Tips from ADHDers that will boost your productivity.
Plus, Silent Inbox, the email bouncer you need to declutter your inbox.
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Tips from life with ADHD: Can you hack your brain into being productive?
We’ve been told to believe that the hyperactive kid, the one that’s always fidgeting, cannot sit still and loses focus in the middle of a conversation is the only way ADHD presents itself. However, that’s not completely true, especially in adults.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD for short, is a mental health disorder that often affects children, but also many adults. “Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans. The inability to control impulses can range from impatience waiting in line or driving in traffic to mood swings and outbursts of anger,” explains the Mayo Clinic.
According to WebMD, about 4% to 5% of adult Americans have been diagnosed with ADHD. This means approximately 13 million adults have it.
Since I can’t speak from experience, I interviewed Jesse J. Anderson. He describes himself as an “ADHD Creative.” He’s also a writer, designer, developer, speaker, entrepreneur and “collector of hobbies.” He was diagnosed with ADHD nearly five years ago and became an ADHD advocate by luck when he started writing online about his experience understanding the disorder.
Jesse is currently working on a book called Refocus: A Practical Guide to ADHD, “It's meant to be a starter guide for people wanting to know more about all the basics of ADHD and how it affects your daily life,” Jesse explains. If you want to get it as soon as it’s released, you can either join the waitlist or subscribe to his newsletter.
Before being diagnosed, Jesse was constantly struggling with being on time, keeping things organized, remembering important things, feeling bored by his responsibilities, hyperfocusing on hobbies and having a short temper. He could spot those characteristics in his dad and brother, so he assumed it was a family thing. “Turns out, we all had ADHD. I finally looked into getting a diagnosis after my best friend was diagnosed and as he described the symptoms, they all sounded like me.” Jesse explained.
I’ll be sharing Jesse’s interview (edited for length) throughout this issue with the objective of helping you understand the disorder. I’ll also be sharing tips and tricks to improve your productivity levels whether you have ADHD or not.
Living with ADHD.
What’s different about the ADHD brain?
There are slight differences in the ADHD brain from those without the condition. First, they have low levels of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. “Norepinephrine is linked arm-in-arm with dopamine. Dopamine is the thing that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure center,” explains ADDitude Magazine.
The brain of a person with ADHD also has impaired activity in four different brain sectors. According to ADDitude Mag, these are:
Frontal Cortex. Responsible for attention, executive functions and organization.
Limbic System. Regulates emotions and attention.
Basal Ganglia. Deficiencies in this area cause inter-brain communication, resulting in inattention or impulsivity.
Reticular Activating System. An affectation here can cause impulsivity, inattention and/or hyperactivity.
One of the biggest findings Jesse’s had with ADHD comes from a concept by Dr. William Dodson which explains that:
People with ADHD have an Interest-Based Nervous System. This means that normal motivating factors for getting work done (importance, rewards, consequences) aren't actually very effective for motivating the ADHD brain. Instead, they rely on what I call the 4 Cs of Motivation: Captivate, Create, Compete, Complete. We need to find a way for things to captivate our attention, involve creativity/novelty, be a competition/challenge or have an impending completion deadline (i.e. urgency and due dates).
And Jesse would’ve never discovered that about his brain if he hadn’t been diagnosed.
What changes after diagnosis?
It can be extremely frustrating to be constantly struggling with yourself. People with ADHD claim to feel a mix of emotions after diagnosis. “You are happy: ‘I finally have a name for all of those symptoms.’ You are sad: ‘Why did I have to struggle for so many years not knowing what I had?’” writes Edward Hallowell, M.D., on ADDitude magazine.
For Jesse, it is vitally important to understand how having ADHD affects your daily life. “When you don't consider how ADHD changes the way you function day-to-day, you end up blaming yourself and thinking that it's a moral failing whenever your actions don't line up with your intentions.” That’s why Jesse agrees that having an official diagnosis helped him make the shift real. For some people, the diagnosis is the only thing that will facilitate the possibility of using medication, which has been proven to be effective and safe.
Diagnosis allows people with this disorder to unlearn previous concepts and start to learn how and why they act in a certain way.
Hyperfocus: a superpower and kryptonite.
