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.