ADD/ADHD and TIME: 5 Systems Basics

Exercises in Systematizing

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part 2 of ADD/ADHD and Time: will ANYthing work?

In the first part of this article, subtitled Time Management Tips and Tricks, I promised to share Five Underlying Systems Principles.

Remember: These five underlying concepts really do need to be accepted — with systems and work-arounds in place — before you stand a prayer of a chance of managing your energy within time’s boundaries.

Working effectively within the boundaries of time is an exercise in systematizing.

As I said at the beginning of Part 1 . . .

  • There are a lot of pieces to that systematizing concept.
  • “Pieces” require juggling, cognitively.
  • Cognitive juggling is highly PFC intensive [prefrontal cortex]
  • Guess where the ADD/EFD/TBI brain is most impaired?
    YOU GOT IT – the PFC.
  • Don’t make it harder than it is already – make friends with the concepts below.

Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover.

FIVE Underlying System Basics

1. Feed Your Head

Whether you remember what the Door Mouse said or not, remember this:

your brain NEEDs them.

Neurotransmitters are the cognitive batons in brain-communication relay races.  Your brain can’t make them without you.

*FOOD: Protein, specifically (especially in the wake-up transition period), supplies the precursors for the dopamine you need — PFC fuel.

*WATER: Your brain needs more than your body — and few of us drink nearly enough or nearly often enough.  (For those on ADD meds, that goes DOUBLE!)

Meds or not, whenever you find yourself spinning your wheels and rushing around,
take the time to go get a glass of water – and down it!

*EXERCISE: Did you know that when your hippocampus atrophies, your memory fades?  Do you realize how essential memory is to most of what we need to do to run our lives?

  • Were you aware that exercise is now believed to protect your hippocampus from what we once thought was “standard” age-related shrinkage?
  • You DO realize, don’t you, that short-term memory deficits are ALREADY part of the picture with executive functioning disorders and dysregulations?
  • ONE MORE THING: science has recently learned that, in mice at least, a period of rapid walking prompts the brain to produce neural stem cells in the hippocampus.  Did you know that neural stem cells have the potential to be recruited anywhere in the brain they are needed?
  • More on this later – for NOW, get out and walk!  Rapidly.  Take a water bottle with you.

*SLEEP: Besides the fact that none of us are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we’re not well-rested, your brain does its neural housekeeping while you’re sleeping.  You can’t expect to do very well at much of anything if you don’t give your brain time to sweep up after you! Regularly. (Jump into the Sleep Series at Sleep and Cognition for more on that one)


2. Structure is your FRIEND

TIME is a system.  It doesn’t like to hang with chaos.  It will run away screaming.

Yet we fight structure with the gravity with which a kid trying to wait up to catch Santa fights falling asleep. We think we prefer to swing fast and loose – but we really don’t.  Really!

That don’t-fence-me-in feeling is probably an “old tape” recorded when our parents made us go to bed too early, or wake up too early, or do things in a specific order – their way.  

Don’t throw out the structure baby with your parent’s bathwater! 

Without structure, you can’t systematize.

Without systems, nothing can be put on “auto-pilot” — so everything you do debits cognitive bandwidth.  Don’t squander it where you don’t need it.

Automate the “treadmill tasks — get as many of your regular and recurring activities on autopilot as you possibly can. Get those brain cells processing your amazing creativity where it matters!!

A great way to begin to put that structure habit in place is by
structuring the manner in which you FEED YOUR HEAD.

3. NOTHING takes a minute

By the time you factor in transition time, even tasks that might realistically be expected to take a minute will take at least five to ten.

And that’s ONLY if everything runs like clockwork.

If you are reading this article, I’d like to suggest that you probably don’t have one of those clockwork kind of lives.

(Let’s not factor in or CONSIDER what happens if when you get distracted!)

So don’t even think about polishing off one of those “minute” tasks BEFORE you move on to what you meant to do. Trust me on this one.  You don’t have time.

Think and plan in thirty minute chunks, minimum (longer if you are someone who has a great deal of Trouble with Transitions).

  • If you beat the clock, then you can consider MAYBE slipping in something that occurred to you in the moment.
  • Even better – jot down a quick note so you can SCHEDULE time to take care of the cognitive intruder later.
  • THEN your brain can close the loop,” your amygdala will stop sounding the alarm, and you can get back on track with TODAY.

4. Write it DOWN (any “it”)

More than any other system basic, this one tends to generate “push back” — almost as if the very idea of making a list or writing a reminder note were an affront to the intelligence of the entire human race.

Can this marriage be saved?

Earlier in my practice I worked with “Mark,” a young husband, for several years.  Toward the end of our time together he was amazing, but I wondered for some time if he was ever going to “take the coaching” to be able to take off like the rocket he became.

Week after week he continued to come to our calls bemoaning the fact that he had dropped out yet another item that was important to his boss or his wife.  Nothing earth shatteringly MAJOR was forgotten, but the cumulative effect undercut his professional reputation (and made his wife crazy!)

But would he write it down?  No he would not.

He could, however, give me a blow-by-blow description
of what works “better” for him.

I would explain patiently – again – that even if his memory were flawless, using cognitive bandwidth to keep items “in his head” rendered those resources unavailable for tasks of intellect that could NOT be “offloaded” to paper.

I would remind him of the “evidence” that his memory was NOT, in fact, flawless, and would try ONE MORE WAY to explain how and why the simple act of writing things down could transform his effectiveness in the eyes of two people he really didn’t want to disappoint.

He would decide – again – that it would be “better” to enter items into his PDA.

Week after week he bemoaned the fact that he didn’t always have TIME to enter things into the PDA, or he couldn’t always CHECK his PDA, or that he got distracted WHILE he was entering items into his PDA and failed to set a reminder alarm — I’m sure you get the idea.

