Taking It Easy While Maintaining Productivity

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I would have warned against getting too lax in one’s routines/appointments with oneself – and I will still put it out there to watch out for what I call “justified procrastination” (in short, doing something because it’s good for you or it’s important, but putting off something else that might be more important in order to do it).  

However, I’ve recently started learning to cut myself some slack and take it easy, and in doing so, have discovered that more often than not, when I reroute my day to do something healthy like take a longer walk home or devote the afternoon to service work, I end up feeling more motivated and energized to take on those “Important Tasks” – as long as I am mindful to actually do them.  

So, when I find myself caught up in a moment that begs me to go with it (like that sunny day or service opportunity), I still stop and check in with myself before I agree.  I ask two questions:

  1. If I do this shiny new idea instead of my planned activity, will I still be able to do the original thing and do it well? (Factors: time to do it, quality of outcome)
  2. Can this new thing wait until my next break or Productivity Block? (Or can I take my break now and keep working on the Important Tasks when the original break slot rolls around?)

Productivity Blocks are times that I block out of my day to get stuff done.  I look at my schedule, see where I have open times (based on my calendar and my typical patterns), and schedule my “get stuff done” time accordingly.  

  • Example:
    • Say I mark out Productivity Blocks (we’ll say PBs for short) from 2-4 pm and 6-8 pm.  Based on my Daily Review, I see what I can reasonably do in those times.  
      • Will I be out and about before 2? Then perhaps PB#1 is a good time to do anything on my list that involves going outside my house, like running errands.
      • Will I be in for the evening (or at least the early part of it) by 6? Then that’s a good time to do things that can or should happen at home, like organizing papers or editing work for my website.
  • Other notes on PBs:
    • I usually block out 2-3 hours per PB, because that’s about my attention span when I’m working on something intensively. However, I may make them shorter or longer depending on what my day looks like and what needs to get done when. (i.e., I may have an hour between appointments in which I could make phone calls, or 4 hours in the afternoon/evening to work on something big)
    • I do not schedule my PBs back-to-back; I always give myself at least 30 minutes leeway/break time between them.
    • How many blocks I use depends on the day. I may only use one productivity block if it’s an appointment-heavy day (or if I’m not in the mindset to be super-productive).
    • When I write out my daily review, I make two fields for each block are to help me track my routines:
      • “Projected” is for what I plan to do during that time; I fill it in beforehand.
      • “Actual” is for what I really did in that time; I fill it in after the fact to track my routines and keep myself accountable.

This helps me when I look back over my week in my Weekly Review; I can easily spot patterns (both constructive and destructive). 


What I Do When I Just Don’t Wanna

Sometimes, I just don’t wanna.

I don’t wanna do the work.  I don’t wanna look at my Action/Next Steps list.  I don’t wanna do my Weekly Review or my Daily Review.  I don’t wanna call that person or email that company.  I don’t wanna write a blog post.  I just don’t wanna.

Today is one of those days.  I have three major projects on the agenda this month, and I don’t want to work on any of them right now.  I’m traveling all month, so I’m working on the road, in coffee shops, airports, airplanes, buses, family and friends’  houses, etc.  Which is actually what I dreamed of doing – I am actually living the dream, with my mobile office and Skype sessions and work/play combinations.  I am manifesting my ideal life.  It’s pretty awesome.

Still, I don’t wanna.  Moreover, I don’t really wanna do anything else.  So I’m sitting in this sort of ennui where nothing is happening and I’m not sure why.

Fortunately, when I get in this place, I have a plan of action to help me get out of it.  Granted, I may choose to sit in my limbo for a bit, basking in the I-don’t-wanna-ness – but inevitably, I get antsy and decide I need to find my way out of it.  Here’s how I do it:

  1. I ask myself why I don’t wanna.  Am I procrastinating because I don’t know what to do next?  Then I need to determine my next step.  What needs are in play here?  Am I burned out?  Tired?  Hungry?  Preoccupied with an unrelated issue?  Then I probably need to address that need (work on something else for the day, take a nap, eat something, take half an hour to recharge by doing something enjoyable).  If I’m not sure why, it’s okay; I can still move on to the next question.  However, it’s easier to take my next step if I have some idea of my motivation.
  2. I ask myself if I need to do it right now.  Is the project at hand something that can wait another day?  If not, what about another hour?  Sometimes taking a break from the project is actually helpful, and allows me to come back with fresh eyes; other times, it can be detrimental (like if I’m on a tight deadline).  I tell the difference by weighing urgency vs. importance.
  3. I ask myself what I can do that will motivate me.  If I need to do it now, even though I don’t wanna, can I put on some music to improve my mood?  What if I take a walk first to get my blood flowing and serotonin levels up?  Is there a short project (like, say, taking 15 minutes to write a blog post) I can do to kick my brain into gear?

If I follow these steps, I can almost always get myself out of the quagmire.  I try to remember to be gentle with myself and be flexible, while keeping my priorities in sight.

