Do you feel like you think too much? Could be. But, like many ADHD adults, you may also not do enough upfront thinking to be able to follow through on your goals. Ready to change that?
- You may be investing too much time and energy in thinking. So that you don’t get a good return from this investment.
- But you may also be underinsured and not investing enough in the right kind of upfront thinking.
- Learn how to do the right kind and amount of upfront thinking to execute on your goals that are in alignment with your values.
- Future Self Exercise and Values List
- Greg McKeown’s website – Check out his book, Essentialism, and his podcast
- MindMeister – an online mindmapping app
- Task Managers:
Is it that ADHD adults think too much or just don’t do the right type of thinking? Join me, as I attempt to answer this question, you’ve turned into Scattered, Focused, Done – 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 really 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.
In one of my previous podcasts, “Can ADHD Adults Be Productive When Everything Feels Urgent,” I talked about many of the same ideas I’m going to talk about today. But then I was talking about diversifying your motivators. So you’re not relying on urgency, at least exclusively. Today I want to look at these ideas from a different perspective, by doing a deeper dive into the benefits for ADHD adults of various types of upfront thinking.
As you may have heard before ADHD adults are often in the here and now. That is, there is a now and not now. The downside is that operating in this way may come at the expense of learning from past mistakes or planning for the future. While this may be a tendency for you too, there are workarounds you can use to address this challenge. One of those work arounds is to engage in more upfront thinking.
This type of thinking can take on many forms, including project planning, decision-making, preparing for contingencies, weekly planning, daily planning, etc. As I explore upfront thinking, I’ll guide you in exploring where you might want to do more of this and how you can be at least more sure you are not underinvesting or overinvesting your time and energy in doing this. So let’s get on with it.
As I was preparing for this podcast, I came across an article by Michael Cohen, entitled, “Upfront Thinking is Like Insurance.” I love the idea of seeing upfront thinking as a type of insurance. As Cohn points out, you choose to buy different types of insurance based on your perceived risk, right? Do you buy dental insurance when you only need a cleaning most years, or do you forego it knowing you may get hit with a big bill some years., Unless you know for sure you have a lot of dental issues that could be a tough call.
This is so true for ADHD adults when it comes to deciding how much to invest in upfront thinking. That is, too much thinking and planning without enough action is akin to being overinsured. You’re investing just too much time and energy without getting enough in return. Is there something right now that you’re strategizing about, but not taking enough or any action? Maybe you’re using planning as a way to procrastinate because of your fear of failure or perhaps your sense of perfectionism. In these cases, you may be way overinsured and need to start experimenting.
While it’s true you may be planning, strategizing, thinking too much, and are therefore way over insured relative to what you get out of the time and energy you expend, it’s also likely you are underinsured in some forms of upfront thinking. And when you don’t invest enough time and energy in upfront thinking, one of the consequences as you probably are not confident you’re doing the right thing each day.
Oh sure, you may be super busy doing a lot of stuff. But if you stopped right now and asked yourself, “Am I doing the right stuff,” what would the answer be? I bet, if you’re like many ADHD adults, the answer might be, “I’m not sure.” You may even think to yourself, “I’m just doing whatever I have to do.” If you’re not sure if you’re doing the right task and participating in the right activities, it could also be that you’re not being productive each day. Even if you’re ticking off a lot of boxes along the way. “How can I not be productive,” you may be wondering,” if I’m always busy.”
Being productive is not just about being busy. That is, when you’re productive, you’re not just jumping from task to task. Rather, being productive is doing what’s important to you based on your goals and values. With this definition of productivity in mind, can you confidently say you are doing what’s most important to you right now?
Not sure? You can change that by engaging in the right kind of upfront thinking to help you get the clarity you need. So you can be more confident you are doing what’s essential, important to you day to day. Obviously, the first place you need to do to invest in this type of thinking is having clarity around your values. So that you can make decisions about how you spend your time and energy that are in alignment with these. Make sense, right?
As Kofi Annan and said, “To live is to choose. But to choose, well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.
If you’re already clear on your values, you may not need to hear this part of the podcast. But, if you’re not sure or just curious to hear whether you might learn something new, hang with me for a bit.
One of my favorite exercises to assess your values is called Future Self. In this exercise, you’ll have the opportunity to, so to speak, step across the current threshold of your life, to the future. To do this you’ll be writing a letter from your future self to your current self about what life is like one, three, five, or maybe even 10 years from now. You can choose the amount of time. But the objective of this exercise is to help you see where you want to go and what you want to become.
When doing this exercise, for the time being, suspend any notion of reality, as you describe what you would like for yourself in the future. Sure,you may not paint a picture of yourself in the NFL, right, if you have no experience in this. But aside from, you know, a dream like that, give yourself free rein to imagine your life exactly as you want it to be.
Go ahead and dream. Who knows. Perhaps, one, three, five years from now you’ll have made the necessary changes to achieve what today only seems like a fantasy. When writing the letter to your future self, use the present tense as if it is happening today. Include as much detail as you need to be able to really feel like it’s happening., But not too much detail that it begins to feel overwhelming. Following is a brief sample I wrote in 2011.
Wow. I can’t believe it has already been a year since I last wrote to you. You’ll be really happy to know that I’m doing well. I found a great synagogue. It is really a spiritual home for us. As for my humble abode, we are living in a great neighborhood. There are a lot of kids around. The neighbors are great and we can walk to stores. I’m still running and feeling great shape. I’ve done four more races since last year. Business’s fantastic. I enjoy it immensely and I’m really focused and consistent in what I need to do to be successful. It feels great to be working for myself.
