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.

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