I’m 26 now, and I have to learn how to be an adult. I never learned how to, being a teacher’s pet through school, and dropping out of college. I’m sure many of you can relate, if you were a kid who “Underachieves” and “Has a lot of potential” written on all of your report cards. I’m trying various medications to help adjust, but they don’t seem to help me work the way other people do. It’s not that I can’t focus, it’s that I need projects that I’m interested in. If I get a project like that, I spend all of my time optimizing and obsessing over it. My work emails go unanswered and trying to focus on anything else makes me feel restless and sick. Anything which requires self-discipline is a lost cause. Why would I hold my current self accountable to my past self?
I watched a great video recently from Elizabeth Filips called “You’re Not Lazy: How to Live a Chaotically Organized Life”. In the video, Elizabeth doesn’t mention ADHD, but I can’t help but feel like it applies. When I’m passionate, hyperfocus is my superpower. I’ve never known how to activate hyperfocus though, it always feels random and only vaguely guided. The concept of “priming” my hyperfocus is new to me and presents a potential strategy for getting things done without the stress and guilt that normally comes with my ADHD brain.
Priming takes the ADHD behaviors that mirror procrastination and uses them productively. If I’m watching YouTube instead of doing something I need to, I can choose to watch a video on my current passion. I can passively learn the skills I will need and see the roadblocks others have had. The important thing is that I’m feeding the passion. If I get bored of it, then no time wasted, and I can move on to the next obsession. But if I keep thinking about it, and keep watching videos, and keep wanting to do it, eventually I will. Like Elizabeth says, it becomes unbearable to not do that thing.
The advantage that Elizabeth has, is that she is self-employed. She discusses having deadlines, and projects to complete, but ultimately, she is already doing her long-term passion for a job. Most of us aren’t. I love to build PCs, but instead I’m working WFM in Call Centers. Answering emails, scheduling vacation, micro-managing people, I can’t get passionate about any of it. I can’t use priming here because I know I will never get passionate about answering emails.
Ultimately, this trick lets us manage that downtime that might normally be wasted, and channel it into our hobbies to make them more rewarding and impactful. So, what can I do about the time between procrastination sessions?
Instead, let’s flip the “negative” behavior of procrastination into a “positive” reward. If I answer these three emails, then I get to watch a 10-minute video. That may seem like an outsized reward, but consider that without a reward, they’re probably not going to get answered at all. This is another ADHD management technique, which is making micro commitments. Commit to doing 10 minutes of chores, not that you’re going to clean the house. Commit to answering a few emails, not getting your inbox under control. Once you start, you get the small tasks done, starting the dopamine loop, making further tasks easier. Then you get a reward, giving you more dopamine, and training yourself that small amounts of work are worth it to get that reward. Combined with Passion Priming, we end up with no wasted time. Tasks get completed, and “procrastination” time is transformed into self-improvement time.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember, is that there isn’t a reason to feel guilty for having ADHD. Our brains work differently from the way that society rewards. We can’t be consistent, the way others can. But we can do so much when our skills and abilities align with the things that need to happen.