I’m not productive on weekends—no matter how I try, various social commitments distract me. And it’s tough for me to be productive mid-week if I have an engagement in the evening.
To put it simply, I get scared. I’m terrified of being late. (Lateness being a Major Sin according to my mother, may she rest in peace.) So I dare not do anything that might put me into an ADHD hyperfocused state… which means I get almost nothing done.
This isn’t an unfounded fear. Before I set up systems to bombard myself with visible and audible alarms, I’d miss about a third of my appointments. I still miss some.
So, having fallen behind—again—in Camp NaNoWriMo, I’m cranking myself up to an unhealthy level of paranoia, which of itself will make it more likely that either I’ll fall behind further, or miss an engagement.
So starting today, I’m going to schedule anything I need to schedule as early as possible. If I have an evening commitment, I’ll arrange for pickup by someone prompt so that if I become hyperfocused, it’s not a disaster. And I’ll avoid evening engagements as much as possible. Not just for the duration of Camp NaNoWriMo, but in future, period. I’m tired of this crap.
For Camp Nanowrimo this year, I’m tracking minutes spent actually writing fiction, as opposed to new words or some other measure. All well and good, but how do I track it when I’m so distractible? How do I tell genuine research, for example, from a distraction? How do I count minutes when I lose track of time so badly that I forget to set a timer for—how long? Was that an hour that slipped by? Do I count time when I’m staring at the screen for—seconds? Minutes? while my brain throws a distraction event and I check out of the planet temporarily?
Seriously, I have little sense of time passing. It’s the ADHD thing. I have a bunch of systems in place, and yet I still manage to miss occasional appointments—I live in dread of it.
So I’m doing the best I can, here. RescueTime helps if it hasn’t crashed and I’m on my Mac. I assume any time Scrivener’s on screen I’m writing. RescueTime’ll catch any time I check out for more than 5 minutes. And I close Scrivener when I’m done on the Mac so RescueTime can’t count any time when Scriv’s just onscreen momentarily.
iOS has been more of a problem historically. I resist using a free service, but I’ve finally given in and turned on Apple Screentime on both my devices. Again I only count time in Scrivener, regardless of whether I was really, really researching or whatever. I’d rather under report than over report.
Other than that, I can only hope that the time I spend tuned out makes up for accidental double recording.
So as far as I can tell, I managed to catch up to “par” today as far as reaching my 3000 minute goal for the month. Onward!
As an ADHD writer, I consider a decent level of noise isolation (or noise cancellation) plus a source of instrumental music or soothing noise (AKA “distraction filter”) essential to being able to get any writing done. I had been using my HyperX Cloud II gaming headset for this purpose. But… I lost it.
This is a mild disaster.
Don’t ask me how I lost it. The thing was huge. You’d think that I would be able to keep track of it much more easily than a pair of earbuds. But there it was—or rather, there it wasn’t. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had it out of my backpack and no one turned it in as lost-and-found in any of my usual haunts.
Almost all ear tips (the parts that actually go inside your ear) suck.
Maybe not the ones from Bose. Those appear to get almost universal praise in Amazon reviews. But all the other manufacturers (including Apple) have reviews that hinge heavily on whether the ear tips provided actually happen to fit the reviewer’s ears. If the fit is poor or the tip doesn’t seal with the ear canal, there may be tinny sound, discomfort, poor noise isolation, and the earpiece may just fall out. Thus, since on-ear or over-ear headsets have fewer fit problems, in-ear headsets have consistently poorer reviews than the same manufacturer’s outside-ear models.
For years now, I’ve just thrown away those silicone ear tips that come with most in-ear headsets, and replaced them with Comply Ear Tips. First, because they’re made from memory foam, I can get a good fit (you compress them before inserting, like foam earplugs.) Second, they do a decent job of noise isolation. Not as good as my HyperX Cloud did, but much better than those little silicone earbud donuts. Finally, I can replace them when they wear out. Even the cheapest gas station ear buds will work OK to filter distractions if I have a pair of Complies on me that will fit the buds.
That said, the old Audio-Technica headset has seen better days. The belt clip on its control and battery box has broken, and fewer devices come with wired headset connectors. So I’m thinking about its possible replacement with a noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset.
Hmm… I should find out whether anyone makes in-ear Bluetooth gaming headsets…
Bullet journalling is a popular concept now. Be creative with your personal information system! Free yourself from the tyranny of electronics! My ADHD brain said, “Oooh! Something new and shiny!” So I bought myself a beautiful journal and expensive pens, and started in.
Fortunately, the experiment didn’t last too long.
