Living Well with ADHD & Task Lists

This is me without a task list: Oh, I forgot to email Darrell this morning…but first I need to eat something…and then I will go to the grocery…but I haven’t scooped the litter yet…OMG, the cat missed the litter box and left a mess…that reminds me, I need to unclog the bathtub drain…but I haven’t had my coffee yet…that’s my cell phone ringing…”no problem, this is a good time”…now, I must get off the phone and get busy…I need to mulch the new cypress trees before the rain comes…that felt so productive…now what was it that I needed to do first thing this morning? …Oh, I need to email Darrell…oh no, I forgot to run water in the tub after the Liquid Plumber…oh s**t, I didn’t finish cleaning up the cat’s accident…my dermatology appointment is in two hours…I may not have time to go to the grocery…where did the time go?

This is me with a task list: Scoop litter…done…send email to Darrell…done…eat breakfast…done…go to the grocery…done…ignore the phone and let it go to voicemail…good…put mulching on tomorrow’s to-do list…done…unclog the drain…done…there is plenty of time to get ready for my appointment…shut up, there is no such thing as plenty of time…get ready and leave early…done!

The ADHD problem is less about failing to direct attention to where it is needed, and more about failing to inhibit attention to many appealing alternatives to the task at hand. A task list helps hold attention in place. Otherwise, the surplus of attention can make us feel overwhelmed by tasks that should be manageable. 

If complexity is a problem, then simplicity is a solution. The iPhone is too distracting for me; there is much more than my task list on it. I prefer the activity of writing my to-do list on a page in a binder with a brightly colored cover, one that won’t be used for anything else. The activity of writing slows my mental activity to a mindful pace and helps me remember the tasks. I do best when I approach each task as if it is all I have to do. It keeps me from looking ahead. 

If you have used strategies and tools that once worked for you, then resurrect them. If you are trying a reasonable strategy that just isn’t working for you, give it up and try another way. After finding and using an effective strategy, expect the wheels to come off the tracks eventually. Once you are aware that you stopped doing something that was working, don’t waste time criticizing yourself. Just quietly put the wheels back on the tracks. Self-criticism is superfluous mental activity, just another distraction. It’s like having a head on top of your head; you don’t need the extra head!

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