Tag Archives: productive

ADHD: Make Starting Tasks Easier

One of the symptoms of inattentive ADHD is difficulty getting started on tasks that need to be done, especially those that seem boring and uninteresting. Executive function deficits due to lower levels of dopamine in the brain make shifting gears and getting into action difficult.

One way to handle the problem with a brain-based faulty starter is to use stimulant medication prescribed by a physician who knows how to treat people with ADHD. Medication improves a person’s ability to focus, start and complete tasks. Unfortunately medication doesn’t work for everybody. It is estimated that 80% of people with ADHD benefit from stimulants. If you are part of the 20% who don’t find stimulants effective, one way to get into action when you need to so is to make the task easier to face. Following is an example of how to do that.

I don’t have ADHD, but like everyone, I do have difficulty making myself get started on certain tasks, especially tasks that are repetitive, new, and about which I lack confidence and competence. That perfectly describes practicing the oboe.

I’m at the beginning of a very frustrating learning curve since the oboe is one of the most difficult wood wind instruments to play. It would have been so easy to commit to learning the oboe and then avoid practice because practice can be boring and painful to do especially at first during the long period of normal incompetence. I knew I had to set myself up so that practice would be simple and easy to do.

Fortunately my music teacher helped me by setting a realistic goal for practice time. He suggested I play several 10-15 minute sessions every day instead of longer sessions. I could do that! Actually, I could do no more than that at first because I would tire easily.

First I created visibility. I set up my music stand in my home office with my music on it. I also left the oboe in plain sight so it is the first thing I see when I enter the room. Because I go in and out of my office numerous times during the day, there was no way I could forget to practice.

Then I had to figure out how to make starting to practice easy. The oboe is a three part instrument. It stores nicely in a little 13” x 7” box. I could put it together before practice and take it apart after practice or leave it put together on top of a storage cabinet. I quickly realized that leaving it intact was the best option because it takes an extra 20-30 seconds to put it together and I find the task annoying. I knew that if the first thing I had to do to practice was unpleasant it could deter me from practicing. I therefore chose to leave it intact on top of a low storage cabinet. Now all I need to do is pick it up, insert the reed, and start practicing.

Because I only have to practice 10 minutes to be successful, and all I need to do to practice is pick up the instrument and sit down to play, I practice 10-15 minutes every day.

What important task can you make easier to do?

Clutter Clearing: Make It Fun to Get It Done!

I can see the wheels turning in your head. Clutter clearing can be fun? Is this lady off her rocker?

How many bags of trash can you get rid of?

Clearly she hasn’t seen MY clutter!

No, I haven’t seen your clutter, and some clutter is more difficult to address than others. However, there are ways to make the process of clutter clearing less onerous and actually more pleasurable.

  1. View the task at hand as a treasure hunt. Rather than focusing on all the useless stuff you are going through and lamenting that you let things get so bad, look for the gold in the midst of the clutter. I’ve found gift cards, money, birth certificates and titles to cars in what looked like piles of useless papers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a client utter, “Oh, I’ve been looking for that.” Just yesterday a client found two important items that she needed and was thrilled to locate. Remember, you can locate good stuff when you clear clutter. Keep your focus on the gold!
  2. Put on your favorite high energy music. Music can give you energy to begin clutter clearing, and can engender good feelings to distract you from the challenge at hand.
  3. Focus on the progress you are making. When you keep your eye on how much you are purging instead of how much more needs to be done, you will get pleasure from your accomplishment.
  4. Invite a supportive family member or friend to help you. Working with a person who is not judgmental, who actually wants to help you get the job done, can be a pleasurable social event. You’ll also get more done much more quickly. The presence of that person will also make it easier to manage feelings of fear, anxiety and overwhelm if they surface.
  5. Challenge a friend to a clutter clearing competition. The person who has cleared out the biggest quantity of clutter within a specific time period wins. Be sure to identify the prize for the winner. Make it something that is highly motivating like being treated to dinner at a very special restaurant.
  6. Take before and after photos to chart your progress. The benefit of taking photos is that it keeps you focused on positive outcomes rather than the enormity of your task. Even if you spend just 15 minutes clearing clutter, take before and after photos. The photos are tangible evidence that will tell the story of your journey to restore order to your space. They also indicate that the work you are doing is important, worthy of documentation.
  7. Count the number of bags/boxes you get rid of. It is truly amazing how much you can part with when you clear out items you no longer love or use. Take photos of the piles of bags of donations, trash and recycling that come out of one closet, one bedroom, one area of a room, etc. The quantity of bags/boxes that leave a space when clearing can be mind-boggling. Celebrate your success by keeping track of how much you purge.
  8. Hire a professional organizer. Like working with a family member or friend, working with a professional organizer makes clutter clearing a fun social event. Because a professional organizer has experience and knowledge of strategies for clearing clutter the fun comes from making progress about four times as quickly as you could do it on your own. Also, a professional organizer will model how to approach the challenging task of clutter clearing, and will teach you how to do it on your own and how to prevent clutter accumulation in the future.

