Have you ever been called a “space-cadet?” It s not an unusual thing to hear if you have undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD). Before my own ADHD was diagnosed, my friends would tell me, “You re such a busy bee!” But it wasn t a compliment. The truth was that I often worked at a manic pace to accomplish far less than they did. My actions had a crazy way about them. I never followed discernable patterns because, quite frankly, I didn t know how.
People suffering from ADHD – children and adults alike – experience one of the most serious barriers to success: an under developed talent for organization. To compensate for this, they need to be taught practical steps in order to enhance their organizational abilities. Once my disorder was brought to light, I was able to get new leverage on my behaviors and restructure my thinking process in an organized, communicable way. In this chapter, I ll offer some techniques that helped me – with the hope that they ll help you, too!
First of all, we should accept that people suffering from ADHD and ADD tend towards disorganization. They have procrastination issues, and are often unable to stay on task for very long (if at all). More than likely, they are unable to listen and digest information properly – that is, they listen selectively, sometimes digesting partial information while missing the forest for the trees.
Here s a typical example: students with ADHD might listen during a lecture, tying to capture and understand the speaker s main points. In order to help them study later on, the students take notes. But their attention is so focused on listening that, when it comes to jot down notes, they re incapable of getting the material down without losing track of the speaker s lecture. In the attempt to put something down on paper, they get lost. Moreover – once they realize they re lost? They find that they can t remember what they were trying to jot down in the first place.
The end result of this tale? A massive bout of frustration. Feelings of inadequacy. Feelings of helplessness. Anger. Self-rage. All of these emotions puts the students off learning, disinclining them from investing in their own potential. This is the true danger of learning disabilities.
Once we ve accepted the challenges faced by people suffering from ADD and ADHD, we can begin to plot out strategies and coping mechanisms to overcome them.
The first strategy should be this: accentuate the positive! People with ADHD and ADD bring many wonderful qualities to a job. They maintain a high energy level; possess an extraordinary capacity for creative thinking and problem solving; as well as the ability to hyper-focus on a task – all qualities that can bring much success to their endeavors. Moreover, people who suffer from learning disabilities often possess the rare ability to think conceptually – that is, they tend to view the entire situation and discover solutions to problems that are highly advanced and ingenious.
I know this from my own experience. As a businesswoman suffering from ADHD and Dyslexia, was able to carve a unique niche for myself in the marketplace by capitalizing on my ability to analyze my work from a visual standpoint.
Remember: learning that you have a disability isn t a sentence that imprisons you. It s a key that opens a very big door and sets you free to enjoy a brave, new world based on your unique capabilities.
What follows is a list of the coping mechanisms and strategies that I personally employed to overcome the challenges posed by my ADHD. I encourage you: try them! See if they make as much of a difference in your life as they did in mine. I hope they do!
1) Write it Down!
Make lists for every day tasks such as shopping trips, appointments, and general reminders to do household chores. Let modern technology help you. Tools such as Palm Pilots, Blackberry phones, Microsoft Office Entourage (a calendar that syncs to your phone), and I cal for Mac users will organize your life and immensely speed your productivity. But remember: having tools isn t important. Using them is! And the more you use them, the more you ll develop the muscle to make better decisions about your time and how to use it more effectively.
Before I started using my Palm, I would try to fit too many things into one day. Disaster! By trying to focus on too much at once, I inevitably ended up with all tasks left incomplete. Now, I ve trained myself to calculate in time necessary for traveling, the actual time it will take me to finish a task (with a review period included), and do it all in a fashion that s comfortable and invigorating. Mastering skills like this is the reason I m able to write this book now!
2) Find Joy in the Small Things
Here s another constant pattern among people with ADD/ADHD: when a strong challenge is overcome or a difficult task is completed, we tend to forget our successes and plunge into depression. Without that challenge staring us in the face, our lives seem to lose energy and purpose. Too, people who suffer from ADD/ADHD tend to procrastinate over their project s “boring details” or chores. How can such small things be stimulating? When faced with the mundane, the Attention Deficient person tends to shift priorities to another project and leave a task incomplete rather than plunge in and get the work done.
