Yep, we can confirm “just do it” doesn’t help.
Off the bat, I need to tell you that I’m a productivity fiend. I’m always trying to find the next trick, the problems with our thinking, a new and improved habit — all because I have an assumption that I’d argue, is a fact.
If you have a goal and a strategy to get there, the little steps along the way are 90% of the work. In between the work and you is this thing called friction, and getting rid of it is how we succeed.
All the productivity tips on earth try to reduce this friction so you can go from a to b to c. The problem is that all advice isn’t equal, and productivity tips aren’t law.
I wouldn’t say that a young American college grad should drop everything and chase their dream feat. Crippling predatory debt obligations. Just like it would be misleading to tell someone with ADHD to follow generic productivity advice and assume they’ll succeed. It’s bad advice that doesn’t consider the person’s situation.
I, the self-proclaimed productivity fiend, give out advice like hotcakes. But what if you have ADHD, what then? I don’t have ADHD, so how could I possibly know what works?
It’d be rich of me to lump in the classic “anyone can do it!” idea in what I write. The simple fact is that the bulk of it isn’t for everyone, not for ADHD. People with ADHD can’t “just do it,” and that’s where a little research and my friend Tim (not his real name) comes in.
How To Be Productive With ADHD
Tim’s a very reflective and analytical guy who’s found a great deal of professional success in his industry. He works in healthcare, so when he recently found out that he had ADHD, he went full-throttle into research mode.
I asked him what it was like to work while having ADHD; I was curious. A lay-person would assume that ADHD was a sentence to being one step behind in productivity and focus forever. That lay-person was me, I was uninformed, and of course, my assumption was untrue.
The level of success that Tim’s had in his career didn’t fall in his lap; he worked hard for it. He may have been diagnosed recently, but he had the condition his whole life.
The key is to manage yourself. ADHD is not an attention deficit but an attention regulation disorder. It means you don’t realistically appraise where to exert your attention, which is both time and effort.
So you can very often waste time working efficiently at something that doesn’t matter or hyperfocus on a useless part.
He once told me that he would mentally get the urgent and important quadrants confused, so the Eisenhower Matrix for making decisions looked like an abomination for him.
I’d known Tim for a good decade, and suddenly the time management, all the late arrivals to dinners and movies, all the procrastination before a sudden decision made sense. I felt like an asshat for calling him out so often over the years.
What productivity tools work for ADHD?
I asked Tim how he stayed productive with his goals these days. And by that, I meant how he did his work.
Making smaller steps, [will] set up wins. Use a pomodoro style technique.
The ‘reward system’ in the basal ganglia is shit in ADHD. Often people decribe the result as a relief system. Where the trigger for action only comes when the anguish on inaction is unbearable, as opposed to getting a reward for what you’re doing.
So a good tip is to use temptation bundling or set up an external reward system to make it worth something… always start with a goal or criteria, a functional outcome.
But of course, this doesn’t work for everyone. ADHD isn’t a catch-all, and there are three types to think about.
- Inattentive type — you get distracted easily, can’t concentrate, or get organized (Tim has this one).
- Hyperactive-impulsive type — fidgeting, interrupting, restlessness, impatience.
- Combination type — a little column A, a little column B.
And even within them, they manifest in unforeseeable ways that’ll mess with the beholder. So really, it’s about trial and error; what works for Tim may or may not work for you. Doing the research and getting opinions from others in the same boat can have massive benefits.
- Break down big tasks into subtasks.
- Make sure the first task of the day is relaxing and easily achievable.
- Time your tasks (Pomodoro technique).
- Under-promise and over-deliver.
- Find a productivity/accountability partner.
- Scope out the goal, or as Tim said, start with criteria.
- Pick a plan that works for you; the structure is everything.
- Write all the ideas down for later — “brain dump.”
- Make a game of the work.
Oh yeah, it feels super-generic. But if you have ADHD, or even if you don’t, have you tried these? Really given them a go? Given the simplicity, the benefit of the doubt might go a long way. No risks and crazy rewards? Yes, please.
Do ADHD Problems Apply To You?
Right at this point, you might be thinking, “Shit, do I have ADHD?” I mean, who hasn’t been distracted, fidgeted, or sucked with organizing something? And that’s the problem, in small doses, they go unnoticed, especially in adults. It’s why they diagnosed Tim so late.
In kids, it can be obvious. In adults, not paying attention can be seen as multi-tasking, and impulsive behavior can be simple to pass off — “oh, she’s just eager to answer questions.”
There are too many examples that you’ve either seen in yourself or maybe your work friends, and a lot of it’s normal. However, for many other people, it’s abnormal; it happens all too often. So when people like Tim finally get diagnosed and find out about it, everything starts making sense.
The shit I went through in school, mate, I’m so mad about it.
And if you have the symptoms we’ve been talking about, and you have them repeatedly, you might be in the same situation. Though without professional consultation, you won’t find out.
So don’t go into panic mode just yet, but don’t be afraid to get tested or use some of the working solutions. And don’t worry, ADHD can be a blessing. With upsides like creativity, hyperfocus, and more, Tim explains it as “having a supercar with no brakes or steering.”
Do ADHD productivity tools work with everyone?
Yes, but again, it’s a personal blend. The productivity tactics we mentioned before, like breaking up your work or having clear criteria, are universally useful. They aren’t specific ADHD.
Anyone can see the utility in easing your workload and being more organized. Only, for people with ADHD, the friction makes the work unbearable when they don’t use these methods. The tools disproportionately help people with the condition, but it varies for others.
What You Should Leave With
Productivity and getting work done are hot topics in the self-help sphere. It’s the same as relationship or business advice — it’s subjective. Most people neglect that key factor when giving out or taking advice.
Productivity advice about grit, motivation, and the brute force “getting shit done” kind of mentality isn’t very helpful for people that have a psychological and physiological issue like ADHD.
This article was as much about understanding what it’s like to have ADHD, working with it, and navigating productivity as much as it was about considering the situation of other people before giving out advice.
Everyone’s different; we can point people towards and follow directions using a compass as a guide, but unfortunately, there is no map. The map part is unique. That’s where we gather information about ourselves and what we’re trying to achieve.
Finding out how other people walk the road and trialing our way through the errors to find what works for us — that’s a winning strategy.
Best of luck,