Back to Work

It’s the beginning of a new school year at our house — a time of new lunch boxes and backpacks and school supplies. My kids love school, and as much as I love our lazy summer days, I crave the structure that the school calendar brings to our lives. I have taken most of the summer off to reset and recharge, including an almost two weeks long social/screen sabbatical. During part of that, I took my kids’ camping for the first time, and it went well. The best part was the campground had no cell or internet connection, true freedom from 24/7 overload, and a fantastic digital detox. I am energized and well-rested and finally out of the blender.

What is the blender? It’s those times in your life when, just as you are getting settled, starting to get used to the new normal, something else occurs which requires you to change your plans, to find a new way to accomplish the five million and two things on your to-do list. And for those of us who struggle with our ADHD on a good day, and schedule disruption can send us right off the rails and destroy our ability to focus. The unstructured time of summer is both marvelous on one hand because I do like spending time with my kids, but I also struggle because I crave alone time to create. I coped this summer by using my bits of time to research and outline three projects.

Are things going to settle down now? Nope. There will be all the craziness that fall brings. But my kids will be busy at school, and I will have uninterrupted time for writing, or as I like to think of it, playing with my imaginary friends on paper. Now that my kids can read, and read very well, it is hard for me to work with them around and I can’t sneak in the time I used to when they were younger. The fall and winter are my most productive time, and last year, I managed to write two novels and a novella between September and March. I cheat a bit by doing NaNoWriMo every year, and that pushes me to complete a novel in a month.

This year my goal is to complete all three of the books I outlined by May of next year. Can I do it? I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell going to give it a good go, and having the framework in place makes me feel like I can. Not writing over the summer was super hard. Writing is essential for my mental health. Blogging, one of my favorite things to do, and the one thing I try to keep with, no matter what, has been hit or miss the last few months and that has made it much more difficult for me stay on an even keel. Writing, art journaling, and telling stories are my touchstones. The past four months have made that clear to me that no matter what I need to provide time for myself to create. Going forward, I’m getting back to work, knowing that when everything is wacky, and I’m in the blender, the one thing I can do to anchor myself, is writing. My advice, if you are a creator and you’re struggling, set aside a few minutes to create. Even fifteen minutes of writing/drawing/painting or whatever is your creative outlet, can make a difference, make time and create.  

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 hereSign 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 

 

Harder Than It Looks

Welp, I’m not quite half-way through the thirty days of Catherine Price’s How to Break Up with Your Phone. If you missed the first post in this series, you can read it here.
I’ve been journaling my progress, and it was so hard the first week, I almost quit. I have not struggled so much since I had an ulcer and had to give up caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol AT THE SAME TIME. This past week I was all the things many addicts are when they quit: angry, frustrated, short-tempered, restless, and convinced that what I was doing was stupid and wouldn’t make a difference in my life.
Whenever I considered giving up, I took a break, and reread my reasons for doing the program, and that would give me the determination to continue, like most people I can do most anything if I have an important Why.
What I have discovered about myself so far:
1. I crave connections and adrenaline. I resigned from my job in healthcare in August. I have not replaced the kind of relationships I had with co-workers and patients, nor is there anything in my home that will ever replace the rush of working in the hospital. I need to work on this and make new connections. 
2. I increased my consumption of sugar and caffeine to replace the hits of dopamine that I got from social media with sugar and caffeine (note to self, work on this issue next.)
3. My addiction was worse than I thought.
4. The day I deleted social media apps off my phone was the most challenging part of the program, but the most freeing. To be clear, in Price’s program you are allowed to check and interact with social media, but you have to sign in using your browser. The browser experience is so clunky it gave me time to think before I logged in acting as a speed bump to mindless social media time. 
5. The things that have improved: my sleep, my focus, and my relationships. I’m more present and less distracted. My kids know that when I’m with them, I’m really with them, not just killing time until I check my phone.
6. Undertaking this program and changing my relationship with my phone is a change is one that I needed to make.

As hard as this has been so far, I’m happy that I chose this as my project for February. This week was better than last week. I’m not as restless and am doing things I used to do before I became so hooked on my phone.  I’m looking forward to finishing the program. I’ll post my final thoughts and some tips for completing the challenge in March. If you are wondering if you spend too much time on your phone you probably do, don’t be afraid to make a change. So far it has been worth every second of discomfort.

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 

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 

 

Embrace Your Attention Issues: Terese Ramin Interview

 

The bar. Again.

