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  • Nora Buckley

I Do Not Switch Gears (Easily)!

Shifting gears is incredibly difficult for adults with ADHD.

Many years and many jobs ago, I told my then-boss that I needed a day off to pay my bills. He looked at me quizzically and inquired as to how I could possibly need a day off just to pay bills. He genuinely did not get it, and I was young and did not realize that the neurotypical people did not actually need an entire day to get their brain into the mindset of numbers, finances, and the like. To this day, I still need an entire day to devote to finances every month or so, but I have learned to lie about it.

It is pretty much the same with everything that involves changing gears. If I take a yoga class in the morning, I am in relaxed mode for the rest of the day and it is not really possible to gear up and be productive until the following day. The morning sets the tone. On a work day, I work, and then sleep. On a day that I do not need to work, I can do either x, y or z, but not all three and most likely not even two. It is a frustrating way to live, especially when so many others do not understand my inability to shift gears.

Transitions can be difficult because of some of the challenges of ADHD symptoms, such as hyperfocus on a task that catches our interest, or getting lost in the details even if they are unimportant. We have a hard time activating -- starting a task, and we often have difficulty knowing when it is time to stop. We can be impulsive, jumping into a task without considering all the necessary details. Transitions also require a large amount of energy and effort to disengage from one activity and move our attention to the next.

This may of course be a personality trait not necessarily specific to ADHD. Lisa Woodruff, author of the new book The Paper Solution, says that she does not have ADHD herself, although she understands it well. But I noticed in her book that she calls herself a project-oriented person, and suggests blocking off one full, entire day to do an initial paper organization. I had to laugh at her statement “You can tackle your papers by spending ten to fifteen minutes each day, but we all know it will take forever to actually get organized. You really need a bigger chunk of time to make progress.” Oh so true, at least for me!

Woodruff also prefers to do six loads of laundry on one day, because she likes “being released of the mental burden of a project as soon as possible.” So yes, apparently I am not the only person around who seriously needs to do one thing at a time, in one huge chunk of time, and preferably as a project.

I say that I “do not switch gears” but, of course, life forces me to do exactly that.

Yet, I have found a few things to help me transition or switch gears:

  • Clocks and timers are our friends - the more the better! I try to set a timer for a time to stop what I am doing.

  • I build in lots of “white space” before attempting the next task. A walk, a move to a different room, even reading a chapter of a murder mystery will help to reset my brain such that I can move onto the next task.

  • I also give myself lots of "extra" time. For example, when I return from vacation, I give myself an entire day at home to unpack and process before I attempt going back to work.

  • I will prepare before starting a task to avoid interruptions. I gather snacks, water, timer(s), headphones, etc. so that once I begin I do not have to get up again.

  • And, perhaps most importantly, I do not start a task unless I am sure I have time to finish it!


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