The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: March 2015

Book Review: Duct Tape Parenting

Cover image: Duct Tape Parenting by Vicki Hoefle Do you yearn for less chaos, more connectedness, and a more fulfilling life with your children?

Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids might turn your current parenting philosophy on its head. Or it could reaffirm what you’ve always believed but never translated to reality.

Reading a parenting book may feel like a chore, but it can be a game-changer for ADHD families. Agreeing on a consistent strategy with buy-in from both parents will generate immediate rewards. You’ll also gain a common language to discuss those inevitable parenting challenges. As a bonus, parent educator Vicki Hoefle‘s suggestions for family meetings, road maps, and sharing appreciations will benefit everyone — not just kids.

Duct Tape Parenting‘s central conceit is that kids need autonomy and responsibility. Also, attention of any kind — negative or positive — reinforces their behavior. Our job is not to nag and con children into doing the right thing, it’s to guide them toward self-actualization.

Hoefle’s hands-off approach requires a paradigm shift and a willingness to endure messes and imperfection. It also helps kids develop resiliency and executive function that will set them up for a lifetime of success. Perhaps most important, it takes the pressure off of us to keep the whole family organized.

Duct Tape Parenting will be difficult for ADHD adults. That duct tape in the title? It’s for you. In other words, success with Hoefle’s method relies on impulse control at just the moment when restraint feels most difficult.

Don’t give up, though — it’s worth the effort. Parents with ADHD will love the end result: a family where everyone contributes according to their ability and takes responsibility for their own needs.

Once you step back and let your kids show you what they can do, you’ll be amazed at how capable even young toddlers can be. Divvying up responsibilities and letting your kids take ownership of daily activities saves you a lot of grief trying to keep track of everything on your own.

Teaching kids to be resourceful and independent will also give them a boost in executive functioning skills — a gift that will benefit ADHD kids for the rest of their lives. A parent who coaches, nags, reminds, and bails out an ADHD child robs him of a safe, supportive environment to learn coping and organizing skills. He’ll need to succeed without you eventually — now is the time to let him practice, make mistakes, and build his confidence.

While Hoefle lays out a solid, sensible, high-impact plan for family effectiveness, I found a few key points missing. For one, Hoefle doesn’t thoroughly address behavior management in a  social group. Children are often part of a regular social group with its own expectations and norms. What if my two-year-old spars with a friend’s toddler over a toy and we have differing ideas on how (and when) to intervene?

My weekly playgroup might be open to discussing these issues. One-time events like trips to the playground or birthday parties present a different challenge. At some point I’m willing to let my child lose a friend over poor behavior, but preschool seems too young. I would’ve appreciated advice on how to guide my child’s behavior in a group setting without being overly directorial.

Speaking of age, too many of Hoefle’s anecdotes omit the child’s age. How to implement Hoefle’s ideas at each stage of childhood is largely left up to the reader.

Overall, Duct Tape Parenting is worth a read for exhausted ADHD parents everywhere. Fair warning: Hoefle’s tone can be off-putting. She begins the book by pointing out far more problems than solutions and has a habit of quoting herself at the beginning of chapters. Parents already feeling downtrodden may find themselves feeling more so, and attachment parenting devotees may not make it past Chapter One.

I hope these issues of tone and structure won’t discourage too many parents from finishing the book. It will change the way you view your job as a parent and lead you to a more fulfilling life with your family.

Any other duct tape ADHD parents out there? Please share your experiences in the comments!


Is it ADHD?

is it ADHDIt’s not uncommon for people to tell me, you know, I love your blog, and it makes me think I may have ADHD.

Believe it or not, I enjoy hearing this feedback. I write for an ADHD audience, but I hope the parenting, organization, and other life strategies I discuss will help everyone.

But how do you know if you have ADHD? Taken individually, all of the core symptoms sound relatable. However, if your symptoms cropped up recently or have come and gone over time, it’s probably not ADHD.

In Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?, Gina Pera writes, “an ADHD diagnosis requires more than a symptom or two. Otherwise, everyone would have ADHD! It requires both a certain number of symptoms and significant impairment — for example, in the area of career, money, education, or relationships.”

Isn’t there a test?

Still confused? Several websites offer online self-tests. Though these questionnaires all have their weaknesses and you should never take the results as a clinical diagnosis, they may point you in the right direction. Here are a few to try:

  1. Amen Clinics ADHD Type Test
    This test attempts to suss out which of Daniel Amen’s seven ADHD subtypes describe you. The questions may connect some strange dots in your life and get you thinking about the lesser-known symptoms of adult ADHD. Amen’s book, Healing ADD, is definitely worth a read for a more comprehensive understanding, but the website alone should provide some insight into whether your case (and treatment) will be straightforward or difficult.
  2. Psychology Today ADHD/Attention Deficit Disorder Test
    Doesn’t touch on many relationship and emotional issues, which the Amen Clinics test does much better, but it does provide situational questions. These may be easier to answer than evaluating a blanket-statement description like “procrastinates often” or “easily distracted.”
  3. Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland Online Screening Test
    Perhaps the least in-depth, this test is based pretty strictly on the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. That gives you a good idea of what a clinician might ask you at a first meeting, but don’t expect to shed light into any dark corners here. Test claims you can get a lot of information from Section A alone, but I recommend doing Section B also. While the questions are rudimentary, you’ll probably know by the end whether you need to schedule a professional consultation.

How to learn more about your brain.

While online self-tests are certainly appealing if you’re looking for a quick, easy answer, there are precious few of those in the world of adult ADHD. You’ll learn far more by reading a good book by a knowledgeable professional.

For more insight than I can possibly provide here, I recommend checking out some books about ADHD.

Here are the most approachable, high-impact, easy-to-read books I’ve found. All are available in audio format in case you’re one of the many ADHD’ers who don’t enjoy reading.

  1. I Always Want to be Where I’m Not by Wes Crenshaw
    Dr. Crenshaw’s book is especially handy for the under-30 crowd. We gain a lot of responsibility in our mid-20s: often marriage, household management, financial independence, and a self-structured professional life. This can be a time of great suffering for ADHD adults, and Crenshaw’s case studies will hit home for many.
  2. Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? by Gina Pera
    This book was written for partners of ADHD adults, but I’ve loaned it to several ADHD’ers who’ve found it positively enlightening. Unlike many ADHD books, Pera focuses on ADHD’s impact on our closest personal relationships.
  3. Your Brain at Work by David Rock
    Okay, this one’s not about ADHD, but it gives a great primer on the neuroscience of focus, self-supervision, and success in the face of your brain’s natural limitations. You’ll learn several handy techniques for practicing mindfulness, recharging, and managing your brain’s supply of dopamine (a neurotransmitter critical to motivation and often lacking in people with ADHD).

How about you? What are your favorite resources? Where did you find your biggest a-ha moments?


