The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: GTD

Managing GTD contexts as a stay-at-home mom with ADHD

I received this message from a reader struggling to set up David Allen’s Getting Things Done system:

I’ve tried to set [GTD] up so many times, but I get hung up on contexts. Since I’m a full-time homemaker, everything happens at home. I’ve tried dividing my list based on my priorities, and I’ve tried setting it up based on the different rooms of my house. I’m guessing my perfectionism is kicking in, because I can’t settle on anything. I get stuck on the contexts and can’t make it any further.

What can I do right now? That’s a context

I write about GTD a lot, including a book review and a previous post about contexts. Today, I want to talk specifically about contexts in my life as a full-time parent and homemaker.

I’m not just the primary caregiver for my four-year-old son, R. I also maintain our family’s home, finances, and social life. Where my obligations to my home and family end, my life as a blogger and fiction writer begins. It’s a lot.

Contexts sort my next actions list (aka to-do list) based on what I’m actually capable of accomplishing right here and now. This is critical for anyone, but even more so for me. My kiddo doesn’t run the show, but he does impact my ability to get things done at any given time.

Some contexts depend on others

My GTD contexts have evolved to suit my family’s needs. For example, our tools and sewing machines live in our semi-finished basement. Once my son was old enough to play down there, I added a Basement/Crafting context. I’d previously waited to do this stuff until nap or bedtime, and categorized these tasks as House (R. asleep).

Contexts that can refer to others’ status include:

  • House (anytime), House (R. asleep), and House (R. awake), for tasks that require my kid to be awake or asleep (or can be done anytime)
  • Outdoors, which I pull out while I’m watching R. ride his bike
  • Weekend, for when I need a lot of uninterrupted time, and/or I can’t include R. in the project
  • Basement/Crafting

Within reason, I can respond to what R. wants to do. If he’s asleep, awake, wants to go outside for the afternoon, or wants to play in the basement, I have a list of next actions for that.

Some contexts are all about me

As a stay-at-home/work-at-home parent, I make my own day. This is both beautiful and challenging, especially with ADHD. I’ve learned to observe my level of energy and focus and adjust accordingly. Sometimes I’m good to sit at my desk and organize our finances. Sometimes I need to burn off steam by mowing the lawn. Once I force myself to make a dreaded phone call, I find it easier to knock out all the calls on my list.

With that in mind, several contexts describe where I am, either physically or mentally:

  • Computer (any), Computer (desktop PC), and Computer (MacBook), because I have different software on each device
  • Phone (talking) and Phone (texting)
  • Desk
  • Errands

Who am I talking to?

The stay-at-home spouse usually shoulders the bulk of what some call “kin-keeping” duties. I schedule our vacations, plan holidays with family, and keep tabs on what’s happening with our friends and relatives.

Adults with ADHD need to manage this outside our heads. Otherwise, we’ll lose track of something, and someone will feel angry or slighted. I have contexts for each of my parents, my husband, and my grandmother. When I think, “oh, I need to remember to ask Mom about planning a visit,” I enter it as a next action in the Mom context. I reference this list during our weekly Skype call. (Side note: I will forget to check the list unless I make a note on my calendar in capital letters.)

Above all, be responsive

For some people, “home” is its own, complete GTD context. For me, “home” is an environment that changes hourly. Sometimes I’m too tired to sit in my office and work, so I take my tablet to the couch (the Computer (any) context). I can do Phone (texting) while my four-year-old plays with his Legos, but it’s better to wait until he’s at school for Phone (talking) if I can. Sometimes, when I entice R. to the basement because I need to mend a few pieces of clothing, he gets in the zone with his toys down there. Then, I consult my Basement/Crafting list.

I do have a catch-all Anywhere context, but I use it sparingly, and only for tasks I could truly do anywhere. Example: sketching design ideas for ADHD Homestead stickers (keep an eye out for a Kickstarter campaign featuring those this fall). I always have my notebook, so I can do this in a train station, coffee shop, or even on the beach.

Bottom line: I need to take advantage of whatever kind of productive time I have right now. Contexts ensure I have something to do, regardless of my home’s mood and status. That’s a big deal, and it’s a reason to get my contexts right.

Are you at home full-time? Have you tried GTD? How do you make the most of your day?

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestGoogle GmailInstapaperBufferRedditTumblrStumbleUponShare

Does having ADHD mean I can’t succeed?

People often ask me about getting organized with ADHD. I like chatting about organizing at home, too. Recently, my husband said something interesting.

He told me, “But these [strategies] don’t work for me — that’s what ADHD is.”

But is it?

There are scores of apps and organizational systems out there. Does having ADHD mean we’re doomed to fail with all of them?

I’m doomed, but not hopeless

My answer: yes and no. Yes, we’re doomed to fail. No, ADHD doesn’t consign us to a hopeless and chaotic existence. Everyone fails sometimes, perhaps people with ADHD more than the average. Whether that makes us feel “doomed” is a matter of resilience, as long as our symptoms are under control.

For all my praise of David Allen’s Getting Things Done — my ultimate organizing go-to — I’ve failed with GTD many times. But that’s the key: many times. I’ve had to train myself to start over, and over, and over. In order to succeed, I’ve had to make peace with failure.

Of course, sometimes I do feel like having ADHD means I can’t succeed, or I’ll never be as successful as someone without ADHD. I think anyone with any disability feels this way sometimes. It can feel like I work twice as hard because I need to keep my ADHD under control. That’s it’s own project, and it only gets me to the starting line.

Symptom management: always the first step

However, there are ways to make life with ADHD easier.

First and foremost is symptom management. As I’ve said before, I know GTD works for me. It feels right. My project/task management app, Toodledo, feels right. Neither feel easy, but they feel right. And when both became impossible — that is, I truly felt doomed to fail, and became increasingly ineffective — I knew something else was broken.

As it turned out, the medication that worked well for me before I had a kid was no longer effective (this isn’t uncommon — changing estrogen levels can have massive impacts on women’s ADHD symptoms). I went through a brief trial and error process to find a new medication that worked for me. Maintaining my organizational systems became possible again.

I think of this like eyeglasses for my brain. For most of my life, I lived with severe nearsightedness — the “I need my glasses to find my glasses” variety. While I still had limitations with my glasses, I could see well enough to function in the regular world. ADHD meds don’t magically turn me into a “normal” person, but they approximate it well enough, just like strong eyeglasses.

Even if a system like GTD or Bullet Journal or an app like Toodledo is perfect for me, I can’t maintain it with out-of-control ADHD symptoms. In this way, my husband was right: effective symptom management is the first step to implementing an organizational system. Skipping it is like trying to read a tiny-print textbook without glasses.

The right tools for my brain (and no one else’s)

As highly as I value symptom management, I don’t believe meds make me a superstar at every organizational system. I still need to work with my brain, and I can’t impose my favorite tools on the rest of my household. While having ADHD doesn’t stop me from using a system like GTD or Bullet Journal, I’ve had to learn what works for me and what doesn’t. Even if a friend swears by a specific app, cleaning schedule, visual filing system, etc. — I have to know that if it doesn’t feel right, I’m not going to use it well.

And that may be the most critical point: many people can get by with a half-system. Many people can force themselves to get organized with a system they don’t love, or that doesn’t mesh with their thinking style. People with ADHD cannot.

We’ve had to think about this a lot in our home. I bristle at clutter and gravitate toward closed storage. My husband, a visual thinker, dislikes putting anything away if that means he can’t see it. To contain the amoebas of junk that push me over the edge, we use a lot of baskets.

Likewise, you might think Gmail’s Priority inbox, starred messages, auto sorting features, or new Inbox app would help people with ADHD. Maybe they do, but they don’t help me. They make me freak out because they don’t mesh with the way I need to manage my email. Rather than listen to the rest of the world tell me how great they are, I’ve disabled all of it, and I plan to keep it that way.

When you find what works, don’t let it go

That’s how I have to be if I want to succeed as an adult with ADHD. I have to defend and stick to what works. Having ADHD means my field of of stuff that will work is pretty narrow. It means what works for some people might not work for me, and what works for me might seem silly or weird to others.

My system isn’t perfect, and sometimes it fails despite my best efforts. But having ADHD doesn’t mean I have to label myself a failure. It just requires me to be ever-vigilant, making sure I’m using the right tools to control both my symptoms and my inboxes.

How about you? Have you found a system that works for you yet? How do you manage ADHD burnout, and the fear that you’ll never get it right?

Personal organizing case study: Bullet Journal

Organizing my daily life: it feels like both the starting point and the impossible dream with adult ADHD. It’s also a basic expectation of adulthood.

Most ADHD’ers know we need an organizational system, but feel like nothing works. We struggle to find answers to the all-important question, “but how?”

A naturally organized person with a manageable schedule might answer, “you just do it.” Adults with ADHD rarely “just do” anything.

Today, I’ll share a simple, low-tech, flexible way to stay organized. It’s called Bullet Journal. First I’ll provide a look inside my notebook, then I’d love to answer questions in the comments. Personal organizing has been a pet project of mine for many years. If you want to talk about the nitty gritty, I’m your girl.

bullet journal ADHD

What is Bullet Journal?

Bullet Journal isn’t an app or a product. It’s an idea, best explained in this short, engaging little video:


I use apps to stay organized, but I appreciate a tactile element. Screens can feel too abstract. I’ve carried a notebook everywhere since the seventh grade. I’ve dallied with day planners, but fallen away from them since the advent of smart phones. Nowadays, I use my notebook for everything: Grocery lists. jotting down ideas, drafts, or outlines for writing projects. Taking notes at meetings. On-the-fly to-do lists. Goal-setting exercises. Everything imaginable.

Bullet Journal helps me organize those elements and keep me from losing track of what I write down. Because I have ADHD and a very poor memory, I write nearly everything down.

Adults with ADHD are individuals — Bullet Journal is flexible.

I love Bullet Journaling’s infinite flexibility. I chose the size, feel, and contents of my notebook to make it something that works for me. This is especially important for adults with ADHD. If a system or tool isn’t easy, comfortable, and even fun to use, it won’t last long.

I keep my Bullet Journal in Moleskine’s extra-large ruled notebook. In the spirit of Marie Kondo’s KonMari methodI use postcards — mostly collected from art shows — to make the notebooks special and joyful to use.

2016summernik_4807

I always add an entry to the index or add a page number to an existing entry before adding the content. Otherwise, I can get distracted and forget to update the index.

2016summernik_4813

Bullet Journal’s flexibility extends inside the notebook, too, allowing me to integrate new concepts while ditching what doesn’t work. For example, I never look at my Future Log. I’d love to examine my six-month view more often, but I’ve come to accept — with compassion and objectivity, of course — that it’s not going to happen with this life and this brain. My next Bullet Journal won’t have a Future Log. Instead, I may beef up the Monthly Log, which I include in my weekly review.

I also added pages to the front of my Bullet Journal to remind me of my many responsibilities and spheres of influence. Stephen Covey calls these “roles and goals” in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In Getting Things DoneDavid Allen refers to them as “areas of focus and accountabilities.” Either way, I maintain a space in my notebook to reflect on my roles in the world and my goals for each. I skim over these pages at my weekly review.

2016summernik_4800

Using my Daily Log with Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar to track all events, meetings, and time-sensitive tasks. I copy entries from my Google Calendar to the Daily Log as part of my weekly review. I never add directly to the Daily Log, always Google Calendar. It’s critical for me to respect my primary resource/repository for a specific kind of information.

2016summernik_4810

You might be wondering why I recopy rather than print my calendar and paste it into the notebook (or look at the widget on my phone’s home screen). The tactile experience of writing helps me encode/process information. I also never take notes on a laptop or tablet, only with pen and paper, because I remember conversations more clearly that way.

Taking time to write down my schedule, deadlines, and obligations for the week helps me think it through. I wouldn’t get this from skimming my Google Calendar.

Notice the lack of to-do items under each day? My to-do list is long, and nowhere near my Daily Log. I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which discourages “daily to-do lists.” I only tie a task to a day if it really must happen then: in other words, it becomes irrelevant or incurs a late fee.

Let’s chat in the comments.

When I say I use my notebook for everything, I mean everything, from grocery lists to a race bib from a recent 5k run. The Daily Log and Monthly Log pages keep everything in a rough chronological order, and the index lets me return and add to previous entries.

2016summernik_4814

Have you tried something like this before? How did it go? Are you hesitant to try it because you think it won’t work? Please share your questions and experiences in the comments. I’d love to chat!

Email sanity with #AdultADHD: collect those open loops!

Way back in the day, I often lost track of my progress on little projects and tasks. Email presented a particular challenge. I’d ask someone a question, hit send, and promptly forget about it.

No matter how out-of-control your inbox may be, I’m sure you sit down every once in a while to ‘take care of your email.’ This may include a flurry of sent messages to people in all corners of your life. It feels good to get a few things off your plate and onto someone else’s, doesn’t it?

email open loops

Send it and forget it…

The problem is, our responsibility doesn’t evaporate when we hit send. I learned this the hard way — several times. Problem coworkers mismanaged their email and used “I never got the email” as an excuse for missing deadlines. My boss expected on-demand status updates on my tasks. She wasn’t impressed when I answered, “oh, right, I had a question about that and I think I emailed you a week or so ago…”

Once I send an email, the whole thing goes out of my brain like sand through a sieve. I do, of course, consider it others’ responsibility to read and respond to my emails. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t need to follow up. But it’s not a perfect world. Others get busy and/or have ADHD, too. That’s why it’s critical to collect those open loops as I send each email. I need to be able to find them before they find me.

…unless you’re waiting for a response.

waiting on outgoingI can’t take credit for this strategy, as I learned it from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but many ADHD’ers struggle with GTD. If you haven’t been able to read the entire book or get the system up and running yet, start here. Collect the loose ends in your email. It’ll make you look 100 times more responsible to those around you.

The method is simple. It doesn’t require any fancy apps. It doesn’t even require anything more than the original Gmail inbox.

When you email someone requesting information or asking them to do something for you, stash it in a folder (or a label, if you’re using Gmail) titled “Waiting On.” As in, “I’m waiting on something from someone.”

Gmail’s web app allows you to apply labels to messages as you compose them, which is very convenient. The mobile app lacks this feature, but you can go to your sent mail and apply the label there. I recommend doing this immediately after sending the message. If I save it for later, I forget!

Where Gmail uses labels, many other email programs use folders. I used Outlook at a previous job. There, I’d bcc: myself on outgoing messages that required followup. When they arrived in my inbox, I moved them into my Waiting On folder.

No matter what email program you’re using, you may want to add an @ symbol to the beginning (e.g. @Waiting On) so it stays at the top of your alphabetical list of labels/folders.

Don’t forget to review.

In a week or so, you’ll have a folder or label with a collection of outstanding requests: an email asking a friend when she’d like to go out for dinner, a shipping notification from Amazon, maybe an email asking family and friends to donate to your upcoming charity bike ride.

Now you need to review them. Put a note on your calendar once a week to go through your Waiting On folder. Set an alarm on your phone. Tell Google Calendar to send you an email every Monday. Whatever works for you.

Then scan through the list and send a quick (and polite!) poke to anyone you think should’ve responded by now.

How do you manage the open loops created by email requests? How do you remind yourself to check back in when you’re expecting a response?

Of course behavior therapy helps kids with ADHD…for now.

When I see ADHD trending on social media, I perk up my ears. Today, it’s the release of new study results supporting behavior therapy as a first-line treatment for children with ADHD.

NY Times behavior therapy ADHD thumbnail

This raises important questions. It also fans the flames of controversy among those opposed to medicating ADHD in children.

I see this study as an incomplete answer to a complex question: what’s the best course of treatment for childhood ADHD?

Interpreting results: why start with behavior therapy?

Starting with behavior-based interventions may emphasize the importance of teaching coping mechanisms. I’ve long said that neither medication nor behavior therapy can do it alone. Medication balances our brain chemistry, making coping mechanisms easier — or possible — to implement.

Starting meds with no therapy or parent training may set the wrong expectation: that meds can do all the work. Starting with behavior therapy, then adding medication, allows families to compare and contrast the difference.

Taking an example from my personal life, I talk a lot about David Allen’s Getting Things DoneI swear by it. Did you know I’ve only been able to maintain it while taking medication? Without it, I can’t keep up.

However, medication in no way alleviates my need for such a rigid system.

We should teach children this symbiosis from the beginning. Offering medication alone is like offering eyeglasses to a near-sighted child and expecting those glasses to teach him to read.

