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 dependson whether you’ve been able to create a personally ADHD-friendly life!
Sometimes it is more difficult to believe in the power of possibility than at other times. So, when we have reminders, hold onto them!
What am I talking about? In my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™ (you can download the free ebook here), the first Step is Self-Awareness – knowing who you are, and aren’t… what you’re likely to do, and what you probably won’t… what you like, and what you don’t. It’s about accepting your reality, and so Step #2 is Self-Acceptance. This isn’t about giving in or giving up, but about starting from where you are, not where you (or others) wish you were. New studies are showing that Self-Acceptance is fundamental to both happiness and, perhaps surprisingly, productivity. Making better choices that suit you, and planning realistically, helps minimize overwhelm, which then makes it easier to get things done.
Knowing… and accepting… yourself doesn’t mean you can’t change or improve. That’s why Step #3 is Belief in Possibility – that you always have a choice in the matter. You can’t always control a situation, but how you choose to react can change your life (and often the lives of others, as have those people who began movements or charities after being affected by negative events in their personal lives).
But I’m writing this to talk about the inner power we have that is sooo easy to overlook. Sometimes we’re reminded, and that helps. Today I had an old post of mine pop up on Facebook. It was about an event that happened three years ago, and I’m thankful for the reminder that I have the inner power to do things that I may not intellectually or emotionally believe possible.
I was at an energy workshop. The presenter was Dr. Gene Ang, a Yale-trained neurobiologist. He spoke about the power we have to heal, ourselves and others. To prove that our minds (and spirit) can do things that science would scoff at, we were all given heavy-weight metal utensils (forks and spoons). He walked us through an exercise that ended with being able to bend these thick and solid utensils with thought and energy, not strength. Of course we tried to bend them in every way (including using double fisted grip strength) before the exercise, with no success (ok, no WWE members in the group).
Then we did the energy exercise, and those spoons started bending – I mean really bending. It wasn’t our physical strength that did it, but our focus and will, channeling stronger forces as we loosely held these store-bought utensils by their handles. I admit – I was totally frustrated, being one of the last non-benders in the room. I let out a healthy expletive, directed towards my recalcitrant spoon, and let go of trying. The spoon immediately ‘softened’ in my hand and bent totally in half (see the picture – it’s a cell photo of my handiwork). Wow!
So when you’re running low on positive possibility, remember the spoons – change is within you! Apparently, the Universe wants us to succeed, when we’re really clear about what we want, and willing to put in targeted effort.
I especially like this spoon story at this time of year, bringing the focus from shopping and stress back to miracles and possibility.
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
As a productivity and organization coach, I emphasize that the most important concept for being productive is CLARITY. What – exactly – am I going to do, how and when am I going to do it?
Since time is limited and the things we plan usually take longer to complete than we anticipate, setting PRIORITIES is critical, or we’ll never feel truly successful – there’s always something else we ‘should’ have accomplished.
Sometimes, the Big Picture is just too big! When we begin thinking about everything, it’s easy to feel anxious (and go into avoidance mode). But when we set aside planning time to decide our key goals and prioritize them, we gain direction and lessen anxiety. This also helps us to be more realistic about what can truly be accomplished in a given time period.
So ask yourself, “What are my PRIORITIES – for today (now), this week or next (soon), in the near future (later) or for now, (whenever).” Priorities change; some get moved up, some pushed back and others deleted, so a weekly Planning/Review Session is helpful. This can be with yourself, but also with your spouse or partner for family and home matters, or with your boss or staff for work-related issues.
Without clarity, which requires prioritization, we’re in that state of confusion or overwhelm that holds us back from doing anything completely or efficiently. With clarity, knowing our priorities, we can more easily put on those blinders to block out distractions, whether external or internal. (A good reason to keep your Parking Lot list handy, so when those distracting ideas, should-do’s, etc. pop up and potentially take you off-task, you can capture, but not get caught up by them.) This clarity drives action and increases productivity.
Once we know what to do, it’s important to decide how we’ll get it done. That’s where project management becomes critical to success. Project management may sound complicated and overkill, but it is a simple way to make it easier to get even fairly simple jobs done.
Many to-do’s, including some that at first glance seem easy, may require a multitude of specific tasks. They are actually projects, not tasks! Even something as seemingly uncomplicated as ‘Clean your room’ can leave some people confused or even overwhelmed, which makes it a job likely to be avoided. Breaking it down into steps and writing down those steps helps make the job more do-able. Leave a space for adding a checkmark as it gets done!. If you are giving chores to young children, use graphics in addition to words on the checklist. Verbally telling someone the items on a list is a recipe for failure, as is trying to remember every step. Most people, especially those with ADHD or Executive Function (EF) challenges, cannot retain much more than one or two steps in their short term memory.
Consider ‘Clean your room’ vs. having a checklist specifying: ‘Pick up any trash and discard it… Bring any dishes to the kitchen… Pick up your clothes and put the dirty ones in the hamper… Hang up or fold the clean ones… Put the comforter over your bed, etc. BTW, this is why many people get overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering; they lump everything together, making it totally challenging to do. We can only accomplish one task at a time, and the smaller, the better!
