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Everyone Conveniently Overlooks The Details – Part 2

Making a list to help with ADHD

Is It Good To Make Lists?

(If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, find it here) I’ve been writing about all those ‘helpful’ lists that seem to be everywhere. Lists like “5 Things Your Dog Should Know”. These are the To Do lists, with lofty goals, but no directions, no practical steps, no immediate actions, no ideas or practices to get back on track when you get stuck or derailed.

You might as well take the 10 Commandments, update the language and claim you’ve discovered the secret to personal happiness. Or list the 7 deadly sins and title it, “7 Fun Things Happy People Somehow Avoid. Number 4 Will Make You Hate Yourself More.” Knowing isn’t doing.

Even articles that actually have suggestions, for example on de-cluttering—“Set up four boxes – one for stuff to keep, one for stuff to give to charity, one for stuff to think about later, and one for stuff to store away”– suffer from a fatal flaw–at least for those of us with AHDD. 

As you may have discovered, what works for most people is often useless for us.  It may even be the opposite of what works for us.  It’s hard to tell what’s the opposite of what works for us when you don’t know what works for us. (Does that make sense?)

We can be very clever.  But if I was as clever as I like to think I am, I would’ve figured out how to be far more productive in far less time.  I took a course with coach Linda Walker to enhance productivity.  Here is a simple example from the course that illustrates this dilemma of using strategies designed for most people, people who do not have ADHD, or what Linda calls the ‘neuro-typicals’.  [I love that term!]

Most books will tell you that when you’re working, the best way to increase your productivity and stamina is to take frequent breaks.  And yet ADHD or ADD folks are most productive when they are hyper–focused. Call it what you will, “in the zone”, “locked in”, “laser focused”, “finally able to pay attention,” or “didn’t get up and do the dishes, a load of laundry, and paint the bedroom to avoid work.”

Once we are locked in, the brain fixated, many of us can go for hours without interruption.  In fact any interruptions are almost physically painful. Non-ADHD folks don’t quite get how hard it is to get out of ‘the zone.’  So I’ll explain.

“Imagine being at your own wedding and just as the minister asks, ‘Do you promise to love, cherish, respect…’ suddenly, four people at the back of the church start shouting at you about last night’s hockey game, how Houdini pulled off his escapes, and what exactly a cheese curd is. 

And you hate hockey.  But love cheese curds.” You’d be stressed, annoyed, and angry about the intrusive interruption. The point is, we can focus.  But not always for long.  Or at the right time.  Or on the right thing. I’ll leave it you to write down 157 examples, and create your own article, “Things I Did When I Should Have Been Doing My Taxes.”

In the course with Linda Walker, each of us mapped out our energy levels over the course of the day, and the week. The goal was to figure out when our own optimal ‘focus time’ is, and when we’re probably too tired to take on a task.  When I’m toast. Fried. Fried Toast… Mmmm, waffles!  Sorry. I was surprised to find out when I’m most focused.  And Linda encouraged me to avoid taking breaks at those times, unless I needed one.

The result? I no longer set a timer to go off every 45 minutes, as I was advised to do in several books on productivity and time management, and had tried many times with limited success.  (Oh, did the alarm go off? An hour ago? Wow! I reallllly need to pee.)

Instead, when I was going full speed, I kept going.  It’s what I used to do, instinctively, before I started reading magazines, books, and online articles that listed 19 Steps To Powerful Productivity written for, and by, ‘neuro–typicals’.

The bottom line? Experiment, try new strategies, keep what works and let go of stuff that doesn’t work, after you’ve given it a fair shake.  And if something you try seems particularly useless, or difficult, try doing the exact opposite. You’ve probably felt kind of opposite for much of your life, so why not run with it. Because you are anything but neuro-typical. And I love that about you.



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  1. Larynxa March 15, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Or like being at your own wedding, and some guy in the back of the church yells out, “The groom owes me five bucks!”

  2. Saffron March 16, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Excellent post. I think the wisdom of working with our hyperfocus rather taking suggested breaks needs to be pointed out in as many ADD-related resources as possible, since it may not occur to most of us.

