What can you do when your ADHD and motivation are at odds? Sometimes a daily planner isn’t enough to get you started on certain tasks, no matter how important they are!
Because the ADHD brain processes information differently, motivation strategies that work for non-ADHDers may not work well for adults with ADHD. Add boring, repetitive routine tasks to the mix, and any form of motivation becomes harder to find.
As a result, many adults with ADHD tend to over-rely on task urgency to get the ball rolling. But with some experimentation, creativity, and the right resources, it’s possible to build effective strategies to get going without the stress of a looming deadline.
Keep reading to learn 10 valuable tips to help you conquer a lack of motivation from ADHD.
Can ADHD Cause a Lack of Motivation?
Yes! ADHD can lead to a lack of motivation to complete specific tasks.
But this isn’t because you’re lazy or lack willpower.
The ADHD brain is wired uniquely, leading to a possible motivation deficit in the following ways:
- A disruption in the pathway of a chemical messenger (dopamine) in the brain can limit the brain’s ability to perceive rewards, especially long-term ones.
- The ADHD brain may favor tasks that offer novelty and stimulation and avoid those considered repetitive and boring.
- Adults with ADHD tend to get overwhelmed when organizing lots of information.
This doesn’t mean the ADHD brain can’t be motivated. It’s simply motivated differently.
10 Tips to Improve Your Motivation with ADHD
Living with ADHD can be challenging. But meeting deadlines, getting boring tasks done, and completing household chores are all goals within your reach.
Here’s a list of 10 tips to tackle a lack of motivation and accomplish your goals.
Break Tasks into Smaller Goals
Break down a complex or lengthy project into tinier components and milestones to ensure each task feels more manageable. A big project like packing up your apartment for a move can feel too overwhelming to start.
Instead of leaving it until the day before the truck pulls up, write down every small task involved. You might note things like – order boxes, buy packing tape, pack record collection, or empty the freezer.
Set yourself a small, easy-to-achieve goal of packing one box each day or checking one small task off that list.
You can apply this method to school or work projects too. Break things down into individual tasks as small as emailing a colleague, finding one resource, or writing a single paragraph.
You may couple this with the following strategies:
- Set a deadline, time, or place of completion for each small task.
- Make the first small goal of the day a 100% achievable task.
- Don’t be afraid to set the bar low (i.e., “set up a new document” or “reply to an email” as a task).
- Visualize the end goal. A massive project may feel less daunting with a clear goal in mind.
Organize Your To-Do List
Putting a to-do list together helps mark the starting line and saves you the stress of missing important things. To put together an effective and motivating to-do list (that works with the ADHD brain) it has to be short, organized, and visually appealing.
Otherwise it will be daunting and discouraging – the opposite of motivating.
Here’s how to put together a valuable to-do list:
- Be specific with your goals. For instance, list “20 minutes of jogging” instead of “exercise.”
- Make your tasks small, so they don’t take longer than 30 minutes to complete.
- Color code or mark three to five of the most important things on your list with numbers.
- Use visuals or icons to make your goals look more appealing.
- Keep your to-do list somewhere you’ll look often.
Ask for Help
Support groups are a great place to pick up ADHD motivation tips that have worked for others and could work for you.
A quick Google search can help you discover a list of local and virtual support groups, such as the ADDA Virtual Support Groups.
You may also seek the guidance and advice of an adult ADHD coach, who can collaborate with you to build personalized strategies that help boost motivation.
Keep Things Fun and Interesting
The ADHD brain is creative and imaginative.
Take advantage of that by thinking of a few fun and exciting ways to turn monotonous tasks into something you’d more likely enjoy.
Here are some ideas to try out:
- Gamify – for example, make tasks into a race against time.
- Turn menial tasks into a competition with someone else to see who can get the task done faster or better.
- Download apps that turn uninteresting tasks into exciting games or missions.
- Pair a borning task with something you enjoy, like folding laundry while you want an episode of your favorite show.
Celebrate Milestones with Rewards
Adults with ADHD may struggle to complete routine or repetitive tasks that aren’t inherently rewarding or only offer long-term gratification.
Creating immediate and fun rewards each time you check off a set number of tasks on your list may encourage you to start on them.
The reward can be as simple as having a snack, taking a walk outside, sitting in a bubble bath, or listening to your favorite song.
Try Body Doubling
Body doubling is a practice where you work on tasks, especially frustrating or tedious ones, alongside someone else.
The “body double” helps keep you accountable and focused on your present task.
Body doubling works in a wide range of scenarios. For example, you may have a friend come over to help with finances (budget and pay any necessary bills) or work with your housemates to clean the kitchen.
Don’t Rely on Pressure
The pressure of “should” and “have to” may put you off tasks. Instead, reframe them into “wants” and focus on the outcomes or sections of the task you enjoy most.
Here’s an example of how you can put this into practice:
Usual way of thinking – “I have to do the dishes.”
New way of thinking – “I want to do the dishes because I like having clean dishes ready to use.”
Remix Your Routine
The ADHD brain is drawn to new and shiny things. Harness this by introducing novelty into your routine and incorporating new and stimulating elements into repetitive tasks.
For example, you may:
- Switch up your working environment – visit a café or library to answer emails.
- Listen to your favorite playlist or podcast while working on a mindless task.
- Go grocery shopping with a friend – socializing keeps things fun!
Find Your Peak Productivity Hours
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Observe when you’re in the best state of mind to get things done and designate time to complete what you can during that period.
You’ll set yourself up for success by working on tasks during your most productive hours!
Take note of your biggest distractions and devise strategic ways to limit or remove them.
For instance, you could:
- Try noise-canceling headphones.
- Be wise with your choice of music while working. Lyric-less music tends to be the least distracting for many people.
- Download apps that block social media apps for a set time.
- Keep your workspace tidy.
- Write down distracting thoughts as they come, then forget about them until you’ve completed your tasks.
ADHD and Getting Motivated: Discomfort Is Normal
While the above tips and strategies may help you start off on the right foot when tackling your to-do list, you may still experience discomfort and unease.
Normalize those feelings, and acknowledge that you can put your best foot forward and not be “in the mood” for a particular task. Yet, you can still fully engage with it and complete what you need to.
If you’re struggling with ADHD and need additional resources, try the free ADDA Starter Kit. You’ll get a free online 12-week training program that will give you even more actionable steps to help you thrive!
 Volkow, N. D., Wang, G. J., Newcorn, J. H., Kollins, S. H., Wigal, T. L., Telang, F., Fowler, J. S., Goldstein, R. Z., Klein, N., Logan, J., Wong, C., & Swanson, J. M. (2011). Motivation deficit in ADHD is associated with dysfunction of the dopamine reward pathway. Molecular psychiatry, 16(11), 1147–1154. https://doi.org/10.1038/mp.2010.97
 Sethi, A., Voon, V., Critchley, H. D., Cercignani, M., & Harrison, N. A. (2018). A neurocomputational account of reward and novelty processing and effects of psychostimulants in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Brain: a journal of neurology, 141(5), 1545–1557. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awy048