Why I’m skeptical about behavior therapy’s long-term benefits

I’m not jumping on the behavior modification bandwagon just yet. I think we need a longitudinal study to evaluate the effects well into adulthood, when we’re expected to create our own structure and motivation.

Behavior modification therapies, as explained in Stephen P. Hinshaw and Katherine Ellison’s book ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know, require “clear expectations and explicit, frequent rewards, as well as occasional, nonemotional discipline.” Think sticker charts to help kids earn a reward for improving target behaviors.

My own parents promised me a TV in my bedroom if I could produce a few second-grade report cards with no failing grades in the ‘behavior’ column. My burning desire for that television supported the herculean effort required to stay out of trouble. I got the TV.

Looking at this one academic year, anyone could conclude that behavior-based interventions improved my most problematic symptoms. However, as Hinshaw and Ellison point out in their book, “the difficulty for children is to maintain their progress once they’re out of the tightly managed environment.”

My third-grade reports reflect missed homework, inconsistent effort, and frequent run-ins with other students.

Should we expect parents to maintain a highly structured environment indefinitely? What happens when children grow too old for sticker charts? What happens when parents aren’t there to light a fire under a kid’s butt?

I’ll tell you what happened to me: my life spiraled out of control. My desk at work was covered 8-12 inches deep all around with papers, and I frequently lost important documents. I fought with my husband all the time. I suffered wild mood swings. Bills went unpaid. It took so long for me to take checks to the bank, they often expired before I could deposit them. My house was a mess. The list goes on.

Does behavior therapy prepare kids with ADHD for the future?

I’m not surprised to see a study confirming the effectiveness of behavior therapies — that is, rigid systems of externalized rewards and consequences — in the short term. We’re talking months, or even a few years.

I worry that we’re failing to teach kids true independence and long-term coping mechanisms. As Vicki Hoefle explains so effectively in her lovely book Duct Tape Parenting, parents should measure success not by how kids behave right now, but whether they’re ready to fledge at age 18. Childhood gives kids an opportunity to learn crucial skills in a safe, supportive environment.

Creating a system of made-up consequences robs them — and us — of that opportunity. Sure, I was able to control my outbursts to earn that TV. What did I learn about myself during that time? What tools did I put in my mental toolbox, to be carried into adulthood?

Yes, this study addresses an important issue. I hope it reinforces the symbiotic relationship between medication and other interventions. I hope fewer parents, teachers, and doctors see medication as a way to make ADHD an open-and-shut case.

Parents need to ask: what’s our goal here? Do we want the best of both worlds? To refuse medication for our kids while putting a stop to failing grades and uncomfortable parent-teacher conferences?

Or do we want to deepen our relationship with our kids while teaching them how to succeed as adults?

For that, we need to examine the effectiveness of behavior therapy once the subjects reach age 25, 30, and 35.

What do you think we’d find? I’m curious about others’ reactions. Did you read about this study? Have you had any first-hand experience with behavior modification? Please chime in with a comment below!

For a better to-do list, just add context.

I hate knowing I have tons to do, yet blanking when I try to think of specific tasks. This feeling defined my mid-20s, just before I started learning about and treating my ADHD.

I existed in a constant state of stress and anxiety, but I couldn’t articulate — even to myself — what exactly I needed to do.

Medication helped settle my thoughts. Next, I needed a system to organize them.

My salvation came in the form of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If you haven’t tried GTD or if you find the whole system too rigid, allow me to share one of the most important concepts:

Context is everything.

Why traditional lists and planners failed me

To-do lists never worked for me until I sorted them by context — that is, the location or resources they require. This was a major paradigm shift. I spent years struggling with calendar-based personal planners and daily to-do lists, recopying incomplete tasks from one day to the next.

Of course, some tasks need to happen on a specific day, like paying rent or turning in kids’ summer camp registrations. I still write those on my calendar. Others just require the right environment: a phone, a quiet room, a computer, or a specific person. For those, I keep context-based to-do lists in an app called Toodledo. Toodledo’s web and mobile apps keep my lists at my fingertips everywhere I go. Here are my contexts:

I also generate contexts as needed for my mom, husband, grandmother, and anyone else I converse with regularly.

If you dislike apps, try a sheet of loose leaf paper or a page in a notebook for each context. Anything that keeps your lists separate will do just fine.

