Organizing thoughts into words with ADHD can be a challenge. Ready to turn that around? Use these 7 strategies and you can.
- ADHD challenges with working memory, long-term memory, processing speed, emotional regulation and distractions can make it difficult for you to organize your thoughts into words.
- Learn more about these ADHD challenges so you understand why it can be a challenge for you to organize your thoughts to speak effectively.
- Then learn how to use 7 workarounds to address them.
- ADHD and Meetings: How to Take and Use Your Notes
- Do You Have ADHD and Feel Like You Often Respond Too Slowly?
- ADHD Adults Communicate Better Using These 5 Listening Tips
Is one of your ADHD challenges organizing your thoughts to be able to communicate on the spot. Want to see how to make this easier. You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults, like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins, and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
If you have a hard time organizing your thoughts on the spot, whether in one on one or group conversations, sometimes you may just give up trying and shut down because it seems too hard. Other times you may dominate the conversation saying whatever comes to mind without organizing your thoughts. Let’s see if you could find that sweet spot so you can participate the way you want in the give and take of a conversation. Ready?
Let’s start by looking at an example of how your ADHD symptoms may get in the way of being able to organize your thoughts and communicate effectively. Let’s say you’re in a meeting to discuss an upcoming computing conference with your boss, Terrence, and your colleague, Latisha. You’ve had the meeting in your calendar for a couple of weeks and have been thinking about some ideas you might want to share, but figured you’d remember them when the meeting came.
So you didn’t bother writing them down. When the meeting starts, Terrence explains his ideas for the conference. You want to respond to what he said, but then Latisha jumps in to respond first. You’re starting to feel like you can’t get a word in edgewise and you’re getting frustrated at not being able to talk. Then suddenly you get a text from your spouse asking you to call right away.
Let’s pause the scenario for a moment and try to unpack what may have happened here. We can start by looking at your working memory, which you can think of is your active mental workspace, where you hold and manipulate ideas for just a few seconds to be able to complete a task, like deciding what to say in the conversation with Latisha and Terrence. It’s important to remember that your working memory capacity is smaller than your neurotypical peers.
This means you just have less workspace. In addition, your challenges with self-regulation may mean that your frustration at not being able to say what you want takes up some of this limited workspace in your working memory. So now you have even less capacity to organize your thoughts and say what you want in the meeting.
It’s also important to take into consideration your ADHD long-term memory challenges. You can think of your long-term memory as a filing cabinet of information you might need later to complete a task, such as making a relevant contribution in the meeting. They’re cues in your environment, probably the comments Terrance and Latisha are making, that’ll trigger the need to retrieve the information from your long-term memory. And bring it into working memory. But for adults with ADHD, the filing system for organizing information in your brain is inefficient. That means you may not file the words or ideas in the same place consistently.
And then you have a hard time finding them when you need them. Like trying to remember what you wanted to contribute in the meeting. In addition, another of your ADHD symptoms may be slower processing speed. It is really important to note that this has nothing to do with your intellect. It’s just that it will take you time to take in the information in the meeting, decide what it means to you and then create the response you want. It is not that you can’t process the information. It’s just that it’ll take you time, maybe more than you would like I know.
Okay. So let’s get back to the meeting with Terrence and Latisha. As the meeting is going on you’re trying to decide how to respond, right? Though, you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed, as you aren’t participating the way you want. And you’re even starting to lose the thread of the conversation.
Your frustration is building. The tipping point is when you receive the text from your spouse. Now you’re distracted by thinking about the text and feeling even more stressed. You’re in full blown cognitive overload. There’s just no more room in your working memory to organize your thoughts and participate in the meeting.
So, as the meeting is starting to wind down, Terrence asks you for your thoughts on what he and Latisha shared. You’re struggling to figure out what to say. Then you just blurt out something, but it’s not really what you wanted to say. And then your brain freezes. When Terrence asks you another question you just go on some long tangent until Terran says that maybe it’s time for the meeting to end.
I know you want to avoid these scenarios, and rest assured there are many techniques you can use to communicate better. So let’s get on with looking at what these might be.
One strategy is to share with people, with whom you regularly communicate your challenges in communicating. I know this suggestion may be uncomfortable for you as you may feel too vulnerable sharing your challenges. But doing so can open the door for you to ask for what you need. And also modeling this might help others ask for what they need, as well. It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need to tell them that you have ADHD if you don’t want to. It’s really important to consider the upside and downside of disclosing before you decide anything.
In any case, you can still ask for what you need, though. For example, as it relates to the scenario that I’m sharing with you, you might say to Latisha and Terrence, I need time to digest the information before sharing my thoughts. So I’m happy to share some initial ideas though. I’m not sure where I’ll eventually land with this.
I really would like to take some time to think about the topic and think more about the conference. And is it possible maybe we can reconvene again next week to revisit this?
