How to Tackle that Huge Project -- Now!

Large, multi-step projects are overwhelming to people with ADHD. Here's how to tackle them successfully.

ADD/ADHD Time Management ADDitude Magazine

Sample Action Plan

As your plan takes shape, jot down each step in your day planner. The action plan for this project might look something like this:

  • Day One: Order and schedule delivery of new treadmill.
  • Day Two: Schedule installation of the new jack. This date may need to be for the day after the old treadmill is removed, so the technician can reach the wall behind it.
  • Day Three (7:00-9:30 p.m.): Take a look at the desk and decide how many bins you'll need. Dust and clean out the desk. Make a list of additional supplies you need.
  • Day Four: Set aside time to clean out the laundry room closet where you'll keep the new treadmill, which will be delivered tomorrow.
  • Day Five: The new treadmill is delivered and the old one is taken away. Move the desk into the bedroom. Bins and power strip arrive, and you set them up.
  • Day Six: The jack is installed. Move the desk into the "mini-office" area. Set up computer and get to work!

It's not unusual for people with ADHD to have trouble completing large-scale projects. You're eager to get going, but the project is too big to do all at once -- so you set it aside in frustration. Or maybe the sheer number of steps required to finish the project leaves you feeling overwhelmed. Sound familiar?

Recently, I received an e-mail from a woman asking for my help. She wrote that she wanted to create a "mini-office" in a corner of her bedroom but was having trouble finishing the project. Actually, she was having trouble getting started.

The project seemed simple enough. All she had to do was move a desk into the room and hook up her computer to the Internet. But roadblocks kept popping up. First, to make room for the desk, she realized she would have to move a treadmill that had been in her bedroom (mostly unused) for years. The treadmill seemed too big to fit elsewhere in the house, and was too heavy for her to move by herself.

Second, there was only one cable jack in her bedroom, and her TV was connected to it. So she would need to have a new jack installed. Finally, she would have to buy bins or baskets to hold her papers, but she didn't know which kind or size to buy. It didn't help matters that she always felt intimidated when she was in those cavernous office supply stores. 'There're just too big, with too many choices," she wrote.

Well, let me assure you -- as I assured her -- that it is possible to complete these kinds of projects. It all comes down to setting priorities and making a plan:

Choose a single project to work on.

What's the most important project facing you right now? What would give you the most satisfaction to complete? What absolutely needs to get done? Tackle that one, and let other tasks and projects 'slide" for a while.

Create an action plan.

Going over and over the steps in your head only makes the project seem bigger than it is. Instead, break the project into small, doable tasks and write down exactly what's needed to get each one done. As soon as you figure out the date on which each task will be done, mark the dates in your day planner (see 'Sample Action Plan," below).

If you were the one trying to move a treadmill and set up an office in your bedroom, your action plan might look something like this:

  • Move treadmill
  • Call to arrange for installation of jack
  • Clean out desk
  • Order bins
  • Move desk into bedroom

When you consider it this way, the project doesn't seem quite so daunting anymore, does it?

This article appears in the June/July issue of ADDitude.
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TAGS: To Do Lists, Organization Tips for ADD Adults

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