Average productivity advice doesn’t work for me.
It doesn’t work for most of us with ADHD. Setting a 25-year goal when I can’t think 25 hours into the future is like trying to win the Silverstone Grand Prix with the engine from a Ford Fiesta.
But we try it anyway. We think this occasion will be different. How often is it any different? I can sustain it for 3, maybe 4, days and then I’m back into the cycle of disappointment and self-loathing.
Cathy, my coach, tells me that it’s clearly not going to work. These tools and strategies aren’t made for our unique brains. We’re not able to sit through boring tasks for years on end in search of an arbitrary goal.
So what does work?
What ADHD Productivity looks like
It’s like you’re a sprinter and everyone else is running a marathon. You can try to sprint the marathon, but you’ll likely drop dead before mile 3.
When you try to play the neurotypical game, with your unique skills, you’re going to fail.
I can do more work in one morning than most people do in a whole week. But I can’t sustain it. This phase of hyperfocus can only last 2 to 3 hours at a time. If I push through, I hit the wall.
So instead I accept that 2 to 4 hours of work today is my limit. But when the gears are really turning that’s all I need.
The problems occur when I try to do 8 hours. By midday I’m beating myself for not doing anything. And by 2pm I’m winning the procrastination world cup.
There are optimum time brackets throughout the day where the ADHD brain is firing on all cylinders. For some of us it’s the morning. For others it’s the middle of the night. Finding your concentration sweet spot is essential before moving on to the next phase.
Think back to when you last did great work. When did you do the bulk of it? Not the admin or the boring stuff - the creative work? Did you feel alive? Did the work just flow out of your veins? That was probably because you were operating in your sweet spot.
Mine is 8am to 12pm. But my average work day is 8am to 1pm. The final hour gives me time to finish off what I started and tick off any last boring tasks before getting the rest of my day free to non-work tasks that recharge me for the next day.
I don’t allow myself to feel guilty for not working past 1pm. I can either do great work between 8 and 1, or procrastinate like a motherfucker between 9 and 5. For me it’s a no-brainer.
The 9 to 5 is a barbaric relic from the industrial revolution and anyone who thinks it’s the optimum way to work is living under a rock.
Negotiating a shorter work day (with yourself)
If you work for someone else, you might find this difficult. Most people just don’t get how our brains work so they try to cram us into the wrong boxes.
For entrepreneurs, this could be a little easier. But, as Seth Godin says, entrepreneurs have the world’s worst boss - you.
You need to negotiate with yourself to work shorter bursts of intense hours. Doing this will open the door to greater productivity, greater work enjoyment and a better life. Can you try it tomorrow just to see what happens? I find that I’m able to cram 8 hours of work into 5 hours because the deadline of finishing at 1pm is more immediate than the long drag of working until five.
Do you go into hyperfocus?
I often do.
But if I don’t manage it I end up burning out for the rest of the week. Instead, with the help of my coach, I’ve been able to pull myself away from work right in the middle of hyperfocus so I can save the energy for tomorrow.
Hemingway took a similar approach. He often stopped writing when his creativity was at its peak so he could enter the same state the next day.
So an 8 (or more) hour work day is detrimental to my hyperfocus. This is one of the reasons I’m unemployable - if you force me to fit into your box I’ll be the worst employee you have. If you let me sit in my own box, I’ll be very effective.
When you’re trying to navigate this world with advice from neurotypical brains, you’re going to end up in a real mess.
Their guidance doesn’t work for us.
Instead, take the time to find what works for you. Reading stuff like this helps. But I’ve found no better remedy than time away in solitude for finding who I truly am. But that’s for another article.