Learn to take joy in the small things. Focus on the joy of finishing projects rather than the awful feeling of repeated failure.
3) Chart It!
Create a chore or activity chart and mark down your responsibilities! Use a system of color-coding for specific projects. Set up a reminder system for appointments and stick to project completion dates.
4) Ask for Help
If you have a friend who is very organized, ask them for advice. It was very helpful for me to work with someone who is detail-oriented. It proved to be a valuable learning experience. And don t just ask for help with work-related tasks. I once took the risk of asking my meticulous, detail-oriented friends who they organized their closets. They showed me their techniques, and it made a major improvement in my life. I no longer spend hours looking for misplaced items – another typical symptom of ADHD and ADD. Asking for help frees up more time in the long run for you to simplify your life and get more done.
5) Break it Down!
Let me ask you this: if you were hungry and sitting down to a fine turkey dinner, would you cram the entire bird in your mouth and try to swallow it whole? Of course not. Because eating is a process, just like any other project you undertake, from vacuuming a carpet to doing your taxes. When eating a turkey, you can only get the nourishment of the bird into your bloodstream if you eat it in bite-sized pieces! One thing at a time!
The same is true of any task you undertake. Don t try to do the whole thing at once. Break it down into bits and go at it one piece at a time.
Complex tasks must be broken down into easily-managed smaller parts. Make sure to set a completion deadline for each individual task.
On the subject of setting goals and objectives, I often hear people protest, “But you never know what s going to happen in life! You have to be flexible!” Of course, that s true to a point. Yes, life is organic and things change all the time. But ask yourself this: if you set goals and something comes up to delay them, you always have goals to return to once the delay passes. If, however, you set a goal and nothing comes up to hinder you -you may be pleasantly surprised at what your efforts to reach that goal have yielded!
6) Create an Environment for Optimal Productivity
Everyone has their own personal requirements for doing their best work. Did you know that the novelist Tom Wolfe writes all of his stories standing up at a counter top? Some people would call the crazy, but obviously it works for him – and if it works for him, who cares?
Find the things that work for you and do them, no matter what other people think. No matter what you think.
For example, I discovered that I must work on a clean desk because a desk full of papers distracts me. Also, a noisy environment, such as people speaking in the background or having a television or radio on, distracts me to the point where and I can t focus. Another thing I discovered is that, when I m working or studying, I must refuse to answer the phone; it takes up too much time.
Become aware of your own unique needs and fulfill them. This will make your work or studies more efficient.
7) Keep the Big Picture in Mind
Never start a task without seeing it completed in your mind. Picture how it will look when it s done. How it will feel to have the work completed. This tip is especially helpful because it will give something to return to if something arises to distract you. It doesn t matter what happens, really. If you keep the Big Picture in mind, you can always return to it and pick up where you left off.
8) Practice, Practice, Practice!
Did you ever hear that old riddle about the first person to swim across the English Channel? “Gosh, you swam that far? How on earth did you do it?” The answer is so simple. “One stroke at a time.”
Once you begin to follow the procedures for a more organized life, you ll want to practice them over and over again. How else will you master them? Practicing an organizational skill is like going to the gym to exercise a muscle. Unless you keep working it, adding more weight, pushing past your comfort zone . . . how else can you expect that muscle to grow?
But don t worry. Your practice won t be tedious and boring. On the contrary. Once you see how being organized in even one tiny area of your life carries over into other realms, you ll begin to think more clearly over all and act with a confidence you may never have dreamed you were capable of. Your ability to organize will free you, not bind you. And as your practice of organizational skills grows, so will your capacity to enjoy life – your work, your relationships, your free time . . . everything!
So keep at it. And good luck!