So what I’ve done is included some questions in a PDF that you can ask yourself to guide yourself in creating your own letter. And I’ve also in this PDF included questions that you can use after you write the letter to reflect on what you can extract in terms of values from the letter. And, in addition, I’ve included a list of values. So, if you’re at all interested in doing this exercise, I encourage you to check out the PDF on my website with the podcast.
Clarity around your values will definitely help you decide what is essential to you. That is, you will be in a better position to decide where you want to put your time and energy. So you can excel. And in the words of Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, “Make your highest contribution toward things that really matter to you.” So, instead of always being in motion and busy, but not necessarily productive, you can be more confident you are putting your time and energy in the right place. That is, once you decide to commit to these areas.
I know that recipe may sound simple. But it’s definitely not always easy for ADHD Adults who are super curious and interested in doing a lot. Obviously, there are going to be tradeoffs. Once you commit to going big in certain areas, you may have to decide to say “no” to other areas.
Not because you’re not interested in the other areas. But rather because you’re deciding to say “yes” to areas that are important to you, areas that you choose based on your values. To help you do this type of upfront thinking you can first start by checking out my article, How ADHD Adults Do Better By Doing Less. And then, if you’re ready to doing a deeper dive into figuring out what’s essential to you, based on your values, you can check out McKeown’s book, Essentialism. Also, I just discovered he started a podcast. While I haven’t listened to it yet. I’m sure it’s great. So, check that out as well. And, if you’re interested, I included a link to his site where you can find both his book and podcast. Yes, it’s on my podcast on my website.
I know some of you who are listening to this are already clear on your values and already know where you want to go big. But you may not necessarily be consistently choosing the right tasks and activities that are in alignment with these values and that will really allow you to excel in the areas you’ve decided you want to go big in.
If this seems true for you, then you likely need to upgrade your upfront thinking skills in a few areas. First, you’ll probably need to do more upfront thinking in choosing the right task and activities. And there are a few ways you can do this. One time is obviously when you’re planning out a project. And, remember a project can be anything that has more than one step. When doing this, make sure you’re externalizing your thinking. That is, don’t try to do it in your head. You know how that works out, right? Rather use something like a task manager. You could use an electronic tasks manager like Todoist. Though you may want to start by getting your thoughts out in a less linear way. You could try a mind mindmap, like MindMeister. And, yes, you can find links to these with the podcast on my website.
If there’s one strategy that people I work with say is one of the most impactful in helping them feel grounded, it is learning and implementing a process of weekly review and planning. It doesn’t work to plan out your projects once and then sort of look at them haphazardly when you feel like it. Rather, curating your task lists and execution plan is a dynamic process, not a static process. As you know, priorities are constantly changing, right? So, to keep up with this everchanging landscape, you need to review and plan on an ongoing basis. You don’t have time day to day, moment to moment to do this.
Once a week is typically the right amount of time for this deep thinking, this deep upfront thinking. Doing it on Fridays may be helpful as you can feel more grounded going into the weekend. It seems to typically take people about an hour, maybe an hour and a half in the beginning. If you’re not doing this now in the beginning, it’s going to feel super uncomfortable.
You’re going to wonder sometimes why you’re doing this when you have so much else to do. Weekly planning is one type of insurance you don’t want to do without, though. If you invest energy and time in this type of upfront thinking, you will definitely see the payoff. If you haven’t already checked out my blog post, “The ADHD Adult’s Guide to the Weekly Review,” go ahead and check it out for suggestions of what you could include in your weekly review.
The last type of upfront thinking I want to share with you is daily planning. Without this type of upfront thinking your weekly planning and review really may be all for naught. Think about it. Will you really remember on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday what you decided last Friday? Unlikely, right? Also, some of what was true last Friday, when you were doing your weekly review, has probably changed.
So, while your weekly review will inform your daily planning, it’s just not enough help you get through the week successfully. In an ideal world you’ll do this daily planning at the end of the previous day. That way you can feel ready for the next day. But in the real world people often just want to get out of dodge at the end of the day. And so to do this planning at the beginning of the day is an alternative. Whenever you do it, start by looking at your calendar. Has anything changed or do you need to change anything? Do you need to confirm appointments? Then, and this is the hardest part, decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your day that is unscheduled. Be specific.
This could include blocking off some time to work on certain projects, as well as choosing maybe one to three discrete tasks that you must get done by the end of the day. These might be tasks that don’t take a whole lot of time. Sure, I know you’ll want to do more small tasks tick off those boxes more than one to three. But these are your high priority items that you can keep on coming back to when you have time to be sure that at minimum you get these done at the end of the day.
Then trust your plan. That is, trust that the upfront thinking and plan you made at the beginning of the day, unless there’s an obvious emergency, is the right plan for today. Trust your past self. Because your present self in the moment might be more interested in whatever shiny penny is in front of you and be confused about all the possibilities of what you could do.
I know upfront thinking takes a lot of time and energy, and maybe something you’re not used to doing right now. So it’s likely feel uncomfortable in the beginning. And you may not initially trust that it’s the right use of your time. But can you really afford to do without this type of insurance? If you think you’re underinsured, what type of upfront thinking are you willing to try this route?
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me. And yes, stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, please 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 re-imagining productivity with ADHD.