X

Before You Go!
How About a FREE Resume Template?

Utilize this innovative resume format to holistically share who you are, rather than solely relying on what you've done.

Thank you! Enjoy your freebie!
Download Now
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Tips for Completing Tasks When You Have ADHD

Brittany Kipnis
Brittany Kipnis
May 29, 2024
A woman in a bandana concentrates on writing a to-do list while holding her phone

Picture it: you just finished a day of seeing clients and you now have a pile of paperwork and admin work to do, which you hate doing. You are in the home office by yourself but struggling to feel motivated to complete your tasks. So, you go on Messenger and message your body doubling group that you’re logging on to the Zoom group. One or two others respond that they’ll join as well. You join the  shared Zoom and everyone works on screen together. You tell them in the chat that you have 5 notes to complete and 3 social media posts to schedule. They share what they are working on, and everyone works simultaneously on their individual tasks. 

This is a real group that I am part of and it immensely helps me to complete my tasks. 

I recently discovered that I may be neurodiverse, which explains so much about my life experiences that I was not able to understand. Sometimes I struggle with certain tasks that neurotypical folks may find simple or easy. I feel like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a mountain just to get through most basic tasks. Applying for jobs used to be an absolute ordeal and was an executive dysfunction nightmare! From what I hear from clients and loved ones who are looking for a job in the current market, the process has gotten much worse. You have to complete assignments and multiple rounds of interviews, and this is after revising your resume for the umpteenth time and having to retype your information into tons of applications.

While there is a lot of buzz these days about ADHD and neurodiversity, I will do my best to give an informed explanation of what ADHD is, how it impacts “productivity”, some tips neurodiverse folks can utilize, and where you can find these resources too!

 

Just a quick note: neurodiverse folks are diverse and the symptoms can completely vary from one individual to another. This post reflects my personal experiences and is not representative of every neurodiverse individual’s experience. 

What is ADHD and Neurodiversity?

Important definitions:

Neurodiverse - a term coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in 1997, which refers to the notion that everyone’s brains develop differently (The Guardian). It is used to refer to neurological or developmental conditions like ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, OCD, etc. Importantly, these differences are not viewed as deficits or “abnormal” but simply different.(Harvard Health & Cleveland Clinic

Neurotypical - “not affected with a developmental disorder…exhibiting or characteristic of typical neurological development” (Merriam Webster)

ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, previously known as ADD, “ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that interferes with daily functioning or life’s achievements.” (CHADD). ADHD can present in 3 ways: predominantly inattentive presentation, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, and combined. 

Executive Functioning - “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully” (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard)

Executive Dysfunction - The term used when an individual struggles with executive functioning skills (CHADD)” 

ADHD is a form of neurodiversity, but not all neurodiverse folks have ADHD. It is typically considered acceptable to self-diagnose as neurodivergent, since it isn’t a specific diagnosis. However, disorders included under the neurodivergent umbrella, like ADHD or ASD, typically require a formal assessment, especially if you choose to request accommodations at your workplace.

I’m Just a Neurodivergent Girl Living in a Neurotypical World: “Productivity” with Executive Dysfunction

Neurodiverse individuals often struggle with executive functioning, which can directly affect “productivity.” But Brittany! Why do you keep putting the word “productivity” in quotes? Because productivity is subjective and differs based on one’s definitions and abilities. Additionally, our current society is a bit enamored with the idea of productivity to the point that many lose their sense of self and enjoyment of life. But in the meantime, people do need to work to pay the bills, which means there are some tasks that we realistically have to complete on a daily basis.

Neurotypical folks have an inherent advantage in the workforce, an advantage they often don’t recognize. Neurodiverse folks can often appear disorganized, messy, and lazy through a neurotypical lens. (If you thought I went on a tangent about productivity - just know I can go on about the word “lazy” and how laziness does not exist, but I digress). Individuals with ADHD may be at a disadvantage in our modern workforce due to different reasons, such as getting distracted more easily, being more impulsive, hyperactivity, poor memory, becoming bored easily, time management and time blindness, procrastination, struggling to pay attention to details, and interpersonal skills (CHADD). Again, I cannot emphasize this enough, not everyone with ADHD struggles with these symptoms. However, for those who do have these symptoms, looking for and working in a traditional job can be difficult. Below I’m going to talk about certain strategies that I have personally found helpful with initiating, progressing, and completing tedious tasks. This is not an exhaustive list and I cannot guarantee that these tips will work for everyone. These are just some ideas you can try. It is helpful to become more self-aware of what techniques are helpful and unhelpful for your own individual style.

