A lever for when you are REALLY stuck

Keeping on Keeping ON it

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
An article in the Org&Task Series

ReadTree“Having come to the conclusion that there was
so much to do that she
didn’t know where to start,
Mrs Fowler decided not to start at all.

She went to the library,
took Diary of a Nobody from the shelves and,
returning to her wicker chair under the lime tree,
settled down to waste what precious hours
still remained of the day.”

~ Richmal Crompton, Family Roundabout

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
~ Mark Twain

Ay, there’s the rub!

Have you ever had a day – or a series of days – when you simply couldn’t seem to get started doing much of anything?

CLICK HERE for an article on Activation that will help you begin to understand that dynamic.

The article below will give you something to try that might actually get you going.

It works for me most of the time, anyway.  I call it The Backwards To-Do List. 

But first, let’s talk for a minute about the downside of goals and goal-setting.

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openclipart-Gerald G

OMmmmmmm . . .

Unless we’ve spent most of our days in an Ashram, we’ve all been exposed to the positive press on the importance of goals and goal setting. 

The Goals Gurus assure us that setting goals is the foundational element that will move us forward on the path to happiness, success, fulfillment, and what the coaching field refers to as “living lives we LOVE.” 

The data comes down on the side of those who take the time to write their goals on paper and look at them daily.

  • According to the theory, written goals supposedly prevent even the ADD contingent from giving in to the impulsivity of the thought of the moment. 
  • Written goals are also supposed to help us avoid the hyperfocus tractor beam — that zombie-like state of concentration — focusing our lives on the daily to-dos at the expense of activities that will ultimately prove more satisfying and successful. 
  • Without written goals, the theory goes, we spend our lives on ultimately insignificant activities that make us feel busy and productive in the moment, but really just serve as a diversion or help us escape Task Anxiety.
  • According to more than a few studies, people who have written goals accomplish more, have higher self-esteem as a result of their accomplishments and, ultimately, experience greater success in their lives.

I can’t help but wonder if many ADDers were included among those “people” they studied.



In my life-long experience with ADD and ADDers, I have observed that compiling written goals backfire at least as often as they produce positive results.

Different Strokes for Different Folks?

I’m not arguing AGAINST the practice of written goals. 

I AM saying that, like practically everything else on this planet we share with the neurotypical majority, “the alphabet crowd” has to approach Goal Setting differently if we expect it to work for us.

I read somewhere that “Goals are ideas which translate into plans.”

  • Plans must be concrete before they can be actuated, we’re told. Vague plans never materialize – ever. So they say.
  • Success doesn’t materialize all by itself, however. It takes ongoing action, step by tiny step, toward the accomplishment of concrete goals.
    That sure sounds logical, doesn’t it?
  • So if your goals are vague, no wonder you’re not getting much accomplished – according to THEM.

Great concepts, all of those, but it does NOT mean that the process itself will be as easily successful as it seems it “should” be.

Life is simply not as simple and direct as the many self-help gurus seem to want us to believe.

  • Ask a single parent attempting to support a family single-handedly whether that list of written goals is inspiring or demoralizing.
  • Ask a survivor of TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury]  about the usefulness of that list of written goals to help them self-motivate toward a life worth living when the items they might write down – that they need to handle first – seem like tiny accomplishments barely worthy of the term.
  • Ask a recent widow or widower whether written goals help them leapfrog grief or kick them into a black hole of malaise from which they can never imagine escaping.
  • And ask any member of the EFD club how much time we can throw under the bus attempting to come up with that list of written goals!

Written goals require reflection time, decisions and prioritization – which require a different process in a-typical lives and a-typical brains if we expect our actions to be successful.

Otherwise, the sheer number of amazing options our creative brains throw at us – or the reality that some of us are already spending every waking minute on activities it would not be wise to jettison long enough to have a conversation about making time to think about life goals – are more likely to overwhelm and shut us down than to inspire us to move forward into our dreams.

THEN WHAT?  How in the world are we supposed to get started again?

Doing Things Differently to Produce Different Results

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important
as what you become by achieving your goals.

~ Henry David Thoreau

I know just what he means – and I ALSO know that who we become by repeatedly NOT achieving our goals is even more important. Both chronic success and chronic failure domino – but the latter can be deadly.

Nobody remains willing to play a game they can’t believe they can win!

No matter what kind of brain we are attempting to drive, we need to set things up to give us some rapid-fire evidence that we can WIN to be willing to continue to try, which might mean throwing much of the well-intended advice of most of the goal-setting universe into the trash.

There are a great many articles already posted here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com that will help explain WHY we need to do things differently, suggesting some concepts and ideas to consider.  Check out the links to related content at the end of this post if you haven’t read them already.

This is CPR advice!

The rest of THIS article is going to share a technique I use when my brain is scrambled to the extent that I am teetering on the edge of the cliff of hopelessness and despair: the secret that gets me started again.

just-say-noSimply “trying harder,” or continuing to try for a longer period of time, throws us right back into the category of insanity identified by Einstein and others: doing the same thing expecting a different result.

When it feels like your life is stalled and unlikely to jump-start itself, don’t read about goals and goal setting, don’t think about goals and goal setting, and certainly don’t make yourselves wrong for your “failure” to live a goals-driven life.


