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An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure - but that doesn’t matter much when you’re focused completely on an ounce of something else…

The addicted life is reactive and chaotic: You run from problem to problem and you only react to the worst of them. This leaves you time to get drunk or high a lot, but it’s not such a great strategy for life-success.

The recovery life, by comparison, is calmer and more focused: Once in recovery you try to stay responsible to prevent small issues from growing into larger headaches.

...or, to put it another way: recovery is like the relaxed breathing-opposite to addiction’s hyperventilation and panic!

In recovery, big problems lead to stress and stress leads to relapse.

So to avoid relapse we avoid problems and stress by staying organized and staying on top of things - which works great… unless you have ADHD!!!

Staying Focused in Recovery - With ADHD

People with ADHD often have trouble sticking with a task to completion, which can result in a failure to handle basic responsibilities; this causes problems, problems cause stress and stress leads to relapse.

So for people with ADHD, an inability to focus is directly linked to an increased risk of relapse (an inability to finish tasks or handle responsibilities can also affect self-esteem, which can also influence relapse risk.)

It's not fair, but people with co-occurring disorders, like addiction and ADHD, have to work harder to maintain recovery.

4 Tips for Finishing What You Start

So once you acknowledge that a failure to complete essential tasks increases your risk of relapse, you have to start looking at how you can improve yourself in this area. Four commonly suggested strategies are:

  1. Making visual cues
  2. Chunking your time
  3. Gaining momentum
  4. Creating structure1

1. Making Visual Cues for Yourself

It’s easy to get sidetracked, especially when distractions are so tempting and essential tasks often aren’t.

So to overcome this problem, set deadlines for yourself and then create visual reminders that you can’t fail to see.

For example, if you have a problem getting work or school assignments finished on time, divide the work up and create milestone deadlines. Then, mark each deadline on a calendar, set alarms on your phone and/or make notes on the fridge and bathroom mirror, etc - all to repetitively remind you of what you need to accomplish, and when you need to accomplish it by.

It’s not real exciting but it’s a good strategy for finishing a project - and when the alternative is a failing grade or reprimand from the boss - it’s an effective, and very recovery-promoting idea to try.

2. Task Chunking

If a large task overwhelms you, try breaking it up into more easily managed steps, and then simply focus on completing these easily managed tasks, one by one, until you have completed the larger project.

For example, if you have difficulty sticking with cleaning your apartment to completion, break it down into small steps, such as:

  • Empty waste basket
  • Tidy papers on desk
  • Make bed
  • Vacuum floor
  • Etc.

3. Gaining Momentum

Harness the power of momentum for motivation. If you have a list of tasks to accomplish, look for the hardest one first and get it over with right away while you’re feeling fresh and ready - once you’ve got that done, you’ll have an easier time moving on to progressively easier tasks.

Or - if you find starting with a hard task too daunting (so you never get started with any tasks) try the opposite approach, and build up some momentum by starting with a couple of easy tasks and making some good progress right from the start.

4. Live by a Schedule

If you have a hard time finishing basic tasks, you should consider scheduling them into your busy day.

  1. First, make a list of all the chores and tasks that need doing on a regular basis.
  2. Next, get a weekly planner and mark off unavailable time, such as time at work or time already scheduled for outpatient meetings or self help groups.
  3. Then, with the time that’s left, try to create a stable daily routine, where you use similar times each day to accomplish your regular tasks.

If you work from 11 to 7 on weekdays, you might schedule in half an hour for house cleaning and laundry every morning from 9 to 9:30, half an hour for exercise or yoga every day from 9:30 to 10:00 and half an hour for picking up groceries three times a week on the way to work…and so on and so forth

It doesn’t matter how you schedule your time, but it works best when you schedule in your most often overlooked tasks.

And most importantly, once you schedule it - you do it.

More Good Ideas for Getting the Job Done

  • Reward yourself for successes - set a goal (clean laundry every day for a week) and a reward for meeting your goal (if successful, will buy new shirt).
  • Create artificial deadlines.
  • Work at your best - If you’re useless by evening, don’t schedule bill paying for after dinner.
  • If TV or radio tend to distract, turn off extraneous noise.
  • Prioritize - know that you won’t always get everything done, so make a list of tasks  and prioritize each item from most to least urgent. As long as you cross off most of the urgent stuff by the end of the day, you’ll probably be alright.2
  • 1. The Addiction Treatment Homework Planner, Fourth Edition:p 51 - James R. Finley & Brenda S. Lenz. Wiley, 2009.
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Page last updated May 02, 2019

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