The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: distractions

Taming distractions: my smartphone-free week

Smartphones are a double-edged sword for adults with ADHD. I have a love-hate relationship with mine.

On one hand, it’s a Swiss Army knife of a device. It reminds me to take my meds. It puts my calendar in front of my face every time I unlock its screen. It condenses many tools — day planner, phone, camera, grocery list, file folders, and more — into one GPS-enabled device. I once misplaced it, and it told me where it was with a little blue dot on a map.

It’s also a huge distraction. Last month, I decided to take a break. I bought a dumb phone on eBay, and I deactivated my smartphone. Then, I asked myself: is life better this way?

The pros

I gained a lot from my week off. I took more pictures with my SLR. I read magazines instead of checking notifications. I went to brunch with friends, and didn’t even consider checking my phone in the car or during a lull at the table. I listened to a CD instead of Pandora while driving.

Speaking of driving, when I first learned to drive, I knew how to get everywhere. I’m not a visual thinker, and I didn’t have a map in my head, but I knew which roads intersected where. Now, I snap my phone into its dashboard mount and turn to my navigation app instead of using my eyes and brain. Like memorizing phone numbers, driving without a smartphone has become a lost art. It felt good to stretch those mental muscles again. I watched for road signs and landmarks on familiar routes, and I looked at a map ahead of time for new destinations.

Perhaps best of all, my phone was just a phone. I could make a call without being derailed by apps and notifications. When I first opened my dumb phone, I felt liberated. In a way, I was.

The cons

However, I quickly realized how much a smartphone can help someone like me.

For people with ADHD, convenience means more than comfort. Sure, it’s convenient to sync my Google Contacts across all my devices. It also protects me against lost business cards, or even a lost phone. It’s convenient to check my calendar while I’m at the dentist. It can also make the difference between cleanings every six months vs. every three years. Threaded text messages, where I can scroll through an entire conversation on one screen, are convenient, but something I already struggle to manage. Without that feature, I felt totally out of touch with my social group.

My phone tells me more important stuff, too. It tells me when (and whether) I took my meds this morning. It reminds me of birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths among those close to me.

In other words, my phone helps me manage my productivity, personal health, and social relationships. These are all areas of tremendous struggle for adults with ADHD. Features that provide convenience for most people can make or break relationships (or dental health) for us.

Where to go from here

Because I still used my smartphone on wifi at home, I saw the biggest difference while running errands or spending time with friends. I’ve now reactivated it, and I intend to keep it. I also want it to spend more time in my bag, or in the cell phone bin at home. I’ve been considering a bluetooth cordless phone for my office/home, to imitate the experience of an old school landline. My smartphone-free week has convinced me this is a good idea.

Which reminds me: Once upon a time, no one expected us to respond immediately to everything around the clock. Growing up, people my age didn’t have cell phones at all. We had landlines and answering machines. We sat down at a computer and waited for our modem to dial into our internet service provider.

I remember going to college and experiencing an always-on internet connection for the first time. I marveled at how easy it was to sit down for 30 seconds to check my email on the way out the door. I left AOL Instant Messenger open all the time. The internet wove its way into the fabric of my consciousness, no longer relegated to a time slot on a shared landline. Smartphone culture had, in a way, already begun.

In the end, my smartphone break wasn’t about the device, it was about mindfulness. Used intentionally, smartphones provide huge benefits. When minutes or hours pass by in front of the screen and we don’t even know what happened, we have a problem. We can counteract this by putting the phone in a designated place in the house, keeping it in our bag while we’re out, and/or disabling notifications. We can be judicious about which apps we install. My phone now rings audibly, but only vibrates for notifications. I’ll know if my kid’s school calls, but I can be more intentional about checking the other stuff.

Because my phone is only a tool if I use it wisely.

