Why We Spin

Do you have trouble deciding what to do first when you have many things to do? No one task seems more or less important than another. So you mentally spin like a roulette wheel, as if the ball is going to land on a number for you. You feel overwhelmed and immobilized. Adults with ADHD often feel like there is way too much to do, even when our workload is not that different from the workload of others and should be manageable.

If you have ADHD, you prioritize horizontally; each task is as important as all the others. What that means, in reality, is that we don’t prioritize. Prioritizing requires attention management, and your attention manager goes to sleep on the job. That is what ADHD is at the core, an impaired attention manager. It works inconsistently because of your neurological difference. If you  take medication for ADHD, you may have an idea what it is like to organize and prioritize your work.

Whether you take medication or not, recognizing this problem points to an adaptive solution. Take Stephen Covey’s advice and schedule time for something important but not urgent. Instead of jumping indiscriminately into the first task that grabbed your attention, only to jump to another before finishing the first, you can schedule time for prioritizing. Of all people, you
need to pause before starting any task and consider your tasks for the day. You cannot do that when your awareness is locked up in a selective attention state.

We call it attention deficit, unfortunately in my opinion, because we have an attention management problem. In fact, it may be an attention surplus. The problem seems to lie in our limited ability to inhibit attention. Since you don’t have the attention manager of a neurotypical, prioritizing should be your first task of the day. Remember that you are impulsive and likely to jump into a task randomly, without regard to its importance. But I believe you can be impulsive and still know when your impulsivity can cause a problem. Scheduling prioritizing time is a way to prevent your ADHD from sending you into spinning.

I’m at my best when I have a task list. I keep a spiral notepad for my daily task list. Spiral notepads come in many colors. You can choose a particular color for your task lists so it is distinguishable to you and your family. The only problem I have had with this strategy is that I tend to grab the first notepad I find, often using a new one when I already have one in use. I’m still a rule violator at heart!

I plan to label and date a current one, always returning it immediately to my briefcase after updating it, and avoid using a fresh one when my current one is missing. I vow not to use a black for anything else when I cannot find a colored one. Colored notepads will be reserved for other purposes, like ideas and drafts for writing projects. To use a colored notepad for a task
list, or a black one for drafts of my blog, should draw a penalty flag. My brain may need a referee, perhaps an ADHD coach, as much as it needs an attention manager.

If you don’t know about professional organizers and ADHD coaches, click on this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/smarter-living/professional-organizers-productivity-clutter.html

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