Projects. How ADHD Adults Can Manage And Complete Them

Share ideas you like


Picture via Wikipedia

Why adults with ADHD have trouble completing projects, obstacles and ways to navigate around those obstacles so you complete more projects. See the other Adult ADHD Issues.

Facilitator: Pete Quily

Thanks for Christopher Stanbury, and Jean for taking notes.

January 7th, 2014 Meeting Notes for the Vancouver Adult ADD Support Group

Completing projects is one of the biggest problems that adults with ADHD have. It certainly is one of the biggest problems their employers, working colleagues and spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends/parents frequently complain about to me.

Incomplete projects are not something that is just limited to adults with ADHD, but we have these problems more frequently and more painfully than most non ADHD people

The goal is not to complete every project but to increase completion rates.


1. Warm up question:

2. Report on BC Awareness Week

3. Why do ADHD adults have problems completing projects? Possible obstacles?

4. What strategies might help in completing projects? Solving obstacles?

5. Part of solving a problem.

6. Example of an Adult ADHD coaching session on completing projects.

7. Group Discussion Plan of How to Complete Your Own Incomplete Project.

Completing things


1. Warm up question:

A. When you’ve had trouble completing the last steps of a project (more than 1 task), what has worked for you in the past to get you to complete the project?

(apart from (1) last-minute procrastination/adrenalin rush or (2) someone else nagging)

B. Split up into small groups to discuss the above question

One person’s response – Go with option #1 or quit

The other persons – Pushed to complete by a deadline. Busy work can be a problem


2. Report on The Third Annual BC Awareness Week 2014 at

We had 80 events in 23 cities and towns across BC

4 media outlets covered us. Vancouver Sun, The Georgia Straight, News 1130, and CKNW.

39% of worldwide events listed on was us, if my math is correct.

Very few celebrities do not come forward about ADHD in Canada, American celebrities aren’t so fearful. One reason there is more stigma against ADHD in Canada

2014 Awareness Week will be the 2nd week in October

Any potential sponsors? Any volunteers?

Media often stigmatize ADHD see what Vancouver Sun did during ADHD Awareness Week in 2010. They did it again in 2013.

To counter the narrative of the scientifically illiterate stigmatizers of ADHD, have a look at this Book.

ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says – Dr. Russell Barkley

Does ADHD Really Exist? Article I did to give multiple peer-reviewed clinical evidence that it does. Plus polite & less polite ways to answer the stigmatizers


3. Why do ADHD adults have problems completing projects? Possible obstacles?

Traditional ADHD strategies for completing things until they learn more effective strategies include:

1) last-minute procrastination and adrenaline rush

2) someone else nagging

and the effect, over the long term from the cortisol flooding, is poisonous/toxic to our bodies, minds and emotions and it makes ADHD symptoms become worse and soon you’ll drop the ball again. Rinse & repeat.

Or risk getting fired or divorced.

These two are unsustainable and costly strategies if they are the main ones we use.

So try to learn some other strategies for completing projects

Have this list of possible problems that are relevant to you, and you can use them to know what possible minefields are or where you might get stuck.

The current project not quite finished

Starting too many projects

Constant overload.

The average person thinks of 2-3 times more things to do per day than they can actually do.

The ADHD person thinks 5-10 things to do per day. Plus we’re often more inefficient at doing them unless we’re in hyperfocus.

Wishes versus realistic goals

Losing interest

Forget to finish the project

No system to track projects or remind ourselves to actually do the tasks that make up the project

We constantly think of a load of things simultaneously

The ADHD brain has a greater tendency to get bored

The non-ADHD person finds categories / files faster

Projects expand in scope. I.e., the project grows and grows because of your creative wandering ADHD mind, which often sets no boundaries.

Comment by one member of the group – While I understand the meaning of what I am writing, I repeat myself; I lose focus, too much data.

Time management problems

Trouble Visualising things

Don’t know how to set and enforce boundaries on others

Edward de Bono – talks about wearing different thinking hats. Book 6 Different Thinking Hats

Over analyzing things, leading to analysis paralysis

John Wayne syndrome “I have to do it all”

Lack of delegating skills, non-existent delegation techniques

Never learned how to follow through on things well, both of our tasks we do and when we delegate to others


Getting Things Done – David Allen

What does Everybody Know that I Don’t? Social Skills Help for Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder – Michelle Novotni


Fear of failure, afraid to repeat failure

Fear of success, more will be asked of me. Or fear of other people’s envy in an organization

Not specific enough about task, vague

Vast difference between a Wish versus a Realistic Goal

It’s like the difference between the butterfly and the moon.

Impulses or wishes versus goals or clarity of the end/outcome.

Confuse tasks with projects, very, very common mistake

We forget, and don’t really get this deeply enough, and often have no effective system to track projects and/or there are no reminders about doing tasks that are part of these projects

Hard to replicate a success

Lower levels of dopamine which helps us focus and keep on track. We have ADHD under-stimulated brains, boring tasks vs. non-ADHD brain that has an easier time as it doesn’t shut down so quickly and so long with boring or repetitive tasks

The trouble with having an awareness of others, others that you need to help you get the project completed

Resource auditing difficulties. I.e., do I actually have all the stuff I need to complete this project?


Trouble breaking things down into smaller steps

Lack of self-knowledge




Time blindness. The two ADHD states of time. The now and the not now

Not good at seeing the future & planning properly for it


4. What strategies might help in completing projects? Solving obstacles?

Learn to say NO to others, AND yourself so you don’t get overloaded

Know the difference between ideas versus plans

Use a project management program.

Need a process to condense the voluminous files of data in the brain e.g. 500 reduced to 10

Also, need a process to structure those files


We need different types of thinking for different things:

finding someone with process expertise

finding someone with content expertise

Intellect vs emotion. Knowing something intellectually is a first step to behavioural change, but it’s often not the complete step. I.e., we would all be thin if we exercise regularly & eat healthly; we all know we should. Do we?

Think of ways of doing something -the ADHD way – non-ADHD way

Timers or alarms to get us back on track

Chunking, break project into smaller, doable tasks

Get clear on exactly what to do: be very specific about the task e.g. talk to Bob about the project vs. getting money from Bob for the project

Adders love thinking up new ideas. But It’s not just about having ideas but it’s executing them

Create a visual mind map, either hand-drawn or use a computer mind map program

Find a mentor with process or project expertise

Pay for someone to help teach you how to manage projects or complete things

Organizing – use labelling or photographs when necessary

Secondary processing of your to-do list, break it down into doable steps, vs a big amorphous blob of an undefined and seemingly unending project

You’ve broken project into steps but have you applied reality filters to those steps? How much energy, money, time etc will it take?

Time cost the project by estimating how many steps there are and how long those steps take and total it up before even starting the project.

Then add your ADHD delusional factor.

For example double or triple the time you estimate it will be depending how much you usually underestimate the time it takes for tasks.

Ask, “What is stopping me?”

Self-awareness, of resources needed to complete the project, and the time needed per task

Have a list handy to look at in relation to your current project. I.e., breaking down the tasks and organizing them in a logical order


5. Ways of solving a problem.

Part of solving a problem is to define concretely what the problem is.

An obstacle is an opportunity for procrastination, ie “Oh I give up.”

You need to define what the obstacle is. Is it one thing or is it many things? Get crystal clear what the obstacle(s) is. Not sure what to do? The next action is seeking clarity, getting clear on what to do.

Getting clear is often a process.

You need a strategy to deal with it.

Need to go linear (“commitment”) and need to keep going when life (e.g. distractions, the sky is falling) gets in the way. Obstacles are a given in life

You delude yourself that it will magically get done by itself vs creating a plan, adding reality filters to the plan and setting up alarms to actually do said plan

We can’t do a project; we can only do a task that is part of the project. A very common reason for procrastination is putting a project on your to-do list and assuming it’s a task. It’s not. It leads to overload and overwhelm and a desire to escape and kaboom you’re surfing the internet for hours/food/tv/distraction drug of your choice


6. Example of an Adult ADHD coaching session for Completing Projects

Pete did a short 10-minute ADHD coaching session with a volunteer from those present.

Watch the questions asked by Pete and the response.

He used simple questions

What is the problem?

What to do?

When will you do it?

Who will you ask for advice?

How will you reward yourself?

What might stand in your way?

The root problem was confusion.

Get out of confusion to find clarity.

Pete engaged the person in their problem – forced them to think about it.

Obstacles are a given in life. Deal with obstacles one at a time.

ADHD Coaches can be useful, as they’re not emotionally attached to you like family and friends and therefore can be more objective.


7. Group Discussion Plan of How to Complete Your Own Incomplete Project

Get together in groups of 2 or 3

Think of your project.

What obstacles do you have to completing your project?

Which of the above strategies will you use to complete your project?

What specifically do you need to do?

When will you do it? Pick a day and time to do it.

How will you remember to do it?

Related Adult ADHD Issues Posts

Share ideas you like