How to STOP chasing your tail

Changing your approach to
Help for Activation, Hyperfocus & Scattered Energy

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

The Problem with Planning

We’d be nuts to believe that we could carefully plan every minute of every day and that life would line right up with the plan.

For one thing, activities always seem to take longer than we mean for them to take. In addition, a great many other items intrude – including some that cannot be put off.

Unlike our neurotypical friends and families, those of us in the ADD/EFD camp find it more difficult to “let it go” when we see a to-do list with items untouched.

  • Many of us who try the typical advice end up becoming so demotivated that we tend to conclude that “to-do lists don’t work.”
  • Others in our club feel so overwhelmed by day after day of undone to-dos that we end up doing practically nothing at all.

We need to do it another way

Coming back from my difficulties of the past two years, I am working diligently to [re]teach myself that listing 1 to 3 things in most of the currently active/important areas of my life – not thinking of them as things “to-do” but more “to keep in mind” – is extremely helpful to jumpstart my overall productivity.

My [no more than] 3 Item Overview has always helped me keep these items at the front of my mind – even if they aren’t addressed and accomplished every single day (or week!)

In addition, I always handle more than I anticipated doing on any particular day – every single day. I find it useful to write those items in my datebook and cross them off (as if they’d been there all along and I am the master of intentionality and productivity!)

It’s what I refer to as my backwards to-do list.

Seriously, that little trick helps to remind me, when I beat myself up about delaying the start of certain projects, that I’m not sitting around doing nothing all day – eating bon-bons or worse.  It also lets me become conscious about the areas where I spend the most time.

I highly recommend it.  You certainly don’t think you’re likely to remember what you’ve done if you do NOT write it down, do you?  Besides, it’s incredibly motivating.

Yet if you don’t write these things IN your datebook you are not very likely to be able to find the scraps of paper where you did write them down at the time you need some additional motivation.

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NOT Roles and Goals

Dr. Stephen R. Covey [7 Habits of Highly Effective People] is well known for a much more complicated way to detail what’s important to keep in mind each day than the one I am suggesting here.

The way of working I’m describing in THIS article is more of a system to use when you’re stuck.

When we’re struggling to get much of anything accomplished, we certainly don’t need to spend time on what, basically, amounts to a procrastination task.

When we’re overwhelmed by malaise, it is NOT the time for making lists of values and values-based goals, along with determining the appropriate roles we need to play in the lives we’d like to be leading.

  • My [no more than] 3 Item Overview is more of a project overview – sort of a to-do category list with one to three items listed in each category to give us some places to begin.
  • Once we kickstart ourselves into getting back into action, there will be plenty of time to re-arm and re-aim ourselves.
  • Until then, all that exploration culminating in all those lists is not likely to be particularly useful anyway – at least not in terms of ACTION, that is.

I believe that starting more simply might be more effective for US.  When we’re stuck, ANY forward progress is good enough forward progress in my book.

As I said in two former articles, essentially, “It’s always seemed to me that if any task’s worth doing at all, any shade of completion beats chronic indecision and “procrastination” – hands down!

That’s why I love my Backwards To-Do List.

Sometimes I Cheat

I’ll admit that, in addition to using my Backwards To-Do List, I sometimes “cheat” on the fly – writing down something that I need to do later in the day, just to track it – but when I’m stuck, 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.

I glance at my [no more than] 3 Item Overview from time to time throughout the day as well, just in case something from that listing looks like something I can handle, given my functional temperature at the moment.

Picking your Items

Don’t make this complicated. When we’re stuck, we need to be looking for any forward progress at all to jumpstart activation.

Is your kitchen so disorganized that it is a toleration to cook a meal?  Then use “Kitchen” as one category, and list one to three of the bothersome things that pop into your mind when you even think about cooking.

Are you procrastinating changing your sheets because your other set is still in the hamper and you don’t have it in you to trudge to the laundry?  Then use “Sheets” as a category and use “do laundry” or “buy another set of sheets” as two of your items there. If you have a few extra pillow cases, maybe “change pillow cases” might spur further action?

How about the stack of papers covering the dining room table as well as your desk?  “Papers” would be good enough to head another category.  “Get box,” “throw papers in box to clear surfaces,” and “buy file folders” might be a few to-dos you could start with.

The point is simply to have a basic list of of some items that need doing because they are keeping you stuck – listed in broad enough strokes that some of them stand a shot at getting done.  No matter how small they seem to others, they are IMPORTANT because they stand in the way of further accomplishment.

Start small.  As your get-up-and-go begins to come back on board, you can increase the breadth and scope of your list and expect to actually cross some of those items off as DONE.

Check-marks and Cross-outs

It’s actually fun writing things down, then crossing them out – as well as thumbing through a few days full of crossed out “Done”s.

  • It’s a GREAT way to end the day on an UP.
  • If you are anything like me, pay attention to how accomplished you feel, and how much more you get done the longer you work this way — especially whenever you find yourself 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.

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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 Executive Functioning 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!"

One Response to How to STOP chasing your tail

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

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