Still wondering how this beats one neat, centralized list?

Allen claims, and I agree, that a single list would make it “too difficult to see what you need to see; each time you got any window of time to do something, you’d have to do unproductive re-sorting.”

Consider this alongside ADHD’s inherent working memory weaknesses. As Russell Barkley explains in Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, we use working memory to organize and prioritize tasks, hold multiple things in mind, and figure out what to do next.

For someone with unreliable working memory, a poorly-organized to-do list isn’t just “unproductive,” it’s paralyzing.

to-do list context graphic“It’s not that you’re incapable of logical analysis or you lack intelligence…” Barkley writes, “it’s just that you need to make the process tangible and external…so your emotions don’t erupt with the frustration of trying to do it all in your head.”

Externalizing tasks into contextual ‘buckets’ takes a huge load off your working memory. This makes it easier to get into your productivity groove (sometimes known as hyperfocus).

Hyperfocus for good

Hyperfocus has a bad reputation in our household. It makes it hard for ADHD’ers to change gears and switch tasks. However, with context-based to-do lists, we can use hyperfocus to our advantage.

I may put phone calls off as long as possible, but by the time I force myself to do it (usually a deadline is looming), I settle in and finish them all at once. My husband calls this “task inertia.”

Here’s the thing: I’d freak out if I tried to comb through my to-do list (usually 60+ items long) for the three phone calls I need to make. A separate, ready-to-roll, phone-calls-only list enables me to make more than one of the dreaded calls. It removes obstacles to task inertia.

Reclaiming lost time

In Getting Things Done, Allen stresses the importance of capturing “weird little windows” of time. Most of us use 10 minutes in a waiting room to cruise our smart phone. What if you check two small items off your to-do list instead? My “any computer” (a definition that includes my phone) list contains tasks like “make dinner reservations” (easy with the OpenTable app), “look at calendar for game night dates,” and “use quilt tutorial to make a list for the fabric store.”

These are the baby steps that move me from Point A to Point B, from “we should get together soon” to “see you on Friday night for dinner and board games.” They’re also the details that can slip through my fingers and make me feel like a major flake. ADHD doesn’t change society’s expectations, but it sure makes it tough to keep up.

Experience has taught me, when I receive one of those “weird little windows,” I need to be ready. I need to know what one tiny thing I can get done with the resources at hand. Organizing my to-do list by context has been the key to making that happen — and to tricking people into thinking I have it together.

How do you organize your to-do list? Does it work for you? Please share in the comments!

Want to remember everything? Write it on the wall.

People with ADHD forget a lot — a lot of things, and very often.

We frustrate ourselves. Even worse, we frustrate, hurt, and disappoint the people we love. ADHD is cruelly egalitarian, in that we forget our spouse’s birthday as easily as our dry cleaning.

Even if we lived in total isolation, we’d still generate the same ideas over and over again, wishing we could remember them at the right time.

My solution: shorten the distance between myself and a good container for my thoughts. I call this “storing my brain outside my head” because my brain is such an unreliable container.

I’ve learned it the hard way, again and again: I need to write everything down. Everything. If I catch myself thinking, “that’s too important, I know I won’t forget it,” it’s a huge red flag.

Not only do I have to write everything down, I have to do this before I forget. It happens in a matter of seconds. As a result, I maintain writable surfaces all over my house: post-its, dry erase boards, chalkboards, you name it. Even the bathroom mirror. If there’s anyone out there who considers me a good friend, spouse, parent, or relative, it’s because I never trust myself to remember anything.

Instead, I remain vigilant for ideas — pen in hand.

Collecting ideas

There are some potty training methods that — bear with me here — require constant vigilance, so you’re ready to airlift your naked naked toddler to the potty just as he empties his bladder onto the floor. I picture my brain as this naked toddler. The moment it thinks of something — anything — I need to whisk it to a writable surface.

I should mention I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system religiously to process all my notes. Allen insists that you need to be able to trust your system — or else you’ll get discouraged. “One of the main factors in people’s resistance to collecting stuff into ‘in,'” Allen writes, “is the lack of a good processing and organizing methodology to handle it.”

