How does an entrepreneur with ADHD stay motivated?

How does an entrepreneur with ADHD stay motivated?

This was a question I was recently asked on Quora, but it’s one that comes up almost daily during coaching sessions with my clients. So, here’s a slightly edited version of my response. While geared towards entrepreneurs, it applies to anyone who wants to get things done but occasionally loses momentum.

The reality is that you won’t always feel motivated, even if you generally love what you do. You’ll feel frustration, anxiety, confusion and boredom (and those are the easy ones!). Even when motivated, you may feel stuck and not able to activate (an executive function of initiating action that doesn’t always correlate with motivation, or wanting to do something).

So, start from this reality and accept you will have challenges staying motivated (even if you didn’t have ADHD, being an entrepreneur is difficult, but having it does make things tougher). But also realize you have solutions! (And not just for getting motivated, but for most entrepreneurial stressors.) 

Prepare some strategies and workarounds in advance, so you can pull them out of your handy ‘SOS: I Need Help’ toolbox. This may be a physical box with index cards, a computer or phone file, an actual file folder, or a paper or electronic notebook. Sometimes, we need pre-packaged options to choose from, as ‘doing what comes naturally’ just doesn’t cut it, and it’s easy to forget ideas we’ve had in the past – even ones that worked. Memory is not reliable, especially when feeling overwhelmed. So, when something (a strategy, tool, system, mindset, etc.) works or sounds inspiring, make a note of it and put it in that toolbox. You may need it, or a variation, in the future. At other times, you’ll be able to use an uncomfortable situation as a springboard to inspire your innovative mind to create success strategies on the fly. When you begin thinking like a detective, you will discover solutions that had eluded you when you were caught up in a victim mentality. Go for it!

Allow for ‘Down Time’: Realize that being an entrepreneur is time and energy consuming to the extreme, which drains motivation. Build in white space; free time to recharge your batteries (even at the expense of not getting everything done as scheduled). Make time to reset your brain by being outside, by exercise, mindfulness or meditation, journaling, reading, listening to or playing music, doing hobbies like artwork or gardening, playing with pets or spending time with friends and family you like (note the caveat there!), napping, volunteering, etc. You don’t have time, you say. True, but if you don’t make time, you’re working with the law of diminishing returns. As the airlines say, put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Stepping away often gives new perspectives and greater energy (how many ideas do you have in the shower, or when taking a walk?).

Edit Your ‘DO’ Lists: Of those things on your ‘Do’ list, what can you Modify? Delay? Delete? Delegate? Outsource? Not everything is urgent, and even if it is, there’s usually a way to change other’s expectations so you can still deliver, so long as you are clear and considerate in your communications. Or change your expectations about your deliverable, so you’ll want to get it done. Watch out for paralysis by analysis, overthinking or over-researching. Perfection is the enemy of productivity and motivation. Create a ‘Do NOT Do’ list so you don’t get sidetracked. Create a place to jot down non-immediate ideas or concepts (a Parking Lot for your thoughts) so you don’t lose them, but don’t get distracted by those brighter, shinier objects.

Change Your Systems: Expedite what you can so you spend less time on routine (boring) tasks, whether it’s better organization for greater efficiency, setting up templates for repetitive tasks, using productivity-related software or creating systems that improve ongoing processes. Let go of the guilt or need to do it all and get help where you struggle. If you are spending an inordinate amount of time doing tasks that can be delegated or outsourced, hire someone so you can focus on your strengths. You’ll make less profit initially, but you’ll develop a much more powerful business with less likelihood of burnout. Sometimes we just need some support and compassionate accountability. Join a mastermind group, find a business accountability partner who will also benefit, or hire a supportive coach.

Planning Time Saves Doing Time: When there’s so much to do we want to just jump in and get going – until we’re overwhelmed and lose motivation. Build in time for long-term, weekly and daily planning. You’ll save that time and more because your ‘doing time’ will be more effective and targeted towards success.

Avoid Overwhelm. While some pressure or stress is helpful for pushing us towards action, too much will trigger the ‘Fight-Flight-or-Freeze’ response. It’s brain-based and automatic. So, know your triggers. Often, this happens when we confuse a Project with a Task. You can’t DO a project, you can only work on a specific task. The more specific, the easier it is to begin it, whereas when we think of doing a project, all the elements lump together and feel overwhelming, triggering brain-based avoidance (this is NOT a moral/laziness issue!).

Keep Your End-Goal in Mind. Sometimes we get so caught up in the daily pressures that we lose track of why we became entrepreneurs. What does your work mean to you, to others, to the world? Why did you start what you are doing? What do you hope to achieve? Maybe you are going through a rough patch. Maybe you want to rethink some of the details. But you’re in it for a reason. Keep a reminder of that initial vision where you’ll see it.

