Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vignette: Paying attention to how ADD "feels"

One of the things in life I have managed to "stick to" for many years is the process of self-inquiry and self-observation... perhaps a useful skill learned from my years of studying the enneagram and nonduality. What's nice about it is that I have little trouble "Being The Observer" of myself and my inner processes. In a way, it works a bit like dreaming: you can "be there" and-- with some practice-- you can observe and report back on "what happened."

One of the things I have observed about my life with ADD (and I'll add here that I can only speak from the perspective of the "inattentive" variant)... is how I feel about "starting" things and "doing things."

"Starting something new" simply feels better than "dealing with" or "continuing with" something "old." This is actually a bit paradoxical, because I am really not a "novelty seeker" in life. So it becomes important to observe exactly what happens... and exactly what I am referring to.

As an illustration, my being a writer serves as a good example of the experience.

My "issue" is definitely NOT that I feel "bored" and "distracted" when I am writing. I love writing. I can do it all day long. So it is NOT that I want to-- for example-- stop writing, and go bike riding instead. So, my distractions; my inattentiveness; my scatteredness all happens within the "known" area of writing.

Now, you can substitute in any other area for "writing." In other words, I am quite good at sticking to "known subject headings" and feel little need to move outside them to explore other "subject headings."

My "issue"-- when writing-- is that it feels much better to "start a new article" than to "work on an existing one." I am brilliant at outlining and sketching out an initial train of thought. But unless I am in just the right frame of mind, carrying that train of thought from concept to completed submissable article... that's like pulling teeth. Which is why my "ideas folder" often gets 8-10 great new "concepts" added every day... and yet, I plod along, completing maybe one, maybe two articles (and sometimes none) on any given day.

Naturally, when you "add 10" to the top of the "hopper" and only "remove 1" at the bottom, you'll end up with a massive cluttered landscape of things to "deal with later." And they all "call to me," crying for attention. I can think of many many occasions where I have sat down to organize my ideas file (I actually keep a folder on my computer called "Ideas Respository") and ended up looking at the hundreds (maybe it's thousands?) of outlines-- neatly sorted by "venue" of where I intend to publish them-- and maybe added 10-50 words to 100 different files (outlines) in the course of a work day.

Basically, a shit ton of stuff gets "contributed to" and marginally "moved forward" but nothing actually gets completed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

ADD Topics: How Interruptions Cut my Productivity

I have written before about how "interruptions" are the bane of my existence, especially when I am working. Seems to be a fairly common experience for those who live with ADD (inattentive, or otherwise) that it's not only hard for us to get focused... once we're focused and then interrupted, it's extremely hard for us to get back to a focused place.

I already know that when I am 40 minutes "into" something and going well... if someone comes and "needs something" for five minutes... I just got "set back" 30 minutes on my progress with that task.

Yesterday, I was thinking about the subtle ways in which this can actually be a "double whammy." You see, there is only "so much time" in my work day. So here's what often happens: On a lot of occasions I end up not restarting-- at all-- because I realize (just an example) that "there's only 30 minutes till I have to run my errands."

How does that "work?"

Well, let's say I just got interrupted. Now I know (from experience) that it will take me 20 minutes to "get back on track." And it's only 30 minutes till I have to stop, anyway, for a "real" reason. Meaning I'll get in only 10 minutes of actual productivity... and I end up thinking "Bah... there's really NO POINT in starting up again.

It feels like a sort of "passive" or "inadvertent" time loss.

Of course, I often tell myself it's "just a rationalization" but I'm not so sure, these days. It feels like a very "real" and "practical" consideration, to me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Issue of ADD and Taking On Too Much

I've previously talked about this thing I call "Too Many Interests Syndrome."

It seems like it might not be as "bad" if only I was able to take all those interests, hold the trains of thought, and then carry out the ideas to their natural conclusions. In fact-- in some fantasy world-- I think that would make me a marvelous, interesting and stunning human being with lots of interests.

Alas... not how it works. Having "too many interests" seems to do little more than set up a breeding ground for eternal sidetracking.

