For ADD-ers: How do you set up your morning in order to stay productive?
December 21, 2013 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I currently have a sporadic work schedule for a job that I would like to quit as soon as I land something better. On my days off, I know that I need to be filling in the extra days with productive stuff such as finding a new job. And on occasion I am successful! But more often than not, a misstep in the morning tends to snowball and leads to an entire morning - or even day - wasted. I'd like to know how other people who suffer from ADD or impulsivity were able to beat back their morning bad habits, or even reform them into good ones.

Along with my primarily inattentive ADD I tend to be impulsive in many areas of my life. This has gotten me into trouble in the past; I have missed deadlines for work and school due to my habit of doing what's comfortable for me in my free time instead of what would stress me out. I'm fine when I'm sticking to a concrete schedule, but if I do not have anything scheduled or have a little leeway then I get stuck.

Let me give an example of my usual internal thought process on my days off:

7:00 AM: Rise and shine! I need to keep busy today, but let's have that cup of joe first.
7:15 AM: This coffee is something else. Yum. I'll job hunt/exercise/work on my novel/make plans with a friend/go xmas shopping/etc like I was planning to soon, but let's play just one game of online chess first. But I am done (and I mean DONE!) at 8:00 AM sharp.
8:02 AM: Ahh. That game dragged on a bit longer than I thought. It's past 8:00 AM. And I (won/lost). That (rocks/stinks). I'll play just one more (since I am on a roll/so I can avenge my defeat).
9:02 AM-12:00 PM: I (won/lost). That (rocks/stinks). I'll play just one more (since I am on a roll/so I can avenge my defeat).
Somewhere between 12:01 and 3:00 PM: Oh yeah. Doh.

Sometimes it's not chess. Sometimes it's news articles. Sometimes its Youtube videos. I usually haven't realized how much time has passed, and get in a bad mood that carries on throughout the day which doesn't help things any. ("You don't have any willpower! You stink!")

I also have a proclivity towards all-or-nothing thinking, where I continue to make bad choices after the first one since "I already screwed up anyway." This is why I feel that it is important to get started on the right foot in the morning so the rest of the day goes well.

What really bugs me is that these traps I set for myself to fall into lead me into activities that are usually solitary, often require little thought (I know you have to think in chess, but I have been playing for so long that I am comfortable with this kind of thinking) and not beneficial to me in the long run - at least if I was writing, composing or nurturing relationships I'd have something to show for it.

I intellectually understand my problem, but cannot seem to stick to anything unless I wake up thinking about it, which I have a difficult time doing. I bought a dry-erase board with a calendar, and am going to try setting up a self-imposed schedule for days off to see if I can 'trick' my brain into focusing on what I would like it to.

For those who have had similar problems: How did set up your morning so that you are able to stay on task and get what you would like accomplished? On days where I am able to avoid getting stuck on something frivolous in the morning I can get a lot done. I'd like some tips on how to make these days more of a constant in my life.
posted by Kamelot123 to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
For Internet-related distractions, I've found that Leechblock is a godsend.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:13 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Morning internet is huge problem - I used to set a timer. Usually the kitchen timer (which far from mac) that forced me to get up and shut it off. I set it for 20 -30 minutes at a time. Now I am much more cognizant of my wandering so I don't use it as much. I plan a lot - 9:00am going to gym/yoga 10:30 going to store etc.. Try using a day planner or whatever. Exercise seems to help a lot with overall mood which leads to more productivity. ADDitude magazine has a whole section on how to overcome it, although I found some of bullshit, some does help. You really have to be mindful of how you use your time.
posted by lasamana at 1:40 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you know you cannot stop at "just one X", then the answer is not to do X. This has been the biggest thing for me to learn. I cannot do aimless web browsing in the morning because I will end up late for work. I do it in the evening when eventually I'll get tired and go to bed. The difficulty in measuring how much time has passed is a definite ADD thing and setting up external cues sometimes helps.

