Category Archives: Living with ADD (ADHD)

Video: Mindfulness Meditation Tips for ADD or Active Minds


In this video I share a simple technique that people with ADD or active minds can use to get into their deepest meditations. Unlike the age-old 4/4 techniques that work for everyone else, adding rhythmic complexity and novelty helps the active mind successfully reach a deep meditative state.

Different Drummer Book, Excerpt #2

Note: You can find the previous excerpt here

Chapter 1, Part 2

“Where are we going?” I asked, as I climbed into the waiting car.

“To meet a little boy”, Lloyd said. We were on one of our many “field trips” where Lloyd would show me a side to drumming that I was unfamiliar with as a player of popular music.

Over the previous six months Lloyd had taught me the traditional rhythms he and his ancestors had used for centuries. He taught me their origins and was beginning to initiate me into the healing aspects of drumming. These healing powers, he described, were based on a connection to the sacred and tied to behavior.  I’d learned to trust Lloyd and, though I was uncomfortable with some of the spiritual connections he talked about, I was traveling a path that many drummers had followed before me and I was enthralled by all I was experiencing. This field trip was my first glimpse into a world where drumming was used to affect behavior.

We drove along for about fifteen minutes before Lloyd said, “Remember during the healing ritual last week when the young woman starting acting out, throwing her body and flailing around?” He asked.

I nodded. Thinking back on my first real initiation into age-old drum-healing ceremonies. In this ceremony we drummed while a priestess (Manbo) invoked Orishas (spirits) to facilitate the healing of a woman with an illness (a process I describe in Chapter 3).

“In our world when someone is acting outside of the community’s norms they are said to be possessed. It’s our job as drummers to help people keep clear of possession. We do this by using the power of the group, through celebration and ritual, to keep the community cohesive and to see the signs that someone is not acting right. Then if we observe this or a community member alerts us to inappropriate behavior, we intervene. That’s what we’ll be doing today.”

We drove along for another fifteen minutes before Lloyd said, “We’re going to meet a boy who is aggressive, often violent, doesn’t follow directions, doesn’t communicate, won’t be touched and screams when asked to come out of his shell.”

“So, how are we going to help?” I asked. “I know we can influence behavior by drumming, but this sounds like a mental disorder, not some spirit thing.”

“Well, it is.” He answered. “In Shango we frame any acting out or non-conforming behavior as having a spiritual cause. This is a holdover from a time when we didn’t have the language to describe these things in the way we do today. This is just another way a viewing what is now considered psychological or mental health issues.

Think if it this way, when you’re feeling down sometimes you may say: ‘I don’t feel like myself’. In village culture your loved ones may say that you are suffering from a illness of spirit. It’s the same thing. And it doesn’t matter from our perspective. We do the same work either way.”

“What’s that,” I asked.

“We play the drum,” he said. And that was the last he said until we arrived at our destination.

We were in an affluent part of town in west LA. The house was large and imposing and was entered through a locked gate. There were 2 beautiful foreign luxury cars parked out front and the views of the LA basin and Pacific Ocean were astounding. This was in large contrast to the run-down church we played at just a week earlier in San Pedro’s shipping district.

We were met by a familiar looking, stunning black woman. She gave Lloyd a hug and said, “Nice to see you again, Jeff. Are you ready for another initiation?” Hearing her voice I finally recognized her. She was the manbo!

“Um, yeah”, I mumbled, not sure how to respond.

She guided us into the house where a young family was seated in the sunroom. There was a boy of about 6 sitting on his knees on the floor pushing a Lego truck back and forth while rocking and humming to himself. The man and woman stood and we all said hello. The boy continued to sit, absorbed in his ritual.

“Ty”, the woman’s said to the child. “Say hello to master Lloyd. You remember him, don’t you?”

No response.

Lloyd leaned down and touched the boys shoulder. “Hello, Ty. It’s nice to see you again. Do you mind if I play my drum for you?” he said.

