Do you think through talking? How on earth do you work alone?!
November 21, 2019 3:42 PM   Subscribe

My best ideas come through talking with other people. However, I'm a solo consultant--hired for these ideas and my content expertise, but really doing most of my work alone. How can I better channel the energy, focus, and inspiration I get from from conversation to guide my workweek, when I have only an hour or two a week with my client?

I have ADHD (medicated, but only diagnosed this year and still figuring it all out) and am a verbal processor. The problems I solve through monologuing/ranting and answering questions on the fly are often among the strongest contributions I make to a project, because I can focus enough to leverage my expertise and creativity to solve problems.

I procrastinate wildly left to my own devices, but get great ideas and work done from talking to people/improvising/brainstorming in conversation. Yet for various reasons (job market, wanting a flexible schedule, burnout) I am currently a consultant working with one main client organization, which means that I do a lot of my work alone, or coworking near a friend who's working on an unrelated project.

Any suggestions about how I can best leverage my brain given these constraints are very appreciated! In the medium-term I'd like to work with a team again, but even then will still need to channel this energy and focus.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Work & Money (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe get a job coach? You'd have to pay them, of course, but they might be able to help.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:09 PM on November 21, 2019

Is there some person or audience you could use as the (ostensible) recipients of voice messages/recordings? They could actually listen to none or some of them.
posted by delezzo at 4:20 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I call my mom—do you know someone who's retired and would be willing to listen? I also occasionally talk to myself, ha.
posted by pinochiette at 4:29 PM on November 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a job for a rubber duck!
posted by burntflowers at 4:29 PM on November 21, 2019 [14 favorites]

Peer supervision is great for this. Do you know (and trust) others doing similar work who’d want to meet and talk about ideas and tricky problems? I very much think by talking and sometimes schedule meetings with colleagues just to talk something through together, and when I was telecommuting for awhile a peer supervision group saved my brain.
posted by centrifugal at 4:54 PM on November 21, 2019

I feel the same way in that it's hard for me to think through things with my thinking-voice alone which is especially challenging when I'm working from home and don't have instant access to the SMEs I'm working with. Would your coworking buddy be open to listening to you talk sometimes? Another thing I do to break through is drawing/doodling while I think, whether it's on topic or just random. Try to get different parts of your brain moving.
posted by bleep at 5:11 PM on November 21, 2019

I'm a strong extrovert who does my best thinking with my mouth, yet have worked alone for many many years. Fortunately, my husband is in a near-enough field that he can provide that sounding board. But (depending on your area of expertise) don't dismiss your clients for this; I always found that I did my very best work when my client asked good questions. Another trick I've used is to create an outline for a "speech" on whatever topic I was working on. Anticipating the audience's reactions and likely questions would help guide and tighten my own thinking. Finally, when writing a report for the client, I would ask (aloud) "what am I really trying to say here?" whenever my wording was too muddled or I felt my point drifting a bit.
posted by DrGail at 5:35 PM on November 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

My husband paces, talks to himself, stands up at a whiteboard and writes on it while talking to himself, when he's in an office occasionally books a conference room with whiteboard walls to walk, talk, and draw/write. When he's working at home he explains things to the cat, who would probably be an expert app programmer by now if he had thumbs or cared.

He sometimes explains things to me over Slack, where all that's required is I keep an eye out for the occasional GUI and/or web accessibility questions since that's my wheelhouse, and occasionally explains things to me in the car on the way home--we work for the same institution, in different departments--where I mostly page through Reddit and say "Mm-hm" because my required contribution is that I be there. (In return he untangles knotty SQL and other coding problems for me, so this isn't a one-way deal.)
posted by telophase at 7:45 AM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have ADHD and one of my closest friends, who does as well, often uses me as a sounding board when he is trying to think through various things. Another buddy, with ADHD, and I sometimes work in the same office together just to get body double help.

In the past, I have also been helped when doing projects by ranting/talking out loud to a partner or another friend (in these cases, people who did not have ADHD). Think about who you know who might be good at playing this role with you and who could benefit from your expertise/time/thoughts as well.

The key is finding a mutually beneficial relationship, and it doesn't have to be based on both of you having ADHD or both of you working alone. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:07 AM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

20191122 1502
This is an odd one but I keep a constant stream-of-conciousness style log for every task I work on. I note the date at the start of a new day, and record the time at the start of new thoughts, which often correspond to new paragraphs, so it looks something like the way I've formatted this post.

1504 then, throughout the document I talk to myself. I say hello, and how's it going and we often talk in the collective, like "okay friend, next we need to tackle this that and the other"

1505 I think a personal slack would work for this fairly well, but I keep it all as text files and I format in markdown so it is easily searchable (and costs much less).

1507 following is an excerpt from work I was doing earlier today that's a little more representative:

1323 Passed and now it is in the build. So lets try - well first lets commit.
1324 okay, now lets try doing just android again to make sure it works.
1339 huh. Android build isn't doing [redacted] anymore. Because I'm using the wrong method probably?
1340 probably. Starting build again.
1348 yep, that was it! Got both Android and iOS working when created independently. Things are still a gross mess but this is good!

1508 For me it comes from spending a fair bit of my career doing ad hoc pair programming and currently being in an environment where it isn't common. The banter and back and forth discussion is a fantastic tool for figuring things out and while all this suffers from coming from only one brain I found it keeps me on focus and helps me restore focus a lot quicker as well.

1510 since you're more of a verbal thinker - I sort of am too except I have a better flow between my brain and my fingers than my brain and my mouth, so text is my preferred medium most of the time anyway - perhaps rubber ducking as suggested above, and perhaps using a piece of software that supports voice-to-speech.
posted by cCranium at 12:12 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: You're all brilliant, and this gave me so many ideas, thank you!
posted by c'mon sea legs at 5:36 PM on November 22, 2019

Sockpuppets. Let Lefty and Righty chat and be the mediator. Forget the socks and just let Lefty and Righty have a little debate.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:49 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've had to resort to rubber ducking. I will warn that you have to REALLY TRULY commit to imagining that the object can listen, you can't just perform it. And you absolutely have to talk out loud. Otherwise, the brain thing doesn't kick in.
posted by desuetude at 7:08 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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