The definition of transition is a “Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another”.
Adults with ADHD can find transitions difficult, as it requires a large amount of energy and effort to disengage from one activity and move attention to the next. Changing gears like this and shifting focus can leave you feeling irritated, fatigued or scattered.
Transitions happen every day and come in a range of sizes.
Coming back from vacation and getting back to regular life, adjusting to home after being in work mode all day or settling down to write a report after taking phone calls are all examples of transitions.
If your environment requires you to transition abruptly, perhaps because the phone rings, plans change or a loved one needs you, you can feel grumpy and annoyed.
You might be accused of not being flexible or ‘always in a bad mood’.
While it might not be pleasant for those around you, transitions are stressful and overwhelming for you. Understanding this can help you feel compassionate to yourself, rather than feeling frustrated that something ‘little’ seems so disruptive to your equilibrium.
Classic ADHD traits like hyperfocus, distractibility, indecision and procrastination all make transitions hard.
Here are 12 Tips For Smooth Transitions.
1. Have a Transition Day
After a vacation, schedule a transition day before going back to work. Use this day to ease yourself back into your normal life. Unpack, buy groceries, do your laundry, nap, etc.
If you are currently used to flying home at 10pm and getting up for work at 7am the next day, spending one of your vacation days as a transition day might feel like a ‘wasted’ day. However, it will help you feel organized and ahead of the game.
2. Use Checklists
Write checklists and use them! They guide you through all the actions you need to do without having to think too much. Have a ‘going on holiday‘ checklist and a ‘back from holiday’ checklist. On your last day at work, write a list of items you are working on. When you return, that list will allow you to dive right back in, rather than needing a day or 2 to figure everything out.
3. Plan Your Day
Every evening, plan the next day. Then first thing in the morning look at your plan. This mentally prepares you for the events of the day and minimizes surprises.
Before starting a task, gather everything you will need. This is helpful for 2 reasons:
Physically because you have everything at hand and don’t have to keep hunting for items,
Mentally because in order to prepare you have to think about the task and visualize the steps etc. This primes your brain for the task ahead and is the perfect transitional activity.
5. Buffer Time
Schedule at least 15 minutes in between appointments or activities. This gives you the chance to reflect on what you have just done and mentally prepare for the next task.
Create structures and routines so your body get used to doing things at certain times. For example, you can have a morning and a bedtime routine and do your weekly groceries at the same time. You might resist it at first; however, these habits make transitions almost effortless.
Abruptly stopping an activity is difficult and jarring. Having a countdown is helpful as it gives you advanced warning that it’s time to wind down.
Set a timer to let you know when you have 15 minutes left then 5, and then zero.
If you have a tendency to hyperfocus, you might not hear the timer, which is where plan B comes in! Use the loudest alarm you have and put it in a place where you will have to physically get up to switch it off. Once you are up, it will be easier to move on to your next task.
8. Train the People in Your Life
Train the people in your life not to interrupt you. It is easier than it might seem.
Tell your family or co-workers that you are going to be working on X for the next 3 hours. Ask them if there is anything they need to tell you before you start. Then tell them what time you will be available again.
9. Getting into Gear Ritual
Sitting down to work on a task that involves focus and concentration can be the hardest thing for a person living with ADHD. It can cause a lot of resistance and procrastination.
Creating a “getting into gear” ritual helps because it sends a signal to your brain that you are about to use it.
A ritual might look like this:
- Make a cup of tea, and take it to your desk.
- Put on your noise cancelling headphones.
- Write down in tiny steps everything you need to do.
- Set your timer for 30 minutes.
10. Limit ‘Surprises’
Some people with ADHD love surprises and impromptu events. Other ADHDers are the opposite and find them unpleasant and not in the least bit enjoyable. If you don’t like surprises it could be transition related.
Your partner might say, ‘Let’s go to the movies,’ when you were expecting to stay home, or friends drop by as a surprise, or your boss asks you to do an urgent task, etc.
It’s not that you don’t want to embrace life, do fun things and be good at your job, it’s just that you need some prep time.
There are a couple of solutions.
- Train the people in your life to give you heads up. You can do it in a friendly way, without offending anyone.
- If you are invited to something, it’s okay to say, ‘Thanks so much for the invitation. I can’t make it tonight. Could we make a plan for next week instead?’
- If there really is no way out of the unexpected event, take yourself to a quiet place for a few minutes (the bathroom is always a reliable option). Then, paint a picture in your mind of what the new plans will look like. I will take a shower and put on my suit. Then we will call a taxi and arrive at 7:30 p.m. Picture who will be there and how they might be feeling. Walk yourself through the plans with as much information as you have. This will help prepare you and also soothe you, so that you can enjoy the experience as much as possible.
11. Use a Calendar
Review your calendar daily. Look at what is happening today and the coming weeks. This way you feel prepared and future events don’t surprise you.
12. Talk Kindly to Yourself
No matter how much you plan, organize and structure your life to help make transitions seamless, unexpected things do happen. When they do, acknowledge that transitions are hard but that you are doing your best. Don’t say mean things to yourself or compare yourself to others.
Another great article, thank you! I’m so lucky that my partner has learned over the years that I take about 30 minutes to get used to a new idea. So if she suggests that we do something today, or tomorrow that I hadn’t expected, I initially grump about it and say all the negatives. Then 30 mins later I say ‘OK let’s do it’ as if my grump had never happened. My partner just lets all this happen without getting annoyed at me. She knows the bigger me is very easy going and adaptable. Her tolerance has helped me accept and get to know myself. I wish everyone had someone like this in their lives!
For everything else: routines, rituals, and my favourite anti-procrastination tool: if I have a thinking , writing, worky job that I’m putting off doing, I say to myself OK, tonight you’re going to start but you MUST only do 10 minutes of it – then stop and reward yourself and that’s it for the night. 10 minutes doesn’t sound so scary so I can start. Then invariably I do 20 minutes on the task – so I feel extra good about myself and get a reward too! It’s (almost) foolproof! But don’t go overboard and do too much work, as this means next time you’ll be more avoidant than ever – understandably. You have to learn to treat yourself well.
I find it extremely hard to be kind to myself for all my mistakes. I constantly feel battered and bruised by none other than myself. I will keep trying number 10 :-\
Keep trying Louise. It will make a big difference in your life. warmly Jacqui
Read ‘handling mistakes” and “compassion” chapters in Self esteem by Mathew McKay. It was the game changer for me (as an adult woman with adhd) and for the patients with MDD I worked with.
Thank you I needed this so much. I always have problems transitioning especially getting off the couch and going to bed.
So true Tracy, this is a big one for me too sometimes!
I often sleep on the couch. ; )
Noise canceling headphones, what a great idea!
I am more visually distracted like I must clean the room and have everything in order before starting.
Wow, these are really good suggestions, especially 9 and 10. THANK YOU.
Hi Jaqui, great article! I have had some mega changes happen in the last few years and have needed to do a lot of list writing to get me through. I find lists very helpful when a big change is coming up and I have to find a new routine. Writing down step by step instructions and tasks for the day helps me organise and prioritise everything and crossing each one off as it gets done is very satisfying.
x x x
Very good advice. On Monday I got back at midnight from a great holiday and went to work the next day, one of my worst days this year. Why didn’t I take a transition day? Although I have ADHD I underestimate transitions.