Just How Difficult is it to have ADHD?

Just How Difficult is it to have ADHD?

There is no easy answer to this question, for many reasons.

ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADD) is on
a continuum, meaning it can be mild, moderate or severe. The less extreme the symptoms, the easier it is to compensate, making it less difficult to live with ADHD. The reverse also applies.

Millions of adults have the symptoms associated with ADHD, but not the diagnosis, possibly because their symptoms, although enough to qualify for a diagnosis, are on the milder end of the spectrum. Or they may have learned to cope, or just accepted the way they are, perhaps (unfairly) attributing some of neurobiological symptoms to moral failings (lazy, inconsiderate, careless, foolish, etc.).

ADHD is a diagnosis based on having checked off a sufficient number
of symptoms from a laundry list of age-related options. Each of those symptoms can vary in terms of how problematic they can be, and under what conditions (at home, school, work, leisure). That’s a lot of variability. There is even variation within the ADHD diagnosis, as you can be primarily impulsive/hyperactive, primarily inattentive or combination type.

For some, having ADHD is a strength. Their ADHD-related characteristics (or some of them) are essential to their personal and professional success. Consider the high percentage of ADDers in certain careers, such as entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, first-responders, comedians, sales, etc.  While the manifestations of ADHD may not be as helpful for all aspects of their jobs, nor in all areas of their lives, they would find life more difficult without it.

Unfortunately, for most people, ADHD also leads to certain struggles. The degree to which those struggles make life difficult will vary. If you struggle with time management but aren’t in a job or life situation where following the clock is critical, then that becomes less of a problem.
If you struggle with organization, but have assistants at work and help at home, that challenge is less problematic. If you need to be ‘on the go’ and are a student confined to sitting in a classroom, you might be considered hyperactive, from a negative perspective. But if you have a career where you aren’t confined to your office and you also enjoy an active leisure life, your drive to move shifts to a non-issue, and even an asset.

ADHD symptoms vary – one person could be physically hyperactive,
and another hypoactive. High energy, low energy. Some people do well
in a chaotic environment (many police, firefighters, EMT’s, ER docs, floor traders, teachers, etc. have ADHD) while others would be totally overwhelmed by the noise and activity. Many people with ADHD thrive
in the bustle of a big city, while others seek the peace of a countryside or seashore. So, finding an environment and career that suits you makes a difference in how you’ll view life, and how difficult it is, or isn’t, to have ADHD.

ADHD is inconsistent. Not just from person to person or from child to adult, but from day to day. Sometimes it can feel debilitating or dysfunctional; other times you are on a roll and exceptionally productive. Understanding, and accepting yourself (instead of letting your inner Judgmental Critic be in charge) makes those unproductive times less frustrating.

Other factors contribute. If you are surrounded by critical people, whether at work, socially or at home, you’ll obviously find life more challenging than if you have support and understanding. The more you
are juggling (work, school, home, partner, children, aging parents, etc.),
the harder it is – for anyone. The hormonal changes of aging or the stress
of illness will also exacerbate the ADHD symptoms.

Having ADHD can be really frustrating. It’s tough when you struggle with things that ‘should’ be simple (although you may excel when tackling more difficult challenges). It’s sad when you aren’t achieving your potential, even when you might be considered successful (but you know you could be doing much more). It can be extremely stressful when you know you need/want to do something but can’t activate (an executive function),
or you are doing something you need to stop, but can’t find the brakes.

Strategies are critical for managing your ADHD symptoms.

  • There is often a reduction in ADHD-related difficulties when you take time for self-care and stress-reducing activities (exercise, sufficient sleep, outdoor time, mindfulness, journaling, eating well, hobbies, creative, sports and social activities, pets, family fun time and time to nurture relationships, etc.)
     
  • Some people benefit from medication, but if you couldn’t play the piano before meds, you can’t play it after – you’re just more available to learning how, which can make a difference.
     
  • Some ADHD tendencies are best avoided (or require professional intervention). People with ADHD often have impulsivity control issues and addictive personalities, acting without thinking, whether it’s reckless driving, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, shopping, gambling, internet, etc. They also tend to get caught up in thinking without acting, making it difficult to get things done. Obsessive thinking and perfectionism often come into play, getting in the way of productivity.
     
