Sunday, November 20, 2011

Part II: I'm One Juggling Clown You Don't Want at Your Kid's Birthday Party

So where was I. . .Right. . .Medication has helped me with this.  My focus and attention-span are improved, while my impulse to bounce around like a pinball is better controlled.  As a result, these days I can stick with a task longer than before.  However, I am not "cured," and I still prefer to switch tasks relatively often.

But it's different now, for one very significant reason:  I am able to attend to a task and slow myself down long enough to assess the situation and plan for it.  I now make a point of examining the job ahead of me and establish an action plan.  It's not necessarily a plan for a whole week-long or even day-long project.  It might be a plan for the next hour, or even the next ten minutes.  However long a time period we're talking about, the point is for me to be intentional about what I'm doing.

A critical aspect of being intentional is planning my activity around logical starting and stopping points in a task.  In other words, I may not complete an entire task from beginning to end; but rather than simply drifting off to something else at the first moment I become antsy or bored, I make a concerted effort to carry the task through to a meaningful stopping point.

I have seen this approach to work sometimes referred to as "mini-tasking."  Instead of doing (or trying to do) several things at once, "mini-tasking" involves performing discrete actions, with actual start and end points, through to completion.  Typically, the "mini-task" is actually a defined chunk of a larger task.

For example, in the office, I now apply the practice of "mini-tasking" to answering my voice mails and responding to e-mail.  I used to look at "Listening to My Voice Mails" as one long continuous awful task.  I treated it as an all-or-nothing job.  But now, I'll plan ahead, decide whether to do it all at once, or break up the messages - a couple per hour, for example.  Taking care of the messages a little at a time is much easier for me.  But the key is that I actually have to take care of each one, from start to finish.

Finding the logical end to a mini-task isn't necessarily as obvious as one might think.  At least not to me, and many others who can relate to my story.  For the truly efficient and skilled multi-tasker, what I'm saying here might be a no brainer.  But for a lot of us with attention-deficit issues, being intentional in moving through our work is often one of the greatest challenges we face.  Hyperactivity and impulsivity influence our priorities.  They also influence our perception of time, which directly impacts how long it takes us to do things and how long we can focus on things.  Innattention affects how thoroughly we can manage a task, and even if we can manage it at all.

On the other hand, ADD/ADHDers are individuals just like everyone else.  We vary in our work styles and preferences.  Like all people, I'm very good at some things, and not so good at others.  I enjoy some tasks, while I dread others.  Our preferences influence our work styles.

So, despite my best efforts, I haven't hit upon any single prescription for becoming efficient and productive.  Sorry to have made you read so many words before breaking that bad news.  We all have to figure out--often by trial and error--what works best for us.  Ultimately, I believe it comes down to really thinking about the jobs we have to do.  The good news here for most of us ADD/ADHDers is that we won't have a problem with that.  In fact, a lot of us mistake thinking about work for the actual work itself!  We're often known as people who like to think things to death.   So I suggest we should embrace that gift, and use it to our advantage by following some general steps that I have been trying (not always successfully!) to employ myself:

  • Whether at home or at work, I try to abandon the notion that I can get it "all" done.  No matter what, whether we are students, or working moms, or stay-at-home moms, or volunteers, or hobbyists, there aren't enough hours in the day to do it all.  When I accept that, I am more likely to set realistic expectations for myself, which in turn allows me to be more relaxed about what lies ahead. 
  • I try to make prioritizing a priority.  Rather than just diving in aimlessly to whatever job is right in front of me (as there are always so many to choose from), I'm making more of an effort to slow down and consider what's most important in the moment.   "Most important" might be based on deadlines, time sensitivity, or urgency. 
  • I've recognized that state of mind is an important consideration in the analysis.  Sometimes ADHD interferes with my ability to assess what my personal needs are.  Am I tired? Hungry? Restless? Bored? Motivated? Annoyed?  All of the above? It is important to pause and figure that out because my state of mind at a given time may be quite counterproductive for a particular kind of work.  On the flip side, I might be in the perfect mood to do something now that I might have avoided at a different time.  Being in tune with ourselves helps us to make choices that enhance our productivity. 
  • Once I've decided upon the task or tasks to undertake, again, rather than diving in headfirst, I find it good to have a plan.  Even if the task has only three short steps that should require only a total of ten minutes, consciously reminding myself of those steps at the outset improves my efficiency and accuracy.  
  • Planning allows me to define the logical stopping points in a job in the event that I choose to "mini-task" it, or if I'm interrupted. 
  • A tool that is extremely helpful for defining the logical break points in a task is the checklist.  I've recently started relying on detailed checklists at work and home.  Creating and following checklists requires its own level of attention.  But when I can do this effectively, the checklist is a godsend. 
  • If I am interrupted mid task, I make a concerted effort to not drop what I'm doing without thought.  Obviously, if the house is on fire, I would abandon in mid sentence the e-mail I'm drafting.  But unless I have to run for my life. . .or catch a plane, whatever the interruption, it can wait until I can at least finish my thought and take note of where I left off. 
  • I'm learning to calmly and coolly say the words, "Hold on a moment, I'll be right with you," and "Let me finish what I'm doing, and I'll give you a call in an hour."  These, I'm discovering, are magic words when the trick is task management. 
  • Lastly, I like to keep a list of what I've accomplished in a day.  As someone working hard to emerge from the synaptic storm of ADHD, nothing feels quite as good as being able to check completed items off of a to-do list.  Each time I can do it, it gives me strength and confidence that I can keep going.  That I will keep going.

And that is what I must do now.  I'll consider this a logical stopping point and move on to other pressing matters of the day.  If you're an ADD/ADHDer who has also struggled with time and task management, and you'd like to share some tips that have worked well for you, please leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you!

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