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How to Internet with ADHD

Image courtesy iStock

Image courtesy iStock

I was Tweeting with a colleague recently while attempting to accomplish working from home. I mentioned that it is often a challenge for me to manage my time and workflow. This is a common challenge for many people, I know. But I have two compounding issues that I bet a lot of other people also share: My work requires me to be on the internet -- specifically social media-- for much of the day, and... I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Unlike many people with this disorder, I wasn't formally diagnosed until I was 25 years old. It was an "aha" moment for me: So much of my youth finally made sense in light of this challenge that I had been unknowingly battling my entire young life. People got annoyed with me because I 'couldn't control my energy level'. I was often doing something completely unrelated to what the teachers were attempting to convey to me, though I was often an 'A' student and always had an answer to their question, even though I was reading or drawing or distracting some other hapless student who had the misfortune to be seated nearby. The volume and intensity of my speech was another problem, with both teachers and fellow students complaining that they couldn't get a word in edgewise.

Image courtesy Healthline

So when I received the diagnosis, it was a great relief, to discover that my lack of school friends as a youth and my string of exasperated teachers wasn't because I was a bad person or unlikeable, I just had a disorder, and it could be treated. Enter the medications, and a psychiatrist to manage them.

If anything, that became an even unhappier period in my life than the not-knowing. The drugs made me either edgy, angry, sleepy, unfocused, double-hyper or killed my sex drive, by turns. After a year of trying various pharmaceutical solutions, I decided to get off the roller coaster and return to what I had been doing before to cope, but now with extra incentive and knowledge: I created a series of techniques to help me deal with my ADHD, and I use these techniques to this day. 

My colleague on the other end of Twitter remarked that my techniques could be useful to others, and that I should blog about it. Aha!

So here, ladies and gents, are my personal techniques for how to be on the interwebs all day and still Get Stuff Done.

Image courtesy Chicklitplus

Make a list.

Before I open my email, before I look at anything at all on the web, I make a list of my action points for the day. What are the things that absolutely MUST get accomplished? What are the things that would be nice to complete but are not deal-breakers? What are things that are just plain fun? I try to put the list in order of importance, but intersperse some of those just-for-fun things throughout, to keep me from going off on tangents or getting frustrated because of needing to fight my high propensity for distraction.

Make the list time-bound.

I try to estimate how long each task should take to accomplish. This is a very difficult step for me, but it's important. Break the tasks into 15-minute increments. Figure out how many 15-minute tasks I can accomplish, reasonably. Set them up so that there are natural breaks in between stages.

Set a timer.

I dive into the first task, having set a timer for 15 minutes (or whatever length of time indicated for that task). Work on the task, and then when the timer goes off, stop and assess whether the task is complete or needs an extension. This keeps me from going too far down a rabbit hole, following fascinating blogs or reading about topics that are important but may not necessarily be related to THIS task.

One task at a time.

Studies have shown that people who try to multi-task, instead of being more productive, are actually less productive and less able to complete any task to a standard of quality. This is for regular people, not just ADHDers. So imagine how much harder it is to complete tasks when you're already fighting yourself. Don't do it. Stay focused on a single task at a time. If you discover another task that needs doing, add it to your list, then go back to your original task.

Use native online tools.

If I can avoid personally going online and searching for content for my clients or myself, that's extra time I can spend on another task. So I set up and enabled LinkedInHouzzTwitterPinterest and Google+ to send me the content I need, direct to my Inbox. Then all I have to do is scan quickly through a few emails, pick the content that's right for my clients, and insert it into their Buffer streams for easy posting and distribution on the days and times that I've already established. In fact, Buffer has recently rolled out a feature where they deliver suggested content right into my Buffer, and then I pick what's relevant and discard the rest, in just a few minutes. I also have Google Alerts set up on specific keywords and phrases, so anything from around the web related to that topic is automagically in my Inbox when Google finds it.

Take frequent breaks.

I also set a timer specifically to remind myself to get up, move around, stretch, look away from the screen, and generally remember that I'm contained inside a body that also needs attention. 

Don't forget meal and comfort breaks. Ironically many ADHDers also suffer with hyperfocus, a condition that seems like the opposite of ADHD, but is really just another symptom of disordered attention. I become loathe to stop for any reason whatsoever, and will even ignore physical discomfort because I am "getting stuff done for once". While this can be good for your clients, it's bad for your health, and your relationships.

Keep it in perspective.

Finally, remember that some times are going to be harder than others. There are days when I have 14 unfinished tasks and not a single one actually gets completed. Or I find myself going around the same circle again and again: "I need to do this before I can do that and in order to do that, this has to be done." I don't beat myself up about it like I used to, before I knew that I had a disorder. Now I just shrug, say, "Well, my list for tomorrow will be easier to make because it looks remarkably like my list for today" and then spend some time in gratitude. If you open your day thinking about your goals, and end your day thinking about what you're grateful for, you create a cycle of positivity. And one thing those of us with ADHD know, it's that structure helps us.


Image courtesy Memorise

Another detail about being diagnosed: When this issue came to light, it was because my employer at the time was unhappy that I wasn't being productive enough. They wanted to figure out how to 'fix' me so that they could work me even harder. Ironically, a diagnosis of ADHD created a legally protected status (in that state, in that company) which meant that once I was diagnosed, they could not legally require me to do more than 3 tasks simultaneously, and they could not fire me for not being able to. The real kicker was that they had been the ones to insist that I see the doctor who diagnosed me, and the company-supplied health insurance paid for it. The good news? Once the number of tasks I was being asked to perform simultaneously went down, my accuracy and productivity did actually go up. So I credit them with starting me on my more sustainable path to success, while living with ADHD.

What was YOUR 'aha' moment about living or working with ADHD? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

All background images photographed by Jennifer Davidson ©2010-2016. Interior styling by Jennifer Davidson. Website designed by Jennifer Davidson, powered by Squarespace.