may seem counterintuitive to you, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed with everything you need to do. I get it. You’re wondering how you can take downtime when you’re so far behind in both your professional and personal life.
You may even think you don’t deserve downtime. Not true. While everyone deserves downtime, I know it won’t be enough for me to just tell you that. So, stay with me, as I make the case that downtime will help you not only feel better but do your best work. If you’re game to entertaining the idea that this could be true, keep on reading.
What Does It Mean to Be Productive?
Before looking at what downtime is and how it can help you, let’s look at what it means to be productive. Right now, you may think you’re being productive when you’re getting a lot of “stuff” done. While you’re certainly busy during these times, you may not necessarily be productive.
I think of productivity in the following way, which I adapted from Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism:
You’re productive when you are doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time so you can channel your time, energy, and effort into making the highest possible contribution toward the goals and activities that matter to you.
This means you’ll first need to decide what matters most to you and then choose the activities that will help you reach these goals. And, yes, downtime is one of the activities that will help you accomplish what you decide is essential. So, you’ll want to incorporate it as part of your plan.
Why Is It So Hard for ADHD Adults to Stop Being Busy?
While there are many reasons, some related to your ADHD, why you may be so busy and not productive, below are the 3 that top my list.
One is you may not take the time to do the upfront thinking necessary to decide where you want to go big and what activities will help you do that. If you’re curious to learn more about how to do this, check out my podcast, Do ADHD Adults Overthink or Not Think Enough?
Another reason you are so busy is you have a hard time saying “no.” And, if your experience is like many other ADHD adults, this may be because you’re trying to prove to yourself and others you are capable. So, you end up saying “yes” to far too many requests. According to Vanessa Bohns, associate professor of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University, you may struggle to say “no” because:
We don’t want to reject people. We don’t want people to think poorly of us … so we are really managing the impressions other people have of us.
But, when you can’t deliver, you obviously end up letting down people, right? Thereby giving them the opposite impression of the one you intended when you said “yes.” Time to learn how to say “no”? Check out my article, 6 Guilt-Free Strategies ADHD Adults Can Use to Say No.
The third reason for your business is your ADHD brain. That is, because you have an interest-based nervous system you may stay busy doing whatever seems interesting. Unless you take back control by engineering your environment and creating the interest your brain needs. For tips on how to do this, check out, What Doesn’t Motivate ADHD Adults to Follow Through. So, you can do what you know to be essential.
No doubt, you’ll need to address your tendency to always be busy, if you want to make room for downtime.
Downtime Is a Key Part of Managing Your ADHD
I know by now you’re wondering, “Why would I want to make room for downtime?!” There are a few reasons.
One is your brain can only work so hard before it conks out. Really. While you probably already know this on some level, are you doing anything to give your brain the rest it needs? I bet many of you aren’t. Because well, you’re just too, yes, busy. So, despite the cost, you keep on pushing yourself to do more.
Part of managing your ADHD is promoting good brain health. And to operate at its best, as illustrated in this article Scientific American, your brain, much like the rest of your body, needs rest.
Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.
The other reason for taking downtime is it’s a fundamental part of good self-care. Think about how it feels when you get off the hamster wheel and can just be. That is, you’re not creating anything – changing anything from one form to another. You stop being productive.
While, no doubt, your ADHD brain needs to be stimulated, there is a tipping point. Think about the times when life feels frenetic, and your brain is overstimulated. I’m sure you feel out of sorts, like you’re on a hamster wheel. Spinning fast and hard, but not really going anywhere, right? The key is to balance your need for stimulation with your need for downtime.
What Does Downtime Look Like for ADHD Adults?
Engaging in downtime may take a little bit more work for ADHD adults. Because true downtime is doing a whole lot of nothing. But, as you know and I noted above, your ADHD brain is always scanning the environment to get the stimulation it needs. So, it may seem like downtime is out of your reach.
It’s just that you’ll need to make sure your brain gets enough stimulation. Otherwise, you’ll be in a constant battle with your brain. Then you may engage in activities that aren’t important to you – be busy – or worse default to an activity that gets you in trouble.
To avoid either of these scenarios and allow your ADHD brain to rest, try:
- “mindless” walks
- light cleaning
- listening to music
- pulling weeds
- taking a bath w/music
- walking meditation
What have you tried or what can you think of that allows your brain to rest and feel stimulated enough?
It Will Take Practice and Feel Uncomfortable, At First
I know asking you to take some downtime in your day when you have so much to do can feel daunting and even uncomfortable at first. In part, this is because your ADHD can make it hard to slow down. But it’s also because you’ve developed a habit of being busy and having a fast-paced life.
Because it’s a habit it will take some time and practice to unlearn this way of operating. Even though it will feel uncomfortable, it might feel less daunting if you start off practicing for a short time, maybe 15 minutes a day. I think you’ll be amazed at the results over time.