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Making Realistic Plans

There are two ways to fail at planning ahead. The first is not to plan ahead at all. The second happens when you do plan ahead but end up making a plan that doesn’t work.

PlanPeople with ADHD tend to have both of these problems at different times, but it’s the second one I want to talk about today. A plan that doesn’t work is a plan that’s unrealistic. It’s a plan alright, but one that falls apart when you try to make it a reality.

For people with ADHD, there are at least two key factors that lead to unrealistic plans.

The first has to do with time. People with ADHD often struggle to estimate how long a task will take, so we’re prone to make plans that don’t have a sufficient amount of time built in.

To make matters worse, ADHD symptoms like inability to sustain attention or disorganization mean that some tasks take longer for us than for people without ADHD. So even if we make a plan that would be realistic for people without ADHD, the time constraints still might not be realistic for us.

The second factor that undermines well-intentioned plans involves motivation. Many people with ADHD have a deficit in their ability to self-motivate and a bigger gap in their performance between situations that naturally motivate them and those that don’t.

The result is plans that fizzle out due to lack of motivation. When you’re planning something in theory, it sounds exciting, but when it comes to following through all the steps of your plan in reality, that enthusiasm starts to flag.

For people with ADHD, making realistic plans requires reflecting on both of these factors, time and motivation. At each step in your plan, ask yourself whether you’ve given yourself enough time and incentive to get to the next step. If you aren’t sure, consider whether it’s possible to revise your schedule or come up with additional ways of motivating yourself.

Part of this comes down to learning from mistakes. The main way I’ve found of getting better at making realistic plans is by learning from my unrealistic plans. I’ve learned that some things always just take more time than I expect, and that if a certain task consistently fails to motivate me, it’s not realistic to think that task will motivate me more next time around.

For those of us with ADHD, having trouble estimating time and generating motivation is part of the deal. We can’t necessarily choose to get better at those things. But we can make a deliberate point of learning from situations where we underestimate the time a task requires or overestimate how much that task will motivate us so we’re less likely to repeat our mistakes in the future.

Image: Flickr/Jez Nicholson

Making Realistic 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). Making Realistic Plans. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 1 Aug 2018
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