Nothing’s more frustrating than to plan to complete a certain task only to discover you don’t “feel like it,” you’re “not in the mood,” or you’re blocked, “drawing a blank.” You’ve spent time you’ll never get back, and you have nothing to show for it. We hear adults with ADHD are poor time managers, but when you make the effort, when you do what you’re supposed to do… it would really be nice if you accomplished what you planned. After all, it’s not like you have nothing but free time the rest of the week!
Even when you do everything they say
You dismiss it as “writer’s block,” or not being “in the zone,” and juggle appointments, staying late, again, to make up for the unproductive time you wasted. It’s so frustrating because you followed every time management expert’s recommendation: you broke your project into manageable chunks, you planned time to work on those tasks, you blocked off appointments in your agenda so no one could ask you to do anything else, you eliminated distractions (maybe you even hid out at a coffee shop to avoid phone calls and emails) and it still didn’t work. Hours have slipped through your fingers, never to be recovered, and you have nothing to show for it.
Mention this to most people and they’ll dismiss it. “You’re just having a bad day. It happens to everyone.” When it happens again, people wonder why you’re “procrastinating.” After all, you didn’t get it done today, so you’re rescheduling it for tomorrow, or the next day. It sure looks like procrastination. And they’ve got great advice for that too! They tell you, “Always do the toughest thing first.” Someone else confides that their secret is, “Always do the easiest thing first.” Another offers the always helpful, “Just do it.”
But when it happens regularly, they begin to look at you sideways. “Maybe you’re blocked because you’re not facing your fears?” Or the old favorite, “Maybe you don’t really want to succeed; are you sabotaging yourself?” Maybe you’d even believe them, if it wasn’t for the fact that sometimes, you’re not sure why, the stars align and everything clicks. You’re able to get things done, faster and better than anyone else. Obviously you can do this. You start to wonder if you’re crazy.
You can’t tell if you’re not managing your time properly, if you’re procrastinating or if you’re secretly self-sabotaging! What you do know is that nothing seems to work, at least it never works well enough that you can count on it.
You’re missing the real reason
What if I told you that you’re missing the real reason for your inconsistent performance? You’re not lazy, procrastinating, or even crazy. You’re not “afraid of success.” No, the real problem is that your energy levels are not optimal for the activity you have planned. Everyone’s energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. However, adults with ADHD are particularly susceptible to variations in brain energy. Concentration or mental focus requires a lot of energy, so if you plan to tackle an activity that requires your full attention at a time when your energy levels are low, you’ll struggle. You’ll find it impossible to focus, difficult to control your urge to fidget and a complete waste of time to attempt to “will” yourself to concentrate anyway.
Most people underestimate the importance of matching your energy levels with the demands your activities place on your brain. Unaffected, the prefrontal cortex can function well enough through a range of energy levels. However, as an adult with ADHD, your impaired prefrontal cortex is sensitive to even slight variations. The effect of a drop in energy is so dramatic, just understanding your own energy cycle so you can schedule tasks to match the appropriate energy level well lets you reliably finish whatever you plan rather than having to reschedule because you “weren’t in the mood.”
Scheduling the right activity at the wrong place in your energy cycle is like throwing perfectly good time out the window. I had one client, Diane, who had taken the plunge, leaving her job to start her own business. Within six months, she was desperate. Consulting contracts weren’t coming in because she was really struggling to complete and deliver her proposals. Funds were running low and she was wondering if she was cut out to be a business owner. She contacted me to help her to overcome her procrastination; she really needed to be able to prepare and submit proposals on time.
Once she explained the situation, I recognized that her main problem was not actually procrastination. It became obvious that because she was unaware of her energy patterns, she was attempting to work on her proposals at the wrong time of the day. In fact, her time allocation was completely off.
In the week following mapping out her peak energy cycles she called at 6 pm in a panic. She’d been trying unsuccessfully for the last four hours to complete a proposal for a potential client despite a next-day deadline. In the past, if nothing else worked, she’d count on the deadline to get her focused enough to complete the proposal, but today even that wasn’t working.
