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How an 'anti-planner' helps artist with ADHD get stuff done

Dani Donovan, who has ADHD, holder her "Anti-Planner." (Courtesy of Dani Donovan)
Dani Donovan, who has ADHD, holder her "Anti-Planner." (Courtesy of Dani Donovan)

Like many Americans, neurodiverse artist Dani Donovan sometimes struggles with feeling overwhelmed or burned out. She gets distracted by screens and can be unmotivated to get stuff done. She’s popular on TikTok for sharing candidly how having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, impacts her.

One approach that has worked to turn herself around and be more productive is throwing out the traditional idea of a calendar and a schedule, with dates and times. And she’s found that even those who haven’t been diagnosed can relate to her way of coping.

She talks with Here & Now‘s Deepa Fernandes about her activity book for procrastinators called “The Anti-Planner: How To Get Stuff Done When You Don’t Feel Like It.”

Tips from Donovan

  • Try to adopt the perspective that “your worth is not measured in productivity.” And, that there is no such thing as a “perfect” student, partner or person.
  • Understand that the calendar system isn’t for everyone. “For so long, when we struggle to be productive the advice we’re given is, ‘just get a planner.’ But the issue is that planners are templates, right, that you do day in and day out, but if you write to-dos on it and you don’t do those to-dos… the planner doesn’t help you get those things done. It’s just a place to write stuff down. Ultimately, I got kind of tired of wasting money on things I stopped using after two weeks. So instead of finding this one magic system — chasing that unicorn — instead finding a way to compile over 100 different strategies, so that when one of them gets boring, I can just hop to another one.”
  • Get “unstuck” by designing your actions based on the emotions that underly the challenges you face. “For me, ‘stuck’ — getting over that mental roadblock — really comes down to recognizing that the reason you’re avoiding stuff is because you’re trying to avoid pain and discomfort and negative emotions. It’s not you as a person, and saying something about you being ‘lazy,’ if you know what to do but can’t get yourself to do it. But, figuring out how to initiative that action by addressing the emotions behind it. … There’s different things that might be holding you back. Maybe you can’t decide which option to pursue; maybe you can’t focus long enough on something and you’re distracted; or maybe you just want to do such a good job that you don’t want to start unless the conditions are perfect. Understanding that first can really help you determine what can actually help you accomplish your goal moving forward.”
  • Learn to reward yourself. Donovan argues that a lot of people grew up “getting stickers on a chart when they accomplish little goals,” and even as adults, people can get creative about the ways they tie chores or tasks to small or meaningful rewards that can spark memories and fun competition to get stuff done.

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Bullard. Lisa Creamer adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.