How to hold yourself accountable and get things done with adult ADHD.
The idea of productivity is personal for each person. Productivity could look like cleaning our spaces, taking care of pets, tackling emails, or wrangling work projects. Ultimately, the general idea is doing what we need to do to bring meaning and satisfaction to our lives.
But — staying productive is easier said than done. Adults with ADHD can struggle with focus and motivation. Let’s review the reasons why people in the neurodiverse community are more likely to struggle with motivation and productivity, and then explore ways to hold ourselves accountable.
Adults with ADHD often have insufficient executive functioning skills, a set of cognitive skills regulated by dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter active in the region of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward. People with ADHD often have lower dopamine levels, which impairs executive functioning, which impacts our ability to self-regulate.
The unfortunate reality? Struggling with self-regulation impacts our ability to initiate tasks and reach our goals.
On a personal note, I’ve recognized that I eagerly accept new projects just for that dopamine rush. New projects are exciting and full of promise! But then I spend hours or days stalling on beginning the project, either by extensively planning how to execute it or by avoiding it entirely.
Also — sometimes, I can only act when the deadline is right around the corner. I'd launch into an intense state of hyperfocus and hyperfixation until I finished the project. And sure—I (usually) complete my work, but I walk away from it feeling burnt out, and I always swear that the next time will be different. (Spoiler alert: the next time is never different.)
If this cycle feels familiar, you might consider recruiting an accountability buddy.
Accountability buddies (accountability partners, groups, coaches) are people you partner with to tackle tasks, projects, or goals. They may be a trusted friend, a family member, or even a coworker. Ideally, you are both working towards similar goals with similar deadlines and task difficulty. Typically, recurring check-ins or working sessions are scheduled — usually with allotted times for short breaks — to account for your progress on your project or task.
Note: “check-ins” don’t necessarily involve synchronous working like “co-working sessions” do.
When you’re trying to decide who would make a good fit as your accountability buddy, ADHD coach Marla Cummins suggests finding someone who shares your values. Some of the important values that should be considered in this situation revolve around the following ideas:
Complete alignment and agreement are not requirements for an effective accountability buddy relationship. However, the more values you share, the more effective the relationship could be. What is most important is deciding how you can mutually benefit and help each other.
External sources of accountability tend to motivate us to act. For example, people modify their behavior when they feel they are being watched. This behavior change is known as the Hawthorne effect. If you've ever felt more productive in public spaces like coffee shops or libraries, it may be because you were subconsciously shifting your behavior to appear and act more productive and on-task.
This phenomenon is where accountability buddies and body doubling overlap. As defined by Dr. Patricia Quinn, body doubling is when someone is in the same physical space as the person working on tasks — the body double doesn’t necessarily need to be working; they just need to be present so the other person feels more pressure to work on their difficult tasks. Therefore, you could consider a scheduled working session with an accountability buddy intentional body doubling.
Once you’ve found a buddy, it's time to discuss how you will work together and set parameters for your new partnership. The exact way you decide to work with your buddy is up to you, but we’ve left a few suggestions to help you get started:
Don’t forget your accountability partnership can exist outside of dedicated meetings. Consider discussing whether you can text or message each other with pieces of encouragement or quick advice. It might also be helpful to determine the times and days where communication is encouraged or off-limits. While your accountability buddy can't be available 24/7, knowing you have scheduled and structured check-ins may spur you to action.
There are a few ways to find the right accountability buddy for you. If it’s a requirement to be in the same town or time zone as your buddy, consider asking a friend, roommate, or coworker. If you need more flexibility or don’t have a preference, you can look up productivity forums or virtually attend one of the regular co-working sessions on the inflow app. Inflow also offers accountability coaching, matching members with an accountability coach experienced in working with ADHD brains. It’s their literal job to hold you accountable!
Ultimately, it comes down to finding someone you’re comfortable with.
Accountability buddies are unique in the world of productivity hacks, and they greatly benefit adults with ADHD that struggle with task completion. Of course, there are many productivity tools and apps available, but being accountable to another person is an excellent source of motivation.
Remember, if you give the accountability partner concept a try and it doesn't work for you, that's perfectly okay! As fellow Inflow writer Divine Anas shared when discussing the 2-minute rule:
Your ADHD struggles are unique, so try to be gentle with yourself when exploring new tools or building habits.
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