Bullet journalling works on the same principles as the old Franklin-Covey paper system I was taught in the 80’s—and the principles have probably been around a lot longer than that. Write things down on they day they happen, or are supposed to happen. Write an index for them every month. Refer back to related things as you write. They work for many people—but not for me.
Paper doesn’t beep, you see.
Paper is cool, it’s sensuous, and I can spend lots of time and money finding just the right journal and the perfect set of pens for my stuff. I’d love to handwrite all my organisational notes free-form on paper, but… I have to have an alarm set to remind me to update them or look at them. And I can’t find things that I need as reference, because I can’t remember what category I filed them under or when they happened, so I have to search all the index pages, and then all the other pages, too. I can scan them into Evernote to make them searchable, which begs the question: Why bother with paper at all?
If I want the benefits of handwriting and a free-form personal info system (with elaborately decorated F-bombs in) I can use an electronic free-form notetaking app such as my favourite, Noteshelf, which is searchable online (when connected to Evernote) and can be tied in to various automatic cattle-prod-zap systems I’ve already set up so as I won’t neglect it. And Evernote’s search functions mean that I don’t ever have to try to write indexes, or try to find something via a handwritten index. (Yuck.) Seriously, categorisation is difficult for me, as it is for many with ADHD. Remembering when something happened is also difficult. The beauty of Evernote is that I can search by anything I remember about a note, without having to wonder what category I put it in, what tags I stuck on it, or when I added it. (I found some writing notes under “Recipes” recently. No, they weren’t about food. I don’t know how they got there.)
I do better with creating a structure that’s both external and automated, so that once I decide to do a thing and get it into my system, it periodically punches me in the face. Eventually, it will get done, or I decide not do to it, and delete it. Meanwhile I have rewards (via Habitica) and punishments (via Beeminder) built-in to help me keep on track.
So no, no elaborate paper tracking systems for me—at least not until they make paper that beeps.
For anyone new to this blog, I am diagnosed with adult ADHD. Though it’s called “attention deficit,” it’s more like “attention excess.” I either can’t stop paying attention to everything, (“Oh, look! A lizard! And there’s a hummingbird! Your hat’s on crooked…”) or I can’t stop paying attention to something. (Passerby in a parking lot: “Hey, lady! LADY! STOP READING YOUR DAMNED BOOK! YOUR CAR’S ON FIRE! LADY!…”) The first is a distracted state, the second is hyperfocused. I seldom experience any state in between.
I once took biofeedback treatments for ADHD. It worked—sort of. But as it is always a conscious decision to use my hard-won discipline, I rarely remember to invoke it, until the situation in which I really needed it is past. And rather by definition, if I’ve become hyperfocused I won’t remember to use it to get out of hyperfocus…
The internet and a smartphone are godsends for me. I never miss a payment any more because they’re all set up automatically. I seldom miss an appointment, because alerts will go off—loudly and repeatedly—until I turn them off because I’m on my way.
But it’s not foolproof. As in the example above, I literally do not hear things if I am hyperfocused. So I have flashy things on my devices. My Fitbit wristband may vibrate. And there are situations that aren’t covered. I go out of my way to make sure that each of the things I might normally choose to carry my stuff on an outing (wallet, backpack, travelling purse, the mid-sized bag I use when I want to write with my iPad, etc.) contains at least a pen, a cheap capacitative stylus, a (tiny) pad of paper, etc. I described the absurdly long list of electronics in my backpack in my post “Back to Basics Writing Gear,” but part of the reason for that long list is the very real fear that I may get to my destination and be unable to write because I’ve forgotten some tool.
I’ve been afraid to start a writing session if there was anything on my calendar for afterwards. Either I’d be coping with distractedness and my pace would be snail-like, requiring a long time block to achieve any goal (such as the daily word count for NaNoWriMo), or I’d become hyperfocused and any obligation besides writing would slip off my brain. (“WHAT anniversary dinner?”)
What does all this have to do with a ketogenic diet?
Since my brain started running on ketones, my track record on remembering stuff is much better. I can get chores done in only twice the amount of time I think I ought to take, instead of four times the amount of time. I can start working on whatever writing project I’m on without fear, as breaking hyperfocus comes easier, and I seem at last to be able to pick up my writing within… well, within an hour of when I intend to start writing. Believe me, this is an improvement.
Moreover, it’s easier to decide to get some sleep, and I’m seldom hungry. I don’t experience carbohydrate cravings. (I’ve withdrawn from alcohol, and I’ve withdrawn from excess carbs. Craving carbs is somewhat less intense than craving booze, but it’s the same feeling.)
