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!

Namaste,

Steven

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Taking Inventory and Prioritizing: How I Get Stuff Done When Life Gets Crazy

My momentum on this blog abruptly dropped off since I fulfilled my 5-day commitment to post daily.  I’ve been contemplating why this happened and how I could best remedy it.  My answers are fairly simple: this happened because last week, other commitments took higher priority; I can remedy it by evaluating my priorities such that I post more regularly and maintain that forward energy.

This is a perfect example of how life can “get in the way” of the best-laid plans – and how I adjust when that happens.  Thus, I’m making it into what we education dorks call a “teachable moment.”

Takeaway #1: Life can’t get in the way of itself – but I can get in my own way.   

Much like a winding river, life can change course, swell and ebb, or go from tranquility to rapids in nothing flat.  Really, the only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability.  Thus, I have come to expect the unexpected, as the saying goes, rather than resist it when it happens.  When I try to change things that I  can’t control, I am wasting time and energy that I could be devoting to what I actually can change.  This is by no means a trait exclusive to those of us with executive dysfunctions.  However, it is exacerbated for us because of…

Takeaway #2: Prioritization is counterintuitive to my ADD brain – but I can create structures that make it make more sense. 

Prioritization is a baffling concept when your brain can’t naturally analyze and synthesize information (a.k.a., break big things down into smaller components and incorporate small things into the big picture).  Of all the typical ADD issues I’ve dealt with, learning to prioritize has been one of the most difficult.  However, in recent months I’ve stumbled upon a few tools that help me tame that beast.  I now have a few simple questions I ask myself in moments of overwhelmed paralysis that tame the discombobulated beast:

  1. Do any of the 50 things in my head need to be done right now – i.e., I won’t be able to do them another time, or they are time-specific? If so, I do them. If not, I move on to question 2.
  2. Which of these things can wait til another day? An hour from now? Five minutes from now? I write these down and put them away for now.
  3. What’s the least common denominator – the one task or event, big or small, that will get everything else moving once it’s done?  (This can be likened to the first domino that, when tapped, pushes all the others forward.) Whether it’s calling to reschedule my dentist’s appointment to accommodate a schedule change, or posting an ad to sell my truck so I can get money to make my Big Move, the least common denominator is the key to getting un-stuck and is often synonymous with the Next Step.

My prioritization abilities were significantly helped by Stephen Covey’s priority matrix (see 2×2 grid by intro) because my biggest hangup in prioritizing is discerning between urgent and important.  More on this in a later post.

Takeaway #3: Priorities are not static. 

This lesson was one of the hardest to get through my head.  Once I got it, though, I had a much easier time prioritizing.  My priorities necessarily fluctuate as old projects end and new ones begin, as commitments ebb and flow, as I come into contact with people and information, and as circumstances change.  Thus, in order to be effective in my life, I must constantly examine and evaluate my commitments, tasks, obligations and needs and rearrange them as needed.  This practice is called taking inventory.  I do it on many scales, from in-the-moment, to daily review, to weekly review, to monthly review.  I’ll go into greater detail on the review process in an upcoming post.

To illustrate the process of re-prioritizing, I will use the example of my past two weeks.

At the beginning of this period, my major priorities were as follows: (1) prepping for my move across the pond, (2) developing this blog and my online presence, (3) work and other standing obligations, and (4) everything else.

Starting around the time of my last post, money (or a lack thereof) became a pressing issue when I got my first paycheck since my 25% reduction in hours at my office job (I work for a nonprofit that I love, but is financially struggling). With that came an onslaught of other (related) issues, many in the form of fears: how am I going to pay for groceries? Will I have enough for my phone bill next week?  What about next month’s rent?  Within seconds, I had gone from looking at a piece of paper with a low number on it to worrying that I wouldn’t be able to afford to move to Paris and all of my hopes and dreams would come crashing down in chaotic despair. In other words, I was spiralling.  

So how did I stop the spiral?

I took a deep breath. I gave myself permission to take a 5 to 10-minute break at work. I took another deep breath and exhaled slowly.  I asked myself (aloud, because I talk to myself frequently) the three questions from Takeaway #2, and determined that the Least Common Denominator and Next Step was to write out my budget for the rest of the month – projected income, known expenses – and see how much I was going to be short and at what point.  This gave me a clear view of the big picture in which I needed to collect and organize my small things. 

In the process of figuring out my new budget (which, I should emphasize, was not for every month or even for the next few months – only for the rest of the current month leading up to the big expenditure of rent. Narrowing my window to the immediate future was a way of breaking down the mammoth of stressors and what-ifs – and helped me to focus on the Next Right Thing rather than 5 things after that), my next steps emerged. I needed to find an alternate stream of income, and quick.  After some contemplation, meditation, and a little prayer to the Universe for guidance, I did the following:
  • That night, posted several items on Craigslist that I’ve been meaning to sell
  • The next day, went into my old restaurant job to propose a mutually beneficial arrangement where I worked some shorthanded breakfast shifts while they found a more permanent employee
  • Sent out resumes to temp/catering companies on Craigslist
  • Re-posted the ad for my truck on Craigslist and the local paper’s site
My priorities, in this case, emerged as (1) take action to find some immediate streams of income, (2) continue work with my regular job and other standing appointments, and (3) prep for my visa appointment.

