And So It Begins

February starts tomorrow. Where I live, it is the longest, shortest, coldest, cloudiest month of the year. It is my least favorite month. This year instead of wallowing in my usual February funk I’ve decided to actively change my attitude toward February. I doubt it will ever replace August as my favorite month, but maybe by the end of the next 28 days, we will be cordial. One of my new year goals was to expand my writing repertoire so this month I’m writing a novella. It is a new length of fiction for me, and my first paranormal story. The story has been banging around in my head since last spring, so it feels incredible to let my characters loose on the page.
The other change I am planning this month is breaking up with my phone. Why? Because my screen time tracking app numbers appalled me. I spend enough time on my phone some weeks for it to qualify as a part-time job. As a writer, I love connecting with readers, as a reader I love connecting with other readers and geeking out over books. But I also want to make sure that I’m not drowning my sorrows in my phone, chasing little hits of endorphins, the way some folks pursue alcohol or drugs. ADHD folks have higher rates of addiction to alcohol and substances than the general population and are at a higher risk for screen/technology addiction.  As part of my self-care this month I’m going to change the way I interact my phone and adopt more healthy habits.

I found a fantastic book to help me with my phone addiction. How to Break Up with Your Phone by Catherine Price is the how-to book I’ve needed to make the break with my device. Price approaches the process of phone addiction with charm, wit, and facts to back up and support her suggestions for mindful use of our phones. She is not a zealot or Luddite. Price has a realistic outlook when it comes to the convenience of smartphones and does not recommend or suggest that you switch to a flip phone and head off into the wilderness unless that is what you want to do.

The beauty of her approach is her myriad of sound suggestions of how to practice mindfulness while using our technology. Catherine Price offers actionable recommendations and a plan to follow to make sure that way you interact with your phone fits your life and is designed by you, not app designers using the best brain hacking technology money can buy to have you staring at your screen instead of your family.

I encourage you to evaluate the time you spend with your phone, to decide if your interactions are positive and support your goals. I have a long list of items to accomplish this year, and I know I have to make some changes in how I use my time if I am going to achieve them. My first step is to make sure time spent on my phone is time I’ve chosen to allocate instead of merely being sucked into the vortex of apps designed to keep me tied to my screen, oblivious to the world and distracted from my goals. For the next month I’m going to follow the steps outlined in How to Break Up With Your Phone and work on my phone habit. Wish me luck and if you decide to join me, drop a comment here. I’ll post a follow up in March.

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.  Sign Up for her email list here  www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

 

Focus: When All the Good Things Happen at Once

IMG_5466 It has been a while since I posted about staying on track with ADHD/ADD. I have been working on many projects and in the way that life goes many of their timelines overlap. I wrote here about keeping track of projects and it still is a great system but I did not anticipate the impact working with others can have on your project timelines.

Receiving a revise and resubmit, request for a professional report, and/or a proposal for an amazing project can derail the best time manager. For individuals with distraction issues time management is a constant struggle, add family responsibilities, the day job, and travel to the mix and you have a classic recipe for disaster, missed deadlines, wicked stress and sleepless nights.

Here are ten steps for dealing with positive overwhelm, staying on track and working towards your goals.

  1. Take at least fifteen minutes and breathe, get outside if you can. Your goal here is to reset and let your adrenal glands chill for a moment. If you really want to do it right take thirty minutes. And yes this part is necessary for step two.
  2. Make a list. Brain dump every little thing that is swirling around in your brain. I use poster size paper and sharpies for this, you do you and use whatever you like to get everything out of your head.
  3. Add deadlines to all the things. All of the scraps of paper and post it notes with dates on them, gather them up and get it all of it in one place.
  4. Now look at the list. Are there things you can let go? Or postpone? Let them go or reschedule. Be honest here with yourself. Your goal is to focus on those things that you must do to accomplish your long term goals.
  5. That planner/wall calendar/app you paid good money for and then abandoned? Get it out. Now add the new things, update the old things and add all the due dates.
  6. This is hard part. Choose what you have to give up to get all the things done. Even with the best time management system it is impossible to do all the things. That GoT addiction? Binge watching your favorite show may have to go. Do not give up your exercise program. Oh you already did? See the next step.
  7. Start taking at least fifteen minute every day to move. Dance, walk, jog, yoga, weeding the flower bed, whatever gets the blood flowing to your brain. If you want to go really crazy go for thirty minutes.
  8. Traveling in the midst of everything? Make a list of what you need to take with you to complete or work on your project. Talk with your family/traveling partners. Let them know what you need and come to some agreement about your work time. Be firm. Be realistic. While a family reunion might be great for story ideas, trying to complete a revise and resubmit between rounds of horseshoes/drinking beer/ and scarfing down Great Aunt Millie’s potato salad will most likely end in frustration.
  9. Step back and breathe again. Good things happening can be as overwhelming as bad things happening. You can do this.
  10. Reread this list and repeat these steps as often as you need to keep yourself on track.