Keep your focus finding treasure and charting your progress. Add in effective support, and tackling and eliminating clutter can be a positive, empowering experience. What will you do to make your clutter clearing fun?

Empower yourself! Fix broken things!

Broken things carry a very heavy weight energetically. For example, you may not be aware of

Fixing my arthritic thumb joint was empowering!

how heavy that leaky faucet is in your subconscious until you repair it and feel the relief of having it fixed.

I was reminded of how empowering it can be to fix broken things when I had surgery to address osteoarthritis in my right hand. For years I had been experiencing increasing aching pain at the base of both my thumbs. As the arthritis and pain progressed my mobility in my hands became more and more limited. I had to stop knitting. I had to stop using the track pad on my computer. I had to ask my husband to open jars for me. My hands became weaker and weaker. As those things happened I began to feel broken, powerless to do anything about it, frustrated, and old. The brokenness in my body negatively affected my sense of self, my belief in myself and my abilities. I was on a negative slide. Brokenness brings with it negative energies in many forms.

I was excited to learn that surgery could give me back full use of my hands. I’m now two weeks into recovery. Though my hand still has some dull pain and feels fragile, I have noticed that my sense of what is possible for me in the future is growing. Just addressing that one broken part of me has begun shifting from an “I can’t” energy to an “I can” energy. Why is that? Because I fixed a part of my body that was broken. I know my hand will no longer be deteriorating into debilitating pain. It is healing and will be strong again. If it will be strong, so will I.

I wasn’t consciously aware of the extent of the psychological weight caused by the progression of arthritis in my hand until I took action to address the problem and eliminate it. When I was feeling broken and powerless, my thinking and view of myself was contracting. When I took action to repair what was broken, my thinking and my view of myself began to expand. It manifested in feelings of optimism and joy. I began taking action to realize my intention to include more music and art in my life. I took a painting class, my first oil painting class since college. I rented an oboe and registered for classes to learn how to play it.

The more healthy and whole I am physically and psychologically, the more empowered I feel. The more empowered I feel the more likely I am to take positive action. What is broken in your life that if fixed would give you new life, motivation, inspiration and could lead to positive action on your behalf? What is your first step to fixing it? What’s possible if you do fix it? How will fixing it empower you to go for what you really want? 

Productivity: Plan Your Breaks Carefully

Have you had the experience that you are working along on a task or project, stop for a short

Avoid engaging in social media and other pleasurable electronic activities when you take breaks to ensure that you will be able to return to work in a timely manner.

break with the sincere intention to return to your work, but don’t return to it? I’m guessing that most of us have had that type of experience. What happened? Breaks are supposed to help you be more productive, right? How did you get completely derailed from your work?

What you do on your break can determine whether or not you will be successful returning to work after it. If you stand up, stretch, get a drink and/or a snack, go to the bathroom, step outside for a few minutes, even take a short walk, it will be relatively easy to return to your work. Those activities are not likely to distract you from your focus on your work.

