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!

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