How ADD/ADHD Diagnostic Terminology (and Thinking) Has Changed
ADHD is NOT a new or made-up disorder, contrary to what the skeptics have been saying for the 25+ years that I’ve been an ADD coach, diagnosed ADDult and parent of a now-grown child with ADHD. So respond to the critics by showing them more than 240 years of ADHD history!
Let’s start with some clarity: ADHD refers to Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder. There are three primary subtypes, or presentations – Primarily Inattentive (often referred to as ADD), Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive and Combined type. An individual can have symptoms that are mild, moderate or severe, and this may change over time or depending on the situation.
Current figures vary, but the CDC says that approximately 9-11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. It is estimated that 4-7% of adults have the disorder.While almost everyone experiences some of the symptoms some of the time, an actual diagnosis is based on several factors. For more on this see the CHADD Fact Sheet. For a free adult screener, go to www.SusanLasky.com/resources/ and scroll down to Free Evaluations & Screeners.
With so much attention on ADHD, there are those who say it doesn’t exist. So here is some historic perspective that will put to rest any thoughts that ADD/ADHD is a NEW or MADE-UP Disorder. (You may not like everything you read, but ADHD can be debilitating!)
1775 – Dr. Melchior Adam published the textbook Der Philosophische Arzt that contained a description of the inattentive and impulsive behaviors associated with ADHD. This is probably the first textbook ‘description’ of this syndrome. It is also notable for not focusing strictly on the hyperactive symptoms, where most emphasis has historically been placed.
“He studies his matters only superficially; his judgments are erroneous and he misconceives the worth of things because he does not spend enough time and patience to search a matter individually or by the piece with the adequate accuracy. Such people only hear half of everything; they memorize or inform only half of it or do it in a messy manner. According to a proverb, they generally know a little bit of all and nothing of the whole… They are mostly reckless, often copious considering imprudent projects, but they are also most inconstant in execution.”
BEST OF ALL: Dr. Adam’s treatment recommendations from over 240 years ago included massage and exercise!
Inconsistency is a major problem for people with ADHD – if they can do something sometimes, why not always? Although people with ADHD can be VERY detail oriented and focused, it isn’t always possible – especially when the subject isn’t of particular interest. (One of the main reasons people dispute this diagnosis is that, when interested, children and adults with ADHD can be attentive, to the point of hyperfocus, yet staying focused at other times can be very difficult. This isn’t intentional – it’s brain-based, frustrating and at the heart of this disorder.)
1798 – Sir Alexander Crichton, MD, published a book An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangementwherein he said:
“In this disease of attention, if it can with propriety be called so, every impression seems to agitate the person, and gives him, or her, an unnatural degree of mental restlessness. People walking up and down the room, a slight noise in the same, the moving of a table, the shutting a door suddenly, a slight excess of heat or of cold, too much light, or too little light, all destroy constant attention in such patients, inasmuch as it is easily excited by every impression… they have a particular name for the state of their nerves, which is expressive enough of their feelings. They say they have the fidgets.” (p.272).
Dr. Crichton suggested that these children needed special educational intervention (in 1798!) and noted that it was obvious that they had a problem attending “even how hard they did try.”
“Every public teacher must have observed that there are many to whom the dryness and difficulties of the Latin and Greek grammars are so disgusting that neither the terrors of the rod, nor the indulgence of kind entreaty can cause them to give their attention to them.” (p.278).
I LOVE THIS – discussing the need for educational interventions more than 200 years ago!
1844 – Heinrich Hoffman was a progressive psychiatrist who rejected the common beliefs of his time that psychiatric patients were obsessed or criminal, and instead considered mental disorders as medical issues. He published an illustrated children’s book with a poem called ‘Fidgety Phil,’ a classic description of a hyperactive child. An 1847 edition of the book also had a story about “Johnny Look-in-the-Air,” about an inattentive child. WHY DO PEOPLE continue to insist that ADD/ADHD is a NEW disorder!?!
1902 – Sir George Frederick Still, MD (the father of British pediatrics) introduced the concept of a Defect of Moral Character during a series of lectures to the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K. on ‘some abnormal psychical conditions in children,’ published later that year in The Lancet.“There is a defect of moral consciousness which cannot be accounted for by any fault of the environment.” He described 43 children who had serious problems with sustained attention and self-regulation, who were often aggressive, defiant, resistant to discipline, excessively emotional or passionate, showed little inhibitory volition, had serious problems with sustained attention and could not learn from the consequences of their actions, though their intellect was normal. Describing a 6 year old boy:
“…with marked moral defect, was unable to keep his attention even to a game for more than a very short time, and as might be expected, the failure of attention was very noticeable at school, with the result that in some cases the child was backward in school attainments, although in manner and ordinary conversation he appeared as bright and intelligent as any child could be.
Dr. Still proposed a biological predisposition to this behavioral condition that was probably hereditary in some children and the result of pre- or postnatal injury in others.
Following the 1917-1928 Encephalitis lethargica worldwide outbreaks and the 1919-1920 Influenza pandemic, the behavioral symptoms in many surviving children led to the speculation that there is a causal relationship between brain damage and behavior. Children often became:
“… hyperactive, distractible, irritable, antisocial, destructive, unruly, and unmanageable in school. They frequently disturbed the whole class and were regarded as quarrelsome and impulsive, often leaving the school building during class time without permission.” (Ross and Ross 1976 p.15).
This was called Postencephalitic Behavior Disorder or the Brain-Injured Child Syndrome.
1932 – Drs. Franz Kramer and Hans Pollnow described a Hyperkinetic Disease of Infancy. The most distinguishing characteristic was daytime motor restlessness, unlike the postencephalitic motor drive that also affected sleep. They also noted:
“…distractibility by new and intensive stimuli, inability to concentrate on difficult tasks, refusing to answer questions and appearing not to listen when spoken to directly.”
Noting that symptoms, especially motor restlessness, decline in intensity by age 7, they called it Hyperkinesis of Childhood.
1937 – Psychiatrist Charles Bradley administered Benzedrine sulfate, an amphetamine, to “problem” children at the Emma Pendleton Bradley Home in Providence, Rhode Island, in an attempt to alleviate headaches. However, Bradley noticed an unexpected effect upon the behavior of the children: improved school performance, social interactions, and emotional responses.
“The most striking change in behavior occurred in the school activities of many of these patients. There appeared a definite ‘drive’ to accomplish as much as possible. Fifteen of the 30 children responded to Benzedrine by becoming distinctly subdued in their emotional responses. Clinically in all cases, this was an improvement from the social viewpoint.”
This was probably the first documented use of stimulants in children with ADHD behaviors. Although an inadvertent side effect of treatment or headaches, Dr Charles Bradley saw noticeable improvement in behavior.
1930’s and 1940’s – Further research supported the idea of a causal connection between brain damage and ‘deviant’ behavior, referred to as Minimal Brain Damage.
1956 – Although scientists could not identify the biological mechanism, Dr. Bradley’s Benzedrine experiments created a scientific model for further research on stimulant drugs to treat hyperactivity. In 1956, psychiatrists began to prescribe Ritalin (methylphenidate, or MPH), a stimulant drug similar to Benzedrine with known benefits for children’s behavior and few side effects. PROTESTS THAT MPH IS UNTESTED?After more than 60 years? It may not be right for everyone, but it HAS been vetted.
1957 – Studies by Laufer et al addressed the possibility that children with the Hyperkinetic Impulse Disordermay not have brain damage, but rather a functional disturbance of the brain. So the idea that every child presenting with abnormal behavior had Minimal Brain Damage was disputed. (Birth of the neuro-atypical brain concept?)
1963 – The Oxford International Study Group of Child Neurology held a conference and stated that brain damage should not be inferred from problematic behavior signs alone. They advocated for a shift to the term Minimal Brain Dysfunction.I KIND OF BUY INTO THIS ONE– or maybe just Minimal (or Variable) Brain Difference or the Neuro-Atypical Brain!
1968 – Considering the term Minimal Brain Dysfunction as too general and heterogeneous, the term Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder evolved into the diagnostic term (as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association) DSM-II: Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood– “The disorder is characterized by overactivity, restlessness, distractibility, and short attention span, especially in young children; the behavior usually diminishes by adolescence.” (1968, p.50)
1972 – Psychologist Virginia Douglas presented a paper to the Canadian Psychological Association, arguing that deficits in sustained attention and impulse control were more significant features of the disorder than hyperactivity, resulting in a change in the conceptualization of the Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood.
1980 – The disorder was given a new diagnostic label in DSM-III: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), with or without Hyperactivity. The three separate symptom lists were for inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, along with an explicit numerical cutoff score, specific guidelines for age of onset, duration of symptoms and a requirement of exclusion of other childhood psychiatric conditions. Note: This was a departure from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9) published by the World Health Organization, which continued to focus on hyperactivity as the primary indicator of the disorder.