  • When the ADHD brain feels overwhelmed, instead of tackling the issues, it is more likely to shift into the fight, flight or freeze mode – major avoidance. This is an automatic, brain-based reaction to fear, confusion or stress. So, it’s critical to find strategies that will keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
     
  • Tools and strategies help to manage ADHD-related challenges.
    If you struggle to get places on time, meet deadlines, begin or finish tasks and projects, get and stay organized, manage schedules and lists, create and follow routines, prioritize, self-advocate, make decisions, communicate effectively, etc., it isn’t enough to want things to change. You need specific compensatory strategies that work with the way you think – not the way you wish you thought. The right tools make living with your ADHD a lot less difficult. (That’s what Coaching is about!)  

ADHD is only part of the mix – we have different personalities, interests, strengths, intellectual and emotional gifts, co-existing diagnoses, etc. Some people with ADHD will excel in school, while many others find it a total challenge. Some will be artistic or creative; others might be athletic or musical, all of the above or none of them. Some will thrive in the limelight; others will avoid it. It isn’t just the ADHD we need to manage; it’s finding a life that supports us on many levels. It’s easier to cope with the difficulties that come from ADHD when we are engaged in activities that play to our strengths.

There are so many aspects of life that are impacted by ADHD, from relationships to finances, from career to self-care. You can find ways to compensate, and even excel, but it takes effort and self-awareness. The answer to, “How difficult is it to live with ADHD?” largely depends on whether you’ve been able to create a personally ADHD-friendly life!

This is an edited and expanded version of my requested response
to a question posted on Quora.

STOP the SHAME!

STOP the SHAME!

It’s tough enough that many of us have challenges with ADHD/Executive Functions (organization, time management, prioritization, activation, short-term memory, etc.).  But we compound the problems when we add guilt to the mix.

I may not be happy that I’m not checking off all my To-Do’s – even when I’ve realistically created a theoretically do-able Daily Action Plan. Feeling a degree of anxiety about accomplishing things can be helpful as an impetus to action, but dwelling on my failures is totally unproductive – and unfair!

ADHD and EF challenges are neurobiological, which means they exist, like it or not. It isn’t a question of morality, intelligence or willpower. I can find strategies to compensate and even excel, but without them, I will struggle with even simple tasks. And there are days when even my best strategies will go unheeded.

I can write this blog and feel energized, but before I began, I shut my eyes to avoid looking at the kitchen counter that needs straightening, saying ‘later.’ As a productivity/ADHD/organization coach (ah, the irony!), I tell myself to just take 10 minutes on the counter (which would totally be enough time), but my brain cries out that I might lose the train of thought that inspired me to write this. So, the kitchen counter waits.

My brain works in a way that is sometimes quite incredibly wonderful, but won’t usually win awards for straightening up, making calls I’d rather avoid or working on tasks that don’t light up my engagement button. Activation, or getting started on something, has little to do with motivation. I may really want to lower my cable bill, but initiating a call to the cable company to complain meets brain resistance and is easily postponed (it’s important, but not urgent, and has now been on my list for several months!).

I can choose to feel shame and guilt, or I can choose self-acceptance. My challenges aren’t excuses, but they are explanations. I choose to not spend my life focusing on what I don’t do/haven’t done, because that would be a sad way to live. Instead, I look at what I do accomplish (often things that were not on my Action list) and appreciate my efforts. I look at where I’m struggling, and focus on compensatory strategies to help me do better.

Here’s an example: My natural tendency is to be late for just about anything. When I was honest about this, and the negative affects it had on both myself and others (my PowerPlan to Success™ Step #1, Self-Awareness), I accepted responsibility, tempered by knowing I have brain-based challenges that contribute to lateness (Step #2, Self-Acceptance). HOWEVER, I decided I could still improve (Step #3, Belief in Possibility, and that You Always Have a Choice). So, I developed a load of compensatory strategies, both practical and mindset. Now I’m late only occasionally, but if I didn’t use these strategies, I’d be back to old habits.

It’s a waste of energy and a drain on your spirit to mourn the person you are not.  Yesterday morning I spoke with a client, Annie who felt shame when she used a timer to remind her of things. It reminded her that she “was a failure, because I can’t do it myself.” We discussed this, and Annie was able to reframe her thinking from one of failure and self-blame to a positive take. She focused on how terrific it was to proactively compensate for a brain-based challenge that she could not control by willpower alone. She shifted from feeling defeated by her perceived failure to feeling empowered by her decision to let a tool (the timer) create a successful outcome.

