Tag Archives: managing ADHD

The Calendar is Your Best Friend

 

Josh W. is a fairly successful nonprofit executive with nearly 25 years experience in the industry. His resume includes a number of fairly public accomplishments along with successes that no one but his colleagues would know about.

For most of his career he operated without the knowledge that he had ADHD. So, while he experienced a number of accomplishments, he admits that it was a constant struggle. “Every day seemed like an exercise in survival. I was accomplishing things but still would come up short. It was hard to enjoy a success because I was always running behind on other projects.”

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Every Monday, Josh made a habit of creating a list of things he needed to get done for that week. The list was comprised of many new items, tasks with a deadline, and catch-up actions carried over from the previous week. Sometimes his list would have 15-20 items. “It would get way too long…and it didn’t even include stuff that would come up during the week!”

Recently Josh was confronted by his boss who told him that a key fundraising partner had grown so frustrated with him that he no longer wanted to work with Josh. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Josh, or recognized Josh’s talent, it was that Josh’s responses and follow-through were so inconsistent that he felt his own effectiveness was being compromised.

“I thought that this relationship was just fine,” Josh says. “In fact, I thought it was the best it had ever been, so I was shocked when I heard what was said about me.” At first he didn’t believe the feedback (denial…sound familiar?), but he went back and looked at his email record over the past year and discovered on several occasions where he missed small deadlines, or simply didn’t follow through on some tasks he said he would get done.

“Immediately I felt ashamed,” he said. People with ADHD, even high achievers, have lived a lifetime of suffering from low self-esteem. It is especially poignant when the behavior in question puts a job or relationship in jeopardy. “Obviously my failure to follow-through wasn’t intentional.  It was a result of not managing my ADHD. Because my to-do list, my system for getting things done, was so inefficient, it led to a loss in trust with an important person, and also fed the deep-seated belief that I am, at the core, incompetent.”

Unfortunately, forgetfulness, distraction and inefficiency are all hallmarks of unmanaged ADHD. Heck, even when it is managed these traits are present! So, what is the answer? How can people with ADHD become more efficient, preserve trust, and not feel like they are in a constant state of survival?

A part of the answer is in making the calendar your best friend.

There are a couple of things ADHDers avoid like the plague: planning (too confining) and completing (we get distracted).  It’s not that we don’t like to get things done – we do. And, it’s not that we aren’t amenable to a good strategy. But, without a solid structure we will go sideways.

A calendar – especially an electronic one – provides incredible structure. It becomes even more effective when the calendar is shared with others. This creates a level of accountability that will help strengthen focus. So, here are some rules to consider when creating a rock-solid, ADHD-proof calendar.

Rule #1  Begin with hard deadlines. Whether it is turning in a report, completing a project, or making an important appointment, the hard deadline (something with a specific date and time) gets put on the calendar first.

Rule #2  Insert standing meetings and appointments. Whether it’s a doctor’s appointment or a staff meeting, get your standing meetings on the docket so you don’t double-book.

Rule #3  Increase the time needed to complete a task. Here’s something really important to remember if you have ADHD: it will take you longer to get something done versus the time it takes a normie to get things done – especially tasks that are dull and routine in nature. So, if you think it will take an hour to get a report done, factor in two hours on your calendar. First, this gives you enough time to get things done. Second, if you finish earlier, well, then you have time to chase more shiny objects!

Rule #4  Schedule details. Let’s say you have a project to complete that will require you to make phone calls, write some things, have a conference call, etc. Pencil out every single detail and put them in chronological order, and then put each of those details into your calendar. If you have a phone call to make, even if it needs to take place a week from now, put it in your calendar. Do this and you won’t forget any detail.

Rule # 5  Schedule “down time”, hobby time, and other times you’ll need for re-charging. Don’t short-change yourself on this. Neuroscience has taught us that after times of intense focus (and for us, every moment of focus is work!), we need some down-time to refresh and re-charge. If we’ve been in a period of hyper-focus, the re-charge is essential.

Rule #6  Keep your calendar visible. Keep a sidebar open on your computer, on the desktop of your cell phone or tablet. Also program reminders into your calendar visual and audio reminders.

 

So, for anyone with ADHD the calendar can be your best friend, and the best defense against feeling like you’re incompetent.

 

Sometimes, Having ADHD Really Sucks

There are times when having ADHD really is a blessing. For whatever reason, when we were born our wiring was different. The advantages of this wiring is that we tend to exhibit a higher degree of creativity and dimensional thinking, among other traits.

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I like to think that mankind would never have progressed without people whose wiring was different. ADHDers are risk takers, adventurers, explorers, inventors, creators. We will walk into the unknown places and dive into the world of shadows.

While this insatiable hunger for novelty has led to incredible cultural progress, the dark secret is that we must walk into the line of fire because our brains need the stimuli.

Let’s face it, boredom feels like a kind of slow and torturous death. Routine, structure, linear systems and thinking…these are the bane of existence for an ADHDer. And yet, to make our way in this world, we need to manufacture a way to build structure.

