The other morning I fell into a mental snare trap that used to get me into trouble on a daily basis. Fortunately, I’ve trained myself out of it in the past year or so; unfortunately, I still have ADD, so it can never be completely eradicated. It’s my brain’s default reaction to being ahead of schedule: “Oh, I have plenty of time!”
This thought almost inevitably leads to one place: being late. Oh, sweet irony…
If you have AD/HD or any number of other reasons for a skewed sense of time, this scenario probably sounds familiar. Even so, the path from “plenty of time” to “late” may be completely baffling to you – and no wonder! It’s quite paradoxical. The ADD brain makes its own faulty logic to get from point A to point B. This involves the (misfiring) executive functions for analyzing and synthesizing information, gauging time, and future planning.
Here’s what happens in my mind, using this morning as an example:
I know I need to leave the house a minimum of 30 minutes before my 3:00 appointment. It’s 1:35; I’ve just finished my yoga routine and eaten lunch. I need to shower, get dressed, & walk the dog before I leave – all of which generally takes me about 40-45 minutes. “Oh,” says my brain, “I have plenty of time! I’ll read some news on my phone!”
After a couple of stories, I put down the phone, get up from the table, and take my plate to the sink – which is full of the dishes I didn’t do last night. “Argh,” I think, “I said I would do these today and I won’t be home until late tonight.” So I spend 10 minutes doing dishes before getting to the aforementioned things I have to do before I leave – and now I have to rush because I’m short on time. Long story short, since I pre-emptively used my “extra” 10 minutes on a non-essential thing (reading the news), I didn’t have it available when an unforeseen task came up. So I’ve now used 20 minutes where I only had 10.
The end result? I was ten minutes late for everything for the rest of the day. My 3:00 appointment with a client was scheduled to last 2 hours, so despite my efforts to compress our work, I left at 5:10. My next meeting was at 5:30, 20 minutes away; without the planned 10-minute cushion, a delayed metro meant I was again 10 minutes late.
Moral of the story? If I think I have plenty of time, I need to wait until I reach my destination before I take advantage of it. Then I can read the news while I wait at my client’s doorstep, and look like a professional because I’m early!
Last month, I decided to try an organizational tool made and marketed by someone who I respect, Michelle Nickolaisen of Let’s Radiate. The Big Vision Workbook is intended to help users set and focus on their primary goals from “big picture,” monthly, weekly, and daily perspectives. It’s one of those rare organizational tools that works for ADDers (with minor adaptations) even though it’s not specifically intended for us.
I’ve found the Workbook incredibly helpful in the past three weeks I’ve been using it. Michelle’s honest-yet-positive approach to personal inventory makes it easy for me to quickly identify my problem areas while simultaneously honoring and honing in on my strengths. Most impressively, the process is cumulative; the more consistent I am in using these tools (which I’ve combined with pre-existing routines to create über-productivity), the deeper my discoveries at the end of each week and the more effectively I adjust my practices.
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself so far:
- Week 1:
- Under pressure, I sacrifice “me stuff” (i.e., appointments with myself, blog work, down time) and self-care first.
- Week 2:
- I do best with maintaining routines when they/their reminders are automated.
- I forget to schedule days off (overachiever/workaholic tendencies).
- I procrastinate when I am intimidated by a task (i.e., serial blog post).
- I judge myself too harshly (though I actually did quite well this week).
- Week 3:
- Out of sight = out of mind.
- Work that directly advances my goals helps me to focus on doing other work toward them.
- The more actively I follow a system, the more automated and intuitive it becomes over time.
This toolbox has been instrumental in helping me to create the momentum and success that has been manifesting in my life over the past couple of weeks. Since I started using it, I’ve accomplished several things for which I’d been “wishing” for quite a while, but which seemed too abstract to attain:
- I’ve met and begun work with my first client for the the business side of this blog.
- I’ve made my first $100 as a personal organization/life-management coach.
- I’ve started writing the e-book that’s been marinating in my brain for months: a quick-start guide to the Executive Dysfunctions system.
- I’ve begun to develop a cohesive business plan that aligns with my personal values – a service-oriented rather than profit-driven model.
The above items have developed progressively, one coming out of another in a beautifully organic way. This is what happens when I turn my trust and will over to systems that just might work, both in and out of my own creation and control. Michelle’s Big Vision Workbook has given me the opportunity to tie together all of the work, energy, and exercises in faith that I’ve been putting out in the Universe for months and even years – like gathering the strings of so many balloons so I can finally let them lift me up and away.
