Getting things done has always been a struggle for me. I have pretty intense adhd and keeping up with things has been difficult. I spent years trying to write books and not being able to, years trying to keep up with housework and home improvement products and getting halfway through and just … not finishing. My life was chaos.
But somewhere in the last three years or so, a miracle happened. Actually, it wasn’t a miracle. It was Adderall. But it wasn’t just Adderall. That helped, but I also took the time to learn the way my brain worked, and how to hack it to get things done. I was thinking about this the other day. In the last three years I have written six books, published three, and completely reorganized my house. Not only that, I have kept up with things ever since. I’m as surprised as anyone.
The only thing I can say to people who have similar struggles is that you have to figure out the way that works for you. That will be different for everyone, but there are a few tips I’ve developed that other people might find useful. So, I’m sharing those 7 tips here. They work for me. Your mileage may vary.
- Make a List. The list should not be too long, but you have to organize yourself somehow. Do not simply make a list in your head. Write it down (then pin it to the wall so you don’t lose it). Or use an app. I personally like to use my task list in my google calendar. But the list needs to be of small, actionable items. Don’t put Clean Room on the list, break that down into small steps. Something like 1. Put laundry in basket. 2. Throw away all the trash. 3. Make bed etc. Enjoy that sweet, sweet, hit of dopamine you get when you cross things off your list. ON my google task list, they vanish from the home screen, but remain, crossed out, on the day page. So, at the end of the week, I have some sort of record of what I spent my time doing, which is good for my self-esteem.
- Assemble your tools. I know this is difficult, but you really need to take five minutes at the beginning of your task to get together all the supplies you’re going to need. Having to pause to go get something in the middle is just asking to get lost on a bunny trail. This also pre-loads most of the executive functioning you’re going to need to do so you can kind of go on auto-pilot. In the room cleaning example, this would mean grabbing all your cleaning supplies, a trash bag, the laundry hamper, and probably the vacuum cleaner before you begin
- Pair the task with something fun. I love to listen to podcasts and audio books while I clean. This keeps me on track, and then I want to keep going because I’m enjoying what I’m listening to. This is an awesome way I can trick myself into doing something boring. Music works for some people, or even watching a TV show while you fold laundry or something like that. Neurotypicals will tell you that it’s best to limit distractions, but that is a trap. Do whatever it takes to keep from getting bored with what you’re doing. If I have nothing interesting to distract me, my asshole brain will absolutely create a distraction. Keep the asshole happy. Enjoying a small, manageable distraction while you work will absolutely help you to focus.
- Time Yourself. Keep track of how long it takes you to complete a task, then try to beat that time. This is called gamification, and it will supply dopamine, and it will do it at the most important time, in the middle of the task.
- Under no circumstances take a break. This is probably the advice the experts will disagree with the most. Maybe it’s just me, but if I take a break in the middle of a task, I will absolutely not finish that task. “Just a quick break” is a trap. Now, some jobs are too big to work this way, usually big jobs with a lot of steps. But if you must take a break, do it between mini-tasks and have a clear place to restart that you can do without too much thinking about it. Neurotypicals will tell you to take frequent breaks, and I’m like, yeah Francis that sounds great but once I stop a task it trips into my mind to DONE and it is horrifically difficult to restart. So, reduce the time you spend off task because it’s harder for people like us to get back on task.
- Have an accountability partner. This is someone you will share your goals with, and who will check in with you to see how you’re doing. This person should be someone you trust like a friend, and probably not your parent or romantic partner. You will probably be annoyed with this person at times, so keep it someone neutral. But knowing you’re going to have to explain why you stopped coding to play Skyrim for three hours will help you not do that.
- Forgive yourself and celebrate the progress you make. Even if that progress is not what you hoped for. You are doing the best you can and making progress at all is the victory state when your brain is an asshole.
OK, so those are some tips that worked for me. Don’t feel like you have to follow them exactly. Do what works for you. But I’m right about the breaks, trust me.