avatarRachel Anne Helms


Why People with ADHD Struggle to Get Things Done

Hint: It’s NOT because we are lazy and lack motivation, desire, or willpower

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

If you have ADHD, there’s a very high likelihood you struggle to get the things you need to do done.

As a result, I would bet (and I’m not a betting woman) that this has caused MANY issues in your relationships, school, work, and personal life.

So, let’s talk about why ADHDers struggle to get things done.

Image Owned by Rachel Anne Helms

P.S. — If you want to watch instead of reading, I posted a YouTube video on this topic! Check it out here.

Why We Struggle

1. Executive Functioning

Despite the name, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is not a deficit of attention. It is, however, a deficit of Executive Function.

What is Executive Function? Executive Function is the part of your brain that tells you what to do when and allows you to follow through on those tasks step-by-step.

Executive functioning controls the way we think about processes, working memory, focus, planning, and self-control. Sounds about right, huh?

When you struggle to:

  1. Keep a goal in mind long enough to actually complete it
  2. Think through what steps you need to take to accomplish that goal
  3. Figure out the order you need to take those steps in
  4. Follow through with those steps to completion without losing focus

It’s not because you’re stupid, or lazy, or don’t care.

It’s because you have ADHD, and your brain struggles with Executive Functioning.

Despite commonly held beliefs by non-ADHDers, or those of us who have fallen for the shame imposed on us by Neurotypicals:

This is not a matter of you needing to “try harder”, it’s not a lack of motivation, and it’s not that you don’t care enough to follow through.

You need support.

You need tools and resources.

You need to learn skills that people without ADHD can’t even comprehend because they don’t struggle with Executive Functioning.

It’s important to note that even among people with ADHD, there are varying levels of deficits and capabilities when it comes to Executive Functioning.

Some people may only need to implement simple tools, systems, or medication, and that quickly solves their problem.

Others (like me) need way more help and support to overcome the challenges they face with Executive Functioning.

If you severely struggle in this area, you are not alone.

And please, don’t let anyone tell you that you “just need to try harder” or “it’s all in your head”. It’s not.

Try to stay far, far away from those people if you can, and if you can’t, don’t waste your time trying to educate them if they show they are unwilling to change their inaccurate and harmful perspectives.

There are people who will understand and work with you to give you the help and support you need. Flock to those people instead.

2. Time Blindness

Time Blindness is also very common among people with ADHD, and affects the way we think about and perceive time.

ADHDers have more difficulty than those without ADHD in estimating:

  1. How long a task will take
  2. How long a task took us after the task is complete
  3. How much time has passed

Here’s my little unofficial, and unscientific, test:

Think about 3 days and 3 months. Do they feel like different periods of time to you?

Logically, we know these are different amounts of time. But, to people who struggle with time blindness, they feel the same.

If I tell you that you have 3 days to complete a task or 3 months to complete a task, those are just words and you likely have the same emotional reaction to both.

You either think you have plenty of time or have anxiety about the impending deadline. (For us ADHDers, there’s rarely an in-between.)

But of course, neither of these responses results in you calmly sitting down, writing out a plan, and progressively implementing each step of the plan over the coming hours/days. Because that would require strong Executive Functioning skills.

It’s important to note that the struggles we face around time are not unique to people with ADHD. While anyone can experience differences/difficulties in how they experience time, these struggles are more frequent, pervasive, and traumatizing for people with ADHD.

Sometimes, our inability to get things done is a result of the trauma we’ve experienced in the past due to our time blindness.

Buffering is a good example of this.

Buffering is when you have an obligation at a specific time, and you find it impossible to do anything productive while you wait for that time to come.

If you’ve ever missed an appointment because you were trying to complete a task while waiting and lost track of time, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

3. Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) or Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

Demand avoidance or defiance is common among neurodivergent people, but it’s rarely talked about.

I’ve studied ADHD and Mental Health non-academically for the past 10 years, and these terms have only recently come to my attention.

This is a sneaky and pervasive issue.

It explains why sometimes we want to complete a task, but can’t due to our struggle with executive function/not being able to remember verbal instructions.

But, other times, it’s not that we can’t complete the task, don’t understand it, or even that we don’t want to. It’s that we don’t like being told what to do, we find the task unnecessary, or we don’t agree or understand the reasoning behind it.

This doesn’t just apply to things other people tell us to do either, this can even apply to things we tell ourselves to do.

Personally, this explains so many of the issues I’ve had over the years with getting things done (among other issues like anger, road rage, and difficulty with authority figures).

While I’ve made a lot of progress on all of these fronts, it can still be a big hurdle to getting things done.

So what do we do about it?

It’s important to note that for all three of the things outlined above, the issue is not:

  1. Lack of Motivation
  2. Lack of Willpower
  3. Lack of Desire

People with ADHD do not lack motivation, willpower, or desire.

What we do lack are the tools, skills, and resources to overcome our difficulties with Executive Functioning, Time Blindness, and PDA/ODD.

If motivation, willpower, and desire were enough to overcome these things, we would have fixed them already.

The negative consequences we experience regularly as a result of these challenges would be more than enough to overcome deficits in motivation, willpower, and desire.

That’s how we know these things are not the issue.

I will shout this from the rooftops until the end of time.

Or, until people stop saying ADHD is fake and those of us who have it are just lazy and need more motivation, willpower, or desire.

But, I don’t think that will ever happen. So please, join me in shouting this from the rooftops.

The Solution

  1. Let go of the incorrect and ableist reasons for our struggles that have been imposed on us over the years by neurotypicals.
  2. Develop self-awareness to understand specifically what is going on for you, individually, in each circumstance.
  3. Acquire tools, resources, and skills that allow you to work with your brain, rather than fighting against it.
  4. Get support. We are not alone in our struggles, and together, we can help each other overcome the common struggle we face. And, be there for each other on the occasions when our efforts still fall short.

Is there anything you’d add? Leave a comment!

I frequently write about mental health and personal development from a neurodivergent perspective, so follow if that’s interesting to you.

Also, check out the Neurodivergent Network, or my YouTube Channel.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope it provided you with insight or a newfound perspective!

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