 

Here are a Few Productivity Methods, Tools, and Tips You Can Try

  1. Body Doubling and Book Ending

So what are body doubling and book-ending? 

Body Doubling, otherwise known as “coworking,” is having one or more people present with you, virtually or in-person, while you work on your own tasks independently. I like to think of it as parallel play for adults. Book-ending is when you tell another person when you start and end your task, and optionally you can tell them what you plan to do and how much you ultimately accomplish. One example of doing this is by texting your friend before and after a task. Alternatively, I use a website called Focusmate where I am matched with someone else doing a task for a certain amount of time and we check-in before and after our work. I also heard good things about Flown, though I haven’t used it personally.

There are a few possible reasons to explain why body doubling can be effective.  According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, a body double could be compared to a metaphorical mirror by reflecting someone else calmly doing a task. Another idea is that body doubling is another form of parallel play. Parallel play is typically used to describe childhood developmental stages. The classic example is of two toddlers playing with blocks side by side. They don’t necessarily interact with each other, but they share the space. Adult parallel play is fairly common among neurodiverse adults and allows for opportunities to be with others without the the social pressures of direct interactions. Personally, I love doing “parallel play” even though we don’t call it that in real life. It looks more like, I’ll read my book while you play video games.

  1. Pomodoro Method

The Pomodoro Method refers to a technique where you work for a certain amount of time and take a break for a certain amount of time. Personally, I usually do 25 minutes of work with a 5-minute break. However, I’ve also seen it done similarly with 50-minutes of work and 15-minutes break. 25 minutes may be more manageable for those who struggle with sitting still. I like to use Pomofocus for my own productivity purposes. I like how I can specify how many time blocks I think the project will take, and the app tells me what time I can expect to complete. I use the paid version, which allows me to view reports of how much time I spent on each project per day or week. It helps me realize just how much I’m working, even when it feels like I didn’t do enough.

  1. Avoid Distractions: Find Tools to Drown Out Background Noise

Easier said than done.

Distractions with ADHD can be internal, external, or both. Internal distractions include daydreaming, spacing out, and dissociating. External distractions include things like noises and movement in your environment. Many people find noise-canceling headphones to be helpful (myself included). If you struggle with distractions from external noise, I strongly recommend investing in headphones or earbuds. You may also want to try putting your phone on do-not-disturb mode while you are trying to focus. Or, if you struggle with the required self-control, you can also try apps like Forest, which kills (virtual) trees if you use your phone. You can find more apps to use on your phone or on your computer here

Or, Conversely…

  1. Using background noise 

This is another area that is subjective and might sound counterintuitive to neurotypical folks. Some people with ADHD are more productive in fast-paced and chaotic environments. It’s important to figure out what works for you. If you prefer background noise and find it helpful, perhaps play a YouTube video or show that you don’t need to pay attention while you work (if the environment allows). May I also suggest listening to brown noise. Personally, I sometimes find it enjoyable and helpful to have an old sitcom on in the background while doing tedious admin tasks.

Beware of Tips that May Not Be Helpful

Unsurprisingly, many productivity tips are based on a neurotypical assumption. They may be helpful to some, but they might not be as helpful for neurodivergent folks. Again, I cannot emphasize enough, it’s important to figure out what works for you!

  1. Don’t allow yourself to change locations until you finish that task

Okay, deal. I guess I’m going to live at my desk now. It’s not helpful to punish yourself when trying to focus (like, I will not leave this office until my task is done). This is a great way to feel bad about yourself while also not helping your productivity. 

Sometimes, the opposite may actually be true. Changing your location can help you kickstart your focus. For example, I was planning to write this blog post for a full month and got overwhelmed and couldn’t focus. I then developed a new routine where I go to Starbucks on Mondays to write, and here we are! If you can’t work in a different location, even taking a walk outside or a coffee break in a new environment could help.

  1. Just Do It/Eat the Frog

This is a common tip I hear in neurotypical circles. “Just do it” (gosh, thanks, I didn’t think of that) or doing the hardest task first. “Just do it” does not typically work for those who struggle with executive dysfunction. Doing the hardest task first is also not always helpful. Those with executive dysfunction will likely feel too intimidated by their most difficult task that they won’t do anything if they think they’re supposed to do it in a certain order. 

Instead, it might actually be helpful to do your easier tasks first! This will help you ease into the rhythm, and you’ll get a dopamine boost from accomplishing something. This could make it easier to do the harder task.

