The “Plenty of Time” Trap

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!


Review and Recommendation: The Big Vision Workbook

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!

Have You Hit Your Neglected Areas Today?

Over the past few weeks since I moved to Paris, I’ve taken advantage of the rare opportunity to build my life and schedule from scratch.  I’ve noticed that even with this liberty, I am neglecting some minor things with major impacts — calling friends back home, keeping up my yoga practice, etc.  In the interest of making my experience beneficial to others, I want to share what I’ve come up with to counter this problem.
Most people, with or without executive dysfunctionality, have a few seemingly small (but actually important) areas of their lives that they often neglect.  For many (myself included), these tend to be related to some aspect of self-care.  Mine, for example, are keeping up with social ties, exercise, home maintenance, spiritual practices (i.e., meditation) and reading for pleasure, all of which, in one way or several, affect my health, well-being, and overall stability in life.

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.

How I Stop Spinning My Wheels

When I try to control things over which I have no power, I clog up the works of my life like an 18-wheeler spinning its wheels in a muddy ditch.  This is a weakness that goes beyond the scope of ADD and other executive dysfunctions — but it is that much more lethal for those of us who have them because we have such difficulty seeing how this one fruitless action is affecting the bigger picture (a.k.a. synthesizing information).  Let me break it down for you:

Let’s say, for example, that you have emailed your resume to a potential employer for the job of your dreams.  They have confirmed receipt of your information and said that their interviewer will be in touch for an interview “soon.”  This prospect is exciting, what with it being your dream job, and relieving, because you are unemployed and rapidly running out of money.  After a couple of days of waiting, you start to get impatient and nervous.  Did they forget about you?  What if the interviewer never got your resume?  What if they sent an email but it didn’t go through?  What if they called and your voicemail didn’t pick up?  What’s taking so long?  Were they lying when they said they’d be in touch?

Amidst all these mental and emotional acrobatics, you’re not applying for any other jobs because you want this one so badly that anything else pales in comparison.  You just know that once the interview happens, the employer will see that you are clearly their ideal candidate, they will hire you, you’ll have the setup of your wildest imaginings, and life will be fine and dandy.  Besides, you don’t want to jinx it.  You’ll just wait a few more days, then email them again.  Maybe you’ll wait another week after that.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to you (because you’re not looking for them), other jobs just like this one or better are being posted, applied for, interviewed for, and taken.  Knownst to you, your bills are piling up, your savings are shrinking by the day, your partner is getting frustrated and anxious about your inability to keep up your end of the finances, and you’re still obsessing over this unresponsive interviewer.

Are you getting frustrated with the hypothetical You in this situation?  Because I sure am.  But how many times have you or I done exactly this in any number of other scenarios (or maybe even the same one)?  How many times have we fixated on the outcome we want so narrowly that we miss out on the ones that we need?

Even though the proverbial You is not actively trying to control this situation, the mental and emotional insistence that this is the only acceptable outcome is hardly any different than actually phone-stalking the interviewer, saying, “Hire me or else!”  It certainly makes no more practical sense.

Am I saying you shouldn’t wait it out?  Of course not!  Patience is a virtue (in which most ADDers are lacking).  Am I telling you not to be proactive and follow up with the company?  Heck no!  By all means, show some initiative.  Just do all of this in a reasonable manner.  Pay attention to how your approach is affecting the rest of your life.  Ask yourself if you’ve done everything you can to affect the outcome you want — and if you have, let it go and focus your energy on another project.

When I say, “Let it go,” I mean that it’s already out of your hands because you’ve taken all the action you can — so you just have to wait for those to play out, either in the hands of others or the will of God/karma/the Universe/[insert personal conception of higher power here].

At these moments, I find the Serenity Prayer (popular among people of many and no faiths, therapists, and of course 12-Step programs) makes for a quick andquite helpful.  Whether you believe in a higher power or not, it’s a simple and effective reminder for when I need to push the “reset” button on my priorities.  The short version, if you’re not familiar, is:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.
So, what are you trying to change that you can’t?  What can you do today to redirect your energy in a more productive manner?

Need a hint?  If it’s your own actions or reactions, you can change it; if it’s anything else, you can’t (unless you have the superpower of omnipotence or mind control).

With that, I’m pushing publish on this post that I wouldn’t have written if I’d kept fixating on my upcoming series on calendars and scheduling.  Stay tuned (or subscribe) for it!

Tackling Those Next Steps I Just Keep Putting Off

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!

Admitting My Mistakes: How I’m Getting Over My Overcommitment

My goal of posting every day for the month of November was apparently too lofty; however, I am pleased to use my own failure as a teachable moment.  This is a lesson I have to re-learn fairly frequently: do not overcommit!  Given everything I had on my plate for the first half of this month – getting out of my apartment, unloading the rest of my unneeded crap, sorting through the stuff I might want to store, saying my goodbyes to people in New Orleans, visiting my family in Tulsa, getting my dog’s paperwork ready for international travel – I had no business thinking that adding even such a modest commitment as this would be feasible.