Link Roundup: baseball, telling time, and mini habits

  1. watchminderAn Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit via ZenHabits
    ZenHabits’ “it’s hard, but just do it because it’s worth it” tone frustrates me sometimes because it can discourage ADHD folks. Even so, it’s one of the few blogs I can say I’ve followed for over five years. I particularly appreciate posts like this, where author Leo Babuta talks about his less-than-perfect moments — and how he found his way out of them.
  2. Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself via ZenHabits
    The title says it all. After my recent post about negative self-talk and setting a good example for our children, this is especially apt.
  3. Chris Davis & ADHD via The Baltimore Sun
    When the Baltimore Sun first broke this story about the Orioles’ Chris Davis, I was impressed all around. Davis was articulate, up-front, and mature in his response to the media after his suspension for a bureaucratic SNAFU with his Adderall. He did a great service to the adult ADHD community by clearing the air and trying to dispel popular misconceptions about ADHD and stimulant medications.Of course, reporting matters, too. The Sun’s treatment of this story turned it into a positive event rather than a negative one — an opportunity for learning rather than hype and gossip.
  4. WatchMinder
    When I discovered this product on Penny Williams’ ADHD parenting blog, I was shocked I hadn’t seen it anywhere before. The WatchMinder is a vibrating wristwatch that accepts up to 30 preset alarms per day. Users can also program custom on-screen text reminders to accompany the vibrating alarm. As I mentioned in my recent post about time blindness, ADHD’ers of all ages struggle with time: being late, misjudging how long a task will take, even gaining an accurate perception of time passing at all. Alarms often fail to help with transitions, leaving on time, etc., because they are so easily snoozed, turned off, and/or ignored. I’m intrigued by this watch because it doesn’t just give task reminders, it reminds us that time exists. I imagine setting the watch to vibrate every hour could go a long way to teach time-blind ADHD’ers what the passage of an hour actually feels like.
  5. Mini Habits & the One Push-Up Challenge via Deep Existence
    Stephen Guise promises “lasting change for early quitters, burnouts, the unmotivated, and everyone else, too.” The surprising thing is, he actually delivers. We’ve been testing our own mini habits at The ADHD Homestead with unprecedented success. I’m cracking open my novel manuscript almost every day. My husband reports that he’s stuck with the One Push-Up Challenge for “longer than [he’s] ever stuck with anything.” Forming habits is hard. Setting reasonable goals is even harder. These concepts can help you achieve success you never thought possible.I encourage you to read up about the mini habits model, but here’s the core idea, in Guise’s words: “If you commit to losing 87 pounds, it’s a huge decision and a constant burden until you accomplish it (or fail). You’re overcommitted. But the commitment level of doing one push-up or crunch is almost zero, so there’s no pressure and you’re free to do your best and take life’s unpredictabilities in stride.”

ADHD Parents: stop dissing yourself in front of your kids

How often do our kids parrot back words that make us cringe? While your two-year-old blurting out “I need coffee!” in the supermarket or using salty language with relatives may get laughs in the retelling, other phrases will break your heart.

Phrases like, “I’m stupid.”

“I’ll never be good at anything.”

Before you demand from your kid, “who told you that?” ask yourself this: have you said these words? I plead guilty to the above phrases — and worse.

You’re not alone. Negative self-talk and low self-esteem plague many ADHD adults. But when it comes to our behavior around our children, it has to stop.

Think about it this way: ADHD is a highly heritable disorder. If your child doesn’t already have a diagnosis, he very well may by adulthood. When you say “I’ll never reach my full potential,” or “I don’t know why I even try,” you’re giving your kid a big lesson about his outlook for the future.

Outlook is important. If your child does have ADHD, he’ll need to be confident and resilient in the face of life’s frustrations. Your child is watching — and learning — every time you berate yourself for screwing up. Eventually, she’ll learn to respond to setbacks by focusing on weaknesses rather than working from her strengths.

That’s not to say your feelings aren’t valid. But though you may feel like a terrible parent and irresponsible adult after a rough day, your kids aren’t harsh critics. They want to be just like Mommy or Daddy. When you insult yourself, you’re not only setting a terrible example for handling frustration, you’re questioning their judgement. You’re telling them they picked the wrong role model.

For better or worse, our kids idolize us. When we put ourselves down, we imply they’re poor judges of character. We teach them damaging, ineffective ways to recover from failures. We teach them that an individual’s flaws are more important than her innate talents and strengths, and our mistakes are more memorable than our successes.

We also teach them that having ADHD makes us less valuable human beings. Our neurochemistry will hold us back from making a significant contribution to the world. We’re doomed to disappoint the people we love the most, make bad first impressions, and lose our keys over and over again.

When we look at our brilliant, uniquely lovable children, this isn’t who we want them to become.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking they’ll teach themselves resiliency and self-respect. They learn it from the most important role model they’ll ever have: you.

