Ask the Experts

Q: When I Multitask, Nothing Ever Gets Completed!

When you focus on everything just a little bit, nothing gets fully done — and you always feel behind. Instead of multitasking, try assigning certain work to certain days or times and blocking out everything else during those work periods.

Q: “I can’t seem to get it all done — work, meals, housework, laundry paperwork/bills — and I feel like I’m always playing catch-up. For example, if I focus on everything a little, then everything is behind and a mess and nothing is accomplished fully. Alternately, when I focus on one thing, like catching up with paperwork, (organizing the papers, yet again), then I end up with a pile of unsorted laundry on my floor and other incomplete things. I’m always sacrificing one thing for another and it feels like I’m always re-doing what I previously did. The solution should be clear; other people don’t live like this. Why can’t I stay organized? This impacts our family in multiple ways.” – WorkingSingleMomWithTeens


Hi WorkingSingleMomWithTeens:

Thank you for submitting this question. As a single parent — working full time with your kids also at home — you have a very full plate.

You mention in your question that when you focus on “everything a little” you feel behind and nothing is fully finished, yet when you focus on only one thing at a time you feel your projects are incomplete.

But I need to challenge you a little in that thinking. If you have three projects to complete – let’s use sorting laundry, emptying the dishwasher, and catching up on paperwork as our examples — and you focus on sorting your laundry first, then are the other two “incomplete” or will you complete them once you’ve finished your laundry or even at another time?

My questioning isn’t designed to make you feel bad. In fact, I hope it makes you feel better. We all have tasks that need to get done on a daily basis – emptying a dishwasher, preparing meals, taking out the trash, and for some, laundry.

[Click to Read: Whatever Happened to Good Old Singletasking?]

What helps my clients move through their tasks and feel less stressed about what is open ended and not complete is setting daily or weekly goals or intentions. For example, if they know that each morning the dishwasher is emptied while drinking coffee or that each Thursday evening the trash goes out, they can rest easy knowing these tasks will be done at a set day or time. This thinking allows them to focus on what is in front of them.

When setting daily intentions, be sure to make them short, simple, and specific. “Thursday night I’m going to put away the clean, folded laundry.” “Sunday night I’ll review schedules and activities for the week.” “Saturday morning I’ll tackle the weekly mail.” In other words, break down your tasks and schedule them so you feel more in control. Not only of your tasks but of your thoughts, too.

You mention you have teens! What household responsibilities are they in charge of? It’s time to play to their strengths and have them manage more than they might be currently. Figure out what they feel comfortable doing – prepping meals, folding laundry, taking out trash – and give them clear and concise instructions. Then stand back and let them rise to the occasion!

Lastly, give yourself some grace. In these crazy times, we are striving for “done enough.”

Good Luck!

Multitasking with ADHD: Next Steps


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.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!


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Updated on September 11, 2020

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  1. Growing up in the m60’s (long before anyone knew about ADD), my mother always had a list beside her spot at the kitchen table. She would make out the list while she had her coffee and read the paper. Throughout the day, she would cross off her tasks as she did them. She always included even the most ordinary things like making the bed and doing the dishes. As I got older, I realized that this gave her a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Too many times we do not give ourselves credit for all these tasks that must be done to keep a household running, but that NO ONE notices, unless we stop doing them. All these little things take time, and have value. At some point Mom gave up her lists, and began to complain that she had been busy all day, but had nothing to show for her time and effort. I suggested she resume her lists, and the reason why. Problem solved!! She is long gone now, but I still think of her when I have several things I want to remember to get done in a day. And, also when I make my bed, as soon as I get out of it, That seems to make me ready for the day.

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