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I have always “zoomed.”
From task to task, place to place, and thought to related-but-not-related thought. I am a little hummingbird of ideas and energy, who also has to take a goddamn nap from 2-3PM.
I have ADHD.
And I don’t feel like sharing that or talking about ADHD is a Huge Groundbreaking Thing, because, well, loads of people in my family have ADHD. It wasn’t until college (when my ADHD began to be a hurdle), that I actually did anything about it.
I didn’t receive an actual diagnoses until I was 20, when my therapist handed me a test. She did so without preamble (she didn’t want to alter the results), and the results were pretty conclusive: I’m a mofo with ADHD.
Figuring out how to manage my love-hate relationship with my brain has prompted me to write this piece. (Aside: For me, this article was a LIFE CHANGING read, particular how it addresses self-shaming and making space for different solutions.)
Assumptions & The Role of Gender
Before we delve into how I manage my ADHD, it’s helpful to tackle a couple of myths about ADHD:
- Not everyone who has ADHD was the “disruptive kid” in school. Honey, I did super well in school (hellur, Stanford), because of something called “Hyperfocus.” I’m able to block things out with true laser-like intensity, to get shit done. It’s how a lot of my creative work happens.
- Women go undiagnosed. There’s a shit ton of research being conducted on this, but the failure to diagnose women with ADHD has led researchers to refer to the “Lost Generation.” Women who have ADHD, but never knew – or got help – because of how women are socialized as children, and societal expectations. Yep – the fucking patriarchy is all up in this one, too. This article is also a thoughtful take on being a woman with ADHD.
But this post isn’t an ADHD primer.
I’d like to sit down and have a “real talk” conversation with you about how I manage having ADHD. If you have insights or stories to share, please jump in the comments. Seriously. I am ready to go on a comment SPREE, let’s go!
Take What Works.
Below, I’ve shared tips and hacks for how I manage my ADHD. Some of these tips include a discussion of how I utilize resources like money and time, and I do so with the knowledge that not everyone has the same resources.
Like everything I share – take what works, and leave the rest.
Scheduling & The Desire for Spontaneity
I first began having issues with my ADHD, because I was trying to keep track of everything in my head – and I just couldn’t manage it. From homework to work-work to extracurriculars to remembering to pay my cell phone bill – I tried to keep it alllll in my brain.
I did this because I thought a schedule would tie me down. “I AM A FREE SPIRIT AND SPONTANEOUS PERSON!!” I’d internally cry when folks talked about their favorite types of planners. “Schedules are for BORING people.”
It wasn’t until I quadruple-booked (yes, “quad” as in “four”) myself that I realized shit had to change. I started scheduling my life (more on that further down), and in doing so I had a stunning realization:
Having a schedule let me be more spontaneous. Before using a schedule, I would react to a ~spontaneous opportunity~ by frantically searching through my mind and going through multiple mental to-do lists – to see if I could be spontaneous.
My desire for a world of possibility was hindered by my lack of knowledge as to what the hell was going on in my world.
Once I started scheduling stuff, magic ensued. I was able to take spontaneous(!!) weekend trips, spend time with friends, or partake in an impromptu make out session – because I knew what needed to get done! When presented with an opportunity, I could move things around in my schedule to make it work. I could respond and be truly spontaneous.
So, if you’re resisting getting organized because you want to be ~fun and spontaneous~ I feel you. Buuuut, I want you to know that you are actually coming across as neurotic and scattered, because you’re lack of scheduling is keeping you from being truly present in your spontaneity.
Tip #1: Space to Fail
Can I tell you a secret?
Lean in really close.
PERSONAL GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT CANNOT COME FROM A PLACE OF SHAME.
One more time, without CAPS: Personal growth and development cannot come from a place of shame.
Do you say things like:
- “I’m a mess”
- “I’m an embarrassment”
- “I’m always embarrassing myself by forgetting things”
- “I’m an idiot”
- “Why can’t I get my shit together?”
Well, guess what babe? You are creating your current experience via your self-talk. If you constantly tell yourself that you’re disorganized and an embarrassment – guess what shows up?
