Task Initiation

ICON: Task Initiation

Task Initiation is more difficult when you have ADHD. Distractions can easily dominate our attention, making even simple tasks difficult to start. Additionally, if you are not excited about a task, you may find it even harder to begin. This difficulty in getting started can be related to a lack of motivation or procrastination. At times, worries about perfectionism can also make task initiation difficult.

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Break the task down

Harness the power of micro-progress! Breaking larger tasks down into smaller pieces can be a great way to stay motivated. Write down the first few steps that are easy to complete and then do them! This strategy allows you to engage progressively in the priority task. 

For example, “Work on paper,” becomes “go to my computer” followed by “open the document”, “re-read the last two paragraphs”, "draft next three paragraphs", "proof", etc. As you complete each step, check off the step and watch your motivation soar through your micro-progress! 

Need help? The 'Magic To-do List' app help you with breaking down tasks. 

Commit to 25 minutes

When tasks feel difficult to start, try the Pomodoro Technique. Set a time for 25 minutes and begin working on the task. When the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break (time this as well!). Students are often surprised at how much work they were able to accomplish in only 25 minutes and after the break are often motivated to keep going.

Try this timer to help!


ICON: Prioritization

Prioritizing your tasks means determining which tasks need your attention first. It sounds easy, but sometimes an ADHD brains sees so many options that it has a hard time deciding what is most important because it is overwhelmed by all the possibilities.

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Use a matrix

Try using a matrix to organize your tasks. Place each task you must complete into one of the four quadrants. From there, you can create a plan to get the most urgent and important items done, schedule time for other less urgent or important tasks, and even eliminate some not urgent or important tasks. Remember that breaking larger, more overwhelming tasks into smaller pieces can help with task initiation and motivation!

GRAPHIC: Time Management Matrix

Get clear on your values

Our values drive our everyday choices. If you are unclear on your values, consider doing a short value-sort activity. Being able to clearly name your values can provide motivation by connecting to your purpose and helping your prioritize how you spend your time.


ICON: Motivation

Many students face challenges getting started on tasks for a variety of reasons. The task may feel overwhelming or uninteresting. Even if the task is exciting, it may still be challenging to get started.

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Start with what’s fun

Begin with your favorite part of the task! If you are working on a class presentation, maybe your favorite part is designing the slides. Start off by designing the look of the presentation and then use that momentum to move on to the content.

Set a reward

Rewards are excellent motivators. Maybe in exchange for completing a task you decide to take a walk with a friend, play 30 minutes of video games, or attend a campus event. Remember, it is important to give yourself breaks to recharge!

Try “body doubling”

Body doubling is a commonly used tactic for those with ADHD where another person completes a task alongside you. Doing parallel work with others cues you to stay busy and focused through proximity to someone else doing the same thing.

ADHD is not a disorder of knowing what to do. It’s a disorder of doing what you know. —Russell Barkley, PhD