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19 ways I waste time on the internet

19 ways

  1. Replying to email threads when I’m not the expert, have nothing to add, and/or should’ve let someone else reply instead
  2. Reading LiveJournal posts I wrote as a college freshman
  3. Crafting a detailed rebuttal to someone’s post on Facebook, then deleting it because I “shouldn’t be wasting my time on this”
  4. Scrolling through my sister’s Instagram friends for no reason
  5. Reading celebrity news, even though I don’t care about celebrity news
  6. Looking at real estate listings in my city, even though we have no plans to move anytime soon
  7. Looking at real estate listings for other cities, even though we really have no plans to move out of the area anytime soon
  8. Stirring the pot on a Facebook conversation that doesn’t pertain to me
  9. Writing a one-star Goodreads review that gets my point across while still being polite and civil
  10. Adding to Pinterest boards for defunct renovation projects
  11. Aimlessly scrolling through my Pinterest main feed, pinning anything that strikes my fancy
  12. Trying to remember why I even went to Pinterest in the first place (oh, right, to grab a recipe, because 40 minutes ago I was working on a shopping list)
  13. Looking at photos of tattoos inspired by classic literature
  14. Writing what I’m sure will be widely recognized as the world’s most helpful Amazon review
  15. Stalking my high school classmates on Facebook
  16. Reformatting someone else’s Google Document because I assume they want it to look [my version of] presentable
  17. Wordsmithing an email when a quick phone call would suffice
  18. Drafting a blog post I’ll later forget to finish/publish
  19. Disappearing down a rabbit hole of Twitter hashtags that, you guessed it, don’t really pertain to me

Alright, I know you have a few. What would you add to the list?

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What’s standing between you and your goals?

I haven’t accomplished anything I wanted to do before I turned 30.

I’m accumulating things to do every day, but I don’t have time to do any of them.

Have you battled thoughts like these before? You’re not alone. In our quest to do all the things, we ADHD’ers risk ending our days, weeks, months, and years feeling like we’ve done none of the things.

At least, none of the things that matter most.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I love decluttering my home. Purging unneeded items has begun to feel liberating, as though every surface I clear allows me to breathe a little deeper.

But what about the other side of decluttering — the intangible side?

Cluttered time, scattered focus.

We don’t just clutter our lives with stuff. We overspend our time and attention every day. By the time we finish saying yes to another volunteer commitment, watching our favorite TV show, scrolling through our Facebook news feed, and reading our way down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, we’re on empty. It’s probably long past bedtime. Worst of all, we’re no closer to reaching our big goals.

Of course, getting organized with goal-setting and time management is a must. But just like there’s no use sorting your closet into labeled bins if it’s full of junk you don’t use, you can’t organize your time if you’re spending it willy-nilly.

Filling your hours and your days with whatever comes along, sounds like fun, or seems like a good idea at the time is exhausting. Your brain literally cannot attend to it all while maintaining a grip on your true priorities.

Unfortunately, the only way to increase your attention to what’s most important is to cut back somewhere else: weed out as much external distraction as possible. This holds true for nearly everyone in our chronically overcommitted society, but none more so than ADHD adults. Since we begin with a smaller pool of focus and willpower, we must spend it wisely.

This year, I’m examining how I spend my time and asking some tough questions: Is this worth the raw quantity of time I’m spending on it? If I used that time to work on my stack of unfinished fiction writing, what could I accomplish? 

Some of those choices will hurt.

Some of our family’s so-called sacrifices have been effortless. We cancelled our cable television subscription several years ago and haven’t regretted it for a minute. Our trio of streaming services allows us to watch our favorite shows intentionally, not by channel surfing or turning on the TV for background noise.

Others have stung a little more. When I began working on this blog two months before its launch, I quit World of Warcraft. I left behind an entire social group, a guild full of nerdy LGBT adults. I still think about my friends there and wish I had access to our guild chat, but the blog isn’t where I want it to be. Until it’s on cruise control, I can’t afford another time commitment.

This month, I deactivated my Facebook account. It’s supposed to be temporary, but I’d love to work out the logistics of leaving the site permanently. Quitting for good will require some bigger sacrifices, though. I’ll have to weigh those sacrifices against the cost to my creativity and personal goals.

Letting go of anything can be painful, but especially so if it’s a favorite downtime activity, a long-standing volunteer or social commitment, or a video game addiction. But don’t shy away just because it’s uncomfortable. Try your best to be objective. Honor your own values and ambitions, not the impulse of the moment or fear of how others might react.

Of course, this is easier said than done. If you’ve been down this road before, what tips can you share? What helped you choose which demands on your time to eliminate? When have you fallen off the wagon?

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