Having ADHD means our brains work a little differently from others. Sometimes, we feel like we need to force ourselves to be like other people, so we try to make our brains work in a “normal” way. At The Center for Living Well with ADHD, we stress the importance of working with your ADHD brain instead of against it. The things that work for other people don’t always work for us, and that’s ok! Here are a couple of very common things we see when coaching ADHD teens and adults:
The Challenge: I can/will do it later
Almost all my clients tell me that they want to stop procrastinating. They are constantly putting things off until the last minute, and by then they are either barely getting the job done (and not doing it up to their standards) or they are freezing and/or disassociating and not getting it done at all. My clients see that other people can set things aside and come back to them without leaving things to the eleventh hour, and they feel like their brains should work that way too.
But for those of us with ADHD, putting things off doesn’t serve us because we’re not doing it with a plan or intention. We’re usually procrastinating because we don’t have enough dopamine to complete the task, so we put it off and seek a dopamine boost instead, but then we don’t come back to the task once we’ve met that need for more dopamine.
Try Instead: Dopamine Planning and Later is a Lie
Make your dopamine work for you! Give yourself dopamine throughout the day by doing things like taking walks, watching short videos, and social interaction. Track your dopamine to build your day around peaks and valleys or allow for dopamine-seeking behaviors in controlled contexts. For instance, give yourself 30 minutes of game time, and use a Time Timer to help you transition back to work.
When you have the time, get things done when they occur to you. Now will always be the best time to complete the task. And for when you just don’t have the time to complete them, have a set block of time set aside each day for “popups” — those things that just pop up in your day. Write the task down when it occurs to you, then complete it during your “popup” time. And make sure to schedule that block of time for when you know you’re likely to have a dopamine peak!
The Challenge: Everyone else does it then
Your day and your mood are likely subject to dopamine waves that are very different from a neurotypical person. Doing mundane simple tasks during low dopamine periods will often feel like pulling teeth, whereas doing them during high dopamine periods feels much more manageable. These waves will vary from person to person and may even mean that your dopamine peaks are at odd hours. You may think you’re supposed to do dishes each night right after dinner, but if your dopamine is low at that time, it’s going to be extremely difficult to get that task done. Society tells us we’re supposed to do certain chores at certain times, but our ADHD brains don’t work that way, and trying to match your schedule to a neurotypical person will just leave you feeling stressed and defeated.
Try Instead: Let Your Brain Decide
Do things when your brain wants to, not when you think you’re “supposed to.” As adults, we are trained to believe a series of imaginary rules, like that being a night owl is some sort of moral failing, laundry must be done on Sundays, dishes are done every evening after dinner and before bed, one must shower first thing in the morning or just before bed.
Do what works for your brain when it works for your brain. The important thing is that the task gets done, not what time or what day you do it. Be curious about your ADHD, and how it shows up in how you experience your day-to-day ebbs and flows of dopamine. You’ll have a much easier time doing mundane tasks and chores if you let your brain decide when and how to get them done.
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach