I was 30 years old when I found out I wasn’t lazy and lacking discipline. I have ADHD. All my life I had struggled with getting things started, or alternatively, starting twenty different things and never finishing anything. It wasn’t until I realised there was nothing wrong with me that I started to explore ways to do things my way. It’s easy to blame yourself when you can’t get anything done, but it’s more than likely that you were never given the tools for it that would suit your personality and your brain.
You don’t have to have ADHD to struggle with procrastination and sporadic productivity, it can be like this for anyone. I have written this post for people who want to get their creative projects started AND finished, but the methods can be used for any kinds of tasks. If you’re just now thinking about new year’s resolutions for 2023 or wanting to make the year everything that 2022 wasn’t, this post is for you.
First things first – are you okay?
ADHD isn’t the only possible underlying cause to why you might not be able to get anything done. Do you have depression? Chronic fatigue? About to get burned out? Like me, it’s possible that you’ve been wrongly accused of being a lazy scatterbrain when there is actually more going on under the surface. Most people reading this probably have nothing “wrong” with them, but I just want to put this out there even if just one person realises there is a bigger reason for their problems. The recent years have definitely done a number on us all, and it’s no weakness to react negatively to a DEVASTATING PANDEMIC.
Moreover, I have to emphasise that this post is not meant to diagnose anyone and I don’t recommend using these techniques if there’s something acutely wrong with you and you have no diagnosis or help. You deserve to get real-life help and guidance, so bookmark this page or pin it to your productivity Pinterest board and come back to it later. You can even email me and I’ll email you back later to remind you to take action! I care about you, internet stranger.
What’s going on in your head when you can’t get anything done?
There are many reasons why we procrastinate or abandon our tasks, some of which we might not even be aware of. Have you considered that maybe you never finish any of your drawings because really you fear that none of them are ever going to be good enough? Do you start a new online course each week without ever implementing what you’re learning because you like the rush of starting something new? If you feel like I’ve just broken into your house and attacked you personally, feel free to sit down for a moment. It’s okay, I’ve been there too.
Doing this soul-searching might feel extremely uncomfortable, but it’s worth doing even if you don’t end up finding anything. You should get to know yourself! I bet you’re awesome-sauce! But how do you find these answers within you? Just think about all the times you wanted to get something done, and then didn’t. What kind of feelings come up? And what if you actually had finished those things, how does that feel? Is there fear or embarrassment instead of joy? There might be clues there.
Is your environment setting you up for success?
You might think your feelings have nothing to do with getting stuff done, and you could be right. For some of us, our environment is what hinders us.
Getting anything done as a stay-at-home mom is completely different to trying to be productive when you have a full-time job, but both have their own obstacles. Working eight hours per day or running after screaming toddlers can sap you out of all your creative energy, and these are just two examples of the kinds of hurdles our lives might be throwing our way.
Just because someone else can do it, doesn’t mean it’s possible for you in the same way. Being human is never simple, and what works for someone else might never work for you, no matter how good it sounds and no matter how nicely their methods have been packaged. You’re not just “making excuses” if you can’t get anything done when your life is full of responsibilities or distractions, you need the right tools to make it all work for you.
You need to stop thinking about what other people are doing and find out how to do things your way, not someone else’s way. For every person starting a side hustle and learning a new language during lockdown, there are probably ten others who barely make it through the day. You’re not a failure in any way if you haven’t “done anything” in the past three years. Survival is very good and important, too, you know.
How I get anything done these days
I have been a stay-at-home parent for longer than I care to admit and I’ve had the time to figure out what works for me. I never do housework in the evening or on weekends, if I can at all avoid that. I also try to work out during the day, even if a toddler trying to steal my weights is far from ideal, because that’s something I can still do while being distracted. That leaves evenings and weekends for my creative work and my business.
What about the 5 AM club, though? You can join it if you want, but I’ll be in my bed – trying to force myself to be a morning person is a struggle I will never put myself through. But hey, if you’ve never tried it, do give it a go. By the way, I’ve also written a blog post about writing while parenting. (Things are a little different for me now in 2023, but I’m leaving this paragraph up in case you might relate to it and find it useful.)
I can’t list all the way that you could make things work for you personally, but here are some ideas: crocheting during your commute, listening to educational audiobooks while you take the dog out, making preparations all week and only working on Your Thing on the weekend, dictating voice memos when you’re not able to write, hiring a babysitter for one hour per week because it’s better than nothing. Be creative and write down any solutions that come to your head, even if some of them are ridiculous and not feasible. You’ll find something that works when you’re not too focused on being sensible. (Just stay safe, okay?)
