While 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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