ADHD Task Initation: How to Start and Actually Do Things

Julia Ovcharenko, CEO of Numo
January 12, 2024

We, ADHDers, would have probably overtaken the world by now…if we could actually commit to anything.

Indeed, when it comes to ADHD, one of the hardest things to do is actually doing something. Task initiation is the kryptonite we must contend with for the rest of our lives.

Yet, that doesn’t mean we must make things more difficult for ourselves! 

So, stick around as we explore all the ways to become the master at task initiation as we explore such topics as:

  • What is task initiation?
  • Why can it be a difficult thing for us?
  • The psychology and biology behind task initiation problems.
  • The practical strategies to initiate like a pro.

And so much more.


Let’s…initiate this! 

[What is Task Initiation ADHD] Understanding Task Initiation in ADHD

Task initiation in ADHD is a complex challenge as it’s not about lack of will or laziness but rather about how the ADHD brain functions.

For us ADHDers, beginning any task can often feel like a monumental effort. As if you’re trapped behind an invisible wall that you just cannot seem to climb. 

Well, how exactly do these problems with task initiation manifest themselves?

You can see it in proactive procrastination (e.g., cleaning instead of doing tasks), avoidance, and ADHD paralysis. It's present in small tasks like beginning a household chore to larger tasks like starting a project.

Neurological Basis of Task Initiation Difficulties

To…initiate (I’m sorry) this exploration of ADHD task initiation woes, let’s look at how ADHD affects the brain's executive functions, which are crucial in task initiation.

Executive Dysfunction

ADHD impacts the executive functions responsible for planning, organizing, and executing tasks. We struggle with the ability to pre-plan tasks, understand how much time they are going to take, and crumble under frustration or inconvenience. Said dysfunction leads to a disconnect between intent and action, leading to feelings of anger and burnout

Brain Chemistry

ADHD is also linked to irregularities in neurotransmitter activity, particularly dopamine, which affects motivation and reward systems1.

In a less science’ish speak, this basically means: “If this task doesn’t know give me happy feel good chemicals, why bother doing it?” 

Which…I mean, this is a valorous way to live one life, I suppose. If only all other tasks - chores, going to work, adulting responsibilities - always felt rewarding. Maybe ADHDers would have been too powerful in such a scenario. 

Common Manifestations of Task Initiation Challenges

Aighty-tighty. Now let’s look at how specifically task (non) initiation manifests and rears its ugly head throughout different areas of life. 

  • Procrastination: Often mistaken for laziness, procrastination in ADHD is a direct result of difficulty initiating tasks. We are trying to gather our willpower to get up and start doing things…only to falter. It’s not our fault, really, that it looks like we’re just zoning out on our phones from the outside. 
  • Avoidance: Avoiding tasks, not due to a lack of interest, but because of the overwhelming feeling of starting. How does it look? Well, why write an essay tonight if we have 2 more weeks to do so, right? Certainly, this time, we won’t postpone it until the night before the deadline and frantically finish a gazillion tasks in a few hours while overdosing on caffeine. Surely.  
  • Feeling Overwhelmed: Even simple tasks can seem insurmountable, leading to a sense of paralysis. Do we need to do laundry? And then homework? But also cook dinner? Aaaaaaaaaah. Obviously, it would be better to do something than nothing, but the ADHD brain works in mysterious ways.
  • Avoidance Through Action: And speaking of mystery! Sometimes, we decide to do something…only it’s not something we should. Avoiding the initiation of an important task by doing something insignificant but still useful - like taking out trash, for example- helps us feel useful even though we’re not really doing what we should be doing. 

[Psychology of Task Initiation] The Psychology Behind Task Initiation Challenges

Let’s dig our teeth a bit deeper into the origins of the task initiation, shall we? What goes through our minds when we fail to initiate tasks repeatedly?

The first one on the list is…

Fear of Failure and Perfectionism

Despite common misconceptions, perfectionism is often a challenge in ADHD. The pressure to complete a task perfectly can be paralyzing, preventing initiation. But we exist in this ironic convergence where we want to make things perfect but lack the willpower and strength actually to reach and commit to that perfection.

