Lazy is a word I hear a lot.
ADHD adults are often mislabeled as lazy, so much so it’s a bit of a trigger word.
Knowing everything I do about executive functions, I’ve still described myself this way.
I don’t dislike the word as much as I used to though, because I now understand that laziness is a lot like cholesterol – there’s the good kind and the bad kind.
It’s easy to assume that your inability to prioritize, or get something done, is the bad kind of lazy.
Executive function issues are not laziness, though. And doing more – cleaning more, setting more timers, buying new planners – is actually trying to solve the wrong problem.
And making massive to-do lists is about as effective as eating five avocados per day and then hoping your cholesterol numbers work out.
One of my favorite people, Terry Matlen, often says, “paying for support or assistance is not a luxury.”
Finding support is the good kind of lazy.
You know what other GOOD kind of lazy is?
The kind where you feel full entitled to pick and choose where to put your energy each day based on your personal priorities.
You aren’t lazy. You just haven’t figured out the balance yet.
The Good Kind of lazy
Decision fatigue is an issue for everyone, but for someone with EF issues it’s a recipe for overwhelm.
Every person I talk to has a to-do list that could cover a two-sided sheet of paper. You know what you want to do, but you don’t know how to decide what takes priority. Everything FEELS equally important.
We have trouble discerning what is urgent, what is important, and what FEELS urgent but is not actually important.
This urgent but not*** important category includes things like text messages, emails, and requests from others. These things often make it hard to focus on our larger goals. It’s like wearing glasses but never wiping them clean, you’re looking through smudgy lenses.
So you make a list of to-dos, and it includes all three categories, plus things that are non-urgent but aspirational.
This is how decision fatigue begins.
But you do have another option and it’s gonna sound totally UN-revolutionary.
You can eliminate decision fatigue by choosing to do LESS.
Getting Clear on Priorities
I have a system for structuring my day and setting priorities that I call The Big Three. I didn’t come up with this on my own, it’s been well documented in the business world. I simply adapted it to my needs as a person with a brain-based difference.
I think of personal priorities as buckets:
Obviously you could create more buckets, but in the interest of keeping things simple I don’t recommend it.
These broad categories are how I narrow the field for myself each day.
If I make decisions about where to put my energy ahead of time, I don’t start to spin out choosing what comes next. If I’m considering something but it doesn’t fit into one of the buckets, I probably won’t add it.
I choose only three items per day because that number feels doable to me, I can commit to that. It doesn’t overwhelm me with options. I do one thing at a time and I don’t start the next thing until I’ve completed the one in front of it.
If one of my tasks has multiple steps, and I’m struggling to start, I will sit and break it down so I can figure out what to do. If I need assistance, I ask for it.
On paper I’m doing LESS. But strangely, I’m getting more done than ever because I’m committed. Commitment will beat motivation every time.
This sounds counterintuitive, but when you actively choose where you will put your energy, it’s much easier to get started and complete tasks.
If you wake up and didn’t have a great sleep, or you’re feeling hormonal, you can choose your Big Three based on that.
Sometimes my Big Three is complete by 1pm, and I’ll decide to choose a fourth thing for the day. Or I’ll have a scheduled meeting in the Enclave, and that will be four.
Either way because I’m managing my energy I FEEL much more accomplished.
It takes a lot of energy to make decisions on the spot. It also takes a lot of energy to transition between tasks if you don’t know what’s next.
Try to remember why you got online just now.
Can you do it?
I really can’t. I cannot hold information in my mind at all. So if you’re working memory makes it hard for you to complete your to-dos, you might benefit from doing less.
Less clutter in the brain is a good thing. Trust me on this.
Forgetting to call your mother on her birthday makes you look like you don’t care. So does failing to show up for your cousin’s baby shower. (I’ve done both of these things.)
Sometimes putting a phone call on the Big Three feels like I’m being a little lazy. Why should a call take up a whole space on my list?
I’ll tell you why – because that phone is a priority. But** I hate phone calls so if it’s not on the list I will 100% avoid it.
You need to be OK with making something like a phone call to your mother the main to-do of your day.
It’s not because you are lazy. It’s because you know what’s important.
The Big Three
The big three is really just a way to narrow the field for yourself and avoid overwhelm.
Overwhelm leads to inaction and more avoidance and we’ve all been down that road.
The problem with massive to-do lists is that they are aspirational. They don’t actually help us prioritize or figure out what matters.
Spend a little time thinking about how you can narrow the field for yourself each day. You might need to focus on just one “bucket” for today. That’s ok.
I’m not saying that you will never have to change your Big Three on the spot, based on circumstances. But hopefully when that happens you won’t be as reactive because you’ll be proactively making that decision.
Your list will be there tomorrow and you’re free to take a redo on any item.
You’re the good kind of lazy.
Nothing in life is all good or all bad, and like your cholesterol, it’s all about balance.
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