I helped her see that proposals require a lot of mental energy and that she’d have better results if she scheduled this work at a time when her energy cycle was high. She decided to tackle the proposal the next day during her peak energy time, and the next morning called me back, excited because she’d just completed her proposal, with ease, and it had only taken her 45 minutes! She had time left over to check her figures, have it edited and deliver it by the end of the day.
She loved the feeling of being “in the zone.” She got more done, in less time, and turned out better quality work. No surprise, really, that she got the contract.
Most people don’t pay attention to fluctuations in their mental energy, treating each hour of the day as if they were all the same. Unfortunately, while this may not dramatically affect most people, adults with ADHD are working at a real disadvantage when they don’t match their activities to their mental energy patterns. Many ADHDers also have habits that affect their energy patterns, making it difficult to stabilize and recognize their own energy patterns.
To improve your effectiveness:
1. Adopt ADHD-friendly strategies to understand, identify and stabilize your energy patterns;
2. Take note of your predictable energy pattern fluctuations and how they affect your ability to focus, your need to move and your periods of exhaustion throughout your day
3. Optimize your mental energy by matching the type of energy necessary for each task to the best time to complete it
4. Engage in healthy habits that energize your brain
5. If you still struggle to put this puzzle together, get the help of an ADHD coach who understands how ADHD affects energy patterns and how your energy patterns impact your ADHD.
Coach Linda Walker, PCC, helps adults with ADHD improve their productivity at work, achieve work-life balance and prevent burnout. The author of With Time to Spare: The Ultimate Guide to Peak Performance for Entrepreneurs, Adults with ADHD and other Creative Geniuses, she is also the creator of The Maximum Productivity Makeover and Thrive! The Natural Approach to Optimal Focus and Effectiveness.
Yesterday, my husband, Duane, and I celebrated 29 years of marriage. I would like to say it was all blissful but I’d be lying, and I’m a terrible liar. (Not the anniversary! That was wonderful! I mean the 29 years of marriage!)
Until Duane received his diagnosis of ADHD in 1996, neither of us knew what the problem was. Duane and I struggled with dividing household chores (the struggle was not in dividing them, I did it all despite his best efforts and promises to do better), with our finances and the added pressures of Duane’s frequent job changes as he became bored with or lost his jobs. Under so much pressure, we fought… a lot. Duane’s impatience and emotional outbreaks affected our relationship and his relationship with our daughters. The entire family was dysfunctional.
After his diagnosis, Duane began his journey toward embracing the positive and overcoming the negative aspects of his ADHD. Duane and my youngest daughter, as is quite common, received their ADHD diagnosis around the same time – Kyrie was diagnosed first and as we read about her situation, light bulbs went on about Duane’s struggles. And while only Duane and my youngest were diagnosed, I think of us as a family with ADHD. We could only solve this problem working together, and so this was as much my journey as theirs.
Today, as an ADHD coach, when I work with an adult ADHDer, some of our biggest challenges are with the spouse. And I get it. Been there, done that! Being a member of family with ADHD can be exhausting, nerve-wracking and absolutely frustrating. And I think what I found most frustrating is that I thought I had no control over anything. Once I learned that there were some things I could do to make life with ADHD better for all of us, the building process began and the frustration diminished.
Here’s what I did to fix Duane:
First, I changed my mindset. I realized that I wasn’t the only one suffering in the family. I know Duane had it worse than me – he was living it 24/7. He wanted to be a better partner and a more patient father. Our daughters suffered too. They saw their parents constantly worried, fighting or impatient. Kyrie struggled with her ADHD and learning disabilities, and our oldest daughter, Jennifer, felt neglected as all our efforts were directed at helping Kyrie and Duane. Duane wasn’t the only one who had some work to do, I did too. As parents, we feel for our children and would do anything to make their hurt stop, after all they didn’t ask for this. Oddly enough, we don’t always feel the same empathy towards our spouses with ADHD (even though they didn’t ask for it either!) I let go of my martyrdom and embraced empowerment, realizing that at any given moment, people do the best they can with what they know at the time.
I learned all I could about ADHD. I didn’t just learn so I could help my daughter (which as a mother, I would do without question) but also for my husband. The more I knew, the more empowered I felt. I read books, listened to webinars and went to conferences on ADHD. Attending our first ADDA Conference as a couple was a life-changing event. We both learned so much, met other people coping successfully with what we were going through and left empowered.
