Time & Productivity

Showdown with ADHD

Setting goals and finishing long-term projects can get stalled when the planning isn’t right. Keeping a journal can help identify where obstacles start and productivity ends.

ADD Distractions: How Adults Can Make Deadlines, Improve Planning'
ADD Distractions: How Adults Can Make Deadlines, Improve Planning'

The project seemed simple. Choose two goals to complete in one month. Work toward meeting those goals — and only those goals — and take notes on the obstacles I encounter. This was my stand against attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) — my showdown at high noon. I live in the West. I had my butt handed to me, though, by a wagonload of nitroglycerin pulled by a team of hyperactive horses.

Goal One: Finish the first draft of a picture book, so that I can shelve it and focus on my novel before an upcoming writers’ conference. Goal Two: Finish the designs for a client’s website and get them approved.

Easy, right? I thought so.

Not So Fast

Notepad ready, I began to work. The first week wasn’t difficult, since it only required working on two projects. By the second week, the obstacles in my life came into focus. In fact, the first serious one I encountered was the very way I had set goals to tackle projects.

My first goal actually had two parts. I was supposed to finish the picture book, so that I could focus on the novel. But writing the novel is a goal itself. I didn’t plan any time for this second goal. How could I have missed that? You’d think I had ADHD or something. Because of this, the third week exposed colossal flaws in my ability to pace myself.

[Self-Test: Inattentive ADHD Symptoms in Adults]

I was finishing a picture book before writing a novel, while doing Web development for a client, while also being a full-time dad. And I thought I was paring things down. Worse still, I thought chapter one of my novel was finished and chapter two was half-finished, while chapter one was half-finished and chapter two was a jumble of ascii characters that loosely resembled ideas.

I made progress in the fourth week, but only because the Web project software for Goal Two never arrived, leaving me extra time to meet Goal One. This had been the story of my life, but it was interesting to see it spelled out on paper.

Even as I tried to pare down my life, I still had too many things going on and too many irons in the fire. I’ve diagnosed myself as having Multi-Irons Syndrome (MIS). I can juggle two balls well, three balls not so well, and four balls only in my dreams.

The biggest symptom of MIS is starting something new before finishing something old. People, even those without ADHD, do this for many reasons. For me, ideas are exciting; work is boring. Whatever your reasons, it is hard to cross the finish line when you leave one race to start another.

[Free Handout: How to Manage Your Time at Work]

Learn to Be a Hurdler

Looking back, I discovered seven hurdles that tripped me up. They may be tripping you up, as well:

Irons overload: Once I started pulling irons out of the fire to simplify my life, I discovered I was adept at finding new irons to replace them. This was my first hurdle to overcome, but I did it.

Anti-focus-ism: It was very difficult to pick one task to work on. Having an ADD/ADHD aversion to boredom, my mind grasped at new projects to tackle.

Distraction-itis: This was perhaps the greatest problem that I needed to master.

Info overload and obsession: I was a hard-core news junkie. If I wasn’t distracted by something else, I was reading news.

Family life: Gee, you think being a full-time dad might be distracting? This was my third greatest hurdle. Family drama rained on me like confetti. I didn’t factor it in.

Focus myopia: Sometimes the direction I was heading in was the wrong one, but I was hyperfocused on my determination to succeed, to have a win, that I ignored the signs when I wasn’t.

Problems prioritizing: Choosing the right race to run proved to be a problem.

My showdown at high noon would have earned me a plot in Boot Hill if it hadn’t been for some last-minute ADHD-fueled panic setting in as my deadline loomed. Still, this experiment gave me some practical tools to use during my next face-to-face with ADD/ADHD.

You may find this experiment useful in your own life. Pick a goal at the beginning of a month, then detail your progress — on a blog, on Twitter, or with pen and paper.

Your ego may take a big hit, but at least you’ll learn to keep only one gun in your holster.

Or maybe two.

[Focus Your ADHD Brain With 5 Helpful Hacks]