Executive dysfunction, ADD, or something else?
June 25, 2017 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I consider myself fairly smart and educated, but I'm nearing the end of my long education and am about to need a whole lot more skills in the areas of goal-setting, planning, and staying on task department. Snowflake details inside.

I've been in school for as long as I can remember, and school has never been difficult for me. Regardless of my ability to plan well, I have always been able to write a paper or take a test with as much or as little preparation as I'm able to muster at the time, and I've honestly done pretty well to this point.

However, I'm 30 and about to graduate the last of my gazillion educational programs, and it's time to get a job. Many people with my training and background have built up skills in project management, managing large groups of people, and I perceive that these people have impeccable systems to organize their thoughts and plans. I am not one of those people. I have intermittently used some mishmash of paper planners or journals(which never last long--I have a stack of freshly-started notebooks that have about 10 used pages each), task apps, inbox management systems, and fancy calendar systems to no avail.

I have the feeling that I'm going to need to develop these skills, and I'd like to put some intentional focus to building these skills. I've cleared my desk about 5 prior times to start using GTD, but it never sticks. I think the system that has most come close to resonating for me is the Bullet Journal, which I love but it's hard to keep using the system even though I think it might be great for me.

To make things more difficult, I work across several domains (one with random shift work through the month, the other with 9-5, M-F type meetings), so my work schedule isn't consistent. I don't have a true place to sit and do my work at the moment since I'm still technically a student, and I have several kids at home that makes it a challenge to find time to sit and take time to plan my week out intentionally. These various factors essentially result in me triaging in my mind what needs to be done at home and at work in a given day and shooting from the hip to get as many of those things done as possible. This results in occasional stress at work (I handle stress pretty well and can usually compensate), and definitely some stress at home (wife would like more consistency in how we plan out our time instead of me just getting things done on the fly).

I would say I'm productive in that I perceive that I can get a lot of things done in a day, but I'm not focused, so while I may get a lot done, it's not always the *right* things that get done, and things get missed or put aside that I may not have as much motivation to finish.

I briefly tried meds for ADD and they did help with temporal focus on specific tasks, but my overall level of organization wasn't really affected. I have done some research into executive dysfunction and to some level it could apply, but I'm able to start tasks and task switch fairly readily (in some cases too readily instead of staying focused). I haven't really ever done any forms of therapy; any interventions I've tried so far have been self motivated.

So what do I do? How do I build these skills after 30 years of being able to get by without "needing them?" How do I make them stick rather than just being another system I've tried? Do I need to just suck it up, pick a system, and stop at nothing to keep it going?
posted by sciencemandan to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Of course after a lot of searching I hadn't found much, but right after I posted I ran across this previous thread. This fits me to a T. I'm digesting the comments there, but would appreciate any other advice!
posted by sciencemandan at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2017

I think you over estimate how much people have great systems for organizing projects. The vast majority of people I know including managers, including myself do not have great systems for organizing things. I know a handful of people who do and each has a different style.

I think if you really want a system, pick one and do it for a while. Gtd has training classes you can take that might make implementing this easier. I'd start by figuring out a shared task system with your wife for home stuff, since that seems to be the big stressor and honestly you may never need this at work.

Mostly I'm here to encourage you not to pathologize this behavior. I think many people struggle with this to some degree, and many who are successful despite this (myself included).
posted by ch1x0r at 12:41 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

As someone who is constantly tweaking and readjusting my to-do list in a futile attempt to make it a more palatable thing to tackle, I hear ya.

I know you said that bullet journaling hasn't clicked, but I always have to ask--how fancy are you getting with it? Because the extra fancy stuff was what was throwing me at first, but once I stopped trying to do any of that, it got a lot more useful. Any more I just have the future log, the month-at-a-glance pages (the day-by-day calendar + the general monthly to-dos), and the daily to-do lists, and while it's not perfect, it's really done a lot to help me keep a birds' eye view on what I need to get done.

How do you feel about apps? I'm not great about remembering to use them, but I really liked Todoist when I tried it, and there are a couple of other great options out there that can help manage to-do lists in a flexible way.

I think the biggest thing, whatever you end up doing, is to commit completely to whatever you pick. Some people use Google Calendar, some use Trello* or Evernote or Todoist or some other app, and some keep bullet journals or other analog to-do lists, but the big thing they all have in common is that the people who use them use them regularly and in a committed enough way that they become indispensable. It's hard to know which method will work for you at first, but even if you end up trying a couple of different things, you have to really build it into your lifestyle every chance you get to get it to stick. It sucks, but it can be really helpful in the long run. (Though, speaking from personal experience, it doesn't always help with procrastination. :P)

Good luck--this is an ongoing struggle for me as well!

*IDK if you've already heard of this or used it, but Trello in particular is supposed to be really awesome for project managers, and I've certainly enjoyed using it for my own purposes. Asana is another one I hear mentioned a lot.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2017

I had to double check to make sure I didn't write this ask... I have the whole executive function thing going on too. So does my 15 year old son. For him, it's ADHD. For me, it's anxiety and perfectionism.

Do I need to just suck it up, pick a system, and stop at nothing to keep it going?
Well... yeah. At least, in my experience. I had a Don't Break the Chain poster going on my wall for a good while. It was great at first, but then I stopped caring. I'm not even sure where the star stickers I was using for it wound up. I've tried kanban boards, GTD, Todoist, and The Big Picture. (The Big Picture worked the best for me, but wasn't QUITE where I needed it to be.) But then I found Trello. Love me some Trello.

I've got a board for today's "wish list." I can't do a to-do list any more; too stressful. Way too much pressure. But a wish list, that's perfect. It's great if I get things done from it, but if I don't, that's ok, too.

I've got two boards for my sales business - one for leads and one for customers and workflow.

Two boards for my freelance business - one for brainstorming ideas, the other for workflow.

One board for continuing education - blogs to follow, podcasts to listen to, books to read, edX and oli free college courses to take.

And the most important board - a running brain dump. I have significant memory issues, so the moment I think of something, it goes on that board. If it's not in Trello, it never happened. It currently includes such diverse items as organize medical supplies, to clean out purse, to research ashwaganda, to figure out where the hell my makeup is, to finish building the website.

The other thing that helps me is post-it notes. They're everywhere. "Don't be a writer; be writing." "Don't believe everything you think." "Don't edit. Do It." "I just happen to be motivated at 8 a.m. every day." "You don't have to be good all the time; you have to be good when it's time." Every time I find a catchphrase or so that resonates with me, it goes on a post-it note and goes on the wall I'm facing, behind my computer.

Find a system that works FOR YOU. It doesn't matter that Todoist didn't work for me. It might be just the thing you need. Maybe post-it notes aren't your thing; maybe you need posters instead. I have rubber duckies, rhinoceroses, and flamingos all over my room, because they each inspire me in different ways. Maybe you need lions and tigers and bears.

I once heard a mentor in my sales business - don't remember who, or I'd tell you! - say that there are only two rules to success in any venture:
1. Start.
2. Don't stop.
You've got your marching orders. i have faith in you!
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 9:44 AM on July 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

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