Again, no response. No one seemed surprised by this and no one forced the boy to engage. Lloyd simply asked me to get the drums and set them up by two chairs. I did as he asked, while he quietly chatted with the parents.

Once set up, Lloyd sat behind two drums (barrel-shaped drums that originate from Cuba, a conga and a tumba) and began playing. Slowly, quietly he centered on muted tones seemingly being careful not to startle the child. I sat and watched.

Lloyd played quietly for a while then slowly he increased the volume and intensity, adding some slap tones and bass punches to the mix. I noticed that once in a while the boy looked over toward Lloyd. Then after 10 minutes or so the boy got up.

He moved around somewhat aimlessly for a few minutes until he went over and sat on his mother’s lap. Lloyd continued playing but toned down the rhythms a bit. The child sat rocking and humming against his mother while she held him. She began to cry.

####

I sat looking at Stacey as she sat contentedly on the floor still playing with a toy. Her mother returned from the kitchen, her phone call over, settled onto the couch next to me, and smiled as she watched Stacey.

“I’ve not seen her this calm in a long time,” she whispered in my ear after a while.

I noddod and took it as a sign that I should call this an end to our first session. I slowed my rhythms and progressively dropped the volume until my drumming faded away.

I’ve come full circle, I thought. Just a decade earlier I was in a similar situation when Lloyd showed me for the first time what it meant to calm an anxious disconnected child with fast, complex drumming rhythms when he played for Ty.

#### 

“Hello, Ty,” Lloyd said as we entered the house. Ty was spinning around the entry eyes at the ceiling two stories above. Ty offered no response. Lloyd motioned for me to go to the sunroom and to set up the drums where we had the day before.

“Ty seems a little more settled every day,” I heard his mother tell Lloyd. “Last night he went to bed without a meltdown. After his bath he climbed into bed and sat quietly while a read to him. Two books and I turned out the light. He slept until 5:30 this morning. We actually got some rest, too.”

She was excited and Lloyd seemed pleased. I heard him mention something about the purpose of the drumming but I was essentially out of earshot and needed to focus on setting up the drums and preparing the space, so I didn’t catch most of what he said to her. I could tell she was focused on what he was saying, often nodding in agreement and appreciation for what he was describing.

This is our fifth visit to Ty in as many days. This time I came prepared with a pocket tape recorder. I wanted to document what Lloyd played. For the last four days I sat and watched as Lloyd engaged with Ty in a way that  made little sense to me.

I noticed some interesting connections, though. First were the focusing effects I felt when I played certain exercises for my classes at MI and second was the similarity to some of the odd patterns Ralph Humphrey had in his book, Even in the Odds.

This book, along with Joe Porcaro’s Drumset Method and Ted Reed’s Progressive Steps to Syncopation For the Modern Drummer, had become my main references in school. These books energized me and helped me stretch my rhythm muscles in a way that playing common rhythms in traditional time signatures didn’t.

Most music, especially forms of popular music such as rock, blues, folk, jazz, and hip hop, follow common time structures. You essentially have two basic feels: Straight and swing.

So you can either count a measure in music as 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, giving a straight two pulse, or you can count it as 1tu tu 2 tu tu 3 tu tu 4 tu tu, giving it a swing.

From these two basic underlying structures you can cover nearly every song played today.

When I was working as a gigging drummer, I played a lot of pick up gigs, where I showed up at a gig and played with people I often never played with before. As a drummer even if I didn’t know the song, if I knew the feel, I could make my way through the song. If the song swung, I’d swing, if it was straight, I’d played straight. If you can do this and if you focused on the rest of the rhythm section and supported the melody, you’d be golden and more than likely be called back.

This is all to say that the rhythms I was hearing Lloyd play, and found myself playing, were not typical, which was fine with me.

So, as I was playing for people like Stacey and recording and analyzing what I played for them, I was looking at the rhythms and their responses I was remembering what Lloyd said to me one time early on in my studies with him.

“Each rhythm has a purpose”, he said. “You have to find the right rhythm to draw the spirit out. You play the wrong rhythm, or even the right rhythm at the wrong time, and you won’t be able to hear your patient. Know your rhythms and you find your power.”

