How to Complete Long Term Projects, Part 3

ADHD, Overwhelm, Projects, Stay at home Mom
Heather

One of the challenges with long-term projects is the number of tasks it takes to complete the whole project. People with ADHD tend to have trouble prioritizing tasks and keeping track of everything that needs to be done. This can make longterm projects feel crushing and impossible. 

We recently moved both of our kids into the same room, and moved the home office into what used to be the nursery. This involved moving a lot of furniture, some of which had to be taken apart and put back together, reorganizing all the books in our office, cleaning out closets, buy new storage for said closets, making some small repairs in the kids room, moving and rehanging all the decorations in both rooms. We’re not done yet, but the kid’s room is safe for them to play and sleep in, and I can see the top of my desk in the office, even if  there’s stuff all over the floor.  

The project list seemed to spill into the rest of the house. All of the stuff that had been pulled out of the new nursery closets had to go somewhere, which required decluttering about three other closets to make space. Some of the books and bookcases from the home office had to go down to the basement because the new office is tiny. Getting the books reorganized will require rearranging and decluttering the entire basement. Just the thought of that is overwhelming enough that I’ve started avoiding going down there. 

“What is the Next Thing?”

In order to keep going in completing this project, I have relied on the question, “What is the next thing?” It feels like there’s a thousand different tasks that have to get done to reach the finish line. I could very easily get overwhelmed with that list and become paralyzed to the point of not doing anything. But if I ask myself, “What is the next thing?” I can generally continue to make progress. Yesterday both kids were sleeping (at the same time!). There was work that needed to get done in their room, but obviously I couldn’t do it during nap time. I felt myself starting to move toward being paralyzed, so I started asking myself “What is the next thing?”. 

There were so many options of things to do that it still would have been easy to be paralyzed by indecision. So I said out loud, “Heather, just pick one.” The first thing my eyes landed on were some shelves that needed to be put together and painted. Without thinking anymore, I grabbed them and got to work. I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish during nap time. I wasn’t sure where I was going to paint them. I didn’t know if I had all the tools I needed. But the next action was to pick up the shelves from the random chair they were sitting in. Then the next thing was to open the package. Then it was to read instructions. Put them together. Find the paint. Find the paint brush. Locate some cardboard to do the painting on. And so on. At any point I could have hit an obstacle that would have stopped my progress: paint is dry, kids wake up, etc. But with each “next step” I kept telling myself that even if my progress got stopped, I had still gotten some work done, and that was better than nothing. 

The shelves are painted. The paint is dry. And they are back sitting on the same chair they started on. That’s ok. I’ve been doing other tasks toward the same finish line. All of these todos don’t have to be done in an orderly manner. They just have to be done. I have never once in my life worked straight down a todo list in order. Progress may be chaotic, but it is still progress.  

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