What to Do When ADD Adults Can't Get Motivated

At work, I’m quickly overwhelmed by mundane tasks and, more often, fear of unknown outcomes. To overcome feeling stuck, I rely on listening to loud music to stay focused and use to-do lists and complete small tasks as ways to help me stay focused and feel productive, even when I’m moving at a slow ADHD pace.
ADHD CEO Blog | posted by Michael Laskoff

Everybody procrastinates, but because I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), I have a propensity to put off the inevitable and necessary far more than the average person. I do this for a variety of reasons, but the two most obvious are boredom and fear. The former has become terribly fashionable because it gives us a face-saving out: The ADD/ADHD mind works too quickly to be captivated by the simple and straightforward. True or not, it’s still an excuse. But it’s the latter that I think is far more debilitating. When I fear a bad outcome, I’m loath to start at all. I’d rather make excuses and hope that the need for the task simply goes away. I’d wager that I’m not alone in this. But I run a business; I can’t sit around doing nothing. And that’s where ritual comes into the picture. Starting with the obvious, I live and die by the almighty to-do list. I try -- I repeat, try -- to keep a running list of everything that I need to be doing. To keep it simple, I do this only for work. I can’t bear the thought of living my whole life this way.

I’ve tried lots of list-keeping approaches but find that the tasks feature in Google Calendar is currently working best for me. It’s simple and attached to my calendar. That’s all I need. I add stuff throughout the day, and at the end of every week, I drag the incomplete tasks forward to the next week. Sometimes, the mere dread of having to do that is enough to be motivational.

To anyone pondering list reliance, I would advise the following. First, keep it simple. Anything complex will immediately start to seem like the sort of work that you’re currently looking to avoid. Second, find what works for you. Google Tasks work nicely for me but might be entirely wrong for someone else. Finally, remember that there is no end all, be all system. Everything helps but no one thing will help every day.

Beyond the list there are a host of tricks that help me to engage. In defiance of all the pundits, I listen to loud, disruptive music to get focused. There’s a caveat: It has to be music that I’m very familiar with so that I don’t actually have to listen. As I write this, I’m listening to my “crusty” playlist, which includes such gems as Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human,” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio.”

In addition, I like to have a moderately productive task available to me at all times. What this means is that there is always something that needs doing. Today, for example, I’ve got to run over to the bank to get something notarized. The document in question is hardly critical, but completing tasks, however small, gives me a sense of accomplishment. And that empowers me to tackle the bigger stuff.

Some days, I accept that I have ADD/ADHD and that being averagely diligent requires more effort than I can muster at the time. Needless to say, it’s tempting to abuse this sort of thing, which is why I strictly limit when I can use it. It’s verboten to let anyone else down simply because I’m feeling slothful. So I only use the ADD/ADHD excuse when only I will suffer. Also, I don’t ever allow myself to do this on consecutive days. And finally, I make myself get right back on the horse the moment I feel even a twinge of motivation.

Given enough time, I could articulate more of my personal tactics, but in summary, I’d simply say motivation is actually a factor of honesty. Know yourself. Ignore what’s supposed to help (but doesn’t), and rigorously apply what does. Repeat daily.

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