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How to "Do The Thing" The ADHD Way

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

How are you doing this summer? Because "doing the things" is essentially what's difficult for ADHDers in normal times, never mind summer vachaosion!

Sound familiar? I bet the gremlin in your head says that a lot. The biggest problem my clients come to me with is difficulty doing what they want/need to do.

That's because

  1. Getting started,

  2. staying focused and

  3. following though until it's done

are 3 of our executive functions - the skills we use to execute our intentions.

The ABC of Getting Sh*t Done

Don't get me wrong, the "ABC" part does not mean it's easy. It means there are 3 points along the way where we can get thrown off.

How do we overcome all these difficulties so that we can get sh*t done?

Here's more on the 3 stages of doing a thing, with a few of my favorite tips for each step of the way:

A. Starting

Getting started is hard for a number of reasons. ADHD brains struggle with transitioning from task to task. They can get distracted before they even start! They can get overwhelmed easily, making starting something unattractive.

And then there's that dopamine deal. ADHD brains are often low on dopamine - the neurochemical that gives us motivation. It's kind of a catch 22, because dopamine is released when our brains think something will be rewarding, giving us the motivation to do it. But if we don't think it will be rewarding (and for ADHDer that means if it's not stimulating), we don't get that motivation juice!

Tips for Getting Started

1. Remind yourself that you don't have to feel motivated before you begin. You can add motivation in the middle or at the end of the task by rewarding yourself with things that do raise your dopamine - whatever does it for you:

  • a walk

  • a snack

  • a private dance party

  • a shopping purchase...

Just match the size of the reward with the difficulty of the task.

2. Break up the task into the absolute smallest steps, so small you won't feel like procrastinating just that step. For example:

  • Walk to the computer.

  • Open a browser

  • Type x into the search engine...

3. Entice yourself with strategies from my N.I.C.E. & Easy Guide for Getting Stuff Done.

B. Staying Focused

"Attention Deficit Disorder" is a misnomer. ADHD brains pay plenty of attention. In fact, the problem is paying attention to too many things! ADHD brains don't have a strong enough filtering system to easily remain focused on one thing.

ADHDers also struggle to put aside emotions like frustration or anger, so that they can stay focused on the task at hand.

Then there is impulsivity, which prevents us from "looking before we leap" and considering the consequences of following a distraction.

Tips for Staying Focused

1. Use a "body double" to anchor your focus. This means you utilize the presence of someone in the room to ground you. Their presence is a support and reminder that you are there to focus on a particular task. Or try a virtual work date, where you mute yourselves, but keep cameras on, and check in with each other every hour or so.

2. Pomodoro it. This timing technique ensures that your brain doesn’t tire out and revert to wandering mode. The Pomodoro technique is built on breaking work down into 25-minute segments, followed by 5-minute breaks. When you’ve completed four time segments (an hour of work), called Pomodoros, you give yourself a longer break. There are apps that time Pomodoros for you. (The term Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, because the person who first used it used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato!) One of my favorite is Focus To Do.

3. Following Through

If the task is actually a longer term project, or anything longer than can be completed in one sitting, following through until the end is also a big challenge.

Following through is actually also part of staying focused - staying focused over the long tern - to finish a project or task that takes time.

Tips for Following Through

1. Keep a tangible reminder of the long term reward. Print out an emoji of how you will feel when it's done, stick up a Post It with a mantra to keep you going. If that doesn't work...

2. Introduce smaller, more tangible rewards at stages along the way. Think again of your dopamine-boosting activities as rewards.

3. Get accountability from a friend, a group, a mastermind or coach to help keep you focused for the long haul.

Your Turn!

At which point do you get stuck the most? Starting, staying focused or finishing off? Comment below and let's strategize!

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