ADHD, Distraction, and Finishing Things

by Deborah Gray Patient Expert

When I was a kid, every once in a while I would hear my dad swear as he hit his head on a cabinet door I had left open. It was a really bad habit of mine. I would open cabinets doors and never, I mean never, remember to close them. Actually, nothing's changed. I still forget to close them. But my exhusband and current husband both learned to either close the doors themselves or duck. That's the kind of thing you laugh about, once you're finished swearing, I guess, as long as no one gets a concussion. But it's symptomatic of how bad I am at finishing things.

For instance, there are my craft projects. I sew, knit and make jewelry. I love all three crafts and often consider cheating on them with other crafts like quilting or embroidery. But then I think of all the projects that I've started and then put down and tell myself that the last thing I need is the materials for yet another craft cluttering up our house.

Yes, I know, a lot of people have unfinished craft projects hidden away in closets. But I have a full yarn closet (it's not a full-sized closet, but a shallow one with shelves). And then in my clothes closet I have more yarn and the abandoned knitting projects. About 15 of them. Then I have a trunk full of fabric that I bought and am planning to sew into all sorts of things, along with several plastic bins of patterns. In the garage I have another large plastic bin of fabric (we had to put it there since we were being squeezed out of our bedroom by craft materials). In the dining room I have a couple of plastic bins and one Trader Joe's shopping bag full of my jewelry making materials.

"The shiny new object" syndrome

A big part of the problem is that ADHD trait that I call "Oooh, shiny." I have a magnet on my fridge that my parents gave me. It says, "They say I have ADD, but they don't understand. Oh look A chicken!" That's about the size of it. Distractability is a big problem for me. So I see a project I absolutely love, buy the materials and get started. When does the boredom set in? Of course, it's different for each project, but I find that if it's too easy or too hard, I become very susceptible to a new knitting or sewing pattern. Maybe it's my short attention span. I'm not sure that's the same as being easily distracted, although in all probability they're closely related, at the very least.

What a little understanding of ADHD does

Once I was diagnosed with ADHD, I didn't start feeling better about these unfinished projects, per se. I didn't feel that ADHD absolved me of the need to address the problem and actually finish something once in a while. However, I did understand myself a little better, and that understanding did alleviate some of the "I'm a total loser; I can't finish anything" feeling that would start to creep over me once in a while. I'm definitely not using ADHD a way to avoid addressing the issue. In fact, I think I'm a little better at addressing it. I know what I'm fighting against.

Scheduling: A tool for distraction

And I actually have started fighting it at work, because my tendency to forget about essential tasks was getting to be a problem. I schedule events into classrooms at a university. Basically, I schedule anything that isn't an academic class into the rooms. In the beginning of each semester, the events that I book can get bumped out of a room by an academic class. When this happens, I need to try to put the event into another room, and notify the requestor that their room has changed. Sometimes I can't find a replacement room, so I need to notify them that so they can make alternative arrangements.

Obviously, this should be a pretty high priority. But I used to let myself get distracted by other tasks, and it could take days or even weeks for me to take care of this task.

The importance of deadlines

This was bad, very bad. A few times it screwed people up because they didn't get enough notice as to their new location, or complete lack of a location. I realized that I had to change how I was handling these bumps. So I made a rule for myself that all bumps had to be completed by the end of the first day I received them. It seemed to help a lot to set a specific deadline instead of just telling myself that it was high priority. Now, I still have tasks at work that fall through the cracks, but none of them are as crucial as that particular one.

And you know what I just realized? I've even started closing cabinet doors more often. It took about forty years, but better late than never!

Deborah Gray
Meet Our Writer
Deborah Gray

Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.