Studying with ADHD: A Success Story

Studying with ADHD: a Success Story.

My coaching client was intelligent, creative, and committed to making the world a better place once he gained his degree. Just one thing was getting in his way; lack of understanding of how his ADHD traits were having an impact on his revision tactics for his end of year exams. ( “Revision” in the UK means “study” or “review” )

We started by precisely analysing his current approach to revision. He was certainly putting the hours in, yet no work was being done. Time was ticking by and this situation was beginning to undermine his self-esteem. His confidence in passing his exams was at a low ebb.

I started by asking him some clarifying questions, and these revealed that the environment he was attempting to study in played a big part in his difficulties both in getting started, and in maintaining focus. I discovered he was trying to study in the same environment where he lived, ate and spent time relaxing. I recommended he firstly try separating out his study area from his living area and see what happened as a result.

He agreed to check out this new strategy and came back next session full of enthusiasm at the insights he had gained. He realised as a result of this new awareness just what a key role environment did play in his ability to study and revise.

Knowing it wasn’t some kind of character flaw holding him back, but simply the way he was going about his revision, was a pivotal moment for this particular client.

 After a couple of weeks of experimentation, he came to the conclusion that trying to study in his flat was not going to work for him, and he took the decision to go to the library to revise.

From there I helped my client deepen his understanding of how his ADHD trait of distractibility was hampering his efforts. I was able to identify exactly which distractions were throwing him off course and when. I encouraged him to use his strength of creativity to come up with some solutions he would enjoy putting into practice. I was also able to help him see the benefit of taking regular breaks, to refresh and recharge.

Working together we came up with a plan that worked with his ADHD traits. We tailored it to his unique circumstances, course modules, and the time he had remaining to complete his studies and revision. Armed with this new information my client was able to go from hours spent sitting staring at his book bag, beating himself up for not revising day and night, to completing a realistic goal of several hours a day of revision.

He regained confidence and was filled with new hope as he understood that completing his revision in a timely manner was now within his grasp. He was able to pass his end of year exams with a better grade than expected and was excited to share the good news with me.

You can make your study and revision easier and more productive by paying attention to these factors:

  • Find a comfortable place to study that helps you feel like studying. Don’t try to study in the same place you live, eat, and relax.
  • Give yourself permission to take regular breaks from study. Set a timer if you need to.
  • Identify the things that distract you, then eliminate them so as to maximize focus and concentration.
  • Every person with ADHD is different. Notice what specific elements aid or hinder your own studying and make adjustments if needed.

Just a few changes to your environment and work habits will pay dividends in your ability to focus and concentrate. ADHD doesn’t have to hold you back from being an excellent student.

Anna Schlapp, AACC, ACC, is a certified ADHD Coach and author helping students acquire the life and study skills they need to successfully navigate university. 

With 20 years’ experience in the fields of disability and education to draw on, coupled with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ADHD, Anna’s positive and strengths-focused approach has been supporting students to work with their ADHD, not against it, for over 4 years. 

To find out how coaching can benefit you or a student in your life, contact me.

 

Lost something again? A fresh approach to keeping track of your stuff.

Lost something again? A fresh approach to keeping track of your stuff.

Are you a person who’s always losing things? There’s your keys, your phone, your purse, your glasses. They are never in the place where you think you last saw them, are they? Or where they ought to be, in that special basket by the door, or on that hook next to the stairs.

Why not? Well maybe you, like many others, are not fully paying attention when you put your keys down. Because you’re busy thinking about other things.

When you’re busy in your head thinking, it’s pretty much impossible for you to notice what you are doing with your hands or anything you’re carrying. For much of our days we are going through life on autopilot. We can eat, walk, and even drive whilst thinking about other things entirely. Some studies show that maybe as much as half of our lives are spent on autopilot, and that goes for everyone, not just people with ADHD. No wonder we lose our stuff!

So what’s the solution? Well, one sure way is to pull yourself out of autopilot at the right moments, so you can pay attention to where you are putting your keys.  Catching our own autopilot behaviour as it is happening is the secret.

You can do this by building up your ability to catch yourself acting on autopilot. Think of it like a skill that can be improved on with practice. You get better at it the more you do of it, right? Or a muscle that gets stronger the more you exercise it. If you are training to lift weights you don’t immediately start with the heaviest weight, do you? You’d end up in hospital with a strained tendon or worse. So you start small with a weight that’s well within your capabilities and work your way up.

Use plenty of help and support to make it easy on yourself at the beginning. A good starting point is to use some kind of external prompt at intervals throughout the day. This could be any signal that comes from outside yourself which can call your attention to what you’re doing in the moment.

For example, choose an activity you already do several times a day – such as making yourself a hot drink or having a glass of water – and link that to consciously noticing what you’re doing right then. This will begin to build up your “noticing” muscles. Maybe you’re the sort of person who wants something that will be sure to rouse you out of your autopilot trance. You could use bells, alarms or any kind of noise that will grab your attention. If you are a visually oriented person, other options might be to have post-its, sticky notes or coloured dots strategically placed in odd corners of your home. Put them somewhere you’re sure to see them.

You can set up timed or random occasions for catching autopilot throughout the day. Why not get creative with this; finding new ways to gently prod yourself to consciousness with an alerting stimulus? Try several until you find something that works. You may need to swap them around from time to time once your techniques lose their novelty and become an invisible part of the furniture, when you don’t respond to them anymore.

Once you’ve noticed you are in autopilot, then what? Simply being aware of what’s happening in the here and now, aware of both your internal thoughts and feelings, and of your surroundings, can give you some space. A welcome break from the chatter in your mind.

You can regularly interrupt the current of mindless inattention, by bringing your attention back to the present. I tell my coaching clients they can do this by practicing catching themselves in autopilot and bringing their attention to what’s happening in and around them. Then I encourage them to stop whatever they are doing for a few moments and bring their attention to their breath. This is a form of Mindfulness practice; a way of “taking control of our attention (self – regulation) with an attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance.” (Bishop et.al. 2004 – in Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition.) 

This way you give yourself a chance to notice, then choose what you want to focus on. By checking in with yourself at regular intervals throughout the day, you’ll give yourself opportunities to ask yourself “What do I want to do right now? What could be next?”

Once you learn to catch your own autopilot behaviour, you’ll begin to notice things you didn’t notice before.

You can learn how to pull yourself out of autopilot and back into the present with:

  • Gradual practice building up bit by bit.
  • External prompts like a certain time of day.
  • Linking to things you do regularly like drinking a hot drink or glass of water.
  • Setting up timed or random occasions to draw attention to what you are doing.
  • Auditory prompts like bells or alarms, or custom noises.
  • Visual prompts like post- its, sticky notes or coloured dots.
  • Stopping what you’re doing and bringing your attention to your breath.

Before long you’ll also become more aware of the times when you’re putting your keys down. And begin to remember where to find them later.

Anna Schlapp, AACC, ACC, is a certified ADHD coach who specialises in creative solutions to triumph over the hurdles of ADHD. Anna helps those with challenges in organisation to co-create personalised blueprints for leading more amazing lives. Read more of Anna’s strategies for empowered productivity on her blog. To find out how Anna’s unique system can help you maximise your potential, ask about a complimentary coaching session.

 

Challenges of ADHD: producing creative work consistently.

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Challenges of ADHD: producing creative work consistently.

What can make it hard for creatives with ADHD to produce work consistently over time? And what can help? Part one of a two-part blog.

For me the definition of creating on a consistent basis means to create something regularly. Many of us in creative fields need to be able to produce work on a regular basis in order to keep income flowing in. There are projects to complete, work to hand on to others where work involves more than one person, due dates for submission, deliveries to consider, publishing deadlines to meet.

You could say that producing work consistently is going to involve several different stages

  • Having initial ideas
  • Preparation and planning
  • Getting started
  • Carrying out the work, and continuing to work on it over time making adjustments as needed.
  • Getting it finished and out of the door.

I hear a lot from people with ADHD who tell me they are able to do something quite well for a while, then it lapses for one reason or another. It can be days, weeks, or months before they realise they have stopped, and even longer before they find a way to return to it.

Could it be due to novelty wearing off?

Could it be that the buzz that comes from achieving something at first, is no longer providing the juice of motivation needed to continue, as soon as it begins to become routine?

