A story I often tell my clients is about how I wrote papers in college. I would get the assignment and then worry about it every day but never put any words down on paper. Then, at about 8 p.m. the night before the paper was due, I would inevitably be panicking so much that I would call my mom crying, telling her I was hopeless and would never get it done. She would calmly listen and ask me questions about my paper, reflecting my ideas back to me and asking for more explanation or details in areas that were unclear to her.
And wouldn’t you know it, Every. Single. Time. I would start writing my paper right after I got off the phone with her. Do you see my secret recipe for starting papers? It wasn’t opening my laptop and staring at a blank page; it was talking through my ideas out loud with someone else first. As people with ADHD, we can have a hard time thinking through complex ideas silently in our heads, so we tend to process and actually do our best thinking out loud verbally. My panic about the deadline drove me to do the thing that actually worked for me.
Another example: I once had a client who was moving and was having difficulty packing up boxes after work in the weeks leading up to her move. I asked what her last move had been like, and she said she “procrastinated” so much on packing that she eventually had to take an entire day off from work just to finish it. She was so worried that was going to happen again. She had already scheduled to take the day before her move off.
Do you see her secret recipe for moving? It wasn’t packing up bit by bit in the evenings after she was already exhausted from work. It was clearing an entire day so she could have a singular focus (packing) over a long period of time (10-12 hours) without interruption. She wasn’t “procrastinating”; she was trying to pack in a way that didn’t (and never had) work for her.
It takes effort for ADHD brains to get in the “flow,” but once we’re there, we tend to keep going! By taking the day off, this client only had to expend effort once to get in the flow, making this the most efficient way for her to get packing done!
Once again, the critical part was her response to the deadline, not the deadline itself.
I had another client who was getting so frustrated working on a PowerPoint that he was ready to throw his laptop out the window. Finally feeling he was at the end of his limit for staring at the screen, he printed each slide on a separate piece of paper and spread them out around himself in a circle while sitting on the ground.
He noticed he was easily able to see the overall flow/theme/storyline of the presentation, which had previously been hard for him. Referring to a particular slide took only a turn of his head; when on the computer, he would have to scroll looking for the relevant slide and then would forget what it looked like when he went back to the slide he was working on.
Creating this presentation on a computer was actually a working memory nightmare for this client. Once he had them visually printed out, he could compare slides side by side and quickly finished mocking up the rest of the slides on paper. With the paper versions to refer to, going back to the computer to create the PowerPoint was a breeze. He had found his secret recipe.
Do you see in each of these scenarios the deadline didn’t make the person do it? The deadline either made the person panic or get so frustrated that they finally gave in to do it in the way that actually worked for them.
What can you learn about your own secret recipes? Have you ever noticed what a deadline “forces” you to do to get something done? Do you clear a bunch of time and tell everyone not to bother you? Do you throw your phone in the other room so it’s not distracting? Do you finally ask for help or verbally process your ideas with a coworker, spouse, or friend?
If you’d like to learn more about yourself and your own secret recipes, contact one of our coaches for a free consultation about how coaching can help you live easier and get things done in a way that actually works for you.
Riley Karbon, PCAC
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach