Before we get into this episode I want to share how challenging this episode has been. Not because of the content topic but because of the process. I am going to walk you through how I typically put an episode together and explain why this one in particular has been so challenging.
I start with a topic this is generally pretty easy to come up with. I just pull from whatever I am dealing with or thinking about or what I see others struggling with. I do some research and start writing. Most of the time I will sit down a few different nights over the course of 1-2 weeks and write the draft then edit before I record. I do this because when I tried just talking I got off topic and went in circles and well it wasn’t good trust me. Writing it out helps me get everything in some sort of a coherent order that makes sense without going into too many tangents. I try to write like I talk and think, not really polishing anything, just putting all of the puzzle pieces in the right place to make a picture. Taking the 2 weeks to write is usually a good amount of time because I still remember what I was doing and the flow is pretty smooth. This episode however I have literally been writing for months. I would write while getting my kids ready for bed or while waiting for a file to load, while I was eating, and yes even sometimes in the bathroom. It was basically whenever I could find a spare minute. What came of it was a mess. I edited it and thought I had something good but really if I am being honest it was trash. My plan for tonight was to add in some information and I knew exactly where the holes were during the final editing. There were places that felt rushed and others where I should have gone more in depth to explain better but when I went to find it earlier it was gone, missing, I tried everything I could think of to find it. My husband said it just wasn’t meant to be and I think he was right. I am starting over tonight so I can give you guys something actually worth listening too. At least I hope you find it worth listening too.
Now everything after this is what the episode should have been from the beginning:
I just want to thank you all for sticking with me. I know it has been a while since I gave you an episode and I blame part of it on procrastination and part on being exhausted. Regardless I am still here for you guys and don’t plan on going anywhere. What this pandemic has taught me is that I have to keep moving forward no matter what. I can’t allow myself to fall victim to the shame I feel because I missed an episode or 2 or even 5. The old me would have just let this all go, why not, it’s been a while since I loaded an episode no one will care. The me that started this in the first place is making allowances for the hiccups and mistakes and trying to grant myself permission to be me. I am telling the old me to shut up and sit down. All of the podcasting groups tout how important consistency is, it is the key to a successful podcast. Ok great but so is authenticity or at least that is what I believe. That is why I am here to be authentic ang honest about my struggles with ADHD and part of living your life with ADHD is getting used to failing but the flip side to that coin is resiliency and our ability to always get back up and try again. That is what I am doing, I am trying again. Again, thank you for being here for being you and allowing me to share my journey with you.
U2 is my all time favorite band and their songs sooth my soul. One in particular came to mind while I was trying to write this episode “Stuck in a Moment’ I mean if that isn’t just the perfect description of what I have been feeling. Just listen to this lyric from the chorus:
You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better
Now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it
Seriously does that not just sound exactly how it feels when burnout and procrastination hit? Your brain is overwhelmed and you can’t move forward because you’re stuck like you are in quicksand you can’t get out of.
The next couple of episodes are going to be productivity based. UGGHHH whhhhyyyy, I know we get this stuff crammed down our throats all of the time. If you would just use your calendar, or set reminders, try this app or read this book and everything will bring you joy. OK first of all Marie it will not bring me joy, it will cause me anxiety and shame or it will put me into hyper focus and never get done which adds to the anxiety and shame. Second I have tried so many things and the reason none of them stick is because they are HARD, COMPLICATED, BORING, I got distracted at some point and just quit, or well they are not aesthetically pleasing to the eye aka pretty. Does any of that sound relatable to anyone at all? Productivity tips make me cringe for 2 reasons; 1) I know I need them and 2) I just don’t want to do them. Many sound so easy and all kinds of people you know may be using them and trying to convince you how awesome they are. Well they aren’t easy at least not for me and no matter which one I try I always have to customize it somehow.
Take the Pomodoro method for example, I loved this one because it was one of the easiest productivity tools I had ever tried and I was so productive. For a while anyway until I didn’t anymore, not really sure why, no actually I am, that was when I was still switching meds trying to find the right one and I think I spent the whole 2 months while I was on Vyvanse doing it then I switched to Adderall and got out of the habit because I couldn’t focus, the Adderall didn’t work for me. https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique
Anyway, If you don’t know, the main premise of the Pomodoro method or technique is you work in 4 sessions each is 25 minutes with a short 5 minute break in between followed by a longer 20-30 min break at the end of the 4 sessions. For each session you pick 1 task and work on nothing but that 1 task. When the timer goes off for the session you are in you can check off that task and move to the next one. I didn’t use a pomodoro tomato timer, I used the app Brain Focus for its ability to be customized. I was able to adjust the time of my sessions and breaks. I used a 40 minute session because I couldn’t get anything done in 25 minutes by the time I was ready to start I would only have 5 or 10 minutes left. With the Brain Focus app I set my sessions to 40 minutes and my breaks to 5 with my long break of 30 minutes. If I got a phone call I could even pause the timer so I didn’t lose the time I was trying to work on that one task. The other function I liked is that if I was in the zone and a task needed more time I could skip a break and keep going. I would use my short breaks to just breath for a minute, take a walk, go to the bathroom, check email for anything urgent or get something to drink. The long breaks would fall about lunch time so I would eat lunch and check and respond to a few emails and take a short walk again. What I really liked about doing this was I gave myself permission NOT to multitask and I was so much more productive. I don’t think I have ever been nearly as productive since. The problem I am having now is actually trying to start it up again after having not done it for so long. It should be easy. I can’t bring myself to delete the app and my settings are all there. I just need to do it and I really do want to. It’s just that the transition from my old job to my new one has made it a little difficult. Maybe now that things have calmed down a little and getting more routine I can try it again. I would be interested to see if I can pick it up and be just as productive.
