Getting Things Done with ADHD will never be easy.
However, you can develop strategies to help yourself do more of the things that really matter to you.
In the spring if this year I bought Dr Russ Ramsay’s new book Rethinking Adult ADHD: Helping Clients Turn Intentions Into Actions. (affiliate link. See my full disclosure)
As I neared the end of the book I found myself feeling more and more hyped up on anxiety.
I’d planned to ask Dr. Ramsay if he would speak on the podcast about the book. But I had so much anxiety around making the ask that I discussed the book in the Enclave for a couple weeks in an attempt to bolster my confidence.
What if Dr. Ramasy looked at my email and wondered who the hell I was?
Or worse yet, “I’m not wasting my time with this girl.”
I connected with him on Linkedin and when he accepted the invite I felt mildly more comfortable. But I still waited another month before sending him an email.
Finally, about two months after I finished the book I sent him an email explaining that I wanted to discuss his book, and I included a few ideas about what I wanted to talk about. He responded almost immediately and we scheduled a time, which became the podcast episode below.
getting things done with adhd
There are lots of reasons why getting things done with ADHD is so damn hard.
The example from my own life is a good segue into talking about the first big one, Procrastination.
I actually wrote an article years ago about procrastination and ADHD. I argued that everyone procrastinates, but for us the thought process is a little different.
Your brain has a lot of thoughts in a day. Many of these thoughts are automatic and totally neutral. But people with ADHD have a lot more automatic negative thoughts.
It’s much harder for us to overcome our limiting beliefs and work through them. See my post on ADHD and self-trust for more info.
You probably do a lot of mind reading of other people, too. This is totally natural, but our sensitivity to rejection and judgment can skew our interpretation of other people.
We know we, “should” pause to question our own thinking and perceptions, but it doesn’t happen every time. (or at all)
Dr. Ramsay suggests questioning your automatic thoughts and assumptions when you notice yourself procrastinating.
The next time you have a project that you put off until 24hrs before it’s due, take a moment to notice your thoughts around the project. You might not know how to start, or you might feel uncertain about the outcome.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable for the ADHD brain.
Questions to consider:
Do I have any evidence to support these thoughts?
Are past experiences influencing my thinking now?
Do I need more information?
Do I need more direct instructions?
Is there someone I can talk to about it?
There will always be an emotional investment, and it will always be uncomfortable.
Sometimes, “I’ll do it tomorrow” feels safer and more familiar but it doesn’t move us forward.
If you’ve been using anxiety as a fast acting stimulant for many years and it’s working for you, go for it. But if you want to change it, or it’s destroying your career, you need to look for strategies.
Many of you email me or contact me at these critical points, looking for immediate solutions to long-term problems. There are no bandaids, this is something we have to look at as a long-term project.
Another barrier to getting things done is perfectionism.
ADHD women self-identify as perfectionists more often than any other trait.
Perfectionism happens with ADHD for slightly different reasons. It’s not about mastery, it’s about overcompensating for what we think is wrong with us.
There are two types of perfectionism.
Front End Perfectionism is the type I see most often in the women I work with.
Every time you try to start something stops you from actually doing it.
You aren’t ready, or in the right mood.
You’re tired, and your meds haven’t kicked in.
The temperature in the room is off, and the smell of your partner’s lunch is making you sick.
You tell yourself, “I’m not at my best so I better wait until tomorrow.” And you delay starting.
This is what psychologists call, “Goldilocks syndrome.” And it makes sense. Nobody wants to be productive when they aren’t at their best.
But what is your best?
I don’t think in my forty-one years on this planet I’ve ever been at my best, and I still do things. Imperfectly yes, but it gets done. Sometimes I even get compliments on it.
The assumption you’re making when you delay starting is that you’ll be ready, and you’ll trust yourself more later. This is distorted positive thinking.
You will not trust yourself later.
Maybe years later, after lots of therapy and self-care, but not tomorrow.
Back End Perfectionism is when you start on something but feel unable to finish it.
You might be in the middle of something, but you keep trying to make the first part perfect, so you haven’t completed it.
You think you have to prove yourself by adding a degree of difficulty to your work, or you try to make it better than everyone else’s instead of getting it done.
You’ll want to CTFD about making your work BETTER than anyone else’s.
Start by making your work passable. As one of my favorite writers says, half-assed is a whole buttcheek better than doing nothing.
Procrastivity is the next barrier to getting things done.
I like to delay starting a new article by researching and taking notes.
Sometimes I avoid reaching out to other ADHD experts by stalking them online for a couple months first.
This behavior is what Dr. Ramsay refers to as pseudoefficiency, or procrastivity.
Procrastivity is defined as avoiding a higher priority task by doing something else that’s still productive, but not as time urgent or immediately important.
This is why you fold laundry but you don’t do your taxes.
You know how to put the laundry away, and you know you can be successful at it so you do that instead. It feels productive and manageable and gives you a sense of accomplishment
The task you are avoiding probably has some level of uncertainty around it.
Uncertainty always leaves room for escape. – Russ Ramsay
On the continuum of ADHD symptoms, procrastivity is not the worst thing. The problem is that you often feel itchy after you engage in these activities because the odious task you are avoiding only gets bigger in your mind.
The How You Don’t Do Things form in Dr. Ramsay’s book serves as a way to help you see where things went off the rails, and form a coping plan for the future.
Barriers to getting things done
Growth comes from getting uncomfortable. Prepare yourself to work through discomfort and your own patterns of avoidance.
Valuation of the task is very important for ADHD. You need to know exactly why you want to do it in the first place. The why doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but you must have one, or it will not get done.
Choosing a location is a great way to use context to activate yourself to work. Location also helps to create a bounded task, with a specific start and end time. Your brain likes to know how long, and when you can stop.
ADHD adults are experts at rationalization. Rationalizations use apparent logic to make us do things that are actually self-defeating. Like not starting on a work project until it’s overdue because we weren’t, “in the mood.”
Bring awareness to your escape behaviors. Things as simple as having a snack or scrolling social media are worth noting.
You can create an Implementation plan by thinking – If x, then y.
If I can get to the coffee shop, then I can outline my article.
If I can gather materials, then I can start today’s homeschool lesson.
If I can put on my running shoes, then I can start walking.
But*** even if you do all of these steps every time, you will fall off the wagon.
When things go wrong
You will fall into old patterns. Everyone does, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Rather than telling yourself you need to work harder, try looking at exactly where things went wrong and using that to your advantage.
You will start to notice when you are rationalizing or avoiding tasks. Even if you don’t stop yourself, just the fact that you noticed is progress.
Getting things done with ADHD will never be easy.
Learn about what holds you back, then craft a plan of action that works for you.
Talk to other ADHD adults to get ideas and support. Nobody can do ADHD alone.
Like I always say, we are stronger together.
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