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De-cluttering and Procrastination


Which aspect of your ADHD do you dislike the most?  Which trait, or if you prefer, ‘symptom’, does the most damage? It’s a valuable question to ask.  For several reasons. One payoff for identifying the trait that undermines you the most?  It requires you to focus, and you won’t drown in good intentions, trying to manage every symptom at once.  (A recipe for overwhelm as I found out after when first diagnosed.)

Another payoff?  Mastering the bugaboo that most sabotages you makes it so much easier to take on the next symptom you want to eliminate.  (Or more realistically, that you want to reduce to insignificance. Hey, everyone loses their keys now and then.  Wouldn’t losing keys once a month be far better than 4 times a day?) And if you want to get a sense of the many ways ADHD impacts your life, our book lays out 132 surprising traits, behaviors, and beliefs that we struggle with.  As well, we reveal 23 potential strengths.

The Most Bang For Your Buck

As you’ll see, there’s a lot of ways ADHD undermines us.  The one particular challenge that undermines you, and affects others around you, that’s the one to work on first. It’s worth spending a few minutes a day imagining what life will be like once this ‘problem’ is no longer running your life.  Or ruining your life.

For me, the biggest challenge was procrastination.  I knew that if I developed the habit of taking action right away, without delay, my life would be easier, simpler, and more rewarding.  Procrastination was Public Enemy #1, and Private Enemy too, impacting my work and my personal life. And yet…

I Always Procrastinate – About Everything!

But as my wife pointed out, I definitely didn’t procrastinate all the time.
When there is a work deadline I have to meet, I come through.  Often just in time. She reminded me that I’ve created hundreds of TV and radio programs and a score of stage productions, and never missed a delivery date or had to cancel opening night.  I know that ‘the show must go on.’  And it always does.  No matter what it takes. Alas, far too often, what it took was all of my energy, time, and vitality.  At the expense of my family, my friends, and my health.

Today I’m a bit less productive, but far happier.  In ADD & Mastering It!, Patrick McKenna and I take a fun romp through 36 strategies and tools we personally use for dealing with the biggest challenges of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD), especially procrastination around big projects.  Of course, I used to procrastinate over the small stuff too.

Procrastination Can Be Small

For example, I always put off washing the dinner dishes until the morning.
I know, it’s a trivial procrastination.  The consequences are hardly life threatening.  I never let the food scraps pile up until they morphed into some kind of parasitic, fuzzy, blue bacterial life form.  Not since University, anyway.

By the way, to understand how lazy I was, I put off doing the dishes even though we had a dishwasher… Which makes it even more embarrassing.
Yet, every night I’d convince myself I was too tired and, if I didn’t immediately flop into bed and begin snoring my body might collapse.  I would promise myself to get to them in the morning.  And, sure enough, at some point over the next day or two, I actually would.
This was fine when I lived alone.

My Wife Grew Up on a Farm

My wife came from a big family with lots of farmhands at every meal.  Letting dishes pile up was never an option.  (And the family didn’t have a dishwasher. It was all washed by hand.)

So whenever I left the dishes until the morning, my wife would quietly do them.  No drama.  No excuses. She put everything away.  Wiped the counters… Because for her a messy kitchen was off-putting. Since I usually make our breakfast, I eventually noticed that walking into a clean kitchen with lots of open space, nothing to work around or push aside… Well, it felt good… Surprisingly so.

When my wife was away for a day or two, and the dishes piled up, it actually began to bother me.  I’d seen a vision… of something better.
Now I clean the kitchen before bed. Extraordinary.  Usually it’s more than just loading the dishwasher. And yes, sometimes I still leave particularly horrifying saucepans to soak until morning.  But mostly, the kitchen is clean when my head hits the pillow.

It’s Small – But It’s Big

If you don’t have adult ADHD, this miraculous transformation may strike you as somewhat trivial, or incredibly stupid. “This guy is excited because he no longer procrastinates about doing the dishes? Can’t wait to hear about the battle to dust the book shelf.”

However, if you have ADHD or ADD, or live with someone who does, you probably appreciate why this small victory matters.  With ADHD, every victory matters.  Especially the unexpected ones.

