My To-do List

I don’t see clients on Mondays, but I always have a long list of tasks for my so-called day off. My to-do list yesterday had fifteen items on it. I worked all day long and got one of the listed items done. If I had included on my list all the necessary things I did, it would have been thirty items long. Every task I completed was a priority, urgent and important, so it seemed. It’s time to call the professional organizer again. Turns out, that was on my list too…seriously!

You have probably heard that adults with ADHD prioritize horizontally rather than vertically, which is a nice way of saying that we don’t prioritize. All tasks on the list are equally important, or unimportant in any given moment, depending on how well our intentions—right now—are lining up with our values.

Phillip Moffitt talks about intentions and values in his book, Emotional Chaos to Clarity: How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in Life (Hudson Street Press, NY, 2012). Moffitt credits Sharon Salzberg with teaching him years ago, in a meditation retreat, the practice of “starting over.” The lesson was simply to put the wheels back on the tracks without wasting time in self-defeating thoughts.

Emotional Chaos to Clarity is one of the most practical guides to living mindfully that I’ve read. You can have a bad ADHD day any day, for no apparent reason. Today, I will put the wheels back on the tracks. As I discussed with my professional organizer only a couple of weeks ago, keeping my notepad of obligations with me at all times has usually helped me be more seamless in getting things done.

Yesterday, I rushed to make my list and added to it impulsively, neglecting some tasks that were, in fact, both urgent and important. I responded too much to urgent and hardly important tasks (what was popping up in front of me). And I was too proud of myself for starting tasks that were important and not urgent. The pendulum had swung too far the other way, to non-urgent tasks, until the urgent and important tasks grabbed hold late in the day, too late to make it a truly productive day. 

Part of my problem, when this happens to me, is getting stuck in a focused state of awareness rather than maintaining an open state. When making a list, it is challening to repeatedly return to an open state in order to stay mindful of the big picture. The big picture is where we normally shine. Adults with ADHD are exceptional, in my opinion, at seeing how parts go together to comprise a whole picture. We just don’t shift easily between the parts and the whole.

We have to “unplug” our microscopic attention to allow our big-picture mind to access its wide-angle view. This is why practicing mindful awareness is so important for us, not just on the meditation cushion, but in our daily lives.

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