How To Get Unstuck: Tips from Real People with ADHD
Ever find yourself stuck? I do.
Last month I found myself fighting the procrastination bug and struggling to get work done. I was at my desk looking at my Facebook feed when I noticed what I was doing – though I had a deadline to meet and a to-do list to follow, I was just wasting the time away mindlessly… avoiding what I had originally planned to do… unfocused and distracted. In essence, totally and completely unproductive. Sound familiar?
I thought about it for a few minutes, wondering why I was wasting time in modus unproductive and then realized the problem - I was stuck. The gears in my brain hit a rut and I couldn’t get them out.
Before I go any further, I want to say one thing. Getting stuck is normal… it happens. It’s a fact of life. But, for people with ADHD, getting stuck is a frequent occurrence and it can be harder to get unstuck. So, in a way, that makes them the experts, right?
And, it doesn’t really matter why we get stuck. What matters is what we do about it.
Once I realized what the problem was, I knew what I was trying to solve – how to get unstuck. Then I thought: What would my clients and other friends with ADHD have to say about how to get myself back on track? So, I asked. I sent an email out to them with a short one-question quiz…
“What one action do you think I could take to get myself unstuck?”
I didn’t have high expectations for this experiment. I thought maybe I’d get one or two responses back. But I was blown away!
Let me tell you… people have all sorts of great ways to get unstuck! I had a ton of responses that gave me tons of ideas. Once I read through them all, I noticed some themes emerge, and I thought it would be helpful to share them with you!
Exercise was the most popular recommendation…. everything from ‘go for a quick walk around the block’ to ‘hit the gym’ to ‘walk the stairs in your home’. These are all great suggestions and it makes sense that exercise was the top category.
When you’re feeling stuck and you get moving, it’s not just about exercising - it’s about changing your somatic presence, getting the endorphins flowing, and using your body to reboot your brain.
“Take a step out the door into the fresh air and put one foot in front of the other while you think about your goals and wishes for the day.”
Pull Out Your Favorite Strategy
Oftentimes we procrastinate because we’re overwhelmed with the enormity of a task. We feel lost in its size and magnitude, and our brain freezes. When this happens, it’s helpful to pull out one of your favorite tools like timers, chunking, or prioritizing. This helps you break the task down into small, manageable, bite-sized chunks.
Some people recommended something called the Pomodoro technique, which boils down to working on the task for only the amount of time that it takes to make pasta (pun intended). Once you’ve worked for a 25-minute chunk of time, give yourself a 5-minute break. Maybe visit Facebook or pick up a magazine or book you’re reading. Whatever you do, give yourself (and your brain) a short break, then set the timer and start again. You can learn more about the Pomodoro technique here or check out this great app based on it!
Another recommendation was to prioritize the things that need to be done and committing to doing five of them. Or, commit to just doing the first one. Either way, you are moving forward and being productive!
“Do just one thing immediately that is related to the priority task and don’t allow time for counterproductive self-criticism.”
Make a Change
Several people suggested that making a change to your environment or schedule could be helpful. Specifically, doing things like turning off the computer and writing in a notepad, getting out of the office and going to a coffee shop, or moving to another room in the house can all help your brain reboot to focus more.
Eliminating distractions was another tip. In today’s culture, we usually have a hundred different things vying for our attention all at the same time. Someone suggested turning off your email program and only checking it once an hour. Or if you want to be really daring, how about deleting the Facebook app from your phone?
“Try writing in a journal or a notepad.”
Here’s a question to ponder… Are you better at giving support than receiving it? Chances are, you relate to this idea.
The fact is sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but as many people suggested, finding support might be the very thing we need to get unstuck and move forward. There are many ways we can receive support, such as asking a friend or colleague to be an accountability partner. Have him or her check in with you in regular intervals and see how you’re progressing (and you can be his/her accountability partner, too!).
Another suggestion was to find someone who can help you finish tasks. This not only clears your plate but it also clears the mental clutter and frees up your brain to focus on some bigger responsibilities. This might not sound possible at first but the Virtual Assistant role has grown immensely in the past five years, making it easy to find qualified people at many different price points.
You can also look to technology for support. Websites like Task Rabbit and Fiverr are great (and cheap) ways to offload errands and administrative tasks. There’s also an app called Unstuck that is a great resource for getting unstuck!
“Set up a writing date with a friend.”
Take a Break
If you’re really feeling stuck, sometimes taking a break is needed. Several people suggested things like listening to an inspiring talk (TED Talks are great for this). Other suggestions included doing something mindless like cleaning or making some tea to give your brain a break, getting out of the house and going shopping, or even just stopping for a few minutes and getting some coffee. Whatever you do, the point is to shift your attention from whatever it is you were working on to something completely different. This helps untangle your brain and gives it some down time to rejuvenate. After the break, go back to your project and pick up where you left off. Chances are you will be much less stuck!
“Do something mindless like cleaning or making some tea or coffee.”
People also suggested activities that promote mindfulness as ways to get unstuck. Things like taking a shower (ever notice how your best ideas come to you in the shower?), coloring in an adult coloring book (all the rage right now), or even just pausing to focus on breathing can all help you get your brain back on track.
The key to practicing mindfulness is to direct all of your focus and attention to the activity at hand. No multi-tasking, no distractions, no toggling back and forth between things. Set a time limit and then let yourself be lured into that one activity that you enjoy. Mindfulness takes practice, but if you need help developing the mindfulness-for-ADHD habit, try MindfullyADD, a mindfulness website I created specifically for people with ADHD!
Practical, Accessible, and Actionable
The results of this experiment confirmed something important to me. While it is true that yes, there are hundreds of reasons why we tend to get stuck… there are just as many strategies that tell us how to get unstuck! The ideas discussed in this article came from real people with ADHD who have learned some fabulous tricks that help them stay focused and stay the course. They are practical, accessible, and can be implemented right away to help you (and me!) get back on track immediately!
So what about you? What’s your ‘go-to’ trick to get unstuck? If it’s not on this list, shoot me an email and let me know!