This morning, I was looking at my pile of loose "to-do notes" and trying to sort them. And the thing is... I have eight "categories" of things I feel like I would like to get done, today. I don't merely have "40 things" on my overall list, all clustered around one common theme (which is what I imagine neurotypical people do)... oh no, I have odd bits and pieces clustered around eight different "themes."

So even if I were a "focused" person, I'd still be "wandering all over the place" in order to keep up with what I find interesting... even if there were NO sidetracks involved. And just looking at the eight piles gives rise to a little anxiety, because I am acutely aware that I will be "wasting" time, trying to get my brain to switch from one "group" to another... it's that "losing my place" thing, again.

Anyway, it all makes me ponder whether "too many interests" is the common theme among those living with ADD/ADHD. In other words... we don't even start with "simple" minds; we start with something already complex (and potentially cluttered) and then derive ADD from there.

The irony is that there is actually a certain "compulsiveness" involved here... almost like I am a "hoarder" of ideas and concepts. I say "irony" because I actually love simplicity. There are few things I like more than having a day where there is "nothing to do." Unlike many, that would not make me all antsy and bored. And that's perhaps one of the "weirdnesses" of my life that made me question whether it was even ADD that was affecting me. After all... I once went and spent two weeks at my aunt's summerhouse in Denmark-- where there (literally!) was "nothing to do" but sit in a lawn chair and read. And with all the distractions of life absent? That's precisely what I did... and quite happily.

It may sound completely implausible (and like a lie) but I am actually a BIG fan of "voluntary simplicity" and it's one of my aspirations in life. I'm just failing miserably at it...

What's the point?

Sometimes it feels like I actually create the "distractions" in order to scatter myself all over the place to "pursue" them. It's almost like a "cart before the horse" issue-- I'm ADD because I take on too much. The issue isn't "ADD" but "taking on too much."

There's probably no scientific validity to this line of thinking.... but just putting it out there.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Referrer Spam is an Annoying Diversion

Maybe it's just part and parcel of the modern Internet that it is filled with idiots trying to find ways to get "money for nothing."

When you keep a blog, you also get to see your visitor logs. That can be kind of cool, because looking at statistics for page views and where people are visiting from is interesting to me... I like to know what posts resonate with people.

What is extremely annoying is this pervasive "referrer spam" everyone seemingly has to deal with.

What IS it?

In short lay terms: "fake traffic."

"Fake" visits that show up on your visitor logs... usually with a link back to some web site that's probably going to either put malware on your computer, or pitch you some stupid irrelevant product that should never have been created, in the first place.

In the past week, I have had "hundreds" of visits from a web site that sells some kind of diet plan, another that's about "how to pick up hot chicks," one about how to "successfully date women," and one that masks some kind of anti-spyware app, disguised as a "blog directory."

This post, of course, has nothing to do with Attention Deficit Disorder... except maybe for the fact that I am even "getting sidetracked" into writing this, in the first place.

This post is just an experiment, for my own edification. I'm expecting it to become the most read post on the site, because it contains all these phrases that lure all these "nuisance sites." Which is basically proof of just how stupid they are...

Anyway, if you have a blog or web site and see stuff like this... don't EVER click on any of the links, and don't stoop to even using the names of the sites. Because that's precisely what they want you to do. If you write "what is >> insert link to mystery web site <<?" you just gave them a free link. But of course, you got NOTHING.

I'm a highly sensitive person or HSP... and an INFJ by Myers Briggs... both of which make me an idealist. And ideally, I like to believe I can help make a small difference in containing this kind of crap behavior, by publicizing the truth about it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

ADD... and the Ebbs and Flows of Productivity

I am not really sure whether it's a "good" or "bad" thing that I have chosen to be in business for myself and to work from home.

What I do know about myself is that my productivity ebbs and flows quite a bit. It's either "feast or famine," with very little in between. As I have "watched myself" over the years, I've also become more and more aware of what influences my productivity.

