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Working with the brain 
19th-Jun-2009 03:28 pm
Wonder Woman
Every so often I have a drive that starts with Right, from now on I'm going to live my life this way!. They don't last very long, one or two days at best (sometimes an hour), and often the good habits I force myself into during the phases don't last much longer than the initial drive itself. The voice in my head that is ever self-critical (and yes, like everyone else, I'm sure, that voice is my mother's) is thusly cynical about the whole thing, and  wants to dismiss the urge to sort myself out as Just something Debi does then forgets about. Sometimes, however, a habit or two sticks longer, and the time in which I have the drive to improve feels good and is often productive. So I'm going to ignore that voice of cynicism and live the energy rush to its fullest for as long as it lasts and see what comes of it.

This time, the mindset was essentially prompted by yesterday's therapy session. When the conversation turned to ADD, we talked about why I wanta yes/no diagnosis - this is a complex issue and one I may return to in another post, maybe - and more importantly on top of that, we came to the conclusion that there's no reason to think I need a diagnosis to use appropriate coping strategies, if they help.

So after my session yesterday I spent some time browsing through some sites on the internet - most internet based ADD resources, sadly, are trying to sell coaching sessions and self-help books, but I picked out a few that I could take on and see if they worked, and transcribed them into my therapy/self improvement journal. I was also interested in the few strategies I developed a long time ago as simple survival mechanisms, like white noise and music while working, to-do lists, and other things I just can't function without.

I was reminded of strategies that did genuinely work for me in the past that I forgot or neglected to pick up again (carefully managed time blocks, positive reinforcement), and when I sat down today to figure out what I was doing and how I can actually do it, I realised that I just haven't been breaking my work down enough. I used to structure my revision into hour-long chunks, with time scheduled for lunch and dinner and rewards for the end of the day. I used to tell myself I couldn't keep that kind of discipline up for more than the four or five week long revision period that was the Easter holidays, and so it wasn't a strategy I could use in the big project that is my PhD.

The trouble is, I didn't then ever come up with an actually effective way of tackling the project, so I groped along and tried to push myself and went from focused periods to unfocused periods and picked up distractions and here I am, two years overdue and long fed up of it all. I could kick myself all my life for not implementing a better work plan before, but the thing is, I am on the home stretch now and can afford to sprint, at least until I get a stitch.

So I'm experimenting with a much more disciplined work day, and with trying to minimise distractions. I took friendspage checker off my Firefox, anyone seeing me on AIM will see the Do Not Disturb sign, and I'm taking regular breaks as I get through my to-do list. There might even be a cookie shaped reward at the end of the day, because I'm nice to myself like that.

No, I don't know how long this will last. And no, I don't know if it will actually be the break through point of this whole PhD malarkey. And no, I don't know if I can take the energy I'm using now to organise and translate it into actually writing, but I'm pretty certain it's better than nothing, and much much better than worrying myself into a panic attack.

I'm going to be alright.
(Deleted comment)
19th-Jun-2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
Best of luck! That sounds like a really good plan.

I can't work without external deadlines. My current thing is weekly/2 weekly deadlines where I have to give things to my supervisors. You may have seen the result of this last time I saw you! I'm not working steadily but it has resulted in me being more productive than in the previous 5 months.
19th-Jun-2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
We tried the two-week/week thing, but it doesn't work for us - Pauls are too busy and the week is too long a time span for me. I need a goal for the end of this hour, which I have right now. Wish me luck!

(We're both going to rock this doctoral thing, you'll see)
19th-Jun-2009 03:42 pm (UTC)
Yes - we will! It's gonna be amazing.

I am in complete empathy with the week-being-too-long-thing. Hence all my work being done in a very manic 48 hours before the deadline. Not very healthy.

Luck Luck Luck Luck Luck!
19th-Jun-2009 03:51 pm (UTC)
I'd blame society and it's stupid week structure. Except then I realised society has the work on Mondays-but-not-Friday ethic that actually isn't true when you have an end-of-week deadline.

Anyway, good luck yourself.
19th-Jun-2009 04:35 pm (UTC) - That's scary
I could have written this post, almost word for word... well except for the bit about therapists and the PhD bit.

Quite a number of years ago I started wondering about ADD because of one thing and another and eventually just decided that the absolute best thing to do was to avoid letting anyone medicalise my personality - accept the failings that don't matter and develop workarounds for all the things that I struggle with that other people seem to take for granted (such as looking after myself properly).

I that most people struggle to concentrate on stuff they find boring, and it's something that absolutely comes with the territory of an insatiable appetite for mental stimulation (and absolutely zero interest in the dull, the mundane, the repetitive and the pointless.) I got the impression that might apply to you too.

This new job I have is great because I can listen to music so I can just power my way through the drudge bits (I listen to very different music to work to than I do just for enjoying music, too) - we also have excellent project management tools so I always know what I'm supposed to be doing. I still get distracted when it's boring work though. I don't know if I'd want to take a pill that would fix that though.

Butter brain (like butter fingers, but it's when you suddenly realise your concentration has wandered) is your mind's way of telling you you've got better things to be doing ;)
19th-Jun-2009 06:10 pm (UTC) - Re: That's scary
I'm finding that identifying as ADD is giving me a bit of a comfort blanket right now, more than anything else, so I'm happy to work with the assumption that's how my brain works until at least we come to a definite conclusion. I'm all over just working with my brain as it is, but I need to find out what the best way of doing that is, which still results in me finally gettnig my PhD after five long years.

Fortunately my jobs both seem to be pretty great; they're active brain jobs and one is highly structured in 20 minute intervals, so I stay stuck in the present from moment to moment. I just need to get through the slog.
19th-Jun-2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
> I'm going to be alright.

Good!!! ;o)

(But I'm going to keep checking on you, y'know, just in case.)
19th-Jun-2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
*sends cookies*
19th-Jun-2009 08:51 pm (UTC) - Same Issue...a possible solution
Your story is so familiar to me...and I've tried many solutions. The one that came closest is the method developed by David Allen called 'Getting Things Done'...if you haven't visited that website you should..it is very practical advice. However, even the various software add-ons and applications that are out there to help you manage your time all seem wrought with problems. Out of frustration I have developed a new application for the iPhone that will allow you to break your projects down into sub-projects and then into discrete tasks and then show you how well you are doing in executing those tasks. The application is not ready yet, but I have created a Twitter page to keep people posted on its development and also to get feedback and ideas from people who are going through the same thing you and I are. One interesting thread is a tie in with the Myers Briggs test. Don't know how much you know about it...I'm an INFP...which is a personality type that tends to be big picture oriented but also dreamy and a perhaps would resemble what we seem to want to call ADD. I would venture to guess that you being a PhD candidate means that you are a creative thinker and that the synthetic thought pattern you exhibit thrives on taking a lot of things in...which can be distracting...on the other hand becoming a very efficient mind that rolls down a defined path without veering off to any sides may entail losing some of that creativity.
I would love to continue discussing this ... but as you know our time is limited.
Check out our Twitter page...I think it will become a forum for discussing this very issue.

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