How to Finish Projects If You Have ADHD

by | Apr 16, 2020 | ADHD Productivity | 10 comments

Angry man doing his taxes at homeWondering how to finish projects if you have ADHD? Of course you are! There’s a rumor out there that people with ADHD can’t finish anything. And, we are famous for not finishing what we start. Often leaving projects only 90% done. Sometimes it feels like people with ADHD can’t finish anything.

Not finishing projects frustrates anyone who has ADHD. It annoys the heck out of the people we live and work with, too.

That’s why this headline in our local newspaper caught my eye. “South Interchange Project 90% Done”.  That’s the freeway interchange I drive through every day. Now I have a vivid idea of what a project looks when it’s 90% done.

When a freeway interchange  is 90% done, the major construction is complete. The traffic flows pretty well. Except a bridge and an off-ramp remain closed and the lane lines are missing.

At 90% done, an interchange works okay but will be much better and safer when finished. Bridges, off-ramps, and lane lines are cool. Detours are annoying.

Now, let’s translate this 90% done idea into the world of adult ADHD and your unfinished projects.

The reality is that not finishing some projects doesn’t matter. When I was a systems analyst at a large corporation, the last 10% was the documentation no one ever used. (Good thing, since it was my responsibility to finish it, and I rarely did!)

For other projects, that last 10% is important but not essential. My client Rick is installing software to track his billable hours at his law office. Rick’s system now works pretty well at the 90% point. But, since that last 10% will make tracking his time effortless, it’s worth the effort.

For still other projects, though, that last 10% is crucial. Using my new audio course, Foundations of ADHD Success, as an example, that last 10% took me longer to complete than the first 90%. Until I finished the last 10%, the entire project was dead in the water.

How To Finish Projects If You Have ADHD

Here are 5 steps to help you finish projects if you have ADHD. Everything is easier when you have a road map to follow.

1. First you need to know what 100% is. Get clear about what the project will look like and how it will work when finished.

2. Next decide if that last 10% of the project is worth the effort. Perhaps 90% done is good enough. Of course, if you have a specific commitment to someone else, you best get it done or at least talk about it.

3. If you decide to finish your project, figure out what’s stopping you. Are you bored, afraid, or unclear about the last steps? Maybe you need a resource like time or money that you don’t have right now. Clarity is key to figuring out what to do when you’re stuck.

4. Write out the clear, easy steps to finishing. Figure out when you’re going to take those steps. Too often we say we’ll do something without allowing space in our schedule to do it. Also, decide which steps you need help with. You don’t have to do everything yourself, you know.

5. Finally, get to work, get the help you need, or get someone to finish it for you. Don’t underestimate the power of accountability. Find an ADHD coach or an accountability partner who expects you to get stuff done. This will light fire under you and help you follow-through.

Want to learn more about finishing things with ADHD? Check out:

You don’t have to resign yourself to never getting things done. It doesn’t mean with ADHD you can’t finish anything. If you’re stuck and struggling follow these steps for how to finish projects if you have ADHD. Remember, living with ADHD doesn’t have to be so hard!


  1. Maggy

    Hi, I’m a 58yr old woman that has add/adhd and I have to do a lot of research on how to find the info I need to either do something or start or finish. Today I started looking up and trying to buy bitcoin again. Actually I’ve been trying for over two weeks. Anything I try is not working. I have missed out on a lot of profit because of this. My goal is to make enough and create some kind of income to get a house instead of a tent and to be able to support it and me. It’s like something or someone is blocking all my avenues. Again, I research to find out what’s going on. Dead ends. I had also scored on free carpet and padding. I went to go get it and a storm had started and now it’s ruined. I feel like someone else is controlling my scenereos. Every time I make a little progress this entity says “nope not gonna let you.” So how do I deal with that. It’s happened all my life. I’m tired. I have been staying with my mother so I can get this goal accomplished, and for a while now, maybe the last year, she keeps threatening to kick me out, or call the Sherrif to have me removed. I pay my share to live here, she also gets paid as my caregiver. I do not bother her, I stay in my room, or outside. My room is a mess, she won’t allow me to buy organization stuff, so I’m living out of boxes. I have been here for almost 6 years trying to save money, then she won’t take me to the bank or shopping. I’m at wits end. Then she sees the money and says ” I hope your not doing anything illegal” WHAT! I need a way to get past this so I can move on. Every day she has some kind of remark that just stops me dead in my tracks. She’s always telling me ” there must be something extremely wrong with you” Duh, I’m disabled and add/adhd. She just says, I don’t want to hear your excuses. Shut up and go away or I’ll call the Sherrif.
    I don’t want to go back to living outside again. It’s winter, it’s wet, it’s miserable. And it doesn’t help that I live in no man’s land of tourist beach rentals and no services for helping get housing or anything for that matter. Not even any housing available except for tourists. I have property I can stay on, but no shelter on it yet. Yeah, she blocked that one too.
    Okay I’m done. There is so much more but it’s exausting me. Any ideas let me know.
    Thanks for the venting

    • Farida

      I hope you manage to get some help, Maggy. Feeling that your life is being controlled by something outside of yourself is not a typical symptom of ADHD. You may be suffering from something else, perhaps a schizoaffective disorder, but this shouldn’t be frightening. It’s a condition that is far more stigmatized but if you have it and got a proper diagnosis you could also get appropriate treatment, including support that may provide you with a better place to live.

      Your living situation sounds scary: you shouldn’t have to choose between homelessness and an abusive family member. Yet you probably aren’t going to score big with bitcoin either, at least not enough to buy a house in a short amount of time. The frustrating reality is that working ourselves out of difficult situations takes a lot of time and hard work, and most of us spend so long wanting an immediate change that nothing changes.

      Unfortunately if we aren’t in a position to face up to the reality of our situation then we won’t ever be in a position to even start to overcome it. Nothing will work. I very much hope that things have changed for you since you published your comment, or if not that you start to get the help that you need.

  2. Ramu

    The problem for me is not that I can not finnish a project – the problem is that I have 10 projects and can’t figure out how to prioritize them! And ultimately not a single one gets finnished… They come and go, new ones, old ones, importance keeps changing. Then I get overwhelmed and procrastinate. Yeah…

  3. Nick

    90% done?? I’m lucky if my projects can get to 20%! If I could get to 90%, I don’t think I’d have a problem – the reward of the finish would be enough motivation. The problem is how do I get beyond that first burst of excitement that gets me to maybe 10-20%.

    • Dana Rayburn

      How to finish projects? You learn how to outsmart your ADHD. Realistic planning and expectations and accountability. Becoming aware of what distracts you and gets in your way and finding work arounds. These are things ADHD coaches help their clients accomplish.

  4. Shawn

    Very interesting posts. I am in my 50’s and never realized I had ADD until recently (a month ago) when my daughter suggested I might. I run my own business as a speaker/consultant and have no shortage of ideas and projects, only a shortage of completions. What I do get done does well. I have never put it all together though, which naturally has handicapped me and my business. Looking forward to getting a grip on this, which now seems plausible ….now that I have acknowledged this. When I am writing projects, I jump around from project to project, working on this one for a bit, then that one. I am making progress, but the urge to stop hits me and I lose my focus on the topic or tell myself that I am on the wrong track or rambling in the wrong direction. The projects I am speaking of, workbooks that teach “how to” lead or how to sell effectively, creating a website, etc. It’s like I can only focus on one thing at a time, but when you are in business, it’s never one thing. I know the right thing to do is to focus on one thing until completion, but that, to this point, has been much easier said than done. And suggestions are appreciated. It helps just seeing others express similar things.

  5. Terry

    OMG!! I’m not alone! Heck, I knew I always had too many balls in the air, and many things never get finished, but until I happened to watch, out of curiosity, a video on ADHD a couple of days ago (in which they mentioned a symptom being not finishing things), I never thought I had ADHD! OMG, OMG! But reading the above comments helps… it’s not just me!

    I’m 75 now… I hope I can overcome this during the remainder of my life! I always had “good” excuses in the past. I remember way, way back in high school English I wrote a term paper, but never typed it up to turn in. I told myself I didn’t want to be bored with that last 10%, I’d already learned what I could about the topic, so why do the “busy work” to finish it for someone else?

    Over the years there have been so many projects that I did 90% on, and as in the freeway interchange example above, things worked just enough to get by. I do wonder how my perfectionism is connected to this? Like not finishing prevents others’ judgments on the 100%? Just speculating…

    Anyway, I feel like a door has been opened where before I only saw a wall.

    Thanks to all of you!

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Terry! Welcome to the work of ADHD! Yes, realizing that’s what’s going on can be eye opening and a relief. You are not to old to start making some adjustments. Regarding perfectionism – it can play a huge part in ADHD procrastination and not finishing things. I wish you all the best, Dana

  6. Kathleen

    Today, after reading your post (and a couple other posts), I am in AWE. I am 55 years old and have never ever considered that I may be adhd. This is such a RELIEF! I have isolated and grown clutter and received so much judgment. I have been putting myself down, wondering why I can’t be “normal”.

    I have a huge problem with money management. It’s like I spend as a child would and blow money, emptying my purse on a single purchase, not sure of the next time I will have money. (I quit 3 jobs in the past year)

    I definitely need help!!

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Kathleen! Welcome to the ADHD family. Awareness is the first step! Yes, impulsive spending (actually impulsive anything…) is what we do when our ADHD is out of control. I hope you find useful information here on my site. You might also like my Kick Some ADHD podcast. Wishing you all the best, Dana


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