If you check Facebook or any other social media site, look at Youtube, play video games, watch TV, surf the web or listen to something engaging, like NPR, you are likely to have more difficulty getting back on track. Those activities are highly stimulating and give great pleasure that can be hard to disengage from. They take you to a place that is very different from your work. You may think you’ll just look at Facebook for five minutes, yet find yourself there for 25 minutes. By then you’ll have shifted from a work/productivity focus to a pleasure focus.

Breaks are essential for productivity. Your brain needs a rest after working hard for a period of time. Taking a break allows you to reset and refresh your brain and get your energy and motivation back. Take breaks regularly (5-15 minutes), but plan your breaks to avoid highly stimulating and highly pleasurable activities that can shift your focus and make re-engaging in your task or project more difficult, if not impossible.

Productivity: Where You Sit Matters

Yesterday I watched myself carefully choose a seat in Starbucks. I was between meetings and

I didn’t choose to sit at this table because none of the chairs put me in the Power Position. One chair had its back to the main door, one chair had its back to the flow of traffic going to and from the bathroom and exiting the building, and the third chair had its back to the flow of traffic entering by the back door. In all positions my nervous system would be on high alert, and I would feel vulnerable.

needed a place where I could get work done on my computer. I noticed that not just any seat would do. It had to be the most comfortable seat in the restaurant.

I’m not talking about the comfort of the chair I would sit in. All the chairs were the same. I’m referring to the location of the chair in the restaurant. I passed chairs that had their backs to glass walls and chairs that faced outside with their backs to the flow of customer traffic. I was searching for a seat where I could have a solid wall behind me and a full view of the front door.

Why would I be so deliberate about my choice of seating? In my feng shui training I learned that I can be most productive and successful if I position myself in the Power Position when I am working. The Power Position is a location where I have a solid wall behind me and a full view of the door. My nervous systems is programmed for survival. A solid wall behind me ensures that I won’t be surprised from behind. A view of the door makes it possible to know what’s coming at me so I can prepare to defend myself if needed.

The chair where you see the computer was my choice because it put me in the Power Position. I had a solid wall behind me and a full view of both doors.

When I don’t have a solid wall behind me, my nervous system is on high alert for possible threats and therefore can’t settle down to focus my full attention on my work. If I don’t have a view of the door, a part of me feels unsettled, again making it impossible to be fully present to my work. The Power Position is the most comfortable place to sit, a place where my nervous system can settle down and I can focus on important things other than safety. Putting myself in the Power Position is a choice for personal empowerment and productivity.

It has become a habit to position myself in the Power Position whenever I sit down. Yesterday I really wanted to get work done at my computer. I knew if I could find a comfortable place to seat myself, I’d be able to get a lot done. If I couldn’t do that, I would be less productive.

Fortunately the best seat in the house was available with a solid wall behind me and a full view

My view of both doors (one at the end and one just off to the right) and most of the activity in the space plus a solid wall behind me made it possible for me to relax and focus on my work.

of both doors into the coffee shop. It was interesting to note that there were only two seats in the whole restaurant that put customers in the Power Position. Perhaps Starbucks unconsciously wants customers to be a little unsettled and not too comfortable, so they won’t linger, thereby making space for other customers. Or, the interior designers for Starbucks aren’t aware of feng shui principles and the effect that seating can have on the comfort and productivity of clients.

With awareness of the importance of sitting in the Power Position, you too can make seating decisions that lead to having the best focus, brainpower, and productivity.

Procrastination: Normal vs. Problematic

Not all procrastination is created equal. We all procrastinate, probably every day. It is very normal to put off doing tasks for a variety of reasons: you don’t feel like doing the task; you’d rather do something else; the task will take longer than the time available; you don’t have enough mental energy for the task; the task is too hard to do on your own; the task is not the most important thing to do at the moment, etc. The list goes on and on.