Next time you catch yourself about to express even the mildest self-loathing, ask yourself if you’d want to see your child treat himself — or his best friend — that way.

If the answer is no, it’s a habit you need to break.


Product highlight: David Seah’s productivity tools

Do you struggle with traditional to-do lists?

We recently stumbled upon some innovative (and free!) task management tools courtesy of designer David Seah. If the standard approach to daily to-do lists doesn’t work for you, you need to check these out.

David Seah productivity printable - Concrete Goals Tracker

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Seah has refined his collection of goal-setting, list-making, and time-tracking tools to support his work as a self-employed designer and developer. While most of the free printables on his site can be applied to any situation, some — like the National Novel Writing Month word count calendar — are more specific.

Feeling hesitant to adopt yet another new system? Don’t worry, these tools require no startup investment. No book to read, no special file folders to buy.

David Seah productivity printable - Emergent Task Timer

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“While the tools share similar principles and elements,” Seah writes on his site, “they were not made to be a single integrated system, or even used on a regular basis. Use them when you feel the need to feel more focused, to find out where your time is going, or to just get a different look on your work.” In other words, no pressure. Experiment, find out what works for you, and decide when and how often you use it.

So far, I’ve enjoyed using the Emergent Task Planner to tackle an especially overwhelming day. The Day Grid Balancer gave me lots of insights into my week: how much little stuff I actually got done, how well I balanced time spent on each area of responsibility, and, sadly, how little time I invested in my own happiness. When I went out of town for a few days, I left my husband a stack of Seah’s clever Task Order Ups.

David Seah productivity printable - Emergent Task Planner

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My husband, meanwhile, employed the Emergent Task Timer to help him record and reflect on how long individual tasks took to complete. Time blind ADHD’ers, this one’s for you!

Seah intends to include stationary in his business model, and I’m excited to see where he takes it. So far his productivity tools are fun, clever, and useful. Because they’re free and printable from anywhere, it’s easy to choose when and how many to use without cluttering up your office or spending money on a new gimmick.

I have a well-established GTD-based system, and I was happy to find Seah’s tools won’t infringe upon or distract from an existing setup. Instead, they pinch-hit in a time of specific need, when your brain needs a little something extra to avoid complete overwhelm.

Take a look, try them out, and let me know what’s working for you!


Time blindness & ADHD

Are you (or someone you love) always late?

I don’t just mean running 10 minutes late for a meeting, I mean persistently late. For everything.

Are you time blind?

Late getting out of bed. Late getting into bed (sometimes to the point of never getting into bed). Late sitting down for dinner with your family. Late leaving the office, putting down the video game controller, or getting the baby from her nap.

Or maybe you do okay in these areas. Maybe you’re exhausted by larger-than-life emotions that, while quickly forgotten after the fact, feel all-consuming in the moment.

There’s a name for this: time blindness.

And while you might not believe me yet, there’s hope.

The truth about time blindness.

clock photoPhoto by nicksarebi

Time blindness isn’t just a matter of ‘feeling like’ time is moving quickly or slowly. It’s a failure to view time as linear, concrete, or even finite.

This means most traditional time management strategies won’t work for most ADHD’ers. It doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for how we manage and deal with our ADHD — including our distorted perception of time.

Learning to manage time is one of the best investments you can make in your relationship with yourself and others.

Time blindness & you.

Time blindness manifests differently in everyone, just like ADHD itself. In other words, it’s more complicated than “she always gets out the door late” or “he’s unreliable.”

After my first week on stimulant medication, I wrote the following revelation in my journal: “a week is only a week long.” Obvious? Hardly. I’d never perceived an emotional state, a rough day, or even being unbearably hungry as something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you suffer from wild, all-consuming emotions — positive or negative — training your brain to perceive time more accurately can provide significant relief.

Time blindness often causes time to ‘get away’ from people with ADHD. As one ADHD’er put it in an ADDitude discussion thread: ‘I have helpful friends who say, “just look at your watch and leave when it is 3:00 p.m.’ But when I look at my watch, it is 4:30 p.m.!”

For my husband, time blindness shows up in the form of marathon work days, late bedtimes, and plenty of household projects that he “didn’t intend to take all day.”

Time blindness can hurt. It can make those on the receiving end feel confused, disrespected, angry, unimportant, and betrayed. But before you lash out at someone who has broken a social contract (again) by mismanaging their time, remember: it’s not about you. It doesn’t reflect on how important the obligation actually was to them. When a loved one says, “I have no idea why I keep doing this,” they’re telling the truth. They feel every bit as let down as you do.

The only answer is education (for all parties involved), forgiveness, and a lot of patience and compassion.

Finding information and advice.

The Time Timer can help combat ADHD's "time blindness"

The Time Timer can help combat ADHD’s “time blindness”

I’m pleased to have found — and to be able to share with you — this free podcast with Dr. Ari Tuckman, author of More Attention, Less Deficit and Understand Your Brain, Get More DoneDr. Tuckman is approachable and to the point, giving some much-needed information and advice about one of ADHD’s more confounding facets.

Don’t skip the listener comments and questions, either. I found their stories of success and defeat very therapeutic and I suspect many others will, too.

Before you run off and listen to the podcast, here’s a tip from our home to yours: do everything you can to represent time visually. My husband insists he actually reads analog clocks more quickly and easily than digital, and that’s not surprising. Analog clocks quantify time — especially for visually-oriented people — in a way digital cannot.

Likewise, timer apps like Ovo Timer (free, Android-only) or Time Timer ($0.99 Android, $2.99 iOS) start with a chunk of color that gradually disappears. You can also buy standalone Time Timer clocks to keep around the house.

I’m already teaching my two-year-old about time with the Time Timer when we clean up his toys at night. We don’t talk much about numbers, but he understands that when the red wedge disappears, he’s supposed to be ready to move on to the next task.

Do you struggle with lateness or with time ‘getting away from you?’ What are some strategies you’ve tried?


3 ways to reclaim your time from the TV

Television. As a writer, I love it. As an ADHD adult married to another ADHD adult, we’ve had our rough patches.

Once upon a time, we subscribed to cable television. Then one member of our household, who will remain nameless for dignity’s sake, couldn’t turn off Glam Fairy even though they should’ve been doing something else.


Because we need to know what happens no matter what, right?

Television has the power to mesmerize us, paralyze us, and steal our time. It usually offers the path of least resistance — a path ADHD’ers know all too well.

Novelist Stephen King had this to say about TV in On Writing:

…TV came relatively late to the King household, and I’m glad. I am, when you stop to think of it, a member of a fairly select group: the final handful of American novelists who learned to read and write before they learned to eat a daily helping of video bullshit. This might not be important. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall.

I happen to enjoy well-written, well-executed television, just like I do movies and stage productions.  However, I changed our family’s approach to television shortly after the Glam Fairy incident.

Our goal: reject that daily helping of video bullshit without blowing up the television. Happy mediums are hard to find in ADHD Land, but they’re there, I promise. Here’s what works for us.

Ditch cable and throw out the antenna.

Cable has a lot of great shows. It’s also flooded with junk content that won’t add any value to your life. Over-the-air broadcasts aren’t much better, and don’t get me started on TV news. Cancel the cable, freecycle that antenna, and tune your car radio to NPR or start reading the news.

That means no more channel surfing, no more collapsing onto the couch and just “seeing what’s on,” and no more turning the TV on for background noise only to find yourself transfixed 30 minutes later.

Use the cable money to buy streaming services.

Seriously. Hulu and Netflix will set you back less than $20 (total) per month. These services let you approach television more intentionally, filling a queue with shows you choose for their content, not their time slot. The queue never fills up, unlike a DVR, and you don’t have to hurry home for your favorite show.

Tie TV time to chores and busy work.

