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Advice for Starting Tasks

and Completing Them!

By

Updated August 30, 2010

Why is it often so hard to get things started? Tasks that need to get done can seem so overwhelming -- the pile of laundry, the dusting and mopping, the cabinet reorganizing. It often feels easier to do nothing. The only problem is that eventually these tasks must get done. As more and more of these uncompleted jobs add up, tackling any of them seems to be an impossible chore.

One of our readers, Bill, shares his frustrations regarding housecleaning. "It is easy to pick up pieces 3 through 42. How do I get motivated to pick up numbers 1 and 2?" How do we get those "to-do" lists done?

Dr. Ned Hallowell, psychiatrist and founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health and co-author of the book, "Driven to Distraction," as well as author of many other books on mental health, explains that initiating and completing a task requires:

  1. An organized (and often hierarchical) understanding of the task's steps.
  2. An ability to transition successfully from step to step.
  3. An ability to stay focused for a long enough period of time to complete all the steps.
  4. An ability to finalize the project and move on.

“Three of these areas -- organizing, transitioning and focusing -- are particularly difficult for people with ADHD,” notes Dr. Hallowell. “In fact, so much so, that these characteristics are use to help diagnose whether or not someone has ADHD in both the DSM-IV and the World Health Organization screening test for ADHD.”

Dr. Hallowell explains that it is how your brain is wired that makes it so hard to start a new task, particularly a boring one. “ADHD is a way of being in the world that results from complex interactions in your brain (brain imaging shows that your brain responds in different areas and with different intensity than in those without ADHD), and how the neurotransmitters in your brain send (or don't send) dopamine and other important chemicals in response to certain stimuli.” In other words, a task that is mundane and uninteresting is simply not stimulating to your ADHD brain.

Strategies to Get Tasks Started and Completed

Luckily, there are ways to get around this issue. “The best way is to find a way to make the task fun,” says Dr. Hallowell. “If you have to do laundry, perhaps you can sort it by practicing your free throw with your rolled up socks, or plugging in your IPod and dancing while you wash. If you can't make the entire task fun, then break it into smaller pieces with rewards interspersed. For example, pay the first 50% or your bills, then break for a latte, finish the second half and reward yourself with something you really love! (No cheating! Don't give yourself the prize until you're finished!)”

Dr. Hallowell emphasizes the importance of a positive approach. “Allow yourself to feel proud of the fact that you started (and finished) your task. The ability to feel good about your accomplishment makes the next similar assignment easier. Some people find that reminding themselves that starting a task is important for another person, such as a spouse, also helps them get started. Anything that you can do to make the task feel less onerous as you anticipate it will help. Though the specific solution for each person is different, the best path to get there is to let your playful side shine.”

Additional Reading:
Work and ADD/ADHD
Tips for Getting Places on Time
Get Organized

Source:

Ned Hallowell, MD. “Re: Request for Expert Quotes.” Emails to Keath Low. 16, Jan. 2008 and 29, Jan. 2008.

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