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  • Writer's pictureThuy Truong, M.A. Ed.

How To Conquer Academic Writing With ADHD Like A Well-Oiled Machine

Updated: Mar 21

| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 1/11/2024|

At first glance, writing seems effortless and easy, especially the sleek image of someone on the computer. However, academic writing involves a host of other executive function skills such as organization, working memory, sustained attention and emotional regulation just to name a few. Research also shows a common challenge for students with ADHD is written expression. With the tips below and a bit of self-discipline, writing, like most things under the sun, can be divided and conquered.

Calendar Checkpoints

We all lead busy lives; we are so busy nowadays that it is no longer enough to have a general idea of what needs to be done (Example: I have a week to write this paper). Why have our lives become like this? That's because we have to keep up with work, school, health, cooking, cleaning, sleeping, staying fit, technologies and everything else in between. In other words, if you don't draw clear time boundaries, you will be pulled and distracted from the most important goals or tasks. The only reliable antidote is to create a calendar checkpoints for all your big papers from start to finish. This works well because you proactively reserve timeframes for cognitively demanding tasks, break it down into its hierarchical parts, so that you will be clear on both content and time commitment required. That way, you won't be surprised with a big time commitment bill when you think something is going to take an hour but it ends up being 3.5 hours. But hey, at least you can do this in a style that strikes your fancy from using a white board like a CEO to a vintage leather bound notebook like a poet. Just get it done in YOUR STYLE!

Example of Calendar Checkpoints:

Visual Checkpoints

Create a visual template for the assignment using the original rubric and voila you automatically have envisioned a framework for your essay long before you have completed it. It's like you have a cake mold long before you bake the cake. You might think why would I want to do that? Imagine, tracing a picture using the dotted outline throughout or starting from ground zero with a blank canvas. The former is easier, right? In doing so, you prevent yourself from forgetting any portion of the assignment that you have to complete. So that's the second logistical advantage. The other advantage in having a template of the assignment is that it sets you up to be cruising on the highway of productivity easily since you know and see clearly all the parts that you must complete. This saves you the hassle from looking at the rubric countless of times while writing thereby leaving you with more time to actually completing the assignment itself instead of flipping through pages of rubric endlessly as a side task. In addition, it saves you time from digging out papers and getting distracted with mundane tasks instead of diving straight into the writing, so you can focus on doing the actual assignment itself since you have everything in one place.

Seize Your Strong Mental Time (For It Will Pass Quickly)

Let's look at the facts. Physical energy and mental energy are starkly different creatures. Physical energy is accessible easily granted a person is in good health during almost any time of the day. Physical energy doesn't require a whole lot of attentional regulation because it is an external activity and can run on its own. Mental energy, on the other hand, is not easily accessible because there are prerequisites (sleep quality, nutrition, focus, mood etc.) that must be present in order for mental energy to function at its optimal level and aid academic performance properly. Like the executive function fuel tank, a person's strong mental time is a finite resource. Strong mental time is a short window of time where cognitive functions can be performed at its finest due to mental energy peak is present. You must seize this time and dedicate it to finishing cognitively demanding tasks. If you take this time and devote it to non-academic tasks, then the time will pass anyhow as it always does. However, you may lack the mental momentum later in the day to perform academically simply because your mental energy has run out for the day and you may have to push your brain like a car without any gas left to do the heavy lifting when mental energy depletion has already set in. Think of your strong mental time like a lottery ticket, if you won the lottery ticket but cash it six months later, you may miss your prize. The same concept applies to strong mental time.

Sprinkle Some Fun

It may seem counterintuitive to think of a wish list while you are racking your brain trying to finish a paper or studying for a test. But hey, you have to see the bigger picture. The ADHD brain gets bored doing the same mundane tasks day in and day out, so while it toils away, you must have exciting things waiting after the brain gets done with its heavy lifting for the day. Sprinkle some fun at the end of your work week or day. Small celebrations on a school night and save bigger celebrations for the weekend. Some examples illustrated below:

School Nights Small Treats: (After everything is done)

  • Treat yourself to cream puffs after getting the preliminary outline done.

  • Do dinner and a movie after you've completed everything on your list.

  • Have some fancy creme brulee after cranking out a heavy-duty outline

Friday Nights' Big Treats (After everything is done)

  • Get caught up on readings, homework, and calendar. Then, get your favorite dish at your favorite restaurant (take-out or dine in, it's your call).

  • Go to a dine-in movie theater and wait to be served while you cinema

  • Go out with friends

Oldie But Goodie

If you are a romantic soul and free spirit, who loves the smell of paper and fine stationery, you can whip up some delicate delight in your fine mind by trying to write by hand, especially useful for brainstorming initial ideas for multi-step papers and projects. Simply put, a temporary divorce from the laptop allows you this liberty: There is no internet to distract you or the temptation to edit previous written paragraphs, which may block all the brilliant thoughts that you can inspire. The hardest part is to get the ideas out, once the cat is out of the bag, typing it up often is a piece of cake.

Remember: always use your passion to productivity up. Have fun!


 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.

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