Frustrated about laundry piling up? I save my folding for evenings when I’ll be home after my son goes to bed. For the most part, I don’t watch TV unless I have laundry to fold, yet I can still get through a series pretty quickly.

Connect TV time with a mindless activity you tend to put off. Multi-tasking isn’t ideal, so shoot for a low-to-no-thinking task like folding laundry. This will help you budget television time and increase your motivation for those tedious chores. The reduction in TV time (via diaper laundry) wasn’t lost on me when my son potty trained!

Reclaim your attention (such as it is).

“Good brain function is vulnerable to the constant stimulation streaming in from cell phones, TV, [and] email…” writes Gina Pera in Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love has Attention Deficit Disorder“Some of us habituate to the stimulation as if it were a drug, growing more easily bored or at loose ends when lacking our fix.”

And what if your version of “good brain function” frustrates and demoralizes you on a daily basis? It’s time to stop channel surfing.

Television can be a serious challenge for ADHD’ers of all ages. How do you keep television watching under control in your household? Share your tips in the comments!


Book Review: I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not

cover: I Always Want to be Where I'm Not by Wes CrenshawA lot of people I meet just don’t get ADHD — I’m talking spouses, parents, even the ADHD’ers themselves.

If you really, truly want to get it, read Dr. Wes Crenshaw‘s I Always Want to be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADD & ADHD. Dr. Crenshaw targets ADHD’ers ages 15-30 — though all ages will benefit — as he outlines his “13 principles” for successful living. But don’t mistake it for a mere collection of handy tips: a diverse selection of case studies help get to the heart of what life is like for people with ADHD.

While reading these case studies — one of which opens each chapter — I found myself both laughing and crying. I was impressed by Dr. Crenshaw’s ability to capture how this complex disorder really feels for those who struggle with it. This, coupled with his deep knowledge of his subject — gleaned from his own parenting journey and decades of experience in his professional practice — makes his book a must-read if you love someone with ADHD.

Each chapter stands on its own and includes an “is this chapter for me?” checklist at the beginning. Every ADHD person is unique and you’ll find some more useful than others, especially if you’re over the target age range. However, don’t skip the final two chapters: a medication crash course and a “where are they now?” review of the case studies.

While most books about neurological or mental health conditions contain case studies, this was the first time I encountered such a follow-up at the end. I’m surprised more authors don’t structure their books this way. Seeing the result of each case study’s choose-your-own-adventure journey reinforced the importance of choosing the right (i.e. hard) path over the easy one, developing good habits and coping strategies, and finding a medication regimen that works for you.

Speaking of meds, would-be readers should know Dr. Crenshaw is strongly and unapologetically pro-medication. He contends (and I agree) that medication is a critical tool to implement his 13 principles and become a successful, content, independent adult. Critics may dismiss this viewpoint out of hand, but if you have any feelings at all on the subject, read this book. Dr. Crenshaw’s deep care and concern for his clients is evident on every page. Even if you end up agreeing to disagree, his compassionate and well-reasoned approach deserves an open mind.

For those feeling lost, frustrated, intimidated, or curious about ADHD meds, Dr. Crenshaw provides insights that will empower you to seek out the right provider, not just the right prescription, to get yourself into a good place.

Of course, covering 13 principles and the many shades of a grossly misunderstood disorder makes I Always Want to be Where I’m Not an overview, not an instruction manual. Dr. Crenshaw is equipping you to converse intelligently with your loved ones and your doctor. He’s not providing an alternative to seeking proper treatment and support for your ADHD. This is far from the last book you’ll ever need, especially if you fall outside the 15-30 target age range.

Overall, I Always Want to be Where I’m Not is a fast and easy read that tackles a lot of not-so-easy topics. I never found it too negative, condescending, or dry, and it appealed to the heart as much as the mind. It won’t deliver a wealth of practical tips to cure your life’s organizational woes — you’re better off with something like Getting Things Done or ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life for that — but it will give you (and those who love you) a much deeper understanding of who you are and why. I’d argue that’s a great place to start.