So, as I was making tapes for people I was looking for pattern in the rhythm and listener response. This was a monumental task and one that was without a roadmap.

I’ve always been really good at seeing patterns and with the two that I had seen so far I wanted to begin looking at them in a more focused and structured way. This led me down the path I’ve been following for over two decades.

####

“Stacey slept in her own room last night,” reported her mother when I showed up at her house two days after first playing for her.  I tried to explore this with her, but Stacey, accosted me at the door.

“Hi Jeff,” Stacey said looking past me and grabbing my drum from my hand. She struggled with the forty-pound case and nearly tripped over me.  Unfazed, she continued talking. “Belle likes books. I like reading books too. Do you like reading books? I like books, Belle likes books.” She said in a flurry.

Stumbling with my drums and recording equipment I said, “umm, yeah, I like to read. Who’s Belle?” I asked.

“Belle likes reading books just like me” she responded, not answering my question, while dropping my drum and grabbing a picture book. I disappeared from her awareness as she was drawn into the pictures and her own world.

I shrugged and continued setting up.

Belle, I later found out, is the main character in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, one of Stacey’s favorite movies, one that she watched over and over and would talk about endlessly if you let her. She created an entire inner world with Belle as her friend.

Stacey was much calmer this day. She was not clinging to her mom, though I could see that she was acutely aware of where her mother was and at one point I saw her tense up when her mother walked toward the kitchen.

I decided this was a good time to start playing so I tapped a tentative rhythm with my fingertips, making sure not to startle her. Her sister, who is two years older and typical, came into the living room and sat down near Stacey to read a book.

They both sat quietly as I played a large variety of rhythms, tempos, and volumes. I played for about twenty minutes and really didn’t see much of a response from Stacey at all. I noted that her mother wasn’t in the room the entire time I played and Stacey didn’t seem to care.

This was fine with me as it wasn’t always about getting a reaction. In this instance I was testing out a bunch of rhythms that I would put on a tape for her to listen to everyday with the goal of helping calm her down when she got anxious and to, hopefully, provide a longer term impact on her anxiety. 

This long-term change concept came directly from my studies with Lloyd and was something I was beginning to explore in a more formalized way. Typically I would meet with someone and play for them while recording the session and having someone take notes about responses to the different rhythms. Then I would come back two or three days later and play again taking notes and recording my session. Then it was back to my studio to analyze the recording and notes and to make a recording of the rhythms that offered the most positive response.

“Goodbye, Stacey” I said as I grabbed my gear and headed out the door. Just like last time she was engrossed in a toy and didn’t answer me or even acknowledge my exit.

#### 

Two days later I returned to Stacey’s house to drop off the tape.

“Are you going to play your drum today?” asked Stacey.

“Not today” I said. “I’m only here to give your mom a tape for you to listen to. Would you like to listen to a tape of my drumming?”

“Mommy turn it on now!” She replied.

She grabbed my hand and led me to the couch. “Turn on the tape mommy and we’ll listen.”

Stacey was insistent and excited and she listened intently for about 35 seconds before she was back on the floor with a toy. I moved to the floor with her to see if we could play together but she wasn’t interested, pushing me away when I tried to interfere with her play. She spun a toy on a book over and over again.

I got up and said goodbye to her mother, leaving them with the tape and instructions to play it at bedtime or any other time Stacey got anxious. I also left a tracking form for her mother to complete to see if there were any patterns to Stacey’s anxiety or reactions to the tape.

Obviously tapes were not possible in the days that this technique originally developed but in Lloyd’s tradition he would often either move in with his patient or the patient would move in with him for a while and he would play everyday for the person until the spirit possessing the patient would move on. This was impractical for me and, given that I also worked in a recording studio, I had the equipment to be able to make a tape for the person to listen to so I wouldn’t have to be available for her everyday.

