As an accountability coach, there's this one question from new clients that keeps popping up like a warm piece of toast: "As someone with ADHD is there any way you can help me improve my productivity?" and the answer is a resounding "YES!". Actually, some of my most productive clients have ADHD! I know, might sound odd but when you really think about it it makes a lot of sense, let me explain.
ADHD can be like owning a super-fast sports car – if you don't know how to drive you'll be caught in an endless bumper car game trying to swerve away from every obstacle that pops up, but once you do learn how to steer that powerful engine, nothing can stop you!
So I'm here to share some tips that work with my clients and that can help you too when unlock your productive superpowers and lead you to success!
And a heartfelt thanks to my wonderful client, Ameya, who inspired this article. You're a shining example of embracing ADHD with determination and a fabulous spirit. I'm so proud of all your achievements!
ADHD, short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is kinda like having a million tabs open in your browser and someone else keeps flipping through them. People dealing with ADHD often experience feelings of innatention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. This can show up as struggling to focus on one thing, feeling overly energetic, or making snap decisions without thinking them through. The causes of ADHD can vary from person to person: it can be a mix of different factors, including factors that happen during pregnancy or birth, as well as some genetic links.
Even though it typically starts in childhood, ADHD doesn't just pack up its bags and leave when you become an adult. Quite the opposite, for many people, it's a lifelong partner, sometimes making stuff like school or work challenging. The good news is that with the right approach, it's manageable and it can also be used to your advantage!
While there's medication to help manage this condition, you can also personalize the approach, which can include therapy, lifestyle changes, and even some cool brain-training exercise- sort of like giving your brain its own personal gym,you just have to look for the right tools!
Why is it hard to get things done when you have ADHD?
Having ADHD is having a tricky relationship with your brain's control center, what we call "executive functions". These functions are the ones that help you do important stuff, like remembering things, switching between tasks, and regulating emotions. When you have ADHD, behavioral inhibition (AKA the ability to pause before reacting) can get a bit wobbly, which can spill over to other executive functions.
For example, working memory, which is like your brain's sticky notes, might not stick as well. Self-regulation (the ability to manage your moods and motivation) could become like trying to tune a finicky radio. Certain functions in our mind, such as internal speech (the little voice in your head guiding you) and reconstitution (breaking down and rebuilding behaviors), might face some difficulties.
Good thing there are strategies to handle these challenges and actually make the most of them!
Positive Psychology in Overcoming ADHD Challenges
Now a little bit about positive psychology (the pillar of our coaching).
Positive psychology is that ray of sunshine in the world of psychology, highlighting strengths and happiness instead of only addressing problems. It's like being on a road trip, where instead of solely focusing on avoiding potholes, you also appreciate the scenery! For ADHD-ers, this can really be a game-changer.
This branch of psychology also emphasizes the importance of fostering positive emotions, which can help with the challenge we've already talked about before - emotional regulation, which is something people with ADHD face. Research shows that positive emotions can broaden your thinking and help you come up with creative solutions, which can be particularly useful for folks with this neurodivergence who may often feel overwhelmed or anxious.
Another effective strategy is pinpointing your strengths and structuring tasks around them. For instance, if you've got ADHD and you're awesome at thinking on your feet, maybe a dynamic job that keeps you on your toes would be more engaging than a slow-paced desk job that has repetitive tasks and the same routine day in and day out.
11 Practical Tips to Stay Productive With ADHD
If you're a fellow ADHD-er and are looking for ways to stay on top of your game and make some actual progress, here's a plethora of options to choose from!
Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution, so feel free to experiment and see which of these ideas and nuggets of wisdom best suit you.
1. Prioritize to Maximize
Alright, time to talk strategy: Prioritizing tasks is like being the conductor of your own train, deciding which stations are essential stops on your daily journey. It's the difference between a wild, off-track adventure and a smooth, well-planned ride.
