In episode 79 of The Productive Woman, we talked about staying focused and paying attention. For some, it’s not always as easy as turning off outside distractions. This week's guest, Emily Prokop, talks about staying productive when ADHD makes distraction a way of life. She also shares with us a simple, very helpful, tool she uses to keep herself on track–and you can download it for free below!
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Overcoming ADHD to stay productive
Emily Prokop is a puzzle editor, wife, mom, and podcaster–and she also helps me with the show notes for The Productive Woman. She was diagnosed a few months ago with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. As she's learned–and experienced–those with ADHD may have trouble keeping focus and attention on one task at a time. Symptoms can include hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors, according to the Mayo Clinic. Emily joined me for a conversation about how ADHD affects her ability to accomplish the things that matter to her. The tools and techniques she shares are helpful for all of us.
There is no typical day for Emily. Her day job as a puzzle book editor involves many long-term projects, all in various stages of development. Her days can consist of either a lot of little projects or many days in a row focusing on just one large project.
Mondays tend to be the most productive. She starts by putting together a WIP, or works in progress, email for her boss and coworkers. This is a basic list of all of her current and future projects, which includes where they are in production and the deadlines for each. This is a really valuable technique all of us could use: preparing a summary of work in progress so we know where everything stands and can make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Even if you have no co-workers to share it with, you can post it in a visible location to help keep you on track.
After sending her WIP email to her boss and her coworkers, Emily uses a personal weekly docket (which you can download free by clicking on the link in this sentence). This docket has a calendar on top, an area for Musts, Work Projects, Shopping List, and Future Projects, and a separate area for a to-do list for her podcast. Sometimes just the act of writing everything down on this docket is enough so she doesn’t have to look at it again. Having margin space for doodling is also important for Emily to let her mind wander a bit.
Like all of us, Emily faces particular challenges in trying to accomplish the things she needs and wants to do.
One challenge Emily faces is having too many ideas and not enough time to do them all. (I know the feeling!) As soon as she has an idea, she tends to want to focus all her energy and attention on that idea, despite having other things that need to get done. To help corral those ideas and stay on task, she uses sticky notes on top of her weekly docket for ideas, which she’ll stick on her phone to refer to later.
Dealing with attention deficit
Emily originally sought a therapist's help for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. After a year of therapy, the anxiety faded, but she continued to struggle with an inability to focus. After taking an assessment provided by her therapist, she was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, and found out the anxiety she'd originally sought therapy for actually was a result and symptom of ADHD. Emily and her therapist began shifting their focus to techniques and ways to help manage ADHD, which in turn helps her anxiety.
She’s also become more aware of techniques she’s used in the past to try to cope with ADHD before she knew she had it. After learning as an adult she had ADHD, Emily remembered hearing about kids who had what was then known as ADD and associating it with the inability to sit still. She learned it’s more easily diagnosed in young boys, since they’re more likely to exhibit the hyperactivity tendencies associated with ADHD, while girls and women internalize it more. Some of Emily's childhood behaviors, like doodling in the margins while listening to a lesson being taught, helped her with the compulsive need to use both the left and the right sides of her brain. When she talked to her doctor about this, he confirmed this was part of having ADHD as a child, but not being diagnosed until adulthood.
Even though both ADHD and ADD now fall under the general category of ADHD, Emily associates more with the ADD diagnosis, since the hyperactivity aspect of ADHD doesn’t really play a predominant role in how the condition affects her. The traits she struggled with, which her doctor recognized as symptoms of ADHD, were things like:
- Starting projects and being able to stay focused on it. As soon as she could start a task, it was easy to continue, though.
- Trouble paying attention.
- Compulsive behaviors and acting impulsively.
Tools for productivity and helping stay focused
As we all need to do, Emily has found tools that help her stay focused and on task. Some of her favorite tools might help you, too.
- The Pomodoro Technique has helped her maintain focus and check things off her to-do list. Emily uses it not only for work, but also for household tasks and working on her podcast. The Pomodoro Technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing on a task, non-stop, until the timer goes off. We’ve discussed this technique as an effective productivity tool in past episodes. Something about that particular amount of time really works for keeping tasks manageable, as 15 minutes would be too short of a time to really get as much done as she’d like to, and 30 minutes seems daunting. After 25 minutes, she can see a noticeable difference in the task she was trying to accomplish, as opposed to doing a five-minute task in which the results can be fleeting.
- Rewarding herself is something important for what she has accomplished, even if it’s as simple as being able to stare out the window for a few minutes after working on something for a specific amount of time. Even tiny rewards can help productivity, like doing the laundry just so she can wear something comfortable at the end of the week.
- Timers can help focus her attention for specific periods of time. She uses Siri on her iPhone to set the timer, the Timer extension for Chrome on her browser, and has started also using the Forest App as timers for the Pomodoro Technique. The Forest App is available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and Chrome, and Firefox. It’s a productivity game in which you plant a tree or plant, depending on how long you want to stay focused on a task. If you leave the App, the tree is killed, but if you can stay off your phone for that set amount of time, you grow a tree to add to a virtual forest.
- Her Weekly Docket, which was mentioned earlier, was inspired by Tsh Oxenreider from The Art of Simple. The Art of Simple has a daily docket available for download, but having so many things planned for the day was a bit overwhelming for Emily, so she tailored her docket to be weekly, instead. Sometimes, even the act of writing something on her docket she’s already done just for the satisfaction of crossing it off helps her take stock of her productivity for the week and is a nice little reward.
- Background noises can affect her productivity the most. Tools that help her drown out those distractions include:
What do you do to get back on track?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by seeing perfection everywhere and feeling like everyone is living life better than you. Emily realized that when it seems like everything is against her and everyone is doing things better than she was, she just has to give herself grace, and remind herself the next day will be better. If there’s a deadline she has to hit or she's frustrated with a project, she likes to make her work area cleaner and set up her environment for productivity. Cleaning something may give yourself a little bit of control when you feel like there are things out of your control.
You might have to try different techniques to see what works for you, and allow yourself the grace to learn and make mistakes.
Connect with Emily
What do you think?
Do you have any questions for Emily? Can you share any tips or tools you found helpful in improving your focus and productivity? Please feel free to ask your questions or share your thoughts by commenting below or on the Facebook page or sending an email to me.
Note: If anything Emily talked about particularly resonated with you regarding ADHD, please seek help from a trained psychologist or psychiatrist for a proper diagnosis.
Emily Prokop works full-time as an editor of word-seek and crossword puzzle books. Her interest in lifelong learning led her to finding a love of podcasts, which then led to her starting an edutainment-style show, the Classy Little Podcast. She and her co-host, James, get together over a bottle of wine and block of cheese to discuss the history, trivia, and anecdotes about a different topic each week. Emily lives in Connecticut with her supportive husband, Mark, and daughter, Layla.
About her podcast
Emily is the co-host of the Classy Little Podcast. Every week, she and her cohost, James, choose a topic to focus on and they discuss it over wine and cheese, including the history, fun facts, and stories. Since she works as a puzzle editor, she finds herself constantly looking up things for work and finds information she couldn’t use otherwise, so having a podcast as that creative outlet to discuss these fun facts has been a lot of fun for her.
Thank you to Emily for sharing Weekly Docket form with us!
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