Stephanie’s mother called me after 7 weeks, excited by an event that occurred the night before. She reported that Stephanie had a sleep-over at a new friend’s house, a first for her on several levels: First, Stephanie had never been invited to a sleep-over before, second, she was able to separate from her mother to actually to on the sleep-over, and third, the next morning she was able to describe in proper sequence what she did at the sleep-over. These were major milestones for her.

Stephanie was also perseverating less and engaging in more appropriate conversation. She was also making eye contact more often. After roughly 10 weeks, she was observed in class by the school psychologist who noted that, based on her behaviors, Stephanie was “indistinguishable” from the typical children in the classroom. As a result she was mainstreamed into the regular (non-special education) classroom.

As was typical, when I analyzed the recording and listened to the rhythms I played for Stacey I was surprised at the complexity of the rhythms I was playing. Many times I had to slow down the playback to figure out what I had played.

This was something that continually surprised me. Even the first time I heard Lloyd play for a patient.

You can read an excerpt from Chapter 2 here 

Productivity and ADHD or Getting Stuff Done When Your Brain Gets in the Way

The last couple of months, in the height of our busiest season, I’ve managed to record a ton of music. I also wrote a 40-page book proposal and two research journal articles. 

For my music, I increased our database of track combinations on Brain Shift Radio from about 100,000 to over 140,000. No, I didn’t record 40,000 tracks – these are combos, so I actually created somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 new tracks, a little over 50 hours of new music. No matter how you slice it, though, this a lot of music to record and requires a significant level of sustained focus.

For a typcial person this is pretty prolific, but for someone with ADHD it’s astounding.

Or is it?

To many people, having ADHD (ADD, AD/HD) makes getting stuff done nearly impossible. ADHD’ers often have so much trouble with their attention, motivation, and follow-through that ideas whither and die before anything gets done. Forget writing and recording a couple of songs, much less creating this much material. This must be from magic or at least some really high doses of stimulant medications, right?

Not for me. No magic. No meds (I tried them once – what a nightmare. Someday I’ll post something about that). So, what’s my secret? 

I’ll get to that, but first I want to mention that Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without hyperactivity) could be more accurately called “Attention Variability Disorder”. Here’s how it often plays out:

  • People with ADHD can’t necessarily control their focus. Sometimes you can focus, sometimes you can’t. This the most maddening part of ADHD. You wake up with a great idea, sit down to work it out, and can’t keep your attention in place long enough to make it into something. What’s worse is that most people with ADHD have no shortage of great ideas. So when they get stuck on one there is another waiting for attention (which, of course, the attention never comes). What you see is someone flitting from one idea to another with nothing getting finished.
  • Most people with ADHD can focus. In fact many can focus so well that nothing else matters. This is called hyper-focusing. This is a common trait among ADHD’ers and can cause as many problems as not being able to focus at all. Imagine getting caught up in some minor detail – such as getting the perfect guitar tone – that you can’t move beyond. You spend all day tweaking the settings only to run out of time or energy. Then the next day you may not have any focus, much less the hyper kind. So, ultimately the times you focus are spent on distractions that get you nowhere.

On the other hand, these traits can be used to get stuff done. Lots of it, in my case.

One of the beautiful traits of my ADHD is that I’m highly creative. I never run out of ideas and new ways of doing things. I’m also not afraid of my ideas or of putting them out into the world.

I’ve watched other artists struggle with their “demons” – you know, the inner critic that says anything you create sucks. History is filled with tons of very smart, creative artists who either didn’t do their work or who self-destructed because of these demons. I have nothing but compassion for my fellow artists who live this way.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have any demons. None. Instead I have an inner cheerleader. So, I have no idea what these people go through. And I’m sorry I can’t help you if you have your demons (I’ve tried to suggest the “ignore the demons and work through it” thing only to get slammed in the proces, so I won’t go there).

Anyway, this blog post is not about inner demons and how to deal with them (an exorcism, perhaps?). This about getting stuff done in spite of an unruly brain.

My brain, like a lot of people with ADHD, can be tamed and the traits that often stifle focus in many can be harnessed to get lot of stuff done. This section will cover my process.