Let’s go back in time to about a month ago, You all know how I have been struggling and in this funk. I finally decided that needed to change, I was sitting at my dining room table at 11:19pm doing my day job but really it’s become my night job so I can take turns getting the kids out of the house during the day with my husband. We both have several conference calls to do and if we don’t get them out of the house for bike rides, scooters, walks something they go stir crazy because we have been quarantined for so long. Waiting for a form to load so I could validate my data (my fake budget bc the world has gone to crap and all the numbers I did were based on a normal year and not a Covid-19 affected year so they are all now wrong, but I digress) I was sitting there thinking about all of the things I need to do (not needed because many I still months later need to do). After reading and hearing about how effective doing a brain dump or mind map or whatever you want to call it…..can be I decided I needed to make a reminder to write it out into my bullet journal, which by the way I haven’t had to depend on since all of this so that is nice. There aren’t as many meetings, no extra curricular activities for the kids, doctors appointments to go to, or other obligations. In many ways life has slowed down and in others it is more complicated.
Staring at a blank page in my bullet journal I kept wondering how do you brain dump or mind map in the first place? How do I get started? What do I write down first? Where does it go? Is there a special format I should use? Do I put it in a particular order? Is it like a brainstorming web we used to do in school where you have a big circle in the middle with little lines that branch out of it to other circles and more off of those? I am imagining that and it makes my skin crawl. I just stared at my computer screen blankly as it still has not loaded. In thinking about doing a brain dump I have heard people say oh they are great you just write everything in your brain down on a piece of paper. That sounds terrifying, there are work things, house things, kid things, podcast things, other things, so many things in my head. I need structure in this area, I can’t just write shit down all willy nilly. I mean should I have it like an outline, draw boxes/columns with titles? What do I do? I did nothing.
Flash forward a few days. I tried to scour the internet for how to do a brain dump but got distracted. Does that happen to anyone else? Lol of course it does. We all go down that rabbit hole and end up with a hundred different tabs open. I wasn’t liking what I was seeing because it all was a mess and didn’t really help me. At this point I basically said screw it. I finished my work that night and spent the next few days thinking about how I still needed to do this because there is just too much I have to do and I don’t want to forget the things I am desperately trying to remember.
Flash forward about 2 weeks. I was sitting in a mini chair at the lego table in my girls playroom. The girls were watching a mermaid show from Australia called HH20 on Netflix. It’s quite entertaining in a mind numbing no thinking kind of way. I looked down at the table. There were a couple of blank pages of computer paper just laying there in front of me begging to be used. I thought ok I am just sitting here doing nothing, why not just do this. I opted not to do the mind map thing because well I can’t stand that form of brainstorming. Instead I picked out a purple colored pencil from the tin on the desk and just started writing down everything I could think of in no particular order other than the order that they popped into my head. I wrote while they watched and then played. I even wrote while I played with baby dolls and talk about multitasking..lol. One page became 2 using the front and then back of each sheet. All night I kept coming back to add things, drawing lines, making boxes, writing sideways in the margins, and all over. It wasn’t pretty but miraculously I did feel better having actually written it all down. It literally felt like a weight had been lifted. I didn’t feel as bogged down because I wasn’t forcing myself to remember all of these things anymore; they were written down now.
The question became, what do I do now that I wrote all of this stuff down? The different websites all say to prioritize it and to break down the big steps into little ones but don’t tell you how to do that exactly. Ok fine I will just figure it out myself and do it my way. Which let’s be honest, don’t we kind of do that anyway? Again I sat and stared blankly at the pages looking over them flipping them over trying to figure out where to start. I walked away because I got overwhelmed by all of the things I still needed to do. This is one of those moments where I wish I didn’t have ADHD and little things weren’t so hard. I should be able to do this to move things around and organize them but no I am stuck in this how the hell do I even start whirlpool sucking me into the bermuda triangle of shame because I can’t do a simple task. Let’s face it, are there really any simple tasks for us? I start on a word doc because I have decided the bullet journal isn’t big enough for this list then move on to an excel doc. I go through all of the checklist templates, I don’t like any of them. I try to start my own and can’t even figure out a layout I want. Frustrated again I walked away. Why can’t I just do this damned list?