That same afternoon I spoke with Paul, who was berating himself for not having done something on a timely basis that resulted in some really negative consequences. We spoke about systems that could make a difference going forward, but the real issue was one of Self-Acceptance. For any system to be effective, it must be used. So he needed to understand and accept that he has executive function deficits that require conscious compensation:

  • He can’t rely on his memory. There has to be an independent trigger to take action. (Although Paul’s need was for a long-term reminder, accepting, and finding a strategy to compensate for his poor working memory was similar to Annie’s realization that using a timer was smart, necessary and nothing to feel ashamed about.)
  • He can’t depend on getting something done immediately, even when remembered on a timely basis. This can be a struggle for anyone, but is particularly tough for those with ADHD. (Research shows we are less motivated by Importance than those with neurotypical brains.) Build white space, or open-time cushions, into your calendar, in case you need to delay a scheduled To-Do, then have a can’t-miss way to remind yourself when you’ve run out of avoidance time.

When Paul accepted the reality of how he worked (or didn’t!), he also let go of the shame he had attached to his failure to take timely action. And we came up with some nifty strategies to avoid this in the future.

We always have a choice. We can be the 5-foot tall person who spends her life bemoaning the fact (totally out of her control) that she isn’t 5’10”, or the woman who is 5’10” and wishes she was more petite, or we can focus on our reality and make the most out of it. We can be the person who refuses to wear glasses because he doesn’t think they look good, or we can buy funky glasses that mirror our personality or mood and have fun with it. We can want to lose weight and keep feeling guilty about our lack of willpower, or we can find a program with strategies (not willpower!) that work for us. We can take charge of our efforts, instead of being ruled by inadequacy and self-judgment. Will we always succeed, no. But there’s a lot less stress, and less time wasted wallowing in self-blame and guilt.

Please, stop beating yourself up for struggling. Accept that your wonderful, creative and capable brain has some challenges. Find strategies to help and give yourself credit for workarounds. When things don’t go the way you’d like, refuse to define yourself by your struggles – and don’t let others erode your self-esteem. 

If you need help finding alternative strategies, there are terrific books (I’ve listed a few in www.SusanLasky/Resources), and a wealth of good podcasts, webcasts and articles online. Also, consider the benefits of individual coaching to jump-start change – click here to schedule our no-obligation Initial Conversation. If we’ve worked together and you have some new (or recurring) issues, let’s catch up!

Give yourself permission to be imperfect!

The KonMari Debate: Is ‘Sparking Joy’ Enough?

The KonMari Debate: Is ‘Sparking Joy’ Enough?

Most of us want, even long for, a more organized life. A good start is to create a less cluttered home. When we free ourselves from the pressures of excess possessions and over-accumulation, then figure out the best systems for maintaining the stuff we do keep, we open up more than physical space. We gain more time and energy for family, friends, interests, hobbies and experiences.

One of the best ways to get organized is to commit to working at it for a set amount of time on most days – slow and steady may not win the race but it will get stuff accomplished! My online Action-Accountability Group, The TUIT Project, will support your doing just that. You can join the current session or begin next month. www.OvercomeOverwhelm.com

You’ve probably heard of the KonMari phenomenon. If you haven’t, you will (of course you will, I’m mentioning it here!) It is the popularization of Marie Kondo’s method of organizing (‘tidying up’), based on the premise that everything you own should ‘spark joy,’ or let it go. Her message transforms the focus of decluttering and straightening up (tidying) from having to get rid of stuff (loss) to consciously reviewing everything you own and keeping only those items you cherish (gain). 

I like this re-frame, but I also have mixed feelings. I’m glad the concept of organizing (and hiring Professional Organizers) is becoming better known through her bestselling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, along with her international publicity and media appearances, her follow-up books (which clarify some of the overly-simplified concepts in her first book), and now her hit Netflix series (which features more relatable homes and families than programs like Hoarders). 

I love the positivity and spirituality of Kondo’s message. However, as a Professional Organizer for more than 25 years (and here you thought I was just a Productivity/ADHD coach!), her ‘revolutionary’ ideas have been around for a long time. There are many veteran organizers who have long promoted the benefits of organization from an energy-creating, spiritually uplifting, life-freeing perspective (check out Julie Morgenstern’s classic book, Organizing from the Inside Out), but Kondo’s adorable, single-focused persona and clear method appeals to our deepest desires and makes them seem attainable. Who doesn’t want to ‘spark joy’ (or, as an Old Navy ad puts it, ‘ignite delight!’)? She has been amazingly successful in spreading her message (and it doesn’t hurt to have a marketing/social media guru for a husband and as the CEO of KonMari Media).

During a recent meeting of my local NAPO (the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) group, we had a somewhat heated discussion about the pros and cons of the KonMari method. It’s a hot topic among organizers everywhere. Here are some opinions from both sides of the debate (I’ve added my comments in brackets with my initials):

Angela Kantarellis, an energetic and very professional organizer, writes in her newsletter about ‘three compelling benefits’:

A powerful brand. “Marie Kondo’s message is simple, clear and consistent. Her brand is positive, light and lovely and she embodies that brand.”

