When I feel overwhelmed in a situation, the worst thing I can do is keep pushing myself into it. Instead, I need to break the hyperfocus and calm my mind. Five minutes of breathing and meditation does wonders for the anxiety that comes up when I’ve simply taken in more information than I can process.
My instinct when this happens is to hold all the information in my mind and attempt to sift through it immediately. This is my ADD brain’s fear that if I don’t do it now, I’ll forget something crucial. In truth, though, if I do it now, I’m likely to miss something amid the mental noise.
A better approach is to:
- Write down key points (just enough to jog my memory later – I don’t need to make a formal memo)
- Bookmark where I am, be it online, in a conversation, or in an actual book
- Take 5, close my eyes, breathe in and out, and focus on my inner chaos being lifted like clouds clearing from the sky.
After such a break, I come back to the situation refreshed and with newfound clarity – without having agonized over it a bit.
Contrary to its instinctive belief, my conscious mind doesn’t have to hold onto everything at once; if I give it a break and take the next right steps to capture “everything,” my subconscious begins to sort it all out.
I can trust my erratic brain more than I think.
Last month, I decided to try an organizational tool made and marketed by someone who I respect, Michelle Nickolaisen of Let’s Radiate. The Big Vision Workbook is intended to help users set and focus on their primary goals from “big picture,” monthly, weekly, and daily perspectives. It’s one of those rare organizational tools that works for ADDers (with minor adaptations) even though it’s not specifically intended for us.
I’ve found the Workbook incredibly helpful in the past three weeks I’ve been using it. Michelle’s honest-yet-positive approach to personal inventory makes it easy for me to quickly identify my problem areas while simultaneously honoring and honing in on my strengths. Most impressively, the process is cumulative; the more consistent I am in using these tools (which I’ve combined with pre-existing routines to create über-productivity), the deeper my discoveries at the end of each week and the more effectively I adjust my practices.
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself so far:
- Week 1:
- Under pressure, I sacrifice “me stuff” (i.e., appointments with myself, blog work, down time) and self-care first.
- Week 2:
- I do best with maintaining routines when they/their reminders are automated.
- I forget to schedule days off (overachiever/workaholic tendencies).
- I procrastinate when I am intimidated by a task (i.e., serial blog post).
- I judge myself too harshly (though I actually did quite well this week).
- Week 3:
- Out of sight = out of mind.
- Work that directly advances my goals helps me to focus on doing other work toward them.
- The more actively I follow a system, the more automated and intuitive it becomes over time.
This toolbox has been instrumental in helping me to create the momentum and success that has been manifesting in my life over the past couple of weeks. Since I started using it, I’ve accomplished several things for which I’d been “wishing” for quite a while, but which seemed too abstract to attain:
- I’ve met and begun work with my first client for the the business side of this blog.
- I’ve made my first $100 as a personal organization/life-management coach.
- I’ve started writing the e-book that’s been marinating in my brain for months: a quick-start guide to the Executive Dysfunctions system.
- I’ve begun to develop a cohesive business plan that aligns with my personal values – a service-oriented rather than profit-driven model.
The above items have developed progressively, one coming out of another in a beautifully organic way. This is what happens when I turn my trust and will over to systems that just might work, both in and out of my own creation and control. Michelle’s Big Vision Workbook has given me the opportunity to tie together all of the work, energy, and exercises in faith that I’ve been putting out in the Universe for months and even years – like gathering the strings of so many balloons so I can finally let them lift me up and away.
I highly recommend this toolbox to anyone who feels like they know what they want but can’t seem to figure out how to get it. For pointers on how to adapt Michelle’s approach to the ADD brain, please feel free to email me or leave a comment!
A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers, Michelle Nickolaisen at Let’s Radiate, wrote a post on To-Do lists — specifically, those you make for a single day. In it, she observed that if you move a to-do (what I call a Next Step) from one day to the next more than once, you obviously don’t want to do it and should probably take it off the list and move on. This is excellent advice, and probably a good gauge for most people. However, for those of us with executive dysfunctions, there’s another element at play: We get distracted. Often.
Thus, I have an amendment to Michelle’s rule for the ADD brain: if I have to move it more than twice (to account for Shiny Object Syndrome), I need to figure out why I’m not doing it before I throw it out. Chances are still good that I don’t want to; the question, again is why? Usually, it’s because either:
(a) it’s not that important,
(b) I’m procrastinating on it, and/or
(c) I haven’t broken it down to its Fundamental First Step and actually can’t execute it yet.
Once I identify what’s holding me back from the task, I can choose a Next Step for moving forward on it. Not important? Put it back on the Next Steps list, or even the Maybe Later list. Procrastinating? I either don’t know what to do, feel overwhelmed, or just don’t want to do it. If the task is unclear or overwhelming, chances are I’ve not broken it down far enough — in which case, I do a brainstorming exercise (as demonstrated in this post) to clarify.
If I don’t want to do it, I ask what about it I find so unpleasant. Is it tedious? Find a way to make it less so — put on some energetic music, make a game out of it (Beat the Clock is a good one for tedium), or set timer to take breaks from it (quick ones, though — a 5-minute walk or stretch break should be plenty unless it’s particularly intensive). Is it stressful? All of the above ideas can be translated to alleviate that, too (though calming music might be better in this case).
