Bag of Tricks: Five Ways to Succeed with ADHD

Posted on by Kevin.

The ADHD brain is supremely tuned to respond well to novelty and excitement, but is an exceedingly poor performer when things get routine, predictable, and yes, boring. Our lives are like the movie, Ground Hog Day, and many of us have similarities to the character played by Bill Murray. When the same stimuli come at us day after day, we actually can persist in extraordinary ways, but only when we have something extraordinary, like Andy McDowell in the movie, to motivate us. I have had two books published and let me tell you, ADHD and finishing anything, let alone a full-length book, do not go well together. The only way I finish things is, first of all, to complain to lots of my friends about how horrible it is that I cannot finish anything. They yell at me and this helps temporarily keep me on track. Then I get embarrassed and ashamed the next time I fall into a funk, and often choose to suffer in silence, rather than get yelled at again. The cycle repeats. But I also have a big bag of tricks that, while they do not always work, sometimes have the power to pull me out of the apathetic funk I struggle with each and every day.

Trick #1: Back Away from the Computer.
This one is simple; even though I am in funkland, there is a voice inside of me that says, “You can get out of this.” The first step is to listen to that voice and leave the computer. The cyber world to an addiction-prone ADHDer like me is a sweet candy that when I overindulge puts me in a cyber-coma. When I am sitting in front of the screen, I can cyber-meld; my anxiety and frustration temporarily vanish. But I get nothing done, and end up feeling like crap later on. GET AWAY FROM THE SCREEN. NOW!

Trick #2: Move!
When I hear that voice, it’s time to move. I have to get up immediately and just interrupt the pattern. Here are a few activities I might do at that time: drive to Tim Horton’s and get a coffee; take a 20-minute, fast-paced walk, the whole time brainstorming ideas and taking notes on my phone (My brain seems to work better in motion); go to the food court at the local mall with a notebook and write down whatever comes to mind; drive to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Diego Rivera is an old reliable source of funk busting for me). JUST BREAK THE PATTERN AND MOVE.

Trick #3: Phone a Friend.
I am often at my worst when I am isolated and alone, yet for some reason, I resist reaching out. I am going to take this opportunity to admit that the old AT&T jingle, “Reach out, reach out and touch someone,” used to make me cry. I think I had such a strong emotional reaction because I have a hard time reaching out. I still struggle with this, but when I get over whatever it is that happens to be holding me back, calling a friend works because I often get my greatest creative developments when I am sharing my ideas with someone else (don’t share your ideas with people who bring you down, which is what I used to do). If you want to succeed with ADHD, you need support, and plenty of it. SUPPORT. SUPPORT. SUPPORT.

Trick #4: Use Your Anger.
People ask me how I, a highly distractible adult with serious problems of persistence, managed to complete two books and get them published. The answer is simple: anger. ADHD people, we have anger and frustration in overabundance. Those emotional experiences, however, represent energy. We have to learn to use that energy to our advantage. While I am willing to admit my shortcomings, I have become a master of channeling negative emotional states. My good friend, Doug, who I grew up with, said, “When you do dishes, clean your house, or any mundane job, it is as if the task is an enemy, someone you hate and who you can vanquish if you just put all of your energy into it.” Negative emotional states are opportunities. CHANNEL YOUR EMOTIONS TO GET THINGS DONE!

Trick #5: Stay on Target.
As I sit here now, trying to finish this blog post, here are some of the voices in my head:
• You’re almost done, why don’t you just play a video game and then you can come back to it.
• Five tricks might be too many for one blog post, maybe you should cut it to four.
• This is a great start, and you never finish anything the first run through. TAKE A BREAK.
• I wish I was in London right now.
• I hate cold coffee.

This is what happens to me. I call it “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” I have that saying posted on the wall and am looking at it right now. I have it there to remind me that this is what I have done time and again in my life. When I look at that saying, I am reminded of all the great ideas that I did not bring to fruition, which then irritates me. Right now, I am channeling that irritation back into this writing. STAY ON TARGET!

In the coming weeks, I will be elaborating on each of these points. My intention is that I will support you in your own productivity by honestly sharing the pitfalls in my own life. I am not a guru; I am a fellow traveler who likes to compare notes with others!


  1. i fit this description to a T. im a 30 year old carpenter that struggles daily at work and home to focus. when my boss gives me several tasks at once, i usually just hear his first task and zone out on the rest. this always results in me having to go back to him and ask what else he told me to do. i think he has figured this out tho, because he always leaves me lists. lists are great. only way i can get by in life…..anywayz i really just wanted to comment on the using the anger and frustration to my advantage that you had mentioned. using my anger helps me fly at work, i never noticed it until now but i use my anger to motivate me to get all my tasks done extremely fast…. the downside of course is that by the end of the day i am completely drained. also it is difficult for me to use my anger on days when i am working alone and dont feel pressured to perform. those days i am extremely unproductive. its tough to go thru life in this fashion. it does help knowing that others have made it to a ripe old age with the same mental problems so it kind of gives me some hope

    Posted on by johnnyG
    • Johnny, thanks a lot for your comment!!! My brother is also a carpenter, and he tells a story similar to yours. I also use anger and frustration to propel me. My next book is coming out in April, and I actually discuss at the end of that book a coaching client of mine, a carpenter, whose story is also similar to yours. One of the things that keeps him going is volunteering with neighborhood fix-up programs; he loves helping others.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
      • Deadly accurate answer. You’ve hit the buseelyl!

        Posted on by Buffy
  2. Hi Kevin
    I am researching ADHD for a consulting project I am working on and came upon your site today. Seriously I think I could have written the above comment by SquirrelyGirl (same age, same issues) and am beginning to wonder … this actually me too? I think I will be reading a lot more of your site in the next days!

    Posted on by Katie
    • Thanks Katie! Somehow, your comment went to spam, and I just got this. I apologize for the delay.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  3. Kevin – you are on my blog as the poster boy for adhd – a post I wrote after I saw you speak in London and Liverpool.

    Now, the reason I am writing to you is because I know in one of your books you wrote about how adhders seem to succeed best when helping others, and I wonder if you had any brain or behavioural science on that – or even a quote I could use for a book proposal I am doing.

    I’ve bought both your books – Dreamers, and Cyber Junkies – and love them, and think it was in Dreamers that you tackled this subject…

    Posted on by Emma Mahony
    • Emma, I am going to email that reply.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  4. Thank you, Kevin! I got pointed here by someone on a forum and I am so glad I happened to see that reference! At 49, I have not been officially diagnosed but I have been drifting without direction, struggling to find what I am supposed to be doing in life. Meanwhile, hours fly by as I surf the web, flitting from one thing to another, getting absolutely nothing constructive done in a day. Of course there’s all the clutter, chores, things that just need to get done, a giant mountain of must-do’s, that I can’t seem to get started on each day. I appreciate your blog with suggestions that you have found help you. Thanks for being here!

    Posted on by SquirrelyGirl
    • Betsy, thanks for your comment on my website. I think you will also find today’s blog interesting. You and I are a lot alike! Let’s keep in contact. 🙂

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)

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