ADHD: A Thought versus a Plan

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – May 2, 2022

Those with ADHD struggle with working memory. A working memory impairment hinders the ability to follow a sequence of steps because they’re not able to hold the steps in their mind. It takes a lot of effort because they have to override their automatic instincts and use an already taxed working memory to work through a problem.

It’s a common dilemma for those with ADHD… a thought versus a plan. Simplified, it means they have an idea in their mind that they think is a plan, but they haven’t worked out the steps to get there. They know what they want, but they haven’t addressed how to execute it. And that’s the dilemma. A thought is not a plan.

As an ADHD and attention coach, I find that they do better if somebody actually asks them step-by-step questions. If they have an idea, it’s good to sit down with somebody and go through everything necessary and address any obstacles to come up with the plan. The idea is to work their way through it, and sometimes it’s best done by somebody just asking the questions to walk them through it.

For more insight, check out my video, “ADHD: A Thought Versus a Plan.” You might find an answer that will help get you unstuck so your working memory can accelerate productivity.

Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, ADHD and attention coach Jeff Copper. And in this video, I just want to talk about a simple concept and that is, a thought is not a plan.

Many people with ADHD will have a thought like I need to go do something, but it’s really not a plan. A plan is a sequence of steps that one would go through in order to execute, to get to an outcome. And I find that those with ADHD, they struggle with working memory and it’s difficult, they have a thought of something that they want to do, but the sequential steps that they need to make it happen are not something that they can hold in their head. So, often they get stuck because they have an idea in their mind that they think is a plan, they don’t have the steps worked out and they actually haven’t really addressed them. Whereas, if you begin to write the steps down or talk to somebody about the sequential process that you’re going to go through, then often you can find a way to get to execute that.

Real life solution, I was coaching a guy one time who wanted to send Christmas cards out and that was his plan. And I said, wow, that’s kind of interesting. Is that your plan? He said, yeah. I said, well, how does it go? And he goes, what do you mean? I go, well, where do you get the cards? And he thought for a second, I get them at the store. Really? What store? As he began the process, he was thinking, he said, oh, well, I’ll get them at the drugstore down the street. Okay. Well, that’s great. What about your database? Like the email? I mean, the addresses that you have to get, and he began to think that he’s got some in an Excel sheet and some in an address book that he doesn’t know where the address book is. And we began to talk about that.

And as we began to talk about it, we began to realize is that he wasn’t really clear on where these things were. And so in fact, the address book, he needed to enlist, I guess, his significant other in order to help him actually kind of find this. I said, wear the stamps. And he didn’t have any stamps at that point in time, which meant that he needed to go to the post office, which was the opposite direction that he always went. So we began to talk about when he would actually go get the stamps because it wasn’t on the way to anything.

And as we got through the stuff we began to realize is that he thought that he should some Christmas cards out, but those with ADHD struggle with ambiguity. If you don’t know where the address book is, if you haven’t really thought through where you’re going to get the Christmas cards, anything that’s repetitive and boring like going to the post office, which is out of your way as another impediment. So as we began to talk our way through the thought we actually ended up with a plan.

My point in all this is, is often those with ADHD, they come up with a thought and they think that that’s a plan. Whereas, I find that often they do better if somebody actually asks them step by step questions and they begin to write that thing down so that it becomes tangible and address the difficult issues, like going to get the stamps. When are you going to be driving in the opposite direction because it was 15 minutes to get there and 15 minutes to get back, that’s 30 minutes from his day that most people wouldn’t take a break and go do because so much of everything else crowds the day out. Once we identified that we determined that it was best for him to do it on a Saturday morning or something, which was outside of his routine.

So anyway, the concept really here is a thought is not a plan. If you have a thought, often it’s good to sit down with somebody and actually think through everything you’ve got to do and address the obstacles. We hope this has given you pause to ponder a little bit. It might seem a little obvious, but I have to tell you in coaching those with ADHD often they have a thought and they really don’t have a plan. And the idea is to work their way through it. And sometimes it’s best done if somebody’s just asking you the questions to walk you through it.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and please comment, always welcome comments, good and bad on our videos because that’s how we come up with other ideas and make it better. If you want to learn more about me, go to With that, we hope you’ve gained some insight, take care.

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