How to Light a Fire Under Your Brain’s Butt
These strategies for productivity might not belong in a time management book — but they work for those of us with ADHD.
I’ve always said to follow your passions without putting expectations on an outcome. If you love or are interested in something, pursue it and explore it. I did that last year when I started doing marketing for my favorite band, The Blue Twenty2’s. All I had going for me was a love of their music and a passion for telling others about it.
Now, I’m sitting here in a blissed-out stupor as my to-do list grows longer with items that involve more complicated maneuvers like going over recording contracts, coordinating music video shoots, and getting in touch with Vanilla Ice’s “people.” This stuff rocks.
It’s also scary because it involves a lot of planning, coordinating, and stuff my brain doesn’t do well. The thing my brain does do well is to learn new things, and when I do learn and/or accomplish things, it rewards me with happy chemicals.
It’s funny, though — when my to-do list is small and my time is great, I won’t get diddly-squat accomplished. It feels as if I have all the time in the world, and all the time in the world doesn’t necessarily light a fire under my brain’s butt. It may look like I’m procrastinating when I wait until the day of to start and complete something, but I’m waiting around until my brain finds that “sweet spot” — that moment in time when the matter becomes urgent enough to motivate me to move.
I’ve come to trust my brain and its impeccable timing. If I try to move too early on something, it takes me longer to accomplish the same thing. I usually pack my suitcase on the morning I leave for a trip. It takes me about 45 minutes, and I forget only one or two things. The last trip I took, I decided to pack the day before. It took me 12 hours, and 45 minutes the following morning to pack what I couldn’t pack the day before. I’ll never plan ahead again. That requires way too much time.
On the other hand, if I move too late on something, I’m under stress. Not the good, stimulating stress we get from being under pressure, but the illness-inducing stress we get from being under pressure without having set ourselves up for success by allowing enough time to hit the deadline.
One thing we struggle with is accurately assessing how much time any given activity will take. I know now that I grossly underestimate that, so I toss out how long I think something will take me and multiply it by five. That’s what I go with and it’s pretty dead-on. There’s a fine line between using our powers for good and using our powers to stress ourselves, and those around us, with our gorgeous chaotic energy uselessly focused on the deadline instead of the road there. That’s a waste of our genius. Yep, for individuals with ADHD…the sweet spot is where it’s at.
So I came up with productivity rules that work for ADHD minds:
- Be realistic about time needed to do something — everything will take ridiculously longer than you think. Plan for that, so you don’t go ballistic on everyone within karate-chopping distance over missing your own deadline.
- Know that you can’t do everything perfectly. Sometimes focusing on being productive at work means my kid goes to school in shorts and cowboy boots until Mommy remembers to buy her new sandals for spring. I’m OK with that, and, unfortunately, so is she.
- Prep your environment for focus. For me, that means going in my bedroom, locking the door, turning off the ceiling fan, closing the door to the bathroom, fluffing my pillows, and leaving the blinds half open so I can still see out, yet cocooned enough to hibernate and attack the items on my list that require sitting on my ass in front of a computer.
- Set yourself up for success. Before you sit down, go on a scavenger hunt and retrieve everything that needs to be within arm’s reach, so you don’t interrupt yourself to retrieve it later. Trust me. You’ll love an excuse to stop what you’re doing — take that option away at the start. My must-have items are my phone on silent, a cup of green tea, and a square of dark, dark chocolate.
- Do the fun stuff first. I know that means you’re leaving all of the crappy stuff for last, but I have a theory. Once you get that nice little dopamine drop from accomplishing the fun stuff, your body digs the groove, wants more good stuff, and now has the motivation to accomplish the crappy stuff just to get more of the good stuff. Ya feel me?
- Give yourself a transition time between tasks — especially for mentally challenging projects like hanging up your clothes in the closet. I’ll sit on the patio, set the timer for 10 minutes, and just watch the goings-on, so I can psych myself up for my next mental rodeo.
I always say that the best thing to do is whatever works. These strategies probably won’t be finding themselves in a time management book, and I know a few of our friendly ADHD coaches are probably shaking their heads right now. But why waste our time implementing strategies that are good on paper but won’t stick in our brains?
Procrastination is not something to fight against, but rather to push down in front of you, allowing the perfect execution of a leapfrog jump, getting you closer to your goals, and landing you right in the middle of the sweet spot.