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Lazy or Could It Be Overwhelm?

Make the first thing you do each day something relaxing and pleasurable.

Psychiatrist Dr. Hallowell describes the dread for many people with ADHD of getting started on work or a project as a “colossal boulder of negative thinking" but you can turn that boulder into a pebble with some smart strategies, particularly ones that focus on the cycle of negative thinking.

Try starting your day with something pleasurable to attenuate the dread. It could be a good breakfast, some morning exercise, or a chat with a friend or colleague to help you get fired up about your project or task. A “Nice Things” folder on your phone, where you paste any kind responses about you or your work from colleagues can be really useful to read through when you need to remind yourself that you can do anything.

Break down your tasks into tiny subtasks.

Once you’re ready to get started, start small. Like, very small. You can make just about any project more manageable by chunking it out into smaller components and setting yourself deadlines for each of those parts.

Make sure you set a really low bar to just get yourself started, such as “open the document” or “do 10 minutes of research.” You can also lean on apps like Things or Todoist to help you structure your tasks and projects. Google Keep’s create a checklist which feels satisfying to tick things off.

Make sure your first task is one that you have a 100% chance of succeeding at.

Susan C. Pinsky, a professional organiser and author of Organizing Solutions for People With ADHD, recommends organising your day intentionally so that when you need a win, there’s one right there waiting for you. “Try to structure your workday so you do the easiest thing first,” she says. “You’re already giving yourself a success. You’ve accomplished something, and now that big thing that sits in front of you isn’t so overwhelming.” Ceremoniously crossing something off your to-do list may give you a bit of a buzz and help you move on to the next thing.

For every item on your to-do list, quickly jot down why it’s a priority.

The things that motivate neurotypical people don’t always work for people with ADHD. Dr. Hallowell explains, motivation can be hard to come by, especially for tasks that are intrinsically boring, tedious, or uninteresting. Just because you know you have to get something done doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be motivated to actually do it. One thing that can be helpful is making sure you know exactly why you need to complete a task. Try writing a quick note to yourself for these kinds of tasks and you can also schedule a quick catch-up with a coworker or friend to give yourself a refresher on why something needs to be completed. Another go-to strategy is condensing an email or project brief into bullet points and paste them at the top of whatever document you're working on so Iyou don’t forget any essential tasks or priorities.

Overestimate how long tasks will take.

Having a fundamentally different sense of time—specifically not being able to estimate and record the passing of time—is part of many people’s experience of ADHD. When their perception of time differs from the neurotypical-based deadlines and timelines most people are required to stick to, people with ADHD can find themselves struggling. Dr. Hallowell explains that for many people with ADHD, there’s “now” and “not now.” When, for example, a project is due next Thursday, a person with ADHD might tag that as “not now” and put it on the back burner until it’s too late to get it done in time. All of a sudden “now” is almost here and you’re panicking.

The solution to this is to overestimate how long things will take. f you think each jobsis going to take an hour, try scheduling two for each of them. Building a 'gentle disaster mindset' can help you have some margins in case things run over.

Having an analog clock can help you perceive time passing; set alarms on your phone, reminders for appointments and meetings before they start. Remember those big tasks you chunked out? You can set those in your phone or calendar too; it’s how to avoid any deadline disasters.

Find ways to make boring tasks novel and fun.

When a task isn’t intrinsically rewarding, it can be difficult for people with ADHD to feel motivated to do it. For Dr. Hallowell, a balance of fun is crucial to staying on task. “[Combine] situations that are highly structured and full of novelty and stimulation. Too much structure and it gets boring, too much novelty and it’s confusing.”

Make the most of this need for stimulation by writing your to-do list down using colourful (and therefore visually stimulating) pens and paper, or keeping a selection of Post-its in your workspace and around the house. “Write [your task] on a colourful Post-it and slap it on the door. That way, tomorrow when you leave the house, that Post-it is staring you right in the face. The key is to have a variety of those colours, because if it’s always the same coloru, your eye isn’t going to see it."

You can also introduce novelty by varying your work environment. Try speeding up boring tasks by listening to a podcast while Iyou do them, or draw out a colourful checklist for repetitive tasks so you can clearly see your progress while also injecting some festivity into your day.

Get strategic about minimising distractions.

Having ADHD can already mean that you have problems focusing so added distractions can be debilitating to people with ADHD. There are products and apps out there that can really help you reduce (or simply avoid) distractions in your environment. Noise-cancelling headphones can be a total lifesaver. Strict Workflow, on yourlaptop, blocks social media for 25 minutes at a time. After 25 minutes an alarm rings, which means it’s time for a five-minute break so you can look at social media if you want to. You can also listen to Brain.FM, which is music that is supposedly engineered to help you focus. The ambient, lyric-free music keeps the brain occupied enough while working so that you don’t need to seek out other distractions.

Find someone who’s willing to be your accountability partner.

After removing all those distractions and maybe even removing yourself from environments where lots of people and/or chitchat is happening, you might start to feel isolated. It’s still important to stay connected, as Dr. Hallowell explains. “You really need to work with a team, you have to get encouragement, don’t isolate yourself. It can be anybody, a teacher, a spouse, a dog, any form of positive connection.”

If something is a huge stress point, such as sitting down to pay your bills, ask a friend or partner if they want to meet up virtually and pay bills together. Depending on your workplace, you might also be able to lean on coworkers, telling them you’ll send a draft or provide a project update by a specific deadline. If that doesn’t feel appropriate, you can ask a friend to be a deadline stand-in, letting them know you’ll send them a screengrab of your progress on a project by a certain deadline.

Schedule a “should-less” day regularly.

Living with ADHD can be exhausting at times. It’s great to strategise and maximise your productivity, but you also want to avoid burnout. Make sure you’re scheduling time—maybe a weekend day, if possible—where you don’t have anything scheduled and you can just be guided by your desires and energy levels.

Take a “should-less” day every now and then; it’s a great way to recharge your batteries. It doesn’t mean you don’t do anything, but it removes the stress of having anything hanging over you. On that day, don’t schedule anything. Instead, let your instincts guide you throughout the day - sleep in, read a book for an afternoon, or take a walk. If you are often hypervigilant about letting people down with ADHD forgetfulness, should-less days help you have a break from accountability for a bit.

Thank you to Isabelle O'Carroll for her excellent advice on managing ADHD.


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