Clearly-- at least in my world-- suffering from "Too Many Interests Syndrome" is part and parcel of living with ADD. During what I call my "macro periods" of productivity, I am very aware of being able to "keep up with my brain" (or at least coming very close) and being able to turn the endless thoughts into something... "output," if you will. I may not be able to deal with everything "as I think of it," but using my system of "writing notes" about every idea that comes up... and then leaving it at that... I am able to function a bit like a cook in a busy kitchen. Each new idea-- on a slip of paper-- is "order up," and I am able to keep a "sequence" of work going... and get caught up sometimes.

These days don't mean I don't have "too much on my plate," they just mean that I don't "get lost" because I am too scattered.

On any given day-- or week, or month-- my ability to keep up seems inversely proportional to the amount of "pressure" (usually of a financial/practical nature) I feel like I am under. Some people really thrive when they are in a "pressure cooker" situation with their life... I'm really not one of them.

OK... not entirely true.

If I have a massive deadline on ONE thing to do, I work super well "to a deadline." That's different from the pressure of being overwhelmed by a large quantity of things to do.

As an example, I got a huge block of "eBay stuff" taken care of by the close of business on Sunday... meaning we'll have a substantial inflow of cash from those sales by next Sunday... that takes pressure off, and this week feels like I am being very "productive." Instead of just sitting there, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of my pile of "to do notes," I am actually feeling like I am going to get through it.

And I am saying that, even as I am well aware that I have "paused" several times to add new "order up" slips to this week's work load.

For me, part of effectively managing my life has a lot to do with making the most of my "macro creative periods" WHEN they are happening.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Musings about the "Restarting Issue"

When I try to do something, I eventually hit a "groove"... if only I stay with it, long enough. Once I'm in a groove... the worst thing that can happen is someone interrupting me.

The problem?

It takes me forever to figure out "where I was" when I was interrupted, and then get back to moving forward again. In other words, a 5-minute interruption by someone who has an "unrelated question" can lead to my spending 20 minutes just getting back to the spot where I left off.

I have heard others who live with inattentive ADD speak of this issue.

It feels like I have an utter and complete inability to "bookmark" stopping points in the daily process of life... and sometimes I end up wasting what feels like a huge part of my day doing little more than "running in place," trying to get back to work.

I am actually remarkably productive when I am left alone in a quiet room with only my music and no interruptions and my tasks I need to get done.

As a writer, I can turn out 1500 words of high quality article prose in less than an hour... but if someone interrupts me-- even when the article is 95% done... it suddenly becomes almost impossible for me to finish the task. It seems stupid. Or dysfunctional... because it's all right there. Yes? I can't "access" my train of thought anymore.

I used to say (jokingly) "My train of thought has left the station, but I am still standing on the platform."

Alas, it's far more "real" than a joking matter.

It's hard to describe what physically happens. I can only think of it through the analogy of using your web browser. The "tab" I am working on, not only "closes" when an interruption forces me to switch to another tab... but when I need to get back to the closed tab, I need to spend all this time searching through my "browser history" to find the page I was working on. And once I get the "old" tab opened again... then I am struggling to remember exactly what my last "operation" was... and what my "next step" was supposed to be.

It makes very simple tasks extremely laborious. And I have not yet found an effective way around it...

Monday, July 8, 2013

So... What's with all the Pictures?

You might have noticed that I use a lot of photographs here... and they are not "stock photography" or even directly related to what I am writing about.

Why do I do that?

It's a readability thing. And when it's hard for you to focus, large blocks of text can become challenging to read. People with ADD/ADHD are notorious "skippers" and "skimmers."

When I started keeping this blog, I spent some time thinking about "how" I read text... and what kinds of texts feel "easy" to read, and what kinds of text feel "difficult" to read.

I came to realize that I like "picture books," or at least illustrated books... and web pages... because the images tend to break up long pieces of text. It's nothing more than a "mind trick," of course... but it does work, at least for me.

My little short span of attention "thinks" something like "Yeah, I can read to the top of that picture. Then I can look at the picture, Then I can read to the bottom of the picture. Then I can look for the next picture. Then I can focus on the text to there..." and so on.

Since this blog and web site is mainly written with people with ADD in mind... it seems only reasonable that I don't present my contents here as an endless dissertation of featureless text.

I am also trying to keep the posts here reasonably short, also for readability purposes.

