Three Promising Ways to Accomplish Multiple Tasks Every Day with ADHD
Jenna struggles with hoisting herself out of bed and dragging herself into the shower. “Even once I’m out of the shower, all the steps to get ready, from getting dressed to doing my hair and make-up take forever. By the time I finally get to the kitchen to grab something to eat, I’m lucky if I make it out the door on time.”
Bill is daunted by all the cases he needs to prepare that are up for litigation. All he can think about is the legal consequences if he makes any mistakes. Worrying about all the tasks involved to produce a report without any errors makes starting almost impossible.
Luke loves video games. He knows his parents want him to stop playing at an agreed-upon time but finishing up a game is tough, especially when he makes it to the next level.
Jenna, Bill, and Luke are real-life examples (true names not used) of individuals who are having challenges changing direction or focus from one task to another. It's almost like getting stuck in a gear, and you just can’t shift.
ADHD, Multiple Tasks, and Task Switching
To accomplish multiple tasks, we need to complete numerous changes from one state or condition to another. Task switching requires a change of direction or focus between multiple tasks, often to accomplish a larger goal.
These are the multiple daily shifts in chores or responsibilities to complete multiple tasks, that tend to be tough to accomplish for individuals with ADHD, such as getting ready for work, moving from one situation or place to another, starting a multi-tiered project, or stopping an activity you love so you can do something you must.
Here’s how the following executive functions are involved when it comes to task switching:
Task Activation: The ability to start tasks; knowing what to do when, and in what order.
Sustaining and Shifting Focus: knowing what to focus on; when to lock into or move off a task or chore.
Regulating Alertness and Processing Speed: the need for steady stimulation when performing tasks; taking a long time to perform a variety of tasks; or, having a tough time slowing down and regulating oneself during tasks or chores.
Emotion Management: having low frustration tolerance for change; being easily taken over by intense emotions with inappropriate responses and/or oversensitivity to change.
Memory Management: holding information top of mind while working on something else can impact the accomplishment of a task or multiple tasks in a sequence; or, getting emotionally stuck on one emotion (feeling hurt or disappointed), while forgetting about other existing emotions (love or excitement) when approaching various tasks or projects, or “must do’s.”
Monitoring Action: knowing when to act and when to stop an action; being able to inhibit impulses.
- Adapted from research by Dr. Thomas E. Brown, A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults: Executive Functioning Impairments (2013).
Here are three promising ways to accomplish multiple tasks every day and celebrate your ADHD.
Use An Anchor To Get Started
You have every intention to get started. You set a plan, committed your list to your calendar, even set alerts to remind yourself to begin. Yet, when the time comes to get going, you can be inclined to say, “I’ll get to that later.”
There doesn’t seem to be a “do it now” button motivating you to get started. Yet, when you’re used to having fear playing a role in getting things done at the last minute, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol trick the brain into feeling “motivated,” at a cost to peace of mind.
• Find your anchored routine task. You may feel like there’s nothing you do as a routine, but you may be surprised. Waking up every day is something you do routinely, you may brush your teeth every day, eat one meal consistently, take your meds every day, or feed your pet.
• Decide on the set of tasks you’d like to work on. Perhaps it's getting ready in the morning to get to work on time. It takes a while to get to the shower once you get out of bed, so you're targeting getting into the shower.
• To find that first starting task or step, find the easiest, most laughingly doable step, that is so easy, it’s almost laughable. You decide our most laughably doable task is to turn the shower water on.
• Attach your desired starting task to that already established anchored task. For example, you know you take your medication first thing each day, every day, which you’ve identified as your anchor. You decide you want to take a shower every day after you take your medication (anchor). Once the water is going, you feel more ready to get in. You know the rest!
• Set up your environment as your anchor. Reinforce setting yourself up for a smooth transition into work by having what you need in your workspace. For example, you may enjoy getting started with a cup of coffee, a cozy blanket on your lap, and a heater or fan on your desk or table before you dive into your work.
• Mix up your workspace. The ADHD brain loves novelty. Experiment with changing things up from time to time to keep things from getting boring, such as adjusting room temperature, changing where you sit, your desk surface, or your lighting. Observe any changes in your motivation.
Find Your Optimal Rewards
It may seem awkward at times, but like it or not, the ADHD brain craves rewards. This has to do with the irregular availability of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for feeling satisfaction and pleasure for accomplishments.
Using the examples at the beginning of this article, Jenna’s reward for moving through the tasks in her morning routine could be to get to work on time, and Bill’s reward with his litigation cases could be to have a solid argument for his report. Jenna and Bill could also reward themselves through their multiple tasks and steps to keep them on track.
Luke also needs a reward, which may seem counterintuitive. Luke is having too much fun to choose “boring” sleep, chores, or dinner, compared to playing games. He may need another reward to help him stop.
• Create a list of meaningful rewards to celebrate accomplishing tasks.
• Ask your child what rewards may be meaningful for them. Create limits around online and offline rewards.
• Use your interests as rewards to inspire yourself and your family. For example, you might want to put on your favorite music or podcast while you’re getting ready for work or cleaning up. You can also designate certain songs or music only to be used for certain tasks.
• Be sure to give yourself permission to reward yourself and celebrate your wins large and small!
Have a Plan to Stop
You’ve invested time and energy in getting started, maybe had some stops and starts, and you're finally in the flow. Your brain is engaged in solving a problem and writing out all your ideas (before you forget) and - bing - the timer rings. Wait – “What?” Your brain tells you, “No way, I’m not stopping now!” Hours later you got your whole project completed, but you worked through dinner with your family, the laundry is still in the washing machine, you have documents to review for tomorrow, and it’s 3 am!
• Get clear on any either/or and black and white thinking. What would be another option rather than getting the whole project done in one sitting? Planning an outline? Bullet pointing?
• Related to getting ready for work, time yourself for each step of getting ready and get clear on how long each step takes. (In Luke’s case, how long does each game typically take? Is there time to play another game? This takes trial and error, so manage your expectations.)
• Try the two-to-five-minute rule. What small task can you accomplish in two-to-five minutes so that you can take a break but task-switch in between?
• Getting physical and moving for two minutes can fortify your executive functioning and focus. Rather than losing your flow, it can strengthen your ideas. Furthermore, rest acts as a filter in our brains.
• Change around where you’re sitting or working. Once you get to a different setting, this acts as a physical cue to help you stop and/or switch to another task.
• Self-reflect and re-evaluate. Ask yourself: “Is this what I want/need to be doing now? Similarly, is this what I want/need to be starting now so I don’t have to be worried about stopping? For example, related to Luke and his video games, there can be discussions around optimal times for playing games, to set him up for success in stopping at the required time.
• Eliminate distracting apps and notifications during certain times by using the Focus interface on your smartphone.
• Use An Anchor To Get Started
• Find Your Optimal Rewards
• Have A Plan To Stop
Try with some or all of these and let me know how it goes for you!
PS. Need more assistance completing your multiple daily tasks to you can accomplish what's important to you?
Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about a game plan you can put into place right away!