Help me deal with my ADD/disorganization/goal setting problems.
November 3, 2012 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I am unemployed. My disorganization, lack of goals and mental illness (ADD first and foremost) is taking a toll on my job hunt, and life in general. Fellow ADD'ers, what do you do to cope/deal? Details inside.

(Phew, this question turned out to be muuuuuch longer than I thought it would be when I started writing it. I have probably included more information than is necessary to answer the question, but it has been quite cathartic. TL;DR version at the bottom!)

I know that YANAT and YANMT - but I do not have the means for therapy at the moment, and I always have seen great advice posted on this forum for all kinds of problems. I would love to hear what you think about my situation.

Hello everyone, I am a mid-20's guy with major procrastination/goal setting/ADD issues. I feel a bit of backstory is necessary before I ask my question - Please bear with.

The way I have lived my life up to this point, I feel that there is a lot of wasted potential.

I have a tendency to choose the "path of least resistance" in almost anything I do. For example - I had a doting mother, and she pretty much did everything for me. In school as well I always went with the easy route, much to the disappointment of my teachers - chose easier classes, shirked homework, crammed the period before for tests, etc. I ended up graduating with honors, but if I had any kind of work ethic I am positive I could have graduated at the top of my class.

Same goes with college - I vowed to change, and had a great first semester, achieving a 4.0 GPA with difficult classes. The next semester I fell back into my old patterns. I would often not finish my homework or reading for that day, then would start feeling overwhelmed and end up emailing the teacher the next morning telling him/her I was sick. My teachers became fed up with me, and I do not blame them. I somehow graduated with a decent GPA.

Although I was able to skirt by in high school and college by doing the bare minimum, there is no "bare minimum" in job hunting. Over the last year, with no deadline looming over me (I am okay financially for the time being), I have completely let myself go.

Particularly over the last year since I became unemployed, I would obsess over small details in my appearance, and constantly beat myself up over the past - to the point in which I would waste hours of my day ruminating over my previous mistakes. Basically, dwelling over wasted time in my past made me waste time in the present, which got me even more down. My social anxiety, which I have always had to a degree, got to the point that I would decline invitations from friends to go out. Even looking at Facebook would affect my mood - I couldn't stand to see my peers enjoying life and writing about their jobs when I was unemployed.

I recently was diagnosed with many of the same symptoms of mental illness that my father and brother have - mild depression and ADD (inattentive). At first, I refused to accept this fact, and convinced myself that I was simply hopelessly forgetful and lazy. Finally giving in and taking medication made me realize that I quite likely do have a problem.

I began taking Wellbutrin XL 300mg about 4 months ago. It helped immensely in eliminating the negative thoughts I was having regarding myself and my past. I can now, for the first time in a while, be happy (Maybe too happy? I wonder sometimes that I may be a little hypomanic as I should not be feeling so up everyday considering my employment/life situation). It has also knocked out my obsessive tendencies about my appearance. Unfortunately, my other problems, such as ADD, are still front and center.

I rationalize excuses to myself constantly. "Oh, you'll have plenty of time to do that tomorrow." "You'll get up early and get so much done the next day, just relax and take it easy today!" I always make excuses to put the problems looming over my life off for another day - and the scary thing is, when I convince myself that I can put it off, I feel so RELIEVED that I can **** off for another 24 hours. I honestly think that, in some way, even asking this question is just another desperate attempt to procrastinate and delay what I inevitably have to do. But I feel so much better about myself, and my self-esteem is so much higher, when I am able to get up on time, take a shower, get (productive) stuff done, etc. So I know that I want to fix this part of myself.

I am also exceedingly disorganized, both in lifestyle and in thought process.

Lifestyle: My room is cluttered. I had a loose set schedule when I was in school, but now that I am just job hunting I have nothing set in stone besides promises I have made with friends/the occasional job search. When I think "Oh, I should exercise," I do it. I really think I should have this kind of stuff scheduled, but organizing each and every day sounds so overwhelming. I rarely cook food for myself, choosing to spend more money and take the easy way out by eating out.

