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Striving with ADHD: Productivity Hacks – a little advice

Inspired by a recent article called “Productivity Hacks (yes, I actually typed that loathsome phrase)” written by Angela Kirwin (Substack).

I wanted to add some thoughts, advice and lessons I have learned in my own self-discovery struggles with getting stuff done. Add some naturally British sarcasm about what not to do and why not to do it.

To kick off that sarcasm – let me introduce you to Vimh. Vimh is the collective Voice In My Head. We all have our own personal Vimh, so no need to find a plushie or app marketed as such (hmm, maybe I could “merch” that?) (Aside: I love playing with AI generated art)

AI generated Voice In My Head plushie Vimh Joe Hendley

Vimh is very condescending and often triggers the guilt, shame and frustration that comes with the voice reminding me of every teacher, leader and general peers exclaiming that very familiar waste of … “so much potential”. Yeah, I know it looks adorable and stupid but “merch” sells. Like apps promising to help wave magic wands.

Apps (incl. websites) promising to show us the way

As Angela notes herself:

“…why my little goldfish brain thinks an app/ system / hack will be able to wave a magic wand over my entire character and, abracadabra, transform me into a super productive, high-achieving machine…. I’ve spent my life thinking that if I just get a bit more organised, a bit more focused, work a bit harder or learn one more skill, I’d be amazing.

Spoiler Alert #2: Any app/system/hack (probably) won’t work. If you’ve spent a lifetime thinking this, learn from that.

And don’t be reading “probably” thinking, “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”

Me debating with Vimh that this time that this attractive, shiny, new app will definitely work.

“A little alarm pings every 10 minutes or so to remind you to stay focus on the task, and you can select background sounds (beaches, rain, white noise etc.) to play while you do your tasks.”

How seriously annoying and ironically distracting would that be?? Like Vimh, the voice of a hundred teachers, parents and other peers reminding me how dependent they think I am on them to be nagged to stayed focus. The guilt and shame triggers of all that wasted potential. And I’d be paying for it. No. Just no.

Economics (re)Primer

Remember the economics of business – back to basics, supply and demand.

No demand = no business.

We all know (I hope, by now) the sheer planned, built-in addictive qualities of apps, games, systems to keep your eyes on the screens and to keep you coming back to the apps/systems. Forgive my cynicism, but I would not be remotely surprised if these “productivity” apps are designed to do the same. It certainly feels like they’re designed to keep you using the app, to keep the subscription money rolling in.

For £$€9.99 a month you can become a productive rockstar, right? Don’t believe us? Here’s 7 days free trial to get addicted access. Don’t pay, though, and we’ll turn the drip off.

Notice the apps which provide 7 days, or even 14. For those of us eternally battling hordes of demons of distraction, 7 days is a blink of the eye. 14, two blinks. A month, we might get round to trying it.

Don’t get me started on paid for meditation apps either.

I learned a new word today while writing this: “promissory”: adjective – “containing or implying a promise”. Implying, indeed.

I searched for some examples of this and won’t pick on the particular company by naming them – I found one which helpfully details the idea of building a value proposition for your app to attract users/customers. Ironically unimaginatively their About page notes “Building world-class apps and mobile experiences isn’t just what we do. It’s who we are.” I bet that took a long time to conjure up.

How I chuckled when I saw one of their example apps seems to be a meditation app screenshot, “Good evening Paul. Welcome back…. Get ready to feel lighter”

In this company’s helpful page we are told that a value proposition outlines “the benefit that your app promises to deliver to users. With over 2 million apps in the App Store, one of the best ways to stand out is to provide a compelling statement that lets people know why they should download your app instead of your competitors’.”

This is not a new idea, and there will be plenty of companies promising to help you promise to deliver happiness and productivity to your target audience. For only a tenner a month. Or 4, or 20, or whatever number.

This above goes on for 6.75 minutes and will help you breathe slowly and deeply to help ward off the triggered emotions.