As a result, we just…sit there. Wishing about how perfect it would have been if only we had the strength to do it. 

Motivation and Reward Systems in ADHD

The ADHD brain processes motivation and rewards differently, affecting task initiation. Due to differences in brain chemistry, particularly dopamine, the reward system in ADHD can be dysregulated, meaning the usual incentives to start a task may not be as effective. 

As such, we ADHDers frequently struggle with with inconsistent motivation levels, making it hard to start tasks when the motivation isn't naturally there.

Often, it turns into an absurd game of cat-and-mouse with your own brain, that one Twitter (oh, I’m sorry…X 🙄) user aptly called the “big sit”
So the lesson here is: if you have the motivation, start THE THING immediately. Do not pass GO; do not collect $200,000. Just start doing the thing, or you will fail. Trust.

Short-term vs. Long-term Task Initiation

There’s a noticeable difference in how short-term and long-term tasks are approached in ADHD.

Tasks with immediate rewards or consequences are often easier to start than those with long-term benefits or outcomes. This preference can lead to prioritizing short-term tasks over more important long-term ones.

Long-term tasks require future planning, a skill that can be challenging for someone with ADHD. This difficulty can make starting and planning for long-term tasks more complex.

[Tips for ADHD Task Initiation] Task Initiation Strategies for ADHD Mind

Oh-kay. We have identified the enemy. Now, let’s 💀 eliminar 💀 it from existence. 

With a GUN! 

No…unfortunately, no guns. We will just have to be methodic and patient about it.

Breaking Down Tasks into Smaller Steps

Simplifying tasks can make starting them less daunting. How to do that? 

Well, divide larger tasks into smaller, more manageable parts. This method makes starting less overwhelming and more achievable.

Let’s say you want to do some Sunday cleaning. Instead of just saying that your task is to “write a school paper,” turn it into something granular. For example:

  1. Create an outline
  2. Research sources for Chapter I of the outline
  3. Write chapter I
  4. Take a break
  5. Research sources for Chapter II

You get the idea. Chunks can vary in size, but I advise you to initially go as granular as possible. It might feel silly to do so, but it's just here to gauge how granular you need to go.

Once you find your rhythm, there’s nothing wrong with making them a bit broader. Completing these smaller tasks provides a sense of accomplishment, encouraging further progress.

Creating External Structures and Routines

Structure and routine can provide the necessary framework for task initiation. Establishing regular routines helps create a predictable pattern, which can ease the initiation of tasks.

Why does that work? 

Well, routines take much unpredictability and uncertainty out of the equation. If we are just “freestyling” it throughout the day, we might fall back onto the default behavior, which is…well, it probably wouldn’t be too productive, I should say 😅

There are plenty of ways to go around establishing a routine. Employing calendars, alarms, and to-do lists can provide external reminders and structure, assisting in the initiation process.

You can also perform rituals that “get you in the right mood.” 

For example, my morning routine consists of breakfast, shower, and coffee - in that order. This sequence primes my brain to work once I get my hot cuppa. 

It doesn’t work all the time, but hey. When it works, it’s pretty damn good! 

Use of Visual Aids and Organizational Tools

Visual tools can be particularly effective in managing and initiating tasks.

Tools like whiteboards or visual planners can help organize tasks visibly, making them seem more tangible and less abstract. Using different colors for various tasks or priorities can help categorize and simplify the task management process.

Setting Realistic Goals

Realistic goal setting is crucial in avoiding the feeling of being overwhelmed. Set goals that are realistic and achievable. This approach can prevent the paralysis that comes with unrealistic expectations.

Remember that doing 1% is better than doing 0%! Instead of ruminating about the perfect way to approach the THING, just do it.



Be flexible in goal setting. If a task seems too big, break it down or adjust the goal to make it more manageable. 

As Hemingway used to say: “Write drunk, edit sober” 

I mean, don’t actually drink alcohol to do things. You get the idea. 

Leveraging Technology

Technology can offer significant support in task initiation.

Apps like Todoist or Numo 👀can help organize and initiate tasks through reminders and categorization. Timer-based methods, such as the Pomodoro Technique, can help deduce focused time to a task, making starting easier.