1987 – The two subtypes were removed and the disorder was renamed, in DSM-IIIR: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), in an effort to further improve the criteria, in particular with respect to empirical validation (largely based on Russell Barkley’s concerns about qualitative similarities, or whether the two types had to be considered as two separate psychiatric disorders). The subtype “ADD without hyperactivity” was removed and assigned to a residual category named “undifferentiated ADD.”
1994 – Realizing that ADHD was not exclusively a childhood disorder, but a chronic, persistent disorder remaining into adulthood in many cases, and based on additional research, in DSM-IV: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)recognized the three subtypes of ADHD, along with the possibility of diagnosing a purely inattentive form of the disorder. The subtypes: Predominantly Inattentive Type, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type and Combined Type, with symptoms of both. It also accredited the diagnosis of ADHD in adulthood by including examples of workplace difficulties in the depiction of symptoms. Note: There was now more similarity between definitions of the diagnosis with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), although the ICD-10 was more demanding about cross-situational pervasiveness of symptoms.
2000 – A text revision, DSM-IV –TR, did not change the definition of ADHD, but was more descriptive of the symptoms.
2013 – DSM-5: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) now distinguishes ADHD as a ‘Neurodevelopmental Disorder.’ It is truly no longer solely a disorder of childhood, but one that reflects brain developmental issues throughout the life span. (See factsheet.)
There are still 18 primary symptoms divided into two major groupings: inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.
The subtypes have been replaced with presentation specifiers that correlate to the prior subtype. Presentation can change over a lifespan.
New descriptions are more age-appropriate (a child might run about or climb, an adolescent or adult might feel restless).
The age of onset has been raised from age 7 to 12, and now multiple symptoms are required to be present in more than one setting (home, school, work, social). Note: Future DSM’s may include Adult Onset ADHD.
The required number of symptoms for ages 17+ is reduced from 6 to 5 in either the inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive categories.
The DSM-5 recognizes that ADHD and autism spectrum disorder may coexist.
So that’s it… for now. I still do not like the term ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.’ I relate more to ones like ‘Attention Surplus Disorder’ (Ned Hallowell) or ‘Information Processing Disorder‘ (I’ve heard this from several people, initially from the psychiatrist William Koch), or even ‘Behavioral Inhibition Disorder’* (I believe Russell Barkley coined this term),
*This theoretical model links inhibition to 4 executive neuropsychological functions: (a) working memory, (b) self-regulation of affect-motivation-arousal, (c) internalization of speech, and (d) reconstitution (behavioral analysis and synthesis). Extended to ADHD, Barkley especially see deficits in behavioral inhibition, working memory, regulation of motivation, and motor control in those with ADHD.
I believe there is a greater difference between subtypes (indicators) that will ultimately result in several different diagnoses. Nor should the importance of Executive Function challenges in ADD/ADHD be underrated. Dr. Thomas E Brown has been instrumental in supporting the relevance of Executive Functions and Emotions in relation to ADHD.
The DSM-listed diagnostic symptoms are not comprehensive by any means. The symptoms now mention organization, which is often a major problem. Still, there isn’t enough awareness of time and energy-related challenges… transitions… time blips… activation/procrastination… completion… hyperfocus (which is why I’ve been writing this for hours and ignoring the other things, like sleep, that are essential)… short term memory issues and future-blindness… and the overwhelming ADD ‘fog’…
I’ve been working with ADHD issues since 1989, and as a Productivity & ADHD coach/ consultant, professional organizer, ADDult and mom of a now-grown son with ADHD, I see patterns, and they differ within the umbrella ‘ADHD diagnosis.’ For instance, I don’t see any diagnostic symptoms having to do with decision-making. Yet, in general, many people with ‘ADD’ tend to be less decisive than someone with ‘ADHD’ (although making the right decision is another story, especially when impulsivity is involved!).
My work with clients primarily focuses on developing compensatory strategies for Executive Function (EF) challenges, which can include planning, prioritization, activation, time and project management, organization, sustaining focus and effort, utilizing working memory, self-awareness and acceptance, etc. There are many people with ADHD who haven’t been diagnosed because they think of ADHD in terms of an 8-year old boy running around in circles and disturbing their classmates – not the quiet daydreamer, the academically hi-achieving Ph.D. or the successful entrepreneur.
So the saga of the ADD / ADHD diagnosis continues to develop. It is clearly NOT a new or ‘made-up’ disorder. The ADHD brain is neuro-atypical and does operate differently. While under certain circumstances this can be beneficial (just check out the vast number of entrepreneurs, inventors, creatives, athletes, politicians, professionals and celebrities who have it), there are definite challenges that negatively affect performance, judgment, relationships and self-esteem.
The more we know about ADHD, its history, impact and treatments, the better the lives of those who have it and those who teach, love, live or work with them.
CHANGE…Often we avoid it, preferring to stay in our comfort zone. Or maybe we just lack the energy to explore new options. This can work for us, but it will keep us stuck. If we want things to be different, we have to dosomething differently.
Other times we seek out change as a remedy for boredom. Those of us with an active impulsivity trait tend to keep our radar focused on new opportunities (always attracted to that bright and shiny object). It’s probably a good idea to hit the pause button before jumping in.
Mostly, we look towards change to fulfill a desire for something more in our lives.This is a good thing – without it we wouldn’t risk a career change, buy a new house, adopt a pet, go on a date or start a family. Change can be less dramatic, like starting a new health routine, switching to a more helpful day planner or deciding to clear clutter.
When we try something new, it may not work out, but at least we won’t stagnate. We’re also a step ahead, having a better idea of what will work, when we can rule out what didn’t.
Triggers for Change: There are certain times of the year when we’re more inclined to think about making changes, like on New Year’s or a birthday. Why wait? Today is the first day of the rest of your life. For many of us, summer is coming to an end – a perfect time for a new beginning; your trigger for change.
What do you wantto be different?
What can you do to help make that happen?
Whatsupport will make change easier?
Believe in the magic of possibility. Attitude matters. It is so sad that when people are caught in negative emotions they can’t muster the attitude and energy to try something new. Don’t let feeling hopeless, or like a victim, prevent you from doing something new, or changing the way you do it. Start small. Success breeds success. Limit your goals – less is more; better to accomplish one thing successfully than to work towards multiple goals only to give up, feeling overwhelmed.
An effective way to create positive change is to declare your intent, verbally and in writing. It forces you to be clear as to your specific goals. Say it with conviction (even if you find that difficult), as something you’ve already accomplished: “I am wearing that size 10 dress and looking terrific.” … “I’m sitting at my organized desk and doing great at my new job.” … “I have a special relationship with a wonderful, supportive, smart and sexy person.” Print it out and post it where you’ll see it. If you can, include a photo that illustrates your accomplished goal.
There’s science behind it. Our brains are quick to see the negative; not so much the positive. Some studies declare we think up to 60,000 thoughts a day, and that 80% of them are mostly negative – that’s 48,000 negative thoughtsa day. That’s a lot to overcome, and we need all the reminders and reinforcements that we can muster. When we speak in the positive, it changes our expectations. When we say we will, instead of we’ll try, we reinforce our internal belief that change is possible.
So choose a goal to celebrate your new possibilities. Be realistic but positive – this time you can. I invite you to state your possibility and commitment in the comments section below.
I would love to help you turn your goals into realities. Just click here to schedule a time to talk about individual coaching or click here to learn more about my action/accountability group, The TUIT Project.
I’m laughing (okay, smiling to myself) as I write this, since it is so much the opposite of what I began to write!
It started with a decision to compile some of my favorite quotes about some of my favorite topics – ADHD, Executive Function, Attitude, Organization, Parenting, Time Management, Relationships, Self-Care, Self-Fulfillment, etc. These well-phrased gems are often perfect for creating perspective on situations with which my clients (and myself) struggle.
I know that some of these ‘words of wisdom’ are originally mine (not surprising when I’ve been writing and speaking on these topics since 1989, when Hal Meyer and I published the first CHADD of NYC Newsletter). However, I know that most are not, and so I went online to seek out sources.
I began with one quote that I know wasn’t my original, although it may have been Hal’s, or more likely Hallowell’s.
This is a great way to describe the tendency to act without thinking something through. It helps to understand some of the challenges created by the impulsive ADHD mind, and how actions taken without thinking can lead to unexpected, often negative consequences.
I thought I’d write about how important it is to be very clear about your target and goal before taking action (“Ready, Aim, Fire”), so you don’t waste or misdirect your efforts, but when I put “Ready, Fire, Aim” into a search engine, I wound up reframing my thinking about this phrase! Now I think that it can often be a better plan, since it puts the emphasis on action.
Taking action is a major challenge for many people, especially those who are very busy, cautious, or those who might have ADHD, but with a lower dose of the ‘H.’ Wanting to get it ‘perfect’ often leads to not getting it done at all… or to long hours, paralysis by analysis and missed deadlines. It’s the opposite approach to those who rush to just get something done and out of the way. Yet now I’m advocating for better balance, which can mean to just ‘FIRE’ in order to get going!
