ADHD and Finishing: 10 Essential Strategies for Task Completion

10 Essential Strategies for Task Completion

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

Have you ever gone to Target with a simple mission, like buying toothpaste, only to end up with a cart full of irresistible sale items and perhaps another throw pillow? As a result, you’re left with a $250 receipt for what was initially intended to be just “toothpaste.”

This “Target Experience” is the perfect metaphor for the challenges individuals with ADHD face when it comes to finishing tasks.

They don’t intend to veer off track or get caught up in what we call “side quests,” but it happens – no warning, no pause, just spontaneous detours.

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

One of the most frustrating aspects for individuals with ADHD is difficulty in finishing what they start.

Despite genuine efforts and intentions, distractions, shifting priorities, and the allure of new ideas can derail progress. This can lead to a trail of unfinished projects, incomplete assignments, and a sense of disappointment in their ability to follow through.

In this article, we will explore the issue of task completion and provide practical strategies to help improve task completion in the classroom. Understanding these challenges is crucial for educators and therapists to provide effective support to students with ADHD.

Clarifying Tasks vs. Projects:

Before delving into strategies, it’s essential to distinguish between tasks and projects. David Allen, the author of “Getting Things Done” clearly defines the difference.

TASK = A task is a single action that can be completed in one step.
PROJECT = anything that takes more than one step to complete 

David Allen

Understanding this was truly empowering. As an educated adult, I couldn’t figure out why seemingly “simple tasks” that I clearly had the skills to do, like doing laundry, paying a bill, or cooking dinner were so incredibly difficult hard to complete. It is because they are NOT simple tasks , they are multistep projects.

Laundry is not a single task. It is a multi step series of tasks, with time and different locations involved. When we get super clear on the “task” we are asking a student to complete, it becomes easier to scaffold support.

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

The Challenge of Task Completion for Students with ADHD

Students with ADHD encounter difficulties in task completion due to their executive function challenges. These difficulties include:

Students with ADHD and executive function difficulties have challenges in task completion because of:

  • Difficulty with task initiation skills
  • Difficulty with prioritization
  • Difficulty with sustained attention
  • Difficulty with temporal awareness and time management
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty with motivation – it looks boring or too hard or long
  • Difficulty with working memory, difficulty holding things in mind, 
  • Easily overloaded with information or instructions
  • Difficulty processing information and making linear choices based upon that information.
  • Overthinking or overanalyzing problems
  • Unrealistic expectations on what you can accomplish

This is not “task avoidant” behavior. This is not laziness, this is not lack of effort, this is not lack of care. They do not need to “just try harder”

It is essential that caregivers and educators recognize that students with ADHD encounter unique challenges in task completion due to difficulties in executive function and self-regulation. By understanding both the expectation and the underlying skills we can support them with scaffolding that will make a difference.

Ten Strategies to Help Improve Task Completion in the Classroom

The following 10 strategies are evidence based , lived experience tested and actionable to be used in the classroom, at home or as a therapy intervention . Our goal is to help the student develop the underlying skills and compensatory strategies to minimize side quests and get. things. done.

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

Divide and Conquer: Break Tasks into Smaller Manageable Steps

Mini milestones are the secret to task completion: Teach students to break larger assignments into smaller, manageable ” action steps”.

A task breakdown can make the overall task feel less overwhelming and enable them to focus on one action at a time, helping them stay on task, build motivation and self-efficacy.

Providing clear checkpoints along the way provides a sense of accomplishment, spurring us to keep going. This approach fosters a sense of progress and accomplishment.

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

Step-by-Step Success: Guiding Task Completion with Checklists

Students with ADHD may require externalized representation of the steps of an activity. Provide students with ADHD a checklist of explicit and actionable steps to mitigate challenges with working memory, task initiation, and sustained attention. Checking off completed items builds behavioral momentum and a sense of accomplishment.

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

Set Clear Priorities

Help students with ADHD prioritize their tasks and identify the most critical components that need completion first. Students with ADHD may need explicit help with prioritizing due to their interest-based nervous system.