It is normal to procrastinate. You can’t do everything at once. You must make choices about how to use your time and energy. I might put off taking the garbage out tonight or put off taking suitcases to the attic. If I wait to do those tasks for a day or two, there will only be a minor inconvenience. That is what I call “normal” procrastination.

If those tasks are not accomplished for a week, and other tasks are put off as well, what began as minor visual and perhaps olfactory disturbances could grow into a more serious problem, one that will take much more time and energy to address. What started as normal procrastination then becomes “problematic” procrastination.

Normal procrastination is usually short-term, involves small, less important tasks, and results in few serious consequences. It becomes problematic procrastination when small tasks are postponed more frequently and for longer periods of time or when important tasks (e.g. those that affect finances, job, relationships, health) are put off to the point of crisis. The price for problematic procrastination can be very high — loss of reputation, job difficulties or loss, relationships challenges or divorce, deterioration or loss of residence, financial difficulties (problems with the IRS, bankruptcy, ruined credit), and health deterioration to name a few.

We all procrastinate. Do you procrastinate in a way that has no serious consequences or does it lead to challenges in many areas of your life? If you would describe your procrastination as problematic, your procrastination could be caused by ADHD. ADHD is a mechanical problem in the brain whose symptoms include difficulty with starting tasks (procrastinating), particularly those that are boring and uninteresting.

If you have ADHD or think you have it, treatment for the disorder can help you procrastinate less and get more done. Schedule a FREE 30-60 minute Back on Track phone coaching session today to discuss your procrastination challenges and options for help to procrastinate less and be more productive.

It’s Normal to Be Unproductive When Grieving

My mother died last week after at least seven years of gradual decline due to20160507_120423-1 strokes, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. Mom and I had always been very close, more like sisters than mother and daughter. Her death created a big void in my life. For the last 4 1/2 years I had been the coordinator of her care, a responsibility that was very heavy both emotionally and physically, and was as consuming as a full time job. When she died I lost that job, and I lost my closest connection with a family member. I felt numb, lost, unfocused and terribly sad.

Normally I am very productive. I value getting things done and making the most of my time. For years I had been running as fast as I could to keep up with home, work, and caregiving responsibilities for Mom and my disabled brother, Mark. When she died everything stopped except for taking steps to clear her apartment and plan her memorial celebration. Even the simplest of tasks too, so much energy.

Of particular concern was the fact that I had no energy to work on my business. Since I’m self-employed as a professional organizer, speaker and coach, I must work to be paid. After Mom’s death my grief flattened me, kept me stuck in slow motion, and unable to muster any interest and enthusiasm for picking up the reins of my business.

Fortunately I know a lot about the grief process and knew that he kind of grief I am describing is normal. Being productive immediately after such a big loss was not even remotely possible and was not a fair expectation. There are times when it is not realistic to expect yourself to jump back into action. This is one of those times.

Rather than beat myself up or worry myself to death about my malaise and its effect on my business, I chose to acknowledge my grief and give myself some breathing room until my energy and motivation return. Although that is not my normal way of operating, and I have twitched a bit about my slower pace, I know that to do anything else would be terribly disrespectful at this time.

Rushing right back into action would delay grieving. The underlying grief would then make it impossible to access my best self, focus and do my best work. By allowing myself to move through my grief at my own pace, I am making it more likely that I will be able to return to my former level of productivity.

An ADHD-Friendly Strategy to Be Productive

Initiating tasks and sustaining attention and  effort to a completion point are

The reward for progress!

The reward for progress!

very difficult for most people with ADHD, particularly if a task is uninteresting, boring, or repetitious. Consequently people with ADHD often live surrounded by numerous unfinished tasks.

At Adventures in ADD, a local meetup group, I learned a great strategy for getting things done that is designed to be ADHD-friendly. ADHD symptoms occur because the pre-frontal cortex of a person with ADHD is under-stimulated, resulting in executive function deficits. Consequently people with ADHD seek stimulation in order to fully engage their brains. Their brains are stimulated by fun activities, newness, crises, conflict and endeavors that are interesting to them.

