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ADHD Goal Setting

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

Why Do Adults With ADHD Struggle With Goal Setting?


Setting goals with ADHD can feel impossible. Choosing your priority, breaking down tasks, setting deadlines; are all things we can struggle with, which is why this article is going to take you through ADHD-friendly goal-setting struggles, and answer some of your questions and hopefully make the whole process simpler. As always, if you’d like personalised support with any of this, our ADHD Coaches are trained to help you set and achieve your goals.


Several publications show how much both ADHD adults and ADHD children can struggle with goal setting [1]-[5]. Some reasons for this difficulty are the impact of executive functioning struggles with estimating time, starting boring tasks, planning, and prioritising [5]-[8]. These are all important elements of setting and achieving goals that can be harder with ADHD.


In addition, the connection between task and reward may look different amongst neurodiverse people compared to neurotypicals. This makes it more difficult to set goals and rewards in a way that supports the ADHD reward mechanisms.


So, What Is a Good Goal Setting Strategy for Someone With ADHD?


Often with ADHD, the best system of goal setting is one that takes into account these executive functioning struggles. For example, if you struggle with time blindness, estimating how long something will take can be more complicated [7]. Similarly, if working memory is a struggle, goals, and subtasks need to be written out as part of the process.


Once you’ve planned and set these goals, it’s important to keep coming back to them over your chosen period to refocus and troubleshoot any difficulties you have in achieving this goal. Staying in a space where you feel comfortable trying, experimenting, and troubleshooting can help you to focus on how to work with your executive functioning struggles to meet your goals without feeling overwhelmed.


Plans may shift, strategies to achieve a goal may change, but if you keep focused on your overall goal and understand how time-blindness and dopamine might play a part, you can shift how you achieve the goal without losing interest altogether.


Examples of S.M.A.R.T. Goals for ADHD Adults


When we discuss goals with ADHD, we aren't just focusing on the ‘what,’ we also want to understand ‘how’ a goal will be set up. As neurodiverse thinkers, this ‘how’ might be different from our neurotypical colleagues. For example, a goal to eat more meals at home might include buying rice and a slow cooker to avoid cooking on a stove you could forget to turn off.


One of the ways the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ can be conceptualised is by using the S.M.A.R.T. acronym [10]. S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Ideally, any goals we make will include a discussion of these elements. For example, a goal to 'focus more' is an example of an ADHD goal that doesn’t meet the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. For that goal to be more specific about the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what,’ it needs to be:

  1. Specific: Focus on completing boring tasks at work.

  2. Measured: Spend more than an hour on a single task.

  3. Achievable: Focus on current rather than new tasks.

  4. Relevant: My employer has advised me to improve my focus as part of a promotion discussion.

  5. Time-based: To complete within the next month.

At Unconventional Organisation, one of the first things we do with new clients is identify ADHD goals and set them up into a S.M.A.R.T. system. We specifically emphasise the ADHD-friendly strategies or systems to help achieve these goals. This goal setting is a key part of many ADHD coaching practices [11].


Goal Setting for ADHD Students


Goal setting as a student can require similar skills as an employee or business owner. The only difference is that for a student with ADHD, goal setting is often focused on schoolwork and assignments. This can make priorities easier to identify but can also be extremely overwhelming with different courses, classes, and jobs.


Therefore, a key part of student goal setting is finding commonalities between different courses and commitments to define your overall priority. For example, are you focused on a specific career or experience? Whatever you choose, explicitly making that goal and focusing on it using the S.M.A.R.T. system can help you achieve it more easily.


Long-Term Goals and ADHD


Often with ADHD, prioritising urgent short-term goals is the easiest to do. Long-form multi-step goals can really be a struggle [12]. One of the reasons for this is that ‘in the future’ often don't feel as urgent, and therefore, not as stimulating [9]. This is why with ADHD goals, it can be so important to identify subgoals and give them deadlines in much the same way as you might with the final goal. Reaching these sub-goals can keep you on track to accomplish your tasks.


Hopefully, this article has given you some insight into how goal setting can be achieved with ADHD. We just need some systems that work best for us and take into account executive functioning struggles. If you’d like to learn more about goal setting with ADHD, I’ve also developed this worksheet that you can download and work through.

ADHD Goal Setting Worksheet
.pdf
Download PDF • 804KB

Talk again soon.


Skye



Author:

Skye Rapson is an Academic, ADHD Coach and the Founder of Unconventional Organisation. She has worked in the field of adult education for over seven years. Skye has studied in various fields, including Psychology, Sociology, and Public Health, and is now a Doctoral Candidate in Population Health. You can read more about Skye on our home page or connect with her on LinkedIn.

References

[1] C. H. G. Patros, S. J. Tarle, R. M. Alderson, S. E. Lea, and E. F. Arrington, ‘Planning deficits in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analytic review of tower task performance’, Neuropsychology, vol. 33, no. 3, Art. no. 3, 2019, doi: 10.1037/neu0000531.

[2] A. Mashhadi, K. Rasoulzadeh Tabatabaie, P. Azad Fallah, and A. Soltanifar, ‘Planning and Organizing Abilities in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)’, Found. Educ., vol. 11, no. 1, Art. no. 1, Aug. 2010, doi: 10.22067/fe.v11i1.1622.

[3] E. S. Nordby, S. Gilje, D. A. Jensen, L. Sørensen, and S. H. Stige, ‘Goal management training for adults with ADHD - clients’ experiences with a group-based intervention’, BMC Psychiatry, vol. 21, no. 1, Art. no. 1, Feb. 2021, doi: 10.1186/s12888-021-03114-4.

[4] A. Nyman, T. Taskinen, M. Grönroos, L. Haataja, J. Lähdetie, and T. Korhonen, ‘Elements of Working Memory as Predictors of Goal-Setting Skills in Children With Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder’, J. Learn. Disabil., vol. 43, no. 6, pp. 553–562, Nov. 2010, doi: 10.1177/0022219410375001.

[5] M. H. Sibley, P. A. Graziano, M. Ortiz, L. Rodriguez, and S. Coxe, ‘Academic impairment among high school students with ADHD: The role of motivation and goal-directed executive functions’, J. Sch. Psychol., vol. 77, pp. 67–76, Dec. 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2019.10.005.

[6] R. Alderson, L. Kasper, K. Hudec, and C. Patros, ‘Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Working Memory in Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review’, Neuropsychology, vol. 27, pp. 287–302, May 2013, doi: 10.1037/a0032371.

[7] J. B. Meaux and J. J. Chelonis, ‘Time perception differences in children with and without ADHD’, J. Pediatr. Health Care, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 64–71, Mar. 2003, doi: 10.1067/mph.2003.26.