The chance that I would suddenly move to China and become a monk at the Shau-Lin temple, well, sure, that was remotely possible.  But the idea that I would do dishes and clean the kitchen before crawling into bed, especially since they could easily keep until the morning?…  That seemed beyond the realm of possibility.  This wasn’t a huge goal for me.  “Doing the dishes” wasn’t a habit I was trying to build.  It wasn’t on my Bucket List.  More like my F$%# It List.

How Did Mr. Green Become Mr. Clean?

Rather than rely on willpower or grit. I simply used several of the dozens of ADHD-Friendly strategies Patrick McKenna and I demonstrate in ADD & Mastering It! A key trick is what we call, Reframing.
I reframed the task.  Rather than see the messy kitchen as an onerous chore, which is one possible interpretation, I reframed it as an ‘opportunity.’  An opportunity to start the next day with ease.  An opportunity to do something that makes my wife happy.  And an opportunity to prove that I can accomplish things even when I’m craving sleep.
I also saw it as a chance to challenge my assumption that it was a huge job. It took about 1/3 as long as I guessed it would.  Timing yourself, another ADHD strategy Patrick and I use in ADD & Mastering It!, is a great way to develop solid Time Management skills.

Reframing is simple.  You create a better perspective.  Rather than see the pile of greasy dishes, I pictured a spotless kitchen… and then took 7 minutes to clean, wash, and tidy up so that reality matched the vision.
Instead of feeling guilty, I want to be feeling absurdly pleased.

The Surprising Payoff

It feels silly to admit how much better I feel when the kitchen is spic and span.  But the next morning when I come down to start making breakfast the usual ‘Ugh!’ is replaced by, ‘Ah! Nice.’   It actually sets a whole different tone to the day.

Rather than nagging myself, laying on a guilt trip, I found that picturing how I would feel to be greeted by clean, clear counters first thing in the morning made the decision easy.  I made it a game to see how fast I could declutter and clean up. T o my shock, I actually quite enjoyed it.

And yes, I know, it sounds ridiculous.  But I’ve found this technique works, providing real motivation, whether I’m trying to procrastinate about exercise, making a difficult phone call, or writing a challenging script.
I succeed with ADHD by focusing on the result, envisioning it finished, feeling the pleasure of a job well done.  Rather than seeing only what needs to be done.



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  1. moosilaneous August 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I am mightily impressed by your new found ability to force yourself to do the dishes before bed. Seriously. I get the small accomplishments.
    So, since I have no TV, (I’m no luddite, I just can’t cope with the time-suck of cable TV. I do have screen for watching DVDs!) if I wait, can I see the PBS series online somewhere? Or, can I buy the video? Or, for me, better yet, is there a transcript?
    (I am the only ADHD people I’ve heard of who can better assimilate written material. Sigh, of course, I have to be a weird precious snowflake…)
    Please let us all know, maybe others are in this position.

  2. megmcm August 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    How long do we have to wait for info about how to not procrastinate? I thought I could read it and furhter put off dong more work.

  3. MarieAngell August 28, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I am gradually making headway on the procrastination too (much to my surprise). I still find it difficult to do things that are hard (usually because they require a lot of brainpower), but I have found that, if I can get myself into motion, the actual task isn’t a big deal. Of course, that’s the trick, isn’t it.
    Moosilaneous, you are not alone! In assimilating material better through the written word–not in your house. I was able to see the show and loved it (though it went by too fast). But I’d love to see a transcript. I would type one but I figure there’s a book coming out.

  4. Pridan August 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Just wanted to say thank you, Rick.
    The work that you are all doing is so wonderful, and it has made a big difference in my life. I know that Patrick and yourself are both aware of your mutual ability to write and perform comedy, but the way that you are both able to share heartfelt stories from your lives in a way that empowers others is equally amazing.
    Also, the “F$%# It List” line made me shoot soda out of my nose.

  5. Carrie September 1, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Oh my goodness! This is EXACTLY what I have been going through these last couple weeks. The battle against the small seemingly meaningless tasks. Getting the dishes done. I HATE touching dirty dishes! I HATE the feel and the thought of them… But I’ve been doing them. Just today I was thinking about giving up, giving into the procrastination again. Felt very alone and stupid for being overcome by small house chores. Im glad I logged on tonight. This was a great pick me up and has helped me get back up again and fight the house chore monster!