To get things done, you might need a plan
Maybe when you were younger, you could just work on your things whenever and you’d eventually finish, but it could be different now that you’re older and your life is different. Did you ever learn how to make proper plans? I sure didn’t.
What do you need to be able to finish something? How many steps there are to a certain project? How do you need to prepare? If you can’t answer these, it might be the reason why you can’t get anything done. Do you know when you’re going to work on your project, and more importantly, what exactly will you be doing with the time allotted to it? And don’t just think about it, write all the important information down somewhere so you can refer back to it later. It might feel like an annoying extra step, but you know what else is exactly that? Starting over because you left something unfinished again. I know, I’m calling you out again, but I’m saying this with love and a bucketful of personal experience.
More importantly, you need a contingency plan
Think about all those times when something went wrong. (Regarding the things you never finished, I mean. We can talk about Titanic some other day.) What do they have in common? Go back to the previous sections if needed to assess what’s going on in your head and in your life. Are there interruptions you could have prevented? Did you completely fall off the wagon when something unexpected happened?
Maybe you always get distracted from your writing when the house is untidy. If you know when you’re going to write, and you should know if you’ve done your planning, you can make sure in advance that the house is tidy enough. But what if the house ends up being messy anyway? What will you do then? You should plan for that, too.
Could you settle for doing the bare minimum instead of abandoning everything when times get tough? That’s always a good idea, you should write it down so you’ll remember. To give you another relatable example, let’s talk about working out. If you’ve decided to get consistent with running every week, how might you deal with a sore toe? Will you stop everything just in case, or could you make a deal with yourself in advance that you could settle for a walk in that case?
Eliminate analysis paralysis
The point of making plans is not just to remind you of what to do, but to also make things easier for your brain. Do you know how much our brains hate making decisions? A lot. That’s why it’s so much easier to do what we’ve always done, and that’s why it’s so hard to decide anything when we’re tired or hungry.
When you make plans and decide in advance what you’re going to do in any given situation, you save yourself the trouble of making decisions when you should already act. Analysis paralysis happens when we look at the options in front of us and we just can’t make up our minds, and we don’t want that when we’re trying to get things done. So do a service to your future self and make the decisions beforehand.
If you’re not enthusiastic about getting stuff done, maybe you’re doing the wrong things
There are things we should do and then there are things we “should” do, and I can tell you the former are far less common that the latter. Yes, you read that right. The things that you actually, genuinely should do in this life are very few, while we’re plagued with all these complete nonsense tasks and goals that will never contribute to a good life.
The truth is, there isn’t just one way to live, and you need to figure out what’s yours. Of course, it’s easier to do what’s expected of you and what your dad is telling you to do, but wouldn’t it be so much nicer to just be you? I am now giving you a permission to only go for the things that really get you excited. You don’t really need a permission, of course, but maybe you felt like you needed one. You could feel like you’re not worth of your real dreams or that you’re the wrong kind of person to do the things that inspire you, but it’s just not true. The things you really want to do were planted in your brain for a reason.
Whether or not you really believe that, there’s no denying that it’s harder to finish a task that doesn’t really feel important or exciting to you. If you are constantly falling short of your goals, it might be a good idea to evaluate if you actually want to do them. It sounds stupidly simplistic, but I’m definitely not going to pretend I’m above focusing on the wrong things. It happens to all of us, and the important thing is to catch ourselves when we’re doing it.
Who are you doing all that for anyway? Is it because you want to express your creativity and grow as a person, or are you trying to impress Jeff, the Tom Hiddleston lookalike from your book club? Sure, external validation is delicious, and if you already follow me on Instagram you know how I feel about Loki, but your motivation needs to be about you. You are the protagonist of your own life after all, and it doesn’t do you well to live anyone else’s life.
Focus on your WHY
If you’re doing the right things for the right reasons, it’ll help you keep focused when you remember why you’re working on whatever you happen to be working on. Write it on dozens of post-it notes if needed, yell it from the rooftops. Just never forget why you’re writing that book, getting fit, learning Mandarin Chinese, crocheting a circus tent or learning portrait photography.
What is stopping you from doing the things you want to do? Tell us in the comments and maybe someone else has useful tips for you!