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Navigating ADHD
with Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Dear Coach: Help! I Know What Needs to Get Done, I Just Can’t Seem to Start.

Dear Coach,

Even though I know what it is I need to be doing at home and at work, I find it very difficult to start. What can I do?

When you have ADHD, the ability to buckle down and focus can seem elusive at best. That’s because the ADHD brain requires a greater degree of stimulation in order to “get up and go” so to speak, and is why activities which are inherently more interesting or fun are easier to start than those which are not.

However, there are many factors that can affect your ability to focus and in order to find the right solution, you must first check in with yourself to determine the root cause: Are you tired? Bored? Overwhelmed? Sluggish? Frustrated?

Here are 8 strategies for the most common reasons you can’t find your focus…

1. Know your why: No matter how motivated we may be in the beginning, there will always be times when we won’t feel like doing something, And then there are those things that are frankly impossible to get excited about. No one jumps out of bed in the morning because they’re excited about cleaning the cat’s litter box (at least I don’t!).

For those moments when you just don’t feel like it, remember your “why”. Why did you make this commitment to yourself in the first place? How did you imagine your life would be better as a result? What values are you honoring by making good on this commitment? Reminding yourself of why you made the commitment in the first place can help you push through those moments when you just aren’t feeling it.

2. Take a break: If you’ve already been working on something for a while or have had a long day and are feeling mentally drained, it’s probably not the best time to jump into another task. Give yourself an opportunity to recharge first by taking a break- get something to eat, stretch, take a short walk, take some deep breaths, etc.

3. Get moving: There are numerous studies which show the positive effects of exercise on the brain, particularly in those areas impacted by ADHD. Exercise is also great for relieving stress so if you’re feeling ‘blah’ and unmotivated, do some simple exercises, go for a brisk walk, dance- whatever gets your blood flowing.

4. Break it down: If whatever you’re trying to do feels too overwhelming, break it down into smaller parts until the first step feels doable. Trying to tackle a task or project that feels too daunting can be paralyzing and make it difficult to know where to start. Breaking it down into smaller pieces can help take the pressure off and make the task or project feel more manageable.

5. Set a timer: Setting a timer for a specified amount of time to focus on a task works in a similar fashion to breaking the task down into manageable pieces. While working on something for hours may seem too daunting, working for 15 or 25 minutes may feel much more achievable. Just getting started is often the hardest part so you may find that once you actually get to work, it becomes easier to follow through even after the timer goes off.

6. Have your dessert first: I’m sure you’ve probably been told to do the hardest part of a project first or that thing that you’ve been putting off doing to just get it out of the way. This advice, while well-intended, usually doesn’t work for people with ADHD, resulting instead in paralysis and procrastination. Start with what feels the easiest and most manageable FIRST. Just the act of starting and feeling accomplished can generate the momentum to keep you moving forward.

7. Make it fun: Just because something seems boring and tedious, doesn’t mean it has to be. If you have a task or project you’ve been dreading, brainstorm ways to make it fun. That could mean listening to your favorite music or podcast; setting yourself a timer and challenging yourself to see how much you can get done before if goes off; or inviting over a friend to keep you company while you work.

8. Mindset matters: Last, but certainly not least, your mindset matters. I can’t tell you how many of my clients report that they’ve tried every tip, trick, strategy, and solution without much success and are at a complete loss as to why. Eventually what we come to discover is that it’s their mindset that’s getting in the way. If you’re telling yourself that you’re just bad at something or what you have to do is boring and a waste of time, chances are you won’t feel very motivated to start.

Next time you’re having a hard time getting started on something you need to do, pay attention to your self-talk and if it’s negative, reframe it in a way that supports you and what you want to achieve. For example, if you’re wanting to organize your office but you’re telling yourself that you’re just not an organized person and all your efforts will be pointless, try this instead: “I’m still working on becoming more organized; I just haven’t found the right system yet”.

Image: Pixabay/422737

Dear Coach: Help! I Know What Needs to Get Done, I Just Can’t Seem to Start.

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC

Natalia van Rikxoort, MSW, ACC is a social worker, ADHD consultant, and certified life coach. Her practice, Lotus Life Coaching Services, provides coaching services for adults, youth, and families impacted by ADD/ADHD and executive function challenges.

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APA Reference
van Rikxoort, N. (2019). Dear Coach: Help! I Know What Needs to Get Done, I Just Can’t Seem to Start.. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Dec 2019
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