My online search led me to a blog on a fitness website that explains this really well. I know nothing about his program or the author, Keith Lai, but I loved his approach. He talks about this concept as it applies to fitness, but I see how it affects every aspect of life where we postpone taking action because we are too caught up in researching/thinking about exactly what action to take, or because we think we need to know the exact outcome of our actions. And as much as we may fantasize about it being otherwise, we can only control our actions, not the outcome.
So here’s a slightly edited version of what Keith Lai had to say – www.fitmole.org/ready-fire-aim
How to Use The “Ready, Fire, Aim” Technique to Crush Any Goal
One of the best books I’ve read recently is called Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson. It’s more of a business book on how to grow a wildly successful business than anything else (it really has nothing to do with fitness), but the lessons taught are applicable to anyone with ambitious goals, including those who want to transform their physique.
The premise of the book revolves around a concept called “Ready, Fire, Aim” which basically states: Anytime you want to reach a goal quickly, you simply need to act first, then make any necessary adjustments and correct for any mistakes later.
Let’s break it down into the 3 separate stages:
Stage 1 – “Ready”
This is the research phase where you begin researching the ins and outs of what’s necessary to reach your goal. In fitness, it might mean reading up on what’s needed for your workout or diet.
If you bought a fitness course (like my Superhero Shredding course), the “Ready” phrase means going through the course and absorbing the information.
But the secret to being successful in the “Ready” phase is to not obsess about understanding things 100%. I’ll go into more detail on Stage 1 later in this article.
Stage 2 – “Fire”
This is where you charge straight in and take immediate action (“Fire”). Even if you don’t fully understand the nitty gritty technical details of the workout or diet plan you’re on… JUST DO IT.
Inaction and doing nothing are the worst possible things in the world – there will never be a better time than now so pull the trigger ASAP.
Stage 3 – “Aim”
Now that you’ve taken action, you can gradually fix any mistakes you’ve made in the beginning, but because you’ve already taken action, making micro-adjustments will be easy.
Maybe you screwed up the first 2 weeks and just realized you weren’t getting enough protein, that’s fine, you can make that change now. You’re already light years ahead of the guy who’s still reading the diet manual, so pat yourself on the back.
Getting stuck in the “Ready” phase – The #1 reason for failure
Being stuck in the “Ready” phase is like reading 20 different dating books before ever dating a girl…
Most guys are stuck in the “Ready” phase. They spend too much time researching and not enough time doing. Why? Because it’s a lot easier to read about eating healthy than it is to actually eat healthy.
One of the biggest mistakes I made in the beginning of my fitness journey was spending months and months reading about diet information. I just kept reading and reading because I thought there was some “secret ingredient” that was missing. I thought there was something out there that I needed to know in order to get started.
But in reality, the only reason I kept reading was because I wanted to avoid putting in the hard work. Reading is a lot easier than doing as I’m sure you’ll agree.
Trust me, you know enough. There’s no secret sauce. I need to make a statement – YOU KNOW ENOUGH.
Most people know they need to eat in a calorie deficit to lose fat… Most people know they need to get stronger and eat in a surplus to gain weight… Most people know that fruits and veggies are good for you and you shouldn’t eat doughnuts in excessive amounts.
The basic premise of losing fat and building muscle is VERY VERY simple. And yet, people always want to complicate this shit. For some reason they want it to be complicated. Why?
Hell if I know, but if I had to guess it’s because making something more difficult rationalizes their decision to continue “researching” and stay in the “Ready” phase.
More and more people these days are getting caught up in the “science” of fitness (e.g. the best scientifically proven upper chest exercise for hypertrophy), but spending all day going through exercise research reports doesn’t do shit for you. Don’t know what hypertrophy means? Awesome, you don’t need to know.
This why a lot of the gym “bros” who seem a lot less educated, statistically, have superior physiques to the guys who just read and read and read. It’s because they just take action without overanalyzing everything. You have to admit that it’s pretty funny when the people who get the greatest results are the ones who don’t much care about all the science and theory behind fitness.
But what if “it” doesn’t work?
Last December I had a reader email me. To keep the reader anonymous, I’ll be calling him Captain Korea from this point on. Like a lot of my readers, he asked what’s the best workout to lose weight. I pointed him to one of the free workouts on my site and told him to do that.
One day later, Captain Korea emailed me back saying “This looks good, but can I add in 2 extra sets of side lateral raises? I feel like it will work better.”
The workout I gave him was a simple yet very effective 3-day split. Yet in Captain Korea’s mind, he was trying to make what was a great workout plan much more complicated than it needed to be.
Adding an extra couple of sets wouldn’t have killed him, but it’s the fact that he thought about it before even doing the workout once is what drives me insane. If Captain Korea decided to add the 2 extra sets of lateral raises after doing the workout for 4-6 weeks and decided that his shoulders were lagging a bit, then that’s totally fine.
Because by then, Captain Korea has already passed Stage 1 (Ready) and Stage 2 (Fire). Adding in the extra lateral raises is the intelligent Stage 3 (Aim) move.
“READY, AIM, FIRE” – The most common path to mediocrity
The majority of guys follow a “Ready, Aim, Fire” approach to fitness and life.
They decide they want to do something such as workout, and begin researching and buying workout products. (Ready)
They make sure every aspect of the workout is “perfect” by reading forums, blogs, and research reports. (Aim)
They finally take action after weeks/months of “fine tuning” their workout plan to perfection (Fire) only to jump back into the “Ready” or “Aim” phase after a week because they don’t think their plan was perfect enough.
As you can see, this approach to fitness, and to pretty much anything in life, almost always leads to disaster and at best, mediocre short-term results.
But once you “Fire” before “Aim,” you’ll discover that your entire life changes, and achieving any goal becomes a piece of cake.
How do you approach your goals? Do you follow the Ready-Aim-Fire or the Ready-Fire-Aim model?
Keith Lai talks about the Ready-Fire-Aim model as it applies to diet and fitness (BTW, sound familiar?) but it applies to so many aspects of our lives. I remember working with a web designer on my first website. I got so caught up in obsessing over what colors to highlight that I gave up on working with the designer, created my own ‘temporary’ two-page site and only got back on track five years later! How many possible clients did I lose because I didn’t give enough info on my laundry-list of a two-page site? Compare that to how many would have been turned off if my color scheme (easily remedied later) wasn’t fully expressive of my personality?
Sometimes, the best course is to reasonably prepare (get READY), then jump in and act (FIRE), knowing you can fine-tune the adjustments later (AIM). Besides, by then you might have a clearer target!
I’d love to hear what you think. Join the conversation by commenting below.
FREE WEBINAR! I recently gave a webinar for ADDitude Magazine: “How to Get More Done… With a Lot Less Stress.” If you weren’t on the call, you can listen to a replay by clicking here – it’s free until July 4, 2018! (I was blown away that almost 9,000 people signed up!) I’d love to hear your feedback.
The following challenges were brought up during a recent TUIT Project Group Webinar. I think the topics (dealing with piles of paper and getting to delayed projects) are concerns for many people, so I’d like to share the strategies we discussed.
How do I deal with avoidance, when it comes to tacking my piles of paper?
Work on one pile at a time. Start with the more recent ones, as you’re more likely to find some time-sensitive discoveries.
Don’t tackle a big pile – just the thought of it is overwhelming, which automatically creates an avoidance response. So, take a handful of papers at a time, and bring them somewhere else if you need to separate yourself so you don’t have to look at the intimidating ‘master pile’ (or piles).
The goal isn’t to shuffle the piles (which is what often happens), but to create workable units of related items that can be reviewed more efficiently than if the categories were intermingled. Remember, your goal is to process the papers, not just organize them! However, organization is the first step.
Start by separating the papers, by category, into smaller piles as you go through them. It is a waste of time and energy to transition your thinking from issues concerning the house… to kids… to work… to finances, etc. The same applies to sorting piles of paper at work. The popular OHIO method (only handle it once) doesn’t make sense if it means having to constantly shift focus to deal with different categories and different priorities. Stack all papers relating to a category in one pile or folder (put a blank paper at the top with the category name, so you’ll remember). Then, either go through and process all of the papers in a specific category (do now, do later, do whenever, delegate, discard or file), or continue adding to your sorted categories by taking additional handfuls from the master pile.
Don’t think you’ll just get around to this. Knowing you have or want to do something has little to do with getting it done. (Especially for ADDers, who are less motivated by reward, consequence or even importance.) Create a Task-Appointment (time on your calendar to do a specific task) for sorting the master pile, sorting the category piles, acting on the category sorts or filing (if you don’t set a time for filing, it’s unlikely to happen, which will just add to the future piles).
You can do this for just 15 minutes a day. You won’t get it all done, but the piles will decrease. A good idea is to make it part of an existing routine. Eat lunch, then sort/process for 15 minutes while the food digests.
