Energy management for ADHD writers

When you look online for information about productivity, you’ll find many texts telling you how to manage your time more effectively. However, what I’ve found as an ADD/ADHD writing coach is that what’s often more important for ADHD writers is not time, but energy management. As a person with ADHD, tasks often take more energy than they would for a neurotypical person. And when we’re tired, low on energy, our symptoms get worse. If ADHD makes you clumsy, you’ll be extra clumsy when you’re tired. And most importantly: when you’re tired, focus costs even more energy than usual. (Which is very much a downward spiral.) More than for most people, therefore, it’s important when you’re an ADHD writer, to put some thought and effort into energy management.

Energy management and Hyperfocus

If people know nothing else, they often do know that people with ADHD are hyperactive. Now, if you are the inattentive (formerly: ADD) and not the hyperactive (traditional ADHD) type, don’t roll your eyes yet. For us, the hyperactivity often takes place in our brains, rather than our bodies. We think fast, make a huge amount of connections and constantly come up with great, new, revolutionary ideas. In this way, hyperactivity does play a role. But with so much talk about the energy we do have, there’s often little discussion of how we spend that energy. 

Energy management is especially important when it comes to that wonderful, uncontrollable, amazing experience that we call “hyperfocus”. When you can access this, the world often falls away; you’re completely immersed in the thing you’re doing; and nothing else exists. It’s wonderful, it’s amazing, it’s productive. It also takes a lot of energy.

If you haven’t before, next time you come out of hyperfocus, try to pay attention to how you feel. You’ll probably be exhausted. And if you have held on to your hyperfocus for a long stretch of time, there’s even a chance you won’t be able to focus very much in the days afterward. This is great when you’re facing a deadline (which is when hyperfocus often magically appears), but not so wonderful if you’re working on a long term project that requires consistent output. 

Don't trust your instincts

That caught your eye, didn’t it? Many of my blogposts are about practicing kindness towards yourself and learning to work with your brain rather than against it. Therefore, it might be surprising that I’m telling you to not trust your instincts. But bear with me, it’ll make sense in a minute. 


You see, our ADHD brains aren’t so good at prioritizing. When you’re working on something, especially in hyperfocus, that thing will feel like your biggest priority. Whatever it is you’re doing, you need to do it perfectly. You need to keep going until it is the best thing anyone’s ever produced. It needs to be great, perfect, life or career-defining… And this is true whether it’s reading a book (did you ever feel guilty about skipping a sentence or paragraph?); hanging a lamp (just a recent example from my own life); or writing a book chapter.

Why’s that bad again?

Now, this is fine when you’re a hermit, and your priorities have no implications for anything or anyone around you. But my ADHD coaching clients often come to me when they feel that their priorities are off. Their families feel neglected; they can’t find time for writing; or they get stuck in a specific stage of the process, rewriting the first chapter over and over and never moving on to the next one. 

Whatever you’re doing, the perfectionist in you will make it feel like the most important thing in your life. So you cannot trust your instincts!

Energy is a finite resource

Instead, use logic to make your priorities align with how you spend your energy. Got it? No? Okay, let me make this more practical for you. 

Pretend for a minute that energy is a finite resource, like money. You have a specific amount of energy in your “account”, and every “energy-dollar” can only be spent once. Now, you can make more of it, you can re-charge your energy. But you need to make time to do that.

The way most people with ADHD I know treat their energy can be described as follows: they are flush with energy-cash, spend it all on one big thing, and they’re broke again. And yes, you may have just bought yourself a beautiful series of leather-bound classics, but what are you going to eat until your next pay-check? Or, in real-world terms: you may have just written an amazing new chapter, but who’s going to cook a healthy meal for your family tonight? Or the other way around: you may have just had an amazing day with your friends, but where are you going to find the energy to work towards your writing goals?

Yes, you might need to sit down and think about your energy management.

Assessing the problems in your energy management

When your instincts fail you, use logic to assess the problems in your energy management. Just take the following steps:

1. Evaluate the way you spend your energy

Make a list of all the things in your life you spend energy on (writing, reading, commute, social activities, chores…). Then, write down how much energy you currently spend on each. As energy doesn’t come in handy units, the easiest way to do this is to use percentages. 

