15 Strategies to Get Things Done

AD/HD can effect both children and adults. The true challenge is the amount of impact that it has on someone’s ability to handle life’s responsibilities and that is important to be aware of. The impact may be interfering at home, work, school, or in social situations.  Often it is the executive functioning skills (or central control of the brain) that interferes with a person’s ability to focus, organize, plan, keep emotions under control and/or accomplish tasks.

Executive functions skills are defined as:

The executive functions are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Taken from:Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel (2008) http://www.ldonline.org/article/29122/

Here are just three of the top executive functioning skills and strategies to help handle them. The links are to blog posts I wrote with more information.

1. Task Initiation – or Getting Started

  • Declutter your work space, set up materials you use often in easily accessible places.
  • Get help understanding what is expected (call a friend or coworker).
  • Break it down into smaller pieces and pick one piece to start.
  • Visual timers, alarms, and phone reminders all serve to designate a start time if you use them.
  • Start with the easiest to build momentum.

2. Memory – often called working memory or the ability to hold onto information while using it.

  • Write it down! Use a planner, smartphone app (Google CalendarColor note,EvernoteRemember the MilkHiveminder, etc.), or notepad to keep track
  • Repeat out loud what you want to remember
  • Simplify and slow down. (Multitasking reduces your IQ by 10-20 points, so use your full capacity)
  • Visualize the “end” – what will it look like when I am done/ready?
  • Cut out distractions and focus on the task at hand

3. Action – Inconsistent ability to take action doesn’t occur alone, it often involves other executive functions like, organization, planning, working memory, task initiation, self-regulation, focus and time management. So rather than it being one simple cause, it is often a combination of things that is getting in the way.

  • Make a “must do” list that only includes the top two or three things you must get to
  • Start with the most interesting task first
  • Set false deadlines for yourself or be accountable to someone else for completion
  •  “Suffer” through five minutes – it may motivate enough to keep going
  • Exercise or do something active to increase the dopamine in the brain before beginning (snacks and water help too)

If executive functioning challenges are making it difficult for you or your child to accomplish things then try the above suggestions. Don’t give up too quickly though as it often takes more than the standard 21 days to create a new habit. If you are still looking for some help, contact us for information on our private and group classes. You can also find out more information on the National Resource Center on ADHD website.

What DID I Come in Here For?

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you went in there for? Or sent your child to do two things and they only did one? If this kind of thing happens often then it may be a working memory issue.

Working Memory is an Executive Function skill that plays an important role in remembering what to do and how to do it.  It can have an impact on how much you and your child get done and how quickly and/or completely. Peg Dawson and Richard Guare1 define working memory as, “the ability to hold information in mind while performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future.” This explains why your child can do the homework one night and the next night not have any idea. It also explains why things are left unfinished, or multiple step directions are not followed and why they do the same thing over and over even though they “know” or should know that it is wrong. It also interferes with learning from past mistakes. Multitasking or being distracted and not paying attention to details can also have an effect on your ability to use your working memory effectively.

In Children it may look like:

  • Difficulty following multi step directions (or forgets some but not all of the steps during a project)
  • Struggles with math, especially processes of more than two or three steps (ex. long division).
  • Struggles to get out the door in the morning or to remember the steps in a routine
  • May “get in trouble” for the same thing over and over
  • Really studies but fails the test

In adults:

  • Walk into a room and forget why
  • These are the people that forget they are driving when they are on their cellphone
  • Leave tasks in midstream
  • Wake up in the middle of the night remembering something they forgot to do
  • Get home from the store without the item they went for

Strategies to help working memory:

  • Write it down! Use a planner, smartphone app (Google Calendar, Color note, Evernote, Remember the Milk, Hiveminder, etc.), or notepad to keep track
  • Make it multisensory whenever possible
  • Simplify and slow down. (Multitasking reduces your IQ by 10-20 points, so use your full capacity)
  • Visualize the “end” – what will it look like when I am done/ready?
  • Cut out distractions and focus on the task at hand
  • Visual cues like using your fingers as placeholders for what you need to remember (3 things=3 fingers) and “don’t forget” lists on the back of the door.
  • Chore cards (Russell Barkley’s idea) that list the steps involved in a chore
  • Repeat out loud what you want to remember
  • Have your child repeat back what they need to do
  • Do one thing at a time until you or your child can handle more
  • Use mnemonics, acronyms or make up silly songs to remember what to do
  • Templates, checklists and pictures for processes, chores, and routines

For Learning:

  • Graphic organizers and mind maps using color, shape, and placement help the brain recall
  • Preview before reading
  • Use outlines, take notes and use highlighters when possible (different color for each step in directions)
  • Have a note buddy to share notes with your child or to call if they forget what to do
  • Write out the steps first so you can check back to see they are all done
  • Templates, checklists and pictures for processes, chores, and routines (long division, morning get ready routine, what to take to school, etc.)
  • Play games that rely on remembering to build working memory

Once you become aware of what is preventing you from remembering or can find a few strategies that will work to help you compensate for a weak working memory you can then help your child learn about what is getting in his or her way. Use reflective listening that shows you “hear” them and guide them to figure out their own solutions, don’t provide them for them. Lots of people have working memory challenges and part of it is just how the world is today. For example, the media is constantly trying to redirect our attention with what is now termed “interrupt marketing” like the pop ups on the bottom of your TV screen during a show. It is annoying and it takes determination to not let outside influences interfere with your ability to remember. So, find what works for you and help your child find what works for them.

If you care to share your favorite strategy, I’d love to hear.

1 Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare (2010)

Also recommend: Late, Lost and Unprepared by Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel, and Smart but Scattered also by Peg Dawson and Richare Guare.