I met Terese Ramin at my first writers’ conference. Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling 2012 to be exact. I was loitering at the bar waiting to register. I noticed Terese’s conference badge, and struck up a conversation. She was presenting at the conference. We spent
most of the evening laughing, talking, and getting to know each other over
fries and good beer.

Terese is gracious,
encouraging, and supportive. She is also has ADD/ADHD, and is a successful novelist, and editor. She very kindly agreed to do an interview for this blog.  I have enjoyed Terese’s books.   This is the link to Terese’s Amazon page.   Her biography follows the interview.

1. When were
you diagnosed with ADD/ADHD?

 Terese: **I
was officially diagnosed with ADD in 1996 when I took my son for diagnosis at
his high school’s request. I took the test with him to be supportive.
2.
Was there a specific event that caused you to seek a diagnosis?
Terese:**My
son’s high school requested that he be tested (and put on medication).
3.
Do you think having a diagnosis helped?
Terese: **Yes,
it helped *me* realize what had always held me back / been “wrong” with me, and
why there were “bad conduct” marks on my school records. Girls didn’t have
ADD/ADHD when I was in grade school.
4.
Have you faced any discrimination because of your diagnosis?
Terese: **No.
As an adult, the only people who know about my ADD/ADHD are those I choose to
tell. And since being ADD/ADHD affects my entire life, I let people know. My
son, on the other hand, didn’t want people to know, didn’t want to take meds,
etc., because it would have labeled him in high school as “one of those kids”
who got called out of class to take a prescription medication. We worked with
his ADD/ADHD in other ways and, boy, am I glad! He’s very successful as a
teacher now.
5.
How did you organize/ focus yourself to write books?
Terese: **When
was first diagnosed, I saw a therapist who gave me suggestions to help keep me
focused – creating a CD that looped with the question “Are you on task?” played
at 5 and 10 minutes  intervals.
I
also used a CD called High Focus that essentially
plays white noise. It was highly effective, especially played softly. I also
used guided meditation and a couple of “In the Zone” CDs that are used to help
athletes maintain focus while they work out.
6.
What is the biggest challenge for you when writing a novel?
Terese: **Oh
man. <G> For writing a novel, I need to get to the place in the book
where I can go into hyper-focus. Hyper-focus is something I’m good at – as long
as I’m being stimulated by what I do, or as long as what I’m doing is a
relatively simple, repetitive task (I’m a great editor due to hyper-focus, and
I’m pretty good at detail work – as long my brain doesn’t decide the details
are boring.) Boredom is my biggest problem.
Another
thing that works is for me to be able to get up and wander around doing simple,
non-thinking tasks as I write – taking care of the laundry, loading the
dishwasher, dusting, etc. Those are things I hate to do, but when I do them
during the process of working on a novel, I don’t have to come out of the
“zone” or the story to do them. Doing
simple tasks allows me to daydream the next line, paragraph, or scene, and
return to the computer able to write a few more pages.
7.
Are you an Outliner or Pantser?
Terese: **HA!
I wish I could outline a novel or create a beat sheet, then just fill in the
blanks on the pages. The moment I start to do that, my brain screams “lunch!”
and refuses to budge – it’s that boredom thing or the restless ADHD thing
kicking in: an outline causes me to tell the story to myself, which means I’ve
already written it, which means “bored now” when it comes to trying to write
all 70-85,000 words.
To
counter this, I give myself a blurb to remind myself where I need to get to
from here, post that on the wall where I can see it, and slowly make my way
toward the end goal: a completed novel.
8.
How do you handle the distraction of the internet?
Terese: **Badly.
I have a routine of getting up in the morning, handling my email, reading the
online news, doing a little Facebook / Twitter / social media to keep my name
out there, but that means I also use up my best creative time. I might be
finished with all of those internet things by 8 a.m., but then the dogs need
attention, there are dirty dishes that need attention, the laundry needs to go
into the dryer, etc. It would be far better for me to revise that routine and
start with writing, but it takes a long time for me to create a routine that
works for me. It’s much easier to fall back on the routine I have. The bottom
line is that I’m much much more productive
if I follow a daily routine, but creating the right routine takes thought and discipline that I sometimes don’t
have.
9.
Do you think that it would have been helpful to be diagnosed at an earlier age?
Terese:**Possibly,
in today’s climate, yes. Back when I was growing up? Maybe – at least then my
parents and teachers would have understood the reason for why I was the way I
was. But being diagnosed earlier – especially back in a time when using
ADD/ADHD medication properly was still pretty new – might also have meant being
medicated, which brings up a whole new world of issues.
10.
What advice would you give writers struggling with attention issues?
Terese: **Embrace
your attention issues. I look at my son who’s always done seven or eight things
at the same time – and that worked for him. When he was in school, if he wasn’t
listening to at least one sporting event, playing the guitar (or the bassoon,
or something), reading a book, talking on the phone, trolling the internet AND
doing his homework, I knew he wasn’t getting his schoolwork done. He’s never
needed to be medicated and I’m proud of the man he’s become.
But
I also look at the way he innately handled his ADD/ADHD and I realize that my
own process of staying in the zone by doing housework while I’m writing is much
the same thing. I just need to “stay on task” get back to that routine.
 I hope that reading Terese’s interview inspires you to start writing if you haven’t and to keep going if you have stopped.
Biography:
Terese Ramin is the award winning
author of eleven novels and numerous short stories. Her autobiographical essay,
“Two-Puppy Theory”, is included in the anthology The Sound and the Furry, sales of which benefit the International
Fund for Animal Welfare. The Cured,
her most recent release with author David Wind, is her first suspense-thriller.
Her next release will be an urban paranormal romance with writing partner Dawn
Johanson.
Aside from writing, Terese works
as an editor, ghost writer, book doctor, and a paranormal investigator. She
lives in Michigan with her husband and a bunch of rescued dogs.

