The Business of Being a Writer with ADHD

An example of all the iterations of organization I go through to get to a workable to-do list for a day/week.
An example of all the iterations of organization I go through to get to a workable to-do list for a day/week.

Lazy. Lack of work ethic. Slow. Procrastinator. Distractible. Squirrel. Unproductive. Confused. Frustrated. Angry. Panic. Anxiety. Late.

Overwhelmed.

Yes, that could be any of our to-do lists. But if you suffer from ADHD, you know that no matter how many planners, apps, systems, and timer tricks you use, you will always feel behind and inadequate.

Today, I’m not going to talk about “writing” with ADHD. That’s a whole different barrel of squirrels.

Today, I’m talking about the BUSINESS of being a writer with ADHD. Yeah, OMG, I said the B-word. The nasty, commercial slur on our pure art.

Okay, distracted, gut-reaction rants on why writers need to be doing marketing and treating themselves as a small business aside, there’s still the whole issue of working with ADHD.

For most of my life, I didn’t know I had ADHD. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t as consistently productive as other people. I marveled at anyone who could exist without a list, or just settle down and plow through tasks.

My coping mechanisms were lists and deadlines. But coping mechanisms are a double-edged sword, and I began to have lists of lists, charts, calendars, and master plans. I had to play games with myself to get stuff crossed off my lists.

And then, just as I started to check a few things off my list, I’d feel the urge to rewrite it, and I’d end up with nothing crossed off and a sinking feeling of being behind.

I’d also be angry and frustrated with myself that I needed to take the time to constantly work with my lists. Other people just wrote stuff down and made it work. I had to write, rewrite, reorganize things two or three times before I felt I had a list I could work with.

Even after I started understanding that I had ADHD, taking Adderall, and doing cognitive behavioral therapy, I found I was still angry and anxious at the amount of time I still spent organizing myself before I could get down to work.

Then, two weeks ago, a minor miracle occurred.

Okay, it was a big freaking miracle in my world and kinda changed my life, but I don’t like to be melodramatic about things.

I accepted the fact that this was just how I needed to do things in order to get my ADHD brain to understand what I needed to, how to do it, and when to do it by.

Suddenly, I was free. I was 20 pounds lighter in my heart. I wasn’t a struggling freak who was wasting time.

Writing, rewriting, organizing, and reorganizing was simply the way I managed my productivity goals. I accepted that I needed to build in time at the start of my day to do this. Once I felt I had a list that was reasonable (i.e. using my cognitive behavioral therapy techniques of cutting my to-do’s in half because the executive functions in my brain don’t work right and can’t calculate time correctly) and that I understood (i.e. actually seeing the reason behind what was priority for the day and accepting that other priorities would have to wait for tomorrow and the world wouldn’t end as a result), I could get on with my day and actually be productive.

So now, when I feel the anxiety rising, I realize that my thoughts are starting to run wild and that I need to sit down and take 10 minutes to reorganize myself. I make mini-lists based on the time remaining in my “work day” and what I can reasonably accomplish.

I still have multiple lists. I still have lists of lists. I still have master plans.

But, I don’t resent them anymore. I understand their purpose. I accept them as the helpers they are. Do I wish that I didn’t need to spend time working through setting up my lists? Heck yes! The things I could do with an extra half-hour a day!

But, better to lose that half-hour in list-writing and be productive for the rest of the day than become anxious, paralyzed by worry about whether I’m doing the most important thing I should be doing, unable to focus, and ending up curled in a little ball playing Soda Crush.

How do you organize yourself for your writing business to-do’s? I’m always looking to learn new strategies and techniques for time management and productivity, so feel free to share!!!

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