(I’m aware of the hypocrisy of paying for Spotify but I do find music helps get focused)

If you’re tired of chill music how about a bit of Iron Maiden?

Fear of the apps

The “Morning Routine To-Do list, including things like meditate & wake up with enough time to journal & shower. I haven’t managed to open my morning routine list, but I have created a Work Tasks To-Do for all recurring weekly tasks, and that seems to be helpful.”

It’s not. (Oh god, I’m sorry. I need to get off the internet and build something for the house. After I’ve finished this.)

So you’ve created two lists. When you start making the list of lists, you know you’ve got a problem. I get it, I’ve been there. Work list, home stuff (DIY) list, shopping list, list of lists, priority lists. The “no really, I’m serious, I’m going to do this first” list.

“…it calculates the total amount of hours it’ll take to finish the list each day.”

Good grief. Sounds like my old Sales Director as he barks why I’m not on the phone making money for the business, his voice projecting from the corner desk as he watched the dashboard stats like a hyperfocused hawk. I’m not on the phone that moment as I’m making/updating my personal spreadsheet to stay organised in my own colour coded way because the CRM is clearly not designed to align harmoniously with my brain. And I feel detailed call notes are more helpful in the “In case I’m run over by a bus” contingency plan than everyone else’s barely adequate “called” record.

I am refraining from going on a tangent here about (in another job) why a KPI of a 10 min call is not as helpful to anyone other than stats dashboards, where spending 30-60 mins having a meaningful and/or info gathering conversation will be much much better for reputation and human satisfaction over the longer term. But we don’t live in that world any more 🙁 That’s a different rant.

“Allows multiple people to work on ‘projects’, and tasks can be assigned to different people” – I’ll just assign everything to one of my imaginary characters then. Vimh can do something helpful for once. Assign everything to your partner 😉 “Nooooo, that was definitely your assigned task”…

“Looks like an ugly version of a mediocre middle manager’s attempt at AGILE project management” – that’s all the reason I need to never touch that app. The PTSD of a short-lived role Programme/Project Management office full of POs and PMs with a severely stressed set of resources which put me off project management for life. Here’s looking at you, Midland.

“There are some templates you can use” – the gravitational pull of the vortex of “there MUST be the perfect template for me in here somewhere”. Just one more page of results….

“You have to kinda build the system you want to use yourself, which doesn’t work very well for my brain. But I spent all weekend looking for alternatives to manage”

That says it all really.

For you, dear reader, yourself and you and maybe a partner – stop it.

Just stop it. “It” being hunting for apps with magic wands.

DIY Productivity

It takes some discipline

know this is an unhelpful, paradoxical loop of “to get discipline, you must use discipline” but you can build new disciplined habits. I have faith in you. As one coach once said to me which oddly felt very helpful and simultaneously nauseating, “If you don’t have faith in yourself, borrow my faith in you”. Just remember to give it back one day pls.

Also Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Things I have found which help in getting things done

