ADHD: Make Starting Tasks Easier

One of the symptoms of inattentive ADHD is difficulty getting started on tasks that need to be done, especially those that seem boring and uninteresting. Executive function deficits due to lower levels of dopamine in the brain make shifting gears and getting into action difficult.

One way to handle the problem with a brain-based faulty starter is to use stimulant medication prescribed by a physician who knows how to treat people with ADHD. Medication improves a person’s ability to focus, start and complete tasks. Unfortunately medication doesn’t work for everybody. It is estimated that 80% of people with ADHD benefit from stimulants. If you are part of the 20% who don’t find stimulants effective, one way to get into action when you need to so is to make the task easier to face. Following is an example of how to do that.

I don’t have ADHD, but like everyone, I do have difficulty making myself get started on certain tasks, especially tasks that are repetitive, new, and about which I lack confidence and competence. That perfectly describes practicing the oboe.

I’m at the beginning of a very frustrating learning curve since the oboe is one of the most difficult wood wind instruments to play. It would have been so easy to commit to learning the oboe and then avoid practice because practice can be boring and painful to do especially at first during the long period of normal incompetence. I knew I had to set myself up so that practice would be simple and easy to do.

Fortunately my music teacher helped me by setting a realistic goal for practice time. He suggested I play several 10-15 minute sessions every day instead of longer sessions. I could do that! Actually, I could do no more than that at first because I would tire easily.

First I created visibility. I set up my music stand in my home office with my music on it. I also left the oboe in plain sight so it is the first thing I see when I enter the room. Because I go in and out of my office numerous times during the day, there was no way I could forget to practice.

Then I had to figure out how to make starting to practice easy. The oboe is a three part instrument. It stores nicely in a little 13” x 7” box. I could put it together before practice and take it apart after practice or leave it put together on top of a storage cabinet. I quickly realized that leaving it intact was the best option because it takes an extra 20-30 seconds to put it together and I find the task annoying. I knew that if the first thing I had to do to practice was unpleasant it could deter me from practicing. I therefore chose to leave it intact on top of a low storage cabinet. Now all I need to do is pick it up, insert the reed, and start practicing.

Because I only have to practice 10 minutes to be successful, and all I need to do to practice is pick up the instrument and sit down to play, I practice 10-15 minutes every day.

What important task can you make easier to do?

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