You see, my ADD brain likes to trick me into thinking that the above rule applies only to Major Projects that take up large chunks of time, rather than those that take 15 minutes a day, such as my NaNoWriMo commitment.  Though I’ve gotten much better about overcommitting in the couple of years since I read ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, the old beast still rears its head from time to time.

A Personal History of Overcommitment – and How I (Mostly) Overcame It

When I re-embarked on my quest to manage my ADD, I was in my second semester of a four-year undergrad program after a three-year hiatus.  I was also working full-time, volunteering as a youth group advisor, working to maintain/rescue a failing romantic relationship, training my newly-acquired dog, and beginning to teach a semester-long, once-a-week sexuality education course to adolescents.  I realized from the beginning of the semester that I was tightly booked, and did my best to mitigate that by warning everyone ahead of time that I was stretched pretty thin.  This led to…

Lesson #1 of Overcommitment: Telling people to whom you’ve already committed that you probably won’t do an optimal job does not make them any less frustrated when it turns out you’re right.

By the end of this semester, I was, in fact, more right than I could have imagined.  I had managed to fulfill most of my commitments, but none to an optimal outcome.  I’d gotten into a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and falling behind, such that I frequently overslept for work and class, putting me in bad graces with my boss and professors.  I couldn’t keep up with emails and planning for youth group and the sex ed course, my dog wasn’t getting the intensive training time he needed, the end of my relationship was rather messy, and I was perpetually scrambling at the last minute to get everything done.

It was about this time that I decided to pick up a book that I’d ordered at the beginning of the semester, the aforementioned ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, which, among other revelations, opened my eyes to the snowball effect of overcommitment and how to stop it.  There is only so much time in a day/week/month, and since those of us with executive dysfunctions have no innate sense of time (as a fellow ADD-er put it, “In my mind, everything takes 10 minutes, but I have no idea how long 10 minutes is.”), we have to implement external structures to keep from overextending ourselves.  This is…

Lesson #2 of Overcommitment: Set a cap on the number of major and minor commitments you can have at one time.  (The usual recommendation is 3-4 of each – major being time-consuming, regular occurrences like work, school, and significant others, minor being shorter, less formal things like walking the dog, social events, and “me-time.” 

This does not mean that if I’m already at 4 of each and a one-time event comes up, I have to turn it down.  It does mean that I have to find room in my schedule for it – which usually involves sacrificing some other commitment.  If you hate to back out on things (as I do), it’s a good idea to schedule in “flex time” – unscheduled chunks of time that are set aside for things like doctor’s appointments, coffee with friends, cleaning the house, taking a nap, etc.  Even with flex time factored in, however, when new major commitments present themselves, something else has to go before I accept them.  This brings us to…

Lesson #3 of Overcommitment: If you take on a new commitment, you have to step back from an existing one.

Lesson #4 of Overcommitment: Learn to say “no” so that your yeses are more effective. 

I railed against #3 at first because I was convinced that I had the ability to bend the laws of time and space, and could thus fit as many commitments as I wanted into my life as long as I scheduled them “smartly.”  Unfortunately, due to that executive dysfunction with the sense of time, this was a futile endeavor.  I now know how to schedule smartly, but if I don’t keep up with it, I end up right back where I was: sleep-deprived, frazzled, and always one step behind.

My old attempts at scheduling looked something like this:

168 hours in a week

  • – 30 hours/week for work
  • – 56 hours/week for optimal sleep (8 hours/night)
  • – 15 hours/week for classes
  • – 15 hours/week for homework
  • – 5 hours/week for youth group
  • – 2 hours/week for sex ed class
  • – 2 hours/week planning for sex ed class
  • – 7 hours/week for dog walking
  • – 4 hours/week for date night
  • – 14 hours/week other time with my partner
  • – 14 hours/week for meals
  • – 7 hours/week for hygiene

= -3 hours/week left over.  Well shoot. Let’s see where we can cut…

  • 48 hours/week for sleep (7 hours)

= 5 hours/week left over.

Ha! I’m in the green! I win.

Not.  If you’ve ever tried to do this before, you may have noticed that two main things get left of the equation:

  1. Transit time
  2. The Unexpected

These two used to get me every time.  Sometimes they still do – but now it happens about once a week instead of once an hour (or more).

This segues into a whole new topic of scheduling, which will be addressed in a forthcoming post.  The bottom line of this post is as follows:

If you’re already insanely busy, don’t take anything else on.  The disappointment others feel when you tell them “no” pales in comparison to what they experience when you tell them “yes” and don’t deliver.

With that, I’m off to catch some Zs before I get to gayParis!

Follow-Through and Commitment: Daily Posting in November

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?