When you hear “attention deficit disorder” you may believe that people with this diagnosis struggle to pay attention and can rarely concentrate. That’s not necessarily true. Rather than lacking the ability to pay attention, people with ADHD have trouble regulating it.
“Children and adults with ADHD find it very hard to focus on boring mundane tasks, yet can focus exceptionally well on activities that interest them. In fact, when they are engaged in a task that is interesting to them, they focus so well that it is called hyperfocus,” explains Very Well Mind.
In Jesse’s words, “Hyperfocus is similar to the idea of finding flow, but to a more extreme level. The great thing about hyperfocus is I can get so much work done in that time. Often the work that may take most people 10-20 hours, someone with ADHD in hyperfocus can get done in 2-4 hours.”
The downside is that some physiological signals like hunger, thirst, or the need to go to the bathroom are not recorded by the brain during this period. Often after a period of hyperfocus, people with ADHD will need to rush into getting those needs satisfied.
This type of hyperfocus may sometimes be seen by others as “zoning out,” and can sometimes be harmful for their relationships. Being completely disconnected from the world can make others feel as if they are deliberately deciding to ignore them, while they are completely oblivious of the situation.
ADHD and work.
How does a person with ADHD perceive tasks?
Often, people with ADHD find tasks to be overwhelming, not due to the task itself, but because they do not necessarily know where to start. They also might find tasks so boring that it makes it almost impossible for them to comply with those responsibilities.
The perception of time is something they can also struggle with. That’s why deadlines or being on time can be so excruciating for them.
Additionally, it can be frustrating for them to want to get the work done, and aim to become more productive, but to find themselves constantly missing deadlines.
Do people with ADHD need to disclose their condition to their manager/peers?
It depends on the type of company they work for and the relationship that they have with their manager and peers. The truth is that people with ADHD can manage their disorder once they find a formula that works for them, but sometimes people can be biased, and disclosing that they have this condition may backfire.
Jesse explained that he’s pretty open about his diagnosis, and it helps both him and his manager explain his behavior and set a plan for him to succeed. For example, Jesse says that in the past, he would constantly forget small things, but he now has a weekly check-in with his boss to make sure he’s not forgetting anything.
It can be helpful for those with ADHD to be aware and respectful of their condition. Knowing when to email, Slack or talk to them can make a huge impact on their productivity.
Jesse says peers and managers help him by setting “clear expectations and sharing a record of project details. I'll often tell my manager that positive verbal feedback is extremely important to me, as that can energize me to get a lot more work done than I would otherwise. Some ADHDers don't like verbal feedback, so it's different for each person.”
Productivity techniques for ADHDers.
“The ability to focus is more complex than just wanting to,” writes Keith Low for Very Well Mind. That’s why Jesse thinks most of the productivity advice online can be toxic for people with ADHD. Most of it just encourages everyone to try harder and have more willpower, and that’s not the way ADHD brains work.
Jesse has tried almost every productivity technique out there. “I was deep into the world of GTD (Getting Things Done) and trying to make that work. Some of that stuff can be helpful, but the problem is I quickly became bored of any system I used, and it was never easy to transfer that stuff to a new system because I always made it super complex,” he mentioned.
Every time we start using a new system, we can lose a lot of time. We need to understand it, input all of our information and data, and commit to using it. It can be hard to do this every time we get bored.
That’s why these days, Jesse is planning for what he calls “The Pivot.”
“I know I'm going to eventually grow bored of any system I use, so I use much simpler systems now. When it's time to pivot to a new system because I found some new shiny tool I want to try, it's easy to transfer because I don't have an elaborate system that requires unique features to work.”
There’s also a lot of information online asking ADHDers to see tasks as “want tos” instead of “have tos.” But have you ever tried to like a task that seems boring? It’s almost impossible.
Some people also recommend making a game out of pending tasks. “The hack I use is to find something interesting about what I’m doing — or potential to exercise my imagination. I’ve found that even the most boring tasks, like organizing a file cabinet, can have one interesting thing about it,” explains writer Nerris in Healthline.
Jesse explained that the ADHD brain gets productive once it has found momentum, so he tries to hack his brain to get to that state by fueling his tasks with the 4 Cs of motivation (Captivate, Create, Compete, Complete). He starts with the one that seems the most fun. Once he’s got momentum, he then shifts gears into more difficult work that may not be as interesting.
