The Simplest Way to Get Out of a Productivity Rut, According to an ADHD Coach

published May 3, 2023
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Everyone gets stuck in a rut every once in a while. It’s impossible to be productive 100 percent of the time, whether it’s staying on task at work or sticking with a new habit or routine. It can be especially challenging for anyone who is diagnosed with ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of ADHD include “inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting), and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought).”

Meg Leahy is a counselor, therapist, and coach who specializes in helping her clients manage their ADHD — and she knows a thing or two about productivity ruts, and how to get out of them. Here are a few tips for getting back into a groove, according to Leahy. 

Acknowledge you’re in a rut.

The first step of getting out of a rut is to simply acknowledge that you’re in one. “Generally we find ourselves in procrastination station when we have to do something we don’t enjoy, something that is tedious or boring, or when we have so much to do that the feeling of overwhelm locks up our brain,” Leahy says.

It can be easy to continue going through the motions and not check in with yourself if you have a mountain of tasks you need to get through, but pausing to check in and assess your situation can be incredibly beneficial. If you’ve been trying to push through a task and it hasn’t been working for whatever reason, or perhaps you’ve totally checked out, be truthful so you can make a change. “When you acknowledge and label [the rut], it makes it easier to break out of it,” Leahy says.

Move your body.

If you’re feeling mentally down, a great way to break out of a downward cycle of thought is to move. This will not only shift your body, but also your mindset. “Stand up, change rooms, or go for a walk, a run, or a bike ride,” Leahy suggests. “Research shows that just 20 minutes of simple exercise daily can have an enormous impact on your ability to focus.”

Movement doesn’t have to be complicated, either. As she says, it can be as simple as moving from your desk to another seat or getting outside for a quick walk to reset. Choose what movement practice works for you, and if you don’t know, experiment and see what clicks. 

Try a brain dump.

Another helpful tip for when you’re stuck in your head is to get your thoughts out in writing. “If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed by having too much to do, dump it all out on a whiteboard, paper, or even the notes app on your phone,” Leahy says.

If you have a lot on your mind, Leahy suggests that you try not to think too much about what you’re writing. “Don’t think, judge, or ruminate over the details, just dump,” she states. 

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Then make a (manageable!) to-do list.

Once everything is in writing, you can then organize tasks, and spread them out throughout a day, a week, a month, or even a year. The key is to keep your list manageable, especially your daily to-do list

“Many people sink themselves by making a to-do list that’s five to 10 items long. When you don’t accomplish them all, you feel even worse,” Leahy says. “Most of us can successfully complete two to four items a day. Accept that fact. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Decide what must be done, what can wait, and what can be delegated.” 

Reward yourself for completing tasks.

If you’re feeling down, it can make focusing on a task that much more difficult. Having something to look forward to is a great way to push yourself forward, especially when you’re having trouble concentrating. “Let’s be honest — the promise of a paycheck motivates most people to continue to go to work every day,” Leahy explains. “You can use this principle on a smaller scale for whatever you don’t feel like doing. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward, but the idea of working toward something will help get you moving in the right direction.”

Perhaps rewarding yourself with a walk, a phone call with a friend, or a coffee from Starbucks will help get your mind in a positive space so you can complete whatever task you have in front of you. 

Be kind to yourself.

If you’re having trouble focusing, you may be hard on yourself, even unconsciously. Check in on how you’re speaking to yourself and make sure you’re being kind. “Speak positively and reassuringly to yourself as you would to someone struggling with the same issues,” Leahy suggests. This might not come easy at first, but remind yourself that it’s alright to take breaks and ask for help if you need it. 

“We can make lists of strategies until the cows come home, but until you give yourself permission to ask for help, take time to breathe, meditate, or go for that walk, none of these suggestions have a chance of being effective,” says Leahy.