Personal Agenda

When I was just getting started in the world of projects and deadlines, I started the eternal quest for (dramatic music)…The Perfect Planner! It would help me organize not only my work life and my personal life. I would write everything down and plan out my day in detail in the morning, and have every task completed by the end of the day! Yeah, I know.

Twenty five years later, I’m still searching for a way to keep myself organized, but my requirements have shifted considerably. I no longer look for the Perfect Planner, merely a way of keeping track of 1) What needs to be done 2) Where I’m supposed to be to do it. I’ve found that is about as much as I can hope to do without feeling compelled to wash my car at three in the morning because it’s the last thing on my list.

Most planners consist of three things: 1) A place to track your schedule in daily, weekly, monthly and sometimes even annual calendars. 2)A place to track your tasks, usually on a daily or weekly basis, and 3) A place to put your goals and aspirations that are supposed to be deciding all of the things you put in spots 1 and 2.

Most of the time my goals and aspirations are immediate. Get things done on time and don’t forget anything. If I’m doing that on any given week, I’m ecstatic. Even so, I still live my day to day with the nagging suspicion I’ve forgotten something that I will discover only after someone else points it out to me.

The system I use now I call Write Everything Down Somewhere You Can Find It, along with Ask Other People to Make Sure You Write Things Down. The former has been accomplished by keeping a notebook with me at all times and writing everything down the minute I think of it. It’s helped quite a bit. The other that also helped was letting people know that if they didn’t see me write it down, it might not get done. Luckily I work with people who are willing to do that.

In the end, it’s still my responsibility to keep track of everythingand keep my proverbial ducks in a row. Except I don’t have ducks, or a row. I have a litter of kittens stoned out of their gourds on catnip.

I better let you get back to work. I have to start rounding things up for tomorrow. Git along little kitties….Tiyi yippe yi ayyyy…

Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter

In 2018 the average number of emails sent and received per day was over 205 billion. While writing letters by hand gets a special day, called National Letter Writing Day, emails don’t need a day of their own, they need an intervention. In fact, September 9th is National No Email Day.

We seem to be addicted to communicating in ways that don’t do much to communicate. Between text, emails and other forms, we seem to be talking at each other rather than to each other most of the time, and I’m not talking about cable news. In that instance, talking at each other seems to be a feature, not a bug.

If you’re someone like me, who actually thinks there is value in an old fashioned hand written letter, sit down with pen and paper, and write someone a letter. It doesn’t have to be long, or even all that meaningful, just write someone about your day, put it in an envelope and mail it.

I joined a letter writing group on Facebook called Write On Nation, which was formed to encourage people to write letters to each other. It was hard to write that first letter to someone who was a perfect stranger, but to be honest, once I got started it wasn’t hard. I now send and receive a letter from my pen-pal about once a week or so. I’m not writing novels here. I bought an inexpensive writing tablet from Dollar General, and scribble out a couple of pages about various topics that we’re both interested in.

Sometimes I write about fountain pens, which was what brought the group together. Other times, I write about things going on in my life or my bi-weekly gaming session (tabletop gamers tell a lot of war stories). This week I wrote about taking my son off to college. My wife and I are now officially empty nesters, which will take some getting used to, although being able to go to bed by 10 without wondering when he’s going to get home is a definite plus.

The thing about getting a hand written letter is that it can be the bright spot in an otherwise lousy day. I had a rough week this week, and the letter I got Saturday definitely lifted my spirits. It wasn’t full of compliments or anything like that, but someone actually thought enough to sit down and hand write a letter to me. That’s a commitment of time, and that has value, no matter what the content of the letter.

Now that my son is off to college, I plan to try to write him once a week as well. He may not be as excited about getting a handwritten letter as I am (my handwriting is pretty atrocious), but I do hope that he at least knows that I love him and am thinking about him more than a quick phone call, text or email would convey. Whether he writes back, doesn’t really matter, although I hope he does.

I write here several times a week and it has definitely helped me develop the ability to dash off 3 or 4 hundred words on the spur of the moment. Writing a letter is different somehow. It requires me to think not only about what I’m going to say, but my handwriting, so the person who gets the letter can actually read it. It requires me to slow down, which is something everyone needs to do on a regular basis.

