My secret strategy for managing overwhelm, procrastination, isolation and burnout
Attention Deficit Disorder is frustrating. It leads to procrastination, burn-out, isolation, overwhelm.
Even now, a decade and a half after learning what’s up with me, my ADHD can be a challenge. Daily. Sometimes hourly. It never stops completely. It’s never ‘cured.’ It’s managed. Tamed. Under control.
Somewhat. For a while.
Is it the same for you? Does simply reading this suck a bit more energy out of you? I get it. Adult ADHD can be disheartening because we really are trying so hard. But read on.
One of the ways I’ve overcome feeling overwhelmed, including the challenges of managing time, stuff, ideas, and work, is by turning onerous tasks into a challenge. With a time limit. A goal. Testing myself.
In other words… I make it into a game.
What To Do When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed
Making it a game may sound like I’m not taking it seriously. Because what do you do with a game? You play! And play is for kids, right? Or so we’ve been told.
Obviously you’ve never seen professional athletes play football. Or golfers on the professional circuit. (They call them ‘players.’) Games can be powerful, almost life and death. (Not just on Game of Thrones.)
Loads and loads and loads of scientific research says that the best way humans learn is through play. Think about it, when were you learning the most? In early childhood. Learning to speak, walk, run, climb, and a thousand skills. And how did you learn? By playing at it.
If you haven’t read Dr. Kirsten Milliken’s book, PlayDHD I highly recommend it. She offers suggestions on how to make ADHD strategies into ‘play.’ Dealing with this disorder can be work, or it can be play. We get to choose.
As we get older, we turn play into games. And you only have to watch two professional hockey teams battling for the puck to appreciate how hard adults can play.
It’s My Game, I Make up The Rules
Whenever I dread a routine task, I make into a game. For example, I said to Ava “I bet I can write a blog in under 30 minutes”. It’s now after 10 pm on a busy day. We had just celebrated my daughter’s birthday, earlier I mowed and weeded the lawn, we spent 30 minutes watering our veggie garden in the hot sun, did two or three loads of laundry, and a half dozen other things.
My point is, I’m beat. Normally I love writing blogs, but after all of that activity, and just as much every day for the past two weeks… I was ready for bed.
What got me to sit and type was turning it into a game. Putting a time limit on it.
I’m about 12 minutes in. And I think I may be able to pull this off.
The Overwhelm Game Challenge
I love putting a game challenge here, I know they are popular.
So, on top of everything else each of us is already doing, or not doing, or avoiding, or half finishing… ha ha… adding an extra element, making it into a game, may seem like yet another chore. It’s actually a powerful motivator.
You may claim you already have too much to do, or, “I’m not getting done what I need to do now” but I have found that adding a game to my week is energizing. It wakes up the ADHD brain, pumps more good chemicals into my bloodstream, and has me alert, focused, and enjoying what I’m doing.
Not quite like a treasure hunt or a game of Candy Crush. More like a casual competition: Me versus adult ADHD.
Switch Things Around
The game is simple:
Do things with your other hand. Your non-dominant hand.
For one week, every time you think of it, use your other hand. If you hold your hairbrush or hairdryer with your right hand, switch to your left hand. For one whole week.
Okay, not that you stand there for a whole week holding the hairdryer in your hand. Just when you’re drying your hair, or if you dry your child’s hair, brush your pets fur, deal cards for Euchre, enter your PIN number, dial your phone. Whatever you automatically, and unconsciously do with one hand, switch it up to the other.
Suddenly I am Conscious and Focused
If you apply your shaving cream with your right hand, switch. (Shave with your usual hand. I cut myself switching. And I stabbed my gums with a toothbrush when I switched, so avoid that one too.)
But switch hands when locking doors, or pulling money from your wallet, or at the self-serve gas pump, pushing the elevator buttons, and so on. Flush the toilet, butter your toast, and hold your TV remote in the other hand (Not at the same time).
Switch your wrist watch, or your Fit-bit to your other arm, your wallet to your opposite pocket, your purse to the other shoulder.
Mindful, not Overwhelmed
The point of this is not to become ambidextrous. It’s to become mindful.
You’ve heard about mindfulness. It’s a form of meditation you can do anywhere, at any time, and it’s powerful. I’ve found, and a huge body of studies have confirmed, it helps with adult ADHD. Which is why we made a video about it with a whole series of guided mindfulness exercises by one of the top researchers on mindfulness and ADHD, Dr Lidia Zylowska.
Mindfulness is a practice… that you practice… the act of being totally present. (Which we never are, but we get closer.) Aware of what I’m doing right now.
I have found that when I’m doing something with my ‘wrong’ hand, I’m like a child who’s first learning to; tie shoelaces, or print, or throw a ball… and I’m totally present.
Mindfulness Anywhere and Everywhere
Use your other hand when you’re wiping up spills, stirring coffee, sorting, tidying, highlighting documents, turning pages on your tablet, dealing cards, switching your coffee maker on.
Don’t do anything potentially dangerous with your ‘other hand’—applying eye-liner, washing expensive dishes, carving a turkey, pouring hot beverages, running power tools, signing important documents, dueling with swords, or entering the World Arm Wrestling Championships.
In other words, be careful.
The Game Is Afoot! Or, a Hand…
This isn’t a competition. If you only remember to do it a few times, that’s fine. If you jump in and then totally forget, it’s an opportunity to figure out what’s missing, what would have helped you to remember. Because, this may not be the only thing you’ve committed to and then let slip. (I glance over at the whiteboard with all my To-Do’s on it and shudder as I write this.)
Just notice how it goes when you do it.
How difficult is it? Are you more aware of how you normally do it, more aware of your automatic, habitual practice.
Notice how quickly your brain adapts. You’re actually creating new brain pathways when you do this exercise. And it forces you to be present and mindful about what you are doing.
Which is powerful for us folks with ADHD.
Let Us Know How It Goes
As your week progresses and you want additional motivation, let me know what you’re discovering. Brag or Kvetch. It’s all good.
I’d love to know if you’re more focused. Or clumsier? Agitated? Strangely calm? What happens when you’re not using your familiar, habitual, automatic way of going through your day.
In fact, to play this game you’ll first have to distinguish which hand you normally use to hold the shampoo bottle.
And remember, it’s a game. Play and be playful.
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