Square peg meet square(ish) hole - ADD/ADHD edition
May 12, 2016 2:07 PM   Subscribe

My family has ADD (primarily inattentive), we are pretty successful/functional considering, but it feels like a pretty constant struggle. We function by trying to force ourselves into a mold that doesn't fit.

We like our life but it feels like it is harder then it needs to be, and the way we struggle with simple stuff leaves us feeling crummy. The last paragraph of pretentious illiterate's comment in a recent thread really hits the nail on the head.

Attention and executive function challenged people of Metafilter, what have you found that better adapts your life to your brain, rather than the other way around? What have you done that makes your life easier? What have you done that works despite being counter to traditional wisdom? What feels intuitive rather than forced? What advice do you have that is the opposite of "try harder, make a list, be more organized, just do it", type advice?

Specific, practical, discrete, implementable examples or ideas would be especially great!

Us: average american, middle class, two working parent family, young kids so no school crap (yet), parents intermittently medicated (adderall), no major life obstacles or challenges, just all the stupid shit that accompanies modern living
posted by The Shoodoonoof to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
A few examples from our lives:
-- a house cleaner who comes on a regular schedule - it relieves us from major cleaning and means we have to pick up at minimum every two weeks.
-- when getting a haircut/dental cleaning/any regular appointment, schedule the next one before leaving
-- setting up automatic bill pay for any bills we can
-- for receipts that we don't really know what to do with, we throw them in one spot to collect (a restaurant ticket spindle), then when it fills up we put them in a gallon ziploc with the date on it and throw that in a box. Eventually I guess we can burn/toss them. I have no idea if this is a good solution, but it feels manageable.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 2:53 PM on May 12, 2016

For one thing -- and I bet you're way ahead of me here; that spindle sounds great -- don't try to over-organize. I have a history of making fabulous plans about how organized I'm going to be. They always fall through. Now I know I'm going to "organize" in piles, so I make better piles.

For instance, I get a fair bit of mail that has to be filed away for a few years. I used to carefully separate it out into subjects and file it so that any part of it would be at my fingertips if I needed it. But I almost never do need it, and if I do, I don't mind digging for what I need. Now I have four big file folders per year, one for each quarter, and one save-indeterminately folder. When I run low on space or folders, I throw out some stuff in a big folder. Even if I let the filing pile up, it's fast to catch up. It's a lot like your spindle solution, and it's been working well for years now.

Another thing: it's a lot easier to keep track of stuff if there's not much stuff to keep track of. A brutal, overwhelming purge once every few years can be an excellent thing. I ask myself, "Am I keeping this thing out of sentiment, obligation, or guilt?" If it's obligation or guilt, it can certainly go. If it's sentiment, maybe it stays, but maybe not. You might need to find ways to dodge gifts from family members, as I did. Empty space is precious and must be defended against the well-meaning.

And a third: turns out, nobody comes to your house and shakes a finger at you if you use paper plates once in a while. Sometimes household tasks do build up, despite your best intentions. Why not make fewer dishes to wash for a while? I salve my conscience by using compostable plates and putting them in the yard waste bin.

My philosophy here is that there are many, many things that do not explode if you half-ass them a little. With ADHD it's been unbelievably tempting to link my moral worth to, say, the state of my filing cabinet. But it doesn't matter what the state of my filing cabinet is; all that matters is that I meet my obligations, and a neat filing system is not in itself an obligation. I've learned to value simplicity, roughness, and efficiency of effort over elegance, perfection, and beauty.
posted by phantom powered at 3:04 PM on May 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

When you make an appointment, immediately put it into your calendar device of choice (for me: iPhone calendar synced with Google) and have appointments configured to remind you (for me: day before, 1hr before is standard).

Throw junk mail out before you put the rest of daily mail down.