If there are important items in the master pile, then you might want to focus on pulling those out so they ‘go to the top of the list.’ Systems are designed to help us achieve goals, but don’t overlook what is urgent while working on whatever is more interesting.
What is a good approach for getting to a long-desired but delayed project?
Realize that even when you aren’t in action on a project, if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, you have made some progress. The problem is that, without putting your thoughts down in writing – in one designated and labeled place/folder, you are ‘reinventing’ the wheel every time you think about it, instead of moving forward. So get your thoughts in writing to solidify and remember them. Consider that you aren’t starting fresh; you have the benefit of the thinking you’ve been doing. The difference is that when you get it out of your head and onto paper (or computer file), it clears your head and frees you up for action.
Define the project – create a Project Sheet. This is the difference between Planning Time and Doing Time (Taking Action). Without clearly planning out your actions, you’ll be less efficient and perhaps less successful at reaching your goal. You have probably spent an incredible amount of time over the years thinking about that project, so you’ve made progress, but haven’t yet taken concrete action towards getting it done, other than maybe a few false starts. Use just the one master folder (or file) where you’ve consolidated your thoughts. If it’s a big project, you may have subfolders or files. If you have old notes you’ve accumulated over the years, but aren’t sure where you put them, decide whether it’s worth the time and energy to find them, or just start fresh. (The ‘looking’ is often an unconscious way to delay beginning.)
Think through the sometimes hidden factors that have contributed to the delay in getting started. In this example, Jane Doe had spent a great deal of money on window treatments that never looked right. A major factor delaying replacement was her fear of making another expensive mistake by once again choosing the wrong items. What can you do differently to help ensure success? For Jane, hiring a consultant (a good interior designer) for a quick review would be well worth the expense, as it would alleviate her fear of re-doing it ‘wrong.’
Look at the benefits of proceeding (or not). In this case, Jane has to look at her ‘mistake’ every day, so it is a constant reminder of her poor, and costly, choice. That’s a negative impact statement and reason enough to make a change, if it is financially feasible. Note: This is only important because it was affecting the person who was looking at her perceived ‘mistake’ for 10 years – someone else might not even have noticed, so it would be a non-issue.
Get specific about those issues that have complicated making a change. Jane wasn’t sure as to which style, materials or colors to use for the replacement window treatments, whether they needed to be custom made, and if so, by whom. There are more resources available now than 10 years ago when she made her original purchase, and it’s easier to explore options on the web (even showing possible window treatments as they would look in the actual room).
To help narrow down the choices when making a complicated decision, use basic Decision-Making strategies, like a Decision Matrix, where you create a grid. Across the top, list the factors that affect your decision-making (these are your criteria), which in this case would include things like cost, appearance, quality, availability, maintenance, etc. Down the left side list the options. Then weigh each box by assigning a number. I like to use -3 to +3, with 0 being neutral. So one option, silk drapes, would get a +3 for looks, but a -3 for affordability/cost. Another option, wood blinds, would get a +1 for looks, but a -1 for maintenance. You get the idea. Some factors, like cost, might carry more weight than others. Maybe not. When you total the numbers, it helps determine your best choice, given your criteria and options.
By getting your thoughts out of your head, and creating a plan of action with specifics, you can get that long-desired, but not urgent, project accomplished without too much intrusion (time and energy) into your already busy life.
We know that sleep is critical for effective functioning. Sure, we can get by on almost no sleep if the need is great enough (cram for a major test or deadline report, new baby in the house, binge-watch Game of Thrones, etc.).
However, keep up the sleep-deprivation and there’s no getting around the consequences:
Feeling tired with a lack of physical energy and slower response time (driving hazard).
Low energy, making it harder to activate on tasks (whether work-related, going to the gym or even doing the dishes!)
Mental sluggishness, so its more difficult to make decisions, problem-solve or transition between activities.
Physical, not just cognitive concerns. Research shows that sleep helps repair our cells, tissues, hormonal and immune systems, so lack of it creates links to many chronic diseases and conditions—including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and depression.
Unfortunately, for many people — especially those with ADHD — sleep can be problematic. Sleep challenges include staying up late to finish the stuff you didn’t get to during the day… or because night is your most productive time… or you crave some ‘down time’ or quiet time… or you find it difficult to fall asleep because your brain keeps working… or your stimulant meds haven’t left your system… or you are tired, go to bed then get a sudden burst of energy… or you have an out-of-sync circadian rhythm, where you get tired later and may really struggle with getting up at the expected time.
You might have sleep-onset insomnia (I’ve read that 50% of adolescents with ADHD have it), or sleep-maintenance insomnia (difficulty getting a restful night’s sleep). There’s even a disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, aka The Night Owl Effect (my term for DSPS, coined as I write this at 2am <g>).
If you live in a bit of a vacuum and can set your own schedule to get up later, sleep variances are not as problematic (although some research shows this still affects health and weight). However, most people need to get to sleep in order to get up by a certain time. Creating healthy sleep hygiene, or rituals, helps create better sleep, with all of the benefits. So here are a bunch of tips and strategies to help.
TIPS & STRATEGIES to Get to Sleep
Start by setting an intention that getting to sleep at a specified time is actually something you want to do. Talk is cheap when weighed against, “I don’t feel like it.” Think about the benefits you’ll gain (from feeling more alert in the morning to time for a comforting nighttime cuddle with your partner), so your focus is positive (gain, not loss).
Decide on a realistic bedtime. If you tend to stay up until 3am, setting a 10pm bedtime is less likely to be successful than gradually weaning down the hours.
Create a consistent bedtime ritual. Figure out what you do to prepare for bed, and standardize the procedure. Make a list to create an SOP (standard operating procedure), so you won’t forget the details. Link new habits to ones you already have (like brushing your teeth then getting into bed and reading for 30 minutes before mandatory lights off).
As part of your bedtime routine, reduce morning stress by making sure you have everything ready for getting out of the house on time (if that’s an issue for you).
Note: Parents need to be firm about enforcing their child’s bedtime, while making time for their nightly bedtime ritual (bath, books, hugs, etc.). If they are young, create a page with illustrated steps and post it where they’ll see it.Try to keep the same bedtime and ritual on weekends, with only occasional exceptions.
Avoid sleep disturbing activities. These include late-day exercise (although some people say that helps them to sleep), heavy meals and screens.
Numerous studies show that, apart from the mental stimulation the activity creates, the blue light emitted by computers, tablets, TVs, phones, etc. is itself stimulating. So turn off the electronics an hour before bedtime. If you can’t, use screen software or glasses with special lenses that eliminate blue light.
Some people believe that eliminating ELF electric fields and magnetic fields during sleep is important to optimize cellular regeneration, so turn off those devices or move them out of the bedroom.
While having an alcoholic drink before bed may help you go to sleep quickly, realize that it is a depressant and affects REM sleep, so you won’t sleep as deeply.
If you think medication is keeping you awake, tell your doctor. Perhaps an adjustment can be made in dosage, timing or type of med. Caffeine can affect sleep for up to six hours. However, for some people with ADHD, a low dose of their stimulant or caffeine can sometimes help them to sleep by slowing down their overactive minds.
Consider natural sleep aids, like certain herbal teas such as chamomile, or blends specifically for bedtime. Some people occasionally take melatonin or valerian root to help them get to sleep, but these are not right for everyone. Most melatonin supplements contain much more than is needed, and a half or third dose is said to be as effective. Tart cherries have similar properties. GABA and CBD (cannabidiol) oil are recommended by some nutritionists to improve deep sleep.
Breathe deeply and stretch before sleep. Dr. Andrew Weil suggests using the “The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise,” also called “The Relaxing Breath,” to promote better sleep. This is based on pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that means “regulation of breath.”
Comfort your senses. Many people are sensitive to:
Sound. “White noise” can be soothing and block out other sounds. Use a fan or white noise machine. Listen to environmental sounds (available online, but find ones that work for you or they can have the opposite affect!). Try listening to music or guided meditations specifically designed to assist the sleep process.
Light. Consider room-darkening shades and dim LCD displays.
Visual. Think of a few enjoyable and peaceful images you can visualize as you drift off, or buy a calming graphic and hang it near the bed. Associate these with sleep.
Smell. Scents like lavender are very relaxing for some, so experiment with scented oils on your pillow or use a room diffuser.
Touch. Are your sheets comfortable? How about your pillows? Do you prefer a heavier cover (some people find this soothing) or a very light one? Is it time for a new mattress? You spend a lot of time in bed. Make it as welcoming as possible.Temperature. Sometimes an adjustment (heat, air conditioning, fan, open window) makes for a more comfortable night’s sleep.
Environment. People tend to sleep better in an uncluttered, clean environment. Try to keep ‘stuff’ out of the bedroom (think of it as a sanctuary, if possible), and make a quick pick-up part of your evening routine.
Quiet your mind, and the body will follow.
