The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: taking breaks

How I take productive breaks with #AdultADHD

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the value of breaks. On one hand, I’ve had to train myself to pay attention for long enough to make a dent in one task. Mindfulness meditation and stimulant medications have helped me do that. Then there’s the other side of ADHD: learning to pull away at the right time. Here are some of my favorite strategies.

Pomodoro(ish)

If you’re not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, here’s the gist: you set a kitchen timer for 25 minutes and dedicate those minutes to only one task. This unit of time is referred to as one Pomodoro.

I’m not strict about using the Pomodoro Technique all the time. I do find it especially helpful for my weekly review, when I get sidetracked easily. I use a timer to rotate between emptying my inboxes and completing other review steps every 10-25 minutes. The timer, which sits right beneath my computer monitor, provides some healthy anxiety. The prospect of a forced break keeps my eye on the prize and I’m more conscious of interruptions and tangents.

Boundaries

I’m useless in front of a screen after 9:00 p.m. I’d love to say I “moonlight” as a fiction writer, but I don’t work well that way. I never have. If I’m looking at a computer screen after nine, I’m wasting more time and getting less done than I would at 2:00 in the afternoon.

While it’d be great if I could change this, I don’t think that’s possible without a brain transplant. I now try to avoid screen time at night. Sometimes, this means leaving a project before I’ve reached a good stopping point. This can feel impossible for some people with ADHD. It takes a lot of practice, and it will always feel uncomfortable, but it’s a rote learning process.

Self-observation

If work is going poorly, it can be best to step away. Remember my physics teacher and his beanbags? Sacrificing a time block I intended for writing, bookkeeping, or email can pay huge returns later in the day.

Nowadays, when I feel myself floundering, wasting time, and failing to settle down, I get up. I do a quick office yoga podcast. I set a timer and work for 20 minutes on a physical task like sewing, washing dishes, or organizing my basement. Even when I worked in a more traditional office, I had opportunities to get up: I could check stock for my office supply order, or go to someone’s workstation to address an IT trouble ticket.

Obviously, there’s a risk of ADHD-fueled avoidance and procrastination. The key is timing these breaks and pushing myself back to my desk when they’re over. Not only that, I know there are some tasks I’ll never want to start. In those cases, another break won’t help at all.

Podcasts

When a break won’t help, I try to make an otherwise unpleasant chore seem like a treat or a break. Podcasts can work wonders to reduce dread and reluctance. If I’m dragging my feet on chores, I turn on a funny podcast, like Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids. For longer projects, I use the podcast as a makeshift Pomodoro timekeeper. I tell myself I only need to work for the length of the podcast, then I can take a break.

In a similar vein, I generally only watch television when I fold laundry. This limits my unscheduled television “breaks” and gives me a more positive attitude about laundry. Laundry day means I can sit down and treat myself to my favorite shows!

What about you? What strategies have you discovered to disengage for a healthy break?

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ADHD brain: Accepting my need for breaks

Well-timed breaks can work magic. I first experienced this in high school. We had block scheduling, with four 90-minute class periods per day. My physics teacher, Mr. Plate, got it: how long 90 minutes can feel when you’re sitting at your desk and using your brain.

When Mr. Plate noticed our class wilting, he’d stop in the middle of his lesson — sometimes his sentence — and say, “go to the back of the room. We need beanbags.”

Then we’d stand in a circle and play beanbags. The game began with one bag. The first person tossed it across the circle to the second, who tossed it back across to a third, and so on, until everyone had gotten the beanbag and it came back to the start. We continued the tossing pattern, adding more and more beanbags, until we broke down in laughter. Beanbags collided in midair, one person would suddenly find themselves with an armful, etc.

It took less than five minutes to fill the classroom with life. We returned to our seats energized and ready to learn.

Mr. Plate understood his choice: lose us for five minutes while we threw beanbags, or lose us for 45 minutes while he plowed ahead with the presentation he’d planned.

time-for-a-break

Breaks earn back their costs

Bottom line: smart breaks give back more time than they take. Now that my work happens at home and I structure my own days, I need to recognize my own need for beanbags — or just a break from my computer screen.

I often resist breaks when I’m on a roll, especially with something like sewing, which offers endless small doses of instant gratification. I’ve tried to train my brain to disengage. When I’m writing, I now know I should break after 45 minutes, even if I don’t want to. I’m now more vigilant for that first small dip in productivity — a signal that my brain needs to switch gears. If I ignore it, I unknowingly slip into time-wasting activities.

Breaks can shake off hyperfocus

Breaks also forcibly disengage our hyperfocus. When I push my writing muscles too hard, I slow down, make mistakes, and end up meandering the internet. This doesn’t happen when I’m sewing, but I may regret spending a whole afternoon in the basement when I had more pressing things to do. Hyperfocus clouds our view of what constitutes a good stopping point. We’re often blind to one-more-thing-itis until it’s too late.

If we break away from time to time, it gives us a chance to reevaluate. I’ve had a terrible time prying my husband away from a task, where no amount of “we’re going to be late” or “you promised you’d help me with X today” will budge him. Yet if I can trick him into walking away for five minutes under the pretense that he can come right back to it, it’s like he’s waking up from a trance. He might even say out loud, “I don’t need to work on that right now.”  A break frees us to ask ourselves, “is this how I want to spend the next X minutes/hours of my time?”

Breaks don’t always feel good

The adults in our household also struggle with a common ADHD fear: “if I don’t finish this now, when will I ever get back to it?” Also: “I wasted some time today, but I still want to feel proud of my progress.” My husband has told me he’s more likely to stay at work all night if he feels he’s used time unwisely, or if he spends too long helping coworkers with their issues. For my part, I have a bad habit of viewing projects in a strict binary: Done or Not Done. If I’ve spent hours, days, or weeks on a project and it’s still Not Done, then I feel discouraged, like it will never be Done. Sometimes this frustration leads to a backbreaking marathon because I can’t bear to keep looking at Not Done.

These are all legitimate feelings, but pushing ourselves too hard won’t solve the underlying problem. We’d do better to build confidence in our ability to come back to an incomplete project and finish it later. We’d do better to learn to manage our productivity during the day so we feel okay about leaving work before bedtime. We’d do better to learn to see the products of our hard work, even if a project isn’t finished yet.

All of this is hard. ADHD is hard. What I really want, more than anything, is a break from ADHD. Failing that, I’m trying to prioritize giving my brain the breaks it needs to keep going. I’m trying to accept breaks when I need them — to recognize when I need them — and not feel resentful, fearful, or guilty about it. It’s a work in progress. Next week, I’ll share some of my break-taking techniques.

Do you struggle to take breaks when you need them? How do you know when it’s time to change gears?

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