And, if you have a close enough relationship with Laticia and Terrence, you might find another time just to talk about communication and these challenges. So then maybe they’ll understand more about what’s going on for you. For example, if they knew that you get easily distracted, you might find it easier to recover from the text from your spouse because you could simply say to them, Sorry about that. Just got a text that caught me off guard, but I’m back with you now.
Also, if they knew that you need time to process information, instead of giving a definitive answer in the moment, they would understand if you said to them, Sorry, guys, I need a little bit more time to think this through.
And they would take you for your word and not interpret this as you not caring or understanding what’s going on. Are there people in your personal or professional circles you can talk openly with about some of your communication challenges?
Whether you decide to share your communication challenges or not before going into any conversation, it is important to take time to review what you know about who you’re talking to. So you can really get in the right mental space to have the conversation. That is, think about who you’re meeting with and what type of meeting is it. Then consider what kind of approach is best for this type of meeting. Are you talking to your boss about an important project or your spouse about planning a trip? It matters, right? Your preparation might include bringing notes to the meeting. Remember, even if you’ve given the topic careful thought, you may not be able to access those thoughts from your long-term memory when you most need them.
So coming prepared with notes you can refer to, even if it’s just a bullet list of ideas will be super helpful. While you won’t always know everything that’s going to go on in a meeting, as much as possible, if an agenda isn’t provided, ask for at least a high level overview of the content in advance. Because, if you can do this, then you’ll have a chance to at least think about and jot down some notes in advance whenever possible.
In addition to coming with notes, taking notes during the meeting can also help you organize your thinking and participate more effectively. While note-taking is definitely helpful to remember the information later you can also use notes to just organize your thoughts during the meeting. By jotting down a few ideas before trying to share them, you’ll be able to better synthesize the information and convey it in a more organized way.
Makes sense, right? Your ADHD brain is definitely good with coming up with lots of ideas. No doubt. It’s just not a place where you can organize your thinking the way you’d like in order to be able to communicate succinctly. And taking notes will also help minimize distractions, as you’ll be focused on the note taking rather than everything else that may be happening in your environment. So maybe you’ll be able to take in the information better.
And, if you don’t have a method for taking notes that works for you just now, check out my article, ADHD and Meetings: How to Take and Use Your Notes. I’ve included a link to this article on my website with the podcast.
Whether you use note-taking strategies or not one of the challenges you may have is feeling as though you have to respond right away. You don’t, it’s really okay to be still for a moment before responding.
You might even say to the other person or people, That’s interesting. I just need to think about that for a second. Or something like that. Whatever feels authentic to you. Imagine if everyone would take time, take a second to think before saying sane what’s on their mind. I do it all the time when I’m coaching, I’ll say to clients, Let me just think about this for a second. They certainly get more value out of the session the more thoughtful I can be in what I say and don’t say.
To do this you’ll probably have to get past the internalized belief that you have to respond quickly or people will think you’re not that smart. I think once people get used to this new slower style, they’ll recognize that you’re just being thoughtful and are as wicked smart as ever.
Another way to buy some time to organize your thoughts is ask questions. For example, in the scenario I’ve been using with the meeting with Latisha and Terrence, when Terrence asked for your input at the end, you might ask him,
Before I tell you what I’m thinking I want to make sure that I understood what you’re thinking. Could you just tell me a little bit more about what you think will be the benefits of the computing conference the way you envision it?
And then you might even ask Latisha if she has more thoughts on this. And, as they’re talking, to further organize your thoughts don’t forget to take notes. I’m sure that that’ll really help, as well.
The last tip I want to offer you to be able to better organize your thoughts and communicate the way you want, may be a challenge because of your ADHD. But it really does work. And this is to actively listen by being curious and not judgmental about what the others in the room are saying. So in the meeting with Leticia and Terrence, you might ask yourself and write down questions as the meeting is progressing.
For example, let’s say Latisha says she thinks the Westport Inn is the best place to have the conference. And you immediately think to yourself that is a really stupid place to have the conference. And then, once you have this thought, you may be off somewhere thinking about how stupid it is to have the conference at the Westport Inn. But, instead of jumping to judgment, you could be curious and write down a question like, I wonder why Latisha thinks the Westport in is the best place to have the conference.
You might even ask her this question in the moment, or maybe later. In any case, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts about what would make a good place to have the conference. Rushing to judgment can get you distracted. And because of your difficulties managing emotions, you might get dysregulated, as well, right? Whereas curiosity might just help keep you on track with the conversation.
Deciding, what strategies to use to organize your thoughts in the moment in order to communicate the way you really want depends on the context, of course. So, what is one of the strategies that I’ve shared that you’re going to try this week?
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might also benefit. Until next time this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla Cummins wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.