The elephant in your basement: let’s organize that trouble spot

Despite last night’s ice storm, spring is on the way. I promise I can feel it! Before we leap into spring and all its expectations of cleanliness and renewal, let’s talk about the basement. Specifically, how to start digging out of a bad situation.

Let’s face it: basements are too easy to fill with junk. Ours has filled with trash and miscellany three times in the seven years we’ve owned our house. I’ve dedicated a full weekend, and sometimes even longer, to cleaning it out each time.

Now that we have a kid, this isn’t practical (not that it ever was). The basement stays under control — though it’s teetered on the edge a few times — because we need to keep it clean for guest quarters, but there’s a huge closet we haven’t cleaned out in a while.

By which I mean, we haven’t cleaned it out since buying the house. All the stuff that traveled with us to our previous apartment and never got unpacked there went into this closet on move-in day.

In all my attempts to empty and organize it, I’ve never gotten past opening the door.

Recently, I realized this just cannot be allowed to continue. I’m reclaiming the closet. Now, with less time and energy than ever, I need to be smart about the how.

Do you have a spot like this in your home? I know it’s embarrassing, but don’t beat yourself up. Most of us have at least one. As inevitable as it may seem right now, you’re not stuck with it forever.

One bite at a time.

Here’s where that old cliche about eating the elephant comes in: you have to tackle these projects one bite at a time. It’s tempting for us ADHD’ers to take one of two paths:

  1. View a problem as one huge, overwhelming jumble of stuff. Our brains turn into a muddle and we run for the hills.
  2. View it as a challenge to be tackled once and for all over the course of a weekend, wherein we will play loud music, stay up all night, consume staggering quantities of caffeine, and…crash. Once exhausted, we leave behind a bigger mess than when we started thanks to distractions, side projects, and disorganization.

When I feel myself getting excited for a project in the same way a boxer might get excited for a big match, I know it’s time to put on the brakes. I’ve torn down walls, nearly recycled a bin full of my husband’s important papers, and probably done much worse in fits of can-do-it-itis. As soon as I get tired and realize I don’t have a plan, I give up. I once left a spare bedroom torn down to bare studs for a year and a half because I led with the crowbar instead of the brain. Ooops.

If you want to succeed, take small bites. Even if you only toss one thing from the junk drawer tomorrow, it’ll be one more than you cleaned out today.

I know. Slow progress is boring. ADHD’ers find it more painful than most. But for most of us, it’s the only way out of our mess.

Create contained mini-projects.

When I resurrected my dreams of cleaning out the basement, I bought two plastic bins: one for my husband and one for me. I filled them with everything we could digitize and eventually discard. This allowed me to keep moving with my primary project (cleaning out the basement) without letting a new side project (scanning old notes and papers) get in the way.

My bin now lives under my desk and I try to scan one item per day. Some days I forget, but some days I get on a roll and scan several things. There’s no instant gratification here, but it’s better than shoving the bin into my black hole closet for the elusive “one day” when I can scan the whole tub at once.

Don’t let between-bite setbacks derail you.

When I pulled a stack of negatives from the aforementioned bin, I discovered I’d misplaced the negative holder for my flatbed scanner. This was especially frustrating because it belongs in a hanging file drawer directly under the scanner. When I pulled the folder out, it was empty. I spent at least 10 minutes pacing through the house, slamming drawers, and berating myself for losing yet another important possession.

While I did this, no other documents in my bin got scanned.

When we tackle a big organizational challenge, we can guarantee at least one discovery that will make us feel like epic failures. Anticipate it and don’t let it halt your progress. Stopping progress to trash-talk yourself won’t lessen your feelings of failure and inadequacy. Move on and try to find something you can do instead of focusing on the roadblock.

What are your biggest organizing weaknesses? Have you conquered any clutter or unfinished projects recently? Please share in the comments below!


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