You see, ADHD brains tends to bounce around between tasks, struggling to discern what's urgent from what's important. By learning to prioritize, you essentially train your brain to recognize which tasks deserve your immediate attention and which can safely be left for later. This helps to reduce the feelings of overwhelm and increase your overall productivity. You start to make smarter choices about where to invest your energy, leading to less exhaustion and more accomplishment.
It's not about visiting more stations; it's about ensuring you hit the right ones. Imagine saving your steam for the big city destinations and allowing the small town stops to wait for a later journey. So, ready to take charge of your train? Choo Choo! Let's get to it!
2. Break Down Tasks
One task at a time
Did you know that multitasking is a very costly technique when it comes to productivity? This is especially true in this context, for people with ADHD tend to struggle with context-switching. So our pearl of wisdom is: break down your tasks. For people with ADHD, long tasks can seem like a huge, insurmountable mountain, so when you break it down into bite-sized pieces, you're creating manageable foothills. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are most tasks. So focus on one specific task, finish it, and then move on to the next task.
Once you've knocked out a task, take a little breather. Now I know, navigating through daily tasks with ADHD can resemble a marathon, where transitioning between tasks can be challenging, but strategically placed rest breaks can help recharge your focus. But follow me in the next paragraph, because what I'm about to say next is what is going to make all the difference here!
'Productive' breaks are confined, either by time (eg: a 10-minute stretching), or task completion (like finishing organizing your desk). However, something you have to be very aware of is 'distraction-prone' breaks, like endless going on your phone to check reels or getting distracted by a show on TV, which are open-ended and can lead to problems focusing. So, make sure to plan your breaks with intent and make the most of your resting time!
ADHD often comes with a strong preference for immediate over future rewards, which can lead to what might seem like procrastination. However, this "live in the moment" mindset can also be a strength! You can leverage this tendency with a few tricks to make boring tasks more stimulating and rewarding. Try turning chores into fun tasks or a game and rewarding yourself with a treat after finishing that report. Harness your brain's need for stimulation, and make it work for you! That way, your brain gets the instant gratification it craves, while you're also making progress on your to-do list. Harness your brain's need for stimulation, and make it work for you!
3. Avoid the trap of perfectionism
Have you ever felt like a squirrel chasing perfection like it's the last acorn of the season, especially when it comes to being productive? It's like trying to keep your room clean during a whirlwind, ain't easy, right? But it's ok, we're in this together!
Here's the thing. Chasing after perfection is like trying to catch a soap bubble – it's alluring but disappears the moment you touch it. With ADHD, we sometimes fixate on that perfect bubble, draining our energy in the pursuit. Instead, let's aim for that 'pretty good' bubble. It doesn't sound as shiny, but it’s real and we can actually hold it. Productivity isn’t about a perfect score, it’s about getting the job done in a sustainable way, and doing it 'pretty well' is absolutely okay!
Ask yourself, is it better to do one thing perfectly and exhaust yourself or to do it 'well enough' and still have energy for a victory dance and the next thing that shows up? Remember, it's not all about being flawless. Having a rigid mindset can make us overlook the small wins and ramp up our stress levels. The secret here is being gentle with yourself, my friend. So, let’s drop the 'P' word (Perfection), and replace it with the three 'P's - Progress, Patience, and Positivity. Keep the ball rolling.
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4. Buffer, the Time Monster Slayer
We've all had that "Oh, just one more thing..." moment, right? It's like grabbing an extra cookie when you're already late for the bus, and then a few crumbs fall down onto the ground and you're not just going to leave it there, right? So you pick up the broom and would you look at that- there's a grain of rice on the floor as well, and little dust in the corner, so since we're here might as well! One thing leads to another and- see the movement on your window? Yup, that's your bus driving passing by.
People with ADHD often feel rushed, and there's a pretty common culprit: the old "One More Thingitis." This is the irresistible urge to squeeze in just one more task, like a bonus round that unexpectedly pops up, paired with the tendency to underestimate how long tasks take. It’s a form of distractibility, where adding that extra something at the last minute can suddenly make us feel like we're running behind, missing that metaphorical bus and sending our carefully-laid plans into a tailspin.
