Self-Help for ADHD: 4 Strategies to Improve Task Initiation

Young african american woman taking notes for her studyWhile symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity tend to be prominent in any discussion about ADHD, difficulty beginning tasks is another major issue for many individuals with the condition. In fact, in some cases, difficulty initiating tasks is a more visible symptom of attention-deficit hyperactivity than difficulties focusing or sitting still.

Here are four strategies to help facilitate task initiation:

  1. Break down large tasks into parts. Create a schedule of when you will do each part or set a deadline for when each part should be completed. For some individuals, an hour-by-hour breakdown of their day that notes when specific tasks should be completed is the best way to ensure that they get completed. For other individuals, having to follow an hour-by-hour schedule may seem daunting and annoying. Thus, one modification of this strategy is to estimate how long each scheduled task will take and list each part of the task on a piece of paper with the time needed to complete the parts. One can begin tasks at his or her leisure as long as sufficient time is allowed to complete what is needed. This method may be more difficult to follow through on, but having a moderate amount of structure sometimes is enough to initiate completion.
  2. Set up motivators that encourage you to complete tasks. For homework or household tasks, forgo watching a television show, playing video games, or doing something else of interest until a specific task is completed. If the task requires running an errand, identify a small reward to motivate you to complete the errand. For instance, if you have to go to the library, tell yourself that if you go, you can treat yourself to frozen yogurt.
  3. Work in an environment consistently associated with work. The setting in which you complete homework or other tasks is important. If completing tasks requiring sustained focus, make sure you are working in a quiet area. Ideally, if you can complete tasks in an area that you use only for this type of work, you can train yourself to focus better knowing that when in that area, you are supposed to be working. If you were to try to complete homework while sitting in front of the television in the family room, chances are you’d be more focused on turning on the TV than working.
  4. Reduce distractions. Switch your cell phone to silent mode, turn it off, or put it in another room. Being tempted to check email, text, open a notification from an app, and so forth will draw your attention away from the task at hand. All the time you take to check your phone and get back on task is wasted time, and it adds up to quite a bit of time if working for a few hours or more.

In general, if beginning tasks is difficult for you, look at what things stop you or get in the way. Are there specific distractions? Is there boredom with the task at hand? Do you have trouble understanding the directions? Something else?

Identifying the causes of your task initiation difficulty and developing behavioral strategies to make it easier to begin tasks will likely lead to greater success with task completion.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Teena

    June 19th, 2015 at 7:24 AM

    As long as I can break things down into small pieces that I am perfectly fine.

    It’s a little too overwhelming for me unless I can take it bit by bit, but if I can figure out a wy to do that then I am good.

  • blake

    June 19th, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    I can never get anything done at my local library because it is just too crazy. But there is a quaint little coffee shop in town, not the big chain mind you, where it is peaceful and quiet and really caters to what I need to be conducive to a great work environment for me. I am not that person who can tune out all of the distractions.

  • Vick

    June 20th, 2015 at 5:40 AM

    Could it be helpful to have an alarm that gives a little buzz so that you have a little reminder when it is time to change up your task?

  • Janet

    December 31st, 2019 at 11:03 AM

    It helps a little as a reminder, but it doesn’t help with all the underlying issues.

  • Mike

    June 21st, 2015 at 5:08 AM

    Our daughter never really had a desk to do homework or anything and she would be in the family room trying to study and stuff but we could just see from a young age that this was too much for her.
    There was always something going on in this part of the house and while others could tune it out she is so easily distracted that we had to create a dedicated study space for her so that she would have a place that was quiet and free from distractions for her.
    She is doing better in school now than she ever has.

  • Haven

    June 22nd, 2015 at 9:09 AM

    I notice medication not mentioned.

  • Brad

    June 24th, 2015 at 2:55 PM

    For someone with ADHD< I have to say that the thought of even getting started on a new project if it is a big one can scare me to death, and leaves me feeling nervous and anxious. So I will put it off and put it off until I can't anymore, and then I am all stressed about what I should do first.

  • Nana J

    June 25th, 2015 at 3:09 PM

    My daughter finally decided that home schooling was the best option for her boys because the traditional school environment was not set up in way that could help her boys succeed.
    Now they love school, they are excited about learning even though their setting is different.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    July 1st, 2015 at 4:16 PM

    Thanks for taking the time to read this article and share your thoughts.

  • Janet

    December 31st, 2019 at 11:02 AM

    Please note that difficulties with task initiation and other executive functioning skills can also be a sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I knew it was a sign of ADHD 20 years ago but struggled to figure out what was going in with me UNTIL LAST YEAR because it is so rarely noted as a sign of autism/Asperger’s. The same is true for sensory issues (another reason I thought I had ADHD even though I didn’t really have the traits).

  • julia

    January 22nd, 2024 at 5:09 PM

    Great article. I have ADHD myself. I found that writing things down and even watching YouTube videos on this has helped me. Task initiation is another point of interest , I think that could be included.

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