As a writer, I am often writing articles and papers that are 1500, 2000, 3000 words and even longer. Given what "ails" us, these pages will generally be written in a pretty "short" format, with very few posts getting much above 600-800 words-- that's a short-to-medium length article, in a newspaper or magazine.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

ADD Coping Tools: Using Timers

I learned-- a long time ago-- that I have a short little span of attention.

Well... DUH!

What I also learned-- which is perhaps not as obvious-- is that I am able to stay quite focused on a task, if I am only dealing with it for a short time.

For example, as part of my work I list large numbers of items for sale on auction site eBay. If, for example, I want to add 120 new items on any given Sunday (not an uncommon event, in my life!), I have to create all those listings-- each with a description, measurements of the item, statement of condition and photographs-- first. And that will most likely be a 12-hour odyssey.

Now if you tell the average ADD/ADHD sufferer that they need to sit down and focus on something for 12 hours straight, they will probably break into hives. For someone like me-- with inattentive ADD-- even the mere thought makes me feel sleepy and inclined to walk away to sit and stare at the leaves blowing in the breeze outside.

All that said, I have to get the stuff out there, or I'm not going to be making a living.

I used to struggle mightily with these "listing marathons" (I've been selling on eBay since 1998) and they were always the least favorite part of my work. It would just be soooo difficult to stay on task, and I would quite frequently catch myself "nodding off" in front of the computer because the "scope" of the task ahead was enough to put me to sleep.

After some experimentation, I discovered that I could "do quite well" if I started keeping track of my progress. I started having little "time charts" next to me, and tracking-- hour by hour-- how many listings I would create. I would turn it into a small "game" with myself, eventually determining that 10 items per hour was a pretty good rate of progress.

Out of these "progress charts" grew the idea that I could use clocks and timers to break large and seeminly overwhelming tasks into much smaller and less daunting parts. I now keep an alarm clock on my desk, next to the computer, so I can monitor tasks. My overall productivity (or "output," if you will) has increased tremendously after I have started chopping my large projects into small chunks.

When you have ADD... and especially the inattentive kind, where you are not "bouncing off the walls," using little tricks with time seem very beneficial.

In my last post, I wrote about my system of creating "task slips" to represent my daily "To-do List." As an example of "how that works," for my "eBay marathon" tomorrow, I have created a whole little stack of time slips, each representing "listing 5 items." Each small task represents about 25-30 minutes of focus... and I know I can grab a note, look at my clock... and before 30 minutes are up, I can throw that slip in the trash bin.

What's more... if I knuckle down and get the listings done in 23 minutes? I get to reward myself by walking around, or maybe looking at Facebook, or something else.

Using timers to break large time periods into smaller chunks doesn't really affect the actual volume of work I need to get done... it merely "re-frames" how I perceive the work. Or, you might say I am using "Jedi mind tricks" on my own brain.

It's a HELL of a lot easier-- and cheaper, and safer-- than pumping your body full of pharmaceuticals with God-knows-what kind of side effects.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ADD Coping Tools: Using Notes and To-do Lists

I have always started my day by writing in my journal.

In the "old" days, I would write by hand-- sometimes I still do-- these days I mostly sit down at the keyboard and start typing. Mornings always seem to be my best time of the day-- my mind doesn't feel "cluttered" yet, so I tend to be pretty relaxed and feel quite focused.

Some years ago, I read a book called "The Artists Way" by Julia Cameron. It's an excellent book, by the way, and I recommend it to anyone of an artistic or creative nature. Anyway, one of my main "take aways" from reading The Artists Way (and doing all the attendant articles) was a better understanding of why I always liked to journal in the morning.

Author Julia Cameron calls her version of writing in the morning "Morning Pages," and she advocated writing by hand... which I generally don't, alas. Morning Pages require you to get up and write-- whatever comes to mind-- FIRST THING. Don't turn on the TV, or the radio, or read the paper, or watch CNN or even talk to your spouse or kids... just sit down and WRITE, before your mind becomes "polluted" with anything but your own thoughts after you've slept.

One of the great "values" she lists is that Morning Pages help you "empty your mind" for the day.

