Are you Focused On This When It Comes To Productivity and ADHD?

Woman working on computer. Text reads try this powerful strategy to boost productivity with ADHD

How often do you recognize your wins?

When is the last time you paused to celebrate your accomplishments?

Do you ever measure your level of success based on how far you’ve come? 

Or does your brain hyperfocus on how far you have left to go?

If you’re cringing at the idea of celebrating your wins right now, stick with me. 

You’re in the right place.

And if this practice seems completely bizarre, sit tight. 

This is for you, too.

Because in episode 136 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we talk about why this practice of recognizing your wins and measuring your success is so powerful for the ADHD brain.

And we explore the power of this practice when it comes to generating momentum and commitment to following through and getting things done.

So if you’re ready to boost your productivity and make things happen, check out episode 136 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast now.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:  

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover:

  • The importance of focusing on the Gain rather than the Gap
  • How celebrating your wins helps you increase your productivity and follow-through
  • Simple practices to implement this approach in your life today.

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Episode #136: Are you Focused On This When It Comes To Productivity and ADHD? (Transcript) 

Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 136 of the podcast. How are things going with you? 

Today I am really excited to take a deeper dive into the topic of success and why we want to define success for ourselves. And more specifically, we’re looking through the lens of productivity and time management. 

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Now, if you listened to last week’s episode, you know that we talked about this topic more broadly. We explored why it is so important to define success and practice measuring your progress in order to help you stop continually moving the bar on yourself so you’re not recognizing your progress, and only expecting more of yourself.  Because remember when we only focus on the gaps and we don’t recognize what is success ahead of time, we keep moving the bar. We keep telling ourselves we should be farther along on our goals or our progress because we’re not seeing the growth. 

But when you define success you’ll have a much easier time recognizing your growth and building your momentum and your drive for your goals. 

Now, this episode takes a closer look into defining success and measuring success in terms of productivity, time, and getting things done. And it was inspired by these concepts of the gap and the gain, which I mentioned briefly last week. We’ll talk about that more in-depth today. And it was also inspired by two different conversations that I’ve had with clients over the last month or so. And I think they really demonstrate what we’re talking about today quite beautifully. 

What I hope that you take away from this episode today is why it is so important to create clear expectations and definitions of success, specifically in terms of productivity and time and getting things done. I think this is especially the case for you listeners of this podcast, because as high achievers and ADHDers, when we don’t define this for ourselves, our brains quickly get caught on that hamster wheel of not doing enough. And when we get stuck in that hamster wheel, we run and run and run and run, trying to keep up with these impossible, undefined expectations. We don’t know when to stop, and it ultimately leads to exhaustion and burnout. And that, for me, is a big no thank you. 

Now today, as I said, we’ll explore an overview of some key concepts of the gap in the gain as it applies to productivity and time management. And then we’ll consider these two exchanges that I’ve had recently with clients and talk about how these situations and others like them often play into our lives and keep us quite stuck. Then finally, we’ll explore how we can start shifting this approach that’s a reality for so many of us. How can we shift from being so focused on the gap – on not doing enough or getting enough done – into focusing on the gain – the wins. Can we make this transition into a mindset that’s not only more fulfilling and rewarding but also, ultimately, more effective when it comes to getting things done. 

How do I Increase Productivity with ADHD?

So why productivity and time management, specifically? Why are we making time to dive deeper into this area when we already had the broad overview last week? Well, as I alluded to, we’re zooming in on this topic, because I know this audience. And I think I know your brain pretty well. And the more that I hear from podcast listeners on Instagram and email. The more incredible clients that I work with in my group, We’re busy being awesome, and my private one-on-one sessions. I know the incredible things that you do each day that don’t even recognize. 

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I know there’s some combination every single day of: taking care of your family or those you love, keeping the household in order, and working your job, or for some of you, multiple jobs. You might be going to school. You might be getting some sort of certification. You’re probably navigating relationships while simultaneously learning to deepen your relationship with yourself.

And it’s probably not surprising to you that we tend to overlook this, right? My guess is that your brain overlooks all of these things you complete day in and day out. And I say this with love because I do the same thing. We overlook all of it. And then our brain loves to have a fit if – in addition to everything we do each day without acknowledgment – we happen to miss one thing on our to-do list. The brain is very quick to jump to thoughts like, “you’re dropping the ball here.” 

