When I was probably 9 or 10 (for reference, I’m 21), I remember playing Minecraft with my dad on our Xbox. I was a bright kid, and loved toying with redstone, so our world was filled with the random redstone projects I’d started, and very few I’d finished. I can still remember my dad asking me one simple question:
Why don’t you ever finish the projects you start?
I didn’t have a good answer. I did make it my mission to complete the project I was working on then (a waterslide with levers at the bottom and top, using an XNOR gate so no matter which lever I flipped, the state would change), and I did. This was the first time I remember taking notice of my habit to do things halfway. It wasn’t out of an inability to do the tasks; I just had (and have) so many ideas that I lose direction, and try to do all of them.
This is frustrating for a lot of reasons, especially when it comes to my professional development. My GitHub is littered with half finished projects that are set to private, and a few that are public as a way to motivate myself to continue working on them. I have a research paper on climate change sitting unfinished on my computer, and a Medium post in my drafts with a less academic version of the same content.
In my life as a young adult, I came to find out I have ADHD. This made a lot of sense and cleared things up, but I was still left with the feeling of not knowing how to maintain dedication to my projects without jumping around. So, how can we mitigate the negative effects of ADHD while capitalising on the strengths it gives? This is a question that I sat on for a while, and I don’t think that there is a one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are definitely some tips that have worked for me as well as for many other adults (and kids/teens) with and without ADHD.
Find Methods that Help You Focus
I know this seems silly, and the title is a bit. But I promise I’m gonna go more in-depth than just this. The first tip is to experiment. You won’t get anywhere by blindly following lists and hoping they work. You need to experiment with various methods and use what works for you; what works for you might not work for everyone else. When I would ask my dad for advice on staying on task, he always had the same answer: “discipline.” My father served nearly 23 years in the military, he had a strong sense of self-discipline and the ability to execute a defined task. After getting out of the Air Force, he got back into long-distance running, now running Ultra-Marathons, 100 mile races, and more. I obviously didn’t have this same sense of discipline, and that wouldn’t work for me.
Discipline is important still, but solely relying on self-discipline wasn’t going to get me anywhere, I needed more than that. I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro technique. With this technique, you create a small cycle of work and rest, with a big rest after four iterations of the cycle. I personally do 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of rest. After 4 iterations of this (2 hours), I take a 30 minute break where I typically do yoga, eat a meal, or even just watch YouTube. Knowing that I have a break after only 25 minutes helps to keep me working on my task. Additionally, the app I use for tracking this ticks like a clock, which serves to remind me to stay on task.
Another tip my dad gave, which I now live by, is to make lists. Relying on your memory to get stuff done might work, but it’s also draining. Every time you complete a task, you have to spend the mental effort figuring out the tasks you have for yourself, and prioritise those tasks. This wears you out, and contributes to a concept called decision fatigue. Making decisions is tiring, mentally. If you make a todo list at the start of your day and give each item a priority, you can help eliminate this. You decide what’s important once, and then you can just reference that throughout the day. You don’t need to complete everything on your list, just something. Plus, it feels really satisfying to check items off your list. One of the things I found most useful is to reward yourself. Everyone’s rewards will be different, but positive reinforcement is the best way to encourage a habit. One thing I find really important is to predetermine your rewards. Going back the todo list’s concept of decision fatigue, trying to decide what to reward yourself with can make the act of rewarding yourself feel like a chore sometimes. When you take the time at the start of your day to consider your potential rewards, and maybe even assign them to each task, you eliminate the need to make a choice, you can just accept the reward and use your breaks as you see fit.
I still don’t complete every task I do. But now, I get a lot more done than I used to. I’m able to motivate myself to keep working on something, even when it no longer has my interest, as long as I have a clearly defined goal to push me to work on it. I’ve also found a healthier work-life balance, and don’t spend all my time either working, doing schoolwork, or trying to finish my portfolio website. I find time to relax, play videogames, and spend time with friends. Finding a system that works for me has helped me to become a happier, kinder, and more successful person, and it can do the same for you. It’s not as tough as you might think, and you’ll see the rewards pretty quickly.