Stuck in a rut again? ADHD brains suffer from ADHD paralysis and this little trick gives our brain the kick it needs to get going.
What is ADHD Paralysis?
ADHD Paralysis is when a person feels stuck and just cannot get started on an important task or project.
You know what I mean. You are probably really great at certain things. Jump out of bed to do them. And then once you are going, nothing can stop you.
But then there are other days…. and suddenly you are not so great at organizing, don’t know where to start, dread the task you have to do.... Ugh. This is the ADHD paralysis.
ADHD paralysis is a feeling of overwhelm. Maybe you can’t start because you are imagining all the ways the task could be done. Maybe you are feeling shame because you know you should have done it long ago.
Whatever the mental or emotional reason is, you are stuck.
ADHD paralysis is a confusing and frustrating symptom of ADHD. We can do so much some days, and then suddenly we can’t do some simple task.
And… ADHD paralysis can cause a shame spiral that can make it even worse.
ADHD Decision Paralysis
ADHD Decision Paralysis is being overwhelmed by a number of choices and finding yourself not making any decision at all.
We will sit and imagine all the steps of the task, trying to get to the ‘perfect outcome’. Then we get obsessed with making the correct first step, fearing an early error will lead to calamity.
And… we get stuck.
I do this. I tend to overthink things and then I don’t get it done at all. Rather than just answer an email, I’ll start a draft, think about it, save it, look at it later, forget about it, remember, look at it again…..
And then 2 months later I feel like a total jerk because I didn’t reply to my friend’s email.
Doing a task like this quickly (even if you don’t do it perfectly) is much better than procrastinating, forgetting, then remembering, feeling guilty you forgot, planning to do it later, forgetting again, remembering, feeling even worse….. You get the idea.
Trick to Get Over ADHD Paralysis
So here is the trick I’ve been using to get things like this done: It is called the 2-minute rule.
Here is the basic idea: If you notice a task that takes 2 minutes or less to accomplish, do it right now. If the task takes longer than that, schedule it for another time.
Don’t worry about perfection. Just get it done!
Finally answering that email was the first thing I accomplished when I learned about this rule. Success!
Then I got a few other tasks done.
2-Minute Rule for ADHD Paralysis
The 2-Minute Rule was popularized by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, and founder of an executive coaching firm that uses his “Getting Things Done” methodology.
Here is how he describes the rule:
“If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.”David Allen
Pretty simple right? Time needed for task is less than 2-minutes? Just do it!
The part about it taking longer to organize, schedule and review the task made sense to me. I liked the idea right away from an efficiency standpoint.
And the rule is clearly designed to fight the ADHD paralysis we often get stuck in. Get going with a simple task!
But I found that implementing the 2-minute rule had even more benefits that I had anticipated.
I think this is because ADHD is a problem with regulation. Which means getting ourselves going is hard, and we get stuck.
But doing something small can be what you need flip the switch! Once we are going we are going!
Getting Things Done! 2-Minute Rule
Here are just a few examples of tasks I accomplished by using this rule to beat my ADHD paralysis:
- Answering an email I had been putting off
- Removing dirty dishes from the living room
- Putting shoe polish on a some cat scratches on a leather chair
- Adding the last dishes and turning the dishwasher on
- Moving laundry to the dryer
- Collecting the many water glasses from my bedside table
- Putting the winter shovels away in the basement
- Bringing the outdoor broom out
- Sweeping dirt off of our pathway
- Finding and gathering my library books to return
- Putting coats away in the closet
- Immediately opening and sorting mail
- Shredding some papers in my ‘shred paper pile’
- Putting shoe polish away
Time to check things off my ‘Done’ list. Yay!
2-Minute Rule: Perfect for ADHD Paralysis
One interesting thing I noticed is that one little task often lead into another. Bringing the outdoor broom up led to me grabbing the snow shovels and bringing them back into the house with me.
Then another day I was able to easily grab the broom and sweep the path as I was on my way out of the house.
I think if I had thought about doing all three things at once, I probably would have put it off. But the 2-Minute Rule encourages you to think of tasks as little steps.
Which is exactly why the 2-Minute Rule is perfect for ADHD Paralysis. It gets you moving. It helps break down tasks into smaller parts, so you can get something done.
And once you start implementing this rule, you actually start training your brain to seek out these quick tasks.
And our brains love to seek things out, so you get a dopamine hit when you find and complete these little tasks.