Or maybe you’re five minutes late to an appointment because you were navigating all the other things in your life and suddenly your brain thinks, “you’re such a hot mess.” Or you add up all the hours in your time budget, and you find that you literally have more work to do than you do hours in a week. And yet you still expect more of yourself. 

Do any of these things sound familiar?

My guess is they do. Because here’s what I think. Our brains do amazing things every single day. We have remarkable abilities. And because we’re not attuned to them, we tend to blow past them entirely. We think to ourselves, there’s no way I can possibly stop and acknowledge the work I’ve done because if I pause to feel good, then I might let things slip. I might get lazy and not keep working hard. I see you, and I know those thoughts. 

OR, let’s say you manage to get past that obstacle and you actually do pause and recognize what you created. Maybe you did make something happen and you slow down to notice it. But rather than noticing and celebrating, the critical brain comes in and offers a thought like, “I probably could have done this part better.” Or “I should have done this differently.”

And believe me, as I said, I get it. I know how easy it is to do this. Heck, I still need to remind myself daily to reflect on the wins that I’ve had. I actually created something for myself to be able to record my wins each day. It’s something we’ll talk about more specifically later on in the episode, but for now, suffice to say that this struggle is real. 

I know how hard it is to recognize our wins and slow down to see those gains. I know how much easier it is to focus on what we haven’t done yet, and completely disregard all of our hard work day in and day out. And I also know that that can really take a toll on our dedication and our ability to keep showing up because we burn ourselves out. And this is where this concept of the gap and the gain come in more specifically.

What Is The Gap And The Gain?

So the Gap and the Gain is a concept first created by Dan Sullivan and then expanded upon in a more recent book by Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan. And in this book, the authors explain how so many of us are unable to recognize and enjoy our accomplishments. This is often because we are so focused on our ideals, these perfectionist fantasies as Kara Lowentheil talks about. We’re so entirely focused on this long-term, unspecific objective – this perfectionist vision – that we rarely define. And since we don’t define it, it becomes super easy to use it against ourselves. We tell ourselves, I just want to be more predictive. I want to be more efficient with my time. But we don’t define what that is. Or I just want to be more on top of it. Again, no defining factors.

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We just have this idealistic vision without any measurable benchmarks. And the problem with this approach is that we don’t have a way of measuring our progress, we can keep telling ourselves we’re not there yet. I need to be MORE productive. I need to get MORE done. And I need to be MORE efficient. 

Rather than focusing on everything that we manage to accomplish each day and allowing ourselves to feel that rush of success for diving in and making things happen, we instead focus on all the things we didn’t do. We think about all the things we should have done more.

In fact, I can remember boxing myself into this corner repeatedly. I’d put a million things on my to-do list each day, and I would grossly underestimate how long my tasks would take. And then, because I had about four weeks’ worth of work on my one-day to-do list, I would beat myself up thinking I needed to work more efficiently. I needed to be faster. I needed to get more done. 

Then I realized, “wait a minute… it turns out this is too much stuff. I can’t get this all done in one day.” And I started creating a realistic schedule. And you’d think in situations like that, my brain would offer, “Hey, good job. You got the things done.” But that’s not what happened. Nope. My brain would continue using that same thought against me. It would use my win against me. You see, my brain would offer, “you know…you got everything done there. Let’s be honest, you probably should have been a little more efficient and put a little more on the list; you could have gotten more done if you would’ve put it on the list. 

I’m telling you, if you let your toddler brain control you, you cannot win. It’s always going to have something to say. And I think that this is such a great example of how changing the circumstance is not the solution, right? 

For example, in this situation, I changed the circumstance by finishing my to-do list. At first, I had too many things and couldn’t finish everything. Then I created a list I could finish and changed the circumstance. But with both circumstances, I took my brain with me. My brain still offered the thought, “you should have done more.” Or “You could have worked harder.” And this is why it is SO CRITICAL to learn how to manage your mind. This is why it is crucial to learn how to separate thoughts from facts and choose intentionally what you want to think to yourself so you’re not letting life happen to you. Instead, you’re in the driver’s seat making powerful decisions regarding how you want to think and feel about you and your work. 