When I first read that statement-- some years ago, now, I came to realize just how valuable "emptying my head" IS, to me, first thing every morning. It has become a "practice," a "discipline," almost like a form of spirituality.

Now, let's sidetrack for a bit...

I have depended on "keeping lists" for ages and ages. When I was a teenager, my friends thought I was "weird" because I kept lists, "just like OLD people do." Well, without those lists, I was pretty much non-functional. I don't know that I was aware of that, at the time... I just knew that keeping lists made my daily life a lot easier.

A pile of "task slips" created by the end of my journaling
As I have grown older, I've increasingly come to understand how important the structure of a to-do list is. If you have ADD-- and inattentive ADD, like me-- putting things like "paint the garage" on your list is worse than useless.


Because tasks that are "too big" will never get done. I will zone out before I ever get them taken care of. I was probably in my mid-30's when I realized that I was far more likely to get things done if I made a long to-do list of small tasks, rather than a short to-list of large tasks. The "net effect" was basically the same, but the "success rate" of the former was much higher.

Recently, I have developed the "small tasks" method a bit further... by writing each small task on its own small piece of paper, and then throwing away that piece of paper when I am done with the task. I tend to be very visual in nature, so literally watching my to-do list get thrown away, bit by bit, tends to keep me moving.

In addition, having individual notes-- like a small deck of cards-- allows me to shuffle tasks in order, and whenever I think of something new while "in the middle of something" (and we ALL know how often that happens!) I can just write it on another small slip of paper, and shuffle it in with the others in an order that "makes sense."

What's more, if I get to the end of the day and have pieces of paper with tasks "left over," I can just carry them forward to tomorrow-- no need to waste time on transferring today's undone items to tomorrow's list... because there is no actual "list" just small pieces of paper with "tasks" on them.

To some, this might sound really cumbersome... but I have actually found it to be a time saver, because I don't think of the things I need to do on any given day "in order." So when something relating to a "larger" project is suddenly remembered, I can just write it down and put it into the right sequence.

Now, let's get back to writing in the morning, and the process of "emptying my brain."

By sitting down, first thing in the morning and writing in my (online) journal, I can also "empty my head" of all the things I think of, that "need doing," on that day. I often end my journaling session with a whole pile of small "to-do notes," and my mind is pretty clear... instead of carrying a whole bunch of "OMG! I need to ____" bits in my head, they are "outta there" and onto my desk. That-- alone-- allows me to stay far more focused and clear headed, when it comes to dealing with that day's work.

Try it! You might like it!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Music Really Helps...

I have long used the saying "Music is my mind-altering substance of choice."

It has always been said as a bit of a joke-- because I tend to be "squeaky-clean" when it comes to addictive behaviors-- but there's actually a hidden element of truth there.

I do use music to keep my mind on track-- and I have, for a very long time.

We all know that music has the ability to "create a mood," and perhaps to bring up old memories. There are good reasons they use scene-specific music in movies, and good reasons why they play the music they play at airports, shopping malls and store. Your mind is "being influenced."

For me, there's a lot more to it, than that. I find that I can use music to "induce" certain moods that allow me to stay focused on certain tasks... where silence (or a different kind of music) would quickly drive me to distraction.

The same holds true for my wife-- who has the better known and more studied "conventional" ADHD with hyperactivity.

We both discovered-- independently of each other-- that techno and trance music (electronica) enables is to focus much better on repetitive and "long" tasks. Somehow, the upbeat, rapid drum-synth beat provides some kind of "brain interrupt" that improves out ability to focus.

What's particularly interesting about this is that even though we have quite different "variants" of ADD, we successfully incorporate listening to the same genre of music as "productivity tools."

Unlike her, however, I tend to use a more "chilled" or slower music style for when I write. It feels like it helps me access long term memories, while still staying awake.

It does make sense to me-- we "use" meditative styles of music in conjunction with hypnosis; at the same time, shamans use a repetitive drumbeat (very similar beats-per-minute as trance music) to induce altered mind states for people they are helping with things like soul retrievals and shamanic journeying.

Like other ways I have found to help me stay focused in life, I started "using" it as a therapeutic helping tool long before anyone diagnosed me with ADD.