Purging Tasks

Jul. 8th, 2019

ADHD tends to accumulate. Friends, debt, memories, false beliefs, hobbies, notebooks with only the first few pages written in, pets, addresses, connections. We gather in to ourselves, almost as innately as gravity. One of the things we tend to accumulate faster, and get rid of slower than a neurotypical brain, is tasks. Whether the tasks live in a notebook, the memory, an app, or a jar, they just pile up and pile up, somehow.

And other things that pile up alongside these unfinished tasks are guilt and shame. “Why can’t I just do that?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I so slow?” “Does everyone else just have more time than me?” The layers of emotion surrounding things we have yet to get to can seriously drain us. Carrying around the weight of these tasks is hugely detrimental to us.

I’m here to let you in on a secret. It’s closely guarded, but I think I can trust you with it. Are you ready?

Just because there was a time when a task needed to get done, doesn’t mean that’s still the case.

I know, right? Mind equals blown.

Let’s now take a minute to acknowledge all the objections and anxiety that arises. Yep, that’s real too. I get that. I feel the same way and I’ve had those same thoughts. “But then I’ll have failed!” “So-and-so will be so disappointed!” “But I have to!” I understand. I’ve been there.

And here’s the thing, I’m not suggesting anyone delete all their tasks in one go. I would imagine there are very few people who would actually benefit from that. Although I’m sure many of us have fantasized about doing just that. Ahhhh.... A clean slate.

Anyway, back to purging.

One of the reasons I love the Getting Things Done method is its Someday/Maybe category. Things I’ve stashed in my Someday/Maybe storage include: learn Québécois French, create an educational retreat for those with ADHD, and volunteer at a renaissance festival. Stuff that I’m passionate about, but aren’t going to happen for quite a while.

One of the great things about Someday/Maybe is it gives time and distance for marinating on things. I review this category occasionally. Often during that time, I discover I’ve done something that I can check off or that something I stored is no longer relevant.

Our priorities shift over time. Our interests shift over time. We, in fact, shift over time. Change is part of life!

So other than the natural falling away of things we are ready to get rid of, how can purging take place?

Since there is likely guilt already attached to things, I would recommend against adding more. “Oh come on, just give up on that already! You’re never going to do it!” It’s amazing how much harder our brains will cling to things when we (or other people) talk to us in this manner.

“If I don’t do this, what will happen?”

This is the question I ask myself. It’s neutral, curious, it holds no threat or future at all. It simply seeks to gather knowledge.

If I never learn Québécois French, what will happen? Well, I won’t be able to visit Quebec and converse in French. I’ll never be able to watch Bon Cop, Bad Cop without subtitles. Would I, lying on my deathbed, look back and regret these things? Not likely. I mean hey, if I’m hurting for a hobby someday (oh I crack me up sometimes...) and I pick it up, amazing. I could happily throw it out, however. No big deal. And if my aim is to go through and ensure my lists contain only things of vital importance or motivation, then that one certainly doesn’t fit the criteria.

For me, it’s also a matter of weighing how helpful, joyful, important, and relevant the task is against the weight of carrying it around. (Important note: I advocate never carrying any task around in the memory. “Brains are for having ideas, not storing them.” - David Allen) So things need to be really important to me and super relevant to remain when I’m purposefully looking for things to axe.

If there are things that, however long ago they occurred, seem impossible to leave behind and let go of, I recommend bringing these topics up to a professional. We sometimes have wounds we are desperately trying to hold closed with undone tasks (or physical objects). It can be helpful to have someone guide us through taking a hard look at those and finding out how to heal them properly. Because holding tight to things from the past is never how that happens, trust me.

What tasks have you been holding onto?