When I’m running a tight ship with my GTD system, I’m much more enthusiastic about writing down my thoughts. If you haven’t read Getting Things DoneI highly recommend it.

Our home’s writable surfaces

Bathroom mirror

DSC_3367-001There’s a reason you have so many ideas in the shower. You’re relaxed, relatively free of distractions, and experiencing a nice dopamine rush from the hot water. Your brain is primed for idea generation.

I keep dry erase markers near the bathroom mirror so I can write a quick note before I’ve even dried off. The mirror is also a great place to leave a loving note or drawing for your spouse. When I worked in IT, my mirror notes reminded me to do early-morning server maintenance from home. Visitors occasionally spot our markers and join the fun, too.

Pantry door chalkboard

Our home is on the small side, making a big, common-area dry erase board impractical. Instead, I created a cute and functional chalkboard on our pantry door. It’s not as easy as tossing a few dry erase markers in the bathroom, but it’s a project pretty much anyone can do. I sanded the finished wood lightly, added a couple coats of primer, then applied this Rust-Oleum chalkboard paint. My son has taken over the bottom panel, and we use the larger top panel for grocery lists, reminders, fledgling Spotify playlists, and anything in between.

DSC_3431

 Small dry erase board

I purchased a small dry erase board for my dorm room door when I left for college. Somehow, I managed to keep it for over a decade and through several moves. This former clutter object now hangs on the side of the fridge and collects phone messages.

Post-its, post-its, and more post-its

I keep a pad of post-it notes in almost every room: on my nightstand, on my desk, in the basement, next to the coffee maker, in the car. I order sticky notes in bulk packages meant for large offices. Walking more than 10 steps to the nearest sticky note feels like too much.

Isn’t there an app for that?

I didn’t include any electronic note-taking tools here. There are some great ones available — Evernote, Toodledo, Google Keep, and PlainText, for example — but I find computers and smart phones too distracting. When I unlock my phone screen, I rarely make it to my note-taking app. Several minutes later, I realize I’m checking my Instagram feed and have no idea why I grabbed my phone in the first place. A simple pen and paper works best.

How do you capture ideas, especially when you’re in a place where you can’t easily write something down?

Book review: Getting Things Done

David Allen Getting Things Done coverWhen I first read David Allen‘s Getting Things DoneI was about to abandon the structure of my office job for the self-directed world of stay-at-home work and motherhood. I have Getting Things Done (GTD) to thank for every household and personal management success I’ve had since.

Regardless of the level of external structure in your work and life, ADHD adults need an intentional, airtight system to organize time and tasks. GTD is a great place to start. Allen’s book offers a detailed framework for setting up your personalized organizational system — one that may feel like magic.

Recently, my husband (who also has ADHD) and I engaged in a heated discussion about time, and his apparent lack of it. I kept pushing GTD as a solution until he demanded, “yeah, but does it actually give you more time? Whenever you talk about it, it’s like time magically appears out of nowhere so you can get your stuff done.”

Silence.

Then, my response: “well, yes, that’s pretty much how I felt when I first read the book. I wasn’t working harder, but my projects just started getting done.”

Allen challenges readers to gather every loose end, from the mundane to the enormous, and put it all into a central, trusted system. ADHD adults will benefit especially from the continued assertion that your brain is the worst place to store just about anything.

That kind of common-sense approach pervades the book and the GTD system. Allen knows how the brain works, and he knows how to work with — rather than against — our innate strengths and weaknesses. While ADHD isn’t mentioned anywhere in the text, Getting Things Done should be required reading for all of us.

Potential ADHD pitfalls

Of course, GTD is not a cure-all. ADHD adults in particular will need to stay vigilant so as not to get off track.

For example, processing your inbox without actually doing all the tasks immediately may be exhausting. It’ll be tempting to “catch up” as you empty your inbox, especially if you find something urgent and long-forgotten. However, it’s best to keep Allen’s two-minute rule in mind: if you can’t finish it in two minutes, put it in your task management system and keep moving. If these tasks keep distracting you from reaching the bottom of your inbox, you’ll stop trusting the inbox as a place to put important to-dos.

Given that this initial inbox dump may create a drain on your stamina and willpower, I’d caution against Allen’s advice to work long days. If you do choose to go this route, I recommend recruiting a friend to help you stay on course.

