I remember when I was in school, teachers would assign us class work/homework and I would sit there… staring at a blank page… for hours. I distinctly remember being assigned a research paper in high school. We had been given two weeks to work on the paper but what did I do? Waited till the night before. And not just the night before but I didn’t start this paper until almost 10:00PM the night before. I specifically remember sitting in our bright red dining room with my parents. My mom and dad were yelling at me for not having started the paper sooner. They kept asking me, “why did you wait so long?” and “you had plenty of time to start on this and you chose to start the night before?!”.
Every time something like this happened, my response was always ‘I don’t know’. I don’t know why I didn’t start it sooner. I just do not know. What I did know at the time was that I was failing this specific class due to so many missing assignments. So what did we do that night? My poor parents went back to their high school days and rallied around me to help me get the paper done. If I remember correctly, we were up until 1:00AM trying to write this paper.
At the time, I could not tell you why it was so hard for me to get started on my school work. When I responded to my parents with ‘I don’t know’, it wasn’t because I was being stubborn but rather because I did not know how to put the struggles I was having into words.
Fast forward 10 years and I can tell you that I have discovered why it was so hard for me to get started on my school work. My personal struggles with getting started on tasks consisted of a lot of moving parts that were not moving in sync or maybe weren’t moving at all. The moving parts that weren’t working properly were things like time management, planning/prioritizing, organization, attention…. basically, I am listing everything an ADHDer struggles with.
What I have learned is the how to get started and complete a task and what gets in my way. For starters, I had no idea where to start when I had a task in front of me. I wasn’t sure what needed to be done to complete the task so I defiantly didn’t know what my first step was. Because I had no idea what needed to be done to complete the task, I didn’t have a good concept of time/how long it would take me to complete the tasks at hand. I would do everything in my power to avoid the task at hand and instead allow my distractions to get the best of me.
How did I overcome this? It wasn’t easy and involved a lot of support, but I started by asking how. I would make a list of what I knew needed to be done to complete the task and would confirm that with a classmate or teacher. I would then make sure I was in a place I knew I could focus. This was usually the library but if I couldn’t make it to the library, I would be sure I was sitting at a kitchen table or a desk that was as far away from distraction as possible. I also usually used music to drown any possible distractions. If I was home alone I would blare it through the speakers or if others were home I would put my headphones in.
I would then just pick a part of the task from the list I made and start there. With a paper, for example, I always thought I had to write it from beginning to end. I learned that was not the case and that if I just picked a main point and got started with that, I would have half the paper done before I knew it.
To help gain perspective of how long it takes me to complete each task, I would time myself. This would later help me get started on a task because I knew about how much time I would be spending trying to complete it.
Creating this system for me was long and tedious. By long and tedious, I am not saying it took me a few hours to come up with but rather years of trial and error. To this day, I am still adjusting my process as my life changes. The key to this success for me is and always has been my support system. In college that support system consisted of my friends, classmates, and parents and as an adult that consists of my coworkers, friends, husband and family.
If you are looking to learn new strategies to help you or your child overcome this struggle, start by identifying what is getting in the way of starting a task. An example is what I mentioned above about my struggle with knowing what I needed to do and how long it would take. Once you have determined what is getting in the way, come up with some strategies that might help to overcome those struggles. I.e. making lists, using a timer or setting up an area that enables focus.
Are there strategies that you have found helps you or or child with ADHD to get started? If so, what are they?