I’m going to be embarrassingly honest here. There are days where my dirty dishes literally fill my entire kitchen counter because I haven’t felt up to doing them for a week. And looking at that giant pile of dishes and watching it get bigger and bigger… it can totally overwhelm me. A lot of times the more overwhelmed it makes me, the more paralyzed I feel. And when I feel paralyzed it’s less likely that I’ll do something about them.
What makes it worse is that I am very aware of how I’m affected by a dirty house. If my house is cluttered, my mind feels cluttered. If my mind feels cluttered, my emotions get cluttered. The cleanliness of my house directly affects my emotional state. So you can imagine how having adhd does not help this situation at all.
Because of this conundrum, I’ve had to get creative and come up with ways to get things done despite my brain being the equivalent of a 5 year old crashing from a really great sugar rush. But before I get into that, I’m going to explain one of the main reasons why having adhd makes simple everyday life so much more difficult than it is for the normal brain. And yes, there are other mental health disorders I can personally blame as well, but right now I’m just focusing on the adhd.
I want to share an excerpt from This Article on The Science of ADHD about something called Executive Function:
Many of the symptoms of inattention are actually symptoms of executive function impairments. Executive function refers to a wide range of central control processes in the brain that activate, integrate, and manage other brain functions.
Best put, Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., of Yale University compares executive function to the conductor of an orchestra. The conductor organizes, activates, focuses, integrates, and directs the musicians as they play, enabling the orchestra to produce complex music. Similarly, the brain’s executive functions organize, activate, focus, integrate and direct, allowing the brain to perform both routine and creative work.
The components of executive functioning that impact school or work:
- Working memory and recall (holding facts in mind while manipulating information; accessing facts stored in long-term memory)
- Activation, arousal and effort (getting started; paying attention; completing work)
- Emotion control (tolerating frustration; thinking before acting or speaking)
- Internalizing language (using self-talk to control one’s behavior and direct future actions)
- Complex problem solving (taking an issue apart, analyzing the pieces, reconstituting and organizing them into new ideas)
I spent most of my life believing that I must be just a lazy or apathetic person. I believed this because from everyone else’s perspective that’s exactly what I was: an unreliable, lazy person. My room growing up was ALWAYS a mess. I could have used the floor as my bed and been perfectly comfortable because of all the clothes I never put away.
Getting me to clean my room was so difficult that I’m pretty sure my parents gave up at a certain point. I always assumed this was because I had a flaw in my personality that made me not care enough to clean. But as it turns out, this was actually due to an impairment of Executive Function which is completely normal for someone with adhd.
I wish I had known about this sooner. Maybe if I’d known I wouldn’t have spent so many years comparing myself to normal brained people and thinking I was flawed in some way. Armed with this knowledge, I feel empowered to find ways of working with my brain instead of against it.
Adhd brain is not a bad thing! It’s just a different thing. Everyone else has a rulebook for their brains because they can look around and see what works for everyone else and just do that. For us, there’s no rulebook. We’re sort of left to figure all of this out on our own. That’s partly why I started this blog. I want to help add to the adhd brain rulebook so others won’t have to go through years of thinking they’re flawed when really they’re just different. I hope the things I’ve learned can help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Alright, enough of my rambling. Let’s get to it.
Five Tricks for getting stuff done with ADHD Brain:
1. Brain Dump, then To-Do List
If you have ADHD I’m sure you’re aware of the constant onslaught of brain activity we all get to live with. All of the information, thoughts and ideas floating around in our head are simply too chaotic and noisy for us to clearly lay out a game plan for what we need to accomplish.
This is why Brain Dumps and To-Do lists are the adhd brain’s best friend. Before writing out what you need to accomplish, you’ll need to externalize all that chatter in your mind so you can physically take it apart and organize it into a workable plan. Trying to do this inside your head will just frustrate and overwhelm you.
So what you’ll want to do is get out a piece of paper and a pen. Find a nice, quiet (if you can manage quiet in your home?) spot and dump your brain all over that paper. Write down all those awesome ideas you’ve had today, write down what things you really need to get done today, what you want to eat later, whatever may be floating around in that head of yours.
Once you’ve dumped your brain, it’s time to organize those externalized thoughts. This will be your to-do list. Make a list of the things you need to accomplish starting with the most important and ending with the least important. Make a separate list of all the ideas you’ve had. You won’t be acting on any of these ideas, it’s just nice to have them recorded for later. This way you won’t forget them. Maybe carry both lists around in your pocket so when you have an idea, you can write it down real quick and then get back to your to-do list.
2. Time Blocking
This may sound excessive to some people. My boyfriend (who also has adhd) doesn’t really like using this method but I LOVE it. It’s one of the most helpful strategies I’ve come across. What is Time Blocking, you ask?
Time Blocking is a way to organize your time by breaking up your tasks into more manageable pieces and focusing on each piece for an allotted amount of time. I use time blocking pretty much daily, but especially on really bad days. You know, like those days where my dishes fill my kitchen counter. I’ll use time blocking to at least get SOME things done so I don’t feel like a loser at the end of the day. It always feels better to get some done rather than none.
Here’s an example of how I use time blocking: I’ll set my phone timer for ten minutes and I’ll make myself wash dishes for those ten minutes. Once the timer goes off, I reset it for thirty minutes. In those thirty minutes I can do whatever I want. But when the thirty minute timer goes off, I have to do another ten minutes of dishes. I repeat this until I either get all the dishes done or I at least feel satisfied that I didn’t spend my whole day being a bum.
3. Set the Mood
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’m even capable of cleaning if I don’t have some really good cleaning music. One of the best tricks for getting yourself to clean (at least for me) is blasting upbeat music that fills you with energy.
