Many of the tips you see for upping productivity are spot on—for someone. But most of this advice is written with the more neuro-typical person in mind. For example, making a list is a great way to keep track of stuff but what if you tend to lose the list?
Here are 4 instances when standard productivity advice won’t work and how to change it so that it will.
- “Don’t Check E-mail First Thing in the Morning”
The logic here is that taking 10 minutes to check your e-mail is a gate way drug that will lead to replying to e-mail, looking at the news headlines or the real baddie—checking your favorite social media site–before realizing it’s been an hour or two and your new day is off to a rough start. If you are ADHD, getting on the computer without a plan for getting off can be a particularly slippery slope.
But if there might be important information in your e-mail that you can’t afford not to check, then this advice isn’t realistic.
If you must check your e-mail, be aware of how the draw of the computer affects your ADHD brain and have a plan in place in advance to bracket your e-mail time.
For example, if you must check your e-mail, decide what your policy will be if replying is necessary. Will you allow extra time for brief responses or reply later? If realistically you need 15 minutes to check, keep a timer on your desk and set it. When the timer goes off after 15 minutes, make a conscious decision to walk away from the computer.
- “Do the Hardest Task First”
Faced with the prospect of a hard task can be anxiety provoking and for a person with ADHD it can actually reduce dopamine levels making initiating action on that task nearly impossible.
Example: If you’ve already done the simpler, more fun parts of drafting a proposal and nothing is left to do but the hard part, attempting to bring yourself to do that may have you anxiously pacing the floor while nothing gets done.
Doing a quick, simple, more fun task first can help you get moving in the right direction. Review all the great work you’ve done so far and catch some momentum that way, or revisit the initial planning stages when the project was fresher and catch a brain boost that way.
Even a task that isn’t thrilling, if it gets you moving, is a step in the right direction. Be smart about which quick, simple task you choose.
- “Make a Master To-Do List”
Making a great big “to do” list is like mixing concrete. It can be extremely useful but must be managed carefully—you want to create a walkway for yourself, not concrete boots. Pages of to-dos are likely to generate a sense of hopelessness or overwhelm especially for the ADHD brain.
Break down “to-dos” into stages starting with increments of time as short as this morning or the next 24 hours. Create a separate, longer list for anything else that’s lurking on your mind. When deciding what to put on your short list, pulling items off your longer list will help you make progress today and long term.
Set a time each day to consider just the short list. One way to do that is to keep the short list in a daily agenda. This way you can also map out when you will accomplish that day’s to-dos and keep your plans realistic.
Store all lists in one central place and, importantly, where you will see them!
- “Stop Multitasking”
Generally, quickly splitting and shifting focus, or multitasking, means that nothing is getting your full attention, so there are times when this is good advice.
But the ADHD brain seems to be built for multitasking. For some with ADHD this is a strength on which successful careers are built. These careers also often involve high levels of adrenaline that ratchets up the executive function like working on the trading floor of the stock exchange, in an airport control tower or some types of journalism. If you have ADHD and feel that multitasking is a marketable strength, then this advice is clearly not for you—at least not all the time.
The key here is to have a keen understanding of how your mind works and to be able to tweak advice to suit your unique needs.