You say your kids aren't in school yet, but even when my preschooler gets a birthday invitation or some announcement I want to remember, I take a picture on my phone because I'll inevitably lose the paper. If it's something I'm likely to refer back to, like a class list or calendar, I email it to myself with a subject that will help me find it later (e.g., "2016 kid-name spelling list" or "2016 kid-name teacher-name 3rd grade class list").
posted by ellenaim at 3:06 PM on May 12, 2016

Oh, and one more -- chop, cook, and freeze onions. I find sauteeing onions maddening. It takes just long enough that I'm tempted to wander off and check my email, and then I ruin them. When you only want them for the taste, not the texture, they do very well frozen. Sometimes I don't bother to cook them; the freezing process breaks down the onion enough that it cooks faster.

I do a giant batch once in a while. A whole lot of meals become streamlined once I have them on hand.
posted by phantom powered at 3:17 PM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I underschedule things because stuff always comes up. One big thing per day and that's it. So if I'm going to the doctor, for example, I'm not grocery shopping that same day. If I have a high-energy "peak" day I will take advantage of it to accomplish as many things as I can without getting worn out. And I count emotional labor among "doing a thing" because it really takes a lot out of a person.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 4:04 PM on May 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

I always have one or two other chores/projects at hand. I may be trying to write x amount of words today but I've also got laundry going, am halfway through some menial sorting/tidying up projects and also baking bread. I say, If your mind desires variety and a change of pace every 15-30 minutes make sure you have productive activities for it to switch to.
posted by deadwater at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

This may sound like it promotes clutter, but I find it works extremely well for me: I keep a stack of bright, colorful sticky notes, as well as a pen in a few central places in my home. Whenever I'm looking at something and thinking "Gee, I need to [insert whatever here: hang a picture, polish a pair of shoes, etc]" I write the thing on the sticky note and stick it on the applicable object or place. Then I always see it when I walk by and I don't forget. I don't remove the sticky note until I've done the task. Fluorescent-colored sticky notes are highly visible and it's hard to ignore them, making it difficult to 'forget' something and thus really pushes me to take care of things around the house. I have a tendency to flit about (don't all of us with ADHD?) and think "I need to do that! that! and that! oh and that!" and forget about each thing as soon as I point it out to myself. With the sticky note system, that happens way less.

Seconding phantom powered's suggestion to frequently purge your possessions. I got caught up in the whole Marie Kondo tidying storm and don't regret it for a moment - life is so much easier (and happier) when you are only surrounded by the handful of things you truly need and enjoy.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:25 PM on May 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

If I'm going through my day and think of something I need to do later -- an email I need to send, an errand I have to run, etc, I make a voice to text note on my phone right away. Then when I'm home, or have a free minute, I put the notes in their proper place -- errands get scheduled on my google calendar which syncs to my phone and computer, with popup reminders on both devices, things to buy go on the whiteboard shopping list in the kitchen, everything else gets a sticky note, much like nightrecordings does. Appointments always go into my calendar as I'm booking them.

If I've had a sticky note hanging around too long and the thing is not getting done, I schedule it in my calendar too. Sometimes this is the only way anything gets done, and it prevents me from overbooking myself.

I make a meal plan / menu for the week - breakfast, lunch, and dinner, snacks, and make a shopping list for the ingredients I need. Sunday I go shopping in the morning and then I spend a few hours cooking so I have some ready made lunches and dinners throughout the week. That way I never have to think about what to make for dinner -- either I already know and have planned accordingly for time, or I just have to heat it up.
posted by ananci at 5:34 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing the "be a lumper, not a splitter"and "get rid of shit" advice above. I am still dealing with a LOT of chaos keeping my house and my home office in shape, but some things that work for me include:

1 - Banker's boxes (not file folders or paper trays -- big honkin' banker's boxes with the lids OFF) to hold last year's business papers, this year's business papers, current personal expenses (such as receipts for medical insurance claims), and stuff that needs to be deep filed or thrown out at some point. At appropriate intervals, I dig into the boxes for what I need and even put some papers into my filing cabinets eventually.

2 - I throw out most receipts right away (unless I'm in an enthusiastic tracking/budgeting phase). I keep receipts for all business purchases (goes in current biz banker's box) and for personal purchases where I may need to return an item under warranty (goes in personal banker's box).