My biggest daily struggle with GTD is remembering to create projects in my task management system. In our haste to get tasks onto our list and move on to the next thing that catches our eye, it can be tempting for ADHD’ers to add actions like “get new tires” to our to-do lists. Though I endure significant resistance from my brain on a regular basis, forcing myself to think through the tasks required to complete a small project is a major key to my success with GTD.

Common sense where we need it most

In what feels almost cliche for ADHD adults, Allen insists that “trying to approach any situation from a perspective that’s not the natural way your mind operates will be difficult.”

For those of us contending with ADHD, that’s an understatement.

However, there’s wisdom for everyone here: feeling overwhelmed and out of control is inevitable. Digging your way out to a play of calm and productivity is not. You need to use common sense. Allen gives us a step-by-step guide to implementing a common-sense task management system for every level of our lives. If you haven’t read Getting Things Done yet, do it this week. You won’t regret it.

7 ADHD-friendly purchases we actually use

We’re two ADHD adults with an Amazon Prime subscription. I don’t have to tell you how challenging it can be to reign in impulse purchases.

That said, among the duds we’ve made some indispensable ADHD-friendly purchases over the years.

Every individual and every household has different needs, so your list may look different. I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!

P-Touch labeler

David Allen recommends automatic labelmakers for more successful filingI balked at this when my husband first bought it. A fancy label maker felt extravagant when we already owned perfectly functional pens and pencils. However, I’m now sold on the benefits — espoused by organizing guru David Allen — of printing labels for file folders as opposed to hand-writing. The labeler makes this quick and easy, which makes us more likely to file documents in a timely manner.

Not only that, I’ve started labeling every storage container in our home. Remember, your ADHD spouse may not intuit where something goes, even if it seems obvious. You may not even remember your system a month later. Creating a clear system encourages everyone to put things away in their proper homes.

Pill case

I’m paranoid about forgetting my meds. I’m also paranoid about forgetting I’ve taken them, then accidentally double-dosing. We have seven-day pill cases (different colors for each of us!) that hold our meds and vitamins. I’m diligent about taking pills only from the case. This makes it very clear whether or not I’ve taken my stimulant meds for the day. It also helps me track how often I’m remembering to take my vitamins.

Electric razor

My husband has used an electric razor for years, but I only recently discovered the ladies’ models. I take short, irregular showers, especially in the winter when my skin is dry. Shaving in the shower was not working  at all because I needed to remember to leave time for a longer shower. The wet/dry electric razor allows me to take care of this pesky task whenever (and wherever) I think of it and have a few minutes.

Spray bottles

I keep spray bottles of homemade multi-purpose cleaner spray bottles(a 2:1 water:vinegar solution with a little squirt of dish soap) hidden all over the house, most notably under the bathroom sink. Like the electric razor, this allows me to clean whenever I notice something and have a minute. It’s cheap, easy, and convenient — all good news for ADHD homemakers.

Post-it notes

I use a lot of post-it notes. I keep them in almost every room of the house, in my glove compartment, and in my purse. People have asked me why I’m obsessed with post-its when I have a smartphone with multiple list-making and task management apps.

It’s simple: sticky notes let me write things down distraction-free. The moment I unlock my phone, a whole pile of shiny apps scatter my focus. Almost invariably, I forget what I wanted to write down in a matter of seconds. Post-its save my sanity. I toss them in my inbox and record them on my to-do list later.

Time Timer

time timer

This timer provides a visual representation of time that many ADHD’ers find immensely helpful. I use it almost daily to curtail my social media use. The disappearing red segment forces me to ask myself, “is this how I want to be spending this time?”

Christmas is right around the corner. This is a great gift for all your loved ones with ADHD, and there’s an app for Android and iOS if you don’t want to invest in the physical timer.

Document scanner

I rolled my eyes when my husband ordered this one because we already own a nice flatbed scanner. However, I now use the document scanner almost daily. It’s fast, easy, and has allowed me to eliminate so much paper filing from our lives. Do you have a big stack of papers “to file” somewhere in your home or office? Thought so. Make sure you have a backup service like Dropbox or Crashplan set up, then give one of these a whirl.

A document scanner is a fast, easy way to reduce paper clutter

 

© 2017 The ADHD Homestead

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