The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: Mini Habits

Personal Organizing Case Study: Bullet Journal Daily Log (video post)

Today, I’m pleased to introduce two firsts: my first Personal Organizing Case Study and my first video post.

I hadn’t initially planned to combine the two, but I struggled with how to create graphics and text to give you a proper tour of my most critical organizing tools. Despite my unwavering belief that I’m a much better writer than talker, video seemed like a natural solution.

Here, I talk about Bullet Journaling, and how I combine this system with concepts from David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits. I give you a tour of my Daily Log, and explain how and why I organize it the way I do.

As a first effort, this video might feel a little low-budget. I want to hear your feedback so I can direct my future efforts toward what would be most helpful. Please share your questions, comments, and requests in the comments below.

Links to books and resources mentioned in this video:
Bullet Journal
David Allen’s Getting Things Done
Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits
My Moleskine journal
A cheaper alternative to the big Moleskine

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Derailment, ADHD, & the Pit of Domestic Despair

Toward the end of March, my immune system sabotaged all my good habits. My son brought home a bug that hardly affected him, but — like the evil kid illness it was —  gave me 12 days of low-grade fever. I muddled through. Mostly. But I didn’t exercise, hardly set foot in my office, and got off track with my daily habits. Clutter piled up and projects stagnated. I lost sight of wellness and productivity and couldn’t imagine either being part of my life again.

I was headed straight for the Pit of Domestic Despair.

Fortunately, I’m aware of ADHD’s time blindness. Though it wasn’t deeply reassuring, I told myself I wouldn’t be sick forever.

I also repeated, over and over, “it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.”

Habits break, systems break, and it’s not the end of the world — or even the good habit.

Or, rather, it doesn’t have to be.

Derailment,ADHD,& thePit of Domestic Despair

“No, thanks” to self-loathing. “Yes, please” to equanimity.

ADHD does more than make it tough to stay on course. Through years of repeated failure, we teach ourselves that failure is inevitable. New habits and projects excite us, but only to a point. By adulthood, our cynicism always lurks in the shadows, reminding us that success is fleeting. Yes, we’re doing it, but only for now. Only until the next time everything falls apart.

I’ve spent years learning to stay organized and form intentional habits, but my most important lesson has been in accepting failure. Everyone gets off track sometimes. Even people without ADHD. The key isn’t staying on the wagon, it’s knowing how to climb back on.

When a habit breaks or a project stagnates or a deadline gets missed, it’s not a confirmation of all my self-doubt and self-criticism. Letting the house get messy one week doesn’t signal a return to my “real” (i.e. unhappy, unfocused, disorganized, unproductive) self. It means I messed up. Or I had a fever for 12 days. It’s just a thing that happened.

This brings me to my favorite word: equanimity. It means remaining neutral in the face of life’s gains and losses, and it’s a skill I’ll be honing for the rest of my life. In this case, it means looking at my messy house and my broken habits, saying, “okay,” and moving on without much fanfare.

There’s usually something beyond Right Now (even if we don’t believe it).

I eventually felt better — obviously. And for the first time, I didn’t spend my first day on the mend beating myself up or lamenting the impossible task in front of me. I just got up and kept going. Slowly.

With the energy I saved by not spinning myself up to a state of intense despair, overwhelm, and self-loathing, I started to dig out of the Pit of Domestic Despair. I (finally) changed the sheets on our bed. I spent a week chipping away at my overflowing inbox. I attacked the accumulated clutter, bit by bit. I refused to start on any projects until I’d gotten back to a workable baseline. I spent my energy getting to a place where I could feel good again.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this. To learn, for example, that instead of sitting in the house and complaining about my bad attitude, I should put on my shoes and go for a run. ADHD is often a problem of inertia. Overcoming inertia, even if we only take one itty-bitty, tiny step, is half the battle.

Everyone gets stuck. The more gracefully we can accept this and move on, the better. ADHD tempts us to believe Right Now is all there is. That makes messy surroundings and broken habits feel overwhelming and permanent. The Pit of Domestic Despair becomes a black hole. It’s taken me almost 32 years, but I’ve finally taken a leap of faith. I don’t always believe something better is waiting around the bend. I’m  just willing to inch my way over there and find out.

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When ADHD makes it hard to keep trying…try smaller

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trying.

January should be all about resolutions and new beginnings, but it doesn’t always sparkle for ADHD’ers. Something I read on Penny Williams’ Keeping It Real Parenting ADHD & Autism hit the nail on the head: Penny lamented “experiencing the same crap, year after year.”

try smaller.

New Years resolutions, support systems, a new way of organizing our lives — all can remind us of failure, past or still to come.

Some ADHD’ers dread sitting down to talk about goal-setting. Some of us get all jazzed about a new to-do list app, but hesitate to use it.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trying.

Many adults with ADHD are dealing with years of accumulated failures. Even if a new idea seems great, we may say, why bother?