  3. mcfarlane March 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    That is why so many Canadians have their weddings in the summer, there is no hockey to talk about, eh! Sorry no cat picture.

  4. improman March 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Curious how I tend to think I am alone being what I am! I always thought I was some kind of hermit when I had to work on something (“Get out of my cubicle you troublemaker… I just wanna be alone and finish this!”).
    I’m rather just not neuro-typical!
    How comforting to read ya today… Thanks!

  5. Scattybird March 17, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment “It’s what I used to do instinctively….”.
    I used to be productive when I was free to hyperfocus all night, spend half the next day recovering etc. Now because I work in a ‘neuro typical’ timeframe I get nothing done so spend my life trying to counter that. We should follow our instincts if we can.

  6. Larynxa March 17, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    While we’re talking about how taking breaks is counter-productive when you have ADHD, have you ever seen “Getting Started”, a short animated film by Richard Condie, for the National Film Board of Canada? You’ll recognize your own behaviours in it…and it will drive you crazy!
    Here it is—with Norwegian subtitles! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7yiHiDDyQc

  7. Scattybird March 18, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Larynxa – that video is brilliant. I shall send it to my psych before my next consultation – it’s me to a tee. Except I might have tried to save the beetle.

  8. Bill March 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    The book that changed my life –
    In “Time Management for Unmanageable People” Ann McGee-Cooper makes the point that virtually all time management books are written by “left brained” analytical people. So she wrote her book for us right brainers. It doesn’t ever use the term ADHD, but it’s clearly written for us. Written in 1994, it’s pre-internet and getting old, but its core message is as valid now as it was then.

  9. Robbo April 17, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    good ideas :-) thanks
    Neuro-typicals? I like to call em “other people” Sounds like you’re talking about some freedom from the rigid “Laws” the “other people” need. I like to live in a state of Grace. And also I try to follow the mantra words/guidelines/guardrails that Dr. Jain talks about in his blog posts I responded to today. Those keep my from getting too carried away with my newfound freedom. Acceptance of my ADHD symptoms has given me that freedom. Living with them requires compliance of the mantra words in just the right measure to fit my flavor of symptoms. I’ll figure out how to do that some time soon.
    I wonder if I’m making any sense to anyone… I’m tired from hangen out at this site for a very large part of my day today.
    Later tomaters.

  10. GRAMMIE J May 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    LOVE IT! I am not “Neuro-typical”. A funny relief. The line “knowing isn’t doing” fits for me. Developing new/good habits…and remembering them the doing is a constant that has rewards and challenges. Always working at it.

  11. grcal June 24, 2019 at 11:29 am

    Great Article; I’ve tried the Pomodoro Technique and a lot of others; I get to torqued when someone interrupts me when I’m focused; If I have a great, long session of focus, I can still feel like a failure because I didn’t take breaks, or think I could’ve gone longer if I had (even after working through 5 straight hours). I’ve set timers and blown through them time and again.
    Having said that, the one time I do find a timer useful is to help me get focused when I’m going 500 different directions to avoid doing something. I can convince myself to work on it for 5, maybe 10 minutes with permission to stop after that. So, I set a timer for that amount of time. About 50% of the time, it’s just enough to get through the first few steps, and whatever, distractions, “end result” anxiety, has faded enough to keep going. I may not have entered hyper-focus each time, but got enough into it that I continue. And, if not, I honor the timer and put it away with the idea I’ll do another 5 minutes at a set time.

  12. katepaints August 26, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    I’ve just tried the Pomodoro technique and it works pretty well for so far. As a painter there are times when I’m struggling and I’m certainly not in the zone. Then I keep trying to improve things and it looks worse and overworked. The timer gives me permission to step back for a few minutes to something totally unrelated. Yesterday it was looking at cookbooks on Amazon. After 5 minutes I went back to work. So far the alarm herds me in back to the task. Then I could tell I was making progress in each 25 minute block. If I’m in the zone and doing good work then I blow off the timer.

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