But again, before I knew about managing my mind, I was not in the driver’s seat. I was not focusing on my wins. Instead, I was focused on the gap. I was focused on this vague undefined ideal of unrealistic success that I could never reach because I kept moving the bar. When in reality, the power is in identifying and focusing on the gains.  We want to focus on the things we complete, because when the brain thinks, hey! I’m making progress here. I’m getting things done. We fuel our momentum forward. We generate that motivation to keep creating more success. 

For example, as I worked on this very podcast script, I had the thought, “you know, I’m not completing this as quickly as I thought I would. And because I’ve really worked on coaching my brain in these situations, I was able to watch the chatter without much drama. My toddler brain desperately wanted to say, you are so far behind. This is taking way too long. You’re supposed to be done with this and recording the episode by now. And you’re still just writing the script!” 

Now because I’ve been practicing acceptance and focusing on the gains, I was able to navigate it. So when my toddler brain offered that chatter, it was more of a low-level hum in the background. It’s kind of like if your 4-year-old said to you, I’ve decided I’m never going to school in my life. You don’t believe them. You don’t get really worried about what this means for the trajectory of their life. Instead, you think to yourself, “they’re four. Moving on.” 

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So with my podcast, rather than allowing the toddler brain to take over the situation, I instead shifted focus to the gains. I reminded myself: Hey, look at what I’ve done already. I’ve come up with an idea that I can’t wait to share. I have great examples. I have about a third of it prepared. And I have so much momentum that I can use when I return to this document the next day, it will essentially write itself. 

And when I’m thinking that way it feels so much more expansive and motivating. By focusing on the gains, it generates certainty and commitment to fuel me forward to finish the episode. And since you’re listening to this now, it clearly worked. 

So let’s talk about some other examples. How else might the gap be sneaking into your time management and your productivity and your scheduling? 

What To Do When You Can’t Get Enough Done

So I was talking with this incredible client. It was several weeks ago now, maybe even a month, but we were exploring goals for our next round of coaching together. And she realized with a bit of surprise that her toddler brain was looking for some version of an inbox zero life. This was her term, by the way, and I absolutely love it. I think it’s genius. But her brain had this idea of wanting an inbox zero life.

And for those of you who are unfamiliar with the idea of inbox zero, it’s basically the goal of having your actual email at the number zero. And not because of email bankruptcy, where you’ve just selected everything and deleted it or archived it. But rather because you have actually tended to each email, you’ve answered every email or deleted what doesn’t need to be there. And you’ve gotten to that elusive number zero. 

Now, her brain seemed to want this equivalent in her life. In other words, success for her, according to her immediate toddler brain was having all the messages from all of her friends and family answered. It was having her actual inbox at zero. She wanted all the tasks around the house completed and all the work projects finished and articles written. Her to-do list would be checked off, et cetera. You get the idea.

And sure, at first glance, this idea of an inbox zero life sounds amazing. I can see why her toddler brain was pulling for this – especially for those of us who are constantly on the go. But when we really dig into what that means, an inbox zero life is really a continuous focus on the gap. 

First of all, it is an impossible feat with the way our world is connected today. And if you are employed by someone OR you’re self-employed, there will always be work (or at least you hope so if you’re self-employed!) And houses have an ongoing need for tidying and cleaning. Loved ones will continually reach out. Emails will keep coming in. Ideas will keep flowing into your mind with things you want to create. I mean, getting to an inbox zero life is just not realistic. 

Plus, I like to take this even further. Do you actually want to have an inbox zero life when you stop and think about it? When you consider what this means, it would indicate that you have zero new ideas. You have zero new projects to do. You don’t have people to connect with or incoming content or requests or inspiration. I mean basically, it would indicate that everything is done and all that’s left is sitting and staring at the wall. Nothing to do ever. 

Now if this sounds amazing to you – and there have been a few points in my life when that was the case – this is an important sign that it’s time to slow down. Your brain and body are asking for a break here. If both your toddler brain AND your executive brain are asking for an inbox zero life, that’s a clear indication that it’s time to start cutting back.

But if it’s not that. And what’s really happening is your toddler brain is being unrealistically demanding and perfectionistic, then we want to question this. Because I don’t know about you, but staring at the wall, board out of my mind, is an ADHD nightmare. No, thank you. That sounds absolutely terrible. 