Thought process: This is basically the ADD portion of my illness. I constantly get sidetracked, without even realizing it until later. I start working on one thing, and before I know it I have ten windows open and I have totally forgotten about my first task. This has led to many problems with school/friends/my previous employer. I forget to respond to friends when they send me messages - I have lost friends in the past due to my inattentiveness.

Finally, I am not sure what I want to do with my life, and agonize about choosing a concrete career direction. I like writing and composing music, but I can't commit myself to one singular path. I also tend to start short stories/compositions and quit halfway through (story of my life, haha), so I worry that I would not be able to finish anything longer than a page or two if I was to begin a writing career in the first place. I am very jealous of people who have known from their childhoods what they wanted to do when they grow up.

I have noticed that when I set goals for the next day, on the average I am able to get more done. Every once in a while I have what I consider a "wonder day" - I wake up early, exercise, shower/shave, have breakfast/lunch/dinner, get a couple hours of work in, and feel like a million bucks. But I have a hard time setting these goals each and every day - and if I do not write them down before bed I just do not get them all done. I often forget to write them down, or put off the goal setting until I am too tired to do so.

TL;DR: I am unemployed, disorganized, have ADD, and have serious problems with both setting and keeping goals. I have no day-to-day schedule. I don't eat very well, and am not exercising much at the moment. I make excuses for everything, and always put important things off in favor of less stressful activities. I want to change this, and have tried, but I always end up going back to my old ways. Please encourage/give tips/share stories on how you dealt with these issues. I would particularly like to hear from people with ADD or have been disorganized to the point of compromising your life, who are successfully managing their symptoms. I desperately need reassurance that I am not a hopeless case.

PS: I am not on health insurance at the moment. I would like to attend therapy, but just do not have the money. ADD medications are not an option (besides the Wellbutrin I am on now), as I am currently out-of-country for the foreseeable future and they are not sold where I am living. I tried Adderall before with positive results, but it is simply not an option where I am living.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Exercise and meditation are supposed to help a lot with ADD. Exercise works best when it's something intense and focused, like running/jogging. There is another medication out there called strattera that is a non-stimulant that can help people with ADD. It works for some people, and some people not so much.
posted by Osakhomen at 8:28 AM on November 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

1. Part of the problem is that you've got too many issues roiling around in your head, too many things that you want to change that you can't focus long enough to change anything. Sometimes if you can identify a key thing that affects a lot of other things, you can focus on that thing and the other things will fall into place.

For example: my kitchen was always a mess, and it always felt like such a huge chore to clean it. Because of the mess, I hated to cook, so we ate out a lot which was killing our budget. Because of the budget, we were often late on our bills, and because we weren't eating right, we developed some health problems (and more bills to go on top of the ones we already couldn't pay.)

After thinking about the problem for some time, it became clear that the dirty kitchen was at the root of many of our problems, so keeping the kitchen clean needed to become a priority. But cleaning the kitchen sucks.... and here's where the lightbulb came on... it sucks because the dishwasher is always full of clean dishes, meaning it has to be dealt with before I can do anything else. I started a small routine: every morning I fixed myself a cup of tea in the microwave. While it was heating up, instead of standing there impatiently waiting for it, I started unloading the dishwasher. It took slightly longer than the tea, but once I got started it wasn't a big deal to spend a couple of additional minutes to finish. And once the clean dishes were out of the way, the other stuff became magically easier. Unloading the dishwasher is a key thing for us.

2. Get as much stuff on auto-pilot as you can. Routines and habits are your friend. So is making a generic plan once that you follow from now on, because constantly having to make decisions is draining.

Instead of making a schedule every night, make a checklist of important things that you want to do every day, and every day make an effort to check off as many as you can. You'll skip some things some days, but lo and behold, the things you skipped are right there on tomorrow's list!

Make a food plan that works with your preferences and schedule and follow it going forward. Come up with staple meals that you eat over and over again. For example, maybe oatmeal is the thing you choose for breakfast every day. Every time you buy groceries, you buy oatmeal. You have it at home, maybe you keep a couple of packets in your car, you keep some in your desk at work so no matter where you are at breakfast time you have your oatmeal and don't need to hit the Burger King. Now maybe you decide to eat the same lunch every day. And then you settle on 7 dinners that you fix for yourself every week. Now you can make a grocery list that you use every single week. (You can of course deviate from the meal plan when you feel like it... but at least you have a structure to deviate from and a way to get right back on track.)