The woman (I’ll call her “Edna”) who shared her strategy for getting things done probably did not know the neurobiological explanation for her productivity challenges. However, she knew she got bored easily and would likely bounce away from tasks when they were not interesting. Taking that information Edna developed the following strategy.

Edna identifies four or five different tasks she needs to get done. She works on one task until she gets bored (about 10-15 minutes). She then stops and rewards herself with a short period of time working on a jigsaw puzzle. She really loves putting puzzles together. Then she moves on to another task for 10-15 minutes followed by another puzzle break. Working in this way she gets work done on each of the tasks.

Edna is able to sustain effort and interest in working on her tasks because she has limited the time she spends on any one task and thereby avoids the ADHD tendencies to get bored easily, to get overwhelmed by the enormity of a task and to bounce away from a task to seek something more interesting and fun. She also deliberately provides what her brain craves — fun! She is willing to work for puzzle time! And, she makes progress on four or five tasks.

A strength of people with ADHD is their creativity and willingness to think outside the box. This strategy is evidence of both! Thanks, Edna!

A New Definition of Competent

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What’s possible when you change your definition of competent?

I made a New Year’s commitment to have a different kind of year this year. I wanted more rest, play, and lighthearted times. I have a long history of over-functioning and pushing myself beyond my physical limits. Not only was I running on empty. I was running on fumes trying to run my business, finish Organizer Coach certification, coordinate care for my mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in assisted living, oversee my disabled brother’s care in Connecticut, maintain a good marriage, and manage our household. I knew if I didn’t make some real changes I would eventually pay a hefty price with my health. 

When I began making changes, like avoiding my computer until after I had walked my dogs and had quiet time with a cup of coffee and reading from books that feed my heart, soul and brain, I felt wonderful. And, I also felt uncomfortable. Fortunately I’m working with Diane Thomson, a great coach, so I had the support I needed to work through my discomfort. Following is what I wrote her as I was trying to make sense of my experience of slowing down.

“After our session I did some thinking about my blahs today. It occurred to me that perhaps part of the blah feeling is because I’m not running on adrenalin constantly. I’m not getting high from urgency every day. What I’m feeling might really feel OK to a ‘normal’ person who is not a compulsive doer. This feeling of going slower and more deliberately, instead of at warp speed to get as much done as possible, trying to jam way too much into the time available, feels unfamiliar. I think I may be equating unfamiliar with wrong, problematic, and bad.

I also thought that it would be a good idea to re-write MY definition of competent. My old unconscious definition was something like ‘be reliable and do high quality work for as much time as possible during a day or until you drop dead or get sick.’ Yes, I had been living by that unconscious recipe for disaster for many decades. 

The notion of self-care was completely missing from my original definition of competent. But, with current awareness, facilitated by coaching, I realize I’m not being competent when I get tons done at the expense of my health, rest, relaxation, and quality relationships. Competent can be doing high quality work in amounts of time that still allow me to stop, breathe, rest, enjoy life, have fun and build/maintain quality relationships.”

With my new definition of competent I’m moving into each day deliberately making space for me and my needs. I am getting more rest, having more fun, stopping before I’m exhausted, enjoying a deeper connection with my husband, and still being productive. In fact, these days when I work I am able to focus more quickly and easily, and I get a lot done in less time. Who knew that taking care of myself could improve my efficiency!

Yes, I still feel twinges of discomfort because I’m not driving myself as I once would have. I notice those feelings and remind myself that change is hard, but that my choice is right. I believe getting off the fast track and onto the right track, a track that is respectful of me and my needs, is the only way to be able to make the biggest difference in this lifetime and drink in all the blessings and gifts this life has to offer.  

What is your definition of competent?

Ground Yourself for Greater Productivity

DSCN0461In our rush, rush world that seems to run on urgency, it’s very easy to get ungrounded, to lose your focus, and in turn get stuck or spin in activity without awareness or purpose. In order to be productive you must be grounded in who you are and your current purpose.

