Tips for Overcoming and Wait Mode when You Have ADHD

Although not a recognized clinical term, there is a phenomenon in the ADHD community known as “wait mode.” Wait mode refers to when you have time right now, but there is a scheduled event, task, or appointment sometime in the future, and you feel unable to start anything new because you are waiting for the scheduled event.

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Wait mode is a form of executive dysfunction – you feel unable to do any task at all because you know you will run out of time eventually. We do not know for certain what causes an individual to go into wait mode, and it might be different for each person. Some report a history of being yelled at, ridiculed, or punished for forgetting appointments or running late, and they feel like they enter wait mode to compensate – I can’t forget where I’m going later if it is all I focus on right now.

Some report issues with “time blindness,” a phenomenon experienced by many people with ADHD that Jaclyn Paul describes really well in the linked article. Basically, like how people who are color blind are unable to accurately perceive certain colors, many with ADHD are unable to accurately perceive lengths of time. When we do not know how long a given task will take, it can be difficult to start something when you know you will have to stop to do something else. What if you are not finished?

Regardless of why, here are some tips for overcoming wait mode.

Don’t Finish What You Start.

It can be difficult to start a task when you don’t think you will have time to finish it. Remember that it is okay to leave something incomplete. Progress is progress, and you will feel better when you return to the task half-finished versus completely not started. Don’t have time to wash all the dishes? Just do a few plates. Can’t finish that paper? Write one paragraph. Small steps move us forward.

Set Alarms.

If you tend to get really immersed in a task (sometimes referred to as hyperfocus), you might lose track of time all together. When you know you have to be somewhere later, it can be hard to start something and risk becoming so caught up in the task that you forget to stop. It can help to set alarms to remind yourself when you have to shift out of the task.

Reward Yourself.

You deserve a treat today, and pretty much every day. If you are motivated by rewards, decide what you will give yourself after you work on a task. Reward yourself for making any progress at all to avoid feeling discouraged if you run out of time before you are done.

Choose A Small Task.

If you have something on your to-do list that you know will not take long, get it out of the way. You do not have to tackle the huge project if you only have an hour! Future you will be grateful that something is out of the way, even something small.

Be Kind To Yourself.

If you can’t break out of wait mode, remember to be kind to yourself. Your productivity does not measure your value. It’s okay to just let yourself rest, or do something you enjoy, instead of completing tasks when your brain engages wait mode.

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Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. She completed her internship at the National Psychology Training Consortium with specializations in assessment and rural mental health. Currently, she specializes in trauma-informed and neurodiversity-affirming care, and she is certified in telemental health. Dr. Marschall runs a private practice, RMH Therapy, where she provides individual and family therapy as well as psychological assessments across the lifespan. Dr. Amy Marschall is an author and professional speaker.

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