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Everyone Conveniently Overlooks The Details – Part 1

Do To Do Lists Help?

To Do Lists

They all begin with a number. “121 Things You Should Know…”, “9 Ways Your House May Be Killing You…”, “845,022 Ways To Make Sure…” [That last one was written by someone with ADHD for sure.] Magazines, the internet, and newspapers are full of lists. Lists of tips.  Quick tips.  Bullet points that promise miraculous change, ease, success, or permanent relief. These articles are called ‘Listicles.’  Which sounds like a disease.  And they certainly seem to be spreading like a virus.

There are the lists of the “5 Biggest Scandals…” or “Top 10 Shocking…” or “13 Secrets to a…” There are the lists of things you didn’t know.  “13 Fascinating Facts About Animal Droppings.”  Or “16 Things You Didn’t Know About Justin Bieber’s Cousin’s Pet Ferret.”  (Actually that one was fascinating.  Imagine a ferret that can play the piano?) Then there are the ones about what you need to start, or stop, or add, or eat, or avoid to be happier, richer, taller, more productive, or less of a slug.

You’ve seen the catchy headlines about how to transform your life in 5, 9, 10, 17, or 1,000 easy ways. Fine Woodworking magazine might have “17 Ways to Make a Mitered Joint.”  In Cosmo magazine it’s, “29 Ways To Drive Women Wild.” I know one way to drive her wild – leave the toilet seat up.  That drives her wild. Not in a good way.

Sorry, I’m wandering.  I need an article, “9 Ways to Stay on Task.”  Actually, I think I read an article about that.  But I forget. I need an article on “7 Ways to Improve Your Memory.”   Actually, I think I read that one too.

What sparked this blog was an article I saw online about 12 ways to make your life fabulous. One of many articles on the subject I’ve seen recently. And to be fair it was full of good strategies:  Don’t be negative, avoid people who are negative, be honest, don’t work at a job you hate, find the right partner. Good stuff… but… kinda obvious, right?  Vague.  Great intentions but short on details.

As an adult with ADHD, I’m left wondering HOW!!!???  How do I avoid being negative?  How do I get a job I love?… (Okay, I have a job I love, but you know what I mean.) These articles are about as useful as telling someone who wants to swim, “Avoid drowning.” Great. HOW???

Luckily I figured out how to swim, but much of my life was spent with a feeling of drowning… in work, not a lake. I’ve been given lots of sage advice, all of which sounded good, but… I was still drowning in work, overwhelm, and things unfinished.

I’ve come to the conclusion that telling people, “Avoid being negative!” is not helpful.  I want to avoid being negative, but here I am complaining about vague advice that doesn’t help. People, not just those of us with ADHD usually know what they want, in general terms, but don’t know how to achieve it.

We need it broken down into steps.  And there’s an added layer with ADHD.
Even when the steps are laid out, and we can see the way forward, we procrastinate, get off track, run out of steam, or give up. Even when we know what to do, and even though we know that it may cost us money, precious time, friendships, perhaps even our jobs, or our marriages if we don’t, we don’t. What’s missing is motivation. I know that everyone, even those ‘neuro-typical’ folks struggle with motivation at times. For those of us with ADHD or ADD running in the background, the challenge seems exponentially greater.

Articles like this one I found today, that reduce personal transformation to a list of bullet points, actually make me depressed. It’s like a list of stuff that seems obvious, but somehow impossible. That’s the end of my rant.  Whew!  That feels better.  I feel so much more positive now!  Funny how that works.
If you’re left feeling more negative, hang on. 

I’ll take this further in Part Two.  Right now I’ve run out of energy, focus, and motivation. (Or maybe I’m just lazy? Maybe ADHD isn’t real? Maybe it’s just an excuse…) Okay, sorry.  Part Two coming up.  Stay tuned!



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  1. sdwa March 8, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Seven. You forgot the seven ways. Three and 100 are also popular.
    No matter how many “ways” they offer, none of them is really a way if I can’t do it. Hence, I no longer read those kinds of tips. They make me depressed, too.
    It’s the “HOW” that makes everything feel impossible. Part of it is not being able to initiate action unless in response to something outside of myself…and the other part is not being able to wrap my brain around the steps.
    Some things that help me a little include putting up on the wall images that represent goals, and also visualization of what I need to do. Mental and physical pictures stay with me better than lists and abstract tips. And it helps to have those things in my line of vision where I’m going to accidentally run across them (anything I can’t see doesn’t exist.)

  2. JPWP March 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Most online stories and web links with catchy headlines you describe (12 Ways, 6 Steps, 4 Strategies, etc.) are usually just link bait to get you to click. Mmmmmmm impulse satisfied ;-) I usually encounter these stories viewing my RSS feeds so when I do I’ll just save them to Instapaper or Readability or some other “off line reader service” and this gives me a second chance to just totally ignore them later, during routine, set aside reading times. That said am getting much better at ignoring them immediately or “in the moment”.

  3. Max_Hydrogen March 9, 2012 at 8:26 am

    They make lists because people want to consume the feeling of change and improvement without any work or effort; it’s like paining over rust or eating a healthy salad and drowning it in dressing: you still think you’re eating a healthy salad.
    Improvement lists are a placebo because people are lazy.

  4. quizzical March 9, 2012 at 10:18 am

    My favorite version of these lists are the ones that are thinly-disguised shopping lists: “25 Ways to Banish Clutter Forever!” And the list – with handy photos – turns out to be mostly:
    1) Buy this cute container from XYZ co. 2) Buy this file holder from File Holder World. 3) Corral closet clutter with Closet Company’s new Closet Corraler….