Now, imagine having a personal airbag that inflates right before you're about to hit a deadline wall at full speed. Sounds dreamy? That's exactly what a buffer is in the ADHD management world, they give you extra time to navigate around unexpected roadblocks, reducing stress and boosting productivity.
What can a buffer look like? Well, it could be adding 15 minutes to your plans to leave home, and have some interesting stuff to keep you company during potential downtime. Let's be real about our goals and give ourselves permission for shortcuts. Avoid over-committing and always peep at your schedule before saying "yes."
Also, how about trying to overestimate the time needed for tasks by 50%? It's like making room for a dancing hippo instead of cramming it into skinny jeans. And if you arrive early, well, that's just bonus time for you to chill, catch up on a podcast, or simply enjoy a quiet moment.
5. Clean Spaces, Clear Mind
Imagine a world where your keys never play hide and seek, where deadlines meet you instead of you chasing them, and you have some extra "me" time to spare! Sounds like some fairy tale, right? Nah, it's just the magic of being organized!
Getting our ducks in a row isn't just about decluttering spaces or sorting out schedules. It's like flexing a muscle but for your brain. It boosts your brain focus, curbs impulsivity, and even hikes up academic performance- it's like finding a secret shortcut in a maze of productivity! The best part is, this isn't just a theory, studies show that brushing up on your organizational skills and having a tidy environment (both your work environment and your personal one) can help improve attention and academic performance.
So, ready to tidy up and shake hands with productivity? You might just find your inner Marie Kondo!
Do you know how you're always feeling like you're juggling a million tasks and struggling with catching them all? For someone with ADHD, it's like a constant circus act without applause at the end. That's where structure steps in, like the ringmaster of our chaotic circus! "Structure"? I can almost hear you groan from here- listen, I know it might sound as appealing as eating broccoli for dessert, but stick with me here.
Think of structure as a friendly roadmap guiding us through our day. Instead of aimlessly wandering, we have a plan, something to fall onto! This is like going on a road trip with a GPS, instead of just winging it. With a bit of routine and organization, we're less likely to miss those super-important zoom meetings or forget to pick up the laundry. The more we stick to our roadmap, the better we get at catching those juggling balls and finding time for ourselves as well. And the best part? Building structure frees up time for what fires you up - be it painting, jamming on your guitar, or conquering the next level in your favorite video game.
So next time the juggling act feels like too much and you feel scattered, pause, take a deep breath, and draft a little structure into your day. Your brain will thank you, and you might just squeeze in an extra chapter of that book you've been meaning to finish. Remember, it's all about balance.
7. Reminder System
Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could just get a friendly nudge or wink every time you had something important to do? That's precisely the role a reminder system plays in the life of someone with ADHD, it acts as a gentle poke, ensuring that tasks aren't forgotten and priorities are maintained.
Think of the reminder system as your personalized virtual assistant, always ready to guide you through your day. It could be an app, sticky notes, a digital calendar, or you can write it down in an old-school diary —anything that works for you! The goal is to have a system that keeps your tasks, appointments, and responsibilities organized and easily accessible. This acts as your memory anchor, reducing the pressure on your mind to remember everything. And don't forget, it's not just about setting reminders, but also about following through. It's like setting an alarm to wake up in the morning; it only works if you actually get out of bed!
8. Accountability partner
Nancy Ratey, in her book "The Disorganized Mind: Coaching Your ADHD Brain to Take Control of Your Time", explains the importance of having an accountability partner especially for people with ADHD, as they add a much-needed external structure and motivation (two common blindspots). It's like having a friend to cheer you on during a marathon, or someone to gently nudge you to sit up when you're dozing off during a late-night movie.
The beauty of having someone who's got your back, someone you trust, and who expects you to achieve what you've set out to do gives you this sense of responsibility towards someone else and can really crank up your commitment levels.
Think of it as having a workout partner - you'd feel more obliged to show up at the gym if you know someone was waiting for you, right? Accountability, in this sense, is like that partner, putting just enough pressure and nudging you to stick to your tasks and goals.
