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Popular Productivity Advice That Torpedoes the ADHD Brain

You know those best-selling productivity hacks that everyone swears by? Most of them don’t work for neurodiverse ADHD brains. In fact, standard tips may be counterproductive — and harmful to your self-esteem. Here, ADHD coach Linda Walker offers some better alternatives.

8 Comments: Popular Productivity Advice That Torpedoes the ADHD Brain

  1. Thank you for this article! It’s like you found my list of top productivity myths that I’m always getting worked up about. I wrote a blog post about the “big rocks” strategy and I regularly write about the myth of time management. Time is not created equal. Not only is energy management a crucial component, but also timing. Understanding my rhythms and working with my rhythms as well as the rhythms of nature — knowing when to be more intense, when to rest, when to allow my distractions, etc.

    One thing that has helped me is keeping a journal and using some of my transition time to note what worked well and didn’t work well. This helps me see patterns in my energy and focus levels. Then I can plan better. For example, I know that 4 pm is my dip time, so I like to plan calls or a second workout for that time. Fridays are generally not very productive days. They are like my 4 pm time. So Fridays I do laundry and try to schedule more calls rather than deep focus work. On the other hand I don’t schedule calls and meetings for the morning because I ride the increased focus from my morning workout into more focus work.

    Being attuned to my rhythms has been a game changer.

  2. Oooooookay, #1, why does ADDitude earn a commission on books purchased that are NOT recommended for our “neurodiverse brains?” #2, the advice under the 2nd bad strategy: “Warm up to daunting tasks by starting with easier ones. Every time you start losing traction on the more daunting task, return to a task that’s shorter or more energizing, and as soon as your brain kicks in, jump back into the more daunting task.” does JUST what the advice under the 1st bad strategy told us NOT to do: “Every time we move from one task to the next, we are adding transition time — you pull yourself away from whatever you were doing, change the gears in your mind, and then move on to the next task. That process adds as much as 10-20 minutes between tasks.” This has got to be the worst written article I have ever seen up on this site!! All I can say is WOW!

  3. I appreciate someone writing articles, yet after coming to this site (procrastinating on the Web..?) in a state of overwhelm, I leave kinda spun out more. There is an article right before this that tells me YES to do list, 2 minute rule….ARRgh

  4. “Instead of keeping a to-do list, plan by project.” Ok. So, how should I keep track of which projects I’m working on and what tasks are required to complete them? “Once a week, look at your projects and ask yourself, “What do I need to do this week that would make that project progress?” wait… so, instead of keeping a list, I should remember each project exists, remember what’s already been done, then re-determine what’s left to be done *every week*?! Maybe I missed something or am misunderstanding (entirely possible, even likely) but from what I’m seeing, this “method” is… insane…

  5. The one that drives me BONKERS is the “get up at the buttcrack of dawn!” nonsense. I, like a lot of people with ADHD, do NOT have a circadian clock that responds well to that sort of thing. And it doesn’t respond well to my efforts to go to bed early either. My brain DOES NOT ADJUST.

    Getting up earlier than about 7AM makes me feel like someone’s shot me up with drugs. My brain is sludge. And don’t even get me started on how my brain isn’t that great in the morning even when I do wake up naturally at my regular time.

    I think better advice is to hammer your night routine. Pick your clothes out and hang them out where you get dressed. Have a spot where you put all the things you’ll need for the next day and make sure everything is in it before you go to bed. Set up your coffee pot. The possibilities are endless depending on your morning needs. I have a goal of not thinking or making decisions in the morning when my brain is slow and inefficient.

  6. Love love love this article. I finally abandoned traditional time management methods created by people whose natural abilities are so different from mine three years ago, and have been becoming more organized every year. Abandoned preprinted calendars for a bullet journal. Realized the “do it now if it takes two minutes” idea is ridiculous when faced with 30 tasks that supposedly take two minutes but really take more-the whole day can be shot doing nothing creative. Finally understood I have to address my low tolerance for boredom. So many time management books and articles insist on doing exactly the same thing everyday for maximum productivity, which puts a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. We can be organized enough, but for long term success we need to work with our natural inclinations instead of against them.

  7. Another great axiom of ‘time management’ that makes me want to scream is the “one touch” rule for dealing with mail and other documents. (Especially when his is preached by someone who has mastered it and thinks everyone can and should.) Sure, it’s not too hard to toss obvious junkmail directly into recycling/shredding, but if I had to decide immediately how to deal with more important documents before I put them down again, I’d likely end up carrying them around half the day and wouldn’t get anything done besides opening the mail. Especially if it’s a document that triggers any resistance or anxiety. I need to use a cooling-off/quarantine basket for things that are not extremely urgent, and are too ‘radioactive’ to handle immediately.

  8. When a student, I wrote a timetable for every waking hour of every day that had my classes, my assignment times, and study times, and meal, jogging, fave TV shows, and everything else times. It worked then.
    Now that I am retired, the Daily Project timetable seems to be working:
    – Monday is gardening
    – Tuesday is paying bills and shopping
    – Wednesday is a rest day for reading
    and so on.

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