Keeping up with the Treadmill Tasks

Didn’t I just DO that???
It CAN’T be time to do it again!

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Time & Task Management Series
Predicting Time to Manage Tasks – Part-II

treadmill_GreenSuitOver and over and OVER

Treadmill Tasks are those things that are never really done. No sooner do we put the task behind us than its evil twin materializes in front.

If we expect to eat every day, somebody has to fix the food. Then somebody has to clean up once each meal is over.

And then there is the grocery shopping, laundry, dusting and general digging out, taking out the garbage, making the beds, policing the bedrooms, and the bathrooms, and the living rooms, and the kitchens . . .

SOME-body has to attend to all that or everybody must live with the consequences of the mounting disorder and disarray.

When YOU are that somebody – especially if you are one of the citizens of Alphabet City – I’ll bet you frequently feel like your life is just one gigantic Groundhog Day to-do list.

I know that I do — far too many more days than I’d like to!!

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The Treadmill Hall of Fame

Treadmill Tasks don’t limit themselves to chores. Anything you must do regularly to keep your life on track has status as a Treadmill Task: dressing, grooming, health, hearth and vehicle maintenance, time reports, insurance and taxes included.

It matters not whether they recur daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally or yearly.  If we haven’t figured out a way to put them on autopilot, one or the other is eventually going to bite us in the butt — to the enrichment of self-help authors of seemingly unlimited layers of expertise and the bazillion dollar industry they support.

Why IS that?

I mean, WHY do so many of us struggle to keep things beaten back to an acceptable level?

  • How is it possible, for example, that a nation of grown-ups line up at post offices across America as midnight approaches every April 14th – praying for a time-stamp that means they paid their taxes before they were overdue?
  • We’ve known the date of the deadline for years.
  • Most of us have had what we need to handle the task for four months.

I mean, the Don’t Forget to Vote signs make sense because few of us mark our calendars four years out – but April 15th has been American File your Taxes Deadline Day almost every year for as long as most of us have been alive.

Wouldn’t you think that by the time we’d reached adulthood we’d be practiced and proficient at remembering this kind of thing and making sure it got handled in a manner that didn’t leave us t-totally frantic from the mad dash at the end?

WELL . . . the neurotypical crowd seems to have one set of answers to those questions – but I’m about to suggest that they will never-never-never work for US.  The reasons WE don’t do something are seldom the reasons they don’t.

Hold that thought.

The Blissfully Unaffected can’t really understand!

sad03_smallThink back for a moment to the Dark Ages of Mental Health – when things were even worse than they are now, and empathy was in even shorter supply. I don’t have to look at the darkest of the cruelties inflicted to find a useful example.  Think about the change in attitude toward depression in our lifetimes.

I think anyone following will be able to at least remember reading about “the olden days” when depression was totally misunderstood — and frequently maligned.

Those were the days when “ordinary people” had a down mood, jollied themselves out of it somehow, moved on, and believed that’s all anybody needed to do to feel better and get life back on track.

  • Most educated people know better NOW.
  • Most are able to understand and believe that struggles with clinical depression are simply not the same thing as a temporary dark cloud on an otherwise sunny horizon.
  • Those who are blessed with a sunny countenance (frequently, but not always, the result of fewer life challenges to navigate) still don’t really understand the implications of major depressive disorder.
  • But at least most of society would be too intellectually embarrassed to refuse to admit that perhaps something different is rotten in that part of Denmark.

Carved in Sand: when attention fails and memory fades in midlife

Only NOW — when a sufficient number of the members of the aging Baby Boomer generation are beginning to complain, blog and write books that document their recently developed struggles with only some of our short-term memory and cognitive deficits  — does there seem to be some hope that maybe there will be a bit more acceptance and understanding for us too.

I know I don’t have to remind most of you reading this article that these are issues that many of us with attentional spectrum disorders have had to deal with for our entire lives — to undeserved and unkind public ridicule, misunderstanding and general disbelief.

OpenAllNiteAs I said in an earlier article, Got Memory? . . .

It’s a challenge for me to drum up admiration for the optimistic resolve of these Boomer authors in the face of their Johnny-come-lately functional fears and struggles.

It’s difficult for me to overlook the reality that they have been able to investigate and write from a backlog of decades of functional ease that many in the communities I support would trade ten years of their lives to have experienced.

