“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. ” Henry David Thoreau
I was working with a person who described his life as a constant state of being overwhelmed. There was work to be done a long list of things that could be, should be done and yet the action needed to make that list go down wasn’t happening, it was overwhelming. Have you experienced a sense of being overwhelmed at some point in your life or is it a daily occurrence?
The sense of being overwhelmed is a characteristic of those who have ADHD/ADD symptoms. Lists become too large, the disorganization too much and finally the feelings of being overwhelmed take over and stop progress. When an ADHD person reaches their tolerance for getting the list done activity halts (the brain can’t focus on just one thing but shifts around and around and around the many things that have to be done and nothing gets done) as the mind tries to make sense of the things that need to get done. It becomes a frustrating and upsetting process to know that there are things to be done and all you see are the things that aren’t getting done. For some people that constant inability to get things done leads to depression or withdrawal. People in work situations people with ADHD experience the stress of meetings, deadlines, and the list of things that should have been done yesterday and can become overwhelmed.
One way to create balance and focus in each day is to break down the list of things that “need” to be done into three categories. Get a sheet of paper and create 5 columns, one for date, a done column and a minimum, acceptable and ideal column.
– Minimum column: What is the minimum that needs to be done today. These are high priority items that need to get done today. If you get these things done today you will have had a “good” day. This is the minimum to get done.
– Acceptable column: If things are going good and you get the things done on the minimum column the items in this column are ways to improve the outcome for the day. It would be great to get these things done and getting these done would allow you to feel successful in terms of accomplishments.
– Ideal column: This column would contain items that you would really like to get done and it would take a day where things just clicked and the mind stayed focused and interruptions were minimal. If you accomplished this amount of work you would have an “outstanding day”. If you don’t get these things done it doesn’t mean the day was bad or not a good day, this is what could get done if your day was ideal.
Each day separate the items into the three columns “Minimum”, “Acceptable” and “Ideal”. If you are successful in getting the work done in any of the columns create some reward mechanism that you will give a sense of accomplishment (healthy snack, a short break, 5 minutes of meditation). Yes, celebrate success. Getting things done is great, and rewarding that effort is an important part of the process as well. Perfectionists would tend to think that the only way to get through the day would be to get all the items on all three lists done and if they didn’t they would believe they didn’t have enough on the list (is that true, perfectionists?).
AIM to make each day ideal but be happy to get the minimum done.
Each day produce this chart and before you start the day define what has to get done vs. what would make an ideal day in terms of output. Make the lists realistic. Estimate the amount of time it will take to do the tasks and then prioritize the tasks in terms of energy required to complete the task. If the task is something you don’t want to do, get that done first. Get the hard things out of the way. Why? Most people have more energy early in the day and have more time to focus. Find a period of time that you can focus 100% of your effort on getting the work done, preferably when there are no distractions. Create a new list each day don’t just pull from the previous day’s list unless it is necessary for those things to get done.
If you happen to have ADHD, getting your day organized is usually one of the biggest challenges. If you just charge off into the day and “do” things you may be doing things that aren’t important. If you just sit there and look at how much has to get done and get overwhelmed then that isn’t going to help you be successful either. For ADHD people an organized assault on each day is necessary. It takes practice and diligence (a difficult commodity to find in the ADHD world) to get through each day.
Now, the list has to be somewhere where it is in your face. It can’t be in a pile or under a pile to be useful. If you are a computer user (and many people are) get that list right in front of you. If you aren’t doing the kind of work that is 80% computing work, get a while board and organize it with the columns that are shown in the picture above. Each day write down the what needs to get done. Make sure the whiteboard is in a place you can see and use easily – make it front in center. If it is in your office make it your task board and don’t cover it over with other materials. Make it your focal point. For children with ADHD, a white board may be useful (unless it turns into an art project) if it is in a place where it can be seen and has all the tasks they need to do for the day.
Making it routine. The hard part for ADHD people is getting lists, or task boards to be part of their regular daily routine. It has to be “fun” in some way and it has to turn into a habit just like many other daily routines.
Start today – start making the big list into smaller bite sized lists and start celebrating success and feeling better about who you are.
“There are times when we each have only enough strength to complete those assignments that we are fully convinced are important.” Goethe