Time & Productivity

Promises, Promises: Why I Broke Them and How I Keep Them Now

The three steps one father uses to overcome his ADHD procrastination, and make good on the things he tells his daughters he will do.

Stop Procrastinating in calendar

Of all the negative aspects of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), the worst for me is the long list of broken promises I have made to my daughters. “I’ll give you one art lesson. I’ll take you on a trip. I’ll find it for you. I’ll fix that toy.” I don’t mean to break promises, but life happens, we get busy, and things I always meant to do get left in the corner, forgotten.

My most recent forgotten project is the dollhouse. It’s a beautiful, handmade wooden dollhouse with painted walls, a rooftop, and carpet installed in every room-patterned after my daughters’ grandparents’ home. I picked up the dollhouse years ago for my two oldest girls, who have since abandoned Barbies for boyfriends. Now my youngest wants to use it, except there’s a problem.

After lovingly being used over the years, the dollhouse needs some tender loving care. A fenced patio lost its fence, the painted walls are scuffed and dingy, and the black, textured rooftop is worn away. Sharp edges need to be filed down. When I moved into my new apartment after my divorce, the dollhouse was going to be the first project that I did for that first Christmas-and every Christmas after that. It’s been three Christmases now and that poor dollhouse is not any closer to being finished.

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Everybody has procrastinated over doing a project. They’re usually the large, unwieldy types like cluttered garages and attics, or seven boxes of Great Grandma’s unsorted recipes that await your attention. Unfortunately, procrastination is a defining hallmark of ADHD. We procrastinate so much that unfinished projects collect on us like barnacles for the world to notice. We become so good at procrastinating that large projects often don’t stand a chance with us because there are so many smaller projects we’re already not working on. However, there is a way to prevent ADHD from stopping us from accomplishing the things we need to.

1) Make it a goal

Large projects overwhelm us. I don’t know about you, but when I look at something like that dollhouse, I am weighed down by all the work that needs to be done. Where do I begin? Do I have time for it today? Wasn’t there something else I was supposed to do? The first step is to determine to finish the project-to make it important. Otherwise, it never will be. The desire to finish the dollhouse before my youngest stops playing with dolls is a big motivator for me.

2) Break it down

The next step to tackling a large project is to write down all the tiny steps it will take to complete it. For me, it is this aspect of a project that overwhelms me. Breaking the project down helps me understand it more and fear it less.

3) Schedule it

Now that you have the project broken down into smaller steps, you can fit them here and there into your schedule. Instead of “paint the house,” you have “paint the door.” That might only take an hour. I have time on Saturdays to work on the dollhouse, so now I can relax because I know that the next small step won’t eat up my whole weekend.

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Any time I implement these three steps, projects get done. If I find myself dying on the job, it’s because I haven’t taken time to understand the project and break it down into steps. Motivation. Preparation. Action. That’s how even ADHD adults get things done.