When you are grounded you feel good, capable and equipped to handle whatever comes at you during your day. You are connected to yourself and a universal source of energy. You have confidence, you can make decisions and work effectively. When I’m grounded I do my best coaching, my best writing, my best speaking and my best work with hands-on clients. I operate from a firm foundation of my self-worth, trust in my abilities, and faith that things will work out for the best.

Many things can cause you to become ungrounded. Upon reflection of my episodes of becoming ungrounded, I’ve noticed that I can easily get knocked off center and disconnect from myself when I make mistakes, when I’m in transition (e.g. the transition from hands-on organizer to organizer coach who also does hands-on organizing), when I receive criticism or perceive judgement from others, when I’m fatigued, when I am in new situations, and when I’m not practicing good self-care (eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep).

When I’m ungrounded I feel anxious and fears plague me. My self-confidence is wobbly. I get breathless. I have difficulty focusing and identifying priorities for action. And, I sometimes get depressed. Being ungrounded is no fun!

Once I learned how to recognize when I am ungrounded I began to seek ways to reground myself. Following is a list of some of the ways I get back to center:

  • clearing clutter,
  • getting organized,
  • listening to music I love,
  • reading for information and inspiration,
  • making my space feel better by adding flowers and rearranging art,
  • spending time in nature,
  • weeding (having my hands in the earth),
  • walking my dogs,
  • participating in community with others who have similar challenges,
  • connecting with others who care about me,
  • seeking professional support (in networking, from colleagues, from consultants), and
  • getting coached (yes, coaches get coached too!).

Once I’m grounded again, I’m off and running! I’m focused. I have hope. I have clear intentions. I’m reconnected to myself and I’m productive.

Some people find themselves perpetually in a state of being ungrounded and struggling to be productive. If this describes you, it’s quite possible that you have a brain-based challenge that makes getting and staying grounded difficult (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders, ADD/ADHD). A consultation with a coach or therapist is the best way to determine if your productivity challenges are brain-based and would benefit from coaching or treatment by a therapist. If you suspect you may have a brain-based condition, take the first step by contacting me for a free 30 minute consultation to discuss that possibility.  Consider it necessary self-care to get grounded and be productive.

What knocks you off your center? When you are having difficulty being productive, you may be ungrounded. Notice it. Don’t judge it. Look at your current state with curiosity to identify the cause or causes of being ungrounded. Then find ways to reconnect with yourself, the positive essence of who you are and what really matters in your life. Get grounded and get productive.

Working with Your Brain to Get Things Done

Male human head with skull and brain in ghost effect, side view.Getting things done rarely happens in a straight line. What you are able to accomplish at any given time is dependent on your brain state. When my brain is rested after a good night’s sleep, it is in optimal condition for doing my hardest work like writing newsletters, reports and blog posts, designing speeches, and making important business decisions.

After several hours of intense focus, my brain gets weary and it’s time to shift to lighter tasks like answering emails, scheduling clients, making phone calls. After a short break from intensity I am often able to again focus on more difficult tasks. By mixing things up, shifting from intense, difficult tasks to easy tasks and back again, I’m able to make the most of my time and my brain.

Here’s an example of how I recently worked with my brain to have a very productive day. I first did 4 hours of intense work which depleted my brain power. Then I ran an errand that took me through the country and took minimal brain power. The change of scene and exposure to the beauty of the countryside was rejuvenating. When I got home I was motivated to clear off my desk of several small tasks that were floating and distracting me–mailing a check, scheduling a client, etc. Once my desk was clear and my brain rested, I was able to tackle the difficult task of putting together a speech. I had energy and I had clarity.

When is your brain working at its best? Make the most of that time by tackling your most challenging tasks. But, don’t stop there. Remember, you can keep being productive if you shift to easier work or take a short break instead of stopping  altogether. Then returning to more difficult tasks may be possible. Honor your brain’s energy to make the most of your time and get more done.