On laundry and executive function

The first item on my to do list this morning was to put my dobok (Taekwondo uniform) in the wash.

I meant to do it on Saturday but I was painting the living room that day so I put it off until Sunday. On Sunday, I was sick so I couldn’t go help with the TKD class anyway…you get the picture.

So, I had this reminder on my list today and after my tea, I was trying to talk myself into doing the laundry and get it out of the way.

Even though I know better, I was telling myself to ‘Just go do it! Just grab your dobok and put it in the washer.’

You may be reading that sentence and asking why I need to know better than to say that. If so, you probably don’t have ADHD – or at least yours is nothing like mine.

You see, for someone with executive function challenges, putting on a load of laundry isn’t just a one step thing. And it took me a long time to learn that ‘put on a load of laundry’ is shorthand for all of the steps involved.

A neurotypical person, or at least a neurotypical person who isn’t currently anxious or depressed, probably doesn’t realize how many steps there are in the process.

For me to put in a load of laundry, I have to walk myself through all of this:

  • Determining that laundry is, indeed, a priority right now
  • Reminding myself that, despite how it feels, laundry doesn’t actually take all day
  • Deciding to put aside all of the other things clamouring for my attention
  • Stopping the thing I am doing (even if it is just sitting at the table) and switching to the next task
  • Going upstairs
  • Choosing which clothes can go in the load with the needed item
  • Putting all the items in a basket
  • Bringing them down two flights of stairs while consciously ignoring all the visual clues of other things that need to be done
  • Possibly having to take clothes out of the dryer then put the clothes from the washer into the dryer and turn it on
  • Put current load into the washer and pay attention to all the settings that might need to change
  • Remember that the clothes are in the washer and need to go into the dryer (I usually set a timer to remind me)

That’s a lot of things when you put it out into a list, isn’t it?

For a neurotypical person, it’s usually compressed into ‘do laundry’ – a single task. But for someone who has trouble directing their attention, there are at least 11 decisions to make and 11 opportunities to get distracted.

Even the idea of walking through all of those steps and keeping my focus through all of those challenges feels tiring.

I do it, of course. I’m a grown up who knows she has ADHD and who has had to figure out ways to do the things that need doing.

But all of the irritation and frustration about it is still there, under the surface.

And there is always a chance that any one of those things could go sideways and get me off track.

So, that’s why telling myself to ‘Just do it! Just grab your dobok and put it in the washer!’ is something unhelpful for me to do.

Instead, I need to be kinder to myself, even in that small way.

Sometimes I need to itemize that list and check off each piece.

Sometimes, I set a timer and tell myself to jump up and get started when it goes off.

Sometimes, I need to reward myself for getting started, other times I reward myself for finishing.

Either way, I try to give myself what I need to get the job done.

After all, having a clean dobok is the goal and I can take any path that gets me there.