ADHD can make focusing on creative work particularly difficult. Today’s guest, Ryan McRae, was diagnosed with ADHD and works with people who have ADHD. In today’s episode, Charlie and Ryan explore what it’s like when you have ADHD and you’re trying to be productive and focused. While people with ADHD have a harder time focusing, their challenges and the strategies they use to overcome them can work wonders for all of us.
[2:35] - Ryan was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 18, during his first year of college. He noticed that the lack of structure going from high school and college made it hard for him to stay on track. He realized that he didn’t have the same ability to attend and focus in class as other students, and this started back in elementary school for him.
[7:01] - There may be a misconception about people with ADHD that they are also distracted. Sometimes, they may be hyperfocused on something when they’re interested, so much so that they forget about everything else. It’s a distinction between consumption and creation.
[8:11] - Ryan has learned to deal with the different ways ADHD manifests itself, and talks about some of his strategies for redirecting and getting focused on what needs to get done. One of the things that’s important for him is managing his energy level in a way that allows him to accomplish his goals.
[11:35] - Technology pushes more of us toward having function ADHD - all the notifications and other distractions involved in technology can get us into vicious cycles of checking things on technology devices. Once you get started or distracted, and can be really hard to get back on track.
[12:53] - For people with ADHD, they have to manage it in their own way, and be hyper aware of potential distractions or the feeling of creative work being really hard. When you switch tasks, there is a lag time to get yourself back on track.
[15:24] - When Ryan is trying to be productive, he describes it as a zombie apocalypse: you have to create barriers and things that take down distractions. He has a bag (a go-bag) that he keeps in his car that has writing supplies.
[19:00] - Our brains are not meant to be keepers of short-term information. Both Ryan and Charlie keep notebooks on hand to get their ideas out when they have them. Having “analog” items can be helpful because they will never pull you in a different direction than you want to go, like perhaps a phone or tablet might. He has a blue book where he records lists and other materials to continuously reference.
[23:45] - When Ryan wants to get focused, he constructs an environment that will allow him to achieve that focus. For him, that is sitting in the same place in a coffee shop. He also makes sure he has the right tools for whatever task he’s working on. When he’s working, he likes to work in big multi-hour chunks. For tasks that are small and annoying, he has developed systems to overcome these distractions or remove them from his life.
[26:55] - Managing ADHD is similar to managing willpower fatigue. People with ADHD have less control over willpower. Removing the requirement that you use your willpower to complete a task can be helpful in accomplishing things like going to the grocery store. For people with ADHD, their decision fatigue may occur quicker than others so they have to find ways to save energy in other places.
[29:50] - Systems are a powerful thing to help you be more focused and creative. Structure and creativity are aligned forces in the ability to do your best work. Ryan has a system for writing where he outlines during one session, and does the writing during a different session, and edits in another session. For people with or without ADHD, trying to do all of this in the same session is a bad idea.
[35:20] - This same idea applies to other big projects in our lives - you can prepare the plan, and then carry it out. Ryan works with his clients on this idea to help them outline the steps to accomplish their projects. Outlining the steps to take, and what you want the final result to look like can make focusing on the work easier.
[39:10] - Ryan’s ADHD comes in handy because he can think on his feet very well. He shares a cheeky story of how this came in handy, and how he was able to process quickly what needed to be said and how to do it.
[44:05] - Ryan’s challenge for listeners is to find something that you’ve always had to make a decision on, and reduce one decision in your life so you can clear out some of the clutter in your life. If that works, keep doing that and reduce those choices.
Mentioned in This Episode: