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Specialisterne Foundation is a non-for-profit organization that works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges. The foundation owns Specialisterne Denmark and the Specialisterne concept and trademark.

In Part 1 of Completing To-do Lists as an ADHDer, I discussed the difficulties many ADHDers face when we try to tackle to-do lists, and how to get started prioritizing tasks. The reality is though, we can make list after list, but if we can’t seem to stay on task, all of our list-making and scheduling efforts go to waste.

There are a couple of key questions ADHDers can ask ourselves to help us stay on track when we set out to start tasks.

What would make me want to do this task?

Look at your to-do list and ask yourself which task you feel most inclined to procrastinate on. Then ask yourself what you need to make it feel more doable. 

For example, I write best when I’m listening to music in the evenings, but when I’m doing something that involves data entry or things that are a bit more rote, I need space to stand up and move around and prefer it be done mid-day. 

It helps to have these parameters in place so that I don’t have to shift my focus to other things once I start. Sometimes this can mean starting a task one day and carrying it into the first thing the next day, or the earliest it can be squeezed in before the deadline.

Why do you want to procrastinate? Get specific.

On the surface, it may seem like ADHDers procrastinate because we’re uninterested or bored. It can help to stop and take note when we feel inclined to procrastinate on a particular task. What is it about that task? Do you feel anxious? Do you have a sensory aversion to something in the environment? Once you can pinpoint what it is that’s keeping you from engaging in a task, you can brainstorm some supports to help you address it.

Procrastination can sometimes come from feeling overwhelmed.

It’s not uncommon for the brains of ADHDers to jump all over the place when faced with a task. Our brains may skip directly to step 5 of a task without any regard to the first four steps. We then inevitably become overwhelmed, because step 5 feels a lot bigger right out of the gate than if we had worked our way up to it. Taking a step back, reviewing the task, and evaluating where we need to start can go a long way.

Procrastination can also come from being low in energy or ‘spoons.’

This one can be tricky, because we might procrastinate from being low on energy, but we also need energy to push through the procrastination. For ADHDers, it can help to reward ourselves first. Now, I know this sounds counterproductive, but it really can be helpful to refill our cups before starting tasks. Because of the way dopamine works ADHD brains, giving our brains what they need first actually gives us a greater chance of completing the task.

It’s okay to trade tasks.

If you find that you’re unable to work on the task you initially planned, it’s okay to switch it out for a different task, if that means you get something done. You can pull something else from your list and move your original task to a different day. 

It can be helpful to check in with yourself and see if you can pinpoint what it is about this particular task or this moment that’s keeping you from moving forward, so you can have supportive strategies in place for next time. Then, you can switch tasks.

Meet yourself where you are.

It can help to start with the task you have the most energy available for. After all, it’s better to complete something than getting stuck before you can get started and ending up doing nothing. Even if it means starting with a task further down on your priority list. Often, once we’re able to check something off our list, it can give us the boost we need to get a bit more done than we had anticipated.

Use reminders to keep track of what needs to get done.

Reminders can be helpful if you struggle to recall what’s on your calendar. Planners, phone alarms, and electronic calendars can all be helpful, depending on individual needs and preferences. Electronic planners and calendars work best for me, because I don’t have to try and remember where I put the physical items. Other people find that physical items work better, so they have a concrete reminder, and it isn’t as much ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ If physical items work better (or even for electronic items) but you forget to actually look at them, setting alarms on your phone can go a long way. It can help to experiment over time with what may work best.

This can all sound daunting, and it might seem like a waste of time up front (time you don’t feel like you have). After all, ADHDers often struggle with time management, right? We need to be working on all of the things we’ve procrastinated on. But after a few times of trying these methods, you can develop workarounds that best support your individual needs. Overall, feeling more organized can help to bring about a greater sense of calm and productivity.