It is ESPECIALLY hard for me to join the applause of the columnists and talk-show hosts once the next realization “smacks me up-side of the head”

Not ONE of these authors or their interviewers have a clue about what might have happened to the trajectory of their lives if they’d NEVER been able to count on functioning one whit better than they do on their worst days now that they are older and less cognitively nimble.

  • Would they have developed the wherewithal to go trotting from interview to interview, financial and otherwise?
  • Would they have been able to jump through their educational hoops?
  • How about the life-long negative impact of kludgy functioning on their relationships, their credit scores, their abilities to keep their home-fires burning – not to mention the resulting hit to their self confidence?

Forgetting about the past, let’s take a look at the climate surrounding their struggles in the present tense.

  • Nobody’s ridiculing their experience or their desire for control of their relatively new symptoms.
  • Nobody’s suggesting they wouldn’t have a problem if they just tried harder, or really WANTED to do what they say they suddenly find difficult.
  • Nobody’s accusing them of hyperbolizing — or of drug seeking behavior when they investigate pharmaceutical approaches that might help them deal more effectively with the daily tasks of living.

*EACH* of which those of us with Attentional Spectrum Disorders have had to contend with for our ENTIRE lives.

MANY of those with TBI have struggled to push through neurological deficits even more extreme since the onset of their symptoms  – while everyone seems to be waiting for them to “snap out of it,”  and some have the gall to actually SAY that to them!

The Privileged Unenlightened just don’t GET it!

I fear that awareness and understanding of the many implications of the difficulties inherent in dysregulated executive functioning are still many years away.

Only one of those implications is the limited cognitive bandwidth dedicated to what the world refers to as WILLPOWER.  When treadmill tasks have not been systematized, we burn up our willpower reserves attempting to get everything done – with predictably dismal results.

“Willpower” is an unfortunate term. It lacks specificity. 

  • The use of a single word makes it sound like a single thing, a simple thing, a thing entirely within volitional control. 
  • In fact, it is a combination of a great many smaller pieces of cognitive pie, each made up of a great many other components.  Dropping out any one of those pieces can derail our efforts and decimate our resolve to continue to try. 

koolaidHoldingkoolaidAs a Man Thinketh . . .

  • Yes, I am aware that there are researchers like Carol Dweck and Greg Walton, who suggest that the evidence that supports “rapid depletion of willpower” is merely an artifact of a limiting belief that creates evidence congruent with a limited mindset — but I’m not drinking that neurotypically-focused rah-rah Kool-Aid!
  • It’s right up there with that “Just TELL yourself you’re happy!” nonsense that made those who were clinically depressed feel even WORSE when it didn’t work for them.

In a New York Times opinion piece, published November 26, 2011, they say,

“In research that we conducted with the psychologist Veronika Job, we confirmed that willpower can indeed be quite limited — but only if you believe it is. When people believe that willpower is fixed and limited, their willpower is easily depleted.

But when people believe that willpower is self-renewing — that when you work hard, you’re energized to work more; that when you’ve resisted one temptation, you can better resist the next one — then people successfully exert more willpower. It turns out that willpower is in your head.”

Methinks better for their book sales than our follow-through

Correlation does NOT determine Causation

EVEN if I couldn’t argue with their “here’s the chicken/there’s the egg” conclusion from a number of other standpoints (which could easily turn into its own lengthy blog-post!), my main objection is this:
it is simply NOT useful.

They are putting their cart before OUR horse.

In my experience, those of us struggling with executive functioning deficits need to accumulate some EVIDENCE of success to counteract sometimes years of evidence of failure to be able to shift expectations.

  • Little kids aren’t the ONLY ones who need to win once in a while to be eager to continue to play the game.
  • In my opinion, the foundation of great coaching, great teaching or great advice rests solidly on an ability to create as many successful experiences as possible – NOT to tell their listeners some version of, “You could do it if you really tried” in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

Nor does the Dwek and Walton black and white conclusion follow as neatly as they would have us believe: that we’ll use brain-based findings suggesting willpower’s limitation as an excuse to give-up or procrastinate, cognitively excusing ourselves because it is not our “fault.”  Oh please!

Evidence of lack of success does NOT necessarily indicate
lack of action toward that goal
OR the sincere desire for success!

MY Experience

Working with clients and students on success-systems for twenty-five years and counting, I can say with authority that MOST of us are valiantly continuing our attempts at success, day after frustrating day — many of us against significant odds that worsen every single day we fail to figure out how to work around our stoppers.

The plethora of advice from psychologically-focused paradigms makes things more difficult, not LESS!

