Help me with my ADD.
March 22, 2006 10:13 PM   Subscribe

How can I focus and prioritize more effectively? Do I need ADHD medication?

In both my professional and student roles I'm having trouble getting things done. I believe I have some form of ADD because:

~I'll change the radio constantly in the car, even if its something I like.
~I'll change the channel randomly on TV, and I feel extremely motivated to surf.
~If I'm using my computer, sometimes I'll just turn on the TV and drop what I was doing.
~Sometimes, I'll be watching something (Subtitled anime) on the computer, and I'll just pause it, and turn on the TV for no reason, or I'll stop and go surf.
~I'll stop every few minutes when I study to get drinks, walk around, surf, lift weights or do pushups, eat, clean, whatever.

I also have problems prioritizing things that I need to do. I know that I need to get something done, and I'll think about allocating time to it, but I'll just completely neglect to do it in a timely manner or ahead of time. I'll get started with wasting time doing activities like surfing, watching TV, idle chat on AIM... intending to spend only 20 to 30 minutes and then get stuff done, and lo and behold 3 hours will disappear.

~At work I'll be working on something, then stop to get coffee, surf, or talk.

I've tried Welbutrin in the past, and it made me extremely/uncontrolably irritable, depressed, and didn't help with my symptoms at all.

I've heard good and bad things about Aderol. I was thinking of trying it out.

Ideally I could force myself to just get things done, but I don't think thats going to just happen...
posted by mhuckaba to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't help with the medication, but professionally: Getting Things Done
posted by frogan at 10:21 PM on March 22, 2006

Be careful with moving to ADHD meds (especially Adderol)...most are highly addictive and frequently, the negative side effects out-weight the benefits.

There are a couple of books that have given me endless help in this arena:
1) First Things First by Stephen Covey
2) Getting Things Done by David Allen
3) The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama

Finally, in many cases similar to yours, there are usually some underlying issues that are at the heart of it. Perhaps seeking the help of a psychologist would be of benefit.

You mentioned little about how you feel (your emotions) when you are engaging in these activities & how you feel when you reflect on them. I'd be interested in knowing what sort of underlying emotional states you are experiencing - especially when you engage in these activities that you seem to deem ineffective.

Best of luck & remember, the drugs don't work - they're just a temporary fix.
posted by Jhaus at 10:40 PM on March 22, 2006

Response by poster: Sometimes I feel afraid, sometimes I feel the need to escape, sometimes I feel overwhelmed, but when I feel neutral and just can't control randomly picking up something else, that is when I most worry about my behavior.
posted by mhuckaba at 10:51 PM on March 22, 2006

Maybe treat the Internet as an addiction. A friend and I were amazed not just how much we could get done, but how free we felt, when we turned off his wireless router. It's seriously worth a try.

Regarding procrastination, this helped me the most.
posted by salvia at 12:03 AM on March 23, 2006

I wonder how much of this might be driven by beliefs that you can change. In a balanced life, you would look for more stimulating activities when you feel under-stimulated, and less stimulating activities when you feel overstimulated. However, you (and many of us) are looking for more and more stimulating activities despite the fact that what you really need is to spend some time cleaning the house/reading a book/paying bills/cooking/sitting quietly/going for a walk somewhere peaceful/meditating - things that you probably avoid now because they are "boring".

Could it be possible to change the way you think about things? So instead of exciting=good, boring=bad you have exciting=good when I really need excitement, boring/calming=good when I need to calm down. I really think this would help.

You could also motivate this by keeping in mind that when you completely reject any exposure to boredom ever, you tend to end up with the most boring life possible.
posted by teleskiving at 12:33 AM on March 23, 2006

This probably won't work as I've had mixed results in the past, but try making a To Do list and allow yourself awards. For example, "if I finish reading this chapter I'll allow myself 30 mins of television" or something similar. A lot of ADD and ADHD management is behavoral, so relearning how to prioritize is helpful if you don't feel that going the medication route is the only way to go (it might not be, each person is different).

I've been living with ADD since childhood, and am on Lexapro for stress and depression, but not as a treatment for ADD. I've found the Lexapro helps "unclutter" some of my mental clutter, so I'm better able to perform tasks. Presently, for financial reasons, I've been cold turkey for the last two weeks, so I'm a bit of a mess and I can't seem to read more than 3 pages without finding something else to do for a wee bit.

The best way to tackle this is to talk it over with your primary care provider, assuming you have one. He or she should be able to provide you with some form of information, either about a specialist or perhaps even local organizations about living with ADD and ADHD. I personally don't think meds are the only answer, but your doctor and your specialist can best advise you on a course of treatment if that's the way you want to go. Each person with ADD/ADHD is different.
posted by missed at 1:52 AM on March 23, 2006

missed had my best advice. I live with a guy with ADD for years and the number one thing that has helped him manage his attention issues has been LOTS of exercise and LOTS of scheduling, timers and outlines. Somehow being really active calms his mind down and makes him more able to do a lot more things calmly afterwards. Scheduling means that he has some sort of a structure that doesn't him make as many "Ooh I want to check out that shiny thing" choices when he has homework to do.

