Scheduling a Day

I don't know how many of you deal with Adult ADHD, or ADHD symptoms. I know it's more common than I thought, and that it's usually considered a kid problem that adults don't have to deal with. For years, I had coping mechanisms in place so firmly that I didn't even realize this was still a problem for me.

It is, though, and that can make things really hard on a day when I want to get a lot of writing done. Say, like... during NaNoWriMo.

This year, I've been struggling more than usual, and over the past few weeks, it's been especially hard. My routine fell apart multiple times in quick succession, and since that's been a problem, the rest of my life has sort of lost the glue that holds it together. For those of you that don't deal with ADHD, allow me to summarize an explanation for you.

On a normal day, I need a list or a routine to tell me what I'm supposed to do next. It often looks something like this:

This tells me what things need to be done and how many individual tasks I need to address in a day. Usually it's broken down into 3 big tasks or 4-5 smaller tasks. Today, I have "Astoria Trip?" on the list because I don't know if it's happening today, and that's a Big Task. It will take all day and prevent me from doing some of the other things on my list, like scripting my podcast or writing a letter to Kana.

If I don't have a list, I need a routine, which usually starts as a list, but I stop using the list because it doesn't change, and I have a mental copy of it that I can check things off of as I get them done. This is usually how it boils down when I'm at work.

In the first few weeks, the new boss will give me a list of tasks I am expected to complete while on duty, and after a while I stop referring to the list because I have established a routine.

When this routine is interrupted or changed, and I can't do things in the same order as I'm accustomed to, it takes more mental energy to remember what has been done and what hasn't. If I am stressed or upset, or if the routine is too badly rearranged to allow for complete recall, then I need to refer to the list.

But see... this is a problem. I don't always realize when the routine is damaged beyond repair, and I need to look at my list again.

If I have neither a list nor a routine, then I find it extremely difficult to motivate myself to do anything at all. I may say to myself "I'll do thus-and-such today," but if I don't put it on a list, and it's not part of my routine, chances are it's not going to happen.

In addition, if it's an active thing (like going for a run or scrubbing the kitchen) and the situation is not aligned for that task (I only run in the morning, before my to-do list is addressed, and I only clean the kitchen when there's no one else in the kitchen) then that task often gets left undone, even if it's on my list.

So, this is a big old mess in my brain that I've been living with for years, and in general I know how to handle it well enough.

You may reasonably ask me why I don't just do the things I know need to be done. My grandmother (bless her heart, she's one of my readers - love you, Gramma!) is one such person, who would very much like it if I walked into a room, saw what needed to be done, and just did the things that needed doing.

I would also like this. But my brain doesn't work that way.

If it's not on my list and it's not part of my routine, then I simply don't see that it needs to be done. Or I do see that it needs to be done, but I don't have the tools to initiate that action in my brain. That's part of how ADHD works.

In addition, if I have too many items on my list (more than 3 Big Tasks or more than 5 Small Tasks) then I will get overwhelmed, and lose access to the tools I need to initiate those tasks, even though they're on my list and I know they need to be done.

So if we loop back to our usual stomping grounds and look at how this affects my writing, you may see something that it took me a very long time to recognize. On a normal day, writing is a Small Task. It takes me less than an hour, and its enjoyable enough that I usually don't have a problem with concentrating on it.

During NaNoWriMo, though, I'm trying to write a good deal more than usual in one sitting, and writing becomes a Big Task.

This year, knowing I have neither the tools nor the emotional capacity to deal with an additional Big Task on my list every day of the week, I have decided to lower the bar for my NaNo goal. Rather than aiming for 50,000 words in 30 days, I am aiming for 45 minutes to an hour of writing every day, which is small enough to count as a Small Task but big enough to feel like a Big Goal. (Also, I'm writing it all out by hand because it helps me avoid distractions.)

Flexibility is not my strong suit, honestly, but I'm working on mechanisms that help me cope. I have to rebuild those every now and then, otherwise they warp and crumble and eventually fall apart. I hope this has helped some of you lovely Inklings, one way or another.

For those that struggle as I do with lists and routines, maybe take a look at Habitica, which is both a website and an app, so you can make a list, and check off the tasks on your phone while you gain experience, collect pets, and go on adventures with your friends. It helps me, sometimes. I hope it helps you, too.

#productivity #ADHD #life

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