Technically, what I’m about to talk about is a tool for time management, or even organizational prioritization. Personally, however, I find it extremely helpful for both managing ADHD and anxiety. It’s not a new idea, and it was introduced to me by a recent colleague, who I feel employs it well. I’ll give you the visual first – this is a really nice (and by that I mean aesthetically soothing) example that I borrowed from mcqn.com:
This is an urgency/importance matrix. Some credit its origin to President Eisenhower, some credit it to Stephen Covey, but bottom line: It’s handy.
Clearly it can be used to prioritize your ADHD life. If I were using it for that purpose, for short-term thinking (attacking a day’s tasks) I would actually draw it out just as it is above, then put my tasks into the appropriate quadrant, and then proceed with my day by beginning with the most urgent or important tasks. I also find it motivational in a longer-term sense — most of the time, I want to keep things from ever appearing in the urgent/important quadrant. If I scare myself a little with the possibility of that consequence, it becomes easier for me to stop procrastinating, with the intention that items will be completed before they become an “on fire” situation.
This week, however, as I struggle with an intrusive sort of anxiety, this tool takes on a different purpose. The very nature of this anxiety is that it tells me that EVERYTHING is an emergency. All the time. It dumps every little thing into the urgent/important quadrant, THEN has the audacity to tell me that not only is everything in my life on fire, but that I’m going to fail in handling it all.
I have used this matrix throughout my day today, every time the anxiety pops up to tell me that I need to be afraid of failing, or that I should be worried about a negative outcome (before it even happens). The matrix helps me frame the manufactured emergency of the moment with logic. It is a simple concept, and easy to picture in my mind. The only quadrant I actually need to think about on the fly like this is generally the urgent/important one. Does the thing I’m worrying about fit in that quadrant? No? Then clearly I don’t even need to be thinking about it right now.
Then I remember to breathe, reassure myself that I’ve made the right decision. Then I sometimes think for a few minutes about how I feel after doing this. It’s important to get accustomed to a feeling of peace, in order to begin to accept it as normal.
Though I find again and again that I do not have control over the impulse that takes my mind to these places, I DO find that I can acclimate to that feeling, with practice. The feeling of a life without constant emergency.