A Pause In My Day

One of the problems with having ADHD is that prevents you using time effectively.

So, I can be ‘working’ at my desk for hours but because I have switched tasks so often, I don’t have anything to show for it.

That can lead to more time at my desk in an effort to finish my tasks…and…and…so on.

As part and parcel of those executive function issues, I can lose track of the need to take a break. it’s not about me being a ‘workaholic’ or ‘Type A’ – I’m neither of those things. It’s a perception issue.

My plan is always to ‘just finish this and then take a break.’ Unfortunately, between the time it takes me to ‘just finish this’ and my challenges around understanding how long a given task will take, I can reach the end of the day having only taken a break for lunch. (And I only remember that because my husband comes home to lunch – which creates a distinct marker for lunch time. I rarely, if ever, forget to eat, but sometimes I multitask my lunchtimes.)

So, one of my goals for this summer to prioritize my break times.

I’m picking a time during the work day when I am going to relax for at least 15 mins. More, if my schedule allows.

That’s why this afternoon found me on my front step, reading, drinking tea, and watching the clouds.

So far, so good!

A view of a suburban neighbourhood and the sky, seen though a patio railing.
The view from my chair on the front step. Image description: A view of cars, houses, lilacs and the sky as scene through the black metal uprights and wooden railings of a set of steps.

Doing Nothing

I am currently reading two different books about doing nothing.*

Yes, I do see the irony in that.

I’m really interested in the idea of doing nothing and what “doing nothing” means for different people.

I rarely, if ever, do literally nothing.

My ADHD brain won’t start for it.

BUT that doesn’t mean that I am always working or always being “productive.” (Blech)

I make a distinction between work (for pay or for purpose) time and my other time. I spend my other time in a variety of ways but I have almost always planned what is going to happen during that time.

I might be doing a household project or I might be reading. I could be drawing or going for a walk.

Knowing the plan and how long I will spend at something is a crucial element in my relaxation. If I don’t decide in advance, my brain will keep trying to figure out if I am spending enough time at the activity or if is time to switch to a different one.

I’m not stuck with the plan once it is made either, I can choose to change it. But the choice has to be conscious or I will not stay relaxed.

So I may have chosen to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling for 20 minutes. (Which is technically doing nothing but for me is an activity I chose in that moment.) At the end of 20 minutes, I can choose to spend another 20 or 10 or an hour. That will all still feel relaxing.

But, if I try to just lie there for an indeterminate amount of time, my brain will be full of questions “Is this what you should be doing? Have you forgotten something? Have you been lying here too long? Are you done yet?”

For me, lying on the couch for a specific amount of time is not ‘doing nothing’ – it’s lying on the couch.

Anyway, I do understand that there is a lot of pressure on all of us to be working hard and being productive all the time and I can just as easily fall victim to it as anyone else can.

But I also resist the idea that having a plan or a schedule means that I am not relaxed ‘enough’ or that I am ‘always working.’

I’m interested to see what the books have to say about ‘nothing’ and what insights they might have for my busy brain.

These flowers have nothing do with this post. I just think they are pretty.

A patch of small purple flowers surrounded by green leaves
Image description: a patch of small purple flowers surrounded by green leaves.

*The books are ‘How to do Nothing’ by Jenny Odell and ‘The Lost Art of Doing Nothing’ by Maartje Willems.

I like firm guidelines

I always have trouble with vague guidelines.

I don’t mean to suggest that I can never wing it, or that I need strictly defined rules in every situation. That’s definitely not the case.

But since ADHD affects my perception of both my own efforts AND of what is enough in any given situation, I can have an extra struggle with choosing where to apply my efforts.

This ‘note to self’ is about creating a more defined guideline for myself.

A drawing of a robot in a yoga pose. The caption says ‘just pick a few battles, two maybe.’
Image description: a drawing of a robot in warrior II pose with a caption that reads ‘Note to self: Just pick a few battles. Two, maybe.’

Balancing My Schedule

ADHD is a tricky thing to work around.

Even though I am medicated, I still need to be careful with how and when I schedule different types of work and activities.

Lots of times, I overschedule myself and then I get overwhelmed. Or, like the last few days, I sometimes underschedule myself, get off track, and then have to scramble to finish the things I wanted to do.

Both of those are frustrating scenarios and I don’t like how I feel after trying to wrangle either type of day.

For tomorrow, I have a set of tasks scheduled with some buffer time around each.

Let’s see where this falls on the scheduling scale.

GIF of TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Amy is asking Jake ‘Who’s ready for some non-stop, totally scheduled fun?’
GIF description: A scene from tv show Brooklyn Nine-Nine in which Amy Santiago is asking Jake Peralta ‘Who’s ready for some non-stop, totally scheduled fun?’

Decisions, decisions

Someone asked me yesterday if I ever just did ‘nothing.’

I find it really interesting that I give the impression that I am ‘always busy’ or that I don’t have any downtime.

It’s true that I am always up to something (muahahaha) but it’s not a matter of seeking to be busy or productive, it’s a matter of finding ease by making a conscious decision about how to spend my time.

I know that some people can wander through their day, going from task to task, allowing their intuition to guide them to their priorities.

Thanks to ADHD, that’s not an option for me.

That kind of wandering would be stressful and depressing for me because I can’t rely on my brain to cough up my priorities when I need them.

I *could* spend a whole day filing papers even though I have a deadline because my brain is convinced that I need to get the filing ‘out of the way’ before I get to my writing.

Instead, I choose my tasks in advance so I can be reasonably sure that my efforts line up with my priorities.

A white person’s hand holds a mug  in the foreground,  in the background, a light-haired dog rests on a winter-dried  lawn.
This morning, I chose to have my tea on my sunny front porch and I could let my mind wander because I had turned off the imp of ‘What should I be doing instead?’

Even when I don’t have a deadline, I consciously choose (as much as possible) how I will spend my time so my brain will be quiet.

If I say ‘I’m going to draw until 11’ or ‘I’m just going to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling for 15 minutes,’ then I can do what I planned (most of the time.) But if I just grab my pen or fling myself on the couch, one part of my brain will be constantly searching from planning errors ‘Is this the right thing to be doing right now? Is there something I’m forgetting? Should I be getting lunch ready? Maybe I should read?’

Not having a plan or schedule might be relaxing for you but for me, it’s like inviting an imp into my head. Making a decision in advance is actually MORE relaxing for me because it frees me from the stress of endless options of what I *could* be doing.

And, like I said above, it’s not as if I need to choose a ‘productive’ activity – I just need to have made a conscious decision about what to do.

Of course, doing things this way doesn’t cure my ADHD, it’s just a tool to make things a little easier. It reduces the challenges involved in managing my time and my brain, it doesn’t eliminate them.

Long stretches of time with no decisions attached are frustrating and they’re bad for my mental health. I spend plenty of time relaxing and plenty of time doing ‘nothing’ but making a decision about it in advance makes it true relaxation instead of an exercise in frustration.

PS – I can also change plans if something more fun arises (I am very much pro-fun) but at that point it just becomes a choice between a) the thing I am doing and b) the thing that I could choose to do instead of an endless scroll of all my possible options.