3. Exercise first thing in the morning. Don't think about it, don't give yourself a choice, just get up and go. This was the only way I was ever able to stick to an exercise plan over a long period of time. Do your best to not let anything disturb the routine. For me, this meant getting up and going to the gym even when I was tired, sick, etc. even though I knew I wasn't going to be able to put much effort in. If I felt really crappy I'd just go to the gym and sit in the hot tub (or go for a short, slow walk instead of a brisk one.) It kept me from coming up with endless excuses to stay at home in the warm bed. I also rented a locker at the gym that I kept stocked with toiletries and workout clothes because I so hated dragging all that stuff around.

4. Check out this book: Your Own Worst Enemy. It's about why and how high-potential people underachieve in their lives and careers. One thing he talks about is the feeling of needing a lot of time to "kick back" and relax. You wind up procrastinating, letting things slide, which creates more stress because you wind up having to bust ass to meet deadlines you push yourself up against, or you create more problems for yourself by neglecting important stuff all together. And because of all this additional stress, you feel like you need even more time to kick back, and the problem just snowballs.

The book doesn't focus on ADD specifically, but a lot of the behaviors of people who self-sabotage are very similar to the kinds of behaviors that create chaos and lack of achievement for ADD people.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:07 AM on November 3, 2012 [15 favorites]

Exercise is very helpful, but I also think that you just need to do the boring, distasteful stuff that you've been avoiding for most of your life. Make a list of what needs to be done, and every day, do one of those tasks--you can break the task up into smaller tasks, set a timer and work for 15-20 minutes or so. Take a little break, get back to it, and then when it's done, cross it off the list. On to the next.

Since you haven't learned how to develop this sort of discipline, you need to practice it, and then, when you've done these tasks, you develop self-esteem. You look at your newly de-cluttered space and realize that you did it. Constructive Living helped me a great deal in learning how to do what needs to be done, no matter how I "feel" about it.

The other big truth to this is that no, you're not going to just magically wake up and be organized. It will be boring, not fun, and you might not like doing it. Part of becoming an adult is doing things that you don't like.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:16 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Edited the post to remove problematic throwaway email address. Anon poster, I have emailed you at that address to explain why, and you can reply there or use the contact form (bottom right corner of this page) to ask us to add a better throwaway email.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:02 AM on November 3, 2012

Particularly over the last year since I became unemployed, I would obsess over small details in my appearance, and constantly beat myself up over the past - to the point in which I would waste hours of my day ruminating over my previous mistakes. Basically, dwelling over wasted time in my past made me waste time in the present, which got me even more down.

This jumped out at me. I was unemployed last year for about 8 months and was having trouble getting motivated to apply for jobs, especially when I would get interviews and then not get the job. Not to mention I wasn't terribly excited about the jobs I was qualified to do. I was sitting around all day doing basically nothing because I couldn't get myself to focus on applying for jobs, so I didn't do anything else because my intention was to focus 100% on finding a job. I even started waking up in a cold sweat worrying about how I wasn't making progress.

I think I should have made sure that I got out and did stuff whether it was just going to the gym/exercising or volunteering or something else. I also started obsessing about every detail of stuff, ruminating on where I went wrong in my life, etc. I think you need to build some distractions into your life. Finding some activities to structure your days and also to give you less time to think yourself to death. Then you also can't say "oh I have all the time in the world so I don't need to do this right now"

Make sure you're taking care of yourself - since you've got all this unstructured time you could do a lot of cooking for yourself. I did that while I was unemployed - I had plenty of time to caramelize onions or make stews that take hours, etc. In theory I could have been working on job applications while the onions were cooking or whatever. Also, luckily, I enjoy cooking. Find a way to get in exercise. Since you say you're financially okay for now, try to accept some invitations to go out with friends or even just grab dinner out every now and then. Even if you have to force yourself to go - you don't have to stay the entire time.