There's a pretty big gap, performance-wise, between the folks I know with ADD and the folks who just have the continuous partial attention that the Internet and rapid task switching gives us. Get diagnosed before you start to worry about medicine. Many people decide they don't want to take medication (my partner included) but I know it's been a lifesaver for other people. I'll have to strongly object to what Jhaus said about medication. They work great for some people, less great for others and some people decide not to take them and manage their ADD without them. It's really worth making a considered decision with the help of a doctor or therapist and not thinking of it as some sort of "I have a headache, I need aspirin" situation. If you have ADD, there is a good chance medication will help. If you don't have ADD, then you have a different set of options to consider.

I've written here about ADD before and there are a few posts you could look through. There is a lot of good information on the CHADD website and if you haven't read Driven to Distraction, sort of the classic dealing with ADD book, you might enjoy it and learn some things from it.
posted by jessamyn at 4:15 AM on March 23, 2006

Data point: drugs (Ritalin, Adderall, Strattera, among others) do work. All the good intentions, coaching, counseling, strategizing etc. will only work if you can focus your attention—if you can set your mind to some thought or task and expect it to still be there in, say, five minutes. Ritalin, Adderall, Strattera and the others don't make you organized or productive; they (whichever of the stimulants or non-stimulant alternatives works for you) make productivity, focus and progress possible.

You can only use strategies, tips, and professional counseling/coaching if you can already focus your attention reliably(i.e., you're able to focus your attention whenever you decide to—within reason, obviously—and on whatever task/idea/object you choose to) and sufficiently(i.e., long enough).

Only you can tell whether or not you're physically able to focus your attention when you should be able to (don't let people tell you you're simply lazy, or that you aren't using the proper strategy). So, only you can tell whether or not you need a drug to compensate for a deficiency in your brain's neurochemical behavior. ADD/ADHD isn't about an attitude change; that's BS. It's about compensating for a real, physical condition caused by your brain's (in)capacity to produce enough of this-or-that chemical to make it possible for you to apply the Getting Things Done system, or to benefit from a life coach/counselor who specializes in helping ADD/ADHD people, or etc.
posted by Yeomans at 4:20 AM on March 23, 2006

You can only use strategies, tips, and professional counseling/coaching if you can already focus your attention reliably(i.e., you're able to focus your attention whenever you decide to—within reason, obviously—and on whatever task/idea/object you choose to) and sufficiently(i.e., long enough).

As a ADD parent of an ADHD child, all I can say is YES! My son and I objectively know every strategy in the book, but if we're distracted by the pretty post-its on our organizer, strategy is only going to go so far.

To the poster: see a shrink, go through the diagnostic steps and see where you end up. A med like adderall is completely different from one like Wellbutrin (I've been on both). If your doc decides to try meds, s/he'll work with you to find the right combo. Depression often goes with ADD, simply because it's terribly depressing to never get anything done.

One other thing you might want to check is your sleep. I went through a sleep study and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Now that I am using an air mask at night, I find my symptoms of depression and ADD are much less.
posted by Biblio at 4:37 AM on March 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Speaking as the last generation of unmedicated ADD children in the United States, I have developed quite a few strategies for helping me be productive.

1) no caffeine -- Contrary to popular wisdom, stimulants make it very difficult for me to concentrate deeply. If I'm doing a lot of organizational stuff, or writing, a cup of coffee a day can be very helpful, but if I need to do extended deep reading or another task that requires extended concentration, I just can't do it, at all.

2) very little refined sugar -- No candy, chocolate, breakfast cereal, etc. The surge of short-term energy makes me want to do anything but what it is that I'm supposed to be doing.

2) eating breakfast -- I'm not constantly thinking about what I can be eating during the morning, which needs to be a very productive time for me.

3) yoga -- Daily practice. Sharpens up the mind. Sharpens up the body.

4) alternate tasks -- When I have the choice, I only spend about 2 hours doing any given thing. I do something difficult, then I take up an easier project (or one that requires different strengths). Variety helps me to keep from getting burnt out.

5) sleep -- I don't need 8 hours of sleep every night, but when I get it I'm happy and when I'm happy I concentrate better.

6) organize regularly -- I try to do some organizational work every day. The more organized I can keep my projects and my life, the better I can keep my thoughts organized. It' a weird synergy, but it's definitely there.

Good luck.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:54 AM on March 23, 2006

Yoga and meditation helped me. Also, as missed has suggested, a "To Do" list works wonders. A list puts things in order in black and white, instead of just cluttering up my head. Crosssing things off the list is very rewarding. I make one every day of things I must accomplish only that day & when I'm finished, I let myself surf, talk, daydream, etc.
posted by Alpenglow at 7:14 AM on March 23, 2006

no caffeine -- Contrary to popular wisdom, stimulants make it very difficult for me to concentrate deeply. If I'm doing a lot of organizational stuff, or writing, a cup of coffee a day can be very helpful, but if I need to do extended deep reading or another task that requires extended concentration, I just can't do it, at all.

This seems to vary hugely from person to person. I have spent 2005 and the start of 2006 almost entirely without caffeine (just the odd cup to help on a long drive) and I can say that I almost never achieved a really strong level of focus on something really difficult. I gave it up mainly because I was getting really irritable when it wore off and because it seemed like I always ended up drinking more and more, but now I'm thinking of going back on the stuff and just doing a better job of managing it. For me there is certainly some level that means I will be too buzzed to get anything done and it is possible that the poster is experiencing that effect.
posted by teleskiving at 8:13 AM on March 23, 2006

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