  • Until those motivation and attitude adjustment gurus have walked a mile in OUR shoes they have no IDEA how many hoops our brains must jump through to accomplish what theirs do, practically automatically.
  • Give us a week with their brains and watch us run rings around what they are able to accomplish!
  • Give THEM a week with our brains and watch them shut down in frustration.

crazy-lineDrawingSteps toward Sanity

Most of US are all too aware of my favorite definition of crazy, frequently attributed to Einstein, “Doing the same thing expecting a different result.” 

It’s also a classic description of denial.

It ain’t necessarily so . . .

I am so TIRED of singing this same tune for over 25 years now, to an auditorium of nay-sayers that simply will not stop jabbering long enough to even listen to it, never mind giving what I suggest might well work better an honest trial as a test of the accuracy of their assertions!

I can’t WAIT for the world to be done inventing yet another tired version of the same old nonsense crammed down our throats and flung in our faces throughout our lives — essentially a misunderstanding or misapplication of the assertions of metaphysics that stacks the deck against us: our thoughts create our reality.

  • you’re not doing it right
  • you’re not trying hard enough
  • you’re just being lazy
  • you don’t want to badly enough
  • you’re making excuses for failure and procrastination
  • you are simply at the effect of a negative belief system


WhatYouThinkNotMyBizI believe it says more about their motivational strategies than ours that they are so eager to believe that we are getting some kind of secondary gain from event after obstacle that repeatedly kicks us into black holes, forcing us to scramble our way out before even more obstacles tumble in on top of us.

Even WORSE, they seem to believe that we prefer to remain tethered to that horrendous dynamic and we’re just too (something?!) to realize it or admit it.

It’s long past time for us to circle our wagons and agree to STOP attempting to do things their way.

It doesn’t work.  At least it doesn’t work for US.

We need to take a fresh look to determine what WILL work to create that different result and stop being, according to the definition above, CRAZY!

Let’s try something LOGICAL – in particular, neuro-logical

In an extremely helpful article on his outside-of-the-box blog entitled The Cognitive Costs to Doing Things, Sebastian Marshall has outlined seven of the cognitive costs to doing anything at all. He seems to believe, as I do, that bringing things to consciousness is STEP-ONE on the road to change. His list paves the way to identifying “a few of those cognitive costs, to understand how to get more done while conserving as much of your mental reserve as possible.

He begins with “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that goes for your brain, too.
Every time you amass the willpower to do anything, it has mental costs.”

Once you have read to the end of this article, I highly recommend jumping over to read his entire article in his own words, but I’m going to attempt to summarize a few of his points below before I say a few words about putting things on autopilot — because I believe, as does he that, “by figuring out what the usual costs to doing things are, we can reduce the costs and otherwise structure our lives so that it’s easier to reach our goals.”

The Value of Quantification

I have seen quantification work its magic time and time again.  Listing some of the stumbling blocks to activation and productivity helps those of us who are struggling to step back from the shaming “Your lack of life success is ALL your fault!” edge, reducing amygdala activation to allow unfettered access to the pre-frontal cortex – that “executive functioning” area of the brain we need on board to be ABLE to focus and follow-thru with intentionality.

Quantification of costs also provides a new way to look at getting things done — budgeting energy in a sort of cost/benefit analysis to help predict ROI (return on investment). After all, there are only so many hours in each day and nobody can do EVERYTHING, regardless of how important each individual “thing” might be.

Sebastian believes, and I agree that “we can reduce some of these costs by planning our tasks, work lives, social lives, and environment intelligently” and that remaining aware of them helps us to understand what’s going on when “we start to drag or are having a hard time.”

We still won’t get everything done, but the likelihood is higher that we will continue working on it with greater success.  More to the point, we’ll get SOME things done, in marked contrast to sitting around doing nothing as we ruminate over our lack of activation energy.  Success breeds success.