Begin your bedtime routine with conscious relaxation: take a walk… enjoy a bubble bath… read inspirational books or a good romance… practice mindfulness… or whatever works for you.
Use the bed for sleeping (or sex). Avoid working in bed or watching TV (at least not for 60 minutes before bedtime). Try the Pavlovian approach:See bed, go to sleep!
Discourage conversation and engagement. Right before bed isn’t the time for phone calls or text conversations. Certainly not for checking Facebook or any social media. If your child (or spouse) picks lights-out as the time to converse, don’t buy into it (unless there’s some important emotional issue going on that can’t wait). Avoid discussion: just state that you’ll talk about it in the morning, when you can give them your full attention. If mornings aren’t going to work, set a time that will. Then follow-through.
If bedtime is when you tend to obsess about anything negative that happened during the day, take a few minutes to write it all down – then try to let it go, at least for the night. Research shows that when we give brief thought to a problem before sleep, our minds often work through the answer while we get our rest, so a two-for-one benefit! (A good study tip as well.)
Make thinking about things an early part of your bedtime ritual. If bedtime is the first time you have a chance to just think, it can keep you awake. So before you actually get into bed, sit and allow yourself time to review your day and plan for the next day. I highly recommend making a habit of review and planning to increase productivity and decrease forgetfulness! Keep a pad or planner handy to write down your thoughts, or dictate a memo into your phone with the things you have/want to do. Writing things down clears your brain and facilitates getting tasks accomplished. Allow yourself 15 minutes to obsess over them, or over any problems, real or self-generated. Then wave your magic wand (use a back-scratcher in a pinch) and take a page from Gone With the Wind – “I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
End your day on a positive note. After you’ve done your ‘mind dump,’ take the time to write down three things you ‘did good’ that day. It’s easy to remember where you messed up, but it’s worth the effort to remember those things you did well, or at least better than you did in the past. Sometimes, just getting out of bed and taking a shower is an accomplishment. Now, look outside of yourself and add three things to your gratitude journal. Seems minor, but this small action can have a monumental impact on your mood, and lead to better sleep.
Enjoy a restful, energizing sleep tonight!
If you’ve found ways to make sleep your friend, share them in a comment! If you’d like to discuss your specific situation with me, click here to schedule a no-cost or obligation 20-minute coaching consult.
Very best, Susan
Feel free to share this post, with attribution to: Susan Lasky – Productivity, ADHD, Career and Organization Coach – www.SusanLasky.com
An unrealized goal is nothing more than a dream. It’s your choice: Keep it a fantasy or work towards attaining your goal.
Dreams Can and Do Come True When:
Desire is strong enough and not in conflict with your basic life values
Goals are clearly defined and at least partially grounded in reality
Planning is realistic, taking your resources and motivation into account
Effort is real, as is your belief that you can do it, so ‘I want’ becomes ‘I will!’
We all talk about making positive changes, and that’s great. But ask yourself how often those changes actually happen. Good intentions aren’t enough — you need a plan, and it has to be one that fits with your life. So set yourself up for success by following these Eight Steps to Turn Your Goals into Reality!
Set a realistic Long-Term Goal. This is a goal that is meaningful, but not necessarily easy. It will take work, and time, to accomplish, but it is do-able. You may want to be rich, and you might get there (if you’re not already). That could be your long-term goal, but it would be easier to work towards a goal that seems more attainable, even given your current circumstances. Link your goal with a positive, emotionally motivating benefit. State it as a desire, then remove the possibility of failure and state it as a fact. Here’s an example:
“I want to be more financially secure. I will be financially secure.”
Establish one Interim Goal. What is one thing you can do that will contribute towards the success of your long-term goal? Buying lottery tickets is one option, but the odds of success are minimal. A better goal: “I want to/I will manage my money better so I’ll have more of it.”
Consider what gets in the way. Examine your life and be honest with yourself as you ask, “What issues in my life are making it difficult to achieve this goal?” My expenses are very high… My income is too low… I already owe on credit cards and back taxes… I don’t spend enough time on financial matters (it’s easier for me to ignore things and hope they work out)…
Isolate specific actions that you can change (now or in the near future). This is where you explore anything that you can do or change to help attain your goal. Here are some options for better money management: I can stop eating out almost every night… I can plan my wardrobe better and buy during sales… I can move to a less expensive apartment… I can look for a better job… I can pay my bills on time and avoid late fees and interest… I can pull my paperwork together and file past taxes to minimize penalties… I can renegotiate my mortgage… I can get a better handle on where I spend money… I can create a budget that includes regular savings…
Justify (buy-into) each option, or table It as unlikely to work. Ask yourself what are the benefits of making a specific change. Put it in writing. As an example, here are reasons to support the specific action of not eating out every night: Eating out every night is expensive… It loses the “fun factor” and is time consuming, so I have less time for other interests… It promotes drinking, which is a problem and additional expense… I spend more on gas or car service… It is more difficult to eat healthy when I have all of those menu options in front of me…
Examine the down side of change, isolate potential problems and explore creative solutions. Don’t just ignore the possible pitfalls, or your plans to change won’t last very long. Continuing the ‘eating out less’ example:
Problem: Eating out is my main social activity. I don’t want to give this up! Solution:I’ll eat out on Fridays and Saturdays, and really plan and enjoy this. Note: Give yourself permission to act with forethought and moderation, rather than overreact by completely eliminating eating out.
Problem:I never have anything good to eat in the house. Solution:I’ll use an app to set up a simple meal plan and block in time for a weekly shopping expedition — especially for foods I like… or I can shop online and have the food delivered.
Problem: I hate to cook and don’t want to spend my time in the kitchen! Solution: I’ll check out services that prepare and deliver meals for a week. It’s probably still less expensive than always eating out — and healthier!
Take steps to make these changes happen! Ask yourself: What can I realistically do to solve this problem?List each specific action you are willing to do in order to make your new plan work. Turn your project into do-able tasks.
How and when will I do it? Assign a specific time to each action, and schedule it on your calendar as a Task-Appointment. Without an assigned task and time, it is likely to remain a fantasy! So if you plan to eat out only on Fridays and Saturdays, schedule a time to confirm with friends or family in advance… make restaurant reservations, if necessary… download coupons or Groupons to save even more…
How can I make this easier/self-motivate? What can you do that will make staying with your plan easier?
Build in immediate rewards:
Combine your grocery-buying with a special event (getting a massage, meeting a friend for coffee, etc.)
Link it to something you already do each week. “After yoga class on Wednesdays I pass by Whole Foods, so I’ll go food shopping.”
Associate doing it with giving yourself permission to spend time on something else, guilt-free. “I’ll shop after work every Tuesday, have fresh store-made BBQ chicken for dinner then spend the evening catching up on my favorite TV shows.”
Create a ‘fun factor’: “I’ll invite a friend over on Sunday and we’ll both prepare meals for the week”… “My partner and I will have a mini-date night making dinner together”… “I’ll take a cooking class at the Y”…
Reinforce your goal: Bank the money you’ll save by not eating out, and use the time you’ll gain to join a book club, paint, play guitar, or do whatever brings you joy!
Build in reminders:
Visual: Have a photo that represents your long-term goal as a screen-saver.
Physical: Keep a money jar to represent your savings (dimes instead of dollars?)
Emotional: Post an attractive affirmation of the benefits you will get from your actions… Mention that ego-boosting self-respect you’ll get from working towards something that is important to you!
Auditory: Have set times to listen to podcasts on topics related to achieving your long-term goal.
Monitor Progress. When we begin something new, we are high on the excitement, challenge and novelty of the project, and eager to see results and reach our goal. So we stay interested, but, sigh…, not for long. Frustration kicks in and other priorities and new bright and shiny objects will take precedence, unless we reinforce and frequently encourage our commitment. If we’re serious about change, we need to track progress (or lack of) to keep it in the forefront.
Track your actions. Write down everything you are doing, or have planned to do, to help reach your long-term goal. Then track how often and how well you are actually following through with those actions. Studies show that people who want to lose weight do better if they write down everything they eat – this is the same concept.
Maintain self-awareness. Tracking your actions isn’t enough. You’ll want to determine how well they are serving you in reaching your long-term goal. Ask yourself, “What am I doing?”… “How am I doing?”… Be honest in your feedback. Ask “What can I change for the better?”… Take time to consider whether your plans need to be modified, delayed, delegated or deleted. Note: Build this review into your regular Planning Time (weekly, or at the least, monthly).
Prepare for dead-ends. It is difficult to maintain actions, however well-intentioned and thought out, over an extended period of time. Sometimes we are fortunate, and actions become sustainable habits or routines. But not always, so be prepared to switch directions when what was working stops being effective, and substitute a different strategy.
Give yourself credit! Even for those baby steps you take to make progress towards your long-term goal.If getting there wasn’t a challenge, you wouldn’t have had to put so much effort into making it happen. So be your own best cheerleader for what you’ve done, instead of critically focusing on what you haven’t yet accomplished. Hint: Don’t strive for perfection; it’s a set-up for failure!
