Drinking From the ADHD Firehose

The irony of being hyperfocused on learning about ADHD is not lost on me.

In the past few weeks I have…

All of these have been interesting and had value, but it was the last one— the meetup— that really drove home my conviction that I’m on the right track in expanding my practice to an ADHD focus.

Although this event was theoretically a regular monthly occurrence, when we arrived at the private offices where it was scheduled to take place there were only a handful of us, looking around in that usual “Are you here for the thing, too?” way, with no facilitator to be found. One of the other attendees informed us that the facilitator had also not been there the month before, and without them we had no way to get in.

Well, we were not a group to be daunted or denied. Fortunately, the public library was only a few blocks away, so we retired there en masse and, with no agenda, no plan, and no real idea what we were going to do, just created our own support group.

It was a great meeting. Each of us had different experiences, different perspectives, different levels of severity and/or coping success, and different ancillary issues. One person had difficulty with regulating their emotions, and discussed how it was impacting their relationships; another, like me, had not been diagnosed until well into adulthood and had found it reframing a lifetime of struggles in school, work, and their self-esteem. A third had severe vision impairment, which had effectively masked their ADHD for most of their life because it could be so difficult to tell where one set of issues ended and another began. But everyone there was capable, empathic, and determined to make their life work.

For a coach, it was inspiring just to be among such a strong can-do spirit. For someone who spent his whole life feeling like some kind of space alien and not being able to articulate why, it was incredible to just hear the stories of shared experience.

It also made me begin to be aware of how much of a mismatch a lot of the classical tools and techniques of coaching can be for people with ADHD. Most productivity, goal-setting, and time management techniques assume a neurotypical baseline— in which a client’s behaviors are based entirely on motivation and choice, and the key to success is examining those motivations and choices to align them with goals and desires.

ADHD… doesn’t work like that. Believe me, I am as motivated to make my coaching practice work as I have ever been to do anything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t periodically look up and discover that I’ve been watching cat videos all day instead of calling people for referrals and wonder what the heck happened. I want desperately for my writing and comics to succeed, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t literally physically painful for me to work on them when I don’t want to.

I truly believe that the world needs more ADHD coaches, especially as more adults are being educated about the topic and coming to realize it’s so much more than “third grade boys can’t sit still in class.” And while my formal education on the topic catches up, I have a lifetime of experience at living ADHD to draw from and help people. So that’s what I’m going to do!

Living Up to My Reminders

I can live up to my blue china. But my inbox…?

Exploring ADHD has been quite the eye-opener for me. It’s already changed my relationship with To-Do Lists; but as I’ve gone on, I have been looking at everything in my life through new filters.

Take for example, my inbox. Just looking at what’s come in today I see:

  • A long thread from the Accomplishment Coaching registration team, any given e-mail from which is likely to take 2-3 minutes to read and delete, not to mention the emotional/cognitive load of processing the discussion
  • A paid promotional e-mail from LinkedIn
  • A small editing project for a friend, who asked me to help them with a job application cover letter
  • An e-mail from Meetup.com telling me about a newly-forming ADD support group that it will probably take me at least 15-30 minutes to look into and decide if it’s worth further exploration
  • An e-mail from one of my credit cards informing me of YET ANOTHER DATA BREACH that I have to look into and decide what, if anything, there is to be done about it
  • Another e-mail from LinkedIn reminding me that I haven’t answered somebody’s request for connection and don’t you feel guilty about that?
  • Yet another e-mail from LinkedIn telling me about coaching, writing, and editing jobs that I am surely the perfect candidate for
  • Same, from Glassdoor
  • An e-mail from my wife, who wants to gush over Good Omens with me by way of a Pinterest board
  • Some feedback from my writing group about the story piece I submitted for critique at our last meeting
  • Oh, and look, one from my backup service telling me that my files haven’t been backed up in over 20 days, that just came in while I was making this list

Any one of these bullets could send me down a rabbit-hole for the better part of a day. Which ones are important? Which ones can I safely ignore? Which ones will I regret ignoring? Why do I feel so guilty about having so many ignored e-mails?

And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the goals I am already trying to achieve, things that were on my list before I looked at my e-mail. How is anyone supposed to get anything done in a world like this, much less somebody a brain that struggles to not chase shiny things?

There’s no one right answer, of course; the technique I am trying today is putting these things into categories, and then giving each category a priority and block of time.