I know that if I prioritize them and give myself 1 task to do for 15-20 min each day it will be simple and my list will get done before you know it. I know this, my brain knows this, so why can’t I just do it??? Ugghhh ok ok I will just take a break and come back to it I tell myself all the while I am not actually taking a break from it bc while I am doing other things I can’t quit thinking about it. It won’t go away for 5 minutes so I can focus on or think about anything else. So here I sat writing about it instead of doing it.
The time between when I started thinking about doing it and actually writing everything down just for the sake of a timeline was about a month.
Ok screw it I am just going to sit down and read my list. I took out another sheet of paper and tried making columns of things and I got through some things then started getting agitated with it and trashed it. Next I tried making an outline again. I started it and hated it and trashed it again. At this point I said ok fine and tried the mind mapping where you start with a bubble, draw lines to other bubbles then bubbles off those and wanted to scream so trashed that one too. In all fairness I couldn’t even decide on what to put on the big bubble so I scraped it a few times.
I gave up, I mean how am I going to start helping other people with their goals if I can’t figure out my own. Ridiculous right? I was lucky and got connected with a productivity coach through a facebook group I am a member of. We had a 1 hour phone call and all is good in the world again. The best part is what she told me to do, I already knew I just forgot or couldn’t recall in the moment of it all for some reason, thanks memory love you too. I mean I spent weeks doing research on some of the best ways for people with ADHD to help breakdown goals and here I couldn’t even remember any of it until someone else walked me through it. I think we all need that though. I think having someone in your corner helping you with the hard things is important even psychiatrists see and seek help from other psychiatrists. We just get too in our own way sometimes.
I can’t stress enough how important just asking for help and having someone outside of my head calm me down and walk me through what I was doing was. Her sitting there on the zoom call and guiding me through the first one really helped break me out of my mental block and brain fog. What she helped me with was simple she asked me to take one item on my list and then in the form the next question was why, I needed to know what my why was for each goal the thing that motivated me why that goal was important so I would have something to look at and remind me if I got discouraged.
After I had my task and my why we started with the SMART part of the planning/mind mapping thing. Have you ever heard of SMART goals? Let’s break it down real quick: S-Specific you need to make the goal specific not vague or you won’t know how to break it down. Something like ‘get a degree’ well it’s a goal but not very specific it should be more like ‘get an MBA in Business Management’ that is specific you have the type of degree and the focus or field. Now you can figure out the steps to take to get that degree.
Next is M-Measurable how do you quantify the goal. To stick with the example of the Master’s Degree you would be able to track your goal through the degree audit by knowing how many classes you have taken and how many more you need to take to get the degree.
A- is for apple no just kidding A is for attainable can you get the degree? This may seem like a simple answer but think about things like this, can you afford it? Do you have the time? If you work during the day can you take classes at night, on the weekend, or online, Is the work going to be too hard? You have to make sure the goal is realistic and that you have all of the tools and resources needed to reach the goal.
R-Relevant does the goal align with your values and life goals
Finally T- Time based the goal needs to be realistic and ambitious. You need to be able to set a date to which you will accomplish the goal and have something to motivate you.
Once I got done with the call things became clearer and I sat down and filled out 4 goal worksheets. These 4 worksheets were literally only 2 items off my brain dump list but breaking them down into baby steps makes it feel easier. These aren’t hard tasks either not by any stretch of the imagination but when your in a funk like I have been even the small things feel daunting. I don’t know about you guys but I absolutely love the feeling of physically marking through a list item or checking the box. It feels good and it’s satisfying. It’s silly that I get so excited about marking things off lists but it makes me feel productive like I am actually moving forward and getting things done. By the time I finished marking off everything on my list it had expanded again. I did find that I had many things written down multiple times in different places which I thought was pretty funny and so ADHD. My once 2 page list is now something like 9 tabs of worksheets where I have broken things down into baby steps. I have finally started getting things done. I am coming back and getting to the things I love again like trying to spend more time with family, self care, and my podcast. There is just a lot of backend stuff I am catching up on. There is nothing like the feeling of having all of your to dos written down and organized. I think of it like clearing my cache and cookies on the internet, or deleting a bunch of apps so my phone can free up space, storage, or memory. As long as I am writing things down it’s like using an external hard drive I don’t have to worry about the cpu crashing because I have everything saved somewhere else….WOW I just did a ton of computer analogies. I think that might be a sign that I need to stop talking.
I want to hear what your strategies are for organization and prioritization. What apps, systems, etc. have or have not worked for you?