Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Pile That Ate My Day - One Man's Tale of Vanquishing ADHD Boredom

(cc) Douglas CooteyIn the corner of my kitchen resided a pile. A guest might have seen it as any old pile, filled with past due bills, old homework papers, obscure catalogues you’d never order from, and mail for people who stopped living at your address sometime before Massachusetts became a state. Just an ordinary pile.

But I knew better.

That pile was sentient. It leered at me when I wasn’t looking, mocking me with its slowly growing mass. It defied me. It taunted me. It overwhelmed my mind.

It knew what guests did not know. It knew it was as old as Distraction itself and had defied my attempts to vanquish it handily for almost a year. It made a hypocrite of all my highly touted organizational skills.

I tried covering it with the daily deluge of junk mail, but that only seemed to make it grow stronger. Then yesterday it reached out a tendril to trip me. I knew that I could not avoid the confrontation any further. Yesterday was the time for war.


I sometimes wish that life’s little wars were as dramatic as life in the movies. If only there was an ominous soundtrack playing every time I approached one of these messes in my world I would be cued to girdle my loins with my armor, reach for a sword, and commence battle just in time for the rousing trumpets to announce the hero has arrived.

Instead, the messes just sit there.

They’re not going to move unless we exert some energy on them. We could just chuck them in the bin, but we know deep inside those messes there is something of value that we’ll regret losing later. There always is.

The problem I have with these messes is that ADHD fills me with a strong aversion to boredom. It’s not that I look at a mess and think, “Gosh, I’d rather gargle bleach than deal with that now.” Instead, I don’t really have a chance to think about it at all. The moment my brain confronts a boring task, it wriggles out of my ears and bounds down the hallway off to a new adventure. If I’m lucky, I am aware of what is happening and can lasso the li’l beastie before it does any damage, like getting me involved with a new startup business, or spending hours online researching Miley Cyrus. The trouble is that people with ADHD aren’t often aware that it happens at all, never mind when. That’s what makes it a disorder.

Now, just because I have an explanation why I have an extremely painful time confronting boring tasks does not mean I don’t have to deal with them. I just have to figure out an angle of approach that bypasses the boredom.

Take my mess, for instance (Please). I decided to deal with it on my wife’s day off so that I could avoid kid distractions. Then I began the battle on the kitchen table during a phone call with my Mum.

The thing about my Mum is that she thinks I don’t let her get a word in edgewise, but the truth is that she doesn’t either, so the two of us spar over control of the conversation for hours. (Now there’s a moment in need of dramatic music in the background.) The funny thing is that I actually can multitask during these conversations as long as the other task isn’t too demanding — for instance, the boring task of sorting through a paper pile to separate the wheat from the chaff. I also work with the understanding that if I throw it out I won’t need to file it, so my shredder was grinding throughout the entire conversation. I kept myself distracted while confronting a very dull task.

Once the sorting (and the conversation) was over, I had a spattered mess of piles in front of me all over the table. If I ever wanted to eat again I had to tackle those piles with extreme prejudice. Each pile was mercilessly pruned, many were handed to my pretty foot soldiers, a large portion was quickly trimmed with the input of my Spouse in Arms, and then I was done. In the end, I had reduced a gargantuan pile into a tiny 3/4“ inch tall collection of easily manageable todos.

Those of us with ADHD need to find ways of functioning in society. We need to fight against our tendency to be disorganized. People rely on us. We rely on us. This is why learning how to confront boredom is part of this process. ADHD doesn’t affect us all the same way, but for those who struggle completing boring tasks as I do, finding a way to make the boring interesting is key.

Please take a moment to share in the comments a task that almost licked you, but one which you triumphed over. Even non-ADHD people struggle with completing boring tasks. They just don’t have to worry about their brains escaping the confines of their skull, but I’d love to hear from them, too.

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