Embracing the Work of You: Ten Tips for a More Organized Life

Bucky 2009

Staying on top of your “to do” list. Being on time. Having clean clothes. Being able to find what you need when you need it. Staying on a task until it its complete. ADD/ADHD makes each of these tasks seem impossible at times. I often feel like Sisyphus, rolling that dang bolder up the hill just to watch it roll away again.

The truth is, no one ever has it all together. Everyone struggles to keep up with their lives. For those of us with distraction issues it feels like we carry extra weight on our journey.

I have a great brain for remembering every little bit of information that comes my way, but I still have to put the car keys away in the same place every time, or I can not remember where I put them.  I label the shelves in the refrigerator so I can remember to put food back where it goes, and my toothbrush has colored tape on it because I can’t remember which color toothbrush is mine. Silly? Maybe, but it keeps my from brushing my teeth with other peoples toothbrushes!

 When I get frustrated with myself have to remember that most people do not contend with a brain that will drop everything to watch, and perhaps follow a stray ant that happens along. Most people can filter out the unimportant from the important. Most people would comprehend that starting that wallpaper stripping project at midnight,  just because you notice that part of it is already starting to peel anyway, might not be a good course of action.

After years of being angry and frustrated with myself, I finally decided to make friends with my brain, and to find ways to work with what I have.  If you are struggling with organization, and keeping up with events in your life try these organization tips.

  1. Automate everything possible.  Sign up for E-Bills, schedule up automatic bill payments, schedule routine deliveries of household items (toilet paper, etc.),  subscribe to mail order/ automatic prescriptions refills.  Take advantage of services available. 
  2. Use labels on the outside, and on the inside containers, drawers, and cupboards to help you remember what goes where and where things are.  For young kids pictures work well. The inside label system  works well for chests of drawers and helps to keep clothing organized.
  3. Use a checklist for groceries. There are many free downloads on line. Find one and use it, or create your own. Train everyone to check things off as you use them.
  4. Create a landing zone and have a routine for entering the house. This works for kids and adults. Create a routine, such as: hang keys up, shoes off, coats hung, bags/ backpacks/ purses/ etc hung up, hands washed. Cubbies, hooks, key racks and shoe racks work well to keep things off the floor and where you need them when you leave. 
  5. Create a household task schedule. It can be a simple as knowing that every Wednesday and Sunday you are doing laundry, and cleaning the bathroom every Saturday.
  6. Clean the kitchen after each time you cook. This will 1) save you money as you will not be as tempted to go out to eat, or order a pizza, and 2) provide a sense of accomplishment because at least the kitchen is clean!
  7. Lay out out your clothes for the next day, have your kids do the same. This will save time in the morning, and prevent last minute scurrying around trying to find clothes that fit, and that are clean. 
  8. Have a place to open mail and pay bills. Do not open mail anyplace else. Train everyone to place mail in the same place.  This system will prevent lost misplaced bills, etc. 
  9. Have a main calendar for the family. Place it where everyone can see it. Use different colors for each person’s schedule.  REVIEW the calendar nightly!  If you don’t look at it you might as well not have one.
  10. Maintain a sense of humor. Everyone misses appointments, forgets things, has to find the cleanest dirty shirt to wear, or scrambles at the last minute to get things together.  Give yourself a break and go back to your system.
These are some of the things that I do to keep my life going on a somewhat even keel. I hope they help and if you have suggestions, send them along! 

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.