I better let you get back to work, I need to finish a letter.

Mindfulness

I used to think mindfulness was a gimmick to separate the rubes from their cash. I learned recently that lack of mindfulness has its consequences.

I tend to run on autopilot a lot, because my mind is busy doing other things. Unfortunately that comes at a cost, as I’m not always fully aware of what’s going on around me the way I should be. I have bumped into walls and people and stepped on my dogs and other people’s toes both literally and figuratively.

I’ve done meditation before, but I don’t think I really took it seriously until a while ago. As I became more mindful, I started to identify some bad habits I wasn’t even aware of prior to when I started making mindfulness a regular practice.

Its been challenging. The mind is undisciplined, it wants to go chasing butterflies sometimes when I really want to count my breath. Part of mindfullness is learning to tell my train of thought to stay on the main line and not go off on a side rail. That goes for most of my day to day as well. My mind likes to go wandering, and I have to get it to heel.

It takes patience and persistence, but I’m slowly getting there.

Being Present Minded Somewhere Else

I have been dealing with ADHD for my entire life. I don’t have the physically hyperactive, I have the mentally hyperactive variety. It’s called inattentive, meaning that my mind is working overtime to the point that I either can’t focus, or it hyperfocuses when it decides it is really interested in something. The best description I’ve ever heard is somebody has control of the channel selector and can’t decide what to watch until they find something they like and then they lock into the channel and bingewatch.

ADHD is primarily a developmental disorder which affects the executive function part of the brain. As a result executive function which helps us prioritize, make good decisions, etc doesn’t work as well as it does for a neurotypical (the ADHDer term for you Muggles) person. The main thing that helps it is dopamine, which is triggered by a lot of things, most of which involving novelty, which is why ADHDers are attracted to things like video games and action sports. Lots of action! I remember being instantly attracted to anything new and different when I grew up in the 60s and 70s.

Most of the medications for ADHD are stimulants which help restore the brain’s dopamine levels or allow it to make better use of the supply it has. They can be a real godsend. Unfortunately if someone doesn’t have access to medication, they may try to self-medicate with things like drugs, alcohol or risky behavior.

ADHD comes with a whole bunch of comorbidities, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and something called rejection sensitive dysphoria. Suffice it to say, it’s just one big wheeee!

Often ADHD people have trouble in social situations because they miss a lot of social cues that other people seem to read without even thinking about it. They end up getting a lot more corrections than most people, which can destroy their self esteem, and make them feel they can’t do anything right.

One estimate is that the average ADHD child will recieve over 3000 corrections per year. That works out to over 50, 000 negative messages by the time the person turns 18. Those can become internal tapes which play over and over again in their head, which can leave them susceptible to depression and anxiety. Therapy and medications help, but if untreated, this can turn into social anxiety where the person avoids social situations because they don’t want to risk the rejection or criticism they’ve come to expect.

This isn’t helped by the rejection sensitive dysphoria I mentioned earlier, which means they feel rejection and criticism more intensely than people without ADHD. This can lead to them trying to A) be perfect to avoid criticism, or B) people pleasers incapable of saying no.

This can also lead to procrastination because it takes the adrenalin of a deadline to get an ADHD person to focus long enough to work continuously. Concentrating for an extended period of time is really difficult for people with ADHD, their brains just aren’t built that way.

With inattentive type I tend to zone out, lost in my own thoughts. Frequently it looks like I’m staring at something, but the truth is, I’m not seeing it because my brain is busy doing something else. It may look like I’m doing nothing, but in my head I’m really busy. This can cause problems in meetings because my mind goes elsewhere when it should be on the meeting. In other words, I’m not absent minded, I’m just present minded somewhere else.

There are things I like about ADHD. It allows me to make connections that other people don’t see because I’m constantly changing channels and comparing things that may not be obvious to other people. It does sometimes cause problems in conversation as I bounce around from topic to topic. My wife has gotten pretty good at it. She can even follow my mental segues without me telling her what’s coming next, which was kind of frightening the first time it happened.

Talking to me can be exhausting at times, I’m sure. I’ve had people threaten to buy me a t-shirt that says “I’m Talking, and I Can’t Shut Up!” My personal favorite is the one that describes the ADHD thought process exactly. “I tried counting sheep to get to sleep: One sheep, two sheep, cow, turtle, duck, Ol’ McDonald had a farm, Hey Macarena!”