The concept of pure energy. Quoting from Kondo’s book, “One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot, filled with pure energy.” Kondo spent 5 years as a Shinto shrine maiden, which has inspired her philosophy. The KonMari method elevates tidying of the home to a spiritual practice. Creating a home filled with pure energy is quite compelling.

Joy and gratitude. The process of going through all your worldly possessions one by one is quite an undertaking. Kondo … has infused the KonMari brand with a rigorously positive energy. The tidying process becomes one that is both good for you and indulgent, like a week at a luxurious spa. The hallmark of the KonMari method is asking each object, as you are holding it, if it ‘sparks joy.’ If it doesn’t, out it goes, but before it does, you thank it for its service.

Judith Guertin writes in the ProductiveEnvironmentNetwork.com blog:

“Will you be inspired by watching the (Netflix) show? Perhaps. Will her methods become your methods? Perhaps. Will everything you keep spark joy? I can think of many items I need that do not spark joy in my life! Think about it… the toilet brush… no joy, the broom… no joy, the vacuum cleaner… no joy, the pooper scooper…nooo joy! However, these things are necessary in my life. What I have noticed is that having a clean toilet, clean floor or no pet hair on the furniture is satisfying and makes me feel good, and that is the feeling I am looking for. 

[Perhaps feeling good about the benefits of having an item can be the equivalent to ‘sparking joy.’ And, to be fair to Marie K, in an interview in Architectural Digest she says, “Hold them up (your belongings) one by one as you ask yourself, ‘Do I truly need this?’ or ‘Does it spark joy for me?’ Apparently, she’s recently gotten the message to also highlight need; not just joy. –SL] 

What I do know is that having a system that you follow every day is the key. Maintenance of the system is critical to staying on track. And, most importantly, having less is something that most, if not all, of us could embrace in our journey to greater joy.”

[When I talk about Organization, I distinguish its components. There’s setting up systems, implementing them, and maintaining them, which is actually Time Management, rather than Organization. You can be great at maintaining systems, but can’t figure out how to set them up, which makes you a perfect candidate for getting an initial boost from a Professional Organizer. I have a talent for designing systems that work, whether for space management or office productivity. But I’m abysmal at maintaining systems, which is why I’ve periodically had the dubious honor of using photos of my office as ‘before’ pictures (which is my trigger to devote time/energy to an office clean-up)! I, like many of my clients, need to budget in clean-up time/maintenance, as it won’t happen on its own. –SL]

“… what Marie Kondo and all Professional Organizers attempt to do is to transfer knowledge and train their clients in systems.  Marie’s systems are very clear, and her clients embrace them. I cheer anyone who can make the world a more organized place. What I also know is that her methodology will not work for everyone. Truly, there is no one size fits all answer to getting organized. If you are drawn to her, then you know what to do. If not, there are lots of other equally talented, empathic, non-judgmental Professional Organizers out there. No system is perfect; the one that works for you is the one you subscribe to and use every single day! “

Ramona Creel, a wonderfully opinionated, veteran organizer and author of The Professional Organizer’s Bible, wrote a scathing Facebook post that also makes a lot of sense:

Problem #1 – One Size Does Not Fit All … Anyone who suggests that ‘rolling your socks stresses them out, and they need to be able to rest separately from each other so they can recuperate after the hard work of supporting your feet’ is not functioning in the same plane of reality as the vast majority of my clients.
I’m sort of joking, but this KonMari tip highlights a major problem I have with her approach – that it comes in the form of ‘commandments’ she sincerely believes all humans (regardless of their situation or circumstances) should follow. I’m sorry to inform you, Miss Kondo… that’s not how getting organized works! Just ‘cuz this bizarre set of rules you’ve created helped you ‘tidy up,’ doesn’t mean they’re the answer for anyone else.

[In her Architectural Digest interview, Marie K expands on the sock folding issue by saying, “…What I mean by ‘allowing the socks to rest’ is that the elastic will get stretched over time and will wear out sooner if you roll socks into a ball.” So either she’s gotten the message that most people don’t think socks have feelings, or she didn’t make it clear the first time. I’ve actually folded socks for years, because I can fit more into a drawer (BTW, unlike Marie K, or Ramona, I am not a minimalist – the photo below shows only some of my socks – the rest are still in a giant laundry bag because I don’t make the time to put them away!) –SL]

A truly functional and lasting system is tailor-made to align with your lifestyle, way of thinking, habits, proclivities, and personal weird-ities. My work with clients is all about creating customized approaches that suit each individual’s way of living their lives. The KonMari ‘do it my way or you’re doing it wrong’ method is completely antithetical to what Professional Organizing is all about – and it deeply DEEPLY offends my organizational sensibilities. It also leads to my next point…

Problem #2 – Setting Yourself Up for Failure … As I said, the way each person interacts with and thinks about their stuff is unique, different from anyone else on the planet. For any system to perfectly match these quirks, it must also be unique. It’s been proven in our industry time and time again: Cookie cutter solutions are destined to fail for the vast majority of people who try them. So … you end up feeling like you failed and are even MORE daunted by your mess than pre-KonMari.