Prep Separately

I hate preparation. All the little things that have to be done before I can actually work can stop me in my tracks. Working through the preparation is always uncomfortable. Physically. I feel feverish and nauseous. And I get angry at having to do these things. As you may guess, these feelings are not conducive to getting stuff done. So, the only way I can be productive and deal with these feelings is to separate the prep from the work.

This part of the process, by the way, is highly connected to the essentials I talk about in another post. If I’m doing my daily essentials this process gets easier; whereas if I’m not doing them, then preparation really, really sucks.

For me the prep looks like this: I dedicate one day or part of a day to setting up everything – session parameters, instruments, mics, and preamp levels. I can then go in later after a break and do the work I need to do.

I don’t let myself get distracted by things outside this prep. For example, if my desk is cluttered I won’t spend an hour (or day or week) trying to organize it. It’s not a priority so I just move the pile somewhere else to deal with later (yes, sometimes later never comes. This is where help comes in – I ask someone else to do it).

As an aside, this is important: If you have the means one of the best things you can do as a person with ADHD is to delegate tasks you know you can’t or won’t do. There is no shame in letting other people do what you hate to do. In fact, as hard as it may be to believe some people like to organize, some are actually very good at it. And enjoy it (I know, weird, isn’t it?). Wouldn’t it be better to let them do what gives them joy so you can focus on what you do best?

Spiral In

There is a time for details and a time for working on the big picture. People with ADHD tend to be big picture people. Minor details either stop us or suck us in and distract us from finishing the important stuff. When I work, I start from the outside with the big picture and work my way into the details as I go.

For example, when I work on the rhythm tracks for Brain Shift Radio I start by laying out a map of the rhythms and the tempo changes for a bunch of tracks, usually around 10. This is after the prep of creating sessions and setting up my drums and mics. This process can go quickly, usually just a couple of hours.

Then I record all the tracks I want to record. This can take many hours and it gets pretty exhausting, but I often get into a groove (in more ways than one) and can cruise through a lot in a little time. I don’t stop to fix mistakes. I leave them in. In fact, if you listen closely to the tracks on Brain Shift Radio you can hear some instances where I tripped over myself. But the thing is, these mistakes and inconsistencies are important for my music to have the effects that it does.

That said, because I’ve been playing so long none of these mistakes are big. You’d have to listen really carefully to hear them. In the rare occasion where I make a big mistake, I don’t stop recording. Instead I simply replay that section and cut out the messed up section later. The important thing is that I don’t stop recording.

After I have a ton of recorded tracks, I start the editing and mixing process. At this point I’m into the details and this is where I can get stuck again. So, to keep this from happening I…

Let go of perfection

The tendency to hyper-focus is fed by the need for perfection. Forget perfection. Perfection is an illusion and not attainable anyway, so why bother even trying. Close enough is good enough.

Of course, there is a huge difference between doing “good enough” and doing shoddy work. And you don’t want to do shoddy work.

You need to set a standard for yourself and your work and live up to it. But what you don’t want is to be paralyzed by the need for perfection. If your “good enough” is truly not good enough then you need to work on your skills so that you can produce high-quality good enough results.

The funny thing about being an artist is that your “good enough” will grow as you gain skills and experience. I’ve been playing drums for 40 years, professionally for 35, so my skills are pretty good. This helps me move quickly and produce consistently good enough results that are of very high quality. If you’re new to any of the skills necessary to play and record your music, you either need to take some more time to woodshed (practice) or allow yourself some room to work on your skills as you go. Just be careful not to get stuck on details that truly don’t matter (such as the rimshot on the snare drum in the 4th beat of the 27th bar).

Stick with it

I’ve written six books and over thirty journal articles, but I’m not a writer. Writers love to sit and write. I hate it.

Hate it, I say.

But I do it anyway. And for me, this requires sticking with it until I’m past my point of resistance (which some days lasts a long time).

I’ve spent days staring at a chapter or a song, putting something in, taking it out, trying something else, erasing it. Or, worse yet, writing something that looked good at the the time but made me wonder what the heck I was thinking upon reviewing it the next day.

