Time & Productivity

“I Make a Lot Of Mistakes — But You’ll Get Used to It.”

Forgetful? Missed a deadline? Stop making excuses and start making plans. Learn how to cut negative words out of your vocabulary, stop making repeat mistakes, and use a planner to meet deadlines.

Adult ADHD: End the Excuses - Stop Calling Yourself Out
Adult ADHD: End the Excuses - Stop Calling Yourself Out

“Hi. My name is Joyce. I make a lot of mistakes. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” For 30 years that was who I thought I was. Not surprisingly, my life was filled with guilt and anger.

As adults with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), we make excuses, blame others, and get defensive. We hope that giving unsolicited information will make people understand and forgive our shortcomings. Here are three scenarios from my life. Do they sound familiar to you?

I used to walk into business meetings and say, “Sorry I’m late. I had to….” Sometimes I did this two or three times a week. Or I’d say, “You’ll never guess why I’m late today.” Whether they wanted the explanation or not, I’d give them the long version.

Eyes rolled and conversations stopped. I knew I should stop talking, but my guilt over being late drove me to talk, as if trying to save my job. I desperately wanted to be forgiven, as if it weren’t my fault.

When a group of friends and I planned a dinner, I was asked to bring a dessert. I forgot and left it at home. “Well, what did you expect?” I asked the hostess. “You know me. I’m always forgetting. I saw the dessert on the table when I was about to leave, and some news flash came on TV and I watched it. When it was over, I ran to the car and never gave the dessert another thought. I’m such a scatterbrain.”

[Self-Test: ADD Symptoms in Women and Girls]

She said, “Oh, don’t worry. We have plenty of other desserts.” Although I was fuming inside and felt stupid, I got through it. In my mind, I knew they were laughing at me because this wasn’t the first time this had happened.

Once, when I couldn’t get my homework done in college, I used all three of these excuses.

“My computer crashed.”

“I was going to print it out in the library this morning, but I forgot my flash drive.”

“I had too much homework to do because I forgot that my math and biology homework were also due today.”

[Free Resource: Make Mindfulness Work For You]

These words are examples of calling yourself out. When people with ADHD are late or forget something, we start thinking about how to cover it up, and we give the best excuse we can think of. Unfortunately, our excuses do not make people see us in a favorable light. They make us look undependable and, perhaps, uncaring.

So how do we get out of the cycle of calling ourselves out? By honestly observing our behaviors and ruthlessly evaluating them. Here is a three-step process I use:

1. Start by making a list of all the things you say that create a negative perception. Think about your choice of words. Did you tell your boss or your best friend that you are not dependable? That you are never going to change?

2. Think about what you could do differently next time. Heading into a meeting late is a terrible time to state the obvious. Enter the room, sit quietly, and get involved. If there is anyone who needs to understand why you are late, take him or her aside after the meeting. Avoid going into long explanations, or you’ll be calling yourself out again.

3. Use a planner to prepare yourself for a meeting or get-together. List all the materials you’ll need in the planner or the things you have to do to get to the dinner on time. The day before the meeting, put the material in a file and place it in a book bag. Set the book bag by the door, ready to go. If you’re going to dinner, place the directions to the restaurant and the car keys near the door. Then, set a 15-minute timer to remind you to gather your bag of materials, planner, and pencil, or the directions, before you head to the meeting or the dinner.

[Free Resource: Three Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks]

Updated on February 6, 2020

6 Related Links

  1. This is good advice to know, but I think the struggle is in being able to use a planner effectively. Many ADHD’ers just forget to look at it. Two things that I’ve done to flip the script:

    – Have plenty of reminders and queues. Don’t depend on just one. With ADHD, it’s easy to miss the one thing, even though most neurotypicals say only to rely on one source. For example, if I need to get an important thing done, I will set an alarm on my phone, write it down in my planner, use my Slackbot to remind me 15 minutes before the thing is due (or when I need to leave) and leave items I need to take in a bag hanging on the door, so that I can’t miss it, or another designated launch pad.

    – The other thing I do is minimize attention to myself and if anyone prompts me (“Have you heard back from the vendor yet?”) you can say, “Oh, thank you for reminding me, I’ve been waiting to hear back and will get back to you.” A positive, nondefensive attitude goes a long way in conveying your own confidence, and they don’t need to know whether you forgot or if someone else did. In line with that, my goal is to make sure nobody has to ask me twice for something. I will provide updates on something, especially if the process requires more steps that I thought or I’m waiting on other things. As long as you are giving updates, people are more forgiving of delays.

  2. This one really hit me. I apologize constantly and feel like I need to give details. I hate being late and forgetful. But i also think it is true to some degree that I’m not going to be able to change. I’ve tried my whole life, but regardless of all the planners and timers in the world, my brain is the way that it is, and I’m GOING to be late and forget things.

  3. My husband of 20 years remains in denial of his undiagnosed ADHD. The thing this article got most right is that the excuses serve only to make him come across as unreliable and uncaring. Now, I know he is not there things – but I simply do not want to hear his excuses any more. One thing this article got less right is to stop apologizing. If I’ve been inconvenienced, again, I want an acknowledgement of responsibility, not explanations, and certainly not groveling. I know why and how it happened, I don’t want the same story I’ve heard again and again. Respect me enough to acknowledge the inconvenience, then let’s move on.

  4. I’m sure we could all use more than just the suggestions at the bottom to help with forgetfulness/time management, BUT the main point was about how we speak to and about ourselves in light of these struggles, which is most often negative and self-defeating.
    I appreciated the reminder to be aware of how I am thinking about my problems – if I’m constantly discouraged and feeling shame and thinking I’ll never change, then I won’t. The key is to separate out the feelings from the truth (I was late vs. I can never be on time) and speak more constructively/hopefully (along with seeking solutions, of course).

Leave a Reply