Could it be to do with getting easily thrown off course by external events like interruptions or distractions?

Could it be because self-directed transitions are hard for those of us with ADHD, so returning to something again once you have stopped presents problems?

There are many possible answers to this conundrum, as everyone has their own particular “brand” of ADHD. Yes, we are all different.

Years ago I used to believe that I could only paint when I felt like it. Then, on occasions when I did feel like it, I would not be organised enough in my materials to make a start. By not organised enough I mean, for example, that my paper would be stored in one place, my paints and brushes in another, and I didn’t have a dedicated clear workspace to work in, etc. This caused me no end of frustration, as I often could not find what I was looking for, and on many occasions I spent so long looking with no success, that I finally gave up in disgust. Painting accomplished – nil.

I also think on reflection that I may have been slightly affected by inflexible thinking, as I would get hyper-focused on finding the exact brush or paper that I had thought of using, whereas, looking back now I wonder, why didn’t I just use my creativity to improvise and do something else?

Hyperfocus is an interesting one for ADHD creatives, as it can either take the form of “helpful hyperfocus” which enables us to be immensely productive, or “hindering hyperfocus”, as in the example above. Sometimes we can experience a combination of both! I’ll have more to say about hyperfocus and creativity in a future blog.

In the end, once I realised that ADHD was an issue for me, I found a great piece of advice by Dr. Ned Hallowell. His recommendation is to only get as organised as you need to, to achieve what you want, without taking organisation too far and getting embroiled in perfectionism. Doing this has certainly helped take my own productivity in painting to a whole new level.

For now, here are three tips you can try, if producing work consistently is eluding you.

TIP one: To help take that first step towards creating, have everything you need set up in advance for yourself and to hand, so that it becomes really easy to begin. Preparation is one key to avoiding frustration and inertia.

TIP two: If getting prepared seems like a bit of a chore, try separating it out into a standalone activity, and then take a break and go away. Making yourself a drink or going for a walk can provide enough of a break for it to seem like a completely separate activity. Then when you return to begin your creative project, voila! There is your workspace and everything you need to get started immediately. Getting going feels much smoother and more effortless.

TIP three: Beware of thoughts telling you it has to be done in a certain way. You’re a creative after all; some of the best inventions and creations in the world have come from happy accidents or from people making it up as they go along. Keep that inner flexibility and creative muscle well-exercised.

Another thing to understand is that if we wait until our brains and bodies are in the state we believe is ideal for creating before we begin, like I used to, then we risk either at worst not achieving anything at all, or at best only a fraction of what we could be capable of.

So instead of the “Do I feel inspired to create today?” criteria, we need some other way of getting ourselves to create regularly – which is what I understand by consistency. Someone once said that our lives are defined by the questions we ask ourselves.

What might we be capable of if we changed the question above to, “What do I feel inspired to create today?” Feel the difference in those two questions. The first asks for a simple yes or no answer, while the second question opens up a whole world of possibilities.

What kind of questions are you asking yourself when you set out to create something? The first kind, or the second? And which will you be using next time?

In part two of this blog we will be examining ways to get unstuck if your creative projects grind to a halt.

Anna Schlapp B.A., AACC, ACC, is a certified coach with the ADD Coach Academy and the International Coach Federation. Specialising in ADHD and Creativity, Anna helps talented people like you find ways of being more creatively productive and productively creative.

Get in touch to schedule your complimentary coaching session with Coach Anna.

 

 

20 Top Tips to Tame Procrastination

20 Top Tips to Tame Procrastination

witty epithet:I'm taking care of my procrastination issues, just you wait and see

  1. Slow the Action – Pause, Notice, consider your Options. Take Your Time. Someone once said, “If you don’t take your time, somebody else will.”

 

  1. Don’t go EAST ( Everything At the Same Time). Obviously you cannot do everything at once – can you? One thing at a time is plenty.

 

  1. Think how great it will be to have started this. Taking that first step releases amazing energy and power. 

 

  1. Remember it doesn’t need to be perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect. Good enough is fine for now. 

