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All Those Plans

It’s sometimes said that people with ADHD are bad at making plans. In one sense, this is true.

If you look at it another way, though, we’re actually great at making plans. We make lots and lots of plans. No one makes more plans than us. It’s just, once we make those plans, we don’t always follow through on them.

PlansWhy do so many people with ADHD have a tendency to make plans that fall by the wayside?

There’s two parts to this. The first is the not following through part – once we have a plan we want to follow, we don’t necessarily have the focus, self-control, self-motivation and ability to delay gratification to stick with that plan to the end.

The other problem though is that maybe the plan wasn’t realistic to begin with.

Think of all the elements that go into a good plan. First, you have to estimate how long the project or activity you’re going to do is going to take.

But people with ADHD often have a blind spot when it comes to judging how long a particular task will take – all the more so because our troubles sustaining attention mean that, in practice, it can take us a lot longer to complete a task than it should. So already, there’s a reason our plans might go awry: we simply plan more things than we actually have time to do.

Another element of creating a solid long-term plan is anticipating whether you’ll have the motivation, interest, or concentration to go through all the intermediate steps into making that plan a reality. When you’re only looking at the final goal, it’s easy to say “yes, that’s something I want to do” without pausing to consider what the day-to-day grind of getting to that final goal really entails.

Related to this is that many people with ADHD, especially with the impatience that comes with the hyperactive/impulsive side of ADHD, think in fast, general, high-level terms. Our first inclination is not to work through things in a step-by-step, methodical, detail-oriented way.

In practice, that means that when we make plans, we might impulsively jump to thinking about the goal we want to reach without pausing to enumerate all the different components that are necessary to make that goal a reality. We gloss over the in-between steps, and when it comes time to putting our plan into action, those unexciting in-between steps are exactly where our desire to follow through on our plan falters.

If you have these tendencies, the good news is that being aware of them can help you make more realistic plans. You can increase your rate of successfully completed plans by balancing out these tendencies:

  • Budget more time than you think you need for your plan
  • Visualize what the day-to-day reality of making your plan happen is going to be like
  • Brainstorm all the pieces that are required to come into place to make your plan happen

In the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing wrong with being prolific in making plans. If we didn’t push ourselves with ambitious plans, we’d never accomplish anything new. But what’s even better than having an ambitious plan is making that plan a reality. And being more strategic in how you make your plans can up the odds of that happening – odds that, if you have ADHD, might be fairly abysmal to begin with!

Image: Chelsea Boos

All Those Plans

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). All Those Plans. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 19 Feb 2018
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