Recent Changes at Executive Dysfunctions (And How to Stay Updated on Future Ones)

If you regularly follow this blog, you may have noticed that the blog posts as of late have shifted to a shorter format, offering quick tips on ADD management rather than the in-depth topics about implementing the System.  That’s because I’ve been busy focusing my  energies on bringing the Executive Dysfunctions System together into a cohesive, digestible format that you can use both on your own and with my assistance.

Some of you caught a glimpse of this when I announced the launch of a Services page a few weeks ago.  However, I ran into a big communication snag at that time: I was unable to notify people of the change without making a post about it.  Many of you are subscribed through WordPress, which has a great automated system for sending out blog updates, but doesn’t allow me to notify you of other changes to the site, new offerings, services, and other info you might want to know.  I’m not comfortable throwing that sort of news about haphazardly on my blog, because it’s intended as a publicly accessible, user-friendly platform for ADD management advice, period.  If I start making offers in that space, I may be interrupting your reading time by giving you something you weren’t looking for.

With this in mind, I’ve created an option so that those of you who do want such updates can get them, and those who don’t won’t have to sift through them: a customized email list through MailChimp.  This way, I can only give you information you’ve given me explicit permission to send you.  The signup form gives you three options for what kind of information you want to receive:

  1. New blog posts
  2. New/updated services or offerings
  3. Special offers (trial periods, discounts, etc.)

You can choose any or all of the above, change your options as needed, and opt out if you decide you no longer want the info.

Now, an important note: In the interest of keeping things streamlined and simple, I am discontinuing the option to follow through WordPress.  If you’re already signed up this way, you will continue to receive blog posts via email, but if you want to receive the aforementioned updates, please add yourself to this list!

Once again, you choose what you do and don’t want to hear about, and I’ll never send you anything you haven’t asked for.  You can update your preferences or opt out at any time.

With that, I end my last blog post that would make a better email.  Thanks for listening!



The Value of Taking Five

When I feel overwhelmed in a situation, the worst thing I can do is keep pushing myself into it.  Instead, I need to break the hyperfocus and calm my mind. Five minutes of breathing and meditation does wonders for the anxiety that comes up when I’ve simply taken in more information than I can process.

My instinct when this happens is to hold all the information in my mind and attempt to sift through it immediately. This is my ADD brain’s fear that if I don’t do it now, I’ll forget something crucial. In truth, though, if I do it now, I’m likely to miss something amid the mental noise.

A better approach is to:

– Write down key points (just enough to jog my memory later – I don’t need to make a formal memo)
– Bookmark where I am, be it online, in a conversation, or in an actual book
– Take 5, close my eyes, breathe in and out, and focus on my inner chaos being lifted like clouds clearing from the sky.

After such a break, I come back to the situation refreshed and with newfound clarity – without having agonized over it a bit.

Contrary to its instinctive belief, my conscious mind doesn’t have to hold onto everything at once; if I give it a break and take the next right steps to capture “everything,” my subconscious begins to sort it all out.

I can trust my erratic brain more than I think.

Lessons I’ve Learned in My ADD Management/Organization Journey (So Far)


I’ve been compiling this list for a couple of weeks now, and thought my readers might find it helpful.  (Actually, its original title was “Tips as You Embark On Your Organization Journey,” but I decided that telling from my own experience was more helpful than giving advice.)

  1. Be Gentle with Myself.  My best fluctuates day to day, moment to moment.  Progress is my goal, not perfection.
  2. It Isn’t Helpful to Compare Myself to Others or Hold Myself to Others’ Standards (perceived or actual).  I’m not that guy, I’m me. I can learn from others, but ultimately, my experience and circumstances are mine alone, and if I try to follow someone else’s example to the letter without adapting it to those, I just end up frustrated.
  3. Expect the People Around Me to Keep Doing What They Do.  Just because I’m focusing on getting a handle on my mental, physical, and digital clutter doesn’t mean everyone else will – or that they need to. (Examples: partner, family, roomies, boss, coworkers, friends…)
  4. Let Go of the Idea that Everything Has to Be Done NOW.  Now may be the only moment I have, but it violates the laws of physics to think that I can fit every goal, task, interest or chore into it.  What has to be done now?  Breathing in and out (if I stop doing that, “now” gets rather short).  After that?  The next right thing that moves me forward on my goals.  As long as I have a system in place for keeping track of “everything,” the important stuff will get done, and the not-so-important stuff, well… won’t.  And that’s okay.
  5. Let Go of the Idea of an End Point.  Again, it’s all about progress.  A wise person once told me, “All living things are either growing or dying; if I stop growing, I start dying.”  I’m not going to reach a point where my house is immaculate 100% of the time, my exercise routine is perfect, my projects are all done, and I generally have “everything” in order.  There will always be a dish to wash, an interruption to my routine, a new project to replace a finished one, and new information to sort through.  I choose to view all of these as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles to an impossible point of “perfection.”

Announcing My New Coaching Services!

[Edit: The email link on the original post was broken, so I changed it to a form. If you’ve tried to contact me via this post, try again!]

After months of brainstorming and weeks of working out the details, I am pleased to announce that I am now offering Life-Management Coaching!  

