In this series, I’ve talked about my history with ADHD, how it’s affected my creative process, and how it’s affected my life on a larger scale. What I haven’t talked much about is how I deal with it.
Before I begin, let me add a disclaimer: I’ve never gone through therapy and I don’t have any formal schooling in the field. The coping mechanisms I will list here are not rooted in scientific theory. They are simply things I’ve developed over the years to help manage my ADHD. If you’re looking for honest to goodness, peer-reviewed strategies…you may be in the wrong place.
If you’re up for a little amateur advice, though, read on!
Change Your Routine
Technology is amazing, isn’t it? No longer do writers have to put pen or pencil to paper. Neither do we have to crack open a dozen books to research one topic; Google does it for us.
Unfortunately, technology also comes with distractions, and if you’re like me, you probably spend more time on social media than you do writing. It’s too easy to click away from the Word document and check Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and TikTok…
You get the idea.
There are some methods one can try to minimize distractions. Put your device on airplane mode so you can’t access the Internet. Use an older device that cannot connect to the Internet and is meant only for writing. This may even help you “get in the mood” if you associate something with productivity.
As for me, I went a little old school. I brave the cramps in my wrist and fingers and put pen to paper. It really helps. The extra tasks of holding the utensil and physically writing engages my brain and I’m able to focus on the words. When I write, I keep my laptop and phone out of arm’s reach so I have to work harder to check social media. In this case, executive dysfunction is good.
Thus far, I’ve written over 6,000 words of my novel and numerous poems by hand. And I feel damn good about it.
I also bought an iPad with an Apple Pencil to write with. I can’t tell you how much I love it. I write most of my poetry this way now. Of course, there is a risk of me falling into old habits, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.
Try Listening to Music
I’ve heard a lot of conflicting reports about music. Some people say it helps them focus on a task, others say it hinders them. I can go either way depending on how deep I am in the ADHD trenches. When it comes to writing, certain genres of music help better than others; I suggest classical or instrumental music so as not to get lost in the lyrics. If you’re a fantasy writer, I especially recommend Yanni and David Arkenstone. Their work is very atmospheric and perfect for out-of-this-world stories.
Lists, Lists, Lists
When executive dysfunction kicks me down, it helps if I make a to- do list. And then a list for that list. And a list for that one. Again, it depends on the day. Sometimes something simple like “clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, fold laundry, call the dentist” is enough. Other times, I have to break each task into smaller steps.
- Write ch.5 of The Forest
- Write 1,000 words
- Write in 15 minute chunks
- Write 1,000 words
- Clean the kitchen
- Wash the dishes
- Wash pots and pans
- Wash the silverware
- Wash the plates, bowls, cups
- Wipe off the counters
- Wipe off the stove
- Sweep the floor
- Vacuum the rug
- Wash the dishes
So on and so forth ad infinitum. It’s still a lot to do but thinking about it this way makes it feel more manageable. Each item crossed off is a small win.
Set a Timer
This coping mechanism goes hand-in-hand with making lists. On a bad day, I will set a timer and write or clean or fold laundry or whatever I need to do for a set amount of time. When the timer goes off, if I feel I can, I continue. If I can’t, I reward myself with some small thing and then get right back to it. The whole idea is to make things less overwhelming so my brain doesn’t nope out before I can even gain any traction.
I’m super excited to talk about this concept as I was today years old when I learned there’s a term for what I’ve been doing for years.
This doesn’t pertain to writing in the slightest, but it is something I’ve found helpful in other areas of my life, especially when it comes to cleaning.
The term was coined by a Tumblr user with ADHD who, like so many of us, had trouble sticking to one task. They found a workaround: A cleaning strategy based on the way June bugs fight to get through window screens. They climb all around, looking for different points of entry. Junebugging works in a similar way.
This is often what it looks like for me: I pick a task, usually in the kitchen as it’s always the messiest room in the house. I start organizing the dishes by the sink (because I like to wash them in a specific order). I glance towards the dining room and notice dirty dishes on the table. I collect them and bring them to the sink. I begin to wash dishes. I stop to go to the bathroom and while I’m in there, I notice a few things that belong in other rooms. I gather them and take them where they need to go. I find garbage and bring it to the kitchen to throw away. I see the dishes I was in the midst of washing and return to that task.
The point is to let yourself wander, to lean into the madness, but to always return to your original task. It’s not the most efficient method, no, but it does mean I’m getting stuff done and not wallowing in executive dysfunction.
Accept Your Diagnosis
This has been a hard for me, especially since I’m fairly new to learning about ADHD even though I was diagnosed 27 years ago. I just have to keep telling myself I’m not lazy, I’m not making excuses. My brain is simply wired in a way that makes mountains out of mole hills. The best thing I can do for myself, the best thing any of us can do, is accept it and then learn from it. We must advocate for ourselves. And we must learn how to be kind to ourselves.
And what about you? If you have ADHD, what coping mechanisms do you swear by?
I want to say thank you for coming on this journey with me. I appreciate everyone who dropped a like or left a comment. I’m proud of this little project and I hope it was informative and helpful to other people who have ADHD. At the very least, I hope it gave some a sense of solidarity.