Getting Things Done Without Getting Bogged Down

What's keeping you from crossing things off your to-do list? The biggest productivity problems ADHDers struggle with — and solutions to accomplish more daily.

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Start it, finish it, move forward. You can do it.

— Judith Kolberg

Project Impossible? Blow it up, break it down.

If you have a project to do — planning a wedding, say — instead of breaking down the tasks, try blowing things up first. Place different sticky notes randomly on a wall or bulletin board. It doesn’t matter what categories they’re in, the sequence, or the priority. Get it out of your head and onto paper. If you don’t have a wall, do it on your computer.

> Now look for things that have a deadline. If you’re planning a wedding, you have to book the venue first. You want to first deal with things that could screw up the event if you miss a due date.

> Look for different ways to break things down. There will be stuff you have to delegate, things that have to happen in sequence, or things that are related by function.

> Now that you’ve broken things down, you need to see the big picture again. Organizers advise their clients to break things down, but ADHDers lose the big picture while doing this. You need to visualize the whole project again.


Every day we are confronted with endless information, interruptions, distractions, work, and other stuff. All of this butts up against the one thing that remains finite — time. Getting things done is problematic.

Spending time on the Web is a temptation for everyone, especially ADHDers, but it gets in the way of getting things done. The Internet provides volumes of information for solving a problem, satisfying a curiosity, or researching a topic. ADHDers get caught up in information hunts and the excitement of finding new things on the Web. We need to put brakes on our searches.

One ADHD client spent as much time researching how to get grass stains out of her child’s jeans as she did finding a summer camp for her to attend. She learned to stop “going deep and wide” on every problem. Now she spends less time on low-consequence items, like grass-stained jeans, and more time on finding items like ADD-friendly breakfasts that are high in protein.

Here are some of the biggest challenges that ADHDers struggle with daily, and my solutions for not letting them prevent you from getting things done.


Information comes at us all the time, so capturing it becomes more important than ever. We used to say, “Write it down, write it down,” but in the era of too much information, there are better ways to write things down — besides writing on your hand.

If you need to save verbal information, little bits of advice, websites people throw at you, or things you want to remember, call it into your voicemail and leave yourself messages. You can also use the recorder on your smartphone. Another option is to convert verbal information into text, using an app like Dragon Dictation.

One app I love is Instacorder. You push the record button and leave a voice message or hit the camera icon to take a photo, which is sent to your e-mail address. You can also print out text messages if you need them. My favorite way to do that is by using an app called Treasure My Text, which was recommended to me by an ADHD client. This app stores your text messages online.


Distractibility and executive function challenges prevent ADHDers from completing chores and tasks. I recommend that you finish something — a small task or even something larger that you were working on yesterday — early in the day. The truth is that there will be seven new tasks for every one task you finish. To keep yourself in balance, strive for a realistic ratio between closings and openings. When you get closure on something, it makes the rest of the day meaningful. You can say, no matter how the rest of the day goes, that you finished a task.

If interruptions — a phone call or a request from your spouse or child — distract you from a task, hold on to a physical artifact (or keep one in your line of sight) to remind you of what you were doing. It will focus your attention more quickly, when you return to the task. An unopened envelope may remind you that you were opening mail before you got interrupted. A Post-It note, even if it’s blank, will remind you to return to what you were doing before.


If you’re putting off cleaning out a closet — is there anything more boring? — think about what you’ll gain. Better yet, write the gains down — reclaiming money you left in those handbags, making the space to see what you actually own, getting a tax deduction for donating clothes to charity are all ways to invest yourself in the outcome.


An old organizational standby is to schedule tasks. You have your to-do list, but you have to link getting things done to committing a time to do them. It’s important to make a list of things to do, but it’s equally important to enter your to-do list into your calendar.

A couple of my clients with ADHD have recommended an app called Coolendar. This is a calendar that incorporates a to-do list into a schedule. It has extra space so you can capture random information that comes at you during the day.

If you make a to-do list only, you have about a 40 to 50 percent chance of doing the tasks, but if you schedule a task, the chance increases to 70 percent or so.


Do different kinds of things in different kinds of places. It’s an ADD-friendly way to optimize your focus and attention. My client, Marsha, gave up doing her taxes at home. It was a setup for failure. From April 1 through April 3, she moves to a local hotel. She hauls all of her records into the room with her, logs on to her laptop, and spreads the receipts and papers on the bed and on the floor. She stays there until her taxes are done. She breaks for exercise and to relax in the pool. Changing the environment made a big difference to her.

I know some ADDers who go nuts in the quiet of a library. They would be more productive at a place like Starbucks, with some background noise. Brainstorming a new marketing plan requires a different environment from a hotel room or a conference hall. You might need a lot of windows, a place to pace, space to put stuff up on the wall. Entering your data into Quicken could be done in a small, tight, quiet spot with no windows. Different tasks need different levels of focus.


It’s important to organize a support team. Sari Solden, author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder, says, “Expand your idea of organizational help to include other people.” Stop trying to be an ordinary person who keeps it together in the same way that non-ADD people do. Support might mean another set of hands, someone to keep your morale up, or someone to function as a passive body double.

A body double is somebody who is physically present as you do a task but doesn’t do the task with you. The body double is the person to whom you say, “Here’s what I’m doing now. This is what I’m concentrating on.” Your body double anchors you to the task at hand. This has to be somebody who is non-judgmental, somebody who is not going to say, “Throw it all away.”

Next: More Problems and Solutions

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TAGS: ADHD Time Management, Deadlines and Procrastination, Get Organized at Work, Focus at Work

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