Your brain and mine work differently. They don’t mesh well within parts of our current society. If we were still hunter-gathers, I’d put money on folks with ADHD being the best survivors. ADHD brains can think about 17 things at a time, so watching for predators, stones or issues while walking a path, keeping track of where the cave/dwelling is, etc etc? We totes got that.
Now, trying to write a goddamn email in 2019 without getting distracted by at least 3 things? Not so easy.
Room for Positive Self-Talk
Things aren’t going to change overnight, aaaaand you’re likely never going to be the next Marie Kando. That said, there are strategies and things that you can do. The first thing is to speak nicely to yourself, in your own head.
As you read about new systems or tips for folks with ADHD, remember that there is beauty in diversity – including neurodiversity. You bring unique talents and insights to the world, because your brain works differently.
The trick is to allow space for self-love and compassion, and also create systems or use “hacks” to make living in the 21st century easier.
As you engage in negative self-talk, gently redirect yourself with statements like:
- I can be messy, and that’s okay. I take the time (daily or once a week) to clean and re-organize my space. I recognize that it won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Sometimes, I feel embarrassed when I lose things. Everyone loses things, and I am working on ways to keep track of items.
- I’m a smart person.
- No one has their “shit together.” I am testing different tools, tips and systems to help me feel more balanced and prepared for life.
If you find that there are PEOPLE telling you that you are an embarrassment, disorganized, etc, take a break from them. When you’re ready, have a sit-down conversation where you:
- Acknowledge your shortcomings
- Use “I statements” to share how their words hurt you
- Ask them to use different words
- Share strategies you’re using to be more __________
- Reiterate that while you are trying, you will likely never be perfect.
If this information creates a standoff, consider inviting that person to spend less time with you.
Tip #2: Brain Dumping & My Love Affair with Google Calendar
If you’re reading this, you’re likely ready for some SOLUTIONS and to get ORGANIZED in 2019. Babe, you gotta start with baby steps. I currently have a whole dossier on how I plan my life, that utilizes multiple Google calendars, Asana and Trello.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small.
I started by sitting down every evening to “brain dump” what needed to happen. Everything from buying laundry detergent to writing a 100 page ebook (both currently on my to-do list!). Put it allll on the list.
One of the things I struggle with in ADHD is the desire to get my thoughts organized before I put them to paper. It is MUCH easier to just brain dump and THEN organize. After my initial brain dump, I then organize with handy dandy headings, like:
Household, business (marketing), business (coaching), business (design), fashion design, financial, etc.
AND THEN I’M STILL NOT DONE.
From *there* I prioritize. I get nitty gritty. What absolutely MUST HAPPEN?
From there, I shove it all in my google calendar (and eventually, Asana).
Key Takeaway: Get out of your head, and dump your schedule and to-do lists. Preferably, somewhere digital – Moleskine notebooks are pretty easy to lose!
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Tip #3: Where The ACTUAL F*CK Are My Car Keys?!?!?!
Y’all, I am forever losing my dang car keys. I have 3 pairs (okay, real talk – I have 3 pairs and 2 spare keys). And the #1 place I lose them is in my dang house.
Some of my friends have trained themselves to always put their keys in the same spot. A hook by the door or a bowl BY THE DANG DOOR seems to be popular.
And I mean to do that, I really do! But between having a tiny bladder and misjudging traffic and having to get on a call ASAP. well, my best intentions often don’t work.
Enter, the Key Finder.
This thing is $20 bucks on Amazon, and it’s worth $200 – easily. Lost your keys? Use the color-coded remote to find the damned things! Once you press the button, a high pitched beeping sound emits. The little round things are actually keychains that you attach to your keys.
So, if you leave your keys in your toiletries cabinent, under your sink or where you keep the dog treats – the beeping sound will lead you there. No more retracing your steps.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Bri,” you may ask, “don’t you lose the dang remote?”
And, honestly, I don’t! Because I’m zipping around, I find my keys and then put the remote back. Because it has a little “home” as a charging dock, I haven’t lost it! I’ve had this for about 6 months, and it’s honestly the best thing I’ve ever done for my sanity.
