How to Prioritize

Shut Off the “Spin Cycle:” 5 Steps for Getting Your Act Together

If you feel like you’re being pulled in different directions or constantly spinning in circles, here’s how to stay the course — and start crossing items off your to-do list.

A checklist, a pencil, and a clock, tools needed to get your act together
Cartoon clock pencil checklist red teal black and white

Do you wake up with the best of intentions? Do you tell yourself: “This is going to be the day I get my act together! I’m going to work hard, be healthy, and lead a balanced life.”

But then, around 3 p.m., when you haven’t checked anything off your to-do list and are still in your PJs, you ask, “What the heck happened?” It’s true that, sometimes, you’ve been slacking off. But other times, you’ve been working all day — typing, shuffling papers, moving things around, and making lists. But when you look at what you have actually accomplished, it’s a big zero.

I’ve spent years trying to get to the root of this problem — common in those with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) — and I finally did: I refer to it as “the spin cycle.” Here is what I’ve discovered:

  • I hyperfocus on things I love, and time flies by.
  • I am pulled in different directions by email, technology, and electronic “bings” going off everywhere, which I find hard to resist.
  • I struggle to re-group and re-focus on whatever I was doing.
  • I can’t sit still for long, so I find things to do — laundry, cleaning the litter box, or watering the plants.
  • Some things that I should be doing, I hate doing.

[The Power of a Well-Crafted To-Do List]

The Plan

If this happens to you, how do you deal with it? I have come up with a five-step plan to get my day under control. It is based on three words: “must,” “ought,” and “want.”

  1. Write down everything that you “must” do that day on a sheet of paper. These are the non-negotiables, like eat something.
  1. Take it up a notch, and write down everything you “ought” to do that day. These are things that will give you pleasure and make you feel you have accomplished something. For example: Eat breakfast by 9 a.m.
  1. Now write down everything you “want” to do that day. These are the things that will make you feel like a rock star. For example: Eat a healthy high-protein breakfast by 8 a.m.

[Free Download: 19 Ways to Meet Deadlines and Get Things Done]

  1. Focus on your must-dos for a week. Every day that you complete them, celebrate.
  1. Now add an “ought” to your day, and, over time, add a “want” to your day. But watch for your tipping point. This is key. When do you feel successful? When does life seem manageable? Have you hit your sweet spots of musts, oughts, and wants? Then stop. Why? Because you need to get to a place where you feel successful despite your ADHD.

Why does it matter? Because we beat ourselves up for the things we don’t do, and never give ourselves credit for the things we do. By following this plan, you will notice and enjoy each one of your successes. And you will come to accept all the parts that make you, you.

The success you feel will increase your confidence, which will lead to more success. There are no rules for how life should be lived, so work on moving toward self-acceptance. Accepting all parts of yourself is key to keeping you calm, balanced, and in control. This, in turn, will help you lead a rich and fulfilling life.

[Get Your Priorities Straight]