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Rebalancing Act

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Rebalancing. The act of trying to stay on top of your commitments to yourself and others when your schedule changes. I have written before about why it is so hard for ADD/ADHD individuals to change their routines here. As a parent with ADD/ADHD it is hard enough keeping my own schedule together, let alone the little people in my house. We started using checklists for the kids so that they can help getting us out the door in the morning and into bed at a reasonable time at night. The checklists are working well for them, and after finding myself spinning like the Ferris wheel above trying to get myself out the door one morning I think I need a checklist for me. 

 Balance is really about rebalancing, letting go of what does not work and holding on to what does work. If I don’t take time to examine my schedule and change what is not working, I end up frustrated, and crazed, and not getting anything accomplished. I started out this Fall thinking that I would be able to drop the kids off and head to the pool for a swim workout. I neglected to factor in that there are two aquatic exercise classes for older people scheduled when I planned on swimming, that it resulted in a very crowded locker room, and fewer lanes for lap swimming.

I got so frustrated that I skipped my swimming exercise. After two weeks of blowing off swimming I realized that I just needed to adjust my time. Every exercise recommendation you ever see says to do your exercise first thing in the morning so that you don’t skip it, but for me, the morning is my most creative time, and the pool is too crowded. Instead of just giving up, I tried going after lunch and before I pick up the kids.  It worked, I get my swim time in, I have the locker room to myself, and I am in a better state of mind to deal with after-school-crazy time with my kids.

The willingness to try different ways to accomplish different tasks is key to success for people with ADD/ADHD. Let go of recommendations that do not work for you, and hold on to what works. Exercise really helps me with my focus, but I need to do it when it fits my schedule, not when everyone says you should do it.

This applies to every other task that people have opinions about when and how you should do it. For example almost every book of writing advice ever written advises that you write everyday.  Would that work for me? Nope, after a long shift at my day job I am too burnt out and tired. Write before my shift to get my writing in? Nope, not getting up at four in the morning to put words on paper, although I have stayed up to four in the morning writing when in a groove. What do I do instead of beating myself up about not writing everyday?  I make it count when I do write.  I set goals for word counts. I stick with what works for me.

Two years ago I participated in the madness that is NANOWRIMO (see my post here if you don’t know what NANOWRIMO is) I only had weekdays to write, and only for two hours and forty-five minutes. So I sat down and figured out how many words I had to write each day in that two hours and forty-five minutes to finish.  Did I write everyday? Nope, but I still managed to get fifty thousand words written in twenty days. Find what works and hold on to it, and let go of any advice that does not work for you. Listen to yourself, research, experiment, read and re-balance to find your center.

Be kind to yourself, don’t quit, find what works for you and do it.

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ADHD and Money:The Slow-Cooker Method of Savings

Many ADD/ADHD people are visual people. We struggle with organization because if we loose sight of an object it might as well not exist. So what does that have to do with automatic savings? If you have the money deducted from your paycheck before you see it, you don’t miss it. I am not talking hundreds of dollars to start your savings project.  If you are struggling to pay your bills, I am sure right now that you think I have lost my mind, and that you could not possible squeeze another  dime out of your paycheck, or you have tried to save a fixed amount each month in the past but have ended up using it to pay bills because you started with too high an amount.