Creative blocks are inevitable in any worthy project and require a certain amount of determination and sweat to break through. I often give myself a time-frame to work on the blockage before moving on. The length of time varies depending on the project type. For example, I’ll give myself an entire day or more for a book chapter, but only a couple of hours for a song. Only experience will guide you on how much time to devote to muscling through the tough times, but I recommend forcing yourself to focus (or to try to focus) for at least an hour before giving up and moving on.

This has to be an honest hour, not just watching the clock until the time is up. You have to try.

Note: During this time trying I often force myself to get some physical movement as I’m trying to get going. Some pushups, sun salutations, or, for me, time on one of my drums, gets the blood flowing. And more blood flow to the brain means more cognitive resources.

Shameless plug: I also listen to Brain Shift Radio as I work.

Anyway, if you’ve hit your time limit and feel as though you gave it your best shot, it may be time move on to something else. Which leads to…

Know when to quit

Anytime I’m creating, I’m working on more than one big project at a time. This is important because there are times when things just don’t gel and no amount of sticking with it is going to get me past my blocks. These blocks require the subconscious workings of my spatially-heightened ADHD brain.

So, in these instances I switch to one of my other big projects. I choose a project of significance because it’s easy to get lazy and develop a pattern of not being productive. If I choose some simple or insignificant task, I feel like I’m letting myself off the hook and lowering my expectations for myself. Then it’s just a matter of time before I’m spending hours on the couch watching movies.

For me, it’s important to keep a high level of expectation and drive in my life. This means that I have to know what has to be done on any given project so I spend as little time as possible thinking and as much time as possible doing. This is why it’s important to…

Keep Your Goals In Mind

There are days that the process sucks so badly I want to stop (especially when that dusty keyboard is staring me in the face and I just need to get out the Q-tip and spend an hour excavating every particle…).

Hang on…

I’m back. What was I saying?…

Oh yeah, keep the goal in mind. Don’t get sidetracked by distractions…

Seriously, big projects (you know, the kind of grand visions that us ADHD’ers get all the time) take a commitment that having ADHD often doesn’t play with well.

To stay on track, I keep a list of my goals along with whatever steps I need to be taking to get the project done. When I write these goals and their associated steps I put in as much detail as I can think of so that I don’t get sidetracked by unnecessary tasks or, worse yet, get hit with a lack of clarity which can send me back to the beginning and sabotage any progress I’ve made so far. So, the more detailed each action plan is for my project, the easier it is for me to stay on track.

Note: Try not to worry about putting all the details in your action plan to begin with. This can keep you from even building a list. Instead write down the tasks you can think of and add to it as you get clearer. The goal is to keep things moving.

The process of brainstorming and creating the big picture and the process of accomplishing goals are very different. Most times, the creative process involves the kind of thinking where an unfettered ADHD brain excels. This is the time of brainstorming, making connections, and thinking spatially. On the other hand, it’s the step-by-step grind that most ADHD people struggle with, but it’s these steps that make the project work.

With a detailed action plan containing small steps, doing these tasks actually becomes easier. And, because my attention span is shortened significantly whenever I encounter a mundane task, the trick I use is to make each task as small as possible so that none of them become mundane. This means that you need to…

Know your limits

One of the most important things that you can learn is what your threshold is for the mundane and how certain types of tasks fit in relation to this limit. For me, placing mics and setting levels are activities where I have little patience. And where I quickly lose interest. This is why I set them aside for preparation and why I use a Jecklin disc to record with.

Not to get too far afield, but a Jecklin disc is a mic stand that positions two matched microphones in perfect alignment with one another so I consistently get proper phase coherence without fussing around with this alignment as I move the mics to find the best location in the room for the instrument I’m recording.

Because I only have to think about where the instruments sound best in a room I can move quickly and not get bored or distracted my the minutia of phase alignment.