Another thing I have to do for things like keeping my apartment clean is to just decide to do them. Close the laptop and start doing it. For example I made a rule that I never go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. I had to force myself to do it even when I was really tired and just wanted to go to bed. Now it bothers me enough if I leave dirty dishes in the sink that I will lose sleep if I leave them in the sink so I always do it. Also after you've cleaned and tidied up, take a minute to admire what you did and appreciate how much nicer it is to live in a clean place rather than a dirty one. That way these things become habits rather than things you have to force yourself to do every time.

If you are like me you will find that a lot of the time you just have to force yourself to do something a couple of times. Sometimes I would tell myself that I would close my laptop, do a couple of yoga poses or make a cup of coffee, and then I would do x/y/z. If what I wanted to do was job search-related and I needed to do it on the computer, I would close all my internet windows before closing the laptop. Basically I needed a system reboot.

Also to-do lists are okay, as long as you don't beat yourself up if you don't complete them everyday. I write everything down just because I am also inattentive and tend to forget things.
posted by fromageball at 10:11 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My craziness credentials and a little background. 27 years old. Dropped out of theatre school after 2 years. Diagnosed with bipolar II, ADD, and an auditory processing disorder. Lots of anxiety and depression accompanying the above three. Totally sober after developing a nasty binge-drinking habit a couple years back. There's lots of positive stuff about my life too, but I'm quite familiar with the "'wtf am I doing with my life?' *continues to play Minecraft*" kind of thought process.

A few short notes:

Separate the job search from the career/life quest. A job is not synonymous with a career or self-actualization.

Hopelessness is comforting. A horrible kind of comfort, but it allows you to remain passive.

Don't do the same thing twice and expect a different result. If a certain organizational strategy fails, don't keep repeating it. Figure out why it failed first. And don't let the reason why be "I didn't try hard enough." If you try the same thing the same way and say "I'll try harder", you'll fail again. It's not like you've been lazy all this time. There's a reason for your failures. "I didn't try hard enough" isn't going to help you figure things out.

Don't underestimate the toll mental illness will take on you. Deal with it however you must. It is real. It is awful.

I think this is the most important thing to remember, and has helped me tremendously is:
While you work to better yourself, just remember that you will be dealing with constant failure. It's going to be three steps forward, two steps back all the way. In fact, it's going to be 30 steps forward and 29 steps back. You will find yourself failing every day. By the time you reach whatever goal you have, you probably won't feel terribly accomplished or amazing given how damn long it took and how many ways you messed up along the way.

But, you will have peace of mind once you develop good habits (and almost all of your goals seem to be habit-related) and you will be able to devote your brainpower to more exciting things. You will be surprised at just how much brainpower you have.

Do. not. be. afraid. of. failure.
posted by UrbanEye at 10:20 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Finally, I am not sure what I want to do with my life, and agonize about choosing a concrete career direction. I like writing and composing music, but I can't commit myself to one singular path. I also tend to start short stories/compositions and quit halfway through (story of my life, haha), so I worry that I would not be able to finish anything longer than a page or two if I was to begin a writing career in the first place. I am very jealous of people who have known from their childhoods what they wanted to do when they grow up.

At this point in ones life, success is about showing up to something. Things I've done in similar situations include: get a holiday job in food or retail; volunteer (in my case, usually for literacy); take a class or join a writing group or book group.
posted by BibiRose at 10:23 AM on November 3, 2012

I initially missed the part about your being out of the country where you permanently reside. (Have I got that right?) If you are in an interesting place, and you won't be there forever, write a journal about it, one hour a day. Suppose you were to write a book about this place after you have left, what would be good information to get down now? You may not be able to market a book like this but it would be really good practice for writing.
posted by BibiRose at 10:27 AM on November 3, 2012

First, be patient with yourself. Extremely patient.

Four things that helped me to get a hang on my ADD/Depression were diet, exercise, meditation, and breaking the problem down into the smallest components.

I'd highly recommend you to start with your diet. What really worked for me was eliminating refined sugar and carbs from my diet, along with increased intake of protein and fats in the morning. Especially the latter, I make sure I get enough protein and fats in the morning because when I don't my brain doesn't work properly.

