Most people today feel a constant assault of information and distraction from every direction. And for those of us with ADHD, our constant tension between thoughts feels less like a game of tug-of-war, and more like an erratic Spider-Man swinging through the city.
Part one of this article is about my experience working with an attention disorder, and after hearing from designers out there who face similar issues, I decided to continue the conversation with part 2. Whether you’re officially diagnosed or not, I hope these specific tools can be helpful to you.
To get through the day, I use these three types of tools:
Routines and processes
Routines and Processes
Ultimately, creativity is a boring process.
Creativity takes 1) a problem to solve, 2) time to solve it, and 3) repeated attempts at solving it before finally landing at the “creative” solution. By developing a framework to manage your time, you can re-budget your energy to towards the solution.
Here are a couple frameworks I use:
Follow the Agile methodology
Every time I bring up Agile, I feel like everyone groans, but I find it very helpful. Agile forces everyone on the project to also prioritize the upcoming work, which means I don’t get anxiety from every task bouncing around in my head. Shared responsibility, y’all! Also, for Agile to work, it’s vital to have support from business. You can’t do it on your own.
Have a consistent morning routine
Before my medicine kicks in, I need a way to deal with ADHD by removing the ability to focus on something else. Doing the exact same thing every morning engages auto-pilot, and keeps my brain from latching onto every low-priority task. My key morning events are to wake up at 6am, eat breakfast at 7:45am, shower at 8am, walk into work at 9am, and at 9:15 take my medicine and drink one cup of coffee.
Seems simple enough, but this process took about three years to perfect.
When choosing software, I consider the shortest distance between Point A and Point B. Where Point A is the initial spark of an idea, like “I need to open that-logo.ai” or ”I have to schedule that meeting,” and Point B is the resolution/completion.
Less time between Point A and Point B means less time for me to forget what I was doing, give up trying to remember, and then concede by checking Twitter for the 5th time today.
The software that helps me the most is Alfred, Todoist, and IFTTT.
Alfred is my greatest ally to quickly doing anything on my machine. It does a million things, but I want to concentrate on just two.
Expand email addresses: Nothing is more frustrating than when mistyping my email address five times in a row. To lessen this, I set up auto-expanding snippets. For example, typing rbr immediately expands my work email address to firstname.lastname@example.org, and typing gae expands my personal email address to email@example.com. This works in any file, software, or web form.
Launching local environments: I hesitated at lot when I restarted my computer before I built this workflow. How long would it take to start the local projects again? Was it worth it to do right now? Those were precious seconds wasted, and this workflow alleviates those questions by quickly starting services when I need them. To launch any local environment, I open Alfred, type local and select a project from the list. In 5-10 seconds, I have the server running, Sass running, browser open, Sublime Text open, the git branch updated, and any other related service has been launched.
I have a note in my studio that says “use fewer tools more effectively,” and Todoist is my way to synchronize everything I need to do in one spot. I still check Trello and Google Calendar for more information, but this redundancy means there is less chance of completely missing certain tasks.
For example, IFTTT drops any event on my Google Calendar into Todoist, labels it as “meeting,” and gives it a due date. In the same way, I also push Trello cards assigned to me to Todoist as well.
There are many services out there that shorten the time from thinking about doing something to completing something. For me, Alfred, Todoist, and IFTTT are indispensable.
While software helps in the digital space, I have some tangible things that I use to relax my brain, allow it to act naturally, and give into the drive to be distracted — even though that may seem counterintuitive.
Sometimes the best thing to do when my ADHD can’t be tamed is to concede for a few minutes and give it something to focus on. Even when my brain doesn't want to cooperate, I can't give up entirely... I just let the leash out a bit more.
Say what you will, but I find these toys really helpful. I have a couple of them, but my favorite is easily the classy-looking The Bar from WeFidget. It has no lights or fancy colors, and won’t be out of place sitting on a conference room table. However, don't forget that while playing with them keeps you focused, it’s painfully distracting for everyone else talking to you. Just keep it under the table.
I recently purchased what I now realize will be the first of many mechanical keyboards. The tactile keys make all the difference in making computer work feel more tangible. Also, my keyboard has RGB backlighting. One setting is called "raindrops" which feels like a disco ball hit by lightning. I'll turn it on to stare at the colors for a minute or two; this feels a lot like meditation and scratches the distraction itch in the most satisfying way.
Using these tools
Like I mentioned at the end of part one, none of these solutions will cure mental disorders. They can only help some issues created by them.
While discussing my philosophy about productivity and efficiency, someone once asked me, “Why are you so organized and process-oriented?”
Because I have to be.
And thankfully, there are tools out there to help. You just have to put the effort in to discover them.