Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Have you ever found yourself stuck in reactivity mode? Maybe you made a plan for the week, things changed, and now it’s Wednesday, and you’re running from task to task, feeling wildly unprepared and overwhelmed. One of the reasons for this could be task switching.
Several studies found that when compared to their neurotypical peers, people with ADHD were slower to complete a series of tasks when they involved switching from one activity to another (Cepeda et al., 2000; Kramer et al., 2001; Kray et al., 2012). However based on this research, there also several strategies you can use to make task switching easier. I have outlined five tips below, but if you need more support, you can contact me for a free 20-minute coaching consultation here.
1. Chunk Similar Tasks Together
Research found that those with ADHD particularly struggle to switch between tasks that are very different (Kray et al., 2012). But this also means that task switching can be made easier by grouping similar jobs together. For example, you could set aside an hour to work through the days emails, rather than answering them throughout the day among other tasks.
2. Set Aside Transition Time
Start including transition time when you estimate how long a task will take. Studies with ADHD participants found that they were faster on tasks when they were given time to prepare beforehand (Alport et al., 1994; Kramer et al., 2001; Meiran, 2000).
3. Move Your Body
One reason those with ADHD can struggle with task switching is trouble with working memory. However, research has found working memory can improve with exercise (Dai et al., 2013; Hung et al., 2016; Themanson et al., 2006) if you can, making a quick walk or some stretches part of your transition time can help to reset you for the next task.
4. Design A Transition Routine
Now you’ve set up a time to transition and move your body, could other activities help you switch between tasks? Examples include boiling the kettle, putting away papers or taking a moment to pet your cat or talk to a colleague. Even if these are small activities, establishing that routine will help you move from one job to another.
5. Time Your Tasks
Transitioning starts at the beginning of the last task. If you find you never have enough time to transition, set a timer to remind you to stop your previous job and move to the next one. Timers could be on your phone, a physical timer, Focus Mate or even a sand timer.
So if you feel like you're reactively moving between tasks in a state of overwhelm, take the time to set up some of these transition routines and see if they work for you.
Talk to you next week,
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Alport, A., Styles, E. A., & Hsieh, S. (1994). 17 Shifting Intentional Set: Exploring the Dynamic Control of Tasks.
Cepeda, N. J., Cepeda, M. L., & Kramer, A. F. (2000). Task Switching and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28(3), 213–226. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005143419092
Dai, C.-T., Chang, Y.-K., Huang, C.-J., & Hung, T.-M. (2013). Exercise mode and executive function in older adults: An ERP study of task-switching. Brain and Cognition, 83(2), 153–162.
Hung, C.-L., Huang, C.-J., Tsai, Y.-J., Chang, Y.-K., & Hung, T.-M. (2016). Neuroelectric and Behavioral Effects of Acute Exercise on Task Switching in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01589
Kramer, A. F., Cepeda, N. J., & Cepeda, M. L. (2001). Methylphenidate Effects on Task-Switching Performance in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(11), 1277–1284. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004583-200111000-00007
Kray, J., Karbach, J., Haenig, S., & Freitag, C. (2012). Can Task-Switching Training Enhance Executive Control Functioning in Children with Attention Deficit/-Hyperactivity Disorder? Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2011.00180
Meiran, N. (2000). Modeling cognitive control in task-switching. Psychological Research, 63(3–4), 234–249.
Themanson, J. R., Hillman, C. H., & Curtin, J. J. (2006). Age and physical activity influences on action monitoring during task switching. Neurobiology of Aging, 27(9), 1335–1345.