A white board filled with post it notes in lots of colours

ADHD and the inevitable lists

Who would have thunked that an ADHDer would struggle to stick to writing regular blog posts? Inconceivable! (I just got an image of Vizzini saying this in the 1987 movie The Princess Bride when referring to the Dread Pirate Robert aka Westley’s ability to overcome every obstacle thrown at him.) Funny enough, inserting that thought right here is just one of many running through my head about random things, while doing something completely unrelated. Such an ADHD thing to do.

There’s been a lot of research lately suggesting that ADHD is less about attention-deficit and more about intention-deficit. This means we really want to but there’s a disconnect getting the momentum to do it, or if we manage to start something it’s difficult to see it through. Like all the moving parts are ready to go but the person to flip the switch is out of office so these parts are just talking kak (Afrikaans for shit) and eating the snacks. Kinda like when the Eskom dude doesn’t switch your area back on after load shedding. I say kinda cause the ADHD parts are in complete chill mode but when the Eskom dude forgets about us we panic thinking it could come on any minute now or we could go 24-36 hours with no power.

The irony is that we thrive with routine and structure but our very nature rebels against this same routine and structure. Once we step outside of those lines, our lives fall into chaos. Then to get back on track we have to motor through a week’s worth of work and of course, also set up new routines and structures only to rinse and repeat ad nauseam.

Our cycles, which vary from a few hours to a few days, can be HYPER-focused where we’re practically a super human machine churning through a multitude of tasks and then it’s just NOPE. This is when you need ctrl+alt+delete to end task and try again cause tabs are “not responding”. Simple things like eating properly or showering can be just as difficult as doing the dishes or keeping the house clean. NOPE does not discriminate. But essentially, chaos ensues because this is also when we think we should look at courses or new projects. We may even start them but it’s unlikely we can follow through with them.

In a work environment, NOPE is particularly frustrating cause it’s not like your duties got the memo. In my case, when NOPE shows up, I’m reactive so I can still get a lot of stuff done but I’m not necessarily gonna go look for work or tackle a complicated project. Balance comes on the HYPER-days where I catch everything up and then some, managing to do the work of 3 people. Also, I’m lucky that I have many more HYPER days than NOPE days and not being born into wealth means that I have had to work so coping mechanisms were developed to avoid being homeless.

Naturally, just to make it more fun, we don’t get to choose when we have a NOPE day. It almost always happens right after the perfect day of HYPER-organisation, ticking off tasks, creating beautiful lists to tackle the next day, and even completing some of those projects we started ages ago. So when NOPE shows up, it sucks because we had a plan and it’s all gone to shit.

This is why it’s important to keep lists. Let’s be realistic though, a NOPE day has zero fucks to give about the list, but when HYPER shows up again we have a place of reference to start from and if you don’t have a pile of things to do, that focus is wasted and can turn into restless energy which in my experience leads to stupid decisions. (Stick around, I’m sure I’ll share some of my crazy shenanigans.)

I’ve got lists for everything and even in different formats or platforms.

Firstly, my notice board has coloured papers with topics I want to write about. I’ve mentioned my stationery obsession, so I have notebooks with lists too. For work I have a notebook to take meeting notes and a diary to list that day’s tasks. I have a creative writing notebook where I list ideas or topics I want to write about. I even have a notebook for research topics I want to look into. I journal too and there’s a list of topics to practice mindfulness.

Technology has aided in my list making with WhatsApp groups. I’m sure you know, there is a chat available to you called “Me (You)” and I use it plenty to send myself stuff I don’t want to forget about. But I go the extra mile and create a group, add a contact like my daughter, name the group and then I delete my daughter. These groups are super handy if you come across something online or in conversation and want a reminder. My lists include shopping and errands, books/movies/series to read and watch, blog content to reference in future, research links for my book writing, exercise routines (apparently I have two groups for this but we wont talk about my laziness just yet), courses I want to do and even some translations of courses I’ve done (because Domestika for some reason is more Spanish than English), my medical record logins (remember the gift that keeps on giving?), and probably more that I can’t think of right now and have totally forgotten about.

Lastly, a fave past time of this ADHDer is doom scrolling. Somehow it feels less shameful if I save something with the intention to review later and possibly make/eat/do. My Instagram has many saved categories including the afore mentioned to make, to eat, and also check out later, blog content, for the mind, writing, for relationships, for the house, for the body (more workouts – I’m really good at watching other people do this maybe one day it’ll make me actually do it), and the lists go on.

I’ve just proven the point about intention deficit, haven’t I? I like all these things and imagine myself one day making or cooking or reading or whatever any number of them, but I mostly add to these lists rather than ticking off. Except I did actually use an idea (of the 118 saved) “to make” my own version of the jean-pant-to-skirt conversion and I love it!

The ironic thing is that we tend to shaft ourselves more than we shaft other people. Work comes with responsibilities – I mentioned the consequence of not paying bills earlier – so we can use our reserve focus to get the job done. Anyway, most ADHDers are highly intelligent and talented so even a slow or less-focused day for us is on par with the average person. We can definitely do more when we’re passionate about what we have to do, or are in work environments that accommodate our neuro-divergent-ness. It helps if we’re doing work that uses our strengths too. I currently work in the ideal environment of constant and ever-changing demands with some routine to keep structure (but not too much that I rebel) and a whole lot of autonomy.

With all this said, there is no guarantee you’ll revert back to the lists and systematically tick off every item. The routines and structures we put in place are also more a guideline than a hard and fast rule. But in my experience, having them makes it easier to sort out the chaos when a cycle ends. There’s some muscle memory to fall back into a rhythm that feels comfortable enough to establish order. Even if only for a little while…

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