2. Assess your priorities

Take the list you made in step one. Now, instead of assigning percentages of energy you’re currently spending, assess the importance of each thing for you personally, also expressed in percentages. Make sure the percentages add up to the same number as your energy-spending in step 1 (probably 100%). 

3. Invent strategies to bridge the gaps

If you’ve made it this far through the post, I’m pretty sure that there will be significant differences between what’s most important to you and what you spend most of your energy on. By comparing the two lists of percentages, you’ll probably have found that you spend a lot of energy on things that aren’t that important to you; whilst not spending enough energy on things that are. Now that you’ve got a clearer picture of the problem, it’s time to think about solutions.

Tackle the energy drains

Start with the energy-drains: for each un-important thing you spend energy on, ask yourself whether there is a way to reduce the amount of energy you spend on it. Are these tasks you can get someone else to do? Is there a way to do them differently so they cost less energy? Should you do them less frequently, or for shorter periods of time? In essence, the question here is: how can you preserve the energy you now spend on these things so you can use it for the things that matter?


For example, I had a client who had found that traveling with public transport took a lot of her energy, causing her to get to work all tired and scatter-brained. Instead, she decided to start using a taxi during the busiest, most taxing periods at work. This way, she could preserve her energy for what really mattered. 

Low grades

Someone else I worked with was a student, who found that she spent so much energy preparing the readings for classes that she never got around to doing the assignments she was actually going to be graded on. This exercise helped her realize that the weekly readings were a major energy drain for her and she had to shift her priorities.


A third person spent so much energy on the research process that she could only get the actual writing done by pulling all-nighters in the days before her deadlines. As a result, she was exhausted and disillusioned with herself. After doing this exercise, we decided we would determine set amounts of time she could spend on her research, after which she needed to stop researching and start writing. The time limit helped her limit the amount of energy she spent, making the whole process more productive and enjoyable. 

Invest where it matters

Now that you’ve thought up strategies to preserve energy, it’s time to invest it where it matters. During the exercise above, you will probably have found important things in your life (or project) you’ve been neglecting, because you didn’t have energy for it. And yes, of course this is related to time: you can invest more energy in something by making time for it. But it also matters WHEN and HOW you make time for it.

Let’s say that you’ve decided it’s important for you to do physical exercise, or to learn a new language. You want to spend an hour every day doing this and you’ve tried to do it directly after work. But after work you find yourself tired and unmotivated, making it hard for you to invest your energy where it matters and use your time productively. Then what you need to do is schedule those hours at times of the day when you DO have the energy for it.

This might lead you to get up an hour earlier every morning and exercise your mind or body then. Or maybe what would work instead is to spend three hours on Saturday and two on Sunday on those goals. You’ll still spend the five hours you wanted to, but will be able to give it the energy required. This way, you can manage your energy in such a way that the spending of it aligns with your priorities. 

Make sure to recharge

Effective energy management, just like effective budgeting, looks at income as well as expenses. The big lesson here is: don’t wait to make money until you’re entirely broke. Or: recharge before you’re entirely wiped out. Make a list of things you can do to recharge, things that give you energy. Put that list in a place where you can find it again. And determine in advance when you’re going to do something on that list. 

For example: if you know that an activity you absolutely NEED to do costs a lot of energy, then maybe afterward you shouldn’t try to force yourself to do something that costs you the last of your resources, but instead to recharge so you can be productive again later. This is not only an example of self-care, it’s also a logical, productive energy management strategy. 

In conclusion

Energy management is essential for consistent, sustainable productivity. And this is true for people with ADHD-brains, more than for most. By looking at energy as a finite resource, and managing it like any other resource—by budgeting, saving, and investing it… you, too, might be able to make your energy spending align with your priorities so you can realize your goals. 

Now, if the tips and exercises above weren’t enough for you and you can use some 1-on-1 coaching, just contact me! Click on the button on the bottom of your screen or go to this page to schedule your first free coaching session.