Among the biggest challenges for people of all ages with ADHD is the process of starting a challenging or boring task. For example, you might start your day with the best intentions, having allowed plenty of time to complete your assignment / report / grant application, etc. However, when the time comes to sit down and actually start the task, nothing happens. So you check Facebook or Twitter, and before you know it, an hour has passed. Eventually, you become focused on the assigned task, and then that wonderful hyper-focus kicks in. Suddenly, all the neurotransmitters are firing and you are smokin!!! You wonder why it took you so long to get started because it seems so easy when you're in that headspace. And you become very productive. But there's a problem: Slap bang in the middle of that precious hyper-focus, you actually have to stop. That's not an easy thing to do, for several reasons. First, your brain actually has difficulty switching attention from one activity to another, particularly when it is highly engaged. (Ever tried to get your child to switch off the computer game they're playing?). Secondly, you could be running out of time to complete the task, since it took you so long to get started. Thirdly, anxiety starts to kick in as you fear you my never regain the focus required to complete the assigned task if you stop then and there. After all, it was so hard to get focused in the first place. It seems such a waste to lose the feeling of knowing exactly what you would do next, knowing that when you return to the task it could take you an hours to get back to this point. What if you could take a shortcut - pick up where you left off? I have a strategy that makes it possible. One of my clients, a computer programmer, calls this strategy The Brain Dump. It's a really simple, but very effective tool, and this is how it works:
1. When you are in that blissful state of hyperfocus and you need to stop what you're doing, PAUSE
2. Ask yourself: "If I continued working now, what would I do next?"
3. Make a list of dot points, outlining how you would continue if you could.
4. Use that list when you return to the task in order to get you started again.
Many of my clients use the Brain Dump, and they often find their own particular version. For example, Michael, the Science student writes down a question that he will need to solve when he return to his lab reports. He knows that his curiosity will draw him back into the data analysis. It works every time for him. Karen, the French Honours student writes the topic sentence for the next paragraph of her thesis, with some key words to get her going again.Lorraine leaves a note for herself when she closes her accounting package down, reminding herself which data entry she should do next. I love to hear their versions of the Brain Dump at subsequent coaching sessions.
So, here's your challenge. What will your Brain Dump be? And how will it differ from task to task? Will you leave your gardening gloves on the rose fertiliser to remind you what the first step of tomorrow's gardening task is? Will you highlight the last paragraph you read of a research paper, with a summary of that paragraph in the margin so that you don't need to re-read it? Will you dot-point the next module of the training programme you're writing in order to prevent a 30-minute catch-up to see where you got to? Have fun experimenting.