The 2-Minute Rule Turns Failure into Success!
I also found this unexpected benefit of using the 2-Minute Rule. Rather than get mad at myself for not doing a big task, I was pleased with myself for doing what I could in 2 minutes.
For example I had a big pile of papers to shred. I hate this task, so I applied the 2-Minute rule and managed to shred a few of them.
Instead of looking at my not shredding the whole pile as a failure, I considered doing part of it a success! Yay!
Next time I’m in my office I’ll do a few more. Which is fine, because this is a non-urgent task.
By gamifying little tasks with the 2-Minute Rule, I was able to reframe ‘failures’ into ‘successes’. And my brain got a lovely dopamine hit.
My task of using some shoe polish to hide the cat scratches on the leather chair? Well, naturally I forgot to put the shoe polish away. When I noticed this the next day, rather than getting annoyed at myself, I thought ‘Here is a 2-Minute Rule win for today! Yay!”
Using the 2-minute rule took me beyond having self-compassion for being prone to forgetfulness and ADHD Paralysis. I went right into actually feeling thankful that I had given myself a 2-minute task!
It was a pretty powerful change in my thinking.
‘I Can’t Stop Procrastinating’ Turns Into ‘What Can I Do?’
Once you’ve got this working for you, you’ve basically turned finding these tasks into a game. You’ll start thinking ‘How many 2-Minute tasks can I find?‘
If like me, you’ve got a brain that loves competition, an amazing thing starts to happen. Once your brain gets used to looking for immediate 2-Minute tasks it will take it to the next level.
Naturally, it will start to look for ways to set your future self up for wins. Bringing the broom out of the basement and putting it on the porch is not just one silly little useless task. It is a double dopamine hit.
You get the first dopamine hit immediately for doing this first 2-Minute task. But if you realize that bringing the broom out is the first step in using it in the future, your brain will be extra happy. It knows that you are setting yourself for another dopamine hit when you use the broom.
You aren’t just doing boring little tasks, you are setting yourself up for easy access to future wins. Amazing!
Planning on going for a run tomorrow? Well, how about putting your running shoes by the door? This might sound silly, but if you’ve just removed one barrier to your success tomorrow, and you’ve given yourself a little success right away.
The 2-Minute Rule Combats Clutter!
Another amazing benefit of the 2-Minute Rule is that it helps us deal with stuff. One of the reasons we accumulate stuff is that we have to make a decision about it – do we keep it, do we need it, what should we do with it….
These decisions can be exhausting, particularly when there are a bunch to be made at once. Using the 2-Minute Rule helps by breaking these decisions down.
Here is an example with mail. Perhaps you have a habit of bringing the mail in and tossing it into a pile, and saying to yourself ‘I’ll deal with it all on the weekend’.
Day by day, the pile of mail becomes an increasingly large and overwhelming pile.
With the 2-Minute Rule, while you are bringing in the mail in, you can see a quick opportunity to get a 2-Minute win. Right away, sort it into obvious junk and not junk. Yay!
Take it a step further by opening up and separating the bills from the envelopes. Toss all the junk and envelopes. Yay!
Now your pile of ‘mail’ is actually a pile of important papers. You’ve already made the ‘What is important?’ decision. And you’ve made your future task much easier for when you need to deal with it. You reduced the brain power you will need to tackle this next task.
Who knows, maybe you’ll notice that there is just one item to deal with and get it done right away.
Effectively Using the 2-Minute Rule
As you can see, I have found the 2-Minute Rule from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity to be very powerful. But, I also noticed if used incorrectly it can actually backfire and cause you to procrastinate! Most importantly I realized it can be tempting to use it as an excuse to get up from a larger project.
So… Rules for the rule!
If you need to do a hard task, do the hard thing first! I know, I know…. Doing hard things sucks, but we need to do them. Do not avoid doing a hard but necessary task by doing a bunch of 2-Minute tasks that are easier!
The 2-Minute rule is best used during your least productive time of day. Save your most productive time of day for the big tasks.
If you are in the middle of a larger task, do not stop because a 2-Minute task entered your head! Do not do it!
This will not be productive, keep your momentum going. Write down your idea for later!
Use the 2-minute rule in between big tasks or to help you get moving and accomplish a bunch of little things when you feel blah.
This is the secret power of the 2-Minute Rule. Doing little things, and feeling pride in doing them. Which is great, because those little things really add up.
Seriously, give it a try!