3 - I organize things where it matters and let things stay messy where that makes sense. For example, I just reorganized all my drawers last week. The winter drawer of my dresser holds wool socks in several colours that are carefully folded in two separate dollar store baskets so that I can pull out a matched pair immediately, but the top drawer holds all my bras in a heap (easy to find a lacy bra versus sports bra) and the second drawer holds all my unfolded panties in a heap (easy to find the colour or design I want).

4 - A to-do list system that finally mostly works for me is Todoist for specific personal and business tasks (can add on my computer or my phone as I think of it) and Evernote (also on computer and phone) for big picture planning and idea collection with no due dates (e.g. some computer enhancements; plans for house reno/decor). I check both every night so that I can convert ripe Evernote stuff to specific Todoist tasks with due dates, and I write out the next day's tasks on a piece of paper and cross off things as they (mostly) get done.

(If you're like me and a lot of other ADHD people, you probably have a bunch of ideas bouncing around your head at all times. Evernote has been a godsend that lets me dump these ideas (text, images, web links, audio, etc.) into one place so that I don't lose stuff, and I can act on my ideas when I'm ready.)
posted by maudlin at 5:36 PM on May 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm with deadwater: I concentrate a whole lot better if I'm doing more than one thing at a time, especially if none of those things need to be done in a hurry (or are going to take a looooong time and the boredom kicks in). I do better if I go back and forth or split attention rather than FOCUS ON ONE THING FOR HOURS.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:40 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I keep a laundry basket tucked away in the living room which has kept bras and socks from accumulating like driftwood around my sofa.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:27 PM on May 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

A joint calendar ap for family calendar management.
posted by slateyness at 10:33 PM on May 12, 2016

Hi, I feel your pain so much! My husband and I both struggle with ADHD, we each have full-time jobs and we have two kids. It's HARD.

My husband is better at some things than I am, and I am better at some things than he is. For example, he has much better executive functioning than I do, so if we have a big project to do (like picking up the house or doing some kind of DIY project) he plans it out and breaks it down and then just divides the tasks between us, giving me a list of what to do. On the flip side, he is shitty about the minor day-to-day details so I'm in charge of the family calendar and tell him what everyone is doing today/this week. This is so helpful because it helps us each play to our strengths and not fuck up what we're bad at.

We use whiteboards, Google calendar, phone alerts/reminders, stuff like that. What we can plan in advance, we do (like meals). I carry around a Moleskin notebook and scribble notes to myself all day long. My husband uses the iCal on his phone to manage his life and he has a lot scheduled down to the minute.

Most of all we try to be forgiving of each other and ourselves. Accept you're going to forget stuff. I've struggled for years with thinking that being scatterbrained messy person is a huge moral failing, but it's really not.
posted by sutel at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2016

I have a clip on my keys and clip them onto a ring or loop of a bag or belt when I'm not actively using them. Always. Both when at home or out. This is great because I don't have to do any "try harder" to remember where they are, they are just there. Sometimes I have to look for the bag though. Don't ever clip them to a bag that you are planning to put in your trunk or lock in your car, thinking you will "remember" them later -- the whole point of this system is to remove the requirement to remember anything at all about where your keys are.

Spare car key in your wallet or something else you are likely to have with you if you've locked your keys in the car is also a good plan.
posted by yohko at 10:07 AM on May 13, 2016

I can identify, and I have been taking steps too. I recently heard the best advice from a friend - it's what I've been doing for a year or two now, but she put it into the best words:

Take on only what Regular Peagood can do, not what Super Hero Peagood can do.

So, last week I wanted to design a completely amazing website for my friend because I've taken a course and I care for her new business and I want to help. I maintain one at work! I can do this! But, it's a volunteer effort for an unstable person, and I'm not a professional. I have a bajillion other obligations. So Regular Peagood agreed to make a one-page website with only the most important information for her business on it, and links and contact information, and I took the pictures myself instead of waiting for whatever ones her friend was going to provide (and still hasn't) - instead of something with drop-down menus and photo galleries and such. And I did it in three hours, and I'm happy to maintain that for my friend -- though in my heart where Superhero Peagood lives, I'm so keen to make something gorgeous and fluid and detailed.