 

  1. Do something you feel attracted to for a set amount of time before approaching the task in hand. Following your interests wakes up your brain and makes you feel more motivated. It can also pay to get a quick win with doing something you are interested in, improving your mood and giving you a sense that things are moving forward. Try making a list and ticking or crossing out completed items.

 

  1. Do something physical first. Physical movement can not only help break the deadlock, it also releases helpful hormones, brain chemicals etc and allows you to re-oxygenate your blood. Your brain will thank you for it.

 

  1. Take the pressure off. Too much pressure will release stress hormones like cortisol, effectively shutting down your brain in a most unhelpful way. Try one of the many free Mindfulness apps to help short circuit feelings of pressure.

 

  1. Create a plan. Creating a plan will help to clarify your intentions and make it easier to see what needs to be done, and in what order. Check out this article for some basic planning techniques to try.

 

  1.  Think of just having a first go at it, like a draft or prototype. This strategy gives you the combined benefits of taking the pressure off ( see no.7 above)  and also gives you the opportunity to think in more flexible terms. This way you provide yourself with multiple opportunities to refine your task/project/ideas, avoiding both perfectionism and the dread of making mistakes.

 

  1. Chunk things down into doable pieces. If tasks seem too large and vague, they will appear far more off-putting. Making them smaller will make them easier to do.

 

  1. Get clear on what your very first step will be. When you think you have your first step worked out, check it out by imagining yourself doing it and asking, “What do I need in order to be able to do this?” For instance if the first step is to call someone, maybe you would need to have the number in front of you before you can make the call. So the first step is to find out the number. Then you can ask the question again. “What do I need to do in order to find out the number?” It may be you need to look it up on your computer. So the first step then becomes switch on my computer. Continue asking this question repeatedly until nothing stands in the way of you taking that first step immediately.

 

  1. Do a tiny bit of a tiny bit. This is similar to the example above, no.9 where we get put off by large or complicated tasks with lots of moving parts. Try subdividing your projects into mini- projects, and then into individual steps. One step could take maybe two minutes or less, and is therefore much more likely that it can be fitted in somewhere.

 

  1. Have a back-up plan for if things go differently to how you would like. Having a Plan B can be reassuring, and provides an alternative to get on with, should you run into snags with your first plan.

 

  1. Set a timer. Think of the amount of time that does not fill you with dread, maybe 10 mins or 5 mins and set a timer to do it for that long. Give yourself permission to stop after that.

 

  1. Make it fun. Having fun is a sure way to stimulate the brain neurotransmitters that will help you get motivated and into Action. 

 

  1. Have rewards lined up for yourself for the effort you put in, rather than using achievement alone as your success criteria. As Carol Dweck has written, ” … [W]e can praise wisely, not praising intelligence or talent. That has failed. Don’t do that anymore. But praising the process that kids engage in: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.”  from this article on Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset.

 

  1. Get support from a buddy, friend or workmate. Support from another can vary from simply  having someone in the same room while you are working, to cooperating on a task together, or asking someone to help you by regularly checking in on you.

 

  1. Pay attention to setting your environment up to suit the way you work best. Everyone is different. Some need silence to be at their best,  a tidy desk, a hot drink and their favourite pen. Others need their favourite music in the background, can work with piles and clutter all around them, drink only water, and work best in a cosy armchair. Experiment to find out what works best for you.

 

  1. Have a race with yourself. Having a race with yourself adds an element of competition and fun. Try using a timer to see how much you can get done in “x” amount of time.

 

  1. Think how you will feel once this has been completed. Will you feel relieved? Glad? Proud? Triumphant? Ready to do it all over again? Get in touch with those feelings and really imagine yourself into that place you will be after you have done this. Research reveals that future imagining and past remembering are stored in the same area of the brain. By using our imaginations to vividly create a desired future, the brain begins to tap into this information as though this future already exists, and is a memory that the brain can work with, helping the brain to problem solve and generate solutions to make your plans a reality.

Anna Schlapp B.A., AACC, ACC, is a certified coach with the ADD Coach Academy and the International Coach Federation. Specialising in ADHD and Creativity, Anna helps talented people like you find ways of being more creatively productive and productively creative.

Get in touch to schedule your complimentary coaching session with Coach Anna.