I became part of the solution. Duane struggles with several aspects of ADHD, but the worst is his short-term memory, which IS an ADHD problem. So why was I asking him to do things or to pick things up at the store when he didn’t have a pen and paper or his PDA to take notes? I also often asked him to help when he was tired or distracted. How likely was that to turn into a positive situation? It was only when I was willing to let go of the way things were done and turn responsibility over to Duane that we began to make progress. He told me he’d take over certain tasks, if he could do it his way. He took over the grocery shopping. I offered my help if he needed it (secretly thinking we’d probably starve to death waiting for Duane!) To my surprise, he created his own system for doing it (don’t ever tell him I said this, but it’s much more efficient than the way I did it!) and we’ve never looked back.
I took care of myself. I lowered my standards on things that didn’t really matter much, especially in the beginning. So what if I didn’t clean the house EVERY week and cook ALL my meals from scratch? Instead of chasing dust bunnies, I spent time with friends to relax and return to my family a lot more ready to laugh as freak out at the wacky situations most ADHD families encounter regularly.
The most important thing I did was to notice any positive changes. As Duane began to work with his physician and his coach, I avoided nagging about what wasn’t yet addressed – change takes time – and made sure to notice what was moving in the right direction. And I was sure to let him know how much I appreciated it.
There are several other things we did to improve life as an ADHD family. We learned to communicate better how we felt rather than blaming, and we shared our dreams and aspirations. We started dating again; no, we didn’t have much money back then, but using Duane’s vivid imagination, we found fun things to do that cost little or no money. We didn’t get bogged down by social norms of gender roles and what constitutes woman’s work and man’s work, opting instead to take on the jobs around the house that we were better at or liked more.
We even created our own secret language to use discretely in public (I could provide Duane with cues to appropriate behavior in social situations, for example. And he could signal when he couldn’t take another minute of the 47 family members sharing a cabin in the woods for Christmas anymore and needed a break for some peace and quiet.)
And so now 29 years later, here we are still married, and much, much happier. We laugh a lot more and fight a lot less. I can safely say that Duane is my best friend and I, his. Was it easy? Absolutely not, but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together and I know it was definitely worth it.
This just in! ADDA has just announced their speakers’ lineup. You already know ADDA will be holding the Adult ADHD Conference July 18-21 in Detroit, Michigan at the Renaissance Center. Now, I’ve got a sneak peak at upcoming highlights (I don’t think they’ve even put it on their site yet!) What an incredible line up of speakers including, not one but, three keynote speakers!
In my last post, I mentioned that Sari Solden, who on her own is worth seeing, would be opening the conference with the first keynote address. Now it is official, both Dr. Ned Hallowell, author of “Driven to Distraction”, “Delivered from Distraction”, “Married to Distraction” and many more, and Canadian comedian and co-creator of “ADD and Loving It?!”, “ADD and Mastering It” and a founder of TotallyADD.com will be keynote speakers.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing Ned Hallowell give keynote speeches on two different occasions, and I have found him to be incredibly insightful and hilarious.
I’ve also had the privilege of collaborating with Rick and Ava Green on various projects related to TotallyADD.com. Rick was even a participant in my program, “The Maximum Productivity Makeover for Creative Geniuses” (aka ADHDers). During the program, we worked together for more than six months, and I witnessed his great sense of wonderment and his insightful take on life with ADHD.
Any one of these speakers would be worth a trip to Detroit. All three in the same conference will be amazing, as each of them excels at delivering a message that is inspiring, entertaining and beneficial.
There will be many breakout sessions over the three days with professionals working with adults with ADHD presenting their very best material covering strategies to improve your life in many areas of expertise, from career, to productivity, to legal, to organizational strategies and more. You’re sure to find many sessions that will answer your questions, provide the strategies you’ve been looking for and making your life with ADHD easier.
They’ve even added special sessions aimed at spouses of ADHDers. I’ll be participating in panel with Linda Anderson, Ava Green and Bruce Greenfield, all non-ADHDers in successful marriages with ADHD spouses. There really is something for everyone.