It also has been an endless source of creative energy. It’s one of the reasons I can keep coming up with ideas for these posts multiple times per week. The only problem is that I get distracted sometimes before I finish an idea because I’ve thought of something else and have to work on it right now!

It also has given me a great sense of humor for many of the same reasons. Admittedly my sense of humor is mostly verbal. I like puns a lot because they play on connections between sound and meaning. This is not shared universally, as my coworkers will attest. I also like absurdist humor like Monty Python and old Mel Brooks movies.

Dealing with all of the challenges that go with ADHD has made me much more patient with other people, because I remember my own struggles. I’ve had to work through so many things to just deal with my day to day challenges because I didn’t get my diagnosis until late in life.

There are a lot of people of my generation that never got treatment when they were kids and only discover they have the disorder later on because they go through therapy, or one of their children has it, and they recognize themselves.

The relief of being able to put a name to what you have been living with, sometimes for decades, without understanding, is immense. As one book title refers to it “You Mean I’m Not Stupid, Crazy or Lazy?”

Medication has helped, even though I didn’t try it until just recently. Instead I consumed overdose levels of caffeine to self medicate. At one point between coffee, Mt. Dew and energy drinks, I was getting 400 to 500 mg a day. My caffeine use has gone down to nearly nothing since I started taking medication, though I still have a Diet Coke or a Diet Dew occasionally.

I don’t want to make this sound like a pity party, what I wanted to share is what’s worked for me to help me get my act together to the extent that I have, even before I learned I had ADHD. The list below has links to some of the products I particularly like. I don’t receive any compensation, I just like them and wanted to share.

To Do Lists are my go to tool. I use a quality notebook (I like Rhodia and Maruman Mnemosine notebooks in A5 or B5 size) and put my to do list at the top of a dated page and my appointments at the bottom. The notes for that day go on the opposite page. I write down everything I have planned for that day and add items as I go along if they aren’t already on the list. That lets me keep track of all the things I’ve gotten accomplished during a given day even if my plan for the day got blown up by something unexpected.

A lot of people use a calendar or to do list on their phone, but I found that gets me back into the rabbit hole of distraction that is the modern smartphone and I would prefer to stay out. I find writing things down by hand also helps compensate for my working memory issues. Any good pen will do, but I’m a fountain pen fan, because it forces me to slow down as I write.

Bullet Journals are another good alternative, but I think they can become a distraction rather than an aid. If you look at some of the example bullet journals out there, they seem like an endless set of things to color, draw and track. I’ve found it’s much much better to keep things simple.

If you don’t enjoy something, do it first, so it’s done. I’ve found doing just this one thing has helped quite a bit with preventing procrastination, at least at work. My wife still has to ask me to change the lightbulb over the back porch for 6 months until I remember it one Saturday and get it done. This is known as a 6 month and 5 minute job.

Another tool I’ve found to be useful for procrastination is the Pomodoro Technique. It’s named after one of those tomato kitchen timers. The idea is to pick something you want or need to work on, set the timer for 20 minutes and then to work uninterrupted for that amount of time. You focus on the one thing. At the end of the 20 minutes, take a 5 minute break and then go back to work. If you are able to go into hyperfocus, you may want to keep going, but it’s better to take the break anyway so you can learn to shift focus without being thrown out of kilter.

Having a fidget toy to fiddle with when you’re trying to think can keep you from clicking a pen, shaking a leg or doing other things that can drive your coworkers crazy. I like the fidget cube, nerf balls or other soft foam toys to squeeze (good for stress too), koosh balls, or Aaron’s Thinking Putty.

Another thing I have found very useful is finding music to listen to while I’m working. I try to pick things in either a language I don’t know (I had a Gregorian Chant habit for a while), or repetitive instrumentals. They basically help get the channel changer to settle down. Mozart’s Requiem is my favorite music to write to. It’s only fair that I compose things to music that Mozart wrote for the decomposing.

Shut off the notifications on your phone apps! Phone notifications to an ADHD person are like booze to an alcoholic. Responding to one is too many, and responding to all of them never ends, because more notifications will pop up while you’re answering the others. Turning off my phone notifications helped my productivity and focus tremendously.