This process is maddening. For most normies keeping a calendar or mowing through a list of priorities, balancing a checkbook, remembering to walk the dog, or keeping a closet orderly are fairly simple and easy tasks. Not for the ADHDer. Activities like these are as difficult as crossing the Pacific Ocean in a row boat.

Undiagnosed and unmanaged ADHD is really messy. And, it really sucks. The longer it goes unrecognized and not addressed, the worse it gets, the crazier we feel, the weirder people think we are.

We screw up relationships, lose jobs, isolate, get depressed, live a life of not so quiet desperation.  Statistically we know that these things are true. If we continue to be round pegs trying to fit into square holes the frustration and dissatisfaction will continue to grow.

So what can we do? How can we put this mad life to an end and begin living a life that we love? I think there are four important things we have to do to set the stage for living a satisfying, soul quenching life.

Don’t fear a diagnosis. Embrace it. The moment you accept that you have a neuro-biological medical disorder called ADHD, the better off you will be. There is a reason why you act impulsively, forget stuff, and have difficulty keeping your desk organized. Embracing the diagnosis brings relief and clarity, opening the door to a new possibility for a satisfying, authentic life.

Take care of your brain. That is, do what you can do to improve brain function. Take your meds, vitamins and supplements. Eat healthy foods and cut the junk.  Exercise. Meditate, Take breaks, especially after a period of intense mental activity. Reduce bad stress. Quit worrying. Seek forgiveness.

Practice spirituality. A spiritual connection is essential. This connection helps us to get out of our heads, focus on a purpose bigger than ourselves, see to the needs of others, fill the emptiness inside of us, provide  sustenance to our souls.  Whatever your spiritual connection might be, practice it daily. The spiritual connection can help bring sanity to what might seem a crazy life, can create grace and mercy where there was once admonishment and self-destructive negativity, cover us in love rather than blame.

Take directed action daily. Have a goal and work toward it. Do at least one thing each day that brings you closer to this goal. Something you may have to do is take a look at what you are doing. Are you in a job that takes best advantage of your skills and natural talents? Are you in a mutually supportive relationship? Take a look at the life you’re currently living – is it authentic? What doesn’t fit? Will you make the changes you need to have the life you love? Directed action every day will take you deeper into what strengths you need to nurture, and what things you need to let fall away.

None of these things are easy, but, you are an amazing creation of God. You have everything you need right now to succeed. Get real and get help. Having ADHD doesn’t have to suck.

Chasing Disasters – An ADHD Symptom

My friend Tom is a disaster chaser.

You’ve probably seen these guys on the Weather Channel – storm chasers. They sit in Midwestern cornfields watching  Doppler radar on their laptops like therapists observing an embattled couple practice relational Aikido in a closed room.

They are in absolute rapture when they see purple blobs suddenly emerge  on a screen of deep green.

Tom is kind of like that.

Tom is a pastor. More to the point, a replacement pastor for a major denomination. When a regular pastor leaves his or her position in a church, Tom is assigned to fill-in until a new, permanent pastor is placed. This suits him fine.

He’s okay with this arrangement because he is also a spiritual team leader for an elite group of professionals who are first responders when an a cataclysmic disaster occurs somewhere in the world.

He was part of a team that was first-in when Hurricane Katrina had hit. He also stood amid the rubble in Haiti after that horrible earthquake destroyed Port Au Prince and took the lives of thousands.

The way Tom tells it, he absolutely lives for these disasters. Admitting that it’s a somewhat odd position for a pastor to take, he also says he feels most alive when he’s suddenly thrust into these devastating circumstances. It’s a rush.

Tom has ADHD. He takes his adderall faithfully. When he walks into the theater of pain, suffering and destruction, he takes charge and makes a difference.

He also can’t balance his checkbook to save his life. He won’t become a permanent pastor because either he’ll get horribly bored by the routine, or he’ll screw up the administrative duties (or both).

He is living proof that we with ADHD are disaster chasers. All too often we create our own disasters (to our ultimate detriment) in order to feel alive. The adrenaline begins to rush when we say something unedited to our spouse or boss. We manufacture chaos when we can’t get the report right or we forget to pick-up a child from school. We drive significant others to madness when we suddenly begin dialing up Google to look up movie times while in the middle of an intense conversation. We’re really good at creating disaster.

And we can take a lesson from Tom.

He learned early on that his lack of focus and attention would be a detriment in serving the routine needs of congregants. He tried it, and it felt like a slow and torturous death.  However, while he may have lacked the ability to sustain focus, he didn’t lack the deep, compassionate heart a pastor must possess.

So, he applied his innate skills, love of God, sense of purpose and mission to taking on some of the most devastating natural disasters mankind could face. Tom’s skills are at their best in the midst of mass suffering. He feels most alive when rubble and rabble surround him. He is stimulated and challenged while serving a greater cause. It is admirable how he positioned his life to be of service.

He doesn’t beat himself up for his inability to keep track of expenses or appointments. He laughs about it. Of course, it took his wife a while longer to appreciate the humor, but she did catch on, and now happily provides the support he needs to be successful.

Yes, we are disaster chasers – and we can all take a lesson from Tom in how to be successful in chasing down our storms.