How to Prioritize

How to Choose When Your ADHD Brain Is Bombarded with Options

Too many choices create mental overwhelm for adults with ADHD. Which project to tackle next? Which insurance plan to choose? Which organizing solution to purchase? Learn how to simplify your decisions and de-stress your brain.

Descisions ahead road sign in warning yellow with blue background, - Illustration
Descisions ahead road sign in warning yellow with blue background, - Illustration

Our society is rich with choices. You would think choosing what we want would bring happiness. But let’s say you need an app to manage your daily tasks. You do a Google search and you get 1.5 million results. Or perhaps it’s open enrollment for Medicare. TV commercials, social media, and your mailbox bombard you with options. Does being over-informed make you feel good about the choices you have?

“A wealth of options creates an opportunity, but it also creates a problem. It forces you to put time and effort into decisions,” notes Barry Schwartz, Ph.D., author of The Paradox of Choice.

Too many choices for everyday things can be burdensome. My client William wants to eat a cereal with less sugar. Right on, William! He said, “In the cereal aisle, there were 40 choices of low-sugar cereals. That ‘now what?’ state of mind is not exactly a happy place.” William walked out of the store without buying a box of cereal.

For adults with ADHD, too many choices are mind-boggling. Impaired executive function means the filters used to compare and contrast options are weak. “I struggle to order from a menu!” another client tells me.

Internal distractions, like self-doubt, flood the brain. Lots of adults with ADHD have a perfectionist bent. More choice equals more fear of making the wrong choice. As a self-protection device, adults with ADHD see multiple choices as one big mass of undifferentiated selections.

[13 Ways to Beat Analysis Paralysis]

Here are some strategies for sorting out a mountain of multiple choices with an ADHD brain:

Making Choices: Name Your Non-Negotiables

Know at least a few key elements of what you want before you go open-minded into a minefield of choices. Perhaps you know you do best with clear, easy-to-read graphics, so you only consider apps with that interface. You are closed-minded about that. Or maybe your Medicare option has to include vision care, so you are closed-minded about any other choice. “I wanted cereal with only five grams or less of sugar,” reported William. Being closed-minded is being particular, an acceptable behavior for any adult with ADHD coping with multiple choices.

Making Choices: Harness Social Media

“When I had to choose a productivity app, I consulted my LinkedIn contacts,” my client Barbara told me. “The final decision was still mine, but they helped me narrow down the choices.” So climb that mountain of choices by posting, chatting, tweeting, and sharing with others. The wisdom of the crowd might not always be best, but it is a great place to start.

Making Choices: Trust Your Gut

In the early days of aviation, pilots had few instruments to guide their flight. They used intuition and as much experience as they had. They often ended up flying “by the seat of their pants,” doing what feels right intuitively.

My friend Raul told me about Lisa, a woman with ADD in his design firm: “We put Lisa on our logo design team. We had developed 11 different choices for our logo. Lisa pointed and said, ‘This one and maybe that one. This logo is out and so is that one. And the rest I could live with, but they do nothing for me.’ Meanwhile everyone else on the team had deliberated for days. I’d take one Lisa with ADD over a team of logical, left-brain thinkers any day.”

Making Choices: Make a Value-Based Choice

What do you really care about? Consulting your values can simplify your choices. Rebecca recently had to buy a new car. The number of models, features, and options drove her crazy.  “What I wanted most was safety and good mileage and a car that didn’t overwhelm me by its size. That made the fog of the choices clearer to me.”

[Read This Next: How To Prioritize Tasks As An Adult with ADHD]

Judith Kolberg is the co-author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life (#CommissionsEarned), now in a revised edition. See Judith’s other resources at squallpress.net and fileheads.net.

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Updated on October 8, 2020

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