Time Management when you have ADHD
I have ADHD. Given that something like a third of the students at the University of the Arts know they have it and many more seem to, it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone creative has a mind that works a little differently.
WHAT IS ADHD?
Well, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is more than just an inability to complete onerous tasks, it’s as different a mindset as autism can be in others. Like autism, in some people, if guided and managed correctly, the impairments can disappear in the light of the things an ADHD person is capable of.
Since geek metaphors make more sense for me, I think that ADHD is probably the Ranger of the neurodiverse character class system. Never staying in one place, eyes on the horizon more than on what’s in front of you, capable of a magical level of empathy with animals, but less great with people. Dealing with challenges with quick, distant strikes and struggling in longer or closer battles (make up your own metaphor if you prefer a dual-wielding ranger, okay? Good DPS, rubbish defences, maybe). Spiritual, but not in the way a priest is. Versatile enough to be a game changer for any party, but not fulfilling any of the central roles.
Do you get the idea? It goes a bit further than that. The distractedness that ADHD people feel is reflected neurologically, with a quicker response to light. Not just waking up with the dawn and remaining alert until it is pitch black, but also fast to notice flashes, changes and swift-moving things. If we’re reducing ourselves to caveman archetypes, ADHD is an essential trait for scouts and hunters, exploring new terrain so that others can build on what they find. Reacting fast and in a solitary manner to dangers they encounter, but easily overwhelmed.
I have a tendency to wander. Either internally, conversationally or to actually get up and walk away when I’m in the middle of a conversation. It’s not something I do to offend, nor am I aware of it, it’s just how I am and I feel terribly awkward when I realise it’s happened.
So, overly alert to new sensory information, but quickly blind to things that don’t change or seem immobile.
You can see where time management becomes a problem.
A lot of these things are good time management techniques for anyone, but for me, I have to formalise them as a game and a constant challenge to adhere to them.
REMOVE DISTRACTIONS FROM THE WORKPLACE
First of all, de-clutter. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to draw or to write something, only to find myself an hour later threading beads onto a piece of jewellery I have no idea who it’s for, or trying to figure out how to make a helicopter from lego, or drawing something incredibly intricate and just as irrelevant to the task ahead of me.
My work-set up now is a small desk, so I can’t have too many things in front of me at once and I have to clear everything away whenever I change focus.
I keep only the drawing tools I need in a little mug next to where I work. Any more and I risk being caught up in trying out new pens. Of course, there’s a time for that, but it’s not when I have things to do.
I have a radio next to where I work. I did use the radio through my phone or my iPad, but it get too tempting to fiddle with that, or to dither spending time looking for things on Spotify or iTunes. I usually listen to a station that has news every half-hour so I keep track of when I should stop work, have a stretch, get some water or whatever for a couple of minutes.
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO
Recently, I’ve turned off notifications on my phone and on the computer. It was too easy to see that I’d had a tweet or that someone had invited me to something on Facebook and to go and look at that. It’s surprising how much that feels like you’re doing something.
To avoid the sense I’m missing out on things, I’m doing what I can to avoid people expecting a reply quickly from me. I’ve posted online that I’m not going to be looking at social media during the weeks, and I’ve set up an out-of-office on my email that says I’m only looking at emails twice a day, so it could be a while before you get a reply for me. Crucially, what I say there isn’t an apology. I just say I won’t see your email for a bit, but I will. I feel guilty enough about too many things to add this to my list.
If I really want to concentrate, the internet and the phone have to stay completely off. There’s such a temptation to solicit instant feedback and a sense of connection with people, but when I’ve been posting far too much on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, the signal:noise ratio is all wrong.
At the beginning of each work day, I go to an email that has a To-Do list in it, along with things like my bank balances. I update my bank balance, making a little note of anything that was a stupid purchase (impulse buys are a problem when you get excited by everything) and then move on to the To-Do list itself.
There’s a terrifyingly long list of tasks that I add all of the “Oh, I want to do that!” thoughts to, so I know they’ve not disappeared, then from the long list I try to pick out just five key things to focus on. I pick one or two tasks I know will be hard and time consuming, like a page of artwork for the comic or revising a script then a couple that will be easily achieved like phoning to book ferries or paying bills, then I make sure there’s at least one I know I’ll enjoy. Obviously, I do enjoy drawing, but it’s not exactly easy.
I email the daily list to my partner, not so he can check up on me, but more to give me the sense that I’ve confessed if I’ve done very little all day, then I can see what it was that distracted me. Sometimes, it’s pain from my back (at the moment), but all too often I distract myself from back pain with computer games that wind up stealing me from being productive for a very long while.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
Now, if all of this sounds quite restricting and a little harsh on myself, here’s the key thing. I make sure I give myself a chance to get away from work, particularly if it’s frustrating. I swim every day and I try to go for a walk if my back’s up to it. (I’m still paying the price for that long walk on Sunday.) I think it’s so important to get away from the things you’re working on and the things on your computer – if nothing else, your eyes need to look at something further away than your drawing board or your screen. It’ good for the eyes, it’s important to keep on top of RSI risks (See more about that in my Handy Hints) and it’s really important for creativity to have some quiet time for the mind or time spent doing something else. It’s tempting to hyper-focus, but what I make in those slightly manic bursts is usually a little formulaic compared to if I sketch it out, take a walk, have a drink of water (Do that, a lot!) and then return to it.
Also, on a more figurative level, give yourself a break. If you’re ADHD, yes, it means there have to be all these considerations if you’re going to want to work alongside people who aren’t so easily distracted, but that magpie mind that’s always looking to see what’s gleaming is going to turn up some gems among the rubbish sometimes. It’s a two-way thing; it makes being normal harder, but not being normal’s a great thing.
After all, you don’t often hear someone say: “I really want to be an ordinary artist.”
Note: I’ve only talked about what seems to work for me, and I’m keenly aware I don’t know if it’s what’s best for me, if you’ve got suggestions of what works for you, I’d love to hear it.