E-mails from actual people come first. So in a 15-30 minute sprint, my friend’s cover letter edits, my wife’s Pinterest invite, and the writing group feedback all get acknowledgement at the very least, and resolution if possible. Luckily, the cover letter edits are small and I can bang them out quickly. I already know that Pinterest is a minefield, so all I do is click the “Accept Invite” button and immediately close the window before I can become interested. That’s a thing I can go back to any time I want— and “Browse Pinterest for 15 minutes” is one of my go-to self rewards. Finally, the writing group feedback is too big to fit into a sprint unless I make the entire sprint about that, so I send a thank-you e-mail and put “Writing group feedback revisions” as a new “Can Do” item in my Bullet Journal for later.

The rest of the e-mails can be grouped similarly. Most of the jobs/networking stuff can either be ignored safely or put into a separate “Networking Time” sprint. The data breach e-mail is something that is either junk, or a serious issue, so I’m going to have to set it as its own sprint in a block of time carved out for the worst-case scenario. If it then does turn out to be junk that gets resolved in 5 minutes of research, Score! I have a free sprint I can dedicate to something else. Backups, same.

An hour later, more or less, and the e-mails themselves are dealt with, even if the long-term things they’re connected to may not be. An important strategy for this, however, is don’t leave my e-mail app open! More e-mails are probably coming in even as I’m dealing with the ones already sitting there; so “Reading E-mail” is its own activity that I’m only allowed to do once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at night— otherwise, I’m never not dealing with it.

The other strategy is to constantly look for things I can unsubscribe from. This is particularly important in the world of social media. Even the best social media companies want to take advantage of my Shiny Thing Chaser Brain to drive “engagement” (i.e., ad views) and will send me tons of e-mails if I let them. The worst of them will re-subscribe you to things you’ve unsubscribed from after a while, under the guise of “new terms of service” or “a new announcements feature (that you have to opt-out of)” or whatever.

So thank you for watching out for me, LinkedIn and Glassdoor, but I don’t need any more e-mails from you telling me about all the new job postings in my area. When I’m doing my next “Look for a job” sprint? I know where to find you.

“Can Do” List

Last week a friend pointed me to an article called 3 Defining Features of ADHD That Everyone Overlooks… and my world was rocked. Because I have all three of these — and more.

So I began researching it, and talking to my counselor who agrees, that there is an extremely high probability that I have previously-undiagnosed ADHD. I don’t mind telling you… it has been a revelation. So many things that I have for my whole life regarded as anything from “just a weird quirk” to “a major personality flaw,” I have started to understand instead as merely symptoms of a genetic variation in my brain structure.

If you have a cold, you may get annoyed that you keep sneezing, but you don’t see sneezing as some kind of personal failing. Sneezing is a symptom. The shift in personal acceptance and self-forgiveness was sudden, and profound.

And it has also opened up all kinds of new avenues of thought for me. For instance, I have for a long time been in an ongoing battle with my to-do list. Those who’ve followed my personal blogs over the years may recall that I always referred to it as my “Too Much To Do List.” And every day, at the end of the day, those three things that didn’t get finished (out of the eighteen things on the list) were always what I saw.

Because the list wasn’t completed, I felt like I had failed. One of the checked off complete items could have been “Cure Cancer” and I’d still be like “But dammit, I didn’t do the dishes.”

First, I now know this is absolutely a normal thing for people with ADHD to go through. So that makes me feel a little better.

Second, looking at this through the lens of ADHD and how to cope with it, I was wondering how I could re-frame the list to be a positive instead of a negative. Finally I realized, the true power of the list is not that these are things that must be done, but instead, it’s a menu of things I can choose from when deciding what to do next.

In short, it’s not “To Do,” it’s “Can Do.” “I have an hour before my next coaching call, what can I get done? I can post to my writing group, I can work on commissions, I can write a blog entry. Think I’ll do that one!”

And the flip side of “Can Do” something? You can also “Not Do” something! Short of a hard deadline (an appointment, a bill due, that kind of thing), everything on the list is an option I can say “yes” or “no” to. Just like Sonic the Hedgehog is not supposed to collect all the rings, the goal isn’t to clear everything off the list. The goal is to use the list as a tool for staying on track and avoid analysis paralysis. In fact, if I reach the end of the day and have everything checked off, that probably means that I didn’t have enough things on the list! Inbox Zero = Playing Small.

This line of thinking is a radical departure for me… but I’m digging it.

What about you? Is this an approach that could help you? Is there another method that you like better? I’d love to hear about it!