Tackling Big Projects When You Have ADHD

Reading magazine instead of working
Some days I’d rather read magazines than work

I have a lot of days where I can’t seem to get anything done.  Other days I get a bunch of small, inconsequential things done. 

And now and then, I have a day where I’m actually feeling very productive, going almost non-stop.

Surprisingly, the productive days leave me less tired, less worn out, less spent.

How is that possible?

History Bites – Wow!  Did we really do that?

Recently I shared a couple of episodes of History Bites with some friends.  It’s a TV series I produced a decade ago and I’m hoping another website picks up.

One episode is 12 years old.  Watching it now was like seeing it for the first time.  I’d forgotten so much, it almost felt as if I hadn’t worked on the show. 

The jokes were surprising and made me laugh, the performances amazed me, the twists and turns were surprising… Delightful!

How the heck did we do that?

Making History Bites totally engaged my brain—writing, producing, directing, and even performing.  I recalled how each season, during the 8 months of production, I was in a semi-permanent state of hyper-focus.

After watching the show, when I went back to work, the warm feeling slowly evaporated, replaced by a sense of unease.

I was trying to understand how History Bites ever got made.

“How did I ever produce? 107 episodes of this series?!”  Always on a very tight budget, with a small cast, a small crew, and a relentless production schedule.

This wasn’t the first TV series I’d done, not by a long shot.  But it was the first one where I was the creator, producer, host, and director.  How had I managed it?

I was actually intimidated by this achievement.

I shrugged and went back to work, editing an upcoming video, writing this blog, all while working on the launch of the updated version of TotallyADD.com.

And it occurred to me that I could ask the same question about the whole redesign of the website “How did I manage to pull this off?” 

And then I wondered the same about the three videos that make up the Comprehensive Guide, it was such a big project!

How did I do it? I didn’t. We did!

The answer was obvious, the same for all three: with some planning, some meetings, check lists, and a lot of help. 

In fact, for the website, the planning, tracking, and managing was entirely handled by David Riddles, my wife Ava, and our programmer Duane.  

And we were all in different locations.

There were delays, sure, for any number of reasons, but one frustration that kept cropping up was missed communications. 

HINT: an email subject line should make it very clear what’s in it.  When you’re overwhelmed by emails, this is a big lesson.  Also, REPLY ALL should be used with extreme caution.

Talking it out; Talking it through

Looking back at the past few months, when David or Duane or Ava or I were struggling with something on the test version of the website, it was a phone call, a Skype, a meeting (in-person or online) that quickly resolved every issue.

My natural reflex is to write an email, rather than call.  Writing means I can figure out my thoughts and get it just right.  But I’ve learned from watching Ava, David, and Duane, it’s much faster to, “Just call and ask.”

So this morning, when Ava told me, “It looks like the new website will be ready to go live by Monday, maybe Tuesday,” my first reaction was, “Hooray! Finally!” 

Then it occurred to me, knowing all that’s been done, it’s amazing we finished it so quickly. 

And when I say ‘we’, it was a lot of really informed, experienced people building things that I’ll never know about.  Now and then I would say, “Yeah, I like that one better than that one.”

Of course the new site will never be finished.  I mean, it could be… But I have ADHD.  So we’ll be able to tweak, upgrade, add, modify, and enhance as we go along.

The Lesson?

Two lessons actually.

First: Be in communication as soon as you’re stuck.  Call. Speak directly. It’ll save 5 to 10 back and forth emails.

Second: the bigger the project, the more planning you need.  But in fact, it’s often less planning than you might anticipate.

Planning may strike some of us who have ADHD as boring.  It can actually be a game.  Like planning how you’ll conquer everyone else on a board game.

What’s boring is struggling with some tiny frustration that has become a huge roadblock that you can’t figure out, and it has rippled outward with all kinds of negative consequences…

which could have been completely avoided with a bit of planning, a few questions, and a single phone call to the right person.


Rick Green

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2 Replies to “Tackling Big Projects When You Have ADHD”

  1. Rick Ive been retired 10 years but even then the ability to talk it out was diminishing rapidly. No one was answering their phones as they were insisting on email. I agree with you that talking saves so much misunderstanding consequently Time but when working on a project it can become impossible.
    Like you, I was tremendously motivated by deadlines. The switch to email and now other communications eg Texting was FRUSTRATING. Perhaps my reputation for running at the mouth (talking too long) and what i called my Quantum leaps of logic (jumping to another unrelated topic) in my conversations was not as helpful to others working with me.

  2. Regarding your lessons:

    Communication is a big one; thanks for sharing that with us. For a long time, I tended to emails because I didn’t want to face people; over time, I found that to be counter-productive and face-to-face is more efficient – if somewhat wearing on my co-workers as I was constantly trying to cram as much information as possible into the meeting.

    I love planning – sometimes planning gets in the way of actually doing the project! (In that case, it’s a problem, a form of procrastination.) Planning is a game to me. It shows in my writing too; as I build a world for a given story, it’s not uncommon for me to get bogged down in the worldbuilding and forget to write the story! I write better stories when I “wing it” and then go back to fix the inconsistencies in the world build.

    Something else:

    I had completely forgotten you were in “History Bites.” When I looked that up, I hadn’t realized you had been in The Frantics. I was in college when that group started, and I and my friends thoroughly enjoyed the comedy you created.

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