How to Work with Your ADHD to Complete Your Projects

April 8, 2010 Douglas Cootey

If you’re an ADHD adult like me, then you collect projects but don't finish them. But I have a system for actually completing projects. Take a look at it.

If you are like me then you collect projects like Rachel Ray collects recipes. Unlike Rachel Ray, however, I used to try to do all my projects at the same time—a veritable smorgasbord of delights with no main theme to my life. Then I figured something out: I wasn't a very good chef.


My tendency is to work on multiple projects simultaneously. If I get bored by one, I can quickly cycle through to the next amazing thing. In this way, I can avoid boredom and eventually complete a project or two; unless I am doing too many things.

Today, I came across a blog written by an eighteen year old girl with a book coming out in the fall. What was I doing at eighteen? I was writing, too. And dating, and reading, and drawing, and dating, and working, and reading some more, and going to movies, and starting projects, and clubbing with a fake ID, and starting projects, and dating. Or something like that. I even sent stories out to editors.

I can't say I was dedicated to my craft, though.

By the time I was a married adult, I started to realize I needed to make some changes. I had to stop abandoning projects and see something through to the end. And thus began the next phase of project cycling. After all, there were so many projects to finish, I couldn't pick just one.

Acknowledge you need to do more than one thing at a time, but limit your projects.

By the time I hit my 30s, I began to realize that I would never finish any projects unless I made myself work through the boring bits. There I was disabled, a full-time dad, and no future to speak of. I couldn't seem to finish anything. How could I continue like this?

by vintage_queen

I drew my line in the sand. It was called "Counting by Critters" and was a coloring book I had originally planned for my oldest daughter who was four years old at the time. I worked for months and finished it before my 36th birthday. My daughter was then 10.

I couldn't have been prouder. Yeah, I missed her learning how to count years, but other daughters would benefit from my book. In fact, my eight year old with cerebral palsy is enjoying the coloring book now. Most important for me was proving to myself I could finish a project that I set my mind to, even through the really boring, fiddly bits. The experience was transformative.

I could accomplish anything if my motivation was high enough.

ADHD Adults: My System to Actually Complete Projects

Over the years, I've worked out a system for myself. I find I accomplish most when there is only one main project, but I must allow myself downtime. I'm going to get distracted, but now I let myself get distracted only with approved projects. You'll need to experiment with what works best for you:

  1. Prune your list of projects. Pare it down to fewer and fewer to increase your chances of completing one. Whittle away until only the ones you are most passionate about are left.
  2. Prioritize them. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many days in the week. If you had time to do only one project, which is the one that makes your heart soar and mind quicken? This is likely the one you should be working on. Allow yourself one or two fun projects that let you relax and don't require finishing. Save your focus for the main goal.
  3. Train yourself to not add more. It will take a great deal of effort to teach yourself to stay on only a few projects at a time, but the results are worth the struggle.

Remember, you're going to get distracted. It comes with the adult ADHD diagnosis. However, you don't have to let ADHD run your life. Put a bridle on it and lead ADHD where you want to go. You're in charge of your life. Live it the way you want to. I now have no regrets about where my life is going. I'm happier, and I have more self-confidence.

I'd love to hear back from others who experience this problem and have their own solutions to share. Do you manage the amount of projects you work on? What system works best for you?

Part Three: How to Work with Your ADHD to Complete Your Projects

Much to the disbelief of friends & others, I never illegally drank at the clubs. I don't drink. But in a wonderful twist of youthful logic, I saw nothing wrong with illegally entering a club if there was a really cool band playing there. I wasn't alone. When I caught Midge Ure on tour in Boston in 1985, none of the people at the front of the stage were there legally. None of us were drinking either. Funny memory.

Kitchen counter image by vintage_queen

APA Reference
Cootey, D. (2010, April 8). How to Work with Your ADHD to Complete Your Projects, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Douglas Cootey

Kathleen Christensen
April, 8 2010 at 4:46 pm

Boy, do I relate. Still working on this at age 53. Thanks for sharing your story and offering suggestions. I have the hardest time saying no--not so much to others, but to myself when I want to do something! (Or start something, anyway!)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
April, 15 2010 at 2:09 pm

Oh, isn’t that the trick of it. Saying “no” to others is easy for me, but not so easy to myself.
Just thought of a great book idea last night. So exciting. I really want to do it, but I’m committed to seeing my current projects through to the end, so I wrote the idea down and shelved it. Keep at it. You’ll get the hang of it.

Aimee White
April, 9 2010 at 5:43 am

This relates to me even though I have not been diagnosed with ADHD. I have so many craft/ home projects I want to do that it takes me forever to get any of them done. Thanks for the tips. You are such a talented writer. I noticed an episode on tv of "Modern Family" where they listed the signs of ADHD and how getting easily distracted by multiple projects was a symptom. Like you they played it out with humor, and it made me laugh.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
April, 15 2010 at 2:10 pm

Humor is so important to dealing with this potential short-coming. Otherwise, we internalize the criticism of others and get down on ourselves. Better to laugh at our mistakes and keep going than to be walloped by them and sit out the race while we get our nerve back up to run again. ;)

John N
April, 16 2010 at 6:41 am

I relate, I always start projects full steam ahead and then I will start another and another, and of course none of them get finished and they all wind up sitting for months. I am getting better now as I am on meds for adhd as well as other things.

April, 21 2010 at 6:44 am

Hello to you! I live with DID/MPD and ADHD! We have parts (alters) who express themselves in different ways, such as writing micro stories and poetry, painting, making sculptures, taking photographs, making music...the list goes on! Like you, I/we have so many projects in the works, that none of them actually get completed. We're currently trying to really hone in on a book. It was good to discover your site on HealthyPlace, which I just joined this morning.
Thank you for sharing your experience, and for your helpful suggestions!
Peace, Marlene Azoulai

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Douglas Cootey
May, 9 2010 at 9:48 pm

Welcome to HealthyPlace, Marlene!
Good luck honing in on that book. Focus in on what is most important to you and let the others go. It's worth the effort.

Leave a reply