Ask the Experts

Q: “Why Can’t I Tackle All These Home Projects?!?”

Social distancing means you are trapped with all of those home projects you’ve been putting off for years. You feel you should have no excuse for letting them languish, but getting started is still so difficult. What are realistic expectations? And helpful first steps?

Q: “Suddenly I’m at home, trapped with all of the organization projects I’ve been putting off for years. I feel I have no excuse not to tackle these while home, so my guilt and shame are spiking with each day that I avoid them. What can I realistically hope to accomplish? How can I get started?”

First and foremost, be gentle with yourself. We are all going through so much right now; putting undo pressure on yourself to tackle every project lingering on your to-do list for the last five years is seriously unrealistic. I even have to remind myself that “just because I’m home” doesn’t mean I’m going to be a whirlwind of productivity. The emotional toll of navigating the “new normal” of social distancing is real. Small steps.

Since some of your projects might take multiple “sessions” to complete (cleaning out the garage) while others can easily be finished in a few hours (organizing the pantry), I’m sharing some general tips to help you ease into tackling your organizing priorities during a lockdown with ADHD.

1. Use my Define and Assign method to set daily goals. Notice that I said daily goals. If you try to tackle a large project all in one day, you’ll end up overwhelmed and frustrated. Specific daily intentions work better. “Thursday morning from 9 to noon, I’ll work on decluttering the attic.” “Saturday afternoon from 3 to 5 pm, I’ll tackle the piles of paper in the home office.” In other words, define what it is you want to work on, break down the tasks into manageable parts, and then assign a day and time to work on each part. You’ll feel more in control and less overwhelmed.

2. Pair up to pare down! Grab your children or your spouse and work together! Sometimes “body doubling” (being in an environment where others are doing what you’re doing) is super motivating. Make it fun also! Put on music, have snacks on hand, and when you’ve worked for the allotted amount of time you’ve set, go do something together that you all will all enjoy such as working on a puzzle, going for a walk, or watching a movie.

[Get This Free Download: 10 Ways to Get Organized This Weekend]

3. Try the “black tablecloth” method to get you started. Yes, it’s a thing and it’s one of my favorite tricks to help clients feel less overwhelmed when organizing. If you walk into a room and all you see is clutter, you are more likely going to feel overwhelmed and not know how to start. So try draping tablecloths over the areas of your home you are working on decluttering and organizing. Only expose a small amount at a time so you can stay focused, on track, and most importantly, less overwhelmed. In this instance, out of sight will help you not be out of your mind!

4. Make getting started simple. Get started on a task that is so easy and/or so small that success is virtually guaranteed. Research shows that even the worst procrastinators or perfectionists can improve by creating a very small goal to begin — one kitchen drawer to declutter, one pile of paper to sort, one closet shelf to organize. You get the idea. Chances are that once you start, you’ll keep on going.

5. Separate the setup from the task. This is actually my favorite way to get started on any task and it truly helps me to keep that nasty procrastination bug at bay. Make setting up to begin the organizing project a task of its own and only focus on getting that accomplished. It will make getting stared so much easier.

So what could that look like? Say you want to tackle organizing your garage. You might need the follow items to complete the project: large trash bags, plastic bins, protective gloves, a ladder, cleaning supplies, etc. Focus only on gathering those items. The actual decluttering and organizing happens at another time. Merely starting gives us a small sense of accomplishment and the confidence to keep going.

Good Luck!

[Read This Next: ADHD Catastrophizing and What To Do When Fear Spirals]

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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