This falters if I’m short on sleep, or if I miscalculate and consume too many carbs in too short a time frame (more than 25 net grams of carbohydrates in 24 hours, for me). Even though I’m nominally in ketosis (about 0.2 to 0.5 mmol/L) the wild swings in focus start happening. Small objects start hiding from me. The excess focus on everything (or on somthing) makes it harder to get to sleep, and I start craving carbs again. Not to put too fine a point on it, this sucks.
I’m reluctant to say that I will never want to leave ketosis—having a bit of fruit now and then sounds good. But at what cost? Besides, given my reaction above, would I actually be able to have a bit of fruit without having to claw my way past cravings into ketosis again? I’m not at all sure that I want to experiment with my brain in order to find out. Certainly not today.
I’ve been porting my old blog posts to Ulysses, and I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern. Every February I post about how discouraged and hopeless I feel.
Every. Single. Freaking. February. For the last four years, at least.
Not only that, but my productivity and mood pick up by April. Every year.
Well, 2018 is no different. Or at least, it wasn’t until last week. I felt like giving up. Again.
I look to blame someone or something when I feel down, usually me. I start thinking I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not focused enough, I’m ADHD so why should I bother trying…
But look at the pattern, Dragon. After November your productivity starts falling. You blame the holidays. Yet it continues to fall, and you become alarmed as the end of January passes and your words aren’t flowing. By mid-February, you’re crying and desperate. And you start yet another revision of your productivity system, you change something about your work situation, and by April things are turning around… again.
It’s not my attitude. It’s seasonal affective disorder. Again. And if it’s this bad in so-called Sunny Southern California, no wonder that I loathed the Massachusetts weather while I was at university, even as I was delighted with Boston culture. I always struggled during the spring semester, falling behind in February and playing catch-up for the rest of the term. Duh. And I was able to catch up usually by April or May. Also duh. Mumble years ago, the pattern was already there.
So this time, I’m doing something different, unrelated to ADHD or productivity. For the last week, I’ve gotten outdoors during daylight hours for at least half an hour a day, and it’s been helping. I no longer feel as angry with myself (or others.) I’m keeping up my family responsibilities. My writing productivity hasn’t quite turned around yet, but I’m no longer thinking, “What’s the use?” every time I look at my word count.
I’ve tried the light boxes and the light visors in the past, and they haven’t done a lot of good. So it’s about time I tried good old California sunshine. Every day. I’ll keep in touch.
Certain things just slip off my brain, like a raw egg off a greased Teflon griddle.
Now, one of the stated goals of GTD is “mind like water.” To quote,
In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.
—David Allen, Getting Things Done
I wish. I’m not calm like a still pond. Unlike his ideal GTD practitioner (or the karate student of his analogy), I am unable to control my level of attention. The result? I can build a habit (such as flossing my teeth), do it three months in a row, and have one day where I’m distracted—and it’s gone. I may as well give up on habits; I will always need a checklist for the simple things I need to do daily.
Right now, I’m struggling with simple things to do that aren’t getting done in a timely fashion—for the reason that I have serious trouble remembering them. Example: make a call to cancel an appointment during business hours. Whether I am able to do this is entirely dependent on
Looking at Habitica or my calendar before end of business.
Making the call right that moment.
If for any reason I can’t make the call exactly then (need to gather materials, need to keep the phone line open for an incoming call, need to keep lunch from burning—anything) it will slip off my Mind Like Teflon and I will be very lucky to remember it before end of business. Most often, I don’t.
Put an alarm on my phone, iPad, or Mac? (or all three at once—I’ve done that, too) That might work for a very rare event, but if I’m hyperfocused I’ve been known to not hear a Star Trek-like klaxon alarm going off at 90 decibels. If you think I’m exaggerating—well, I’m not. I nearly died as a teenager because I was hyperfocused on reading a book—in a car that was on fire. People were yelling and pounding on the windows—I didn’t hear.
Further, if I have a loud alarm going off every day, it shortly becomes background noise. I will turn it off and go right on with whatever I’m hyperfocused on, without ever registering that the alarm went off. I know, because I have.
Beeminder, like the alarm that goes off every day, is beginning to merge into the background.
This is a long, rather negative post, I’m afraid. This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, and it’s not getting better as I’m getting older. If anything, it’s getting worse as I add “senior moments” to all the other things that keep me from getting… stuff… done.
Habitica at least has the virtue of being free (though I choose to subscribe.) And there is a certain flurry of activity every night at about ten PM as I look at my Habitica lists and say, “Oh, s__t.” I’m therefore not about to abandon it, as I may well do with Beeminder. But I need to find a better way to get time-sensitive things that are not appointments—done.
I am ADHD. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean simply that I am noticeably more distraction-prone than most people — although that is certainly true.
