In several of my recent posts, I’ve been discussing what Dr. William Dodson calls our ADHD “interest-based nervous system.” (You can read previous posts here in my blog.) I’d like to continue that series with this additional look at the power of URGENCY.

This post is a little longer than usual so that I can adequately describe a process that could be very helpful to you.

Our sense of urgency often pushes us around, creating chaos and poor productivity in our lives. But there are ways we can use the motivating power of urgency to increase our order and productivity. One effective way to make this happen is to use a tool called “Planning Backwards.”

In order to plan backwards, we need to “chunk” a large task, i.e., divide the single project with a single deadline into a number of smaller tasks or sub-tasks, each with its own deadline. Chunking helps us:

  1. bypass large-task overwhelm and resistance
  2. notice how many sub-tasks are involved in the project
  3. correct “time blindness” regarding the total task time required.

The more sub-tasks that can be identified, the better. Each sub-task should be listed along with a realistic estimate of the amount of time it might take.

One handy way to create your list of sub-tasks is to imagine your project completed and ask yourself, “What was the last thing I had to do before I turned the project in?” It might be hitting “send” on your computer, or putting something in the mail. This is your final sub-task. (Remember, you are working backwards.)

Then look at your final sub-task and ask the same question of yourself: “What is the last thing that needs to be done before this sub-task?” That might be a final proofread or printing. The task before that might be making sure your printer is supplied with paper and ink or having another set of eyes look over your finished project.

Work backwards to create your total list of sub-tasks, being sure to include things you might not think of if you work without creating sub-tasks. For example, suppose you want to paint a room. If you plan backwards, one of your tasks might be to remove the masking tape around the window frames. The creation of that sub-task will remind you to check your supply of masking tape so you don’t find yourself short when you are ready to apply it.

Once you have created your list of subtasks, perhaps on small sticky notes that could be placed on a large monthly calendar, look at each task and estimate the amount of time it would take. It is much easier to estimate the time of a sub-task, even for those of us with time blindness, than it is to estimate how long the entire task will take. Write your time estimate on each sticky note.

Based on how long each task will take, put your sticky notes on your calendar, starting with the completed project on a day or two before the actual deadline, to allow for any contingencies, and moving backwards to the present (or the start date of your project). Space your sticky notes out based on the time each sub-task requires plus a little cushion to allow for unforeseen circumstances. You might be able to schedule several sub-tasks for the same day.

This process gives you a visual tool for imagining and managing a project of any sort or size.

If you miss one of your intermediate deadlines, just look at your plan and readjust to a revised schedule. Your plan can beautifully provide you with immediate feedback as to whether you are ahead or behind, as well as feedback about how accurately you are estimating subtask times.

How does this process sound to you? Instead of blindly starting too late toward a deadline that has been given to you by someone else, you can use planning backwards to set your own more informed intermediate deadlines.

Most of us seem to be much more likely to pay attention in a timely way to deadlines that we feel we have created for ourselves. When we are able to commit to our planning backwards schedule and take our deadlines seriously, we can make our URGENCY response work for us in a much more productive and orderly manner!

Let me know how this works for you! I’d love to hear.

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