Thanks again to Michelle for getting my wheels turning on this! If you like what you see on Let’s Radiate, I highly recommend that you check out her Big Vision Workbook. I’ve been using it for over a week now, and am already seeing major improvements in my clarity and thus my productivity. It’s only $15, so unless you’re in particularly dire financial straits, there’s little reason not to give it a shot!
My momentum on this blog abruptly dropped off since I fulfilled my 5-day commitment to post daily. I’ve been contemplating why this happened and how I could best remedy it. My answers are fairly simple: this happened because last week, other commitments took higher priority; I can remedy it by evaluating my priorities such that I post more regularly and maintain that forward energy.
This is a perfect example of how life can “get in the way” of the best-laid plans – and how I adjust when that happens. Thus, I’m making it into what we education dorks call a “teachable moment.”
Takeaway #1: Life can’t get in the way of itself – but I can get in my own way.
Much like a winding river, life can change course, swell and ebb, or go from tranquility to rapids in nothing flat. Really, the only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability. Thus, I have come to expect the unexpected, as the saying goes, rather than resist it when it happens. When I try to change things that I can’t control, I am wasting time and energy that I could be devoting to what I actually can change. This is by no means a trait exclusive to those of us with executive dysfunctions. However, it is exacerbated for us because of…
Takeaway #2: Prioritization is counterintuitive to my ADD brain – but I can create structures that make it make more sense.
Prioritization is a baffling concept when your brain can’t naturally analyze and synthesize information (a.k.a., break big things down into smaller components and incorporate small things into the big picture). Of all the typical ADD issues I’ve dealt with, learning to prioritize has been one of the most difficult. However, in recent months I’ve stumbled upon a few tools that help me tame that beast. I now have a few simple questions I ask myself in moments of overwhelmed paralysis that tame the discombobulated beast:
- Do any of the 50 things in my head need to be done right now – i.e., I won’t be able to do them another time, or they are time-specific? If so, I do them. If not, I move on to question 2.
- Which of these things can wait til another day? An hour from now? Five minutes from now? I write these down and put them away for now.
- What’s the least common denominator – the one task or event, big or small, that will get everything else moving once it’s done? (This can be likened to the first domino that, when tapped, pushes all the others forward.) Whether it’s calling to reschedule my dentist’s appointment to accommodate a schedule change, or posting an ad to sell my truck so I can get money to make my Big Move, the least common denominator is the key to getting un-stuck and is often synonymous with the Next Step.
My prioritization abilities were significantly helped by Stephen Covey’s priority matrix (see 2×2 grid by intro) because my biggest hangup in prioritizing is discerning between urgent and important. More on this in a later post.
This lesson was one of the hardest to get through my head. Once I got it, though, I had a much easier time prioritizing. My priorities necessarily fluctuate as old projects end and new ones begin, as commitments ebb and flow, as I come into contact with people and information, and as circumstances change. Thus, in order to be effective in my life, I must constantly examine and evaluate my commitments, tasks, obligations and needs and rearrange them as needed. This practice is called taking inventory. I do it on many scales, from in-the-moment, to daily review, to weekly review, to monthly review. I’ll go into greater detail on the review process in an upcoming post.
At the beginning of this period, my major priorities were as follows: (1) prepping for my move across the pond, (2) developing this blog and my online presence, (3) work and other standing obligations, and (4) everything else.
Starting around the time of my last post, money (or a lack thereof) became a pressing issue when I got my first paycheck since my 25% reduction in hours at my office job (I work for a nonprofit that I love, but is financially struggling). With that came an onslaught of other (related) issues, many in the form of fears: how am I going to pay for groceries? Will I have enough for my phone bill next week? What about next month’s rent? Within seconds, I had gone from looking at a piece of paper with a low number on it to worrying that I wouldn’t be able to afford to move to Paris and all of my hopes and dreams would come crashing down in chaotic despair. In other words, I was spiralling.
So how did I stop the spiral?
I took a deep breath. I gave myself permission to take a 5 to 10-minute break at work. I took another deep breath and exhaled slowly. I asked myself (aloud, because I talk to myself frequently) the three questions from Takeaway #2, and determined that the Least Common Denominator and Next Step was to write out my budget for the rest of the month – projected income, known expenses – and see how much I was going to be short and at what point. This gave me a clear view of the big picture in which I needed to collect and organize my small things.
- That night, posted several items on Craigslist that I’ve been meaning to sell
- The next day, went into my old restaurant job to propose a mutually beneficial arrangement where I worked some shorthanded breakfast shifts while they found a more permanent employee
- Sent out resumes to temp/catering companies on Craigslist
- Re-posted the ad for my truck on Craigslist and the local paper’s site
A couple of days later, through a series of serendipitous events that began while I was out with my dog and chatting with a neighbor, I landed a two-week gig installing internet boxes for the neighbor’s boyfriend’s IT company – which will net me enough to finance October’s rent, miscellaneous expenses (i.e., groceries) and the epic hiking trip my good friend and I have been planning for the first week of October (which will constitute a digital sabbatical for me).
Notice that #3 in that list does not appear in previous lists even though it consists of things I do every day. The reason for this: when I know I’m going to be unusually busy, I have to consciously make time for those maintenance activities, because they end up being the first sacrificed even though their upkeep is essential to my success in those things that are making me so busy.
So, how do you take inventory? What are your major priorities and how do you order and re-order them? What is your biggest challenge in prioritization?