Sometimes I’ll spend a little while dancing with my birds to get my body energized before starting in on the cleaning. My birds love to dance and seeing how excited they get about me dancing with them often is just what I need to pull myself out of a slump and get to work. And the dancing itself really acts as a brain activator for me. I could have brain fog all morning and all I want to do is sit there staring at the wall, but when I force myself to move my body and get my blood pumping, my brain responds in a big way.
But even without the dancing part, putting your favorite cleaning music on is always a great way to get your adhd brain to actually want to do stuff! The music and dancing trick probably has to do with dopamine, which is super interesting, but I’ll get into that part in a minute.
4. Set the Stage
As you probably already know, people with adhd love a good excuse to stop what they’re doing. (unless they’re hyperfocusing, in which case it’s the total opposite!) This is why before you start in on anything, you’ll want to go ahead and gather everything you will need beforehand.
If you start cleaning one room and then realize you don’t have the right cleaner, you’ll want to go find the right cleaner. And on the way to do that you’ll probably notice that shelf that isn’t quite straight in the other room…so you’ll have to go fix that real quick, and oh yeah! You forgot to check the mail today, so you should probably go do that while it’s on your mind,…I mean, who knows how long this detour will last! We adhd folk love our detours.
So knowing this about yourself, make sure you get all the supplies you will need before starting a project. You’ll thank yourself later.
5. The Dessert before Dinner Method
Eating dessert before dinner is a good metaphor for how an adhd brain can use dopamine to their advantage. I know that sounds a little weird, so let me share an excerpt with you about adhd and dopamine from ADDitudeMag.com:
More Dopamine, Please
Learning from experience is the basis for sound decision-making, and the motivation to learn is modulated by the promise of reward. The current Incentive Salience Model describes a dopamine reward system that is responsible for motivation, positive reinforcement, and pleasure for all brains. However, dopamine-increasing behaviors are even more gratifying to ADHD brains.
Key aspects of the reward system are under-active in ADHD brains, making it difficult to derive reward from ordinary activities. These dopamine-deficient brains experience a surge of motivation after a high-stimulation behavior triggers a release of dopamine. But in the aftermath of that surge and reward, they return to baseline levels with an immediate drop in motivation.
One of the many consequences of reduced dopamine in the synapses is that the significance of tasks is decreased. If most stimuli appear equally compelling, it’s difficult to attend to the most important task. As a result, stimuli need greater personal relevance — larger, more immediate, or repeated rewards — to be attractive to ADHD brains.
(It’s an interesting article, and definitely worth checking out. You can read more of it Here)
That was a lot of words all at once. So what did all of that mean? Basically it means that those of us with adhd respond well to ‘hits of dopamine’ (I guess you could call it that) because our natural reward system is under-active.
So anything that causes our dopamine levels to go up is extra exciting for us. Unfortunately for some adhd people this is the reason that they succumb to drug addiction. Literally taking hits of dopamine in the form of drugs is a dangerously rewarding experience for some adhd brains, and is often a way of attempting to self-medicate.
Luckily that has never been something I personally struggled with (except for those two years that I smoked cigarettes–talk about a dopamine addiction!), but I’ve known many people with adhd who did unfortunately go down that road. Some of them didn’t survive it. So that’s the dark side of adhd and Dopamine. But as with most things, there’s also a bright side!
You can USE your natural desire for ‘hits of dopamine’ to your advantage. When you have to do something boring and you’d rather do anything but that boring task.. allow yourself to do something fun first.
Don’t get caught up in the fun thing and forget about your responsibilities though! This is where something like time blocking could also be used. Set your timer for thirty minutes and allow yourself to do the fun stuff, and then when that timer goes off you can do the responsible stuff for an allotted amount of time.
The fun stuff you choose to do should help you get that dopamine rush that will help motivate you to start on your responsible stuff. So try to come up with something that you already know you respond with excitement to. For example, one of my go-to dopamine raising activities as I mentioned before is dancing.
The dessert before dinner method really does work well in conjunction with time blocking. Because by the time that dopamine rush wears off, you’ll hopefully be nearing the end of your allotted time for responsible stuff, and you can spend another block of time doing fun dopamine raising stuff to prepare for another block of responsibilities. Rinse and Repeat!
Well, there you have it. I hope these tricks come in handy for you. Adhd can feel like such a disadvantage but it’s really a matter of knowing how your brain works and learning how to work with it properly. Knowledge is power! Don’t spend years assuming you’re simply lazy or unintelligent like I did. Read up on adhd. Get informed.
You’ll learn that your brain is literally physically different from normal (and normal does not mean better or worse!) brains. You’ll learn that you don’t have to feel all that guilt and pressure anymore because none of this has been your fault. Your brain is different. And that is perfectly okay. You’re not a loser. You’re not a lazy bum. I mean, maybe sometimes you are because it’s kind of nice to be a lazy bum every once in a while.. but for the most part you are not a lazy bum.
You’re colorful and unique. You march to your own drum and NOBODY else’s. When you focus in on something, you throw your all into it (This is called hyper focus. I will be writing about that at a later time.) When you feel things, you really feel things. You’re an expert at living in the moment. You can’t help but to always be in the now. Eckhart Tolle would be proud.
You are endlessly resilient. You’ve experienced enough setbacks and roadblocks because of your adhd that you pretty much have your phD in pushing forward and overcoming obstacles. You are bright, creative, and funny. Your unique brain has likely helped you become the sparkling personality that you are. You’re generous and have a strong sense of fairness. This is why you’re probably one of those people who always looks out for the underdog. And I think that makes you pretty cool.
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On