Prioritizing is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to many people living with ADHD so it takes on almost a mythical quality.
Prioritizing simply means ‘deciding which task is more important than others so you can work on it first.’
Prioritizing is a practical skill that helps you work on the tasks that are connected to moving your life forward in the direction you want it to go.
A to-do list is a helpful way to capture all your ‘to-dos.’ But! If you can prioritize your list and complete the items in order of importance, your productivity, sense of accomplishment and confidence is raised to whole new level!
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Why do ADHDers find prioritizing difficult?
There are 4 main reasons why prioritizing is difficult when you have ADHD.
- Everything at once
When you have ADHD, there is a tendency to want to do everything at once – either because you are very enthusiastic, or because you have a backlog of things to catch up on and you feel impatient to get everything done.
Because prioritizing means choosing one task to focus on and leaving the other tasks unattended for a little while (30 minutes), it can cause feelings of panic, second guessing and guilt. So, rather than prioritize, you try to do everything at once by jumping from one task to the next.
The problem is, this method leaves you feeling scattered and unproductive. Plus, because your attention is diluted, it’s hard to finish anything, which then leaves you feeling demotivated because nothing gets finished.
- No time to prioritize
When your life is really busy with constant demands, the best solution seems to be, keep busy and respond to everything as soon as it comes your way. This can keep you moving all day and by the evening you feel tired, but not necessarily accomplished.
Taking time to plan and prioritize feels like a luxury that you will get to one day when things settle down. The trouble is, that day is very elusive.
3. Decision making
Prioritizing involves saying no to some things and yes to others. This decision making is hard when you have ADHD because everything feels equally important. That means the best solution seems to be just get on and do everything (see Number 1).
- Being realistic
Prioritizing also involves being realistic. If you can realistically predict how long tasks take, you can figure out how many can be done in a day and prioritize them. But who wants to be realistic? That feels limiting and constraining, especially when there is so much to do.
ADHDers are great at thinking big and when conditions are perfect you can achieve super-human feats in a short space of time. The problem with this is that it can’t be replicated consistently. Yet because you have had those rare but wonderful experiences, you are always hopeful that you can get more done in a day than is generally possible.
What happens when you don’t prioritize?
Because humans can only do one thing at once, if you don’t actively prioritize then you prioritize by default.
Which of these default techniques do you use?
You do the littlest things on your to do list first. This feels good because you are getting things crossed off. The downside is that the smallest tasks often aren’t the most important. Plus, by the time they are completed there might not be time for larger tasks.
You pick the things that feel easiest. These could also be the little items, but not always. There can be easy, big and long tasks too. By picking the easiest things first, you are also saving the hardest things for last, which is a clever avoidance strategy.
Out of habit
You go onto autopilot and do things in the order that you usually do them, rather than in order of importance.
Who asks first, loudest or most often
Your time is dictated by who asks you first, has the loudest voice, or asks you the most times. People are quick to realize this is how you operate and so will use it to their advantage. However, what is most important for them won’t necessarily be what is most important for you.
In the neighbourhood
You might find yourself doing tasks and errands because you are close by. ‘Well I am in the neighbourhood, I may as well do X.’ It sounds logical, but isn’t always a good prioritizing method.
I feel like it
You might find you wait until you ‘feel’ like doing the task or are ‘in the mood.’ The danger here is you might never feel like doing your taxes.
Influenced by others
You might mirror what the people around you are doing, both at work and home, particularly if they are doing something fun like going for lunch or watching TV.
You will still get things done using these techniques. However, they might not be the things that lead you to your goals or give you satisfaction at the end of the day.
Knowing is half the battle. Being aware of how you prioritize at the moment is a great first step to making changes.
Remember, any time you spend planning and prioritizing is a time investment. It gets you out of busy doing mode and allows you to be strategic. It gives you time to lift your head and see the big picture.
If you think you can’t prioritize, I am going to disagree respectfully! Because when you are faced with a deadline, I bet you are really good at prioritizing. You know what your most important task is and say no to other things so that you can meet the deadline.
That is prioritizing! Now it’s just a question of strengthening your prioritizing muscle every day rather than waiting for a deadline to help you.
If you would like support as you build your prioritizing muscle, check out the It’s a Wrap: The 6 Step ADHD Friendly System to Plan, Motivate, Prioritize and Follow Through.
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