I have never been able to stick to a rigid schedule, but if I just plain only do the productive things until they're all done, before I get to anything else, I will usually get that accomplished, and then I will have time to relax after. So that, plus keeping a sane and realistic to-do list, plus including some stuff on that list that's actually fun, not just the slog. So, if I can afford it, I'll put a coffee shop on my list of errands as well as all the other places I have to run. Or, today, "go see the Hobbit". Helps to not just see awful stuff when I look down at the list, and ensures I'll have at least a few things to check off.
posted by Sequence at 1:45 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh man do I ever sympathize. I even have a laptop that I will drag into bed before getting up and showering some weekend mornings. The wonderful variety of instant entertainment the internet can give you is seductive.

For me, I've found that the more "guilty" I feel about wasting my days off, the more I tend to want to do it. So when I want to goof around, I own it. When I look at the clock and it's 3 pm and I haven't done anything, I tell myself, "That's what I wanted to do and it was pretty fun. Now let's do something else." I get that all or nothing mentality, I really do, but I think things will get better if you can find a way to look at things from a different angle.
posted by johnpoe50 at 1:51 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't mention medication in this question - are you taking anything for your ADD?
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:57 PM on December 21, 2013

Can you leave your house and do the job hunting/novel writing at a library or coffee shop? For me, leaving the house and being in a new location makes me focus way more, because I'm there to accomplish something. Make it like an appointment, you must be at the library by 8:30am, so all your morning routine stuff has to be done so you can get there on time.

This was suggested to me as a creative exercise, but it might help you focus. You're a writer? Good. The first thing you do when you get up in the morning, before anything else, even coffee, is write, something, anything. Don't let yourself fall into the morning Internet/gaming trap!
posted by inertia at 2:13 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I suffer from this as well! I can really identify with the all or nothing approach- while I know that kind of thinking doesn't help me, I also realize that is just who I am. I have developed a few methods that work about 90% of the time for me.
1. I really identify what *big thing[s]* I will need to accomplish the night before a day I know there is little/no structure. For you this could be something like "I will apply to 3 jobs today". I like things I can count instead of time frames. If it is something like "spend 3 hrs applying to jobs" I tend to push it off or suffer through the time not being productive.
2. When I wake up I spend all of my morning energy on getting ready to accomplish *big thing*. I cannot stray from this path or I end up getting distracted and before I know it the day is over. I have to avoid the internet. You might need to avoid games. When you are through your morning routine, immediately go into doing what needs to be done. Ride out the inertia from your morning. After I accomplish *big thing* I often find it boosting enough to go on to another task. But even if I don't I am satisfied I reached my one goal.
3. Make rules about when you can indulge in the ADD behavior. For me- I don't let myself do things I know I am going to get sucked into until the evenings (hello internet with 20 tabs open!!). This gives me something to look forward to in my daily schedule and it keeps those behaviors out of my day's productive hours.
4. I find that medication has made a positive impact on my professional life, and if you have not tried it I would encourage it.
posted by KMoney at 2:53 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also have ADD. A while back I asked a very similar question to yours and got some excellent advice. Perhaps some of it would be useful to you as well.

That said, while that advice was excellent (and worked like a charm for a while) this has continued to be a struggle for me. Some things have helped though, and right now I'm doing quite well (relatively speaking). Here are some strategies that seem to work for me. (I will note that it's gotten markedly easier since I started Adderall, by the way -- though these strategies still help even without the medication.) Mainly what helps is streamlining the heck out of my getting-up process, and most of that involves preparing the night before, since I have much more energy at night than in the morning.

I put breakfast (a Clif bar), a bottle of water, and my meds on the nightstand so that I can take them without even getting out of bed in the morning. That way I can wake up and immediately get some food, water, and medication into my system so that my energy levels can come up to normal as fast as possible. (One of those medications is a caffeine pill. I don't drink coffee in the morning anymore, I just pop that pill and get my fix. Like you, I found that the ritual of a morning cup could easily stretch out into two hours of drinking coffee and interneting.)

