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Make a List, Check It Twice — Then Do Only the Really Important Stuff

Don’t waste your time and energy trying to make your life perfect.

It’s easy for us adults with ADHD to get on our own nerves by leaving certain kinds of tasks until the last minute, or by not doing them at all. Sometimes these oversights and avoidances drive the people around us crazy, too. But I would argue that an important key to living well with ADHD is prioritization. You have to learn to tell the difference between tasks that actually need to be prioritized, and those that don’t. Calm down — don’t let your executive function circuits explode. Let me explain.

The past three weekends, for me, have involved running or helping to run two large events, and a major holiday. What does the interior of my car look like after two weekends of running events? It contained an E-Z Up tent, a chair, five folding tables, large boxes of supplies, several sandwich-board-style signs, emergency changes of clothing, my emergency rubber boots that always live in my car, two large containers of the clothing that I make and sell, a big bag of my selling supplies, a metal clothing rack, several mannequins, lots of tablecloths, about 200 pounds of cinder blocks, and a bunch of other stuff I threw in there in a hurry so that I could get home after the last event some time before midnight. The car was completely and totally full in every way.

Then came the holiday weekend. Holiday weekends generally involve fitting family members into my car.

[Free Resource: 10 Rules for ADHD-Proof Productivity]

Did I clean the car out right after my event? Nope. Not gonna happen. I’m so exhausted after an event that I’m not touching that stuff until I have to. I’m sure lots of people think that you should put everything away right away…and good for them. But I have so many other things in my life that are more important, that need to be done right away, that I have to ration my “do it now” motivation carefully. After all, I have ADHD. Every time I have to motivate myself to complete a task like this, it takes extra effort. I let necessity dictate the timeline for cleaning out my car.

Necessity made itself evident this past weekend, when I needed to take my boys on a hike. To get to the park, I needed to be able to get them into the car. I actually had one of the kids help me with the task, so that we could get the cleaning done faster. I pulled things out of the car, and told him which room in the house to put it in. That got the stuff out of the car and into the house…and the kids into the car. I knew that piles of stuff would greet me in the house when we returned. At that point, I could put it away.

And I did. I ended up setting aside time to do some housecleaning, and I split my time between doing the dishes and putting all my stuff away. I didn’t want to do either of those tasks, but having two distasteful tasks to do allowed me to go back and forth between them, so that I didn’t freak out too much about having to do either of them. When one got annoying, I moved to the other one for a few minutes. I got both tasks done.

Don’t waste your time and energy trying to make your life perfect. Some things need to be more perfect than others. Make a list, if it helps, to prioritize the tasks in your life. Mine would probably put “washing dishes” and “feeding people and pets” high on the list and “making bed” and “cleaning out the car” low on the list. If you put everything at the top of the list, you create an impossible expectation for yourself. Your list might look different from mine, but by making a list, you give yourself a visual aid to come back to, when you need help figuring out what to do next.

[A Get-Things-Done Guide for the Overwhelmed and Overloaded]