Attention, Not Time, Leads to Productivity

Ever notice how so many of us work longer hours, cutting into our lunch breaks and home life, in a quest to get more done, yet our inbox pile keeps getting higher, our unanswered emails keep stacking up, and our to-do lists verge on becoming a to-do book?

We proudly wear the “busy” label as a badge of honor that means we’re dedicated and going places, when in reality all we’re doing is spinning our wheels. What are we really dedicated to? Achieving better results? Or squandering our personal time doing “busy work” (and doing it ineffectively and inefficiently on top of that!) This is especially true of adults with ADHD, except your “busy” badge is rooted more in shame than in pride.

I’m not implying that you’re doing this on purpose. In fact, you’re working exactly the way you’ve been taught. The problem, of course, is that you’ve been taught wrong. People with ADHD often don’t know there’s a better way to work, a way that makes you more productive but with less work. So what’s the secret? The one no one ever told you because they were too busy telling you to work harder, put your nose to the grind stone and work, work, work.

Productive Vs. Busy

Truly productive people work smarter not harder. While “busy” people focus on the hours they spend on something, productive people have learned to value attention. But you’re thinking “Hey wait a minute, Linda! I have ADHD, if attention is required to be productive and work less, I’m doomed! That’s what “Attention Deficit” means”.

Well, that’s a common myth, but like all myths, it’s dead wrong. You are capable of paying attention for longer periods of time than you ever imagined, longer even than those people who started the myth that you can’t focus! I’m talking about hours, not minutes of additional focus at a time. And under the right conditions, you can even do it consistently every day.

There’s a Pattern

Your periods of focus-ability tend to occur following approximately the same schedule each day. Yes, you can almost set your watch by it because, under the right conditions, you can have two periods each day when you have sufficient mental energy to tackle long tasks that require you to be focused. And with the right approach, those periods of attention are pure gold, no platinum, in terms of increased productivity! So how do you discover when your productivity platinum mind appears?

You start by paying attention to how you’re paying attention. Monitor how you are able to pay attention at different times throughout your day. Do it over a few days, and you will see a pattern begin to emerge. Keep watching and before long, you’ll realize that your pattern is so consistent, it’s actually predictable, and once it becomes predictable, you’re in charge!

Work With Your ADHD, Not Against It

While you may think that ADHD creates a disadvantage for you in the business world, there are strategies you can employ to take advantage of the symptoms of ADHD. In doing so, you may find you’ll become just as productive (and maybe even slightly more productive) than your non-ADHD counterparts.

You, like non-ADHDers, have cycles of energy throughout your day. This, of course, means that at certain times your energy levels will be low and you will feel drained and sluggish. The difference between you and a non-ADHDer is that they can trudge their way through those periods of low energy to maintain adequate productivity levels, whereas you likely find it impossible to be creative, effective, or efficient during these times, and difficult to tackle even less challenging tasks. At other times you are full of energy and feel great, as if you can accomplish anything! In fact, at these times you may feel as though you’ve achieved a state of hyperfocus, and you may find it difficult to “unfocus” yourself.

The good news is that, contrary to common wisdom, there is no need to fight these cycles. Although your ADHD brain works differently than most, you can use these differences to your advantage. It’s simply a matter of working smarter, not harder. Since your peaks are higher than average, you can use your energy to accomplish far more than most people can. On the other hand, there are ADHD-friendly ways of maintaining your productivity even during low-energy periods, simply by selecting the right tasks, or molding the tasks to permit you to accomplish them even during down times.

Most people try to squeeze more actions into their day to increase their productivity. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, after a point, it’s simply not possible. You’ll fall behind. By learning to recognize these high and low energy cycles, and by using them to your benefit, you will be able to accomplish more throughout your day, using less time and less energy. Match the tasks that require the most energy output with the times when you have the greatest energy. Use your lower energy times to work on simpler, more habitual tasks; tasks that require very little energy.

It really is that simple. Don’t fight your brain’s natural inclinations. Listen to your body and learn to recognize your energy cycles. Soon, you will be using your time productively without fighting to accomplish tasks that don’t match your energy levels.

Adult ADHD: Enough to Move You

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Dr. John Ratey, co-author of Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction, and speaker at the ADDA (ADD Association) Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota that took place July 10 to 13, 2008 spoke about adult ADHD and exercise.

He makes a good case around the fact that exercise is an important component to overcoming ADHD. As Dr. Ratey mentioned, more than 10,000 years ago, humans walked, ran or sprinted an average of 10 to 14 miles per day just to survive. They hunted and were hunted and so those who could out-run and out-plan their prey or preditors got to survive. This in fact, put ADHD adults at an evolutionary advantage. This ability to move quickly, this need to move, and make impulsive decisions actually aided in the survival of the species.

Now, fast forward to modern humans, we’re lucky if we walk, run or sprint 10 steps in our day. As a result, the same traits that ensured their survival in the past, create an unsatisfied need to move in ADHD adults. As a result of our sedentary lifestyle, ADHD has become a disorder.

To counter this, exercise becomes an important part of the solution. He described many convincing studies that described how exercise not only helps ADHD adults and children but is good for all brains because:

  • it increases blood flow by increasing the number of blood vessels in the brain;
  • it increases the release of neurotransmitters responsible for ADHD: norepinephrine and dopamine
  • over time, you build more receptors, enzymes and blood vessels in your brain
  • it helps control impulses because exercise arouses the brain
  • it reduces the need for disciplinary issues in school

His new book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, is available at bookstores and describes much of the research on the importance of exercise as a way of improving the brain’s executive functions and thus, reducing the effects of ADHD.

 He recommends:

  • find an exercise you enjoy and make it fun
  • make a commitment with yourself and others to help you stick to it
  • select more challenging exercises involving balance such as karate, danse, tennis, volleyball, etc.
  • use music to stimulate you
  • go outside to exercise whenever possible
  • make it into a ritual

As an ADHD Coach, I can safely say that my clients who have the most success in their lives despite their struggles with ADHD are often those who have adopted a more active lifestyle.

If you’ve never liked exercising or have found good excuses for not doing it, I challenge you to find something you’ll enjoy and begin with babysteps that you build on and

Get moving!