I choose my clothes the night before and put them out on a chair, so that I am not faced with the procrastinatable chore of selecting things to wear. (No more sitting around in my undies for an hour and a half.) I still procrastinate my shower sometimes, but by keeping everything organized in the bathroom and being systematic I can usually blaze through the bathroom routine in about 15 minutes instead of 45, which makes the process less of a chore and less daunting. Scoop cat box (reflect that I am yet again starting my day by sifting for cat poop), wash hands, turn on shower, brush and floss while it warms up, jump in and wash my hair (my hair takes a long time to wash so I only do this one day in three) soap up, rinse and dry. Deodorant, comb beard, done.

Along with laying out my clothes, I put my various accessories out on my desk the night before too, all in one spot. Watch, glasses, wallet. Phone on the charger. Shoes. Hat and coat, if I'll need them. Once out of the shower I just jump into my clothes (by this time it's easy as I'm refreshed from the shower and the caffeine and Adderall are starting to hit) and grab my bag. My bag is already packed, with my laptop inside and turned off, so I am not tempted to use it. It's plugged in while in the bag, so I just unplug the charger and throw it in there.

Then I'm downstairs and out the door in a flash. The whole process takes no more than 20 minutes, some days!

Other things that help include having a time-sensitive commitment in the morning, like an appointment or a class. My lifestyle doesn't lend itself to this every day, but I try to seek them out. (Not being a natural morning person, I used to avoid morning commitments whenever possible.) When registering for classes or making appointments, I always try to schedule them early. If I have the opportunity to meet a friend in the morning, I take it. That gives me a reason to need to be out of bed at a certain time, which helps greatly.

Actually getting out of bed is still the hardest part. I budget half an hour in the morning just for this. When my alarm goes off my first and hardest struggle of the day is to sit up. Once I get myself sitting instead of laying down, I give myself the rest of the half hour to read a book, take my meds, drink some water, eat my Clif bar, and come to terms with the fact that I am about to have to transition from sitting to standing, and thence to the shower. A half hour is about right for me, but what's most important is that it's factored into my time budget so it's not making me late.

The final thing that helps is forgiving myself when I don't follow the plan perfectly and lose some time, as sometimes still happens. Usually what happens is that I fail to sit up and instead go back to sleep for another hour or two. In this case, I just finish my morning routine as if nothing had happened, go on with my day as best as possible, and resolve to try again the next morning; I don't waste time and energy with self-defeating anxiety and shame; I just make the best of it, and try again next time.

So far, that's what works best for me. I am much better at mornings than I once was, though I'm far from perfect. It is a process of continual conscious improvement and work, but over the three months or so that I've really been working on this problem I've made real strides. No doubt that's partly from the fact that I started Adderall around then, but it's also involved a lot of work on my part. I imagine it would be the same for you -- that you can do it, but you would have to commit to a slow and lengthy struggle. It's been well worth it though for me, because every day that I can get up and out under my own power with a full day stretching ahead of me is a great one
posted by Scientist at 3:28 PM on December 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

Great advice so far, thanks!

I recently started Vyvanse. It certainly seems to get me to focus on one thing instead of flit about from task to task and not finish anything - unfortunately, that one thing often tends to be the wrong thing to focus on.

Also - I considered Leechblock but since it wouldn't help with things such as chess, I probably would find something else unproductive to latch onto.

Please keep the suggestions coming!
posted by Kamelot123 at 3:29 PM on December 21, 2013

To tune my advice a little for your specific situation (where leaving the house isn't really necessary) I would suggest that you make stepping outdoors part of your morning routine. For me, I don't really feel my day has properly started until I'm out of the house. Even if I've been up for hours, I feel like I'm not really in work mode if all I've done is sit in my room.

I'd suggest starting the day with the computer totally off and then perhaps taking it (assuming it's a laptop) down to a coffee shop or the library or something before turning it on and getting to work. You could also make a habit of doing your out-of-the-house errands first thing, or even of just taking a walk around the block before turning the computer on and setting to work.