The best productivity hack for everyone, regardless of whether you have ADHD or not.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to productivity. You need to find what works best for you. However, after talking to Jesse and reviewing many articles online, I can say that the best productivity hack is making sure all of your needs are covered before starting to work.
This reminded me a lot of what my dog trainer always tells me. “If you want to ask your puppy to do things for you, you need to make sure all of her needs are covered. You need to walk her, play with her, feed her, give her interactive toys, etc. Only then, you’ll be able to ask her what you need from her.”
The same happens with personal productivity. You need to make sure all of your needs are met to perform efficiently. So if you are constantly fidgeting, get a standing desk and place it over a treadmill. If you need fresh air to think properly, go on walks whenever you need to brainstorm. If you need to gamify the way you work, set a duration for each task and make a game out of beating the clock.
An important part of this process is to document it. Keeping a record of what works, the activities that put you in the right headspace, and how you felt after trying something new will help you find your personal productivity formula.
“Also, be very quick to move on from advice that doesn't work for you. It's not your fault when the advice doesn't click for you,” concluded Jesse.
If this issue clicked and you want to learn more about Jesse’s work, you can find him on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok as @jesseanderson.You can also sign up for his newsletter here.
Edited by: Lauren Maslen.
What motivates people to work.- Motivation is an interesting feeling. Some of us might be motivated by the same things, but motivation still varies from one person to another. This video by author Daniel Pink shows what largely motivates people to work. Spoiler alert: money is a tricky motivator.
7 Ways to be a better leader, boss or coach. - Mel Robbins, author of “The High 5 Leader” shares 7 habits you can foster to motivate your team as a leader. It may come as a surprise, but one of the easiest and most effective ways to do so is by giving out high fives.
Why multitasking doesn’t work. - We’ve all heard of the term “multitasking.” However, for most people, it’s impossible to do two or more things at the same time. In reality, what we all do is called context or task switching. Every time we decide to change tasks, our brain takes longer to focus, and we become less effective. Read this article to understand the science behind it and how to stop.
Four ways to build influence at work, no matter your job title.- Influence doesn’t come from your position alone. It also comes from who you are and how you come through at work. This article by Fast Company shares four areas where you can improve your influence in your job.
Silent Inbox is an email bouncer that allows you to read important emails whenever you want, and schedule “nice to read” emails for whenever you’re available. It’s perfect If you work with a Gmail account and find yourself constantly struggling to separate important emails vs. nice to read ones; if you have different folders and never catch up on all of them; or if you’re constantly missing important information. Click here to see how it works.
Giving presentations is a skill we should all work on mastering. This thread by Robbie Crab shares eight areas you should pay attention to when giving presentations: pace, tone, pause, volume, rhythm, cadence, gestures and questions.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
All companies can implement the four-day workweek. Here’s how. - The four-day workweek has been getting a lot of buzz, and some people believe it's only a possibility for software companies and startups. But that's not necessarily true. The idea of implementing a reduced work schedule is catching on in almost every industry. Read more about it in the link above.
Preventing your team from burnout and recovering from work exhaustion without quitting your job. - Burnout, or generalized exhaustion, is often caused by hustling or working excessively. Read this issue to learn how to recover from it without quitting your job, and how to help others prevent it.
The 10 commandments of salary negotiation. - I don’t know who told us that talking about money needed to be embarrassing or as uncomfortable as it usually is. Niya Dragova shares why you can always negotiate your salary along with 10 commandments to follow when negotiating your salary in this issue of Lenny’s newsletter.
Santa Claus’ hometown may be the best-known city in the north, but the city of Ushuaia is the most magical in the south.
Ushuaia is the world's southernmost populated city. It's located in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains and the Beagle Channel.
Ushuaia is always chilly. The temperature tends to hover between 30 to 55 °F, so if you are planning to visit, make sure you pack a parka with you.
Before the British took over the city in 1830, the Selk’nam and Yahgan (Yámana) indigenous tribes used to live there.
Eventually, the Argentinian government took it as a penal colony, and it's now one of the most touristic places to visit in the country.
What would you do in the southernmost city in the world?
What did you think of this issue?
See you next issue,
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