I’ve spent the past three years actively and intensively figuring out how to work with (rather than against) my brain’s idiosyncrasies to streamline and organize my life.  I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything, but it’s been a challenging one.  I’m offering this service so that those of you who share my challenges may not have to spend as much time, energy, and frustration on your own paths to overcome them.

So, what exactly is life-management coaching? 

Let’s break it down:

  • Life: According to Merriam-Webster.com, life is “the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual; one or more aspects of the process of living.”  These aspects fall into five primary categories:
    1. Physical
    2. Mental
    3. Environmental
    4. Social
    5. Emotional/Spiritual
  • ManagementMerriam-Webster’s regular definition focused a bit too heavily on business for my taste, but their kids’ dictionary had the right idea:
    1.  to look after and make decisions about
    2.  to make and keep under one’s control
    3. to treat with care
    4. to succeed in one’s purpose

Thus, life-management can be defined as the process of carefully looking after, keeping under control, and succeeding in all of one’s affairs – physical, mental, environmental, social, emotional, and spiritual. How do you know if you’re effectively managing your life? Based on the above definitions, I would say that I know this when:

  1. I feel confident about the decisions I make in my life.
  2. I am realistic about what I can and can’t control, and focus on the former.
  3. I treat myself with care in all aspects of my life.
  4. I am clear about my purpose and can thus succeed in it.

“Yes, Steven, that’s all well and good,” you say.  “But again, what is life-management coaching?”Ah, yes; the part where I come in. In the spirit of continuity, let’s check in with Mr. Webster again:

  • Coach[ing]to train intensively (as by instruction and demonstration).

For our purposes, I will train you intensively how to manage your life in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall – quite the opposite, in fact.  My goal is to help you create systems and routines that work for you – which means that they make you feel good.  My basic approach is standardized, but the way I implement it will vary from person to person based on individual needs. How do I go about this? 

  • I use a combination of well-researched methods from a variety of disciplines, including special education, neuroscience, psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, and others.*
  • I use my own experience.  I have researched and road-tested every aspect of my System so that I can give you reliable, first-hand input.
  • I ask you about your experience.  I can only help you if I know what you need.  I keep all things honest and expect you to do the same.
  • I provide references and resources.  I have certainly not learned what I know in a vacuum; I am grateful to many sources for the tools I’ve acquired to create my own.
  • I teach rather than preach.  My job is to deliver the information in a way that makes sense to you, not lay out a blanket statement and hope it sticks.

*Note: I am not a licensed practitioner of any of these disciplines (though my bachelor’s degree did involve special education).  My services draw from them in personal experience and research, both academic and personal.

What do you get if you sign up for my coaching services? 

First, anyone who wants to gets the opportunity to preview the service with a FREE 30-minute consultation call (by Skype or phone).

All you have to do is fill out the form on my brand-spankin’ new Services page (which also contains full details and pricing).

If you like what you get out this consultation, you then have the option of continuing the conversation with coaching sessions.  I offer three options for these:
  •  The Complete Package
    We will set up a comprehensive life-management system in six sessions (1-1.5 hours each) spaced as you like (I recommend scheduling them over the course of one month).  These sessions utilize my Quick-Start Guide (available for individual sale soon), which I use as a framework to adapt to your specific needs.  We will cover scheduling and time management, task tracking and management, information organizing, “stuff” organizing/decluttering, prioritizing – and, most importantly, how all of these areas interrelate.  Streamlining and simplification are the common thread throughout the course.
  • Stand-alone Sessions
    Have a good grasp of time management, but your files need an overhaul?  Good at organizing your belongings, but can’t keep track of your to-dos?  Schedule a stand-alone session or two with me and we’ll make a plan of action to kick-start your progress.
  • Personalized Organization Services
    Got a big project that seems too overwhelming to begin?  Need someone to walk you through the process of decluttering your home or reorganizing your workplace? You tell me what you need, we work out a schedule and a price.  If you’re in the Paris area, I can come to your house/office/workspace and help you physically re-organize.  If you live anywhere else in the world, we can do this via Skype.

Questions? Comments? Send me an email!

Going Pro!

Executive Dysfunctions is now officially ExecutiveDysfunctions.com!  

This is the first of many exciting changes coming in the new year!  For example:

  • Keep an eye out for my new “Services” page, debuting in early January.  I will offer:
    • Life Management Coaching in progressive, multi-session packages and single-session check-ins.
    • FREE 30-minute overview sessions for all subscribers who wish to learn more about my coaching services and get immediate feedback on their particular organizational challenges.
  • A Quick-Start Guide to the Executive Dysfunctions organization system is coming in early 2012.
  • The site will soon have a shiny, new, user-friendly interface thanks to my good friend at ImaginedAtom web designers!

I’ll be back to posting on the practicalities of streamlining for self-empowerment and stress reduction in the near future.  For now, it’s back to the workshop to fine-tune my evil plans!  (Because what good is a plan if it’s not just a teensy bit evil?)

Stay tuned, and enjoy the end of your 2011!