Hopefully this will work for you, and if it does, the rest (exercise, self-discipline, and focus) will come by easier. Hard to do these things when your brain isn't firing properly.

Start by eating more protein and fats in the morning. Try to get at least .5 grams of protein per your body weight and plenty of veggies on the side.

Hope this helps. Remember, be patient, one small step at a time.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 10:57 AM on November 3, 2012

I have ADD and moderate depression. I find it very difficult to get what I need out of books. I'm a more active/talky/doing kind of person... despite being extraordinarily lazy when it comes to these sorts of things! So I can relate.

You need to figure out what will make a difference for YOU. If you've heard of the Five Love Languages, or the Theories of Multiple Intelligences or whatever it's called, this is along the same lines. What motivates you the most: feeling like you've done something? being able to check something off of a list or give yourself another gold star? seeing the results? hearing compliments from other people?

Start small. Make a list of things you could do to make your life a little better. ANYTHING could be on this list, but you should break it down into small, doable tasks. Not even "clean my room" but "make my bed" or "pick my clothes up and put them in a basket."

My new best friend is Unfuck Your Habitat. They don't care where you start, how bad it is, whatever. You'll do something for a short period of time, you'll step back, and you'll have something done. They are mostly focused on cleaning, but they have tips on timing and organization and a lot of other stuff that can be useful to people like us :) They also have an awesome app (look for it under Unfilth Your Habitat).

You could also try something like Joe's Goals if you're a don't-break-the-chain or gold star kind of person.

Here is one of the most difficult lessons I've learned: it is ohhhh so very easy to complete one of these tasks and feel so fantastic that you let the elation carry you over everything else, thus losing the great momentum or daily advantage that you've gained in the first place. Let yourself have a little mini-celebration, because you need that feeling. But recognize that this could be a trigger moment, and see if you can move through it to do just one more thing (or, you know, to NOT not do something else).

And on the flip side: I know this can be scary and there are a lot of barriers and reasons why NOT to do something. Do it anyway. Do it BECAUSE you're scared. Acknowledge it, tell that feeling it can go fuck itself (for, you know, the next five minutes at least) and do it anyway.
posted by Madamina at 11:23 AM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

External motivators have been key for me. I started working out because I was in school, so I enrolled in an open gym class to reach full time and therefore receive full financial aid. You got an A in the class by going to the gym a certain number of hours. Several semesters of this was enough to create a habit in me of going to the gym that I could then sustain without school. But even so, I work out at a boxing gym with a trainer, and having someone nag me there keeps me working much harder than I would on my own.

You can create fake external motivators for yourself by reward and punishment systems: I will buy myself an ipad if I go to sleep by 10 5 nights a week for 6 weeks, for example. Or, if I look for a job from 9-12 every morning, then I am allowed one hour of internet over lunch. Stuff like that.

One key I think is putting your big push of energy into the stuff that will lay groundwork for generally being more organized and motivated. So make the habit of exercise and/or meditation and/or time in nature things you prioritize first. This will help regulate your brain chemistry in order to motivate more easily on other things.

Stimulants do wonders too.
posted by latkes at 3:26 PM on November 3, 2012

I agree with others on starting a routine. I've experienced a prolonged period of unemployment too, but I keep sane by keeping a routine, being social, and having obligations outside of myself. I was dealing with health problems and a major depressive episode, and I was at a point in my life where I couldn't even get out of bed. But I motivated myself with small things (my favourite tea in the morning) and rewarded myself for doing my job search work regardless of result. I picked up a routine slowly... (get dressed by this hour after waking up, go grocery shopping on Wednesdays, do the trash on Tuesday, don't schedule chores on Friday nights cuz you might have plans...)... add one thing to your day, and build it from there. It's all about forming habits. When the habit is there, it's one less thing you have to think about and you can focus on the more important things in life, like job searching, self-actualization, and all that other stuff.

Yeah, separate dream job from job. Just get something on your resume. I don't know about you, but I figure out the stuff I'm good at and/or enjoy by pure accident, so it doesn't make sense to plan too much for a grand master plan when really you just need to hop on to a point B. Me, I'm just trying to find work that I'm qualified for and vaguely enjoy. I leave my not-marketable interests and skills outside of the job search and keep it to side projects.