In his article, Sebastian quantifies seven cognitive costs:
(take time to skim the articles I suggest to get the most from this list)

  1. Activation Energy —
    Debiting the reserves that would support you in BEGINNING, rather than agonizing over the fact that you can’t get “motivated” to start something you need to be doing.
    Click on Procrastination — Activation vs. Motivation for still more about it
  2. Inertia —
    Referring to the energy needed to escape inertia’s tractor beam – whether you are stuck doing nothing and want (or need!) to be doing something, or whether you are hyperfocused on doing something and want or need to be doing something else.
    Click on ABOUT Activation (Inertia’s handmaiden) for an introduction to activation.
  3. Ego/willpower depletion —
    Click on Working with Impulsivity and/or Until they Believe they CAN, they Can’t for more on this idea.
  4. Neurosis/fear/etc
    Click on The Link between Procrastination & Task Anxiety for the effect of fear and anxiety on the difficulty of getting things done, with an overview of the role of the amygdala.
  5. Opportunity cost —
    Both time and money can only be spent once – opportunity cost is what we COULD have spent it on instead of what we DID spend it on.
    (Stay tuned for an upcoming article about opportunity cost.)
  6. Altering of hormonal balance —
    If we’re talking about willpower, we’re talking about stress and emotion: fear, shame, anger, sorrow (or whatever you feel when you have to will yourself into a task). Stress increases adrenalin and cortisol, which impact insulin regulation and other bodily processes: our immune system, respiration, and digestion, to name three.  Emotions change our hormonal balance as well – both positively and negatively, for good or for ill.
  7. Maintenance costs —
    I REALLY encourage you to take the time to click on Open Loops, Distractions and Attentional Dysregulation: The Importance of Closing Open Loops for more on THIS important idea.

Auto-pilot lowers cognitive drag

I’m sure you’ve noticed that many tasks are not nearly as difficult to DO than they seem like they will be before we are actively engaged in the process of doing.

Once we take that FIRST step – beginning the task we have been dreading, avoiding or confused about – many tasks tend to take on a “keeping-on” life of their own (often all the way to the finish line, when we structure tasks in a fashion that fits our functioning and our lifestyles).

But that first step is a doozy when we’re low on activation energy.

There are two ways to go about increasing our activation energy:

  1. Increasing energy or willpower
  2. Lowering activation costs and activation depletion

In other words, gird your loins and gather the strength you need to activate and soldier on – or – make it easier to activate.  I know which one I tend to prefer!

According to Wendy Wood, PhD, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, “When we try to change our behavior, we strategize about our motivation and self-control. But what we should be thinking about instead is how to set up new habits. Habits persist even when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control.”

Before I conclude Part I of this article, I want to point you back to a point made in an earlier article, Predict it to Police It, Police it to PLAN it:

The Benefits of Auto-Pilot

With most of the activities we do repeatedly, most of us reach a point where we no longer need to focus on each individual step, each a distinct part of the whole. We also pass the point where we must focus on remembering the sequence of the steps.

  • We may not even conceptualize the task as having individual steps.
  • If we always do it the same way, it soon becomes a process –– a well-rehearsed, choreographed dance that flows effortlessly, from beginning to end, from the moment we take that first step.
  • Once our brain is freed of the necessity of making those pesky prefrontal cortex intensive, moment by moment decisions, the brain power is available for something else – anything else.

Treadmill Tasks lend themselves beautifully to the auto-pilot approach.  Developing HABITs around the many chores and activities we do frequently responds easily to some focused time, attention and repeated activity.  It’s almost more difficult NOT to develop a routine.

Where most of us tend to fall down is
our failure to put the timing on auto-pilot. 

Stay tuned for more on that timing-automation idea as this article continues.  Between now and the next installment, take a look at some of the Related Articles I’ve linked for you: this is the only life you know FOR SURE you’re going to have.  Wouldn’t you like it to be easier and a lot more fun?

© 1994, 2013, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”

No TIME to read all this stuff?

man-on-phoneAfter the holidays, watch for the announcement of an upcoming 12-week TeleClass on Modular Success Systems.

It will help you sort through a great many of the “functional modules” so that you can design an action plan guaranteed to be easier than what most of you are currently attempting to work with.

Classes are a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (and the FIRST time I offer a new class is always your least expensive option by far!). As always, class size will be small to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first class fills.

If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, let me know in a comment below and I’ll make sure you have advanced notice (don’t forget to fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).

Meanwhile, keep reading as often as you can! To double the benefit, whenever I post a new article, make it a habit to pick at least one of the Related Content links to read at the same time (embedded in the text and duplicated in the Related Links at the bottom of every post).

If you’ll “like” or comment after the pages you’ve read, it will help you keep track and will point others to posts you find especially helpful (as well as helping ME to know what you want me to write about).

© 2013, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”

As always, if you want notification of new articles in this 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 coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), 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!)

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Related articles right here on
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LinkLists of other supports for this article – on

Related Articles ’round the net that may or may not help YOU

BY THE WAY: Since 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!"

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