Nothing will work very well until we can calm down your Amygdala to get your PFC back on board and get some neurotransmitters working for you. And nothing jumpstarts the neurotransmitter restoration process faster than completions – AS LONG AS you don’t deplete them faster than it takes you to build them up.

So that ALSO means refusing to listen to your eager-beaver spouses, colleagues and other “logical” nay-sayers who lack a brain-based understanding of what it’s like for those of us in Overwhelm Trenches they’ve never experienced personally.

Banish their thinking from your brain for the time it takes for you to have accumulated some proof that nobody died and left them with the secrets of accomplishment!

Whatever you do, don’t share this advice with anyone who tends to speak to you as if refusing to try things their way is the same thing as refusing to try.

Moving Forward by Tracking Backwards

To beat back overwhelm during periods when nothing on your To-Do List seems to get done, try it “backwards.”

Except for those who are severely clinically depressed, few of us do NOTHING all day long.  The problem is that we don’t give ourselves “credit” for everything we do.  Why? Usually because we don’t do what we intended to do, or we don’t remember everything that we did.

So try something different for a few days.  Try something that works for my clients, and works for me: The Backwards To-Do List.

Instead of listing what you INTEND to do, record what you just did. Yes, you read that correctly: develop a list of activities in real time — as soon as you DO them.

Number each item. Then, just as you would if you wrote today’s list yesterday and moved from item to item today like a good little completion do-bee, at the end of the day you’ll have a long list of “done”s to cross out.

The Backwards To-Do List works to jumpstart the feeling of accomplishment because most brains subconsciously link cross-outs with completion. Completions release neurochemicals that make us feel more effective, the impetus to remain in action with intentionality.

Action begets action: brain based!

Give yourself credit for every little thing you do and notice what it does to your mood and activation level. If you’re anything like me (and my clients and students), you’ll find yourself doing more just to have a longer list – but **IMPORTANT** – that’s not the assignment (ZERO pressure – it will shut you down!)

Simply give yourself “credit” for every teensy-tiny thing you do by writing it down, and watch what it does to your mood and self-esteem.

At the end of the day (or whenever you need a hit of feel good), cross them out and say aloud, DONE! 

NUTS? Probably, but I’ll bet you’ll find that it works. Try it for a week and I’ll bet you’ll become a convert yourself. 

Keeping Track of Keeping Track

I make my Backwards To-Do list in my [paper] DayTimers daily pages (which I usually keep track of fairly well), because technology is rarely my friend when life stalls.  If you’d rather slit your wrists than give up gizmo-thingie tracking, put it there.  Set it up so that YOU get to win. 

Make SURE, however, that you track things in the quickest, easiest and most direct way to capture the details. 

Don’t let your day slip away from you tinkering with technology, or by those “quick” visits to update your Social Networks “while you’re at it.”

It’s unbelievable how motivating it is to watch your list grow as you archive what you just DID vs. what you intended to do but didn’t! It also neatly steps around the “What did I DO all day?” question, as well as providing “What day did I do that again?” tracking.

Cheaters also winners

I’ll admit that I sometimes “cheat” and write down something that I NEED to do later in the day as well – just to track it – but it is AMAZING how much harder it is to actually DO that one, compared to my keep moving and track what you are doing NOW items.

The fun part is crossing them out – and thumbing through a few days full of crossed out “Done”s.

  • It’s a GREAT way to end the day on an UP.
  • Pay attention to how accomplished you feel, and how much more you get done the longer you work this way whenever you get stuck.
  • Notice that some of the items contributing to your longer term goals sneak onto your Backwards To-Do list as well.

It also removes a great many items formerly contributing to the clutter in your brain – that whirlpool of competing priorities that create “brain drain” and increase “brain fog.” Brain clutter is as difficult to move through as environmental clutter, leaving us fatigued as well as demotivated.

TRY IT YOURSELF – and let me know how it works for you. Leave your efforts, responses and aha!s in the comments section below.

Message_BottleThe Backwards To-Do List sounds absolutely insane, but I absolutely swear by it.

It’s the ONLY sure bet way I’ve been able to keep this blog moving forward during protracted feedback-free periods when I feel like I am releasing messages in bottles and tossing them into the sea, never to know if anyone ever picks them up.

So STAY TUNED — as long as I continue to work backwards, there is at least the strong likelihood that there will be a lot more to come in this Series (as well as the other Series in process).

IF there is enough follow-through from the rest of you (comments that I can see, remember), I may even be persuaded to organize a monthly Org&Task Support TeleClass — a sort of Kick your Life in Gear MasterMind Group.

  • Your feedback in the comments is what it will take to move the item from “a good idea” to actuality.
  • As with everything else in YOUR life, it’s all up to YOU!

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Org&Task Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

Related articles on Organization and Task Completion

Related articles ’round the ‘net

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

7 Responses to A lever for when you are REALLY stuck

  1. Pingback: Executive Functioning Systems | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: EF Management Tips and Tricks | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Pingback: The Backwards To-Do List | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  4. Pingback: How to STOP chasing your tail | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  5. Great tips – I use a “backwards” to-do list when I’m stuck in the middle of my to-do list. I tend to think, “I haven’t been doing anything – just wasting time” until I write down the things that I have done, and realize that I’ve been very busy, and often for a very good reason.

    This also helps my memory, which isn’t always the best.

    Thanks for writing this.


  6. Reblogged this on Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind and commented:
    Great tips – that work (in my personal experience)


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