ADHD Unfinished Projects

ADHD Unfinished Projects

Unfinished projects are a common phenomenon for individuals with ADHD, often stemming from challenges in sustaining focus, managing time, and the allure of new, more stimulating tasks. This pattern is linked to the ADHD brain's craving for novelty and difficulty in seeing longer projects through to completion. To combat this, breaking projects into smaller, achievable milestones, using reminders and rewards for progress, and consciously limiting the number of ongoing projects can be effective. Understanding and strategizing around these tendencies are key to successfully completing tasks and reducing the pile of unfinished projects.

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Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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The Endless Project List of Someone With ADHD

Feeling like your projects are piling up without a finish line in sight? It's a common struggle for those of us with ADHD. Difficulty sustaining interest, the allure of new projects, and time management troubles often lead to a cycle of unfinished work. But it's not about lack of effort - it's how our brains are wired. 🧠

Why Do Some People With ADHD Leave Projects Unfinished?

  • The initial excitement of a new project can disappear as the reality of the effort sets in.
  • Thanks to fluctuating dopamine levels, we often feel motivation in short, intense bursts rather than the sustained period that longer-term projects require.
  • New ideas are shiny and tempting, ✨leading us to jump ship before the old one has landed.
  • The secret to finishing projects when you have ADHD is by understanding the symptoms that can leave us struggling to get stuff done. When we understand the way our ADHD works, we can create tailored-strategies that allow us to finally see something through from start to finish.

Over the last year, how many projects have you started and not finished? 😉 If you have ADHD, I'd be willing to bet that your project list is pretty lengthy. From digging into genealogy to house remodeling, right through to digitizing every family video in the loft of my childhood home - last year, my trail of unfinished projects was embarrassingly long. 🙈

To make things even more frustrating, all the projects seemed to need something, whether expensive subscriptions or tools, which meant spending money - lots of it. 🤑By the end, my wallet was lighter, but my pile of incomplete tasks was as heavy as ever. 

So, when the new year rolled around, I decided to switch things up. My resolution? Don't start another project until you finish the previous one. Now, putting this into practice was tough – it took a solid chunk of self-discipline to resist the endless ideas that hit me from month to month. But guess what? I actually made a lot of progress.

To do this, I needed to pause and figure out why I hopped from project to project without seeing one through. 🤔For those of us with ADHD, follow-through can be a significant hurdle. I wanted to understand this pattern, not just for my own sake, but to share my findings with you and help us all manage our time more effectively, save money, and actually complete what we set out to do.

Here's what I found. ⬇️

New Project = Instant Dopamine Boost

When you've got adult ADHD, starting new projects can often feel as essential as breathing. 😍Each new idea sparkles with ✨potential ✨, resulting in an endless project list, most of which never reach completion. But why do we get stuck in this loop of unfinished projects?

The research points to our brain's need for dopamine - that feel-good neurotransmitter that ADHD brains tend to have less of. So we're drawn like magnets to anything that gives us that dopamine boost. 🚀That's why a new project isn't just a task to tick off the list; it's excitement, a promise of potential.

As a result, we take on all the projects at once, each feeling like a great idea at the time, fuelled by motivation. But as the novelty wears off and our interest drifts, that once exciting project joins the unfinished pile. The struggle to complete what we start can leave us feeling frustrated, and our living spaces and schedules can turn into a mess of forgotten projects.

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We Get Bored & Demotivated Quickly

People with ADHD often start with a surge of enthusiasm for new projects. However, this can quickly fizzle out, leaving many unfinished projects in its wake. The trouble is that the routine elements of a task can dull the bright sheen of a great idea, and essentially, it gets boring. 🥱

An ADHD brain needs constant stimulation. When a project loses that fresh appeal, it's easy to become disinterested. A minor problem can feel like a full stop, and the drive required to complete a task disappears. The sustained focus needed drifts away, and the prospect of the next shiny new thing looks more and more appealing. 🤩

We Tend to Procrastinate

Procrastination is a well-known companion for many people with ADHD. When tackling tasks, especially those on our project list, we often tell ourselves there's plenty of time left to get things done. Yet, thanks to time blindness, this usually isn't the case. We might dedicate a weekend to work on a project, yet find ourselves lost in a social media rabbit hole, and suddenly, it's Sunday night with no progress made. 😬

Now, for many adults with ADHD, this is less about laziness or a lack of motivation and more about how we perceive time. A day intended for project progress becomes lost in distraction.

We Lose Track of Tasks

Have you ever looked at a project list and felt overwhelmed, not even knowing where to start? 😮Picture this: you've got a big project planned - maybe revamping your home office or creating a new business plan. You spend hours researching ideas and saving relevant blog articles or TikTok videos, but you can't get started.

For people with ADHD, all the steps involved in a project tend to merge into one big, intimidating task that feels almost like a tangle of fairy lights. We often can't differentiate between what should come first and what can wait, making us feel stuck before we begin. 