This kind of under-obligating or under-scheduling my time leaves me lots of time to pinball around like I did last night, deciding to re-pot some plants while the dishes dried. Otherwise, I'd still be working on that damn website!
posted by peagood at 10:21 AM on May 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

Thanks to everyone for all the answers! They are all good, so I just marked the ones that are the most useful for us now that we're not already doing. The most important big "aha!" moments for me are "be a lumper not a splitter" and "take on only what Regular Shoodoonoof can take on, not what Super Hero Shoodoonoof can do". I have those super productive times, where I do feel like a Super Hero of Productivity (such a super power, right?) and during these times I come up with awesome, elegant, clever, over engineered organizational systems that just don't work when I'm Regular Shoodoonoof.

I also thought of a few more things that we do that are in the same vein, so I thought I'd share:
-- For my work notes, I stopped organizing by projects/themes (which I have a lot of in my work) and started organizing chronologically, I use OneNote so I do a notebook for the year, and a page for each week with meetings, notes, to do's etc. under search friendly sub-headings. Then I rely on search to find what I need. This has worked well for over a year, a personal record for an organizational system! I'm thinking of doing something similar with my email, just my inbox and then an archive folder for each year, then just rely on search/sorting to find what I need, and flags in the inbox to find the wheat from the chaff. Lump, lump, lump.

-- For kids toys, we have a big toy box for all the random toys, but all the "set/theme" toys (lego's, lincoln logs, musical instruments, etc.) have a home (box, bag, shelf), and we keep a small bin in the living room for all the straggler toys from sets. When the bin gets full, or we're feeling productive, we take the whole thing and sort and put the pieces away. That way we're not expecting ourselves (and failing) to run back and forth from the living room to bedroom every time we find a Mr. Potato Head ear or a tinker toy.

-- The idea to email pictures of documents to yourself is great! I have been taking photos of some things but they are just impossible to find. I'm also thinking of setting up a family email so that we both have access to all that family related stuff. It also seems like it'll be useful when the kids to attend school for providing as a contact email.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 12:58 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is a small thing, and iphone-specific but presumably there's something similar for other smartphone calendar aps, but you can set your calendar app settings to create an alert by default when you create a new event. It's up to you to decide whether it makes more sense to make that, say, a 2 hour alert or a 1 day alert, but I find that changing this setting eliminated the occasions when I would remember to add an appointment to my calendar and then forget about it because I forgot to look at my calendar that day.

I keep a $20 bill in a small pocket in my purse in case I manage to leave the house with my purse but without my wallet and wind up needing to buy gas or something; I also keep a $20 bill in the glove box in case I find myself in the same situation and haven't even brought my purse.

I have a key lockbox by the door in case I leave the house without my key.

Also, I have a big document on Google drive that is probably totally insufficiently secured, but it contains all my important account numbers, passwords, and so on.

There's no shame in treating your car like a backpack on wheels. I carry around a lot of stuff that I need only rarely but that I'm unlikely to remember to pack on the occasions I do need it (or may not realize I need until I've left the house): camp chair. plastic forks. umbrella and sunglasses. extra jacket. bottled water. granola bars. a small towel. Sun screen.
posted by drlith at 8:25 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, hey!
I use my fridge as whiteboard for food shopping lists, then take a picture of it with my phone.
I have a separate album on my phone for important doc images.
I have my weekly disposal budget amount going to the account that has no account keeping fees, and it's also got the best app so i know how much is in there instantly, and can be careful food shopping if i need to.
Appointments straight into my private google calendar but i set up my work one to suck that info up too.
Black socks. Only black socks, ever. Same length.
Every thing that i have figured out how to automate, i have (including watering my garden).
I sewed a caribiner into my handbag and my work swipe card, transport card, various keys, and loyalty card with hole punched and key ringed, all clip in.
My handbag goes across my body so i find it hard to forget.

My painting gear is all stored in a basket on my bookcase, and i get far less frustrated because everything is at hand and i don't forget that a particular tool exists, which i do if it's in a drawer.