Getting a little sunshine and wind on my face does wonders for my mindset; I bet it would help you too.
posted by Scientist at 3:38 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you want to shut down all internet stuff, there's Freedom. If you need the web for your work, this isn't a great solution.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:50 PM on December 21, 2013

I considered Leechblock but since it wouldn't help with things such as chess, I probably would find something else unproductive to latch onto.

Leechblock works pretty well if you keep adding websites to the main blocked list, especially at first. (easy: rightclick, Leechblock -> Add to block set.) The process starts to plateau after a while, and then it provides a pretty decent barrier against "I just want to keep looking around for something." I have it blocking everything from 9 to 5, and then limiting me to an hour-and-a-half of all of them over the course of any two days during other hours. (I can really suck up time myself, reading the many wonderful, articulate things that my life would be just fine if I'd never noticed.) I've heard good things about Freedom, too, but LB has made a pretty substantial positive difference. Not perfect! I sat down right now with other intentions than reading this thread!
posted by spbmp at 6:43 PM on December 21, 2013

make a deal with yourself that you'll work on what you know you need to do for, say, 10 minutes, and if you feel like quitting, give yourself permission to quit and start up later. if 10 minutes is too long or short, adjust the time as necessary. once i get over the initial hump, i find that i don't mind continuing to do what i really want to do.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:24 PM on December 21, 2013

I have noticed that if I take my meds and then mess around on the internet, that's all I will do for the next three hours. However, if I start my work project and then take my meds while I'm already several minutes into the project, by the time the meds kick in I can focus on work rather than surfing.
posted by quixotictic at 8:47 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Like Scientist said — some sun and wind may help. In general it may help to find just one small thing to do regularly in the morning that helps you not get sucked into the internet. It would need to be the same thing every day so it stays in your mind and you don't have to think about what to do in the morning, but it could change over longer periods depending on what you feel like doing.

Some of the things I've done are sitting in the porch and drinking my tea rather than at the laptop, doing some dishes, cooking, writing, going for a walk. In general something physical/involving the senses/involving active engagement rather than passive helps start the morning on the right note.

I would find it difficult to do my work first thing in the morning, especially if work differs from day to day. Or impose a rigid schedule on myself. I find small rituals/rhythms really help (but are not infallible, so I do need to keep getting back to them when they break).

The other thing my husband reminds me to do so as not to get sucked into the internet is to make my breaks longer. So if I get up to go to the loo/get a snack/fetch something, he encourages me to do other things I need to do while I'm at it or step out and look at the sky for a wee bit. This can snap you out of the internet haze.

Also, yes, forgive yourself when things go wrong, and that should help you not to avoid thinking about it because of the guilt. The more you think/write about it actively, the more it likely it is to happen. (You might wake up thinking about it)
posted by miaow at 6:34 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I (ADHDer with a similar profile as you) have an office job so this isn't (as much of) an issue for me during the week, but on the weekends it is. I can easily fritter away half or more of a Saturday watching TV shows on Netflix or mindlessly surfing metafilter. Which is nice sometimes but not every weekend day.

Leaving the house and doing something productive is the key for me. I use my dog for this - I have the incentive of knowing that if I don't get to the neighborhood dog park by a certain time, there won't be other dogs there and he won't get the exercise he needs and I'll have to deal with him bouncing off the walls later. When I get back, I'm no longer in lazy morning mode - I may still be lazy at that point, but it's a choice, not inertia.

I'm assuming you don't have a dog, but maybe you could try instituting some sort of obligation to be out at a certain point in the morning - maybe a walk or coffee with a friend, or some sort of class you sign up for ahead of time (yoga is great for getting going in the morning). Or even a volunteer commitment.

You might feel reluctant to commit to something that may end up taking up the better part of a morning because you're thinking of all the stuff you won't be able to do during that time, but if it does make you more productive later in the day, it'll be worth it.
posted by lunasol at 8:29 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

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