How to be a Productive Writer with Attention Deficit Disorder

When you have Attention Deficit Disorder, it can be very hard to stay focused on the task at hand and get some serious writing done. While I mainly talk about my experience with Borderline Personality Disorder in this blog, my struggle with ADD certainly affects my day-to-day life as much as BPD does. In today’s blog, I’m going to share some tricks I’ve used to be a more productive writer despite the challenges that come with ADD.

And because distractible squirrels are an apt metaphor and so darn cute, I will feature them in this post. 😉

1. Embrace Your Racing Thoughts

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Anyone with ADD can tell you that their racing thoughts are one of the most prevalent and challenging aspects of dealing with their disorder. Our minds are constantly cycling through anything and everything: what we have to do today, that conversation we had last week, the conversation we’re anticipating having this afternoon, childhood traumas, how cute that cat meme was, and it goes on and on. A pleasant thought can be immediately followed by an unpleasant one, a trivial thought by an important one…it’s very difficult to keep things straight!

My racing thoughts are probably at their worst when I’m trying to go to sleep at night. It used to take one to two hours every night for me to fall asleep. It got better when I learned to stop fighting my racing thoughts and embrace them instead.

Rather than spend an hour tossing an turning in bed, trying to ignore the thoughts so that I can go to sleep, instead I get out of bed and write them down. I bring order to the chaos of my thoughts by writing them down in the correct place: a to-do list, a calendar, a writing journal, etc. This helps me make sense of my thoughts later, after I’ve gotten some sleep.

I try to spill all the thoughts out until there’s nothing left, but obviously, sometimes my mind is still pretty full when I try to sleep. Having written some of it down, however, I usually feel more relaxed and less worried about forgetting something important. I don’t always fall asleep right away after doing this, but it has definitely helped!

2. Don’t Hold Yourself to a Schedule

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There’s a lot of pressure amongst writers to have a writing schedule. “Serious writers write everyday” they say. “If you want to be a professional writer, get up a the crack of dawn and write,” others claim. This simply doesn’t work for everyone. If you have trouble sleeping at night, or if you energy levels ebb and flow based on your mental health, you simply can’t hold yourself to a daily schedule.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I’m not a very organized person. When I say that I keep a to-do list, I don’t mean that I have a list of “must do’s” with times and dates attached. No, it is literally just a point form list of items in no particular order. If I held myself to dates and times, I’d only be setting myself up for failure. I used to spend a great deal of time and energy chastising myself for not completing tasks on my perceived “correct” timeline.

My to-do list is fluid. If anything’s leftover on the list at the end of the day, it’s just there to tackle tomorrow (if I want to). If I don’t complete a task, I don’t worry about it. For me, if a task is that important or urgent, I’ll get it done. If I don’t get it done, it probably wasn’t that important. I don’t put any more pressure on myself than necessary.

It also helps me feel better to get as many small to-do items off the list first thing so that I feel like I’m making progress. If I start with the longer, heavy-duty projects first, then I tend feel bogged down with guilt that these other tasks aren’t getting done. Those bigger projects aren’t likely getting completed today anyway, so it’s okay to work on them a bit at a time, slowly making your way towards completion. I like to get rid of the pesky little items that will nag at me until they’re done so that you can work on the bigger projects, like my books, in peace.

3. Take a Break

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I don’t know if everyone with ADD is like me, but I find that when I’m on, I’m really on. I’ve had employers and clients compliment me on the speed with which I get things done that they expected would take way longer.

That’s not me bragging, though. Sure, I work faster and more efficiently than the average person on a good day, but on a bad day, I get nothing done. Maybe subconsciously I just work harder and faster on my good days because I know I need to make up for the bad ones, or maybe people with ADD are all like this. I don’t know.

Self-employment has worked well for me because it allows me to work at my own pace. If I’m not feeling well one day, I can take a day off, and no one even notices.

It’s important to take care of yourself and take a break when you need it. There’s pressure in our society to never miss a day of work and to have a strong work ethic to avoid being called “entitled” or “lazy”. But working hard is not about always working; it’s about devoting yourself to always doing good, quality work. Pushing yourself to work on a bad day may result in the job getting done, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the job gets done right. Let yourself take time off when you need it and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it.

4. Learn to Say, “No.”

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I used to try to be everything to everybody. I like to help people, and I don’t like to let people down. So, when I would sign up to volunteer with an organization, I would feel compelled to stick with it forever, like I could never say, “I’ve had enough.” I began to take on way too much, spend less time on myself and with my family, and it caused my mental health to plummet.

It took me hitting rock bottom to finally say, “No.” I took a step back from projects I was working on and from organizations I was volunteering with so that I could focus on myself and my family. As I got better, I only took on things that, while they helped others, also did something for me, whether that was providing me with professional development to advance my career, or that really brought me joy.

It’s great to be altruistic, but you’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of yourself first. There’s a reason they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first on a plane before you help the person beside you.