One Simple Step to Get Your ADHD Brain to Start (and Finish) Tasks
Sometimes, when you ask your ADHD brain to start a task, your brain just says, “No way; that’s not happening.” It’s not you – you know you need to work on that task, you want to work on it, you wish you could get yourself to actually start – it’s your brain. Your brain is trying to tell you something about that task. Your brain might think that task is too complicated, too big, too boring, too scary. Whatever the reason your brain throws at you, you can try to override it with this one simple step: having an entry point.
What’s an entry point?
An entry point is the very first thing you need to do to start your task. It is usually the thing that you have to do before the thing that you think is the first thing. When I work with my clients, I might ask, “What’s the very first thing you need to do to start that task?” Then I will ask, “Is there something before that?” And, maybe, even, “What happens before that?” We are trying to discover the starting point that will help you to activate. The entry point is the beginning, square one, the springboard, kickoff for your task that will allow your brain to realize that it can handle this task (even if it is complex or boring) and create the momentum to keep you going.
Imagine that your task is like a highway. When you want to work on a task, that means you have to get on the highway. The entry point is like putting on your turn signal and getting in the onramp lane. Once you are in that lane, it is hard not to get on the highway.
What do you need an entry point for?
Creating an entry point is only necessary for those tasks you are not starting. Are there tasks on your to-do list that have been on there for a while? Or, are there types of tasks that your brain really pushes back on, like writing or making calls? Maybe you need an entry point for a new habit you are trying to establish. Those are the types of tasks for which you need an entry point. For many of the professors who have ADHD that I work with, writing papers or grants are especially hard to start. Or, for some it’s grading. One lawyer with ADHD that I worked with had the same client’s case on his to-do list every week for months. When I asked him about it, he said he knew what needed to be done, but couldn’t get himself to do it. That case is a perfect candidate for an entry point.
Creating an entry point is not necessary for all tasks. I’ll bet you know how to get yourself started on many things without having to design how you’ll begin. You do them automatically, like opening your email or preparing a presentation. Each person will have different entry point needs.
How to create your own entry point
How do you create an entry point that will help you get started on tasks when your ADHD brain is saying no?
First, define the task specifically. So, let’s use the case of my professor friend, Ann, who had to write a paper for submission to a research journal. In her mind, this task was defined as “paper writing.” (This felt big and scary to her brain.) But, in order to define the task in a way that she could work on it today, I asked her to be more specific. So, she defined the task as “continue to add to the discussion section of the paper.”
Then, think of the first thing you think you have to do to start that task. When Ann thought about adding to the discussion section of her paper, she thought the first thing to do might be to re-read what she had already written. Not a bad first step, but not quite there.
Keep asking yourself, “What comes before that?” Keep asking until you think you have the very first step. This could take several rounds. Ann came up with the step of assembling the material she will need. That might work, but she felt it wasn’t quite it. Then, after asking herself again, she hit the jackpot entry point – open the document. When her brain was fighting her, she would let it get its way and start doing something else before she would open the research paper document. This was her entry point. Once she was sitting there with the document open in front of her, she was less likely to avoid working on it.
What does this have to do with finishing a task?
For many people with ADHD, starting or activating to a task is so hard that it actually keeps them from finishing. In order to finish a task that can’t be done in one quick burst, you have to keep restarting it over and over again until it is done. Each time Ann had to work on her paper, she had to start working on it. Every darn time. So, her entry point got a lot of use (open the document…open the document…open the document).
Creating an entry point is a deceptively simple step. Yes, it seems easy, but in order for it to work, like so many other tactics for ADHD, you have to take the time to create the step. Think about the entry point before you are in an argument with your brain. And, because we know that getting things out of your head works so beautifully for people with ADHD, actually write your entry point down. Put the entry point into your plan for the day. It is the intentionality that makes this one simple step for getting your ADHD brain to start tasks work surprisingly well.
Want to get more help to fight procrastination, generate motivation, and increase your productivity? Check out some other useful articles to learn how to overcome perfectionism (Part I & Part II), explore ways get 'unstuck', and read about shifting from bad to badass!