I am talking a small amount. How small? How about ten dollars a paycheck? Twenty dollars if you are paid once a month. Set it up to come out before you get your check. Most people are forced into automatic deposit, and it it very easy to set up a spilt deposit through your employer.
Ten dollars. That is all, less than the price of two fancy coffee drinks, less than two fast food meals, less than two lunches purchased at work.  If you have an bank already, but do not have a savings account, open one, make sure it does not have any fees that will eat away at your savings. You can even open an on-line savings account and set it up an automatic transfer to come out of your paycheck.

Now the next step is really important. Do not look at your balance for the next year. That’s right a whole year. If you are nervous about this, have a trusted friend look at your statements for you, or if your partner is more trustworthy about money have them keep track of the balance.  After one year, when you look at your balance you will be surprised at how quickly the money added up.

If you are like many ADHD people the impulse to spend it will be great. Do not do it! This is the start of your emergency fund. You know the extra money you are supposed to have sitting in the bank for emergencies? This is the seed. I know that some of you read about emergency fund recommendations that are so common in financial self-help books, stating that you should have three to six months of cash saved in a bank account for emergency needs, you stop reading and give up because you can not even imagine how that would happen when you just pay the bills now.

In one year you will have $10.00 X 26 = $260.00  that is if you get paid every two weeks and save $10.00 per pay period,  or $20.00 X 12 = $240.00  if you get paid once per month. It may seem like a small amount , but it is so much better than nothing. The balance will have also increased because of interest. Interest rates are pretty low right now for savings so I did not include them in the illustration, because the point of it is to prove to yourself that you can save money.  It is what I call the slow- cooker method of savings.You just set it up and forget it, and just like a warm home-cooked meal that magically happens when you use a slow-cooker, the money accumulates.  If you are feeling bold after the first year, increase the amount you save per month by five or ten dollars.

Many people are so deep in debt that they believe that there must be some great grand secret that everyone else but them heard at birth, and that they are never going to be able to handle their money, get out of debt, save money, or retire. This strategy also works for retirement accounts, set up as a pre-tax percentage.  I am sure that there are retirement advisers, and people way better at managing money than I am, screaming right now at this approach.  My guess is that they have never had the issues with impulse control, forgetfulness, or holding a steady job that many people with ADD/ADHD have to contend with on a daily basis.

Money issues come with an inner conversation of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and unworthiness about money. Setting up automatic savings can help break the pattern. Try this method, it does work. If you save anything, it is better than saving nothing. Never underestimate the ability of small steps toward a goal, or to prove to yourself that you can accomplish an project. Everyone has to start somewhere, and where you are is the best place to start.

A Reminder: Slow Down

 

I am traveling this week with my family, and decided to re-run this post about taking time to slow down. It is from last October when during a pretty chaotic time.  The winter proved to be just as chaotic and stressful.  If you did not get a chance to read it then here it is:

Taking the Time to Slow Down

Spring! Ohio style.
I will be back next week with a brand new post.

Reminding Myself to Slow Down

Many of my friends posted pictures of their kids going to Homecoming dances this week, and my oldest had a birthday last week and just started a new job that involved a move.  I was reminded that life occasionally feels like you have been shot out of a cannon, and as my oldest friend used to add “without a net”! I know my kids will not always be happy having imaginary train trips on the stairs with all their animal friends. I know that soon the sand box at my mom’s will look like this:

 

And I know that I will look back at the time and wonder where the hell it went.
ADHD people often live life in a blur, we have a great time but sometimes in our rush to get to the next thing we forget to stop, and soak up life,  we are distracted.  Being distracted and busy can interfere with all of our relationships. Establishing respectful communication and listening skills are lessons kids learn best by practice and modeling.
I know if I want my kids to learn how to listen and focus, I need to stop and focus on them when they talk, to really listen, and ask questions if I don’t understand what they are trying to tell me. It is sometimes a struggle when I feel like I need/want to do fifty other things, besides stoping to read a book we have already read a least a hundred times, or listen to them telling me about an event at school.