Get help. It is easier to stay on-track when you have outside ACCOUNTABILITY! Consider working with an accountability partner (preferably, not a spouse or partner) or a supportive coach. I can offer you a terrific online accountability/action group, The TUIT Project, or individual coaching to help you clarify your goals, determine the best strategies to achieve them, and provide support to make this process easier and more successful.
Summary of the Process: Turning Goals Into Reality
Long-Term Goal: “I want to be more financially secure; I will be financially secure.” One Interim Goal: “I will manage my money better!” One Short-Term Goal: “I will cut down on expenses.” One Action Goal: “I will stop eating out almost every night.” One Action Step: “I will check out price options for home delivery of meals.”
SNOW DAYS – For many, it means working from home. Great for avoiding hazardous roads, but when it comes to productivity, there are some built-in hazards you’ll have to negotiate. Remember these three words to make your work-at-home days more successful. WORD #1: Preparation – Yes, follow the Boy Scout credo and be prepared
Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky
Always have a work-related contact list and critical info (passwords, etc.) at home – snow day or not.
If possible, sync your office computer with your phone and laptop or tablet. Don’t depend on being able to access your office computer remotely; the internet may go down in bad weather.
As an extra precaution, print out the contact list and other critical information. (Do this periodically.) It is possible the electric may fail, especially in areas with snow-laden tree branches and exposed wires. You may need the printout to make an emergency call or two. (Keep your cell phone charged and have a spare, charged power source in case it does – consider investing in a solar-powered charger.)
If you have advance warning of the snowstorm, give thought as to what you can work on at home that would be the most productive use of your time.
These may be tasks that will help you finish an important project you are working on now, or a project you’ve been meaning to get to that you haven’t had time for in the office, or it may be a good opportunity to do some planning, away from the urgency and interruptions of office life.
Gather any materials you’ll need to do the work from home. Again, don’t count on being able to remotely access office computers, assuming your company even has that technology available for your use. (Take note, company execs – given this year’s weather, it may be time to review your policies on secure networks and remote access).
WORD #2: Expectation – Be realistic, this is NOT another day at the office There is a limit to what you will be able to accomplish – choose carefully – don’t promise (even yourself) more than you can reasonably deliver. Realize that you WILL have distractions – house chores will call to you (especially if the work you plan on doing is less than fully engaging): “Straighten up … clean … cook … patch the hole in the wall … organize the closet … ” PUT ON THE BLINDERS. If you were at the office, you wouldn’t be tempted. You will probably receive, or have to make, some personal phone calls. This is not a day for chatting, although others who are stuck at home but not working may think it is. Limit the calls, as you would at work, “Hi, how are you? I’m okay, but working… will call you back.” Children – they are home as well, and DO need your attention. Build in time to spend with them – you can’t work a full schedule unless they are older or you have in-home childcare. Take an hour and go out sledding with the children. You can be just as productive – even more productive – for having taken a play break. Then don’t worry if you use the TV or a video to babysit part of the time. Consider a project they can do nearby, while you do yours – have some ideas in advance (Preparation!). WORD #3: Clarity – Know what to do, and when to stop Be VERY specific in terms of what you will work on – the more focused you are, the more productive you’ll be in what could become a very distracting environment. Begin the day with a clear and detailed written outline of what you have decided to accomplish. This helps to maintain a focused work ethic at home (and gets you back on track after external or internal interruptions). Create your own benchmark – have a goal that, when achieved, will make you feel you had a fulfilling stay-at-home workday. Reach your benchmark and STOP WORKING. Celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate, or maybe some tea, laced with rum and spices (I think they call that a hot toddy ).
Magical holidays? Not for everyone. We’re supposed to feel festive… energetic… excited! We’re supposed to look forward to the New Year with anticipation and, well, happiness – it is ‘Happy New Year,’ right? So, why does this time of year create so much stress and anxiety? Why are so many people exhausted, even depressed under their cheery façades?
Since the first step in working through a problem is to recognize, define and accept it, let’s face it – the holiday season CAN be fun, but it can also be incredibly challenging. Especially this year, with the intense political discord and the many natural disasters. So give yourself a break!
Sure, there are tons of positive things about the holidays, including the window displays, the festivity, the spirituality and the family bonding. But there are also tons of stressors, like the time and effort of preparing for family gatherings, parties, travel arrangements, shopping, the additional expenses, rush to complete work projects, etc.
First it’s the Thanksgiving gathering (if you have people with whom you gather, and if you don’t, you might feel a sense of isolation). Having people over, for the somewhat disorganized, can be a time-consuming quagmire. It isn’t just the meal prep; it’s clearing the paper clutter off the dining table and finding hiding spots for the various piles of stuff. And the traveling doesn’t help – especially if stuck in holiday traffic (I admit it; I’ve skipped family events to avoid a two-hour traffic jam).
Thanksgiving Day immediately segues into the holiday buying frenzy, with its extra expenses and the stress of gift-buying, magnified by the pressure of getting those perfect bargains during Black Friday and Cyber Monday (now week-long, or longer, events). This is further complicated by the anxiety caused by FOMO – fear of missing out, whether it’s the sale of the century or that special party invite. Who has invited you where (and who hasn’t)? How should you reciprocate? What should you wear? And woe if you’ve gained or lost weight and don’t feel attractive in the holiday clothes you have! Even the lack of sunlight can darken the mood of people with a degree of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
Then there are the interpersonal issues. Whether it’s home for the holidays and dealing with complicated family relationships, or the feelings of loss when you think about missing loved ones or the lack of a significant other with whom to share a New Year’s kiss. There is also the double-edged pleasure of having children home from school, especially if you still have to work. And magnify the difficulty if you have children who get easily overwhelmed or overly excited by a disruption of their routine.
On a more subtle note, there’s a sense of judgement. The year is about to end, and what have you accomplished? Sometimes it’s external evaluations at work, which may, or may not, include raises and bonuses. But often it’s an internal sense of “I planned to do more…“. Unfortunately, we tend to dwell more on what we didn’t do than celebrate everything we did accomplish. Like a birthday, the upcoming New Year is a passage, and an opportunity (welcome or not) to pause and look at where we are in life.
I can go on, but now that it’s really clear you have valid reasons to feel Holiday Anxiety Disorder, let’s switch to what we can do differently to have a better, more fulfilling holiday season.
Let Go of the ‘Shoulds’
Many of us dwell in a mental world of how things should be. Relationships are warm, fuzzy and supportive. Money is not a concern. We’re easily able to leap tall buildings, which represents any obstacle, whether preparing a holiday meal or completing a work project early and under budget. Our children are always a joy, and our parents are never a problem. Realistically, we know that’s ridiculous. But there’s a part of us that wants it to be that way, and thinks it should be that way. Until we embrace imperfection and still delight in ourselves and others – despite our failings, and theirs – we’re doomed to feel like failures.
Practice Intentional Rejuvenation
Schedule in ‘ME’ time. Consider it as My Energy; time to recharge. It might mean a massage, distraction-free time to read, draw, play the guitar or go for a walk – whatever recharges your sense of self, so you’ll have more to give to others. If you spend too much time alone, working or taking care of your family, plan get-togethers with friends. Let go of the guilt that comes from having too little time to get things done or take care of others, so you give even less to yourself. As the airlines say, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself before you worry about others.’ Keep in mind thatself-care is not the same as ME time. Things like going to the gym are important for self-care, but there aren’t ME time, unless you love going to the gym!
Put Your Health First
Alas, that includes getting enough sleep, eating right, staying hydrated and exercising. These are all critical for real self-care. They take effort, but the payoff is that you’ll have more energy, and feel a lot less stressed. And for those of us with ADHD, depression or anxiety, these have proven, brain-based benefits. Studies show that spending some time in nature, even in winter, helps positivity. Get outside, even if it’s cold. Use natural daylight bulbs. And consider appropriate supplements, like Vitamin D and Omega-3.
Give Yourself Permission
It’s okay to decline an invitation. It’s okay to serve fewer choices at a meal or have less elaborate holiday decorations. And it’s okay to ask for help.
This might be the dollar amount or the number of gifts you’ll purchase. It might mean how much time you’ll spend shopping (maybe the online purchase isn’t as perfect as something you’d pick out in a store, but it’s a lot easier!). Also, consider how you can say no to unacceptable behavior, whether from a child, friend or family member. This also applies to work.Learn to say NO to yourself! Perfectionism destroys productivity. Be realistic in terms of what you can accomplish in a given time, and what you can’t. Have clear priorities and learn to self-advocate.
Write down your frustrations – it’s better than taking them out on others, or yourself. Keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of what you have, and what you’ve done. Keep a list of what you can do differently next year, and a reminder of what you’ve done that works. (Don’t count on remembering anything, although do try to remember where you keep your Journal and lists!)