Effort required is going to be directly equivalent to the level of “stimulation”. Our brains are stimulated by Novelty, Interest, Challenge and Extreme Urgency. Impact upon future goals or importance does not have the same weight.

Therapists and educators can use decision matrix’s to help them visualize and determine the next best step. By adjusting the well known ” Eisenhower Matrix” pictured below, we can help student with ADHD learn to prioritize in a way that works for them .

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

I love post-its for prioritizing! We can work with the student to place each post it into the correct box to help decide the next step. This intervention leads to a lot of “aha” moments.

Make Time Visual: Use Timers and Time Techniques

Students with ADHD often have difficulty with the awareness of time passing and estimating how long a task will take. Time is now to not now.

Visual timers and time-bound check-ins help students manage their skewed sense of time and estimate task durations accurately.

We can mitigate this barrier to completion by:

  • Making time visible with visual timers
  • Using time bound check ins with a timer
  • Setting time bound milestones to avoid hyperfocus, ie. work on the cover for only 10 minutes.
  • Older students can use time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro Technique, where students work for a set amount of time and then take a short break.

Guided Progress: Gentle Accountability for ADHD Students

Students with ADHD need increased accountability with gentle reminders that can help them stay on track and prevent potential frustrations. Getting too far behind will make task completion even harder. Check in often.

Structure Completion with a Predictable Path

Create a structured and predictable classroom environment to help students with ADHD automate tasks into routines, freeing up cognitive resources.

Cultivate a “Done Not Perfect” Mindset

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

Most of these students are divergent thinkers and extremely creative. What they can accomplish in reality is nowhere near the internal expectations they have upon themselves.

Straight up… if there is one thing I wish I learned when I was ten… most things are “Better Done Than Perfect.”

Empower students with ADHD to value progress over perfection in their work. Provide a clear picture of what “done” looks like to avoid overwhelming internal expectations.

Shutting Down Side Quests with an Organized Workspace

Organized environments are essential for individuals with ADHD, yet they often struggle with organization. Nothing can trigger a side quest quicker than not knowing where a material is.

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work

Create a calm and organized workspace for your students to enhance their focus and productivity.

  • Clear Desk: only necessary supplies.
  • Same Location: Keep supplies in the same location as the student ( change location=side quest)
  • One Deep: Keep all items one deep and visible. (shuffling equals side quest).

Minimize Distractions

Obviously, Target knows exactly what they are doing. Think opposite of a retail marketer and minimize temptation and distractions.

Distractions can hinder students’ focus and productivity. To empower students with the ability to stay on track and minimize distractions we can offer and normalize tools to block distractions.

  • Noise-Canceling Headphones: These comfortable headphones block out external sounds, allowing students to concentrate on their tasks without getting distracted by surrounding noise.
  • Study Carrels: Study carrels provide a private and secluded space for students to work independently, shielding them from visual distractions and promoting a focused study environment.
  • Distraction Free Zone: Use Signage in designated areas to remind students to keep noise levels down and minimize distractions during specific learning periods.
ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work
  • Task Reminder Cards: Simple and handy task reminder cards can be placed on students’ desks, gently nudging them to stay focused and on track with their assignments.
  • Visual Timers: Visual timers offer a tangible way for students to manage their time effectively. They provide a clear countdown, helping students pace themselves and complete tasks within designated time frames.

Positivity Power-Ups

Finally, offer consistent encouragement and specific praise for each step of progress made by the student. A positive and supportive atmosphere fosters motivation and a sense of accomplishment.

ADHD Task Completion: Finishing Work


Supporting students with ADHD in completing tasks requires understanding their unique challenges in executive function and self-regulation. By implementing evidence-based strategies and creating a structured and supportive environment, educators can empower students with ADHD to overcome obstacles and achieve success in task completion.

Tools and Resources

Task Initiation Supports– You can’t finish something if you do not start it.

If task initiation is a barrier for the student you support check out this resource and article .

If time processing ability is a barrier for the student you support check out this resource and supporting article.

If Impulse Control is a barrier for the student you support check out this resource and supporting article.

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