What it means is that I can’t control my level of focus.
Think about that for a moment. It means that I can’t control whether my mind flits like a butterfly from — Oh, look! A squirrel! — subject to subject. Nor can I control whether I become “hyperfocused” and unable to break my focus on an activity. (Please note that hyperfocus is not the creative “flow” state that people talk about. I wish.)
There is no “medium-focus” state wherein I can choose what to focus on. This means that trying to protect myself from distraction is like a pig trying to sing. It wastes my time, and only results in me getting depressed when I compare my results to expected results.
Take a look at the Figure 1 above. Scrivener has its “distraction-free” Composition mode. Ulysses is ALL distraction-free mode. The theory of such a display is that all the “displacement” activities the author uses to avoid writing disappear and she has no other choice except to write.
I’ve tried it. My results:
My brain throws a distraction. With no bright colors or flashing lights to hold me, I wander away and do something else. (90% probability.)
I hyperfocus on my text so that I forget where I am, whether I need to go to the bathroom, and how this text is supposed to fit into my novel. (10% probability.)
Just looking at either screen induces panic. I’ll forget what I’m supposed to be doing, one way or the other — I know this as surely as I know the sun rises in the east. Hyperfocus is as deadly to my productivity as lack of focus.
What I do is surround myself with distractions — positive distractions. A timer goes off to remind me — not to take a break, but to reassess what I’m doing — every twenty-five to thirty minutes. I surround myself with as much temptingly cluttered screen real estate as possible that’s related to my work in progress, so that when (not if) my brain throws a distraction, I am at least likely to be drawn to something writing-related. (See Figure 2.) I think of this not as distraction-filled but as target-rich. Then when the timer goes off, I can get back to writing. I never, never hide clocks or battery indicators — if I’m lucky I might notice them when I’m hyperfocused and they’ll bring me out of my trance.
Not that the timer always works. When I become hyperfocused sound seems to slide off my brain. If that happens, my only hope is that I notice that I need to go to the bathroom before my chair gets soggy…
A lot of people misquote Malcolm Gladwell about his “10,000 hour rule.” Ten thousand hours (roughly ten years at 20 hours a week) spent in gaining expertise will gain you Household Word status. Think “Beatles,” or closer to home for writers, “Stephen King.”
But that’s not what he said.
Chaining yourself to a piano, or a computer keyboard, for ten thousand hours won’t do it. It takes luck. It takes willingness to make errors. It takes willingness to have those errors seen, heard, or read. It takes correcting those errors. It takes, yes, connections. Above all, it takes willingness to spend those ten thousand hours more-or-less gladly, without the thought that they’re an “investment” that will “pay off.” And by the way, a smaller investment — I’ll look up the exact number and update this post, but I seem to recall 7,000 hours, makes you a competent professional. Not a household word — but a pro.
As a kid, bluntly, I didn’t want to spend those hours on keyboard practice, despite my mother’s desire to have a church organist in the family. But without really thinking about it, I put in at least 7K hours in science, math, and engineering. I enjoyed it, for the most part — a lot more than I enjoyed keyboard exercises. I had some natural talent for both, but I enjoyed the nerdly stuff enough to plow through the parts that were just slogging. I resented them. I grumbled. But I did them, and so became a pro. When it came to keyboard, I sloughed it off. I still slough it off, though I own a piano again. I will never be a pro keyboardist simply because I don’t want to spend any significant number of hours doing for-God’s-sake scales. Again.
As an engineer, my specialty was troubleshooting. “Maintenance programming,” it’s called, and it’s looked down on in the software developer community. It played to my strengths — a tremendous burst of energy, leaving all else in my life ignored, and engineering detective work. It downplayed my weaknesses — organization, mostly, as well as steady application to a task. My difficulty with organization and sticking to a (boring) task is why I have no Ph.D. after my name.
What does that have to do with writing? Well, here I am, trying to write novels — the equivalent of producing Ph.D. theses, two or three a year. This is not playing to my strength. I’ve been at this now for twelve years. In that time, I’ve mananged to spend (I did a spreadsheet, based on my typical typing speed and allowing for research and other auxiliary tasks) about 2,000 hours writing.
For engineering, school provided the structure I needed to put in those practice hours, as well as the feedback on my errors. A few years of on-the-job mentoring from senior engineers put the polish on my skills so that I could be a confident professional.
There is no such formal structure for fiction writing — at least, none that I trust. I am far too uncertain of my skill to attempt to enter an MFA program. Worse, I look at the writing produced by MFAs and I don’t want to write like that. Peer critique — I’ve sat in on some groups and cringed.