  6. WrightWords September 2, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Me too! I wanna read the next blog NOW!!! OH, impulsivity. dang! :-p And no Moos, you ‘are the only reader vs watcher – I MUCH prefer reading to watching video. Unless it’s Rick and Patrick!

  7. WrightWords September 2, 2012 at 5:26 am

    oh blat : *you AREN’T the only …. eek

  8. mememry September 2, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I also assimilate the written word better than video. Fortunately, I have DVR – I get a chance to pause, walk away, come back, give it time to settle, or skip ahead if need be.
    I am trying to get through the household chore thing. It’s not easy. So I say as I sit looking at my table that is not so much a table as a collection of stuff (like every other surface in my house). I’m trying not to be overwhelmed. Time to go back to the techniques.

  9. bluecat128 September 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I got overwhelmed trying to read your ‘overwhelm’ article. Help? I need help with basics, like paying bills, paperwork, mail,. I tried getting a scanner, then I got overwhelmed with the owners manual.

  10. amy55 September 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    i often say i’d rather clean the bathroom with a toothbrush than do dishes – that’s because i only have to do that once in a while – not continuously throughout the day. I do hate doing dishes (especially now that i don’t have a dishwasher!) but i don’t want my children exposed to the nasties that come with a kitchen full of science experiments :)

  11. ShaunaJ September 16, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    OH MY GOODNESS! I knew I Liked YOU TWO GUYS for a reason. I have been a Red Green fan for…..well a LONG time…. and you sir are the funniest one on the entire show. But I digress….. dishes, clutter, unorganized. If i don’t have ADD, I am surely borderline and I have a childhood friend from first grade who has been diagnosed with ADHD. So when I heard your program on PBS (while I was working upstairs I might add) I held out for about 30 minutes but just had to clock out and listen to the end of it. WOW…. and then I heard totallyadd.com and nearly freaked…. I can’t wait to tell my firend about it.

  12. Rebshort September 18, 2016 at 12:42 am

    Hello everybody in the Comments. It’s 2016 now. Are you 2012 folk all still alive? Did you ever get the dishes done?
    Good article Rick. Great advice. When I stop procrastinating about thinking about procrastinating, I will give this consideration. Probably wry consideration, because what you wrote here is good advice. Doing the dishes some other time has some powerful friends.

  13. hstew September 18, 2016 at 10:53 am

    I’m so glad you sent us the link for this post. Great one! I can totally relate to the relief and happy little glow that comes from a morning walk into the kitchen you miraculously motivated yourself to clean the night before. Great way to start the day!
    If you don’t mind, can I post a link to another website? This one helps with a step-by-step decluttering plan–a solution to what the author calls C.H.A.O.S. (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome). It was recommended by an ADHD counselor: http://www.flylady.net/d/getting-started/
    Thanks again for all you do!

  14. Rick September 19, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Hey, @hstew, you can post the link for sure, because the Fly Lady is a great resource with some good solutions.
    That glow of relief and delight I get walking into a clean kitchen… I realized it’s always a pick me up for two reasons.
    One is that it never used to be that way. At least for me. My wife always tidied up and left it spotless. But over the years, living with me, that had started to slip.
    The second reason it’s always a delight? When I come down in the morning my mind is often lost in thought, and I’ve forgotten that I clean it up!
    And @am55, you mentioned the you’d rather clean the bathroom with a toothbrush than do dishes… Make sure it’s someone else’s toothbrush. Funny, I love doing laundry. Kitchen stuff, not so much. But I guess I’ve realized it’s easier to deal with icky, sticky, greasy dishes early on, rather than let them goo and glop percolate and fester overnight.

  15. wildweeder September 21, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Thank you – thank you – thank you!!! I, as at least one of the 2012 commenters stated, like to have a transcript, and/or pause/reverse buttons, to watch DVDs or CDs (she said as she procrastinated yet again on writing invoices by reading a blog).
    Okay – on to my task, and the good feeling I’ll have when it is completed!

  16. Rick October 17, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Did you complete your task? I have been having a couple of weeks where I’ve been getting so much done. Breaking everything down into short tasks, and only working on one area or project per day.
    Hugely helpful.

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