Executive dysfunction is often the culprit behind this struggle around task initiation, which is a common experience for many people with ADHD. The whole 'getting started' part gets us frazzled, especially when facing the daunting question of where and how to begin. This is often referred to as task paralysis. 🥶 

We can get caught up in overthinking the process of trying to figure out the perfect first step, and sometimes, it can be so exhausting that we burn out before we even begin. The project that once sparked excitement dims before it's had the chance to shine, simply because starting feels like an impossible task.

Motivation In ADHD Is Complex

Motivation can be a tricky area for people with ADHD. It's not that we don't want to do things, but staying connected with why we started something can sometimes feel impossible.

As ADHD brains often have lower levels of dopamine - which is critical in reward and motivation - many of us with adult ADHD might not feel as driven by internal rewards, such as the personal satisfaction from finishing a project. We might rely more on external things to motivate us, like material rewards or deadlines. ⏰

There are three main types of motivation: intrinsic, extrinsic, and amotivation. You feel intrinsic motivation when your personal interests or the sheer enjoyment of a task drive you. Meanwhile, external rewards or pressures fuel your extrinsic motivation. If you find either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation drives you, that's amotivation. 

Studies suggest that adults with ADHD often have higher levels of extrinsic motivation and amotivation, meaning we might struggle to start or continue tasks unless there's a clear and immediate reward. 🎁

How To (Finally) Follow Through With Projects

I know it’s frustrating, but when you have ADHD, getting stuff done might take a bit more strategic thinking and intentional goal setting than neurotypical folks need. 

Here are a few ways I’ve managed to stay on track and tick things off my list over the past year. ⬇️

  • Breaking down a project into smaller, exciting chunks can help keep the momentum going. Like the early excitement we feel when starting new projects, finding the spark in every mini-milestone is key. 

  • When tasks feel too daunting, breaking them down into smaller bits and creating a streamlined action plan can bring a sense of order and make the project more enjoyable. It could be plotting each step on sticky notes or discussing the process with a friend. Set realistic time-frames for when and where you'll work on each task, balancing it with 'free' time and days where you can enjoy doing nothing but relaxing. 

  • Navigating through our project list one step at a time not only gets us closer to our goal but also delivers the satisfaction of ticking off those tasks one by one. ✅

  • Sidestep procrastination by sticking to a structured schedule. Writing down what needs doing and setting reminders can keep us on track and stop time from slipping away before we realize it. 

  • Thanks to hyperfocus, many of us with ADHD can zero in with incredible intensity when we're genuinely engaged. However, this means we can easily fall into a procrastination trap of distractions, and so the trick lies in channeling this into the tasks related to the project. Recognizing procrastination patterns and implementing practical tactics ensures 'later' shifts to 'now.'

  • Checking in regularly on our progress and reducing project lists to the absolute essentials can prevent us from getting overwhelmed. Visual task tracking, like a magnetic whiteboard or a digital app, can keep things organized and flowing smoothly.

Key Takeaways

  • For many people with ADHD, the inability to follow through with projects leaves us overwhelmed and incredibly frustrated. Before we can even finish one project, we've already mentally started planning another before we've even realized.   

  • However, being aware of how our ADHD symptoms prevent us from being able to sustain interest and stick to one project at a time allows us to finally get stuff done without hitting a brick wall. 

  • Understanding the unique way our ADHD works is essential for creating tailored strategies. For example, this might mean rewarding ourselves more often, setting reminders that move us towards project completion, and visually tracking progress to maintain focus and manage time wisely.

  • By tweaking these methods according to their unique needs, people with ADHD can effectively manage projects, ultimately transforming 'so many things' into 'so many accomplishments.'  😁

  • It's okay to reassess and keep things flexible by adapting your methods to suit your life. The point is to create strategies that work for your goals, allowing you to get the stuff done that means the most to you, no matter what the journey looks like. 💪

  • Remember, it's about progress, not perfection. Take a breath, find your stride, and address that project list one task at a time.

What’s Next?

Want to understand more about why many people with ADHD struggle with task initiation and motivation? Check out these related articles. 👇

The Mystery of ADHD Motivation

Task Initiation: The Number One Enemy Of Adults With ADHD

Why People With ADHD Often Lose Interest In Things 

The ADHD Cycle Of A Special Interest

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ADHD and Unfinished Projects: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is having difficulty finishing projects a symptom of ADHD?

Officially, it isn’t. However, some symptoms of ADHD may contribute to it. They include being forgetful, impulsive to start another project, easily distracted by the surrounding, and having time blindness. 

Do people with ADHD have trouble starting a task or finishing a task?‍

Some might have trouble with both, probably still due to the symptoms of ADHD.‍

What are some ways to avoid having unfinished projects?

Understanding your symptoms is one of the best ways to avoid it. If for instance, you become too distracted with noise, it might be helpful to designate a quiet place when doing a project. Having a schedule and sticking to it also helps. ‍

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