[Numo & Other ADHD Apps] Technological Aids and Tools for Task Initiation Activities

And speaking of technology. 

Since we are technology 💻😎, we should say that it’s quite a neat thing that can help you regain focus in multiple ways by giving you a clear pathway to accomplishing tasks, increased focus, and more knowledge 👀

Let’s look at the technology through the lens of our app and its many features.

ADHD Planner

Planner is the most straightforward one to talk about. You have a task and want to break it down and track it. ADHD planner is your friend.
What sets us apart from other planners is the ADHD-driven design. Since we are ADHDers, we know how to make our brains tick. 
The points system for completing each task is like a quick dopamine hack that will see you making and completing tasks in no time.

Noise Generator

Noise generator is another thing. Anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that static frequencies can help us gain focus and concentrate on task at hand. It’s like a wall that keeps all intrusive and distracting thoughts at bay, letting you focus on the important thing. 

Trove of Knowledge

But we also understand that no ADHDer is born alike, so each of us will have unique quirks and challenges to overcome. This is why we want to share as much knowledge as possible through our app, delivered through easy-to-digest, bite-sized chunks of wisdom 🧘

Integrating Technology into Daily Routines

Ok, it's the same rhythm as before. We have established what now let’s establish how

Effectively incorporating these tools into everyday life is key. Make a habit of regularly checking and updating your digital tools. Consistent use ensures they become an integrated part of your routine.

Tailor notifications and features to suit your specific needs. For instance, if frequent reminders are helpful, set them up for various times of the day.

[Creating a Proper Environment] Building a Supportive Environment for Task Initiation

Finally, let’s address the question of the environment in which we thrive.

In this context, I mean both the physical environment (where you exist) and the social environment (with whom you interact).

Both of these play an important role in ensuring that task initiation is a breeze, not a headache. 

Tips for Creating an ADHD-Friendly Environment

The right environment can significantly impact the ability to initiate tasks. Keep work and living spaces organized. Clutter can be a major distraction, making task initiation more difficult.

Specific areas designated for work or study can help mentally prepare for task initiation. This physical separation of spaces aids in mental compartmentalization.

Importance of Social Support

Friends, family, and colleagues are invaluable in encouraging task initiation.

Share your challenges with those around you. Understanding from others can help create a more supportive environment.

Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance setting up your environment or for reminders to start tasks. Sometimes, a little nudge from someone else can be the catalyst for task initiation.

And if you feel like your social support is lacking, first of all, don’t be discouraged.

ADHD is a complicated and frustrating thing, even for us who live with it. It’s not surprising that outsiders don’t always understand our quirks and challenges.

Yet, that doesn’t mean we have to waddle through the ADHD swamp alone! And that’s the reason why we created Numo! 

You see, beyond planners and other gizmos, we have another - maybe the most important feature - our squads and tribes

This is sort of a hub of fellow ADHDers where we can ask each other questions, exchange laughs and cries…and share memes, of course, 😌

Overall, it’s a pretty swell place and just a boost of confidence you need when you feel like no one gets you! Who knows 👀 Maybe that’s where you will also find your body double

Role of Professional Support

Professionals such as therapists and coaches can provide additional support. These professionals specialize in helping individuals with ADHD develop organizational skills and strategies for task initiation.

They can work through underlying psychological barriers to task initiation, such as anxiety or fear of failure.

Encouraging Flexibility and Adaptability

Being flexible and adaptable is crucial in managing ADHD. Be open to changing your environment or routines if they are not working. What works one day may not work the next, and that’s okay.

Don’t be afraid to try new arrangements or routines. All in all, finding what works best for you may require some trial and error.

[Conclusion] Conclusion

If you ever think you are bad at initiating tasks…look at you! You’ve just read not the smallest of articles 😌Everything is possible when you decide.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? “Setting your mind to it” is more of a puzzle than a conviction to ADHDers. It requires a lot of finesse and rituals that neurotypical people might not consider.

It’s a frustrating thing sometimes, really. That’s why you shouldn’t be swatting at these problems alone! So, if you ever stumble or just want to say hi, we are always happy to have you.

See you around 👋


1 Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome 

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