I highly recommend this toolbox to anyone who feels like they know what they want but can’t seem to figure out how to get it. For pointers on how to adapt Michelle’s approach to the ADD brain, please feel free to email me or leave a comment!
According to one of my favorite ADD-management books, time-management experts have identified four areas of “high-priority activities” that are most neglected: socializing, doing paperwork, reading, and exercise. These ring true with that “self-care” idea: socializing takes care of our crucial human need for social interaction and gives us an outlet for our joys and frustrations; doing paperwork on a regular basis, like it or not, keeps our administrative duties from snowballing into major stressors; reading (and other brain-stimulating recreational activities) gives us a break from daily stress, calms and nourishes our minds, and/or helps us process what’s going on in our lives; and exercise has too many benefits to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being that I can’t begin to list them in a paragraph.
In recognition of this all-too-human tendency to shoot oneself in the foot, I have added a new touchstone in my Daily Reviews (a practice I have yet to detail here, but to which I referred in my overview of the System). In the morning as I look at the day ahead, I am naming one thing I can do in at least one of neglected areas. At night, when I am checking out with my daily planner, I ask myself, “Have I hit my neglected areas today? How?” This is a new experiment, but I hypothesize that these additions to my daily routine will help me pay appropriate attention to these oft-overlooked, important but not urgent areas.
- What are four areas of your life to which you want to give more attention?
- Do these things support your overall well-being and life balance? How?
- Name one thing you can do today to support these areas.
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Michelle Nickolaisen at Let’s Radiate, wrote a post on To-Do lists — specifically, those you make for a single day. In it, she observed that if you move a to-do (what I call a Next Step) from one day to the next more than once, you obviously don’t want to do it and should probably take it off the list and move on. This is excellent advice, and probably a good gauge for most people. However, for those of us with executive dysfunctions, there’s another element at play: We get distracted. Often.
Thus, I have an amendment to Michelle’s rule for the ADD brain: if I have to move it more than twice (to account for Shiny Object Syndrome), I need to figure out why I’m not doing it before I throw it out. Chances are still good that I don’t want to; the question, again is why? Usually, it’s because either:
(a) it’s not that important,
(b) I’m procrastinating on it, and/or
(c) I haven’t broken it down to its Fundamental First Step and actually can’t execute it yet.
Once I identify what’s holding me back from the task, I can choose a Next Step for moving forward on it. Not important? Put it back on the Next Steps list, or even the Maybe Later list. Procrastinating? I either don’t know what to do, feel overwhelmed, or just don’t want to do it. If the task is unclear or overwhelming, chances are I’ve not broken it down far enough — in which case, I do a brainstorming exercise (as demonstrated in this post) to clarify.
If I don’t want to do it, I ask what about it I find so unpleasant. Is it tedious? Find a way to make it less so — put on some energetic music, make a game out of it (Beat the Clock is a good one for tedium), or set timer to take breaks from it (quick ones, though — a 5-minute walk or stretch break should be plenty unless it’s particularly intensive). Is it stressful? All of the above ideas can be translated to alleviate that, too (though calming music might be better in this case).
Thanks again to Michelle for getting my wheels turning on this! If you like what you see on Let’s Radiate, I highly recommend that you check out her Big Vision Workbook. I’ve been using it for over a week now, and am already seeing major improvements in my clarity and thus my productivity. It’s only $15, so unless you’re in particularly dire financial straits, there’s little reason not to give it a shot!
In honor of NaNoWriMo, and to hold myself to my commitment to post more regularly as soon as I move, I will be posting every day in the month of November. I am not, at this point, a novelist, so I’m adopting the idea behind National Novel-Writing Month to put some momentum on this blog.
Some days, the posts will be short (like this one) – a thought on an executive dysfunction, a question to probe deeper evaluation of your own challenges and strengths, etc. I anticipate this will be the case through Nov. 9, when, at long last, I arrive in Paris! (This has been the major project that I’ve prioritized over the blog for the past few weeks). Once I arrive and get settled, I will start hashing out those ideas and tips I’ve been cooking in the back of my multi-track mind during my sojourn (from writing – not from work, by any stretch!). In any event, this is my Next Step toward my goal of making this blog a full-time gig.
So with that, I ask you: On what goals will you follow through by doing one little thing a day?