Many ADHD adults have love/ hate / deep loathing relationships with their to do lists.
It’s very, very rare that I have a new adult ADHD coaching client who doesn’t have problems with their to do lists.
Creative solution by Rob and Stephanie Levy
Many adults with ADHD have:
- Very long to do lists
- Multiple to do lists that are unmanageable
- To do lists scattered in many places.
- Often can’t find some of their to do lists
- Have items they keep recopying from one list to another seemingly endlessly. Or from one day’s to do list to another day’s to do lists, sometimes for weeks
- Often at the end of the day the ratio of completed tasks to uncompleted tasks are sadly in favour of the later
Have you ever had any of those to do list problems?
I’ve seen those patterns in my adult ADHD coaching clients and sometimes in myself. I have ADHD too.
Most of the time I find that adults with ADHD don’t actually write to do lists, but they think they’re writing to do lists.
They’re actually writing wish lists. Doing idea dumps. Delusional to do lists. And deluding themselves that they’re doing creating doable to do lists.
ADHD adults frequently don’t apply reality filters to the their to do lists, and, consequently they often don’t get completed. Hence the irritation, frustration, and assorted negative consequences that follow. Including creating longer undoable to do lists. Rinse and repeat.
A non ADHD adult can think of 2-3 times as many tasks to do as they can actually do in a day. An ADHD adult can think of 5-10 times as many tasks to do in a day as they can actually do. Without breaking a sweat:)
Then, that ADHD adult will often try to put far too many of those wishes/thoughts/ideas/possibilities on a to do list. And have the delusion that they will all get done.
I often tell the members of my Vancouver Adult ADD Support Group that pragmatic optimism is useful. Delusional optimism isn’t.
I.e., I only got 6 things done on my to do list the last 3 days, yet today I’m putting on 12. Today will be different!
A wish list is just random wishes that you write down. I.e., I wish I’ll get this done. I hope I’ll get this done. We ADDers are wired for yes. Yes is stimulating. Yes cranks up dopamine. We’re wired to think it’s always possible.
That’s why ADHD adults often can be great entrepreneurs.
Saying no to others or to ourselves is not as easy in the short term but is easier in the long term. It maybe always possible to get some things done but it’s not always possible for ALL things in a short period of time.
A real to do list has at least one level of reality filters to it, or secondary processing to it. It’s the reality filters that make the difference. They add reality to our to do lists that frequently lack it.
There are many ways to add reality filters to your to do lists. You don’t need to do every single one all the time for every item on your task list.
But quite often, the more you apply to your initial wish list, they more likely you’ll turn it into a real to do list. Then the more likely you’ll get most, if not all, the tasks on it completed.
Here are some reality filters you can apply to your to do list to increase the odds of you finishing the items on your list.
5 Reality Filters To Apply To Your To Do List To Increase Success
1. Is this a task or a project?
Is this a specific doable task that you can do at one place and one time? Or is this a project, which is a series of specific doable tasks? This is a very common mistake people make confusing the two. You can’t do a project; you can only do a task.
Put a project on the to do list, and you’ll often procrastinate because you often don’t know where to begin. Or you start to think of ALL the different tasks in the project, you then get overloaded, overwhelmed, stressed out, and want to escape. Hello Internet, I’ll just spend a few minutes with you:)
If it’s a project, the first thing to do is to break it down into individual doable tasks. This is crucial, and often overlooked.
Breaking larger projects down to smaller individual tasks are not always easy for adults with ADHD. But you’re far more likely to get started on a project if you’ve broken it down to non overwhelming steps and you know where the first step is.
2. How long do I think this task will take?
How much time do I usually estimate it takes me to complete different tasks? How does that compare to how long they really take? Generally we ADDers aren’t so good at this, so maybe double or triple the time.
One of my ADHD coaching clients quadrupled it and it worked for him. Do whatever works for you.
3. How much time to I have that’s not already committed today?
Do you have enough free time to do all the tasks on your to do list? Have you listed out all the other tasks, appointments, meals, preparation for meals, commuting, errands etc. that you’ve already committed to? In a realistic vs a delusionally optimistic manner?
4. How much energy and preparation will the tasks take?
Will you have enough to do them all today? It’s not just time that’s required to complete tasks on your to do list, it’s also energy in some cases.
How much energy will you have left over today to devote to your new tasks on your to do list after you’ve completed your existing tasks? You know, the ones you’ve made that you may have forgotten?
Is enough energy to complete all your new to dos? Some of them? Which ones? Do you need to delete the others?
Do I need to prepare things for some of the tasks?
In some cases you need to buy supplies, get other things ready, make some phone calls, get someone else’s input, approval or help etc. before you do the actual task on your to do list. Are you clear on the preparatory tasks some, not all, of your tasks will take?
Do you list the preparatory tasks as actual tasks on your to do list? Preparing for work IS work, often the most important part. We ADHD adults often forget this, often we don’t control our ADHD impulsivity, or consider the future and just dive in without thinking.
5. An idea or thought is not a to do.
Clearly differentiate between ideas or thoughts and committed to dos. They are very, very different. Maybe create a someday maybe list like Getting Things Done author David Allen suggests.
Someday, maybe I’ll get this done. Or maybe not. This is where your idea dumps go. It’s possible raw material for your to do list, not your actual to do list.
You can call it other things like an ideas list, a possibilities list etc. Make it as big as you want, you’re not committed to doing the items on it, only to reviewing it once a week or so. If you don’t review it, you won’t trust the system and it will be useless.
If you have the time for new to dos, you can look here to grab one. One, not 10:)
If you’d like customized help in learning how to make your to do list more doable, I may be able to help you with that and other ways to manage ADHD more effectively with less frustration and stress.
What things have you learned that work for you to increase the odds of you completing your to do lists?