Other tasks, such as creating cool synth sounds, fill me with wonder and joy. I can spend a very long time tweaking oscillators or effects to dial in just the right sound for a particular ambient track without getting bored. So, my threshold for tweaking synth sounds is much higher than for positioning microphones. The flip-side is that, because I love this process and it never gets boring, it’s easy for me to hyper-focus on creating awesome synth sounds. So, I am careful to save this task for times when hyper-focusing is okay.

Knowing the difference between my threshold for various task types makes it easier for me to choose the task that fits my mood and attentional reserves. Choosing the right task for where I’m at keeps me moving forward on my goals and allows me to…

Feel successful

Nothing breeds success better than success. Little victories along the way to a big goal keep me motivated and on track. So, it’s important to me to feel like I accomplished something everytime I sit down to work. I doesn’t have to be much, but it does need to be something.

This means that no matter how hard the day is, I don’t quit until I’ve accomplished one task related to one of my big goals. I scour my action plans and look for whatever I can find that I can do successfully.

On my worst days, this may simply mean setting up for a task that I’ll tackle the next day. In other instances, it’s editing a paper or song (both tasks that don’t require deep attentional reserves for me). And on other occasions, it may be time for my synth-sound-symphony (if hyper-focusing is a concern, then I set a timer or alarm to make sure I stop before I miss an important appointment).

You need to find a group of tasks that you keep in your back pocket. So that even on your worst focusing days, you can not only find good work to do; but you can walk away from your work feeling good about the day.

Oh, and the last, and probably most important, thing to do to feel successful is to treat yourself right and be consistent in following a daily routine that fosters success. Here’s mine.

Daily Essentials For Living With ADHD

ADHD is a fact of my life. I can’t get around it. It won’t go away. And drugs (legal or otherwise) don’t work for me even if I wanted to shut down the creative parts of my brain by using them.

But I’m glad. My unique brain gives me lot of strengths and advantages. But to properly harness these strengths, there are some everyday things that I absolutely must do in order to function at my best.

These are simple.

The problem is that they are not easy to do consistently.

Exercise

I once had a boss tell me not to come to work if I hadn’t exercised beforehand. He said I was distracted and irritable and therefore I wasn’t very good at my job. Besides, no one wanted to be near me. My boss understood this and, rather than fire or demote me, asked me to do what he realized I needed in order to function at the level necessary to be successful at my job. I was pretty put off by this at the time, but over the years I’ve come to understand how prescient he was. Now I’m grateful to him for showing me the relationship between my exercise and my focus.

Getting my heart-rate up for at least 30 minutes clears the fog and raises my mood and energy level. The exercise needs to be vigorous – I run or take strenuous hikes (the only kind available where I live) and do resistance training (that’s lifting weights to the hardcore). I also find that I can only go about 48 hours between sessions. Ideally I work out every day, but if I go beyond 2-days I can see my ability to focus start to degrade.

I also jump on my drums throughout the day when my energy starts to fade. For my focus, I also listen to my music on Brain Shift Radio.

As an aside, I created the radio because listening to the rhythms we do here helps me so much during the day. I prefer to mix the ratio between the rhythm and ambient stimuli to dial in just the right effect for me. This feature was so important to me that we invested way more time and money developing the architecture to deliver two synchronized music streams than we probably needed, since most people just let the system do its thing. Oh well…But I digress.

Bottom line: Exercise and movement are critical to me keeping my focus. Another one is:

Eating well

I need protein. Lots of it. I also need vegetables. These are the staple of my diet (when I’m on my plan, of which I sometimes fall off – and pay for it). Here are some other foods I have clear relationships with:

  • Carbohydrates: I should probably call this section grains because vegetables are carbs, but most people, when referring to carbs, are talking about all the stuff in the middle of the grocery store. In this parlance, carbs are my enemy, especially the refined kind. But even the unrefined variety – brown rice, whole wheat, etc – suck the attention right out of me. The problem is that I like baked goods. A crusty bread with butter is heaven to me. Alas, I can’t have it if I want to get anything done.
  • Caffeine: I love a good cup of coffee. I mean I really love good, strong coffee and I drink a fair amount. The thing is, the caffeine doesn’t improve my focus. In fact, I can drink an espresso and go to bed and fall asleep right away.
  • Alcohol: Can’t touch it. Depressants and ADHD don’t go well together. One beer or glass of wine (forget hard liquor) and I’m a noodle. Sure there are times when I indulge, but for me it’s like taking a sleeping pill and it makes me super groggy the next day. So I try to avoid it as much as possible.
  • Sugar: Refined, unrefined it’s all the same. And it’s the same for me as carbs. I have to avoid sweeteners as much as possible (did I mention I like baked goods?) lest I lose all my ability to focus. One of the problems is that ADHD’ers often crave sugar for it’s short-lived energy boost. The trick is to go two weeks without it. Once you’re clean the cravings stop (the same for refined carbs).

Getting Quality Sleep

Good restorative sleep is important for productivity (not to mention overall health and well-being). Unfortunately, many people with ADHD don’t sleep very well. Part of this is is due to brain patterns and part (probably a significant one) is due to poor sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is fancy way to say sleep habits and relates to how your daily patterns contribute to or inhibit good sleep. These are things like diet, exercise, and media consumption. Here is a link to some good sleep habits.

Having said that, many of us wth ADHD don’t sleep like everyone else. I don’t need a lot of sleep at a time. Too much and I can’t get my brain back in gear. Four to five hours a night works for me. Sometimes I take a nap in addition to these 4-5 hours. sometimes I don’t.

But what I do do is…

Enjoy Meditation

Meditation gives me what 8-9 hours of sleep gives “regular” people. Twenty minutes of focused mind cleansing recharges me in ways that sleeping doesn’t. I try to get in two twenty-minute sessions everyday, usually around 11am and again at 3pm.

I’ve been meditating for over 25 years and can sit like any Buddhist; but to be honest, I prefer a soundtrack for the deepest meditations I can get. For this I use my baby, Brain Shift Radio.

Not to get too far off track but, repetitive percussion has been used for tens of thousands of years to achieve deep meditative states. You can read more about this in an article I wrote years ago on therapeutic rhythm-making practices around the world here.

The mind cleansing that I get from meditation helps me do the one last thing that keeps me on top of the annoying parts of having ADHD. That is…

Making Lists

I make a lot of to do lists. I make them for my big goals and I make them for my daily work.

The daily lists are key for me. Every night before I leave my studio or before I go to bed, I make a list of the five most important things I need to do the next day. These may be drawn from my big goals or they may be small items that have to be done to keep my life moving forward.

No matter what these are, they are a top priority. I begin my day with these items. Nothing gets done before these items are finished. No email, No phone calls.

Ordinarily, I try to keep this list to things that I can get done in an hour or less. Big items from the big goals lists are usually put aside for the block of time I set aside each week for these items.

Having a list of things that I do right away each day keeps me productive and gives me a sense of accomplishment so that tackling harder tasks is easier.

Aside from having this list everyday I work really hard to keep distractions at bay. This means…

Managing Email (and social media and text messages)

Because I run a company with virtual offices and work with clients all over the world, I get hundreds of emails everyday. At every time of day. Most of these are fairly high priority and could easily distract me from what I’m working on.

I can’t allow this to happen, so I only check email twice a day. Okay, I admit to having someone else checking my email and responding to the time-sensitive ones for me, but the important thing here is that I remove myself from the need to be connected to email all day long.

Regarding social media: I don’t touch it. I don’t feel the need to know what my “friends” are doing all day long and I am a fairly private person so I have no desire to tell everyone what I ate for breakfast (typically a couple double caps) or where I’m having dinner (usually at home with my family). I do have Facebook and Twitter accounts, but I let someone else here deal with them.

And, because I don’t have cell phone reception at my studio, I don’t use text messaging nor am I tied to a phone that I can be bothered by at all hours like most people with their smart phones.

I know this all sounds old-fashioned or out of touch, but it works for me.

Try it. It may also work for you.