Finally I’ll also be conducting two breakout sessions of my own:
• ADHD and Burnout: Essential Strategies to Help Prevent ADHD-Related Burnout, and
• ADHD and the Science of Change: The Power to Take Control
The Early-Bird Special discount has been extended to May 10. This was changed to make sure people had time to register once the conference program was posted, but it won’t be delayed again, so don’t put it off… the price will jump dramatically before the conference starts, and you know you want to go, so make sure you get the best deal possible, register now. Members save even more (even more than the cost of joining!) so I highly recommend you join ADDA at the same time.
By now you’ve realized I’ll be going. Having already been to three ADDA conferences, it’s an easy decision for me. These conferences are fantastic… if you’re an adult living with ADHD, it will change your life. My decision is made even easier knowing it’s within driving distance from Toronto, Ottawa and even Montreal; carpooling will likely be an option.
Recently the ADD Association, an organization that offers education, advocacy and awareness for Adults with ADHD announced that they would be holding a national conference aimed at ADDers in Detroit, Michigan. This is great news!
The 14th International Adult AD/HD Conference will take place July 18th to 21st, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center with the theme, Reach Out for Connection, Hope and Empowerment.
My First Experience of the ADDA Conference
Having been to the last three ADDA National Conferences, I am amazed at how ADDA consistently offers excellent conferences with great speakers. This year should be another amazing year with keynote speaker, Sari Solden, author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder and Journeys Through ADDulthood. I heard Sari speak at that first conference and I thoroughly enjoyed her analogy about “sheep shame”, her own personal battle with ADHD. She was insightful, funny and entertaining and I look forward to hearing her speak again.
When we first heard of the ADDA conference in 2005 from a friend who had been to a few of them, Duane and I decided to go to see what other nuggets on ADHD we could get. What we found surpassed our expectations. For Duane and many of our local friends who came with us, not only did they learn new strategies and tools, they increased their self-acceptance, they found a community, and felt free to “let your hair down”.
For me, as a spouse, I began to better understand what it was like for Duane to have ADHD and learned how I could partner with him (instead of act like his mommy) to create a life that we both can enjoy.
Both Duane and I came back with a much better understanding of the impact of ADHD, a large number of strategies – many of which I still use in my day to day coaching – and a commitment to return to every ADDA national conferences.
I was especially touched when one young woman who had written a song but struggled to get up and sing it. I wasn’t sure if it was a problem with her guitar or just her profound shyness. But with the help of some of the participants and the encouragement of all, she finally got up and sang during the ADDA Talent show. Her song spoke of the challenges of ADHD but also of the hope that resided in her and it moved many of us in the room. The talent show reminded us to pay attention to our strengths, a key to having a wonderful life with ADHD.
Each Conference Better Than the Last
My first experience of ADDA’s conferences was great but each year, each conference was better, so I can only imagine what lies ahead for us.
Given the quality and variety of subjects of importance to ADHDers, the conference is relatively inexpensive, especially if you become a member of ADDA. And why wouldn’t you, for as little as $45, you gain access to regular webinars, access to a large number of free resources and deep discounts on conferences. For many of you, the central location of this conference provides many travel options, such as car pooling.
Early-Bird Special in Effect
You can probably tell that I’m going and I hope you’ll join us. The early-bird registration discount ends on May 10th but don’t wait. Commit now before you forget, sign up now.
I want to share a quote I read this morning; it is a powerful and thought-provoking quote by Victor C. Frankl, the Nazi concentration camp survivor who wrote:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
As a coach, I work with adults with ADHD, and one of my most important tasks it to help them to respond to their situation rather than reacting. When they are first diagnosed, especially when their ADHD is discovered later in life, interpret their diagnosis as, “I’m broken!” The search for a cure begins immediately. They turn to their doctor, “Now that you know what it is, isn’t there a pill that fixes it?” We are conditioned to “react” with medication rather than respond with lifestyle choices – miracle diets make headlines when the only real solution is to eat less and exercise more.
Even adults with ADHD who discover that “pills don’t teach skills,” and that with or without medication, you still need to change your approach to life so it’s more “ADHD-friendly” perceive themselves as broken and begin looking for a quick “fix.” You look for training to help you overcome your weaknesses by working longer and harder, being more disciplined, being more driven… you struggle with time management so you take training to improve your time management, you struggle to make decisions so you find an expert in decision-making processes, you work with an organizer so you can finally get your files in order… In every case, you seek, and struggle to apply, advice from experts who are well-meaning and knowledgeable, but who are “neurotypicals.”
