The word deadline dates back to the Civil War. At the notorious Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia, a line was drawn 17 feet inside the perimeter fence. Guards were authorized to shoot any prisoner who crossed the line.
Adults and children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) don't exactly need a gun pointed at us to get us going on projects. But many of us do need organization help because we have a hard time with time management — especially with difficult or boring projects. This is certainly true for me. Take this column; I assured my editor that I'd have no trouble getting it done on time, and yet the more I thought about it, the harder it seemed to write. So here I am, one day before my deadline, and I'm just now starting.
I've had similar difficulties in trying to complete my master's thesis (after many years as an ADD coach, I returned to school three years ago). Obviously, it's not easy to write a thesis, especially when your entire work week is spent seeing clients. But to make matters worse, I was given only a suggested deadline. I could take as long as I wanted, as long as I kept paying my tuition bills.
You can guess what happened. The suggested deadline — last October 17 — came and went, and I had gotten nowhere. Research was no problem, because I enjoyed it. But sitting down to write was no fun. I knew so much about my topic that I felt overwhelmed.
Three months ago, I decided it was time to buckle down and devote every weekend to writing. The first weekend passed, and I still didn't have anything on paper. I did have a spotless kitchen, an empty laundry basket, and a well-stocked pantry. The ensuing weekends weren't much more productive. Sometimes I just gave up and went to the movies. It was torture. How would I ever finish?
Last month, I hired someone to watch over me. That's right, a nanny. I gave her strict instructions. She was to arrive at 8:00 a.m., fix breakfast for me, and make sure I was at my desk by 9 o'clock. There was to be no radio, no TV, no telephone — and no e-mail. At 10:30, I was allowed a 15-minute break to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water (no soda!), and grab a carrot, yogurt, or some other healthful food. At 12:15 p.m. sharp, she was to have my lunch ready. At 1:15, I had to be back at my desk, where I was to work until 5:00.
One last instruction to my nanny was for her to call me at 10 p.m. to remind me to go to bed. Just about the only thing I didn't ask her to do was to shoot me if I tried to leave my desk between breaks. I cannot tell you what a difference she made. After months of procrastination, I am now close to finishing my thesis. I've completed four drafts and am halfway through my final draft. I'm confident that I will finish before the current quarter is over.
Taking twice as long to do my thesis as my classmates makes me feel different, but I have to remind myself that I am different. After all, who but an ADDer would think to hire a nanny?
Here's my 10-point plan for meeting all of your deadlines, big and small:
1. Don't bite off more than you can chew
Consider how much time is available in your busy schedule, and plan accordingly. If you take on a new project, you may have to cut back on other activities in order to finish it on time.
2. Post your deadlines where you will see them
This will remind you to use your time wisely. For my course work, I highlighted the syllabus and put it on the wall over my desk. For the thesis, I created a computer screensaver that read "February 26 or Bust."
3. Break big projects into smaller projects, and assign a deadline for completing each
Most of the time, we're given a deadline for the date by which the entire project has to be completed. To keep yourself on track, mark the date by which you should complete one-quarter of the project, one-half, and so on. Those dates will alert you to problems while there's still time to play catch-up.
This article comes from the April/May 2006 issue of ADDitude.