It's okay to be "happy" or feel okay even if you're not in the best place in life, every minute you're not okay/content/happy is another minute of potential happiness that you can't have back! Don't feel guilty about enjoying life, life is to be enjoyed for a reason regardless of the specific temporary circumstances you happen to be in.

Feel free to memail me. I'm pretty much under the same circumstances, I've gotten out of the inertia and have been picking up the momentum again.
posted by Hawk V at 1:35 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey anon, I deal with a lot of the same depression/ADD issues you do. And it's really hard. You're not a lazy good-for-nothing, as you seem to imply, but rather someone dealing with some challenges. And yes! You can get over them. I promise. I dealt with those things all through getting a Ph.D. It was hard, but I'm proud of myself for it, and amazingly, I've gotten kind of good at following through on projects.

A quick note: if stimulants are not available where you are, starting the day with a shower that ends in a cold spray, some exercise and/or some really strong coffee, sends you in the same direction.

A huge boon to me, as others have mentioned, is doing stuff as habit. They say it takes 30 days to form a habit. I've found sometimes it takes a little longer.

I would start with whatever seems to be most pressing. Perhaps if finances are not currently a problem, the job search is not actually that. Perhaps simply taking a shower and getting dressed every single day by 9am is your habit. Perhaps it's exercise. Perhaps it's cleaning the dishes, or going to bed early. Whatever it is. If you have a smartphone, I really like the app Commit for forming habits. Every day it simply asks you, have you done this yet? And you can see how many days in a row you've done it. Once you've gotten used to, say, never going to bed with the dishes unwashed, or always exercising first thing in the morning, or whatever, it feels weird not to be doing it. Once you reach that point, you can start on something else. This comes from Seinfeld's technique of simply Xing out days on a calendar. After a while, you don't want to break the chain. Habitforge also looks interesting, though I've never tried it. The key is to only change one thing at a time.

A few other resources:

Leo Babauta's blog Zen Habits has a lot of good info. Here is his theory in a nutshell, and I also *really* like his ebook, Focus. It's a free PDF download - there's a paid version that includes some other stuff, but I didn't feel like I needed it. His philosophy is all about simplicity, and paring things down to what's essential. I think us ADDers can become overwhelmed and I find concentrating on the essential really calms me down and lets me get to work. One caution: he has mentioned that he is by nature super-organized. He also talks a lot about not having goals and doing what he feels in the moment. That's great and all, but my guess is that he's able to do that because things which are really important to get done don't magically disappear from his head, as they do from mine. Some of us really flower better with structure.

Also, you might benefit as I did from the Pomodoro Technique when you know what work you have to get done. The PDF is really long, but the basic idea is to set a timer, and work on just one thing until the timer goes off. Of course, the timer might go off while you are lost in a wormhole - that's okay! Now you know, and you can take a break then return to the project at hand.

One last, somewhat reluctant mention, goes to Superfocus. It's a method for keeping a written to-do list in a notebook. I find it really handy - my reluctance is only because the author of the webpage seems to keep wanting to invent new systems, and I think it can become a wormhole for the unwary. However, I like the system a lot - I can see a whole bunch of things to do, they are written down and out of my head, and it allows me to work on what I feel most like doing, while at the same time encouraging me to take really small steps to get things moving on the projects I'm less excited about. There's a video about it that I found really helpful.

Finally, it's my experience that structuring your day when you don't have a job is actually not for beginners; it's rather hard. Lots of people who work from home deal with depression and procrastination because it's so frigging hard. So don't beat yourself up. It's a lot easier when you know exactly you are working on and when you have to do it.

Good luck! Feel free to mefi me if you want.
posted by betsbillabong at 8:39 PM on November 4, 2012

The OP has made a new throwaway email address if anyone wants to contact him anonymously:
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:28 PM on November 4, 2012

« Older Which solar systems should I consider?   |   Shut UP, MOM! YOU DONT UNDERSTAND MY ART. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.