How to Get Going on a Task: Ten Tips for Success!

Always doing things at the last possible moment? You are not alone! 

Many people with AD/HD have trouble getting started on tasks — whether homework, chores, or job responsibilities. 

This procrastination, or lack of ability to activate or initiate a task, is not laziness or purposeful avoidance. Rather, difficulty with “activation,” or getting started on a task, is one of the particular brain-based or “executive function” challenges for individuals with AD/HD.

Dr. Thomas E. Brown — author of the prize winning Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults describes “activation” as follows:

Activation: organizing tasks and materials, estimating time, prioritizing tasks, and getting started on work tasks. Patients with ADD describe chronic difficulty with excessive procrastination. Often they will put off getting started on a task, even a task they recognize as very important to them, until the very last minute. It is as though they cannot get themselves started until the point where they perceive the task as an acute emergency. 

If trouble getting started on things is stressing you, some practical strategies for getting started on tasks can be very beneficial. (Note: For some people, discussing the issue with their doctor can also lead to a helpful medication adjustment.)

Try this: with a particular plan or task in mind, take a look at the following list of strategies that can support “activation.” 

Then consider: Do some, or all, of these strategies look useful to you? How helpful might it be for you to experiment with any of them? What would you start with?

1. Look at the larger picture to put the task in context. Consider:

  • Why is this task important to you? 
  • What values of yours does it demonstrate? 
  • How does it relate to relationships or outcomes that are important to you? 
  • What do you like about the task?

2. Evaluate the pros and cons of your plan:

  • Consider the pros and cons of a task or plan list them out. Do the pros outweigh the cons?
  • If not, reconsider the task or plan until you have a more “winning” plan. 
  • Focus on the pros, relate them to your values, to the way you’d like to see yourself, to how you will feel when you follow-through, to how things will be better for you if you follow-through.

3. Make a clear, realistic, manageable plan:

  • Break the task or plan into smaller chunks, each doable in one sitting, and write them down in order.   
  • Make sure that the first task very do-able.
  • Set a specific time and day for starting the plan/task.  

4. Motivate yourself with rewards and consequences:

  • Plan a reward for yourself if you succeed in starting on time—Favorite coffee, tea, or snack? Extra time online? Lunch with a friend? Gold stars on a chart? What ever speaks to you!
  • Plan a consequence if you don’t succeed—Extra chore(s)? Skip a night out? Donation to charity? 
  • Follow-through with your planned rewards and consequences!

5. Support your success in writing: 

  • Post notes for yourself reminding yourself of the value of following-through with the task/plan.
  • Make note of the starting time/day and tasks in your planner or calendar.
  • Post notes for yourself reminding you when you plan to start, and set reminder alarms. 
  • Write a contract with yourself to start, then — include rewards and consequences.

6. Involve family and friends in supporting your success:

  • Tell someone else, or several people, that you will be doing that task at that specific time. Plan to check in with them and ask them to hold you accountable.
  • Consider asking a relative or friend to check in on you to see if you have started—and to give you a gentle shove in the right direction if you haven’t.

7. Engage your imagination: 

  • Picture yourself doing the task at the appointed time.  In your mind, try to see this with as much detail as possible – visualize the clock, see what you are wearing, where you are when you see the clock.  Notice yourself going to the location where you will do the task, see yourself with the needed items, and see yourself doing the task. Be sure to visualize yourself feeling good about your success!

8. Talk yourself into action: 

  • If you are having a little trouble getting going, tell yourself you only have to do the activity for 5-10 minutes, or that you only have to do the first little chunk of the activity, and you can stop then if you need to.  (Usually once someone gets going, they are more able to keep going).  
  • If you’ve had a lot of trouble getting started in the past and have been called lazy, or have otherwise been discouraged about your ability to start tasks in a timely fashion, notice your inner dialogue.  You may have to “talk back” to negative thoughts, saying to yourself something like: “Yes, I’ve had trouble starting in the past, but I am trying new strategies now, and I look forward to success.”

9. Pay attention to what happens when you try to start the plan or task:

  • Notice what gets in your way… and problem-solve about it. 
  • Notice what works for you…  and build on it.

10. Be patient with the process: 

  • Celebrate each success! 
  • Try, try again!
  • Expect to build your ability to activate over time.

Finally, consider working with an AD/HD Coach who can help you with these and other strategies to achieve success.


Posted in activation, initiation, procrastination

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