10 Unconventional Ideas To Help Your Child Crush Productivity Goals In The New Academic Year
| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 8/12/2023|
With research from the Journal of Affective Disorders, the ADHD brain often experiences fast highways of thoughts and flights of ideas that come and go (Martz et al., 2022). While this may fuel creative thinking, it also means individuals with ADHD/ADD will need different ways to get things done that are more aligned with their unique self-regulation system. Below are some out-of-the-box ways for ADHDers to get stuff done that are uniquely different, but may very well work for them. Perhaps, one or a combination of these strategies may be applicable to your child's productivity repertoire.
1. Conquer By Two
There's always a task your child wants to avoid. In fact, there's probably that one task that we all secretly want to avoid. That task, yes, you know the one. All your child has to do is to narrow it down by two. For example, your child doesn't want to study for the math test. Help your child think of a worser task and put it against the one he/she needs to do right now. For instance, clean out your entire closet now or study for the math test? If your child doesn't want to go through and clean his/her closet right now, then he/she would more likely to choose to focus on the math test.
2. Turn Tasks Into Fun Field Trips
Have a long paper to write, but hate to stay in the house all day not seeing anybody and feeling stuffy? Help your child do work at a local coffee shop or public library if your child is old enough to self-manage in a public setting. Sometimes being in a public place and seeing everyone else around you studying and focusing will help the individual with ADHD focus on their work better and get into the zone easier. Plus, you get a change of pace and scenery to make the productivity hour more fun, so it's essential to select a public venue that is BOTH fun while you can still get things done. The enchanting yet non-distracting combination of a physical space is a requirement for productivity.
3. The Task Loyalty System
Does your child like to collect a favorite item(s)? For example, toys, Xbox, clothes etc. We know from research that students with ADHD love a dopamine release at frequent intervals hence video game fascination is quite popular. What you can do is for each task that your child completes, your child earns $5. So if your child completes 10 tasks in a day, they earn $50 to buy their favorite item. Though this may sound minor and perhaps archaic to us adults, but for some students, this can be their main motivational drive to keep knocking it out of the park.
4. The Sandwich Method
Oftentimes, students visualize in their mind that a task takes only a few minutes and reality turns out to be a lot different. This is especially a blatant reality when a student transitions from doing middle school level work to high school level or high school to college. As the academic rigor increases, students need to develop coping skills for cognitively demanding tasks by doing a little at a time then do something fun and then come back on a different day to complete the rest. For example, a college student can plan to go to a coffee shop to write 5 pages of their 15-page paper from 9AM to noon. Then on the same day, they can hang out with friends the rest of the afternoon. When you meet the goal for that day (the 5 pages benchmark), you reward yourself and take a brain break that's physical, socially, and mentally rewarding to recharge.
5. Clean By The Corner
Another great skill to teach your student as they get older is clean by the corner. Induct them into the strategic way to cleaning a small corner of their room each day that takes about ten minutes at a time. For instance, today make sure your desk is cleared and put things in their proper storage after studying. A good way to help your child adopt this is to tell the child if you clean during the weekdays, then you don't have to use the weekend to clean. You will have more free time. Bonus: You will get even more student buy-in if you visually keep track of free time hours your student is racking up throughout the week on a wall calendar to ignite student motivation to maintain the good habits.
6. Focus On How You Will Feel When Finished
Perhaps, one of the best executive skills that all adults paying bills have learned by heart is this one. You dread paying the bills sometimes, but you like the amenities it brings, which is the feeling you focus on when forcing yourself to pay the bills on time. The same concept applies. When your child can't seem to start on a task, remind your student what's waiting for them at the end of the tunnel: ice cream, sleepovers at friends' houses, the state fair etc. Whatever makes it worth it, help your child with that thinking process and growth mindset. That's where the core skill is, changing their perspective by seeing their efforts as the reward itself.
7. Take A Short Nap After Completing A Heavy Duty Task
Dr. Russell Barkley famously said that students with ADHD have limited executive function fuel tank, so if they keep using it, then they will run out of energy to get things done when the time comes. Thus, help your child manage their energy tank by taking naps after a multi-step project has been worked on. Sleep is literally a secret weapon when it comes to the fastest way to regain cognitive replenishment and overall energy level. Without energy, willpower is irrelevant. He who manages energy, manages the efficiency of productivity. It can look like this: Get half of a big task done, for example, finish half of an outline for your 10-page paper from 10:30a til noon, (yes, an outline is a big task since it is the back bone of the actual paper and it requires extensive cognitive power). Then, maybe grab lunch and take a 30 minute nap, so you'll have enough energy to tackle another big task before the day is over. Otherwise, you won't last throughout the day energy-wise and without premium energy, it will hold you back from fulfilling your most important goals for the day.
