Sunday, July 10, 2005

AD/HD: To Do Lists from H * E * Double Hockey Sticks

I didn't realize how completely my life was ruled by To Do Lists until my 6 year old daughter illustrated one for herself and her sisters. She had them waking up, doing their morning routine, picking up toys, eating, picking up the gameroom, dressing, combing their hair, waking me up, and going somewhere in the minivan. I'm not sure why waking me up was almost last on the list, or why it was there at all because I wake myself up, but maybe my recent bout of insomnia was to blame. At any rate, she was certain I would be proud of her list and I was. She was learning the groundwork for good organization.

An Ounce of Prevention

To keep myself from leaping out of bed at 2am to finish something I had forgotten about in an AD/HD frenzy I trained myself to jot down notes before I fell asleep. I developed a routine where I went over my To Do List and reprioritized what should get done the next day. I also developed a routine where I looked at that list when I woke up - something that was a major feat for somebody like me with AD/HD. I can't say it came easily or quickly, or that I'm perfect at it, but my To Do List routine is the foundation my productivity is based upon.

Tail Wagging the Dog

After all, every website, therapist, and astrologer pontificating about the subject will tell you how crucial it is for scatterbrains like us to keep To Do Lists or notepads by the bedside. Heck, they'll tell you to strap a notepad to your face to keep your list of priorities in mind. But what they don't tell you is that lists have a tendency to take on a life of their own. They grow and grow as you add to them. Some people aren't very good at striking things from the list and soon the list becomes a reminder of just how useless they are. For me the list became a trigger for panic that gave me permission to flog myself with the "Loser!" whip. Fortunately, I had a low threshold for pain and quickly developed my nightly routine to avoid such awkward moments. Pat myself on the back for what I checked off the list, reschedule whatever hadn't been accomplished yet, and let it go so I could sleep. Since I had trained myself to view the list in the morning, I had faith I would get to whatever I scheduled for the next day. I was still left with the growing list problem. Over time, the nightly sessions had become a chore. There was so much left unfinished and in need of rescheduling. There wasn't enough time in the day to realistically finish all that needed to be done. The whispers of "Loser!" were in the wings.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Clearly the only solution was to chuck the To Do List in the bin and live life in the AD/HD moment. Soon after depression would seep sloshlingly into my mind and I could pretend I was 25 again. Ah, the secret to eternal youth: procrastination.

Well, there was one other solution. The list could be simplified. Since neither I nor my astrologer foresaw a time when my list of responsibilities lessened in intensity, the ever growing To Do List would remain an issue. However, I could apply an archane and gnostic principle to my life: K I S S. Since my To Do List featured multiple categories for things like Family, Work, etc. I would allow only five items per category. As it was, I had dozens of "Must Do!" items in each category and all I was accomplishing was raising my stress levels. By limiting the number of things I expected to accomplish each day I gave myself a fighting chance.

For the past week I have tried this "radical" new approach to my To Do List. Here is what I have discovered. Instead of being a ticket to happy procrastination that I worried might be the result from pushing off to tomorrow so many projects, my list became super charged with productive intensity (Insert reverb here). By knowing I could only plan a limited amount of items to be accomplished the next day I began to prioritize them better. And when there were fewer unfinished items to reschedule at the end of the day I felt better about myself. One could argue anyone would feel better about themselves when they lowered their expectations and celebrated mediocrity but I would argue that I wasn't realistically planning my day out to begin with. By working under the new constrained To Do List I was more productive and less stressed. Besides, I could always do the next week's list if I had time. Yes. That was a joke. The truth is I'm lucky if I can finish the five items per category I've assigned for the day.

Happiness is a Short List

So now that I am happier and more productive we can expect wonderful things to happen in my life. New art will magically appear on my art desk, my finances will sporadically organize themselves, and I'll be speaking Spanish fluently by the end of next week. Yep. It's a better world over here. Too bad about my astrologer. It seems that NASA's fireworks display in the Heavens has turned the field of astrology on its ear. Now astrologers have to admit that their predictions don't work anymore since NASA went and broke the sky. My suggestion? There's always the coin toss.

Coping Strategies:

1) Keep your lists short to force you to choose only the most important items to work on.

2) Develop the habit of jotting down what you need to do. If you have AD/HD you cannot rely on memory only.

3) Don't worry about growing To Do Lists from H * E * Double Hockeysticks. It's not unique to AD/HD. Everybody has that problem. And we all have to use discipline to manage them.

4) Train yourself to refer to that list. It's no good if you never look at it. Otherwise, you might as well jot your ideas down on a gum wrapper and throw it away. Oh, you already do that!?! Hrmm, that might be a blog entry for another day.