My goal for myself is to slow down,  remembering to appreciate this time, when boo-boos can still be healed with a kiss. Exploring, getting your hands dirty, and playing are what life is.  I will take the time to do the little things, to ride a magic carpet made of cardboard, to sit in the playhouse and read books, and to stop and dig in the dirt with my kids if that is what they want to do. I can pretend it is for them, but really, it is for me.

Timers-Not just for Cooking

Throw back Timer

Looking back over my posts on how to get things done when you have distraction issues, I talk a lot about using timers. I did not grow up in a home where kitchen timers were used. My mom never used one. I can’t smell the aroma of burnt rice, and not think of my mom. I am not sure when I figured out that the smoke alarm was a poor excuse for a kitchen timer.  I will tell you this: using timers when cooking transformed my kitchen skills.

 For years I used the alarm settings on my digital watch, now I use the timer on my phone because it is loud enough I can hear it over the usual pre-schooler chaos in my house.  A timer does not serve you if you can not hear it.  An added feature of using my phone is the ability to set multiple alarms.

ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by J. Kolberg and K. Nadeau (Buy the book here)  has a very good explanation of how using timers assists ADD/ADHD individuals with time/life management. I found this book at a time when I was really struggling with keeping things together, and it remains one of the most helpful books I have ever read.  My copy is well-worn and tabbed. These are some of the ways I learned to use timers and alarms to overcome my distraction issues.

 Cooking. This is the most obvious, and common use for timers.  When I don’t use my phone, I have a kitchen timer that has a clip so you can clip it to your clothes, and take it with you.This is very helpful for those of us who decide in the middle of fixing dinner that some household project needs to be started/finished, etc.  I am really partial to the digital ones that count down from when the alarm goes off so if you can’t get to the oven at the precise moment things are done you know how long it has been since you missed the alarm.

Laundry.  I  use a timer when doing laundry, and this cuts down on the “Damn- how long has this load of laundry been in here?!” factor, and rewashing clothes because you got distracted while doing the laundry. It also keeps the laundry moving, taking advantage of the residual heat in the dryer.

Writing. I use a timer when I do sprints, challenging myself to write 1000 words in one hour,  and when I am breaking up my writing time by devoting set times to different works-in-progress. I also set an alarm to remind me to pick up the kids. This lets me focus on my writing and not worry that I am going to be late picking them up from school. When you only have 2.45 hours of kid-free writing time you have to make every second count.

Cleaning up with the kids. We set the timer and play beat the clock, racing around trying to see who can pick up the most toys. It makes picking up the toys more fun, although it can get pretty competitive and sometimes we have to stop to break up the melee that results.

 Any task that I really do not want to do.  I set the timer for ten minutes and give myself permission to quit after ten minutes if I want to do something else. Most often, I get over myself and just finish the dang thing because I want to get it over with after I started it.

Exercise. I set the timer when I exercise so that I can focus on the exercise itself.  There are some great exercise program apps that have timers built in. Using a timer instead of counting reps for exercises allows you to work at your own pace, and tailor the workout to your fitness level. These programs also are body weight programs and do not require equipment. My favorite apps are The Seven Minute Workout (free) ,  and YAYOG ( You Are Your Own Gym- $).

There are many timers on the market for people with ADD/ADHD.  For children, these are wearable timers that look, and function like a digital watch, with the added benefit of vibration so the alarm can be discreet, and kids can wear them to school. The Watchminder is also marketed to adults/seniors. Using timers with kids can decrease the parent nag/kid resist behavior loop.

 Wearable timers designed for use by adults/kids have the ability to set multiple alarms, some also function as count-down timers, and stop watches.  These timers are great to use with kids too young to use phones, non-smart phone users, kids/adults whose phones are a distraction, and kids/adults that work in environments that do not allow cell phones.

Using timers with kids with distraction issues, organizational issues, or  ADD/ADHD is a great way to help them focus, learn to monitor their own behavior, and teach them ways to overcome their distraction issues.  Learning self-management is a great self-esteem booster for kids. For parents, using timers with kids decreases parent stress by letting kids take responsibility for their behavior.

Learning to use timers changed my life in very positive ways.  Timers decrease stress in my life. If you haven’t tried using timers, experiment with them. See if they make a difference for you.

Geeky but functional.