8. Use The 3-1-2 Rule
Basically, start out your day with high-octane energy starting from the night before and the morning of. That is, get at least 8-10 hours of sleep the night before, no matter who is calling. You come first. Sleep is a time management adaptation tool; you can use sleep biology to give your body extra energy (How We Learn, Benedict Carey). Also, have a healthy breakfast the morning of and start at 9am sharp. Then, for every three hours, make sure you get one big task done such as reading a 10-page article (with breaks in between, of course) and write your own notes as you go along or study 50% of the materials for your upcoming test. When the big task is done, take a 15-30 minute music or nature break. Next, try to knock out two small tasks such as clean a corner in your room or lay out your outfits for tomorrow, or email a professor for an appointment. Repeat this process after lunch until 5p or 6p because that's all your biological clock can handle. Try it out, you'll see that you have done a lot in such a way. Sure, everyone's way will be slightly different based on scheduling differences and personal obligations, but the workflow arrangement will be similar: 1 Big Task and 2 Small Tasks in a 3 Hour increment with breaks in between. Be creative, make it work for you! The easiest way to teach your child this is to model and they replicate after you.
9. Drop Everything And Just Do The Biggest Tasks First
Now more than ever, the human self-regulation system is always interrupted, always hanging in the balance because we live in a world that is always on. You are always competing with artificial intelligence to see who gets more done in a minute. Antidote: Sometimes it takes turning off to be truly on with productivity. For instance: wake up, have a nice breakfast, avoid your phone and social media. Grab a notebook, write down three big tasks that must get done for the day and go at it. Don't get me wrong, still take care of yourself with a good night of sleep and breakfast, be in a pleasant and comfortable environment, but don't dilute your energy and focus on anything else except the three big tasks you want to get out of the way. Turn off all your notifications. It's just you and your checklist. Don't back out. It will be a brand new world AFTER those three big tasks are done. You'll feel like brand new because the rest of the day is cake. Help your child get into this mentality and after a few practices, they will begin to grow into this learned skill.
10. Small Always Wins
Don't have time to write the whole essay right now? Take five minutes and read the essay prompt and bullet out three ideas anyways. Can't complete the whole form right now? Just print the form from the email and have it ready to go. When you have a minute, you can answer the first three questions. Can't do your laundry today? At least, sort light from dark clothes. Small always wins because it will save you when life brings a plethora of surprises your way. For example, you thought you would have time to start the essay's rough draft today, but then that time window is eaten up by an unexpected personal emergency, so counting on having time later is ALMOST ALWAYS an illusion and we know how those things go. But you're still on the safe side, because you already have a rough draft done in advance, so then you are saved by "doing ahead" and that completely freezes up your schedule. This is a life strategy that you can help your student practice with baby steps.
What do all these strategies have in common: always do it BEFORE you need to. Help your child believe in this motto and they will go far in life and in everything!
Carey B. (2014). How We Learn. Random House.
Martz, E., Weibel, S., & Weiner, L. (2022). An overactive mind: Investigating racing thoughts in ADHD, hypomania and comorbid ADHD and bipolar disorder via verbal fluency tasks. Journal of Affective Disorders, 300, 226-234. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2021.12.060
Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.
As a Certified ADHD Professional/Coach and Licensed Educator for 18 years, Thuy's holistic approach combines Learning Science with ADHD Science to design brain hack strategies that foster students'/individuals' long-term independence, motivation, and self-management skills. She is diligent in understanding her students and adults on all levels (ADHD, Executive Dysfunction, Autism, Dysgraphia, Anxiety, Depression, Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors-BFRB, Written Expression Disorder, Specific Reading Comprehension Deficit-SRCD, ADHD and Syncope-fainting spells). She listens deeply and spots the missing piece very quickly then she swiftly turns around to personalize tailored strategies to meet her clients' unique needs. She believes in evidence-based practices as well as giving the student/individual the best of all worlds: learning science, cognitive science, and ADHD science. Her favorite part is recognizing the missing puzzle and customizing the "brain hack" in a language that is unique to that individual while meeting all their needs. She especially enjoys helping students/adults translate their challenges into actionable steps and likes letting them know that they are well loved!
Learn more about how Thuy marries a student's cognitive style with brain hack strategies here.