Due to the increased popularity of psychology, many people have begun to justify the peculiarities of their behaviour with various diagnoses – in particular, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. According to them, it is ADHD that prevents them from planning and carrying out daily tasks. Is this really the case? And what really gets in the way of most people? A neuropsychologist explains.
PLANNING VS ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is mainly diagnosed in children aged 4-6 and has several forms:
- ADD – attention deficit disorder only, no impulsive or hyperactive behaviour;
- Hyperactivity disorder – impulsive behaviour without attention deficit;
- ADHD – complex impairment of both attention and behaviour.
By adulthood, ADHD is compensated for in most patients – hyperactivity usually disappears. A person with attention deficit alone usually has no trouble planning, but has difficulty following his or her own plan. This is what is commonly called procrastination. But he can learn to highlight urgent and important things in his plan, using, for example, the Eisenhower matrix. He or she can find a time management technique that allows him or her to limit the number of tasks for the day, and be sure to plan not only for things to do, but also for time off.
An adult with real ADHD, on the other hand, is unlikely to be able to plan anything at all. Hyperactivity and impulsivity can lead to deviant and antisocial behaviour; while in such a state, it is difficult to become aware of one’s own problems, let alone confess on social networks or write a blog.
In addition to the syndrome mentioned above, there are several other causes that can cause permanent or temporary difficulties in working through or implementing plans.
1. WEAKNESS OF THE “CONTROLLING FUNCTIONS” OF THE BRAIN
These functions are associated with the prefrontal areas of the frontal cortex and are the last to develop, around 18-20 years of age. Many factors influence their development:
- upbringing, discipline, daily routine;
- somatic illness and general physical condition;
- social environment and correct beliefs.
We all have different planning skills, determined by different levels of development of controlling functions. Those who are poorly developed do not keep track of time, do not ‘feel’ its course (like the Dragonfly in Krylov’s fable) – they always think that they ‘will make it’. Such people need visualisation that focuses attention on the final deadline for the task.
You can plan your time using Gantt charts (you can create them in Excel or Google Tables, for example), which help you to see the full scope of tasks with specific deadlines and adequately assess your workload. A kanban board that visualises the current stage of a task is also suitable. A similar approach is implemented in Trello project management software.
If it is difficult to keep track of a large flow of cases, it is possible to use services like the Russian Singularity App, where you can group tasks into projects, tag them, highlight them with colours or icons – visually organize the chaos of the cases and get on with the task.
2. PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE
Heightened anxiety makes it difficult to prioritize; all tasks seem equally important. If under the influence of fears a person doubts his abilities, his plans will not be concrete. When depressed, a person makes plans for the next day or two, without measuring them against possible future events. Research confirms that in depressed and anxious states, memory as well as the ability to concentrate and shift attention are affected. Following plans can therefore also be difficult.
It is important for depressed people not to fixate on planning and not to grab onto complicated apps that will constantly remind them of tasks and missed deadlines. You can plan for the essentials with simple tools like a diary or Google Calendar. You can turn to an approach such as bullet journaling, where you can plan any tasks, make lists and regularly reflect on the results.
This personality trait is expressed in increased attention to minutiae, difficulty in switching, and general ‘inflexibility’. A rigid person can make a perfect plan for any period of time. But the impact of external circumstances and the need to change the plan is a disaster for him. He will not be able to abandon his plans and instead of action he will regret that they did not come true.
Creating a master plan and a few backup plans will help such a person adjust to possible changes. A calendar or diary is not enough here, rigid people need more flexible planning tools, e.g. time-management applications, in which several variants of situation development can be provided, tasks can be divided into subtasks, they can be combined into projects and groups.
4. SANGUINE TEMPERAMENT
Sanguine people, who are characterized by optimism, often perceive planning as something “unnatural,” disturbing the natural course of things and preventing a happy turn of fate. But one can keep life simple with planning as long as one is able to ‘digest’ the number of incoming tasks.
According to studies, a person is capable of starting and finishing no more than 7 things a day. Sanguine people can use the most common to-do lists to manage their workload, so that they don’t lose sight of what’s important, but also don’t put pressure on their psyche.
Checklists are a good planning tool for sanguine people. More careful preparation for the event increases the chances for a “happy accident” and allows you not to miss out on good luck. For example, a person planned a trip, packed according to a pre-arranged list, brought a first-aid kit and ended up being the only lucky one out of the whole company to avoid rotavirus.
A current problem is cognitive impairment after covids, which can persist for a year or longer. Attention and memory are primarily affected.
If you constantly miss out on important tasks or find it difficult to take on a big task, try to make your planning as simple and automated as possible with the help of special applications: set repetitive tasks, visualise the plan, highlight important tasks using colours or suitable icons.
In such disorders, it is useful to perform tasks in short phases, alternating them with rest. The Pomodoro method is suitable for this – in the original it involves working in 25-minute segments with a 5-minute break, but in special timer applications these periods can be varied.
So, ADD, much less ADHD, is not the most common cause of problems with time planning and control. Don’t look for diagnoses – find convenient tools, make plans and follow them at your own pace.