Debugging My Brain

a.k.a. Dealing with ADHD

I hate it when I can’t make myself start the important tasks that need to be completed as soon as possible, but I’ll end up cleaning up things that can be done later instead. To give you a little backstory – last weekend, I had a bit of a mini vacation. I got to meet up with some friends that I haven’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic (2020), went to a concert with them, and spent an extra day just hanging out together. It was great, of course! I felt a little less burned out, got my fill of social time for the next month or so… Just overall felt a bit lighter. However, coming back home just to jump straight back into work and classwork was more difficult than usual this time around. I knew I had to start working on setting up our game’s dialogue system and implementing the scripts for our player HUD immediately if I wanted to keep up with my schedule. But I could not bring myself to just sit down and focus. I kept needing to walk around, I started some chores, and I even put away everything I had packed for my trip. I was getting so irritated with my restlessness – why couldn’t I just sit still and be productive??? I was venting my frustration to a friend that ended up reminding me that I actually was being productive, but my priorities were just a little wonky, and that pretty much blew my mind. More backstory – my friend and I were both recently diagnosed with ADHD, and we’ve been grappling with finding our respective ways of managing our symptoms. So today, I’d like to share some things that help me deal with ADHD (in relation to school and work).


Lists

I’ve found that the most important thing for me to do is to make a list of the tasks I need to complete. Then, I organize it in order of importance. Organization in general can be very difficult for me. If I know I have a lot to do, I get overwhelmed and end up tackling several different things simultaneously, leading to most tasks never being fully completed. I also tend to forget what I need to do if I don’t write it down. (There’s also the issue of sometimes forgetting where I wrote something down, but I digress.) Having a list makes it easier for me to see what my goals are so that I can set out to complete them, starting with the most important tasks first. I also like being able to cross items off the list, which helps motivate me to properly finish a task.


Set Small Goals/Deadlines

This one kind of goes hand in hand with the lists. I usually struggle with getting started on things that I know are going to take up a lot of my attention – which is pretty much everything now, as an adult. This often leads to me procrastinating and prioritizing less important tasks because somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that those smaller tasks take less attention and energy. Sometimes I can use that to my advantage by setting smaller goals or deadlines for myself. I’ll tell myself that I need to sit down and work for at least 15-25 minutes, then I’ll stop for a quick break to stretch or walk around the room, and repeat until I’m done. Most of the time, it gets a little easier to do a little more work each time. Other times, time is a good enough motivator so I’ll tell myself I need to finish X Task by Y time. The lists can also help with that, because I can divide my work time for each item on the list to give a bit more structure to my day.


Breaks and Rewards

Breaks are extremely important for me. I get very restless, especially if I’m overwhelmed or frustrated with something. I can use breaks as a reward for completing the aforementioned small goals and deadlines, but I can also give myself space away from my work area if I’m feeling burnt out. When I’m stuck on some problems, I tend to pace somewhat furiously in the hallway. Sometimes it helps me figure out the issue because I’ll be talking to myself while moving around and that somehow makes things click in my brain. Other times I just need to not be looking at my work and simply need an outlet for that frustration.

Most of the time, I’ll use breaks as rewards for smaller goals because moving around does make me feel better. If I complete the larger goals (i.e., crossing off an entire task on the list), then I’ll give myself something more fun, like going outside to play with my dog for 30 min or playing a quick round of a video game. I’ll admit that I’ll occasionally get sucked into those other activities, but I’ve been doing a lot better with managing that time with some practice, too.


I’d say that those three things have been the most helpful things in managing my struggles with ADHD. If I’m being honest, these tips don’t always work. It’s definitely been a constant work in progress in discovering what works best for me, and I really do wish I had figured these things out earlier. However, I’m learning more and more as I go and I can say with 100% confidence (okay okay, maybe like 80% confidence) that I’m having an easier time dealing with my time management and procrastination problems now. So hey, let’s keep moving!

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