I do buy disposable bowls, coffee cups and drinking cups. I've only been doing it for three months, and it's just for one, but has made a huge difference to me, as i don't have a dishwasher.

Some weeks i cook up a bunch of food (usually chicken breasts) and then have them with salad or veges or pasta but i don't need to remember to defrost, because i won't.

I have a charging station set up where my cables for ipad, iphone, samsung tablet, and two different canon camera battery sizes are stored.

I used a label maker to put tags on my PC cables because i have about a million all with different ends and i would have to check every time the hole it was going into.

I printed a bunch of labels with my name and phone number and stuck them to things like my portable hard drive after one particularly horrific 24 hours when i lost mine. When i was travelling through NZ by myself, i bought a bunch of fluorescent yellow stickers which i applied to anything of mine they would stick to. Whenever i left a room, vehicle whatever, seeing one yellow sticker would remind me to collect things (phone charger, ipad, toiletries bag).
posted by b33j at 2:04 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh and sometimes i take pictures of where the car is in the carpark so i can find my way back.
posted by b33j at 2:06 AM on May 14, 2016

I thought of some more:

When you are charging your phone or other devices away from home, put your bag near the charging and put the device in (or on, but only if the bag is close enough to the floor not to damage the device if it falls) the bag with the cord coming out. Make sure to arrange things so that you'll notice the cord emerging when you get your bag, because you can damage things if the cord gets yanked.

This also works if you are getting ready for a trip. Or if you forget your phone a lot, you can do it at home whenever you are charging.

Generally, if I'm at someone else's house I try to keep all my stuff together, and put any additional items I need to take when I leave with my stuff.

For loading the car, in the past I've found it helpful to have an area at home where I can lay out stuff. I used to do this along the edge of a hallway near the door. I find it easier to see if everything I need is there if I can literally look at it. Then, once the hallway was empty the car was loaded. I haven't found a way to do a similar thing without the hallway though -- having it be a space that items aren't normally kept in is part of what worked well.

Shopping: for those various items I need to pick up "sometime" from stores I don't go to all that often, I keep a running list that I keep with me. Then if I'm at the hardware store picking up things that are more urgently needed, I can look at the list and restock on lightbulbs or whatever. Also, I buy huge packages of TP, paper towels, batteries, tissues, etc. at Costco so it's rare to run out of these things. When the supplies are running low I put it on the "sometime" list.

There's a few things that I've bought extras of until it got to the point where it wasn't so time consuming to find them. Scissors -- now I have them in the pen cup in most rooms (Or I did, some of them have become lost recently, and are probably with my car toolkit or camping supplies or something. Guess I need more.). Not having to remember to put them away in some other room makes it a lot easier to keep track of them, and this has saved me a lot of time. Oh, and having a pen cup in most rooms is great too! I also have utility knives, nail files, screwdrivers, needle-nose pliers and other pen-shaped items in them. Different cups accumulate different collections of things as they are needed, and over time this means the things that tend to be used in a room are in that room. Paper of some sort, maybe post-its, near the pen cups.

For taking medications at the same time every day, phone reminders. For just keeping track of that you've already taken the medication, make a habit of entering the time it was taken onto your calendar every single time, and always check the calendar before taking the medication. There's probably some app out there for this now I would guess.

I keep a bunch of useful items in my car, in a toolbox to keep them organized. Various things that are just handy to have sometimes. Spare sunglasses, safety glasses, push pins for bulletin boards, pens, paper, eyeglasses repair kit, can opener, plastic silverware, trash bags, many more things. This is pretty individual as to what you'd put in there -- I'm not even sure it would work for two adults to share one. With young kids you'd probably want different things than what I have. I try to remember (maybe I need a calendar reminder!) to sort through the box, as many of the items are either consumables or get given away to people in need of them, and I also put random useful items that I get into the box. Sorting through the box also works for me to recall/remember (so different than trying to magically remember something with no cues) I've got silverware in there when I get something to go and forget to pick up silverware -- I find that I naturally recall I have an X when I've realized an X would be really useful, YMMV.
posted by yohko at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2016

« Older Know how to do one big cake, need to do two small...   |   Please don't dial 911... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.