That’s whyproject planning is so critical to success (as much as we may dislike the specificity that planning entails!). One minute of planning can save as much as 20-40 minutes of action – or inaction. So unless we take the planning time to spell out each of the individual tasks the project requires (tasks being single-focused actions that can more easily be accomplished in a single time block), and in what sequence we’ll ‘attack’ those tasks, we risk feeling overwhelmed.
And what happens when we’re overwhelmed? On the neurological level, our protective amygdala perceives it as a threat, kicks in and takes over from our rational frontal lobes/executive function brain. Instead of tackling our project, we’re more likely to go into the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response where avoidance rules. Not very helpful for getting things done!
So the more specific we are about what we are going to do and when we plan to do it (clarity and priority), the more likely that we’ll successfully accomplish our goal.
A simple example of how clarity makes a difference: “I want to go to the gym on Wednesday” vs. “I’m going to the 11:15 Intro to Pilates class, so I’ll have to leave at 10:45.” Which statement is more likely to produce results?
Are you Insane? Maybe, so isn’t it time to find new ways to solve old problems!
Einstein’s definition of Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
The answer then, for many of us, is yes,we are insane. We approach the same challenges with the same resolve, the same strategies, the same expectations, and are then disappointed when we achieve the same lack of progress. We keep thinking the results will be different because we want them to be.
When they aren’t, we wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” We feel like we’ve drunk a powerful cocktail of negative emotions that might include despair, embarrassment, anxiety and even anger.
What’s missing here? Often, it’s an honest, objective acceptance that you’re stuck in an unproductive pattern. Just because you know what you want to do doesn’t mean you’ll do it. (After all, ADHD is not a disorder of not knowing what to do, but of doing what we know.) Just because the systems, tools or strategies you’re using work for others doesn’t mean they’re right for you. Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will keep working.
Think outside of the box. People are different, especially those with ADD/ADHD or executive function challenges. A conventional approach may not register with your brain.
You may lack a basic skill that others acquired by osmosis, so they never had to consciously work at it. I see this a lot when it comes to organizational strategies.
Some people seem to be born with the instinct and ability to keep order, create systems and maintain them. Certainly, most of my professional organizer colleagues are that way. Most of my clients are not. BTW, these gaps and challenges have nothing to do with intelligence.Others can design great systems, whether for organizing their closet, files, projects or schedule, but fail to maintain those systems, which requires a combination of planning and time management. That’s something I struggle with. It’s amazing how quickly order can deteriorate.
Some of the issues people struggle with at work or at home include organization, time management, juggling multiple priorities, getting started/activation/procrastination, staying on track and task completion.
Some concerns are interpersonal, affecting relationships and communications.
Others have to do with self-care – balancing work/home/self, making time for sleep and rejuvenation, exercise, healthy eating or learning to self-regulate addictive tendencies like email or social media, shopping, drugs, alcohol, gambling, overeating, etc.
But you CANstop the insanity! Find new ways to approach old problems.
Here’s how you would apply my 7-Step PowerPlan to Success™ to help change your approach and get you unstuck.
Start with Step #1, Self-Awareness Try to identify WHAT isn’t working. Be as specific as you can – you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Sometimes this is easier said than done. We may need help to understand what we could be doing better, so consider talking with a non-judgmental person who knows you, or work with a coach trained to help move you forward.
Move on to Step #2, Self-Acceptance Accept that something isn’t working, despite your efforts, and that there’s nothing wrong with you – you just need different tools and strategies to get different results.
That’s where Step #3, Belief in Possibility – That You Always Have a Choice comes in. Allow yourself to believe that you could do some things differently, and so have different results. You can stop the insanity!
On to Step #4, Set Your Goals and Prioritize Them Remember that we got specific in Step #1? Now set specific goals for improvement and decide which ones are priorities. It helps when you focus on only a few changes at a time.
In Step #5, Strategize for Success, decide what NEW approaches you’ll try, whether mindset, tools or compensatory strategies. If you’re at a loss as to what else to do, work with someone who can offer suggestions based on experience, like a colleague you trust, a friend, family member, consultant, organizer, therapist or coach. But remember that you are unique, and whatever you try has to make sense – and be ‘do-able’ for you. The ‘best’ method is often not the right one, as it may not be sustainable over time.
Now it’s time for Step #6,Take Action. Thinking and planning are important, but putting your ideas into practice is what creates change. Too often we get stuck in the “think, think, think, don’t act” mentality.
Expect some success, but don’t expect anything to work perfectly! If you do, at the first sign of failure you’re more likely to give up. That’s why, back in Step #5, Strategize, you want to create an entire toolbox of ideas.
Step #7, Evaluate, is when, after you’ve given yourself some time to implement them, you determine how well your new strategies are working. If necessary, go back to Step #1 to assess what is/isn’t working and why, then move forward through the Steps, tweaking them to become even more effective. If you expect a degree of failure, you’re not thrown when it happens, can accept that it’s just part of the improvement process and can keep moving forward.
So change your problem-solving approach and STOP THE INSANITY!
Want some help to change your unproductive patterns? Join my new Online Action Group – the TUIT Project for support to accomplish those important, but not urgent projects that seem so elusive to complete.
Or contact me about individual coaching by phone or Skype. Schedule a convenient no-cost or obligation initial phone consult byclicking here.
Begin Your New Year with Resolutions that Have a Good Chance of Actually Working!!!
I’d love to hear what YOU plan to change for the New Year – share your intentions below!
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