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The Rule of 1

When you have ADHD, sometimes you have to set rules for yourself. Some of the rules I’ve talked about before are that I never buy myself chocolate and I never start watching new TV series.

Rule of OneThese rules are ways of preempting my impulsivity. I know that buying myself chocolate will lead to me immediately eating all the chocolate and then buying more, and that starting a new TV series will quickly turn into binge-watching my way through all the available episodes.

If you can’t trust yourself to do things in moderation, sometimes you have to create ironclad rules for yourself that take your ability to exercise self-control out of the equation.

Another example is what I call the rule of 1.

The rule of 1 came into existence because of my tendency to start something, and then start something else without finishing the first thing.

The rule of 1 goes something like this:

One book at a time. One dirty dish in the sink. One work project at once.

In other words, I am explicitly prohibited from starting to read a book, and then starting to read another interesting new book I find while I’m in the middle of the first. To move onto the second book, I have to either finish the first book or officially give up on it. None of this “let me just check out this other book and then I’ll get back to the first one.”

Same thing with the dishes. Getting out more clean dishes and saying “well, I’ll just wash these and the other dirty dishes later” simply is not allowed. If there are dishes in the sink that haven’t been washed, getting out more dishes is off limits.

With work projects, the benefit of the rule of 1 is that I’d be at lot less productive, or possibly not productive at all, if the rules left any room for constantly switching between projects or starting one project and not finishing it.

I’m sure there are plenty of other areas where the rule of 1 could apply. Any task that you tend to repeatedly start without finishing is a good candidate. If you can think of some other applications of the rule of 1, leave a comment!

Image: Flickr/Stephen Mosel

The Rule of 1

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). The Rule of 1. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Jan 2018
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