Learn to meditate. Start with becoming aware of your breath. Pay attention to how it feels when you breathe in and out. Your mind will fight you and try to do other things, but stay focused on your breathing. It will get easier over time and you’ll learn to apply the same technique in the rest of your life, being fully aware of what’s going on at any given moment.

This is especially important, because ADHDers are notoriously poor self observers, which can result in issues when their behavior is causing problems with other people. I still struggle with this. Because my mind is busy, I don’t always pay attention to what’s going on around me, which has caused no end of problems. The other day my wife said “You’re not even listening, are you?” and I thought to myself “that’s a weird way to start a conversation.”

There are tons of apps that have guided meditations that you can do, which will help you learn how to meditate and become more mindful. This is one that I like particularly as it has a lot of guided meditations plus music to listen to when I’m trying to go to sleep.

Find a way to self-soothe when you are frustrated or angry. One of the things that goes with ADHD is emotional dysregulation, which means that you can get upset or frustrated more easily than most people and take longer to get back to an equilibrium.

Meditation is one way to handle that, or you can create a glitter bottle to focus on when you are feeling upset. Think of a glitter bottle as a lava lamp that you don’t have to plug in.

The video for the glitter bottle is from a YouTube channel called “How to ADHD” it’s a great resource for you and the people in your life to better understand how ADHD affects your life and help the people in your life understand the effects ADHD has on you on a daily basis. Sometimes them knowing what you are dealing with helps them understand better. It also lets them know that you are actually struggling with challenges, versus having OPD (Obnoxious Personality Disorder). If you get a chance check out this video to better explain what ADHDers deal with.

I’m not going to close with the usual I better let you get back to work, mostly because this post isn’t intended to be funny. ADHD is a different way of being wired, and it can cause some serious challenges for those who have it. If you are someone with ADHD or who works with or loves someone with ADHD, I hope this will help you either overcome or understand.

#ADHD

Finding Joy

I just finished listening to an audio book by Dave Barry, called “Lessons from Lucy, the Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog” Dave Barry is one of my favorite funny people. I read his column on a regular basis until he retired from writing regular columns and started to focus on fiction. He is probably one of my biggest influences in terms of my writing style. At least when I mean to be funny.

In the book, Barry talks about getting older, and how he’s learning to do so from his dog, Lucy. The picture on the cover, shows a black dog of indeterminate parentage (In the book, he claims she is part dalmation, part boxer, part chow chow and part something else, that I don’t remember right now) with a muzzle that has been turned white by a life long lived.

She reminds me of my Toby, which we had for 14 years until we lost him to cancer a couple of years ago. She looks at once, wise and foolish, just the way he did.

Old dogs have that whole wisdom and foolishness thing down pat. One moment, they can be sitting on the couch, snoozing away, and the next moment running around the house like a puppy because you said the W word. (Walk) It’s that combination of dignified and doofus that makes old dogs so much fun to be around. Much more fun than cats. Cats just get cranky when they get old, but then cats are jerks in general, and I like cats.

The lessons Barry learned from Lucy were many, and were lessons I needed to learn myself. Get my nose out of my phone and be present in the moment. Be genuinely happy to see the people you love and care for. Take frequent naps (that’s not in the book, I learned that one on my own). You know you’re getting old when someone responds to a text with nap, meaning “Not a Problem” and all you can think is “Good idea!”.

Dogs have a way of bringing life down to it’s simplest components. and bringing us with them to the point that we can appreciate a good snooze in the sun, the human equivelant of getting our ears scratched (bringing me ice cream is a close proximity), or just the joy of playing for the sake of playing for half an hour before we go back to being humans with all of our hangups and responsibilities.

If it sounds like I worship my dogs, I don’t, but I do respect them for the ease with which they are able to be in the moment at all times. Dogs don’t worry about the future, and even the most abused dog is capable of embracing someone who loves them now, even though it sometimes take a while.

They’re a big part of my life, and unlike my wife and child, don’t care if I write about them here, because, well, they can’t read, although I do believe they can spell, since spelling the W word gets them just as excited as saying it now.

I better let you get back to work. I have to take all three dogs O-U-T-S-I-D-E. Oh bother, they know how to spell that too, now.