Tips and musings on organizing your way from chaos to calm

Pump up the volume

Today I was washing dishes in the kitchen, keeping one eye on my toddler, and the other on a football game on TV.  Over the course of about 15 minutes I tried to pay attention to the game, keeping track of who had the ball, where they were on the field, and what ref was making a bad call.  You know, the usual.  But I was totally unable to keep my focus, and had the undesirable choice of having no idea what was going on in the game or interrupting my husband (once again) to give me a summary.   With so much distracting stimuli around me (the sound of the dishes and water, my son’s voice and movements, etc.), it was like being at a cocktail party, where you only hear parts of conversations and get the gist more than the details.  No interaction lasts very long.     This is, I’m sure, a typical ADHD experience.

When you have ADD or ADHD, it’s like you have 100 eyeballs on your head and you can see clearly with each one.  So, on the one hand,  one of the great assets of ADD/ADHD is the power of observation.  On the other hand, the challenge is telling our brains what to notice and how  much attention to pay something.   Add what’s going on in our heads (you know, one thought after another) to the mix and it’s a formula for frustration and confusion, if not disaster.

Clearly I wasn’t at a cocktail party, I was in my kitchen, so I called to my husband, “Honey, can you turn up the volume?”  And, then, “No, even louder – pump it up so I can really hear it.”    Suddenly, amidst the din of environmental and internal noise, the game emerged, with the colors of the players’ uniforms lighting up the screen against the backdrop  of green turf.    I found myself gesturing at the screen and analyzing the coach’s strategy.  I was finally paying attention to the game because I made it loud enough for me to hear it.

The same holds true for visual sources of attention/distraction as well.    Often my ADD/ADHD clients tell me that they keep To Do lists, write tasks on post-it notes, keep index cards in their pockets, or use other methods to try to remember to do things.  Yet, often, they fail to get things done or at least get them done when they need to.    Understandably, they’re frustrated by their inability to follow through, especially since they made an effort to remember.  The problem?  When you are ADD/ADHD anything and everything can draw your attention, from a commercial for a new supplement to a thought in your mind about your mother.    So many things are of interest and garner your enthusiasm, you have difficulty focusing your attention so you end up giving little attention to anything or, often, a lot of attention to the easiest thing rather than the  most important thing.

The solution?  Try pumping up the volume by enhancing your visual reminders and making them more “in your face,” like the loud volume on my football game, so you can’t avoid seeing them and being held accountable to them.  Sure, you may have a To Do list, but does it have 87 items on it in no particular order.  Prioritize your list, putting the high priority or hot items in red, the medium priority or warm items in orange, and the low priority or cool items in blue.  If that’s too fancy, just use the old-fashioned bold button or ALL CAPS.  It works – really.  One client I worked with liked to write reminders to herself on her bathroom mirror with a dry-erase board marker, so she would see them first thing in the morning.    Very effective.  Want to remember to take your returns back to the store or give Lucy that book back?  Designate a “can’t miss” area in your house, possibly near the front door, for action items.  Put it in a pile and it’s as good as invisible.

I love the creativity and speed and  multiplicity of ideas that comes with ADD/ADHD.  Yet, it’s these very things that can also make it hard to see, hear, or act clearly.   Metaphorically, it’s like having to clear a path through a forest of thoughts.  So, if you’re anything like me, then find ways to pump up the volume in your own life so you can be sure to devote attention to what you want, when you want.  Now, about that cocktail party…

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One Response to “Pump up the volume”

  1. Alison Says:

    Great blog, Eve! Being very visual myself, I love the color coding idea, and will use it when making a “honeydo” list for my teenage son.

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