Obviously, this is no way to live. How do we keep going, keep trying, keep believing in our own capacity to succeed? We can start by rethinking our idea of progress.

Scale back

2015 was one of my most successful years yet. I solved more problems than I created around the house, moved forward on a major redecorating project, got rid of a ton of clutter, facilitated a monthly fiction critique group, and maintained a regular blogging schedule (among other things).

I did it all by lowering my expectations.

ADHD brains think big. When we bother to set goals, we want them to be ambitious, exciting, sparkly.

At the same time, we struggle to estimate how long tasks will take, and we often forget steps when we’re thinking through a process. Our brains don’t connect past outcomes with future ones. Wasn’t it Einstein who described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? That’s us.

If we set the bar too high, we’re destined to fail. When I read Stephen Guise‘s Mini Habits last year, I adopted his too-small-to-fail philosophy. I started setting embarrassingly low goals. I wouldn’t commit to working on my novel every day, I’d just open the file. I wouldn’t do a full yoga practice every day, I’d just get into downward facing dog. I didn’t need to prep the whole dining room for painting, I just needed to touch my sandpaper to one spot of spackle.

And things started getting done like magic. Once I got a taste of success, I gained confidence, and I started retraining my overambitious brain.

Accept small progress

When I set the bar lower, I took on a whole new challenge: I had to become okay with the mundane. People with ADHD don’t like this. We like to bite off more than we can chew (when we bite off anything at all). As I get older, the binge-then-neglect style of working on home improvement projects — or any projects, really — isn’t working. I’m convinced our 30s exist to teach us the art of juggling more responsibilities with less energy and idealism.

I not only had to [force myself to] set lower goals, I had to make peace with this new idea of success. Yes, I can open my manuscript, close it, and feel okay. Yes, I can run only one mile and feel okay. I can paint a room over the course of four days instead of in one day.

A thousand small steps will get us to the finish line. One or two giant steps, followed by burnout and complete inactivity, will not.

Quantify

My ADHD gives me a poor sense of time and an even worse memory. If I feel like I got nothing accomplished at the end of the week, it says more about my mood at that moment than my actual productivity.

I’ve started keeping track of small victories: writing a list in my notebook, or even on a sticky note. I want to remember, moments of low confidence, that I checked off an overdue task today, put my kid to bed on time, or invited a writer friend to attend a conference with me.

My husband, a software engineer, set up a ticket tracking server for our house. It sounds weird and nerdy, and maybe it is, but I love logging in and seeing a visual reminder that I’ve resolved more problems than the house has thrown at me. When my husband gets discouraged about the number of things still left to do, I point to it and remind him that we’re making progress.

jira

You could accomplish the same thing with a piece of loose leaf on the fridge or, if you’re feeling fancy, a spreadsheet.

The point is, in addition to scaling back expectations, it’s important to keep track of your progress — however small. It’s so easy to lose touch and, in a moment of weakness, assume you haven’t accomplished anything.

Once you free yourself from your expectations to dream big, you may find yourself recording a flood of tiny achievements.

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Book Review: Mini Habits

 

audiobook-copyI understand if you read my book reviews every month and think, “yeah, okay lady, but here’s the problem: I don’t really read.”

But you need to read Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits. Not just to read more — though that might happen, too — but to change your life, and fast. The audio version will take you less than four hours, and the print version checks in at under 150 pages. You have no excuse not to give it a try.

Mini Habits was such an inspiring read, I talked about it to everyone and anyone who would listen. I bought a copy for a friend just because.

Mini Habits will be revolutionary for many ADHD readers because it removes motivation from our habit-forming equation. If you’re still relying on feeling motivated to go to the gym, Guise insists, it’s only a matter of time before you fail.

If you have ADHD, you don’t need a book to tell you that. You may need a book to tell you success is within (even) your reach.

What’s a mini habit?

Guise’s simple trick is to reduce your habit to the tiniest possible steps — and keep it there. His inspiration for Mini Habits came from his own success with the one push-up challenge. When one push-up per day morphed into the workout routine he’d previously failed to establish, he knew he was onto something.

Once you remove barriers to entry, you often find yourself willing and able to do far more than the minimum. Now that I’m on the floor for one push-up, for example, why not just do 10?

For someone who often can’t find motivation even for enjoyable activities, a mini habit (or two or three) may alter the course of your life.

How to create a mini habit

Guise recommends attempting only a small handful of habits at a time. I’m notoriously overzealous, so I chose three right off the bat. They are:

  • Open my novel manuscript once daily
    (I couldn’t set a word count goal because I’m editing a years-old draft)
  • Open my blog dashboards once daily
  • Get into downward-facing dog once daily

The most challenging aspect of creating my mini habits was, and continues to be, keeping them small. I struggle not to feel like a cheater when I open my manuscript and close it again without changing a word. I wanted to commit to more than one measly yoga pose.

