By Team TotallyADD

Life with ADHD – Make A List? The Good, The Bad & The Ugly


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A great strategy for managing ADHD and compensating for the poor ‘working memory’ that plagues many of us is making lists. Shopping lists. List of things to pack. Or a list of actions to take. A list of steps to shut down the cottage. Or to prepare for a party. Lists are so helpful, and give one such a sense of control, that it’s possible to overdo it. Big time. Those of us with ADHD can be more than enthusiastic. Once we start listing what we need to do this morning, we can lose track, hyper-focus, and spend this morning listing everything we need or want to do, ever.
Hello, I’m Dr. Umesh Jain. Sometimes it is hard to separate one symptom from another as they call get mixed up. I call this the SNAFU effect. Situation Normal, All Fouled Up.   Inattention, distractibility, poor organization and lousy time management coalesce into one giant mess. It is not like the ADDer isn’t busy. They are. They are just not doing what they are supposed to be doing.
Every say to yourself, “Where does the time go?” Unless they get a diagnosis and deal with it, an ADDer may end up lamenting, “Where did my life go?”
Yes, where does the time really go. Is it some 4th dimensional being that is secretly playing tricks on us. This is no game. This is life and the ADDer is losing badly.
First of all, having a lot to do isn’t bad.  Think about it—the “To Do List” never ends, until you are dead. The bad news: if the “To Do List” doesn’t get controlled, you will be dead.
Steve Covey talks about the jar with big rocks. It looks full until you realize that you can put in gravel, which fills the gaps, then sand which fills the crevices, and then water which fills every last space until, yes, it really is full. What does that mean about time?   Most of us thik, well, it shows you can always cram in more, you can always find time in the day to squeeze in more small chores.  Steve Covey suggests something brilliant:  It tells us if you didn’t start with the big rocks, then you will never fit them in later.  You can fill your life with the small rocks, the sand, the water.  And miss what’s big.  What matters.
What are your big rocks?  What are the big things you want to accomplish?  What are the big dreams you have, or even better, what are the big dreams you’ve given up on.  Time for discovery.

By | 2019-03-12T11:51:20-04:00 September 28th, 2016|Bill's ADDventures, Holistic Strategies, Mastering Your ADHD, Videos|12 Comments

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  1. Avatar
    Laura J June 11, 2010 at 8:05 am

    You get so upset in situations like this, so frustrated that you just want to watch TV or go home, making a list really helps, but the overwhelm can just destroy all of your good intention, and making a list just takes the small amount of focus time you have away. or you over focus, and look at a huge list and then become more overwhelmed.

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    Nimthiriel June 19, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    My problem with making a list is that I can’t put things in single categories (because I can see how they fit into multiple categories), but I don’t like them being scattered al over the place.
    And how far do you break a list down, anyway??
    How do I sort the priority? Is it according to date? But what if there’s something really important that I need to do, but I don’t have a specific date to get it done by, or the date is far away?
    Even when it comes to writing the list, I have no idea when to start.

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      bonniemay September 19, 2018 at 1:06 am

      I can relate to this completely! Unfortunately I can’t offer any tips because I’m still struggling with it myself. I try to color code different categories but also get very caught up in the categorizing process and next thing I know the project I’m working on for hours is the list itself. Then if I manage to figure out a new system of formatting the categories and “priorities” (am completely hopeless at prioritizing), I have to transfer all the information to a new sheet (well 4 new sheets) of paper. Get bored or frustrated by this point and never look at either list again. Rewrite the same info all over again the next day and repeat this process!
      I’m hoping to develop some better skills so I don’t get so caught up in the headings and subheadings and structure so I can actually tick something off the list!

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    Nanapamela June 30, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    I get so frustrated at work with all the work or stuff that needs to be done. I write simple word lists with boxes beside them that I tick off when I have completed the task. it helps at work but not so at home or away.

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    jasman July 3, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Nimthiriel, I don’t know if this helps you, but what has helped me from time to time is to examine each task in a list and try to detemine the greatest return you will receive on time and energy you invested in each. When I have been able to do this, I may have only completed one task of ten, but I have done the one with the greatest impact. Watch out for ànalysis paralysis`looking a list for so long you run out of time to do any task.

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    Smooth July 21, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    That’s what happens. I tend to end up making a list of every possible thing you could ever want to do. haha. It would work great if i could actually follow through to actually DO the list. But as soon as something takes more than about 5 minutes to complete I get restless, disheartened, and its over.

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    laddybug3 March 3, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I was forced to take a time management course a week before college. The third class I was told this was a waste of my time, because I did really well at planning my time. Planning being a big word here. At the end of the course we had to write which was the best time management use for us. The paper was two hours late. The professor asked what happened. I told him I could not decide on a time management that worked for me. So I wrote about all of them talked in the class with pros and cons. That is when he realized I was horrible at actually going through with plans.

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    littleblueyugo January 19, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    I have “To Do” lists from last November, mostly untouched. Worse, lists I made since then contain the same un-done tasks on them. I’m gonna need a box soon! My list-making started about a year ago and things went fine for a while, but after a few weeks, less and less was getting done off of them. Of course…I had plenty of time for doing irrelevant, unimportant stuff (which includes 7 seasons worth of Red Green DVD’s right now)…or being trapped in indecision. Take today…I was supposed to do laundry but drew a picture in Photoshop instead. The “To-Do” list I made for this weekend is still in my laptop case, untouched. I laugh at myself, but it’s time to find a strategy to fix this.

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    Evelyn March 19, 2013 at 2:51 am

    Nimthiriel, You said it- hit the nail on the head. I have the very same problem. everything has multiple homes. I wish it were just my lists.
    I have seen myself in all but a couple of these comments. And the video too. I don’t know how many times I have spent the day getting a list perfect (for the moment) and then vowing to do it tomorrow, because all the time I had to do the things I was going to do was used up by making the list.
    For a while I avoided lists for the most part, but failed to remember what to do. I’m back to making lists, but it’s still a love hate relationship.

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    sylvia61 August 16, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    This video made me laugh but it rang bells. Both my sister and I were diagnosed very recently at age 61, but both of us discovered Mark Forster a few years ago which made our lives much more manageable. An English life coach, he wrote a book called Do It Tomorrow, which was wonderfully helpful – life for both of us would have been a great deal worse without it. But he followed it up with what he calls his auto-focus system, which I have found wonderful for time management. I have developed it to suit me – I use a large moleskine diary notebook – keeps appointments, lists and notes all in one place. The best thing is that his system is freely available on the internet:

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    radley603 March 11, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    This video (actually, all these videos) made me laugh so hard my cheeks hurt. I totally get how easy it is to want to dig in to the prep work. In my case, I’ve started to use a small white board for making lists, taking notes, etc. And I make beautiful lists: color-coded lists, lists with keywords circled in other colors that indicate connections or importance… I tell myself that color-coding helps me SEE the stuff on the list. (Which it does. Otherwise it just looks like something the cat coughed up – to me, anyway.) But then I find I’ve spent hours ‘developing a system,’ i.e. coloring. My cat would often come along and sit on the board and erase it. Now I take a picture of all notes, lists, etc. with my phone. It’s the one good strategy I’ve found – easy to use and no overwhelm. (But if I lose my phone, I’m in trouble.)

  11. […]  YOUR TO-DO LIST HAS FEWER THAN 493 ITEMS ON IT We can be enthusiastic about new things.  Like creating To-Do lists.  Which then become epic documents of everything we can think of.  I created a video about it. […]

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