It’s about building a positive environment that cheers on your victories and encourages you when things don't go as planned and reminds you of important things —your partner can be a friend, a coach, or a loved one— just someone who's got your back when the chaos of life gets a little too... well, chaotic. With an accountability partner, you're no longer on your solo mission. They are there to provide a friendly "nudge nudge, wink wink" to remind you of your goals and to celebrate with you when you achieve them. So, go on and find your Robin to your Batman, the Gabrielle to your Xena, your... well, you get the idea!
9. Vitality Boost
If your brain is a sports car, where's the fuel? Excellent question! Your diet is the fuel, and the type of fuel matters a lot too! Several studies have shown that a healthy balanced diet can keep ADHD symptoms in check. So, think of loading up the plate like packing a road trip cooler —the right mix can make the journey a lot smoother!
Remember the whole car analogy right at the beginning of the article? Let's carry it through this section! Picture working out like the tune-up to keep that car running smoothly.
It's been found that regular aerobic exercise —we're talking a fun dance-off, a game of tag, or even a brisk walk in the park— can help dial down ADHD symptoms. Plus, it revs up things like focus, motor skills, and even helps with emotional ups and downs. It's like taking your car for servicing but for your brain!
Just like how our bodies need fuel to keep us going, our brains also need to rest to function effectively. So how do we achieve this?
Well, here are some tips that science gives us: keep things steady with a regular sleep/wake schedule - it's like a calendar invite for your brain to switch off, it eventually becomes ingrained in your routine and it'll be so much easier to eventually fall asleep. Turn your bedroom into a zen-like retreat and keep it strictly for snoozing. Oh, and that buzzing device? Give it a break before bedtime. Even a phone needs to charge, right? Keep it light and easy, and you'll be riding the sleep highway before you know it.
You might think this sounds simple but trust me, it's easier said than done. A study found that these sleep hygiene practices cut down the time taken to fall asleep by more than half in around 20% of ADHD patients. Now, isn't that something? So whether you're taking medication or not, if you're having trouble sleeping, give these methods a go.
11. Mindfulness in Stress Management and Focus
Think of ADHD as a radio with all the stations playing at once, loud and clear! Sometimes it can feel impossible to tune into just one channel, right? Well, guess what? Practicing mindfulness is like having a quiet little bubble amidst the chaos of the day, helping you stay focused and giving your mind a well-deserved break from the constant buzz. It's like being a mental DJ, controlling the pace and the noise.
Now, imagine taking out just a few minutes each day for an 8-week mindfulness journey —a mini-vacation for your brain, in the middle of your daily chaos! Not only do you start to feel like the boss of your own mind, but research also shows improvements in attention, mood, and even a reduction in those pesky anxiety and depressive symptoms. So, how about giving your mind a little TLC with some mindfulness? Remember, it's not about getting rid of the radio, it's just about learning how to use that dial. Give it a try, you'll thank yourself later!
ADHD Productivity apps
Now, you didn't think I was really going to list productivity tips and tricks and be out on my merry way, did you? Let's go the extra mile and really gear you up for a turn of a new leaf!
In this article, I talk about some apps you can try in order to have that little extra nudge! From to-dos lists that you can speak to, accountability buddies that quickly nudge you into action, and tasks slayers and rabbits that need to complete your dailies (yes, you hear that correctly), we cover the most pressing needs to help you finally tackle that task or project that has been haunting you.
There you have it! Managing ADHD isn't a walk in the park but remember, it's not a solo journey either. Having ADHD doesn't define your productivity or your potential to accomplish your dreams, it just means you have a unique way of navigating through tasks.
So with this super helpful list of productivity tips and productivity tools, you're on the right path to success, all the while knowing how to manage your energy levels, keep the distractions under control and break things down into smaller tasks so you can tackle one after the other! You've got everything you need to harness that awesome ADHD energy. It's all about trying different things, and discovering what clicks for you, so keep exploring, keep trying, and stay positive. Finding the strategies that work best for you might take time, but it's worth it. Here's to you and your journey of turning challenges into opportunities.
You've got this!