[For clients with ADHD, executive function or chronic disorganization challenges, any kind of a ‘must do standardized approach’ is particularly problematic. Guidelines are helpful; mandates are not. For some people it’s ridiculous to use a specific number, like Kondo’s ‘30’, as the limit for the number of books you keep… or to have only one white t-shirt… or to go through your clothing by putting EVERYTHING you own on the bed at once – that’s easily a trigger for overwhelm and avoidance. Even the concept of touching each item before determining its fate is dangerous to those people for whom physical contact intensifies their ownership/emotional bonds. –SL]

Professional Organizers already struggle daily to help their clients overcome the feeling that they are somehow defective because they can’t stay organized, and this crap doesn’t help any. Plus, it’s not actually teaching clients any useful skills. TRULY understanding an organizing principle (like categorization or containerizing or having a logical reason for where you store things) means you can apply it in a way that suits your needs – and then apply it differently for your spouse, and differently for your kids, and differently for your staff at work. I’m personally about teaching principles that ANYONE can utilize, no matter what their situation, and that ain’t happening here. 

[Marie K does (somewhat) address the concept of categorization when she talks about what I’ve always called functional organizing, by saying, “Everything you’d need to write a letter can go in your ‘stationery’ location.” –SL]

The reason REAL Professional Organizers insist on customized systems is so the client can maintain those systems on their own for years to come without the organizer’s help. Attempting to impose someone else’s logic on your stuff, trying to force yourself to become an entirely different person in order to adapt to a system – that’s a recipe for disaster.

[Kondo emphasizes the importance of organizing everything at once, “Organize your space thoroughly, completely, in one go… If your idea of tidying up is to clean up your room a little at a time… it won’t have much effect on your life.” Dramatic transitions are life-changing, but it takes time to get organized. Quick, transformative results are inspiring, but if that’s your organizational goal, you’ll need to put a lot of other things on hold, including any tendencies to get overwhelmed by volume and pressure. Decision-making fatigue is real. Imagine going through everything you own and saying “Yes, sparks joy so I’ll keep it… No, thanks for your service” and donate or discard. I applaud Kondo’s end goal of a life-changing transformation, but how much of that could you take in one sitting (even if over a period of several days), without tuning out completely? –SL]

Problem #3 – She’s Not Saying Anything New …. I also have issues whenever pop culture praises some newcomer for discovering a supposedly ‘innovative’ way of functioning, when all they’re doing is regurgitating what someone else said years and years before them. (I had the same beef with Stephen Covey when he stole Eisenhower’s ‘urgent-vs-important’ matrix and called it his own – betcha didn’t know he did that!)

Even down to her key concept of appreciating the role an item served in your life as a way of allowing yourself to let it go, KonMari isn’t saying anything that I and my colleagues haven’t been preaching for decades. In fact, the mantra I’ve used with my clients for 20+ years (‘beautiful, useful, or loved’) sounds awfully familiar to the concept of ‘sparking joy,’ yet is far older than Miss Marie. It comes from William Morris (head of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1800s). He and Thoreau and their buddies were helping folks downsize before KonMari existed in even a gonadal state. She’s just saying it in a way the media has latched onto – but she’s dumbed this concept down to the point of that it’s lost all practical application. Which leads me to my next point…

Problem #4 – Over-Simplification … “Does it spark joy?” Well, let’s see. Tax returns don’t spark joy, but they do they keep the IRS off your ass. The lawnmower generally doesn’t spark joy, but it does keep the neighbors from reporting you to the HOA. My toothbrush does not spark any particular sense of joy, but it does keep my teeth in my mouth. I don’t know much of anyone for whom toilet plungers or rectal thermometers or pet-urine-stain-remover especially ‘sparks joy’ – but they come in awfully damned handy when you need them, I would argue that’s a valuable reason to keep something!

I find the concept of sparking joy too simplistic and limiting. I prefer (again) to teach William Morris’s mantra to my clients – is it ‘beautiful, useful, or loved’? That ‘useful’ category is getting the short shrift in KonMari land. Joy-sparkage also doesn’t take into account things like records retention guidelines (how long you’re legally required to keep a document in case of legal problems down the road). Follow KonMari to the letter, and you stand a good chance of ending up in jail! 

