I have been using this particular productivity tool for years.
It works really well for me. I’ve shown it to a few other people as well.
One said “Hmmm….”
A guy with Asperger’s really liked it.
One of my clients loves it. Her husband called it childish.
Another of my clients said “Oh my God, it’s like we’re back in primary school!” when I showed her.
What am I talking about?
A good old-fashioned star chart.
I used one to potty-train my eldest child. You’ve probably seen them in schools and at home to reward good behaviour and kids doing their chores.
“Star charts are for children”
So yeah, they’re for children. And if you’re an adult who uses a star chart, there must be something wrong with you, yes?
But, um, isn’t that why you’re here? Because the normal way of doing things isn’t working for you?
One of my favourite sayings (you’ll see it on this site a lot) is “If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid.”
And star charts work. Especially for people with Asperger’s, ADHD, or those who simply struggle to motivate themselves. Which, frankly, is pretty much all of us sometimes!
Would you like to know why star charts work?
Because you, like a toddler, are rubbish at doing things unless there’s an instant reward.
Eat some chocolate? There’s an instant reward.
Eat broccoli? Your reward won’t come for months, if at all.
That’s why most of us eat more chocolate than we do broccoli. Why we look at Facebook for that sweet, sweet picture of your cousin’s cat, instead of looking at a snoozesome spreadsheet. Yes, doing your work will mean you get paid, but that is weeks away, and that cat picture is available now.
Having a neurodevelopmental disorder makes your brain like a toddler’s
That’s literally what having a neurodevelopmental disorder means.
Everyone else’s brain grew up normally, and for some reason, a bit of yours didn’t. It got stuck at the toddler stage.
That’s fine, it means that there are certain things you can do that neurotypical (normal) people can’t. It means that you’re better at some things, just like toddlers are better than grown-ups at some things. Things like switching tasks, noticing little things, and sharing a frequent sense of awe and wonder at the world.
That is why you need tools for toddlers
I’m not denying that star charts are for children. I’m saying that they work for lots of people, and this is why.
The beauty of a star chart is that it brings your distant reward within your grasp.
Do that boring spreadsheet thing you’ve been putting off? You get a star!
Filled with anxiety but make that awkward call anyway? You get a star!
Stay off Facebook until your lunch break? You get a star!
The reward is instant. Most people love getting a star, you get a visual sign of your achievement, which helps you “feel” it more.
And when you’ve earned enough stars, you get an actual reward. For example, you might decide you need to earn 10 stars in a working week – that’s only 2 a day. And if you get that many stars, you get a reward. The best part is, it can be anything you like!
Look at this star chart. You can see that you have to write your goal (how many stars) and your reward in before you begin. This means you can see what you’re working towards before you start the week.
You can write your total stars in the bottom at the end of the week. You don’t need to do this, you can just count them, but I found it helps with the sense of achievement. You can even save all your star charts if you like!
Normal people can benefit from star charts too
I recently worked with a neurotypical (normal) person, who had trouble getting things done. She absolutely loved the idea of a star chart. It’s simple, and it’s personal.
She got hers from Asda. Here it is:
(Yes it really does say “Feed lizards” – those are her pets).
She’s got a scaled system of rewards, and gets another reward for each extra 5 stars she earns. I don’t know if she did this because of the way her star chart was set up or if it was her own idea – I certainly didn’t suggest it although I wish I had!
Her star chart is stuck on the fridge and it uses magnet stars. Here they are:
I love the extra ones down the bottom as well – “Well done” and “You did it” giving that extra bit of encouragement.
“That’s great, but…”
I get it. You’re normal, you’re not a child and you shouldn’t need to use a star chart to do the things that every other adult seems to do without any fuss.
But here’s the thing. We are surrounded by star charts – they’re just not always that obvious. There are rewards all over the place for proper adults, they just don’t take the form of a star chart.
- Do you or someone you know get a bonus at work?
- Does your industry have awards?
- What about people who earn tips?
All these are rewards that proper grown-ups get for doing their work.
So if they should get them, why not you?
You can download my star chart here. It’s a PDF file (which means any computer should be able to open it) and you can print it onto A4 paper. American or other foreigner? Drop me a line and I’ll reformat it for your paper size.