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.”
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.