On this point, Guise (and my husband, who I’ve enlisted as my in-house reminder) is firm: keep mini habits small. If it feels stupid — aka “stupid small” — you’re doing it right. Go bigger and you might feel good today, but mini habits must be attainable even when you’re sick, tired, demoralized, or otherwise having the worst day ever. No matter what, you must be able to experience success every day.

Smaller habits, it turns out, do net bigger results: I’ve been more productive with my writing and even finished my edits ahead of schedule for my monthly critique group. I can now hold crow pose for a whole three seconds, and I’m working up to a headstand in yoga.

Most importantly, I’m experiencing a brand-new feeling: sticking with something. This, Guise claims, is “training to believe in yourself.” It’s something we ADHD’ers desperately need.

The bottom line

Mini Habits is short, conversational, and simple. Nothing Guise suggests feels overwhelming or out of reach, as is so often the case in self-help literature. Not once did I dismiss advice by saying, “yeah, but I have ADHD.”

In fact, the biggest threat from ADHD is my tendency to bite off more than I can chew. Mini habits aren’t glamorous or exciting. It doesn’t feel good to tell your friends, “I’m committed to opening my manuscript and looking at it every day.” Mini habits are as much an exercise in keeping myself in check as anything else.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a copy right now and share your mini habits in the comments.

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3 ways to make good habits stick

Habits: you have plenty of bad ones. How many good habits have you sustained over the years?

For ADHD adults, the answer is often none — or at least very few.

I find this aspect of ADHD particularly demoralizing. Even fun habits that make me feel great — playing a musical instrument, practicing yoga, reading fiction for pleasure — eventually fall victim to entropy. I want to continue my daily habits, but I don’t.

Are you feeling similarly discouraged? Here are three tips that work wonders for our family:

Break it down…way down.

I know, I know — people harp on this all the time: just break it down into managable pieces! Everything will be easy! But what does that really mean for ADHD adults struggling to organize our time, behavior, and thoughts?

We need to break new habits down until they feel insulting.

I want to work on my manuscript every day. How am I doing it? By opening the document. That’s it. No page or word count goals, just open the document.

It feels obvious, but it’s not. We want goal-setting to feel exciting. Our stimulation-hungry brains crave the rush of saying “I’m going write 1,000 words per day, five days per week.” We want to stand at the base of the mountain, gaze up at the top, and say, “I’m going to climb that today.”

While this works well for hiking, it doesn’t work at all for life goals. Blogger and bestselling author Stephen Guise claims aiming high actually decreases your motivation and focus. “If you slip up and fall behind,” Guise says, “the pressure of catching up and meeting the goal is going to crush you. When a goal seems out of reach, it’s only natural to give up completely.”

Imagine your most unfocused, frantic, tired, and/or demotivated day. Now imagine you’ve forgotten your daily habit until you’ve already climbed into bed. Can you hop out of bed and do it quickly so you still have a confidence-boosting success? If not, you need to go smaller. (In the case of my manuscript, I can open the document from my Dropbox smart phone app.)

If you’re truly interested in lasting change, I recommend checking out Guise’s essays Take the One Push-Up Challenge and How to Change Your Life Permanently With Small Steps.

Stop short of the summit…for now.

I call this the “one more thing” cycle: when you keep striving for just one more thing before you move on. In ADHD terms, we call it ‘hyperfocus.’ Hyperfocus exhausts our cognitive resources and steals our focus from other things.

Blogger Leo Babuta of ZenHabits recommends that we always leave ourselves wanting more.

“When you’re on the computer, shut it down before you’re done with everything,” Babuta recommends. “You’ll never be done with everything, and shutting down early means you’ve reserved some of your mental energy for other pursuits offline. You’ll be raring to go tomorrow. You won’t be as spent.”

This is easier said than done for most ADHD’ers. Ask someone to help you shift your focus at a predetermined time, set a timer for your work, or set a goal with a defined end…and stick to it.

Get comfortable with imperfection.

Remember Monday’s post about moving forward little by little, even if you don’t have a perfect solution? Don’t let fear of failure trip you up.

ZenHabits’ Leo Babuta recommends embacing the “fail faster” mantra so beloved by the software development community: “you’ll only gather the real-world information you need to make the habit stick (exercise, diet, meditation, reading, creating, non-procrastinating, yoga, etc.) by actually doing the habit.”

Try your habit. Make mistakes. Fail. But don’t beat yourself up. Try to figure out what went wrong and work around those obstacles in the next iteration.

Perhaps that’s the most important habit-building advice of all: don’t let another failure convince you that you’re a failure. Set tiny goals to build your confidence. When you fall down, get back up again and keep walking. Dedicate yourself to modeling resilience and persistance, not perfection.

In short: never stop learning from mistakes, and never be afraid to start over.

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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.”
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