When “Jeannie” learned she was pregnant the same week his boss promoted a junior employee “over his head,” things finally came to a crisis point.

“How will I be able to trust you with a BABY if I can’t even count on you to return from the store with the items you said you would pick up?” she sobbed. “I don’t want to feel like I have to take care of TWO children — I want a husband I can count on to help me raise the ONE on the way.  And how will we LIVE if you lose your job?”

I won’t go on, but I’m sure you can imagine most of the rest of the “discussion” that took place as Jeannie threw her belongings into a suitcase.  Yep.  Hormones in an uproar, she had reached her breaking point.

The patron saint of ADD Coaching smiled. Mark was able to negotiate a one week stay of execution on the condition that he would write his “promises” into a pocket-sized notebook he would keep on his person, and that the two of them would review it nightly.

That was his fulcrum. Jeannie and Mark are still together, and she reports that he is fabulous Dad to their three kids.

That notebook thing? He came up with it “out of the blue” – imagine that!

Like I said, few of my clients ever really hear me the first couple dozen times, so don’t be too surprised when a few things float right past you too.  We get it when we get it, and not one minute sooner!

5. PAD your schedule

Does your datebook look like your life?

Wait!  I think I need to back up.

Use a datebook – any one of the bazillion formats on the market that appeals to you.

The simpler the better.

For the same reason I was thrilled when Mark decided to try writing things down, it is my experience that paper calendars and day planners work miracles that computerized versions do not. (more later – please, take the coaching)

NOW, back to my original question: Does your datebook look like your life?

If you are like most of my clients, the answer is, probably not.  It probably looks like you live a life of leisure, if all I could learn about you came from studying your datebook.

When I look at most datebooks (sadly, even my own, many days), I see  A LOT of what the art world calls “white space” — punctuated by a measly few “appointments” written next to the time they start.

So, WHAT? — do you crawl back into bed between those items?
Dissolve into nothingness, perhaps?

PAD-ing: Planning Aware of Details™

  • How LONG are these “appointments” likely to take?
  • What about travel and transition time — at BOTH ends?
  • How long does it take you to get ready, and when do you plan to do THAT?
  • What things must you have with you?  What must you pick up while you’re there?
  • When do you need to conclude “appointment #1” to begin to transition to the next thing on your agenda?  Where is it, and what’s involved to ensure that “appointment  #2” goes relatively stress-free?

Hit the Highlights

It’s NOT the best idea for those of us with “alphabet disorders(ADD, EFD, TBI, etc.) to go into a great deal of detail IN our datebooks, and that is NOT what I’m suggesting you do with the questions immediately above this paragraph.

I AM suggesting you mark out 30 minutes, for example, for “Get ready for 3 PM appt,”  and 15 minutes for “Leave NOW” IN your datebook. (Yes, it will take most of us 15 minutes to walk out a door!)

Reservations Required

Think of PAD-ing like reserving a room in a hotel: there are only so many rooms, so the hotel staff needs to know when to stop taking reservations to avoid a late-night pile-up in the lobby.

If you don’t reserve the time IN YOUR DATEBOOK, you are likely to say yes to more “reservations” than you have “rooms.”

“If it’s not in your book, it’s not in your life!” ~ mgh

My students have heard me sing that little ditty since 1994.  In an upcoming Series about time structures I’ll go into a lot more detail, but for right now, let me say this:

When your time is not scheduled, your life is not your life. Without a written reminder of what you meant to be doing with your day, you have no choice BUT to careen, moment-to-moment, from consideration to crises to conflict.

If you’re like most of us, when someone says, “Do you have a minute,” looking at a full datebook will go a l-o-n-g way toward motivating you to say, “Not really – how about tomorrow at 2-pm?”  

And if THEY are like most of us, they are a lot more likely to go away and stop distracting you if they have seen a datebook with more than a few isolated appointments dotting its pages!

4 Quick Tips that will probably work for most of you

Below are four more comments about “PAD-ing,” with thanks to Dr. Ari Tuckman for his books, writings and podcasts; I compiled a few of his tips below (Intros mine – his words in “quotes”)

  • PAD with time from the day BEFORE:  “In order to avoid starting the day late and allowing it to snowball, make a point of getting to bed on time, then getting out on time. Many morning problems really start the night before by getting into bed too late or not doing what’s needed to be ready to roll. Keep the morning routine as simple as possible and do some things the night before.”
  • PAD with built-in catch-up time: “Build slack time into your day to absorb unexpected over-flow from various activities.”
  • Keep a lid on PAD-ing Optimism; think worst-case-scenario vs. best, then PAD: “Avoid best-case scenario planning and build in time for unexpected events, transitions, and breaks. Then pad it a little if it’s something really worth being on time for.”
  • PAD your ‘IN ORDER TO’s: “Create a schedule ahead of time of what gets done when. Count time backwards—for example, ‘To get there by 2:00, I need to park by 1:50, leave home by 1:20, and start getting ready by 1:10.’

Questions for You:

If you’ve already tried any of the techniques suggested in this article:

  • Were you able to develop the habit of using them?
    How long did THAT take?
  • How did it go? Where were the glitches?  Any stoppers?
  • Did you make any tweaks you can share?

If you haven’t:

  • What are you doing NOW – and where are the breakdowns?
  • What can you share that already works well enough?
  • If you had to use one of these techniques, which seems most likely to work for you? How come?

Ring in below, so we can learn from each other —
EVERYBODY has in-sights to share!

Graphics gratitude:  Stopwatch Man & Datebook from
Nothing Takes a Minute Clock from A Perfect
19th Century Vintage Drawings, public domain, original source unknown

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IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me?  If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

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