Ready, Set, … Go? Activation and ADHD

“Even if I know what I need to get done, I have such trouble getting started!”

“I can sit in the library, right in front of my computer, and still not start working.”

“I can make a to-do list. But, I can also easily avoid it! Then, the weekend is gone.”

Sound familiar? These individuals with ADHD are describing the frustration they experience trying to get started on things, even if they know what they have to do, and even if they want to do it!

If only it were as simple as “Ready. Set. Go!”

Getting started or activating to work is a brain-based cognitive process, one of the “executive functions” of cognitive control. Activation – including organizing, prioritizing and activating to work – is a process that is often impaired in individuals with ADD.

Unfortunately, problems with self-activation can have consequences beyond the frustration expressed by the individuals above. Problems with activation can lead to:

  • incomplete tasks and work products
  • avoidance or procrastination
  • missed deadlines
  • poor quality products resulting from a last-minute rush for completion
  • feeling incompetent
  • being seen as irresponsible 
  • reluctance about setting long-term goals

Even though activation challenges are brain-based issues, there are strategies that can help.

In his book Understand Your Brain, Get More Done, psychologist Ari Tuckman recommends that individuals with ADHD and executive functioning challenges develop approaches in three key areas:
1. Make the first step small and manageable. To do this, ask yourself

  • What exactly do I need to get done? 
  • How can I break this task or project into smaller pieces?
  • What do I need to have in place to get started?
  • Can I do this for at least a short period of time, perhaps five or ten minutes, right now?

2. Focus on rewards, not consequences. Ask yourself:

  • What are the benefits of getting this project of assignment done? 
  • How can I reward myself for completing a step? the project as a whole? 
  • When is my energy best for the task at hand? 
  • What can add enjoyment to the process?

3. Work on the task whether or not you feel motivated. Consider: 

  • How can I just “bite the bullet” here?
  • What can I accomplish when my energy is low?
  • How can I set up the environment to encourage success?
  • Will social pressure of some sort work to my advantage?

Pay attention to when you have trouble getting started. Then, consider what strategies you might try. You may discover that different strategies will work best for different tasks or projects. Keep an open mind, experiment, and make note of successes so that you begin developing a toolbox of what works for you. Eventually, you’ll find that you can rummage through your toolbox to find just what you need to “fix” activation challenges as they arise. Won’t that feel great!

For more help with activation or for help with any other ADHD-related challenges, consider coaching!

Posted in activation, ADD, ADHD, getting started, motivation, procrastination

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