Plus, I would never want to lose all of my new ideas or goals. I love them. They’re amazing. But again, it also means I’m not going to reach an inbox zero life. Because an inbox zero life is one of those impossible perfectionist fantasies. We’re setting ourselves up for failure. We’re setting ourselves up to focus on the gap of not doing enough. And as we constantly focus on this gap, we keep running ourselves ragged, desperately trying to fill it in, as we try and get to this unattainable place. We burn ourselves out. 

My guess is that’s not what you’re looking for. So instead, we want to start creating clarity for how we define success in terms of productivity and scheduling each week. So success this week is sending a message to these two people. It’s submitting the presentation to my boss for her approval. It’s scheduling my daughter’s dentist appointment. And it’s getting to that pile of laundry and putting it away. That is success for this week. 

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And once you define success, then already you can look back and see your gains. You can look at your plan and think, “heck yeah, self; way to prioritize! Way to make decisions. And way to look at that long list and choose the things that I want to complete this week. That’s amazing. You’re amazing.” And then we keep moving forward from there. “Fantastic! I got those messages sent off, what an awesome win. I’m totally staying connected with those people I love.” “And I got these first two slides of the slide deck complete. That’s two less to do tomorrow. I’m doing it! I’m making progress!” 

Notice how you feel as you open up to this success, notice that shift in your body and that sense of momentum that builds because your brain loves that praise. It wants more recognition for all of its hard work and that propels you into the next area you choose for that week.

Now, if we’re not careful, this practice of defining success can also get us into a sticky area for the perfectionist brain. And this is especially true for those of us who are time blind. Because in situations like this, we often end up arguing with reality and rejecting the truth of how much time we actually need to complete tasks. 

Time Blindness And Time Blocking

So, as I mentioned, there was another concept that came up during my conversations with clients over the past several weeks. And this is the refusal to accept that certain tasks take as long as they do. It’s kind of like thinking to yourself, I want to drive from Massachusetts to California – for my listeners outside of the US – this is the two total opposite ends of the country – and expecting yourself to do that in six hours. I just googled that and the actual time is 46 hours, right? No amount of hack or strategy or tip can get you driving in a car on roads from MA to CA in 6 hours. At least not at the time of this recording. 

And while this is a ridiculous example, it’s an exaggeration of what we do to ourselves with productivity and scheduling all the time. So let’s say you start creating your schedule. Let’s say you’re playing around with time blocking and you break down your project into small steps and you give a little time to each, task within the project, right? This part’s 20 minutes. This part’s 50 minutes. Those four parts will each take 30 minutes. Etc.  You give all the steps different times and you add it up. And when you add up that time, maybe it’s way more time than you anticipated when you thought about the project as a whole. Or it’s way more than you actually have space for in your calendar. 

And rather than allowing that to be what it is. Rather than thinking, “okay, this is the time I need.” We instead think something like, yeah… I don’t have three hours. Let’s just put it in this one-hour block and hope for the best.” And while this wouldn’t be a problem if we really treated it like an experiment, we don’t do that. Instead, we put a 3 hour block in a 1 hour time frame and then give ourselves a hard time when we don’t get it done. 

So I was on a call with a teacher recently where this came up with grading. She had papers to grade. And when she timed them out, it took her about 20 minutes to grade each paper. And she has 30 students. Now, if we make math out of those facts – those circumstances – we have 30 students times 20 minutes per paper, we need about 10 hours to grade the papers. 

Now once we did that math together, her initial response was, “that is impossible. I need to get it done faster. Let’s just put down like six or seven hours. I just can’t imagine doing this for 10 hours.” 

Now, hear me – I get this. I promise you I get it because I did the same thing with grading long research papers. I’d wanna argue with reality. And I would justify shortening the time because I’d think to myself, 

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“oh my gosh, I can’t possibly set aside that much time. I have so much other work to do. There’s no way I can dedicate that much time.” 

And this is where that thought starts impacting my results. Because when I thought to myself, I can’t possibly set aside that much time, I felt dread. And then, because I was feeling dread thinking I didn’t have the time to grade the papers, I started procrastinating!. And – no surprise here – this only made the situation worse because then I definitely didn’t have the 10 hours or whatever it was I needed. 