Pause – Breathe – Appreciate
Life is a collection of moments, so capture those moments by being truly present. Mindfulness is a way of staying centered, and when we’re centered in the moment we can’t be disappointed by the past or anxious about the future.
It’s extremely rare when everything works as planned. Stuff happens. Being flexible and building in the expectation that there will be occasional breakdowns and meltdowns makes it easier to deal with them when they (inevitably) happen, and increases the likelihood that your holidays will be successful!
Focus on the Positive
In my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™, Step 3 is ‘Believe in Possibility, and that you always have the Power of Choice.’ When you truly believe that you will have a wonderful, fulfilling holiday season, and that the upcoming year will be your best one yet, you dramatically increase the likelihood it will be. Positive thinking is critical to successful action. How we think absolutely affects what we attract in our lives.
Plan for Success
A positive attitude is essential, but achieving goals is more likely when there’s also a plan in place. It’s helpful to have clarity as to goals and priorities, and the steps you’ll take to reach them, whether it’s planning for December 25th, New Year’s Eve or the upcoming year. If you need help with your Success Plan, let me know!
Have the Happiest of Holidays!!! What are your tips to conquer Holiday Anxiety Disorder? I’d love to see them, so share them on my blog.
This article may be reposted, only with the following attribution:
Written by Susan Lasky, Productivity, ADD/ADHD, Executive Function & Organization Coach. Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions, www.SusanLasky.com. Used with permission.
There is often a collapse in our understanding when it comes to getting things done. We’re taught to believe that if we were really motivated, we would get started on that work project, organize the closet or declutter the entry. We’re told that if we really cared about our family’s health, we would consistently prepare tasty, nutritious meals. We tell ourselves that if we’re not exercising or finishing the online course we started, lack of willpower and poor self-image is to blame. If only we tried harder… Maybe, but not likely.
Activation, unlike motivation, is an executive function skill, also known as Initiation. That means it is brain-based in an area of our brain (the frontal lobes) that may not be as consistently high-performing as we’d like. Especially so for people with ADD / ADHD. This is the area of our brain that is largely responsible for things like organization, time management, prioritization and activation (the ability to get started on something). It is easily overwhelmed by too much to do, confusion as to how to do things, or the dread that comes when a project seems too big or boring to be easily accomplished.
That’s when the protective amygdala— the part of our brain that helps us to manage stress— steps in with its fight, flight or freeze response. So we go into avoidance mode. OK, this is an oversimplification, but it helps us to understand WHY we find that doing some things becomes so challenging that we continually procrastinate, even if we are motivated to get them done.
Just because we’ve decided to do something, doesn’t mean we will actually get it done – despite motivation by desire, rewards or dire consequences. This lack of ability to get going can be both frustrating and scary!Here are eight strategies to help you overcome overwhelm, minimize the avoidance factor, get activated and successfully accomplish your goals.
Stop Identifying Yourself by Failure.Procrastinator. Lack of willpower. Lazy. Unmotivated. Selfish. Inconsiderate. Untrustworthy. These are words that make me want to quit, not put in the effort needed to overcome a brain-based executive function challenge. So recognize that despite the widespread ‘Just do it’ mentality, it’s often necessary to find work-arounds. Let go of the negative self-talk. Accept that you’re having difficulty beginning a task, and instead of being self-critical and judgmental (which accomplishes nothing), be gentle with yourself. You may be anxious about the task, uncertain about how to get it done, uncomfortable about doing it (like calling a company to complain about something), or stuck because you might ‘do it wrong.’ Avoid paralysis by analysis. Often all that’s needed is that first step, which is what activation is about. Identifying what is getting in the way is part of the solution. It’s important to take action despite your feelings, but it helps to understand them. Studies show that you’re 50% more effective if you first get clarity as to why it’s tough to get going, than you’d be if you just push through and try to get it done.
Set Aside Planning Time and Action Time.They are not the same. Planning time is for deciding exactly WHAT you are going to do, and HOW you’ll get it done. It’s the time to determine your priorities and decide WHEN you’ll actually work on your tasks (your Action times). It’s the time to make DECISIONS, so they don’t hold up your progress once you start working. Sometimes we plan to do something without being realistic about how much available time we actually have (the ‘white space’ in our calendars). So when planning, take all of your time commitments into account. And don’t overplan. Activation takes effort, so leave space for recharging, along with time to deal with interruptions, unexpected tasks or spill-overs from tasks that take longer than planned. If you skip Planning time and go directly to Action time, it’s easy to lose focus on what is most important and spend that Action time pursuing any new bright and shiny object (or checking emails, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). If you haven’t planned very specific tasks for your Action time, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options when you are ready to work.
Use your Planning time to gain CLARITY. What are the specific tasks that will enable you to make progress towards your goal? A project is too big to ‘do’ in one sitting, so the thought of ‘doing’ an entire project is overwhelming, resulting in avoidance rather than clarity. It’s easier to activate when there’s something very specific to do, with no conflicting priorities and a set time for starting –and ending– your efforts. It’s the way you solve that proverbial question, “How do you eat an elephant?” (the project you tend to avoid because it’s just too big, scary or unappetizing). How? One bite at a time! Begin by breaking the project into do-able tasks, or individual bites that aren’t too painful to swallow. The smaller you make them, the easier they’ll fit into your busy schedule. Prioritize those tasks (what has to be done before you can move on to the next task?). WRITE DOWN THE STEPS! Then, when you are in Action time, put on your blinders to stay focused on the designated task.
Make the Task more Appealing. How can you turn a need-to, should-do or must-do into a want-to? Same task, different attitude. Even then activation may be difficult, but it’s easier when you see a positive reason for accomplishing a task (even if it’s just to get it over with so it no longer gives you angst!). How can you add a fun element to the task? Some ideas: Do it with a friend, working together or just in parallel play… get out of your home or office and work in a coffee shop or park… upgrade your writing tools with a special pen and appealing notebook… promise yourself a reward for getting the task accomplished (even if it’s just some guilt-free ‘me’ time)… make finishing the task a game… have a giant check-off list, etc. Or try one of my favorites: get to work on it to avoid doing a task that’s even less appealing! Remember the benefit. Write down what you will gain from finishing the task. Keeping the goal in mind can make the work that goes into accomplishing it less onerous.
Think Progress, not Perfection. It’s easier to eat the elephant (work on that task or project) when you feel like it, or when you’re really hungry (deadline anyone?). But that’s a less effective way of ensuring you successfully accomplish your business or personal goals than if you were to commit to taking small, palatable bites every day (consistent effort). Prioritize the bites and keep them small, triumphing over your perfectionistic avoidance tendencies. Consistent small bites get things done!
Take a Short Detour to Gain Momentum. Sitting and staring at a blank screen won’t get that blog written. First, try doing a tiny action, like writing one sentence. This small action will often get you over the inertia hump, so you can continue. But if you find yourself unable to initiate action, take a detour. Do something physical (energizes your body and your mind). Take a short nature break (relaxes the anxiety and provides a feeling of well-being you can take back to your desk). Call a positive friend and make plans to do something fun. Listen to music that energizes and helps you stay focused. Make sure you eat and drink (dehydration contributes to brain fog). If you take medication, check that you’ve taken it. If you need ten minutes of down time, take it – even if it’s to check your social media or email (be safe and set a STOP alarm!). Remind yourself of your commitment to get to your Action task, and then, refreshed, get back to work.
Be Aware of Transition Trauma. Sometimes it’s hard to stop one activity to begin another. Our brains just don’t want to make the switch. Be clear as to what you plan to do when. Write it on your Daily Action List. Put it in your calendar as a Task-Appointment. Use alarms to define your Action times and alert you that it’s time to begin (activate). Get up and move between activities so you can clear the Zombie-like focus, or hyperfocus, from a previous task (or from that computer solitaire marathon session).
Find an Accountability Partner. When someone else cares whether we’ve accomplished what we said we would, we’re more likely to get it done. This is often difficult when you work alone. Just as it’s easier to get to the gym when you go with a friend, it’s easier to get activated and work towards your goals when there are others who are supportive of your efforts and cheerleaders for overcoming your challenges. Share with a non-judgmental friend, join a mastermind group, consider the benefits of individual coaching, or join a group like my TUIT Project, which is designed to provide support and accountability. A new online group begins each month—visit OvercomeOverwhelm.com.
Also consider thebenefits of individual coaching. Contact Susan Lasky Productivity Solutions to discuss how coaching could help you move forward and have a less stressful, more fulfilling life. Susan is based in Westchester, but works virtually anywhere. She can be reached at 914-373-4787 or Susan@SusanLasky.com. You can schedule a convenient, no-cost or obligation Initial Consult at https://SusanLasky.AcuityScheduling.com.
