The secret to being productive and focused, especially when you have ADHD, is to love what you do; and love the way you do it.
Those of us with ADHD have an interest-driven brain. It’s so much easier to initiate projects and tasks, sustain our attention and complete them when they are meaningful and stimulating to us. That’s how our brains are wired. If “the thing” isn't appealing and appropriately challenging to us, the best time and task management systems in the world will be very difficult to use. It becomes an emotional, physical and intellectual battle to “do the thing.”
For example, if your task is to create content for social media, first get clear on why and what you are doing. The reason, and meaning, can be that you are serving your clients, peers, industry or community by sharing your knowledge. Next comes the how: Know that people with ADHD are verbal processors—we think best by talking out loud. Therefore, brainstorm with a friend or colleague, have someone ask you questions about your topic, record it on video, use the video instead of an article and/or use the transcript as the article.
When you need to do things you may not love, the trick is to find ways to do them that you do enjoy. William Dodson MD, originally came up with the framework that interest, novelty, challenge and urgency are four powerful ADHD brain motivators.
- Interest: We are creative people. Colored markers, post-it notes and sparkly journals aren’t just for kids. They can make OUR to-do lists snap, crackle, pop and get done.
- Novelty: Switch it up! Use a shiny new pen or pencil, work out of a different coffee shop or create a special playlist for the project.
- Challenge: Gamifying tasks is a proven hack for ADHD. Estimate how much time you think it will take and record how much time it actually takes. See what you can do in 5 minutes. Give yourself gold stars, or a treat, for accomplished tasks.
- Urgency: A less gentle, but effective technique is to set a hard external deadline to force us to focus during a specific period of time and do the thing. You get really efficient when it’s due in eight hours—you don’t have the option to get distracted.
Know that it will take time and trial and error to figure out what works. Try each system as an experiment. Then do a Metacognition Exercise: what worked, what didn’t, what can you do differently next time and how you will remember to use the new systems. You’ll have to have to try different tools and find what your brain responds to best.
Above all, choose the fun one! Whatever tickles your dopamine and gets it flowing is the one that will get you results by working smarter, not harder; more efficiently, enjoyably and with less stress. You are uniquely you. And it is SO much more fun and interesting than everyone being the same!
Here at Opal, we believe that every one of us deserves control over our lives. Check out Focus Coaching to stay focused and productive.