  1. Strict Morning Regimen

Waking up at 5am to go to the gym and then doing your work isn’t helpful for everyone. We all have different circadian rhythms, and many folks with ADHD are more productive in the afternoons and nights. The notion of having to wake up early - and equating it with moral superiority - is another way we are forcing neurotypical norms. It’s more important to get enough sleep and feel rested than it is to wake up before your body is ready. That said, there are many people whose circadian rhythms line up with early morning productivity, and that’s great for them!

  1. Eliminate Every Distraction

You can sit me in a room with nothing but a pen and paper to do my work and I will still spend my time daydreaming. Removing external distractions doesn’t eliminate the internal ones. For internal distractions, try having a blank piece of paper on your desk at all times; when thoughts or feelings arise, jot them down. This allows you to release them, and then try to re-focus on your task, taking comfort in the fact that you can revisit that concern later on. 

So, Where Can You Find These Resources?

Okay Brittany, these all sound good and dandy but how do I find these? I can’t just body double with my cat.
No worries, I’m not about to leave you hanging.

Personally, I am part of two different bodydoubling/coworking groups. One is through a paid professional membership for mental health professionals and the other is through a Facebook group for neurodiverse mental health clinicians. One group has scheduled coworking sessions, so I already have it in my calendar that every Wednesday from 8:30-10pm I will be coworking with my colleagues, who have since become my friends. The other group is less official and consists of an ongoing Facebook messenger chat and an ongoing Zoom meeting. We just pop into the Zoom as needed.

Platforms where you can find body doubling groups and opportunities:

WOKEN

Each one of our coaching plans comes with group co-working and group coaching sessions, to help you stay accountable to your goals and build community and networking opportunities with your peers.

Facebook 

Yes, it sounds old-fashioned, but it can be surprisingly resourceful. Search for body doubling groups directly, or search for your specific industry.

Focusmate  

I LOVE Focusmate. It’s a website where you schedule a 25, 50, or 75-minute working session and are assigned with someone else from anywhere else in the world. Typically, meetings start by talking about what you plan to accomplish and then you check-in again at the end. So, this includes body doubling and book-ending. The free version allows for 3 sessions per week.

Flown

Another tool you can check out, to co-work with a small group! I haven’t tried it personally, but I heard great things about it.

YouTube  

Yes, YouTube has pomodoro-style videos. Search for Study with Me, Pomodoro, or similar terms. Here are some channels to start with: MerveStudyCorner, StudyPomodor1110, Study with Cats.  

Paid Professional  

If you have the means, you can hire an ADHD coach or ADHD-informed project manager to help you come up with a personalized plan to accomplish your projects. There are different directories where you can find ADHD coaches, including ADDA, ACO, and PAAC. This is not a replacement for mental health therapy.

Networking Groups

This may take some more digging on your end, but there are definitely networking groups on apps like Discord, and even TikTok. Meetup also has a bunch of coworking options. WOKEN's coaching plans also offer grou coworking and coaching sessions, in addition to 1-1 career coaching support.

Online Pomodoro Resources

A Message of Hope

There is a lot of new research that is still being conducted about neurodiversity and how it affects people’s lives and society as a whole. While we have come a long way in understanding neurodiversity, there is still a ton more to learn. I hope this post helps you think of neurodiversity in a new way. While ADHD and other forms of neurodiversity directly impact executive functioning and may make seemingly simple tasks difficult to conduct, there are tips, communities, resources, and various tools to help you overcome barriers and rise to any occasion. 

Want to hear more from Brittany?
Find her at: Reflectandgrowlcsw.com and Psychology Today.

Tips for Completing Tasks When You Have ADHD

Want to chat about your career
with a certified coach?

On this 20-minute coaching call, we'll discuss your career challenges, hesitations, goals, and our suggestions for your next steps.

BOOK FREE CALL

Brittany Kipnis is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in New York and Michigan. She is the owner and sole psychotherapist of the telehealth therapy practice Reflect to Grow Counseling LCSW PLLC. Brittany loves working with women who have (or suspect they have) ADHD, adults with anxiety, LGBTQIA+ folks, and those who are experiencing struggles related to family building. Brittany graduated with a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and a Bachelor of Science in Human Development from Binghamton University.

Want to Assess the State of Your Career?

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Handshake close up

Why You Need to Take Your Career into Your Own Hands (and What Happens if You Don’t)

Two women at a networking meeting sitting across a small table with a large window behind them

Making Networking Work For You

A young woman in glasses sits at a round wooden table looking at a silver Mac laptop, with a coffee next to her and pampas grass decoration.

The Difference between a Reactive versus a Proactive Job Search

The 9 Career Lessons I Learned from Watching Parks and Rec:

The 9 Career Lessons I Learned from Watching Parks and Rec

Ready to Chat With a Coach?
Grab your Spot Now.