Frustrated by the gap between knowing what you should/want/need to get done and the reality of what you are actually accomplishing? For many people, this is a chronic struggle – especially those with ADD/ADHD/EF (executive function) challenges, myself included! Even when we are at the top of our game there’s still a backlog that can approach critical mass. Do you wonder what the top of your game would be if you could be more Nike™-like and ‘Just Do It.’ Fortunately, there ARE strategies that help, and here are a few:
Begin with Clarity– Know exactly what you plan to do AND why you want to do it. Maybe it’s because you need to get something done, but by phrasing it as something you want (even if the reason is to keep your job, pass a course or stay on speaking terms with your partner), it becomes your CHOICE, and our motivational circuits work a lot better when we choose to do something. So convert your ‘have-to’s’ ‘must-do’s’ and ‘need-to’s’ to ‘WANT-TO’s.’
Confusion by Susan Lasky
Think ‘Task’ NOT ‘Project’ – Often, what we want to do is too big to accomplish in a single sitting, leading to a feeling of overwhelm. For many of us, overwhelm is a trigger to shutting down and doing less, rather than ‘attacking’ the project to successfully accomplish it. Our brain perceives the situation as threatening, and shifts into the protective ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, which doesn’t help with getting things done.
Avoid overwhelm by identifying the PROJECT (it might be to redo the files, create a newsletter, plan a vacation, organize the closet, write the thesis, ‘do’ the taxes). Whatever it is, break it down into the multiple small steps (TASKS) that are needed to complete the project.
The first task of any project is to create a written Project Sheet that specifies everything you’ll need to get it done, from resources needed (information, people, money, tools) to a step-by-step breakdown of each action, with approximations of the time you’ll need for each step – then double it (or more). Reinforce the steps by writing them down and saying them out loud. Keep the Project Sheet where you can easily refer back to it. (Think weekly and daily planning/review sessions, which take time but totally save you hours!)
Set a Conscious Intention (Commitment) – Once you are clear about WHAT you will do, decide WHEN you’ll get it done – PRIORITIZE. Put each step in your calendar or planner as a Task-Appointment, which is an appointment with yourself to work on a specific task at a specific time.
Saying ‘yes’ without saying ‘when’ is a typical precursor to not getting things done. Consider posting a reminder with the specific task you have prioritized, in a place that will draw your attention back to it when it begins to wander (and accept that it will wander!). You might want to expand your declared focus to prioritize an entire day or a week, “This week I will finish …” This doesn’t mean you won’t do other things, but it helps to swing you back to your key priority when your attention drifts or your interest wanes.
Make it Do-Able – It often helps to set a timer for a short amount of time so you don’t feel ‘trapped.’ It is easier to start something if you know you only have to stay focused on it for 20 minutes (or 15… or 10!). If you don’t complete the task within the time you’ve allotted, that’s okay. Congratulate yourself for having done what you said you would, then set additional Task-Appointments to finish what you’ve successfully begun. Take breaks between scheduled appointments. Some people find background music makes it easier to stay focused (volume and genre do matter!).
Minimize Distractions – Put on your blinders and resist temptation by making it less intrusive. Turn off email notifications, and even the phone if possible. Put a sign on your door that you will be available at 3:30 (or whenever), to minimize interruptions. Use a chalk or white board so visitors can leave messages. Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt from the other projects that need your attention, so you can successfully focus on one at a time. (I’m a brilliant multi-tasker, as long as I only work on one task at a time!)
We can’t quite turn off our brain (although a few minutes of mindful focus before you begin the work can help), so keep a ‘parking lot’ handy – a place to write down the thoughts that pop up and can compromise your focus. You don’t want to forget to make that call, send an email, pick up the dry cleaning, order a replacement phone charger, etc., and these are the things that will often pop into your mind while doing something else. You will think about it, so capture these thoughts in writing or tell it to Siri, OK Google, Alexa or your phone companion. Then you don’t need to shift your attention away from your project in order to remember to do it.
Start Small – When you are REALLY stuck, just open the notebook or computer file and look at the page or screen. Then put your pen to paper or fingers to keypad. They may start moving of their own volition. If not, commit to writing just one sentence, which often opens the gateway to moving forward. Or pull out a folder and skim the papers. Or make a list of what you think you should be doing. It’s the ACTIVATION that’s so difficult. Sometimes, all it takes is a minimal start to trigger our brains to become involved with something we’ve been avoiding. And remember how good it feels to get something done!
Take Breaks & Make Time for Self-Care – Avoid ‘overbooking.’ Often, less IS more. Leave ‘white space’ in your day. Especially when you have things to do in the evening or over the weekend. Leave time between Task-Appointments (if you work for 20 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break, then a longer break every two hours or so). Get up and MOVE (keeps the energy flowing). This is easy to forget when in hyper-focus mode, where we can work for hours on something because we are so caught up in it. Try to remember the law of diminishing returns (and ask yourself what is not getting done that is also important.
Take care of yourself! SELF-CARE is often the first thing to go when we feel there is too much to do.
Stop and Smell the Flowers by Susan Lasky
Yet self-care provides the physical AND mental energy to accomplish more. Think about it – how much more cognitively alert and productive are you after a good night’s SLEEP? Multiple studies are showing that our body and brain use sleep as a time to recharge, including eliminating toxins, so it isn’t, as many feel, a ‘necessary evil,’ but part of the productive process.
We know that EXERCISE boosts our body chemistry so we are more functional (and ofter a lot less ‘hyper’ or ‘antsy’). So fit some version of it into your schedule (again, less is often more if it means you’ll actually do it – sometimes our exercise goals may be somewhat unrealistic). DRINK a lot of water (hydrate). SNACK on fruit or have a protein shake. A quick NAP or MEDITATION can be super-restorative. Science is proving that time spent OUTSIDE in greenery can dramatically enhance our mood. (The Japanese even have a concept for this called ‘Forest Bathing.’) Yet when we feel ‘behind,’ as is so typical, we deny ourselves these self-care actions that boost our brain chemistry and pay us back with increased focus and productivity.
We NEED and DESERVE to ENJOY ourselves. Take a break to play with your kids or your dog (laughter totally energizes). Pet the cat and let the purring calm your brainwaves. Allow yourself time to garden, paint, create music or anything that comforts your soul. Have lunch with friends or make some private time with your partner, and you’ll usually get MORE done – and feel less deprived or annoyed by having to do the work in the first place!
Accountability Helps – Don’t try to go it alone. Report your progress to a non-judgmental accountability-partner, whether a friend, family member or coach, or consider joining an Accountability Group. (Check out my Get Around TUIT online action group at www.OvercomeOverwhelm.com)
Here’s an accountability strategy that is especially appealing to the tech-savvy. I ask some of my coaching clients to take a photo of their progress and text it to me. It might be a completed page in their planner, homework assignment or business plan, an organized desktop, newly labeled files or an emptied suitcase from last month’s trip – whatever supports their intention at the end of our last coaching session. If they said they would join a study group, go to the library or attend a networking event, I ask for an on-location ‘selfie.’ The photo is fun, helps them to feel more motivated and gives ‘instant’ feedback as to a job well done – not from me, but from their camera 🙂 It is a testament to their success! You can use this accountability strategy with yourself or a friend.
Commit to a Daily Action Plan, which is different than your 50-page ‘To-Do’ list. It has space for just your 3 primary actions and, if you finish those, 3 secondary activities. If you want to check out my Daily Focus form, you can download it here.
Be a Detective – The best strategies may not work for you, or may work for only a short time (so frustrating, but that’s reality). It is okay to acknowledge you are stuck. Maybe you need new tools, techniques or strategies, or just to tweak the ones you’ve been using. Perhaps you would benefit from a greater understanding of how to do something – a workable office requires an understanding of functional organization, and systems that work with the way YOU think – especially for those of us who are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ thinkers. Maybe you’ve been struggling with writing papers because you never really mastered the process from a technical perspective (organization, time and project management and keeping a check on perfectionism!). Perhaps you would benefit from a better system for managing your emails or running meetings.
So now, imagine that you’re solving your problem, but for a friend or colleague. When we take the emotional component out of the equation, it’s often easier to come up with a workable solution. Things can be different, but how to effect successful change? (Step #3 in my PowerPlan to Success: Believe in Possibility, and that you always have a Choice.) Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know, and help is needed.
You may benefit from hands-on advice, situational coaching, or exploring the underlying causes that create or compound your challenges. These can include emotional issues, physical problems, learning disabilities, and executive function or attention disorders that can get in the way of success (and here you wasted so much energy blaming yourself for lack of willpower!). Perhaps you struggle with perfectionism, are overly self-critical, feel the work you do isn’t ‘good enough,’ or subconsciously sabotage your success. Remember that it shows strength to work with a consultant, organizer, tutor, coach or therapist to get at the roots of these chronic challenges.
Be Kind to Yourself … Please!!! That’s the most important thing I can leave you with. Studies show that the more you accept yourself, the more productive – and happier – you’ll be!
I’m curious. What do YOU find helps to get things done?