Personal

Productivity and ADHD

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Fast Brain

On the ADHD continuum, on a scale between 1 to 10, I am an 8. My brain is wired differently and those who know me well are very familiar with how my mind easily jumps from idea to idea, how I embrace spontaneity and risk, how I love to shake things up and challenge the status quo. As my therapist continually reminded me when I expressed boredom and impatience with certain situations, “Jamie, you have a fast brain.”

Now, when I take the traits of ADHD and harness them for good, I innovate, connect the dots that others don’t see and jump right into new and exciting challenges without hesitation. But when I need to accomplish tasks to make my goals a reality, jumping from idea to idea and being easily distracted often make it difficult for me to get things done.

Focus

The days when I am most productive are when I am using the Pomodoro Technique®, created by Francesco Cirillo. By chopping my tasks up into 25 minute blocks, I am more likely to focus on the task at hand followed by a 5 minute break/reward. My brain can handle the short but focused pomodoros, while the breaks in between allow it to jump to another idea, get recharged and feel motivated again to continue.

Also, I possess the common ADHD trait of hyperfocus and can get lost in a project for hours without realizing I’ve not eaten, stretched or drank water, so using this technique reminds me every 25 minutes to take care of myself, too.

Since learning about my ADHD reality a few years back, I have also been working on mindfulness techniques. Being mindful during my 25 minute blocks also helps me see that I am exactly in the right place, doing the right thing and therefore I have less anxiety and don’t worry about going after that amazing idea that just popped into my head.

Mindfulness exercises also help me get better at navigating the onslaught of thoughts and ideas that can come racing through my head at any time, without warning.

My Productivity Looks Like This

I use browser extensions in Chrome – Stayfocusd, Todoist, Pocket, MightyText, Calendar and AdBlock– so that I don’t have to navigate over to other tabs or apps and can stay working on the one thing in front of me. These extensions help me to capture ideas, make plans and save articles with just a few clicks and keyboard taps which allows me again to stay committed to the priority task at hand without being sucked down a black hole of distraction.

MightyText, specifically, helps to manage messaging in a much more efficient and effective way.

One tip I learned from my friend Natalie MacNeil, is to create my schedule the night before, that way I can get started right away the next morning with what needs to be done and hopefully limit procrastination. I have goals and projects set up in Trello and Todoist, and so all I have to do is reference them in those apps to know what my tasks should be for the next day. I add them in an order that makes sense, with good breaks in between – water, stretching, putting laundry and dishes away. Another advantage of doing this practice of planning the night before with an already scheduled workflow the next morning, is that it limits decision fatigue, something I’m always trying to be aware of and keep at bay.

To get the necessary dopamine hit right away and therefore gain momentum for the day ahead, I start my morning with a bit of fun, making sure I pay attention to the time spent so that I can reign it in and get to work, too. For me, especially since starting the Unfollow Everyone on Twitter experiment, 10-15mins on Twitter after waking up gives me not only that bit of fun, but also the connection and learning I love.

On my Trello list, I also group similar, more menial tasks together in time blocks, so that rather than tackle them at random times during the day and decreasing my productivity, I complete them in one go: email, social media and text message catch up, and errands like bill payments etc.

To limit the feeling of overwhelm and ensure I focus on tasks in smaller time chunks, I break projects down into steps and tackle them one by one until the big project is done. I am not a linear thinker at all, so organizing my work into this approach helps me to put one foot in front of the other until priorities are accomplished.

Using templates is another hack I’ve employed to help me organize tasks quicker, limit that decision fatigue and ward off distractions when building a new weekly plan in Trello, for example. When I load the template of my daily work routine into Trello lists, or a blog post template into WordPress, I can immediately get to work.

Another change to my workflow this year has been introducing more automation into areas where it helps and works. I’ve been saying for years, ‘the less clicks, the better’, and this is true for staying focused and avoiding distractions, too. So, to decrease the clicks -or steps- involved in certain tasks and work, I have been investing in and using apps and software that automate whatever makes sense for me. The godsend of the bunch is Calendly, which immediately made a difference on my productivity and decreased email distraction. I also use SwiftKey, IFTTT recipes and AutoSchedule in HootSuite among others.

When it’s time to get down to work, I am also keenly aware of location, set up and modeling. Our brains recognize that when we are in our living room, for example, that it’s time to relax, take it easy and look for something to entertain us, not work. So, I opt not to work in places where I usually seek relaxation or fun, and use the concept of modeling to my advantage.

And before I sit down to work, I make sure that I have gathered everything I need to get the work done, so that I am not running to grab something mid-task and putting myself in danger of being distracted.

What I learned years ago when first using a smartphone, and something that hasn’t changed to this day is refusing to use notifications for my apps. If I were to have my phone ding every time I received a tweet, a friend posted on Facebook, etc, I would never, ever get any work done. In my last job I was utterly amazed at how many people let themselves be distracted and sucked in to Outlook by getting notified of every new email! I turned off that feature the first day on the job.

Mindset

Alongside all the tech and learned approaches I utilize to get the right things done, is a mindset that helps me keep my head above water and be in control of my time. Here are the things I keep in mind that keep me on track, healthy and happy while accomplishing my goals:

I believe perfectionism is the biggest waste of time (aside from email!) out there. Perfect only exists in word, not reality, and so I never spend my time trying to make something ‘perfect’. Instead, I have a motto that many of my colleagues have now adopted, too: Done Is Better Than Perfect. Imagine an ADHD brain like mine chasing after perfection. Yikes!

Another important lesson I learned from my therapist years back was self-care. And so I regularly reward myself for a job well-done and I believe that has helped motivate me to continue and stay focused on what’s important. After a great workshop or productive day at home, I treat myself to a good meal of tacos, a new movie, a massage or a nice walk around the nearby park with my partner. Neuroscience has lots of good to say about this practice of rewarding yourself, and my exploration of brain science in the past few years has helped me hone in on what works for me, and this does.

My close friends know another part of my mindset that I have put into practice: that no text message nor email ever needs to be responded to immediately. So, I have put conscious effort into ‘training’ people to realize not to expect immediate responses from me, ever. I remember when I started doing this about 3 years ago and immediately received negative reactions from friends and colleagues. That’s when I knew I was doing the right thing! I want to control my time and the distractions rather than allowing my inbox and other people control my day for me.

The last thing I’d like to share because it has made such a profound impact on my life, relationships and productivity, is the power of NO. I have no problem saying ‘No’, when it’s needed and I am sure to use that powerful little word when it means protecting my time, mental and physical health and general state of well-being. I know that the combination of my high ADHD and inability to say ‘No’ in the past was detrimental in countless ways, so I am now a big fan of the word and encourage you to be, too.

I hope you have found this article helpful and I encourage you to share it with others who may benefit from reading it. And please, connect with me anytime if you’d like to discuss this further and/or share how you are ensuring you’re productive whether you have ADHD or not. Thanks for reading!

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