  5. Gryffindork March 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    “Part of it is not being able to initiate action unless in response to something outside of myself…and the other part is not being able to wrap my brain around the steps.”
    Wow. That hits the nail on the head, for me! I like the idea of putting up images of goals…it’s very hard for me to conceptualize anything new aurally. I need visuals to truly understand and/remember.

  6. ADDcoachCandace March 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Hey Rick,
    Those articles, along with the book titles that go with them, are just a proven marketing formula.
    It goes like this: NUMBER + NOUN + GOAL + TIME LINE = RESULTS
    The reason there’s no How To instructions for these items is that most of them involve NOT doing something. The instruction manual for not doing someting has blank pages. On a not so metaphysical level, one might even say that the process of “avoiding something” doesn’t exist!
    State the Positive Opposite by turning the Avoid Statement inside out, and you’ve got the makings of a bonafide action. The How To is close at hand after that. Unless we live in a closet or a cave, chances are we’ve had some success at some point with the positive opposite statement e.g. “practice language and actions that enhance the moment”. So dig those memories and skills up, dust them off, and build on them.
    Confession: I’m as tired of the How To Manuals as you are with the Number Lists. Unless I’m trying to build a bed out of a box, I’d prefer to figure it out for myself. And that is the heart of motivation.
    And that is someting you already know more about than anything you’re going to find in any article.
    You are too humble!
    Candace Taylor

  7. ashockley55 March 10, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for this affirmation and reminder that the popular media is so superficial, repetitive, obvious and yet oblivious (I particularly enjoy the types of lists that are “25 Cheap Ways to Dress Like a Movie Star” and include dresses that cost $150). Still, why do I enjoy Kathie Lee and Hoda so much? Guilty pleasure.

  8. Larynxa March 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Ah, yes, the theory that over-simplifies the actual practice…
    Like, “How to Fly” (Throw yourself at the ground and miss), “How to Play the Flute” (You blow *there* and move your fingers up and down *here*), and “How to Rid the World of All Known Diseases”: http://youtu.be/tNfGyIW7aHM

  9. zaidyma March 13, 2012 at 9:15 am

    I share your aversion to the mechanical “X-ways to Y” pattern writers seem to resort to automatically these days, but isn’t the lack of “how” just a symptom of a crappy article?
    Seems to me, the basics of any good article is answering the why / how / what — even for self-help stories.
    Of course, these articles are working with a limited amount of space and the reported low-attention span of readers, and studies do show that these headline patterns draw more readers online, but I don’t think it’s really the format that fails, but the execution.
    What if it was the same set-up, but with real “how to” tips built in? Example:
    1.Be more positive.
    Think of each day as a fresh white canvas just for you; every time you think or say something positive, you’re sprinkling your canvas with a few spatterings of vivid colour; everytime you think or say something negative, you’re splotching it with a splatter of… vomit. At the end of the day, you hand in your painting to God / your spouse / your child / your grandmother / whoever motivates you to want to do something good with your days. Make it the least offensive painting you can every day, by reversing negative thoughts and utterances each time they come up for you. You can do this by acknowledging the negativity (in your mind) and then saying or thinking something positive instead. For example, if you step out of the shower before work and think, “Man! Mondays suck!” Take note of that, and then come up with a way to reverse it — perhaps something like, “What a great weekend. I feel fuelled for the week ahead.”
    Excusing my poor example, judging on construction alone, would you find it as off-putting if they just executed better by answering the “how”?

  10. Geoduck March 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

    It’s a cultural shift in thinking, I think. We live in a fast world, so we are always looking for a fast fix. It seems we want a magic formula for everything. No two people are the same, physically or psychologically, so why do we think 10 ways to do anything will work. Sure, maybe that worked for the guy who wrote the article, but why would it work for anyone else. Very negative me, I’m sure. LOL!
    Nothing is that simple, people aren’t that simple.

  11. Orion March 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Yes. You gotta love those lists and how-tos. Being an ADDer and having a zillion hobbies and interests, I used to subscribe to magazines that catered to whatever passion I had at the time. I quickly realized that all the supposed help and hints that were offered were, not only trite and vague, but also were repeated over and over every few months. GRRRRR.. Give me something I can use! please!

  12. Ginniebean May 8, 2012 at 12:34 am

    The whole negativity schtick is what can drive me wilder than a toilet seat left up (not in a good way). People start to define negative and positive in wierd ways.
    Unicorns pooping rainbows is good and positive.
    Reality doesn’t have unicorns but does have plenty of poop which is bad and negative.
    The reality is that we’re struggling, against our own self doubts, a world in denial, and a steady drum beat of negative attributions.
    Even mentioning “I have adhd” can be a negative. (so avoid suffering people if you want to be happy and wealthy and happy happy)

  13. everlily June 11, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    I get a lot of those “n ways to XYZ” and I have the most wonderful intentions so I always file them to read later. The last time I looked my email folder was past 10k. I haven’t even looked at my Pinterest folders lately.
    Anyway, what I wanted to say was how I learned to try and be positive. I have a friend and for a while we worked together. We took breaks together, lunch, after work events, we spent a lot of time together. She was very very very negative and I found myself getting like that. Once I realized it the first words out of my mouth every time she said something negative was “Well, it could be worse …”. I made the effort and now it’s the first thing I think of any time something bad happens or I’m unhappy, etc. If nothing else I can say “It could be worse, at least I have class.” ;-)
    I hope some may find help from this as I always find help here.

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