5 Steps to Prioritize Your Work Day When You Have ADHD

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Yep, it’s difficult to prioritize your work day when it feels like everything on your plate is screaming at you and you’re drowning in things that absolutely have to get done. It takes focus, attention, and discipline. You may not get it right every time—but if you follow these 5 steps, you’ll keep getting closer to working on what’s most important for now.

1. Clear the decks

If you’re serious about wanting to get the important things done, you’ll need to take a few minutes to plan first. I know you’re overwhelmed, I know your head is swimming, but you’ve got responsibilities, right? So splash some cold water on your face, do some jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs a few times, and then sit down with a blank screen or sheet of paper. Do it now.

2. Make a list of your major projects

Don’t labor over this, do it quick. Which clients are screaming at you because your proposals are past due? Write them down. What projects were due yesterday? What do you absolutely have to get to the subcontractor by tomorrow? Set your timer for 60 seconds and write as many of the things that are overwhelming you as you can think of until the timer goes off.

3. Consolidate the list

Chances are, you wrote some things down twice, in different ways. Or two parts of the same job, so they can be put together. Group things together that may be overlapping or redundant. Does that make your list smaller? Often people find their overwhelming list of projects isn’t as big or as long as they imagined, once they get it on paper.

4. Transfer the individual project names to sticky notes or index cards and start arranging them

I know this sounds like extra work, but this is where the rubber hits the road. Don’t try to look at all of them at once!

After you have them all on individual notes, pick up two of your project notes, it doesn’t matter which two. Is one more important or pressing than the other? Ask yourself, is one of these clients madder at you than the other? Is one of the projects bigger, and worth more money to your company than the other, so if you lost that client, you’d lose more money? Still comparing just two of the notes, if someone put a gun to your head and made you choose, which one would you choose? Even if you think they are both equal, one is always more pressing or important than the other, if only by a hair. Put that one on top, and arrange the other note below it.

Now, pick up another note, and compare it to the first note, the one on top. Ask yourself the same questions—is this new note more important than the top note? Is the new note client madder at you than the client you placed on top? Could you lose more money if you lost the new note client? If you had a gun to your head, which one would you choose? If this new note project is more important than the project you put on top, arrange the new note on top of the string. If it’s not, go down the row and compare it to the one down the row, asking the same questions.

Do this with every new note, comparing it first to the note on top, then to each subsequent note, rearranging the string of notes as you consider them. Some will be very close, but you will have to decide.

Don’t labor over this. Again, you can use your timer if you need to. Quick decisions work well, and your first decision is usually your best decision.

5. Decide how much time you will allot to each project during the day, and stick to it

Careful! This is where many people fall down. When you are overwhelmed with work, it’s tempting to just keep going on the first project and work until you get it done—don’t do this! It will take much longer than you think to get it to completion. It is often much better to get a good chunk of work done on three or four projects, even if you don’t finish any of them, than it is to start on the first one and still be chugging away at it at the end of the day. This not only makes you feel like a failure for not sticking to your plan, it backs the work up further and your clients are still going to be frustrated with you.

Use your timer

If you set your timer for 90 minutes (or 3 sets of 30 minutes) for each project and STOP when the allotted time is over even if you have not finished, you can update your client with your progress, which will help both of you feel the forward momentum. Then move on to the next project and do the same, and the momentum will build with that project as well. Soon you will be reporting to several clients about your progress, and your anxiety and overwhelm will subside.

Pretend your project work is an appointment with a client

I like to think of it this way: my appointments with myself to work on the work are just as important as actual appointments with clients. I would certainly not keep a client waiting just because a project with a previous client looked like it could run over. I would instead find a way to graciously end the first meeting with plans to get back to the work (after all, I had set a time limit for that meeting, and the time limit was over), end the meeting, and move on to my next client. I handle my appointments with myself to work on projects the same way.

You can keep trying this, even if you mess up

Try this 5-step process to prioritize your workday and let us know how it works for you. The wonderful thing about it is, even if you get off track on some days, you can always start fresh the next day and try it again.

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