[OK, this totally makes sense, but it might be an oversimplification of the KonMari approach, especially now that she includes the value of ‘need.’ –SL]

Problem #5 – A Surface Solution at Best … The biggest clutter dilemma my clients face has nothing to do with letting go – it’s the slavish (and often unconscious) need to continue accumulating, even after they’ve cleared the decks. Overcoming that requires an understanding of the psychology behind your particular clutter triggers, because your reasons for accumulating … are very different than anyone else’s. They’re driven by childhood experiences, feelings of loss and lack, the values your family attached to ‘things,’ your ideas about status and success and security. It’s far, FAR more complex an issue.

[Clutter or over-accumulation is more likely when you have ADHD characteristics that include taking on multiple – often unfinished – projects and hobbies… forgetting what you have or where it ‘lives’… getting distracted so not putting things away… impulsively buying things that catch your fancy… getting easily overwhelmed by the details of organizing, cleaning, etc. and going into avoidance mode. For people who are already challenged to put away clean laundry (a common plight faced by many of my clients), the KonMari system of intricately folding tops and socks isn’t going to last beyond the initial fascination stage. There are many wonderful, easy-to-read books that outline organizing strategies that are helpful for the neuro-atypical brain, including ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeOrganizing Solutions for People with ADHDThe Other Side of Organized and How ADHD Affects Home Organization: Understanding the Role of the 8 Key Executive Functions of the Mind. –SL]

Clutter comes from trying to fill a hole in your life with stuff  [and, according to master organizer Barbara Hemphill, ‘postponed decisions.’ – SL ]. Unless you can understand what your particular hole looks like, the piles are just going to come back. To overcome that, you have to understand what drives you accumulate, and your reasons may have exactly zilch to do with joy-sparkage. (I can hand you a million hoarders who desperately love every single piece of trash in their house. If they followed the KonMari method, they’d still be buried in squalor!)

Part of what we Professional Organizers do is more akin to counseling than ‘tidying up.’ We understand how to dig deeper and get at the root of your clutter… how to ask the hard questions that go beyond, “Does it spark joy?”… how to uncover hidden feelings you didn’t even know were bringing extraneous crap into your life. We help you achieve a level of awareness about your beliefs, motivations, and actions that keeps clutter at bay. KonMari’s ‘method’ doesn’t really address this.

[I am concerned that Kondo repeatedly calls her clients ‘lazy.’ She may say it as an incentive to get her clients moving, but for anyone with executive function challenges, depression, anxiety or ADD/ADHD them’s fighting words! A good P.O. would help a client to get into action, not criticize them for being stuck. Getting going on something (activation or initiation) is a brain-based executive function,which is very compromised when you have any of the above conditions. So please don’t tell me I am what I’m battling not to be it doesn’t help me to feel encouraged in any way! –SL]

Problem #6 – This Isn’t Organizing … At least she’s honest about what she’s doing in the title of her book – she’s ‘tidying up,’ which any P.O. worth his/her salt will tell you is NOT the same thing as getting organized.  I’ve been doing this professionally for more than 20 years, and I can tell you there’s a whole-hell-of-a-lot more to staying organized than cleaning out. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! REAL organization requires a holistic approach, that tackles the clutter in your use of time, your management of information, your ability to prioritize and draw healthy boundaries, your spending, your relationships, your own head. Most of my clients’ organizational knots AIN’T gonna get untangled with an overly-simplified, “Does it spark joy?”

[I’m glad the popularization of the KonMari method has brought lots of attention to the benefits of organizing. There are now Professional Organizers who are certified in this approach, and many others who utilize some of the concepts. The KonMari method has been helpful for many, but it is not appropriate for everyone. While I have read and heard glowing testimonials from people who have tried it, I’m not sure how many of them were dealing with chronic disorganization, executive function issues or ADD/ADHD (although I can see where the clear methodology and set rules can be appealing). –SL]

As you’ve read here, there are very different takes on the KonMari method, with validity for them all. Which side of the debate are you on? Leave your comments below.

Need help to feel more in control of your environment and yourself?

Individual Coaching helps develop strategies and systems that work with the way YOU think. We can also do Virtual Organizing using photos and video. Click here to schedule an Initial Conversation with me. You can also find qualified local Professional Organizers by searching the member listings on NAPO or the ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization). 

Online Group – One of the best ways to get organized is to commit to working at it for a set amount of time most days. (Marie Kondo, most of us do not have the time or energy to tackle everything at once!) My online Action-Accountability Group, The TUIT Project, will support your doing just that, helping you to actually get around ‘To IT.’ New sessions begin monthly, so sign up now!