Tip #4: Consider Meds & Def Go to Therapy
Okay, so real talk – being medicated probably would’ve made college wayyyy easier (and helped my GPA). But I didn’t like the way I felt on Adderall, et al. I’m going to pick up testing different ADHD meds in 2019 – and i would encourage you to at least consider taking them.
Life is a grand experiment. Meds react differently to different bodies. But it’s worth considering and trying, I think. <3
If you engage in a lot of the negative self-talk from #1, you’re gonna want to get your ass to therapy. A therapist can help you build better thought patterns, figure out a way to get more organized WITHOUT abandoning your container store purchases after a few days, etc.
Tip #5: Audible is Your New BFF
I really struggle with cleaning or organizing. Like, I start cleaning with fabulous intentions! I want to live in a beautiful space. But other errands, distractions (like sorting mail for 2 hours??), texts, etc, sneak in.
In the past, cleaning was mind-numbing.
I have a monthly audible membership (around $15/month), and I listen to books on tape. I do this while I’m working out, cleaning, organizing, etc. My brain stays engaged while listening to a book, and I’m able to accomplish to-do list items that I used to feel guilty about. Sometimes, I’m so engrossed in a book that I *find* chores to do, just so I can keep listening.
Audible is honestly like a babysitter for my hyperactive brain. Like Vegietales for a toddler, audible fulfills my need for stimulus while I do things that gotta get done.
Combining mindless tasks with audible is perfect, because I would NEVER be able to sit still and listen to Audible. Podcasts also work, but I find having a storyline to follow is important for me.
Tip #6: “Brain Sprints” or The Pomodoro Method
You cannot be productive and on task for hours at end, as hyperfocusing is EXHAUSTING. I’ve found that i can be a productive human for about 90 minutes, and then I have to change locations/tasks. I call these “Brain Sprints.” I can be super productive, but then I HAVE to do something else!
Being self-employed has honestly been a boon for my mental health and ADHD – because no one is going to get mad at me for moving locales. If you are at a 9-5, my friend Sasha recommends using the BeFocused app. It uses a Pomodoro methodology. “It times you for 25 minutes of productivity, with a 5 minute break. After 4 sets, I get a longer break!”
Having a timer go off that signals for you to switch gears is invaluable. We’ve all heard advice like, “Go for a walk!” but that can be hard to schedule or manage within a 9-5. By setting a specific amount of time for tasks, or just general work-time, you’re a lot better off!
Relatedly, you’ve probably heard me talk about Parkinson’s Law. It states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Figure out how long you’re going to work on something, allocate it, and then throw in a break or treat for your brain.
Tip #7: Recommended Books
At the moment, I have three books on my list for reading.
- “BRAIN HACKS: Life-Changing Strategies to Improve Executive Functioning ($12.88) by ADHD expert, Dr. Laura Honos-Webb. This book is all-encompassing for folks with ADHD, focusing on strategies that are implementable in the real world
- The Gift of Adult ADD by Dr. Laura Honos-Webb ($7.48) is a book that you should def order RIGHT NOW if you struggle with negative self-talk and “feeling like an idiot.” <3 The ADHD Advantage ($10.87) tells stories of successful adults with ADHD – a great listen!
Tip #8: It’s Okay to Hire Help
SO, I realize this isn’t an option for everyone. But if you find yourself avoiding cleaning and organizing, hire someone to do it. Rearrange and move funds if possible to make this happen.
I have seen such a relief in my life, now that I don’t bully myself for not bleaching the tile grout. Domestic labor is valuable, and hiring someone to do it – and paying them a fair wage – shows that you understand this value.
I struggle with keeping my car clean, so in 2019 I’m going to step it up a level, and get a membership at a car detailing place.
Other hacks of this nature include getting your groceries delivered, using a meal prep system like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, etc. Figure out ways to streamline your life.
Remember that you bring unique things to this plane of existence. Sometimes you may feel like a Hot Mess™, and that’s okay. Start slowly testing new systems and hacks – don’t demand that you organize your ENTIRE HOUSE IN ONE WEEKEND, for fuck sake. <3
Pick one thing. Implement it. Set yourself up for success. Then add another. Thank your brain for being a creative wonderland. You got this <3
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