Yes, here I am, at best a mid-level padawan with no Jedi master. I try to supply the lack with books on writing from authors whose work I admire, and from those who have achieved what I want to achieve — professional competence as measured in being able to write fiction for a living. Not a fortune — a living.
That’s input, and that’s great. What I need is feedback, and that’s what I’m too scared to seek for free, and too stingy to pay for.
At least now I have tools to improve my ability to work steadily — positive and negative feedback on such measures as hours spent at the keyboard, and number of words produced in those hours. I have every reason to believe that my rate of writing will increase. But where do I go for the feedback I need?
As a person with addiction problems also diagnosed with ADHD, well, my natural thought process is all about short-term gain and blowing off long-term pain, if I even notice long-term anything. I’ve not been making much progress on getting a publishable manuscript together, losing weight, increasing exercise, avoiding non-Paleo foods (which exacerbate my rheumatoid arthritis) or getting more sleep (lack of which exacerbates my rheumatoid arthritis.) I cover several of these things in my GTD practice (still doing that, via Evernote (for collecting) and Trello (for managing.)) Sadly, having a thing in my GTD list and actually doing it are two very different things. I’ve been having some success with Habitica, but there are certain things in my life that have proven resistant to its gentle carrot waving — and frankly I’ve learned the game well enough to avoid incurring its not very intimidating stick.
I was considering life coaching in desperation, but finding a good coach, and finding where I could come up with the hundreds of dollars needed were mysteries I couldn’t solve.
Then I found Beeminder. You track your goals with them, and if you go off course, they charge you. An excerpt from their website:
What is Beeminder?
It’s reminders with a sting! Or, goal-tracking with teeth. Mind anything you can graph — weight, pushups, to-do tasks completed — by replying with data when Beeminder prompts you. Or connect with a service (like Fitbit or RescueTime) to report automatically. We plot your progress on a Yellow Brick Road to your goal. Keep all your datapoints on the road and Beeminder will always be free. Go off the road and you (literally) pay the price.
So far, I’ve paid them exactly $1 for ten “freebies,” which means my first deviation from the “yellow brick road” is free. In return for this, I’ve been able to
Work steadily on my writing! This alone is beyond price.
Stop eating foods that make my rheumatoid arthritis worse, thus improving my mobility.
Take advantage of #2 by gradually increasing the number of steps I take daily, improving my overall health.
Gradually move my bedtime earlier so that I can get more sleep, thus lowering my stress level, lowering arthritis pain, and improving mobility.
Start doing some range-of-motion exercises that I’ve been neglecting, further improving my mobility.
All of these interact with each other — so, a typical day for me before Beeminder:
I am in pain, especially shoulder and knee pain. The pain makes it hard to sit and write. I feel bad for not writing and besides I’m in pain, so I comfort myself with food that I know will make my arthritis worse in a day or so. I take some Tylenol to help with the pain, but I can’t focus so I just fire up a video game, which of course requires questionable food. Then I feel worse for neglecting my writing and other chores, so I stay up late to try to get them done and write a word or three, and I probably eat more pain-inducing food and get very little sleep ensuring high stress levels and therefore high pain levels in the morning. The entire day, I have moved only from bed to couch to kitchen to bathroom to bed — not healthy.
A typical day after Beeminder:
I am in pain, especially shoulder and knee pain, but less than yesterday. I take some Tylenol and do my range-of-motion exercises (a Beeminder goal), which help somewhat with the pain. I pack up my electronics and get out of the house, making sure to take another dose of Tylenol with me. I find a coffeeshop with a comfortable chair, far from the siren call of video games. I get writing done!!! (a Beeminder goal.) I take breaks from writing and walk around the shop, to increase my daily step total (a Beeminder goal.) I do not eat the tempting but arthritis-worsening goodies at the shop (a Beeminder goal.) Having completed my word goal for the day, I return home, do my chores, maybe have a session with a video game, and get to bed earlier than I have been for quite some time (a Beeminder goal.)
Further, Beeminder gives me every opportunity to avoid paying them money. The two times I’ve “derailed” (gone off the path to my goal,) I’ve had a chance to correct data, or just beg Beeminder not to count the incident. But both those derailments were real derailments from which I didn’t beg off, so I’m now on the hook for $5 for the next derailment on each of those goals. The derailments gave me valuable feedback on just what happens to push me away from my goals.
Beeminder has noticeably improved my quality of life after a few short weeks. I have paid them a paltry $1 to crack the whip over me in areas of MY choice, and they have done a wizard job. Should I incur an occasional $5 or $10 or even (Heaven forbid) a $30 penalty, I will count it money well-spent.