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.
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:
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…
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…
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.