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14 Ways to Get the Job Done

Your ADHD brain makes it hard to organize and finish projects on time, but your boss expects to receive reports by the deadline. What are you to do? Follow these tips, for starters.

Sources: Dr. Ned Hallowell and Sandy Maynard, M.S.

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 might have to put other activities on the back burner in order to finish it in time. To resist the urge to overschedule, agree to give up one project for every new one you take on. Ask yourself if the new project is worth the sacrifices you’ll have to make in other areas.

Take It One Project at a Time

Having to tackle several big projects at once is stressful for people with ADD. Set one priority, and get it done, tying up all loose ends before moving on to a new project. For instance, get new eyeglasses before cleaning your gutters. Or take your car in for maintenance before revising your résumé.

Post Your Deadlines Where You'll See Them

This simple action will remind you to use your time wisely. Write down reminders (such as “Taxes Done by April 1”) and post them on mirrors, cabinets, or anywhere else you’re likely to see them. Set your screensaver as a reminder, or schedule reminder e-mails or texts.

Define Your Objectives

Is your goal to become an expert on home improvement? Or is it to get the kitchen remodeled before October? Once you have a clear idea of what the end goal is, it will be easier to stay focused. Finishing on time is one of the most important objectives for ADDers.

Break Big Projects Into Smaller Parts, and Set a Deadline for Each

We’re usually 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.

When Time Runs Short, Outsource

Don’t assume that you must do every portion of a project. In many cases, it makes sense to outsource or delegate. If you have trouble paying bills on time, hand the job over to your spouse, or put as many bills as possible on auto-pay. Hire outside help, such as a nanny to keep you on task, or college students to scan and file papers.

Minimize Distractions

Things that distract you on a regular basis should be addressed. Keep losing your glasses? Train yourself to put them in a special place. If you’re distracted by magazines strewn about your kitchen, put a basket in another room, and make sure the magazines get into it.

Take Frequent Breaks

Those who fail to get away from a project occasionally are likely to start avoiding it—or to just give up. Taking breaks will help you avoid burnout. Set a timer for the amount of time you think you can concentrate, whether that’s 20 minutes or an hour. Do your best to focus and stay on task for that amount of time. Take a five to 10 minute break when the timer goes off.

Start and End When You Say You Will

It’s easier to stay on task when there’s a specific end time in sight. If you’re working on a big project, say, finishing a masters’ thesis, or creating a design for a client, set specific hours for yourself. For example, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Without an established end time, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I’ll take a break and do something else and work on it later,” and then get distracted along the way.

Slow Down

Periodically ask yourself why you’re in such a hurry, and take the question seriously. If the answer is “because I’m late,” assess your priorities and cut out unnecessary responsibilities. The time you save should be devoted solely to personal or family time.

Know Where Your Time Is Going

Not sure where the time goes? Create a chart, and record everything you do. Maybe the chart indicates you’re spending too much time looking for lost keys or nagging your teenage daughter to clean up her room. Think of some creative ways to eliminate these (hanging a key hook near the front door or deciding that her room doesn’t really need to be clean, after all).

Think Twice About Multitasking

Research shows that doing two things at once takes about 50 percent longer than doing them sequentially. An exception to this rule: Some people with ADD focus better if they do something essentially mindless while tackling an important task—for example, listening to music or balancing on a ball while doing homework.

Rethink Your Filing System

ADDers often have trouble with filing because they create too many categories. Better to keep your categories broad, and use subfolders where necessary. For instance, you might label one folder “insurance,” and fill it with subcategory folders for life insurance, car insurance, and health insurance.

Create a Document Hot Spot

This is a folder for important, time-sensitive documents. In this folder, which should be kept on your desk, you should place papers representing up to five different tasks that must be attended to within the next 24 hours—an overdue bill, a client file, a phone message to return, and so on. Clear out your hot spot daily.

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