Group Coaching – Interested in a video-chat coaching group? Send me an email with the best day and time!

POWER of the PAUSE!

POWER of the PAUSE!

Press ‘Pause’ to Review and Reset

If we’re always in action – or inaction, without taking a conscious pause to step back, observe, reflect and perhaps redirect, we’re doing ourselves an injustice. All pauses are not the same. Check these out:

PLANNING Pause – I often talk about Planning Time vs. Doing Time – how important it is to set aside specific time to focus on deciding what you need to do and how you’ll get it done (Clarity) along with when you’ll do it (Priority). When you pause to plan, your efficiency quota can increase exponentially! See my blog “TheTwo Magic Words for Productivity: Clarity and Priority.”

REFLECTION Pause Another helpful distinction is Reflection Time vs. Action Time. The idea here is to make the time, while working on a project (preferably one task at a time!), to pause and think about the efficacy of your actions. Ask yourself if what you are doing now (task, project, direction, etc.) is the best thing for you to be doing at this point in time. Consciously consider whether your actions will help you to finish the project, attain a goal or, on a broader scale, live a life you love! If so, continue; if not, redirect your efforts. 

HABIT Pause – One of the benefits of Reflection Time is seeing patterns you might have overlooked, or known but ignored. You can’t fix what you don’t realize is broken, so take a pause to think about it. Members of my online Action/Accountability group, The TUIT Project, are asked to consider not just what they’ve accomplished, but what worked and what got in the way. How can you build on that? What habits/patterns support your efforts, and which ones hold you back?  Here’s an example: Annie is a TUIT group member who identified chronic perfectionism as getting in the way of her productivity. While helpful to a certain extent (especially knowing how easy it is to get distracted and careless), it’s also easy to have too much of an otherwise helpful thing – ever hear of ‘paralysis by analysis, or ruin something that was working by overthinking or over correcting, or miss a deadline because you wanted to fix ‘one more thing’? Awareness helps, and awareness begins with a pause.

DOING Pause: Redirect – I don’t believe you can just stop doing – or thinking – about something. There will be a void and you have to fill that void with a different ‘something.’ So, telling yourself to be less of a perfectionist is not going to be very helpful unless you then substitute another concept or behavior. In Annie’s case, an internal bell now rings when she’s caught up in perfectionism, and she reminds herself, “Go with Good ‘Nough!” as a replacement mantra for perfectionistic behavior. Successful people don’t constantly second guess themselves – they get into action and move forward towards completion, pushing through the obstacles instead of getting stuck in finding a perfect solution. See my blog “Ready – Fire – Aim.”

ACTION Pause Sometimes, an Action Pause is the best way to get something done. Temporarily walk away from it – avoids the law of diminishing returns. Shift to another task or recharge with exercise, an outdoor break, play break or even a quick nap.

PROCESSING Pause Many people with ADHD also have a degree of ‘slow processing.’ This has nothing to do with intelligence, nor the ability to understand concepts (which we often get quicker than many people). It does, I think, reflect the way many of us understand things. We need to relate new information to something we’ve already processed, whether consciously or not. Facts in a vacuum don’t work. So it may take a bit of time to absorb the new info and tie it together with something we already have stored in our atypical brain. That is partially our genius – we make links that many others will not. It’s also our challenge, because we may not easily get stuff that others pick up without pause. Allow yourself the gift of the pause. Take time, without guilt, to absorb things, whether it’s a conversation, a lecture or a scenic view. Don’t apologize for that blank stare when someone is talking, or feel pressured into a quick response, but do have a response ready, “Hmmm… I’m thinking about that.”

SPEAKING Pause People with ADHD tend to be impulsive, which can mean blurting out what they think without thinking it through. Poor short-term memory  can also contribute to the rush to get a thought out before we forget it. Sometimes we are so focused on what we want to say that we’re not in full listening mode. This can by annoying to others, and then some. A great idea that is poorly communicated is doomed. So, recognizing this tendency, pause to consider if what you want to say is appropriate, helpful, timely and succinct. If not, remain on ‘pause.’

THINKING Pause – Therapists, coaches and some teachers are trained to ask a question, then pause, giving the recipient time to reflect and respond. We have so much going on in our lives that it takes time to think, so that we can pull out what is most pertinent, relevant or important. It’s easier to discuss things at a superficial level, but when we pause to really think about something, that’s when we open the door for those ‘Ah Ha!’ moments.
What do you think about the PAUSE? What are some Pauses that work for you? Share them in the comments section below.