Many adults with ADHD have been called “lazy” or “unmotivated” throughout their lives. While most adults with ADHD are easily motivated when a task or activity is interesting, the mundane and boring tasks are ignored or put off until later, even when they are important. This lack of motivation isn’t intentional and isn’t caused by laziness. Individuals with ADHD have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is involved with motivation and helps with focus and attention. To combat this, those with ADHD naturally seek out exciting, stimulating activities as these increase the dopamine levels and improve focus.
But just because some tasks are tedious doesn’t mean they aren’t essential. Sometimes we simply need to get those types of things accomplished. The following are ways to help you get past your lack of motivation or at least find ways to complete tasks even when you are not motivated.
Give yourself a time limit. Sometimes you can get moving if you know there is a limit to how much time you must spend on a task. For example, if you need to rake the leaves, set a time limit of 30 minutes and plan something more exciting for the end of the 30 minutes.
Alternate boring and interesting tasks. When faced with a long, arduous task, break it into small segments and give yourself time to do something you enjoy in between each segment. If you need to clean the house, start with one room and then take 15 minutes to do an enjoyable activity, then go on to clean the next room.
Create a sense of urgency. Many adults with ADHD find that they become motivated when faced with a looming deadline, such as when college students finally become motivated to write the report a few hours before it is due. Create your own deadlines, for example, wait until it is almost time to watch a favorite show or leave to meet a friend to dinner. By giving yourself a deadline and a certain amount of time to complete a task, it may be easier to push yourself to complete the undesirable task.
Join forces with a partner. Unpleasant or boring tasks instantly become more interesting if you are doing them with a friend. Even if you can’t work directly with someone, ask friends or relatives to share accountability; give them updates on your progress in exchange for updates on their progress. Use email or texting to share information back and forth to keep motivation up.
Accept you are unmotivated and do it anyway. Everyone has to do things they don’t want to do. Most people don’t want to wash the dishes or take out the trash. You don’t always need “motivation” to complete them, sometimes it is a matter of doing the task anyway.
Break the task into small steps. Large tasks are overwhelming. It is sometimes hard to know where to start. Sometimes it is easier to simply not start at all. Break the task into steps and begin with the first step. It is often easier to motivate you to accomplish small steps and as you complete each step, your motivation may increase.
Understand your distractions. Think about what are your biggest distractions: are you drawn to the television, the computer or your IPhone? Give yourself reminders to stay focused by writing a note on your distractions – paste a large note on your television and computer saying “Stay away until you are done,” and wrap your iPhone in a similar note. You will need to think about what you are doing when you turn on the television or the computer or pick up the phone.
Know what time of day you work best. Some people are “morning people” while others perform their best work in the afternoon or evening (or the middle of the night.) Complete tedious tasks when your mind is most focused.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your lack of motivation is because you are lazy, but remember that although ADHD shouldn’t be used as an excuse, it is an explanation for why your motivation is low.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.