  • I have written about this before, but have a small set of things (eg house work, DIY/improvement, self-employment work, downtime) to spend X amount of time on then moving to the next area of work for a time. Side gigs to the side gigs. Don’t time it as such unless there is an actual deadline set by boss/partner/client. Setting deadlines for yourself or relying on an app to nag you to finish a to-do list task is often counterproductive for those with internal guilt-tripping, shame-inducing voices. Do a thing until you’re bored of it and do another thing, get bored, switch to another thing. MAKE PROGRESS. Any progress and soak in the pleasure of said progress.
    • If you DO have actual deadlines which have consequences if not met, sort those from everything else. (“So that’s two lists, Joe”. Sort of. Real consequences matter – like keeping a job, getting paid, etc)
  • Use whatever calendar app you have built-into your phone. You do not need another reminder/task/calendar app. I’m on Android and Google’s calendar has everything – custom reminders a range of colours for appointments, recurring appointments. Learn slowly to remember to add in appts for everything that’s important with consequences, eg cancelling the Disney+ discounted subscription after 3 months and (because Ireland is a bit behind the times) putting the new insurance certificate in the windscreen pocket on 5th September or risk getting fined by the police. Consequences. 10 min appt in calendar with reminder notification about 10 mins before it. Done and doner.
  • On a similar note: Something cooking for 45mins in the oven? Set a timer AS you put it in the oven. Prioritisation
  • If you have a bunch of data and tasks that need organising for a project use a spreadsheet.
    • Don’t look for a template for your particular thing – build it bespoke style. Excel has project management Gantt charts built-in, but even then, remember to KISS it all. Do not over-complicate it as you know full well how easy it is to spend weeks making the perfect spreadsheet. STOPIT.
  • Learn to let go of perfectionism for things that really don’t actually matter. That’s pretty much everything in reality. 80% perfect is far better if it’s done than 100% perfect that’s never done. Again, I know it’s far easier to say this than do it, but for the love of your sanity find a way. See Getting into your own head below.
    • Personal example – I built some rustic style sliding barn doors for my house recently (interior) in order to fill a gap between two rooms before winter so it’s more efficient to heat each room. I had a friend come stay with me this week – he noted some surprise at how well made they were (for me, a guy who’s never tried that scale of carpentry before now). Are they perfect? Hell no. I can point out at least 4 things “wrong” with them, but they haven’t fallen down and do the job they’re supposed to and look “ok” enough. They’re not finished either. I decided replacing old worn brakes on my car was probably more important… I have Airbnb guests who will see the doors but probably won’t in reality notice their imperfections. Otherwise practically no-one will see them. So therefore it doesn’t matter that they’re not perfect. They’re done. Improvements can happen later.

If you must use some kind of planner… * sigh *… I found Trello helpful. But haven’t used it in a while now. Also Focusmate for buddy system focus appointments, but also got bored of that after a while.

Get into your own head

Understand what works for you – try to notice what helps you to get things done (or make tangible progress on it). Note it, build on that.

Learn how to be a nice person to yourself. Understand that the voice in your head is the result of years of training by teachers, peers etc to be not nice to you until you learn to do it to yourself forever. Deconstruct that wall of self-loathing and start talking to yourself like you’d talk to anyone else you see being hard on themselves.

Tell yourself, “It’s ok, it’s done enough, it’s fine.” or “That’s a not bad job. Pretty damned good actually”. Reward yourself with a treat, like a biscuit.

Kung Fu Fighter masters approval well done meme

For example, I have noticed that I get very discouraged if I don’t see demonstrable and/or tangible results from doing a task fairly quickly and find it increasingly hard to try again at that task.

SEO-ing my own website is the absolute BANE of my existence. I find it incredibly tedious, but can’t afford to hire anyone to do it for me, and it does need to be done consistently to get my site(s) ranked at all. As I also hate social media (because strategising and scheduling even with a scheduler is also very tedious).

As it doesn’t get tangible results (ie clients) quickly, I struggle with this.

On the flip side, doing DIY, making stuff, cooking healthy food (and extremely not healthy food), servicing the car (I’m not an expert but it’s not as hard as dealerships would make you believe) – all these things produce tangible results quite quickly (ie within a week usually). Even making visible progress on a little project (making doors) is incredibly rewarding and gives much satisfaction. There is also an actual need for it.

Doing things that feed my need for a sense of achievement, satisfaction in one area helps me to focus back on the tedious aspects of what’s necessary.

So I am working on a way to get that “tangible” “quick” results based output from SEO/website work…. He says. My friends reading this, shush.

If you find any of this of value, please consider buying me a coffee / plant 🌱 on my Ko-Fi page

Also consider subscribing to my irregular newsletter for more content, and share to anyone you think will find my perspectives helpful 🙏🏻

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