You seek out experts, but they are experts in the way non-ADHD people do things. What they teach you are strategies and techniques perfectly adapted to help non-ADHD adults manage time better, to get organized and to make better decisions. Unfortunately, when these strategies fail, as they must since they’re not designed for adults for ADHD, you blame their failure on your own shortcomings. As an ADHD adult, you rarely question the strategies, or the expert; you shoulder all the blame.
Sometimes, initial improvements provide a false “A-HA!” moment because the ADHD brain loves anything new, but over time, these strategies cannot work effectively for you because they deny that you are different from neurotypicals… not worse, not better… but different. This is like you cutting off your left hand so you’ll be forced to do things the “right” way, right-handed. In fact, for many, many years, left-handed people were beaten in school for trying to write with their left hands. Being left-handed was seen as being “broken” or worse, evil! However, we now know that if instead, you learn to work with your left hand you’ll have more success in life than if you deny your differences. Why, it might even work to your advantage… left-handed pitchers are often harder to hit than right-handed pitchers.
So if your reaction to your ADHD has been, “Can’t somebody fix me?!,” and you’ve been trying to adopt a “neurotypical” approach to managing your life, I highly recommend you choose instead to respond by embracing your ADHD. Embrace your uniqueness and learn to work with your ADHD, adopting ADHD-friendly ways to manage your life. It is only when you accept your uniqueness and respond to it as merely a difference rather than a defect… when you stop trying to be right-handed like everyone else but seek out left-handed tools, that you experience growth and freedom.
For those who are registering by September 30th, we’ll also include two bonus conferences:
Adult ADHD: You, Me and My ADHD
When diagnosed, most adults with ADHD feel relief. You feel vindicated, that you’re not, in the words of Kate Kelly and Peggy Romundo, “lazy, stupid of crazy!” But your partner felt relieved too, but for an entirely different reason. Unfortunately, your partner was thinking, “Great! Now we can fix this thing and get on with our lives!” Maybe you were too!
Linda Walker, whose husband was diagnosed with ADHD only after their daughter’s ADHD was recognized in school, was at her wits end when she learned her husband also had ADHD! As Linda explains, “Once we discovered ADHD wasn’t something you could cure, that it was genetic and permanent, I was devastated! It felt like a life sentence… I was condemned to “taking care of” my ADHD spouse, being the responsible one, the only adult in the family!
In this session, now-ADHD Coach Linda Walker and her husband of 28 years, Duane Gordon, successful artist and ADHD poster-child, share some of their secrets for surviving adult ADHD and creating a thriving relationship. It is possible to transform a “life sentence” into a lifelong commitment.
Adult ADHD: Create Time to Succeed
Catch-22 was a great novel, but it sucks when it’s your life. You desperately want to improve your productivity, but you don’t have time to learn how. Adult ADHD has turned your life into perpetual chaos and confusion. Not a minute to spare and yet you’re never caught up! You need to learn new self-management strategies and skills so you can impose order in the chaos, take charge of your own life and master your ADHD, but to do that, you need to make time in a filled-to-overflowing schedule. Catch-22!
Duane Gordon, ADHD Coach Linda Walker’s husband had hit rock bottom. Demoted and threatened with dismissal, he had to do something, but what? In their first session, Duane’s ADHD coach pointed out that he was trying to fit about 220 hours of activity in an average week (and that’s before sleep!)
After saving his job (and earning a promotion to vice-president), he went on to pursue his dream of being an artist, which he had abandoned many years earlier as he struggled to meet the demands of college and his career. In this session, Duane, Linda’s Maximum Productivity Makeover co-developer and guinea pig, shares strategies and techniques he used to create time in an overloaded schedule to master his ADHD and take charge of his life.
Linda Walker, PCC, B. Admin., is a certified ADHD Coach who helps adults with ADHD overcome the special challenges of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) they encounter at home and in the workplace. She is the creator of The Maximum Productivity Makeover for Creative Geniuses, a training program for adults with ADHD and the author of With Time to Spare.