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for Attention Deficit Disorder Adults

Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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The last 5 percent

Why do we finish 95% of a project, and stop?

I’ve heard from many people with ADD / ADHD that they finish 80 to 95% of a project, and then inexplicably stop without finishing it.   I never had an answer as to why this was so, but I recently experienced it myself.   And as I triumphantly completed the last 5% (in this case, hammering in a nail), I tried to analyze my own behavior to see if there was a lesson here.

My project stemmed from frustration with my messy utility closet. There were too many long-handled mops and brooms on the floor, and insufficient room on the shelves to organize the mess of cleaning products that fell out every time I tried to find anything in there.

I visualized a system of wire grids hung on the walls of the closet, with hooks and wire baskets hanging from the grids.   On a Sunday, I researched online, found what I wanted at the Container Store website, ordered the products, and went to pick them up that afternoon.

DERAILMENT #1:  Entering the Container Store, a dangerous place for any impulse buyer. I left a bit poorer, loading my car with organization items that made me feel satisfied without having actually organized anything. By the time I got home, I was wiped out and no longer in the mood to install the grid. So I shoved the big bag in the closet.

ADHD-Friendly Wall organizing system

A week later, stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers and determined to accomplish something productive, I decided to put up two grids. This would involve screwing eight little brackets into the closet walls. I pulled out the step-ladder, the drill, the screwdriver (electric and non-electric), the stud-finder, the ruler, a pencil for marking the spot, and got to work.   It was really a very simple system to put up, but it took me about an hour since I’m not very handy.

DERAILMENT#2:  Putting down one item to pick up another, I would lose the first.  This happened several times. (That’s the way my ADD works – I don’t see what’s in front of me.)   This energy-draining frustration kept me from working efficiently.

Finally, the system was installed, and I organized my cleaning supplies, light bulbs and miscellaneous sundry into the wire baskets.   I just needed to put one nail in the wall to keep the grid from skewing to the side.  This was the LAST 5%!

DERAILMENT # 3:  I didn’t feel like getting out the hammer and nail. I told myself I’d do it later, and then forgot about it.  It was the last 5%, and I left it unfinished!

Several days later, I hammered in the final nail, and it was done.    But I realize it could just as easily been a year later before I hammered in that nail.

 Lessons Learned for a DIY project:

  • Don’t imagine I will start a project right after getting home from a shopping spree.
  • When working with tools, keep a small box in front of me to hold the tools, and stay mindful to only put them in the box.
  • Take out everything I might need before starting.

Thinking through what happened has taught me how to strategize against that tendency to leave the last 5% unfinished. I’m not immune!

Step-by-step system for ADHD self mastery

What have you almost finished without completing the final bit?

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Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.


    Great advice about the tools! Every year, when I wrap my Christmas gifts, I am forever looking for where I last put the scissors, tape or pen. I love the idea of having a box for them!


    Great article Bonnie! I will keep the tips learned from your project in mind as I organize my closet this month!

    December always seems like a good time to get organization done. Especially that week between Christmas and New Year’s. Good luck!

    misery chick

    Hello Bonnie!

    LOVED the topic and insights of the article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’m almost 55 and am finally learning how my.mind is wired so differently and most importantly, how to work with it rather than cursing it and comparing it to “normies”.
    The big lesson is not planning too much in one day (I.e., shopping & installing OR completing tasks & filing the same day, etc.). For most of my life I refused to accept that getting ONE SINGLE THING DONE is truly a success, and of course that belief kept me from getting anything done which increased my fear and self-hatred. When I frequently catch myself going back to that way of thinking, I tell myself “ONE IS WAY BETTER THAN NONE!” and that puts me back on track (or at least relieves some stress!).

    Thanks for your columns, I have really been enjoying them!

    You’ve learned a really important lesson in “One is better than None.” I know far too many of us are still stuck in the fear, shame and self-criticism mode because we don’t fulfill our own unrealistic expectations. Thanks for sharing!


    When my oldest daughter was expecting their first child, I started knitting a baby blanket. I’d never knit anything as large before, but I plodded along. I didn’t have it finished when the baby was born, so I put it away. Next baby, three years later, it came out again, and I added about 1/3 as much as I’d already done, but again, the baby arrived too soon. Four years later, I dug it out, added another 1/3, and decided it was big enough. Next step: knit four or five rows all the way around to make a border. I still haven’t figured out how to turn the corner and knit along a side, and the first “baby” is almost 21. Maybe I’ll finish it for his first child . . .

    Shannon, what a wonderful story! It’s a perfect illustration of that last 5% undone.

    We are very likely to get stuck when we aren’t sure how to do something. Consider the steps to learn how, or get the question answered, as just another step in the project. When your first grandchild is due, you can go on Google or YouTube and type in “how to knit a border.” (Or do it now!) I bet there are lots of YouTube videos that will show you exactly how to do it.


    It isn’t that the job itself doesn’t get finished, but the screwdriver will live on the floor in front of the project for a year (or until someone finally finds it for the next project that they are very frustrated about by now because the screwdriver could not be located).

    Yep, I know that one. The most frustrating thing about “oblivious” ADD is I may vaguely remember that I’ve seen the screwdriver somewhere, but can’t recall where! I used to have to call up my cleaning lady and ask if she remembered seeing where something was. She always knew.


    I’ll start to sort a pile of items from our move, separate some into give away, donate, and throw out….. then it will be at least 10 years until I mvoe the bags!!! 🙂

    I’ve found that’s the nice thing about having a basement: LOTS of storage space. They can sit there until the next move.


    I put up the Christmas tree yesterday, but the angel on top was off-center because the branches at the top were oddly shaped. I wasn’t sure how I could fix them, or what tool to use, and it was 8′ up in the air – hard to reach safely. So, I just left it that way for a couple of days. The tree is beautiful, but it bugged me how the crowning ornament spoiled the effect.

    But just a few minutes ago, I got so displeased with it, that I got out a ladder and a steak knife, trimmed off the disfigured branches, and now the angel sits nicely in the center, making the tree a pleasure to look at. I guess I had to take a rest from it, come up with some tactics, and just give it a try.

    It sounds like you used the right tactic. I tend to do that with paintings, just look at them for awhile before I figure out what’s wrong.

    If you consider deliberately taking time to contemplate a problem, you can think of it as a strategy rather than a failure to complete the task!

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Bonnie, there are no words to express how deeply I’ve been affected by your blog! I’ve only read a few things, but they have created such a complete mind shift that the tears shed have washed away my struggles forever!

For the first time in my life I feel understood and hopeful that I can put some tools and systems in place to help me overcome!”

—Michelle near Seattle

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