Some tasks demand immediate attention while others can be put off even if it’s advisable to get them done.
When a task becomes unavoidably urgent, maybe because of an impending deadline, that can focus the ADHD brain. If you have no choice but to make something a first priority, it’s easier to get it done.
With the non-first-priority tasks, things get a little dicier. Often, if an ADHDer can put something off, they will put it off.
Lots of tasks live in this grey zone where they don’t have an immediate deadline or dire consequences that make them a first priority, but they’re still the kind of thing you want to stay up to date on. Many household chores. Organizational tasks and minor work tasks. Keeping in touch with friends.
If any of those things become your first priority, often it’s because you’ve waited too long to do them and the situation has gotten out of hand. For example, when organizational tasks become an immediate, unavoidable priority, you must already be in a pretty bad state of disorganization.
I’ve realized that ADHDers often have an ability to engage with the first priority tasks but a blind spot for everything else – something is either a first priority, or it’s not going to get done at all.
With the secondary tasks, we have a knack for leaving those simmering until they become first-priority tasks. That’s how procrastination works: we leave a project untouched because, even if we should be doing it, there’s no immediately impending disaster. When we reach the last minute before a deadline, the project gets first priority status, and we’re able to engage with it because the panic gets our brains in gear.
Procrastination-induced panic isn’t the only reason something becomes a first priority. If you’re genuinely excited about a task, then it’s easier to make that task a first priority. People with ADHD have a tendency to focus on short-term rewards, which is to say that we’re naturally inclined to make rewarding activities the first priority.
It’s sometimes said that people with ADHD have difficulties prioritizing tasks, due to our deficits in executive functioning and self-regulation.
That’s true, but another way to think about it might be that we do prioritize things, but we only have two main levels of prioritization: first priority, or it’s not getting done.
Image: Flickr/Peter Reed