Adult ADHD General Motivation Productivity

Two Techniques for Getting Started and Maintaining Focus

Two of the biggest obstacles for those of us with adult ADHD is the ability to get started on a task and to maintain focus on that task once we’ve started it. If it’s interesting and easy we probably don’t have problems getting started and sometimes our ability to hyperfocus on the task will kick in and we can’t pull ourselves away from the task once we do get started. However, if we don’t find the task interesting, our minds go on the hunt for other more interesting things to occupy it.

I’ve shared about several of my coping mechanisms for motivation and productivity here in the past, such as the First This Then That Technique and How to Power Through Email, Complex Projects, or Boring Tasks by Tracking Your Progress. I still use those techniques. In fact, I’ve discovered that what may work one day may not work another day, so I have to have a toolbox full of techniques so I can find something that works for me at the time. For the past few weeks I’ve been using a couple other techniques that have helped a lot two.

The “I’m Doing…” List
My regular readers know about how much I depend on lists and checklists for lots of things. I do have my regular GTD style next action list that I try to work from and that’s where most of my tasks come from. In the past I would just draw a line thrrough things on the list as I completed them (yes, I use paper for my task lists). I still do this, but now I also keep a 3×5 Post-It Note pad on my desk where I write down what I’m working on at the time. This is my “I’m Doing…” list.

When I select something from my next actions list to work on, I write it on my “I’m Doing…” list. The list stays close to me and in my field of vision. If I get distracted I glance down and see it and remind myself, “Oh yeah, I was ‘Responding to Don’s email about the article.'” When I see that I can usually get back on task. If the thing I got distracted by is actually worth doing later I’ll add it to my task list; either way, I’m usually able to quickly get back to my previous task without having to consciously try to remember what I was doing.

When I finish the task, I mark through it on both lists. If I do have to do something else in the middle I write that task down as the one I’m currently doing (occasionally, but rarely, I may have 3 or 4 things open on my “I’m Doing…” list. I only mark through an item when I’ve finished working on it, so it forces me to get back to what I was doing before. Another benefit of the “I’m Doing…” list is that at the end of the day I can see everything I accomplished in one place. This is encouraging as there is no doubt that I’ve been productive.

Ask Yourself, “If I Had Nothing Else In The World To Do But…, What Would I Do?”
This is a technique I use to help  overcome initial procrastination and overwhelm. Once I write an item on my “I’m Doing…” list, I still have to get started working on it. Sometimes this is easy, but other times it’s like pulling teeth to get myself moving on it–especially if it’s a big task or one that will require a lot of mental effort.

The conventional wisdom is to break these tasks down into smaller tasks, but this is often difficult to do as well. When I experience this, I ask myself, “If I Had Nothing Else In The World To Do But <the task I’m working on>, What Would I Do?” This helps me get into the mindset that it really is the only thing in the world I have to do; then I can usually break through my resistance barrier. Once I’m moving on the task and I develop a little mental inertia, I’m often able to keep working on it with little difficulty. If I get stuck again, I ask myself the question again.

Let Me Know How These Work For You
I hope you will give these two techniques a try and that they work as well for you as they have for me in recent weeks. If you do try them, let me know how they work in the comments. As always, let me know how you’ve modified these techniques to make them work for you as well.

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