A couple of days later, through a series of serendipitous events that began while I was out with my dog and chatting with a neighbor, I landed a two-week gig installing internet boxes for the neighbor’s boyfriend’s IT company – which will net me enough to finance October’s rent, miscellaneous expenses (i.e., groceries) and the epic hiking trip my good friend and I have been planning for the first week of October (which will constitute a digital sabbatical for me).

In order to make room for this new obligation of 40 hours a week for 2 weeks, in addition to my 15 hours at my existing job, I had to rearrange my priorities again: (1) IT work, (2) regular job and other standing commitments, (3) sleeping, eating, dog-walking and other daily maintenance, (4) everything else.

Notice that #3 in that list does not appear in previous lists even though it consists of things I do every day.  The reason for this: when I know I’m going to be unusually busy, I have to consciously make time for those maintenance activities, because they end up being the first sacrificed even though their upkeep is essential to my success in those things that are making me so busy.

So, how do you take inventory? What are your major priorities and how do you order and re-order them? What is your biggest challenge in prioritization?

Let me know in the comments!

How Simplifying My Life Tranquilizes My Executive Dysfunctions

When I began the minimalist quest that eventually initiated my blogging experiments in mid-2010 (and ultimately led to this blog), my goal was to pare down my physical belongings to eliminate the clutter in my environment.  I felt overwhelmed and frustrated by the loosely ordered chaos of my living space, and had found measurable but limited success from the suggestions of the ADD self-help books I’d read over the previous year (see links page).  I had no idea, when I Googled “minimalism tips,” that what I found in the results of that search would profoundly alter my world view and change the way I did things in every aspect of my life.

As I have gradually pared down my stuff over the past year and three months, I have noticed some pleasantly unexpected side effects that have mitigated the frustrating aspects of my ADD and made it easier to implement the suggestions of the aforementioned books.  Because many people, such as Top 25 Blogger Leo Babauta, have already articulated the basic tenets and benefits of minimalism for the general population, I will not regurgitate this information; the same Google search I made will yield a plethora of results for anyone who wants to know more.  I will, however, explain how implementing the philosophy has tranquilized my executive dysfunctions.

The foundational lesson of my personal revolution was this: Clutter is not just physical/environmental.  Clutter exists in my mind, in my schedule, on my computer, in cyberspace, in my interpersonal relationships, and in my emotional life.  When I de-clutter my life — my entire life — clarity and focus are the ultimate results.

Some other benefits are:

1. Less Clutter = Less to Keep Track Of.  This automatically reduces the potential for overwhelm, a lethal problem for the ADD brain (Nadeau and Kolberg devote an entire chapter to this phenomenon in ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.).  When I have less to keep track of, my life immediately feels more manageable and navigable, and the threat of overwhelm is reduced from lion-sized to kitten-sized.  Also, it is much easier to find a misplaced phone or keychain when its possible hiding places aren’t obscured by piles of 50 other random items.

2. Cutting Out the Non-Essential Makes Prioritization Possible.  In my mind, it is extraordinarily difficult to prioritize because everything seems important; thus, when I look at a list of 50 (or even 5) things to do, I lack the natural intuition to determine which should come first.  When I reduce my commitments to what truly is important, it relieves much of my anxiety that I will choose the wrong thing to do.  Additionally, in the editing process, I begin to learn how to prioritize.

3. Getting Down to Basics Keeps Me Focused.  Without the extra clutter in mental, physical, and digital space, I have fewer distractions when trying to accomplish any task, be it paying a bill, writing a blog post, or taking crucial steps toward my impending move across the world.  Of course, I still have to watch out for distractions and implement strategies (one of Nadeau and Kolberg’s “Three S’s”) to avert them, but minimizing their potential is a cornerstone of that strategy.

4. Editing Teaches Me How to Do Maintenance Tasks.  In the words of Baubuta, the last of 5 minimalist principles is “Edit, edit, edit.”  This means that the process is ongoing, because more “stuff” will always come into my life and I will always have to sort it out.  The concrete nature of this in the case of physical and digital “stuff” helps me to implement a purposeful structure (another of the “Three S’s”) in place of the executive function that regulates ongoing procedures (a.k.a. maintenance tasks).  Thus, as I continually edit out my clutter, I also learn how to do other maintenance, like keeping my house clean or scheduling medical checkups.

These are but a few of many results I have experienced from the (ongoing) process of simplifying my life.  I will elaborate on some in upcoming posts.

For a thorough explanation of the minimalist philosophy, check out Leo Babauta’s e-book Simple Guide to A Minimalist Life.  It comes in PDF form so you don’t need an e-reader to view it, and offers thorough, digestible, actionable advice on simplifying your life.  Plus, it’s only $9.95 (half of which, if you purchase through this link, will go to yours truly as an affiliate – so you can support my work as well as Leo’s).  For the financially challenged, his other blog offers bite-sized pieces of personal experience and advice for streamlining your stuff.  Adam Baker‘s blog Man vs. Debt is another excellent resource, as is his Sell Your Crap system for turning your clutter into income (for which I get no perks; I promote products I believe in, period).

How do you think simplifying your life would help you?  What results would you like to see?  Please answer in the comments!