So I was focused on the gap of not having enough time rather than focusing on the gain. Rather than thinking, great! I need 10 hours. Let’s dive in and celebrate how much I get done with each hour that passes. Let’s build the momentum. Maybe I can gamify the situation. Maybe I can try and beat my best time for the papers. I would often set a timer for two reasons – first, to help ensure my perfectionist brain didn’t go longer than 20 minutes, but also because I wanted to try to beat my best time. I found ways to make it more fun. 

So again, how can we celebrate the success and build on our momentum? How can we recognize everything we do within the time we have, rather than dwelling on not having enough time to get everything done, which again, in my experience, only leads to wasting more time when we focus on the gap of not having enough. 

We procrastinate, we dwell on not having enough time. We try and tweak and fix and adjust our schedule. And we redo our schedule over and over. We try and figure out the calendar, but there’s nothing to figure out. We just need to accept that things take as long as they take. And if they don’t fit, this means we need to reduce the things on your calendar, ask for help, or extend the deadline. And that is the hard pill to swallow. I get it, but it’s the truth.

So again, how can we accept the reality of how long things take while focusing on our gains? How can we focus on our wins? And – as one more key component – how can we earn from each experience? Remember, learning is also a big win. So how can we keep gathering data each time we create a schedule? That way, we better understand how long we take to complete certain tasks. 

In fact, in my planner that I send out to my clients there are daily time blocking pages. And on those pages, I have space for you to block out your time as well as a column labeled “actual time.” So if I anticipated that the podcast would take three hours, but it really took four. I can write down that data in the side column of actual time. This way, I have that information for my next schedule. So again, how can we learn and gather that data? How can you can set yourself up for even more success and even more wins as you keep iterating and creating the best schedule for you?

So that is my invitation for you this week, I invite you to start noticing where you’re focused on the gap when it comes to productivity, when it comes to time and when it comes to getting things done. Where are you telling yourself that you don’t have enough time or you can’t possibly get it all done? When do you think to yourself you’re so far behind with all of your tasks and you can’t keep up. Where in your life are you holding inbox zero expectations? And where are you arguing with reality about how long tasks actually take? Where are you telling yourself you should be able to make a 46-hour drive in 6 hours? 

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Let’s gather this data. Let’s figure out what we’re working with first. Because once you have this information, then you can start creating your schedule and agreeing to commitments and projects based on how much time you have and actually want to give to these different areas in your life. And then once you make those decisions, you can celebrate them as wins, and keep adding to that pile of wins each day. Because when you focus on the wins and recognize the gains, you keep creating more success for yourself. 

This is such an important practice. And I’m telling you, if you do it regularly, you will notice a shift. And I think you’ll notice a shift not only in the way that you feel about your time and your productivity and getting things done but also in the results that you’re actually creating. 

As I say to my clients, it is going to show up in your R line. It’s going to show up in the results you create for yourself. If you find new ways to think about your schedule and you start feeling differently about it. Rather than the dread or the overwhelm or the frustration, you’re now feeling momentum and motivation and commitment, you’re going to see that in your results. 

And as I’ve been doing this practice myself, I created a simple six-month journal that offers prompts to help you count your wins or your successes each day. It’s something that takes less than three minutes. I’ve been using it for about a month now, and I’ve really enjoyed it. And if you’re interested in giving this a try and you want to retrain your brain to start recognizing your wins more easily as you build this momentum and this commitment, I wanted to share the journal that I’ve been using with you.

So if you want to start seeing your wins and tracking your wins, you can grab the PDF download in the show notes. It is PDF fillable, so you can type right in the document on your computer if you prefer, or you can print it out and use the three prompts as your reminders each day. 

And for those of you who like having an actual book – meaning something printed out and bound together –  I also have it available as a simple paper journal, which you can purchase through the link in the show notes as well. So grab whichever option is best for you. The PDF is totally free. You can grab it through the link or you can go get the paper journal as well. Whatever you do, I encourage you to find a way to start counting your wins each day. Give it a try for a couple of weeks. See what happens. And then let me know how it goes. I have a feeling you’ll notice that shift for yourself in many areas of your life.

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week. And if you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast and apply them to your life. If you’re ready to start seeing incredible gains and learn how to work with your ADHD brain to take things to the next level, head over to imbusybeingawesome.com/group to learn more about how we can make that happen

Also, if you know someone who would love to learn more about boosting their productivity by focusing on the gain, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them? Each time you do, you help me get these tools to even more people, and I really appreciate it.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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