Watching goals unfold

So, since I last dropped by, I’ve turned 62, the fun of which was thwarted by seasonal flu and a mild case of covid-19. Good riddance, 2022. For 2023 I’ve been trying to not forget my work PC at home, which I did twice.

I mean… I laughed it off, but I didn’t like it. And I am not going to blame aging or cognitive decline. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it’s that, anyway. Why not? Let me explain.

A friend once told me you don’t change as you age; you just become more of whatever you are. When I was a teenager I was very scatterbrained. My mother commented on me never remembering appointments, and I can remember always being challenged by time and needing a clock to help me. This sort of thing even led to me missing a flight for work, to my great embarrassment, and forced me to manage my time better.

I have clocks in every room. Actual clocks with old-fashioned clock faces except for the digital one in the kitchen. The clocks in the kitchen and the bathroom—the two places I am most likely to be distracted/dawdling—are set 10 or more minutes fast. My mother could not fathom how this could work when she visited me and saw my set-up.

I have had this set-up for years. And every. Single. Time. I glance at the clock, my brain goes, “Oh! Is that the time?!?” It immediately goes, “Oh, right, 10 minutes fast. I’m not late. Whew!!! OK, stop dawdling and be on time.” And I’m on time, without stress.

Recently, a younger friend and I were discussing whether or not she had ADHD (she suspects she does). I’ve long suspected I do, too. Why I haven’t bothered to get diagnosed?

Well, the only thing that really suffers from it, is my home, my housework. I’ve spent my whole life being like this. I also grew up in an era where teachers had fewer children in their classrooms and more patient. And like most females with ADHD, I was calm in class. And smart. Until college, I never had any trouble keeping up with school and enjoyed learning.

I worked a year between high school and college because I couldn’t stand the idea of more homework. I hated homework. However, I always did it because then I didn’t have to study for tests. It was just hard to get started on it.

I would do the ADHD thing of clearing things away to avoid visual distractions. I didn’t know that was an ADHD thing. At work, I have the cleanest desk. My cupboard is stuffed with stuff I can’t remember what is, but my desk looks like no one uses it. My computer desktop is equally uncluttered for the same reason, both at work and at home. 

My current desktop at home. I change the background when I feel like it. Right now enjoying the Mac’s preinstalled black-and-white photo of the Mojave

In college, I found myself falling behind, quickly. The college offered a course in study techniques and I realized that was one thing they didn’t teach you in regular school. Once I learned that, it got easier. One day, having an hour between classes, I found a chair in the lounge outside the library, and settled in for a meditation. I had learned a creative meditation where you walk along a forest path, observing who and what is there, and waiting to see if anyone wants to talk to you. A beautiful conifer tree wanted to talk to me. In the chair in the lounge, this was the meditation I did and it came easily to me. It was like daydreaming: Just go with whatever the brain comes up with. These meditations became a regular thing. And my thoughts settled down and my memory improved.

That was a huge benefit. My mind was no longer the flight risk it had been in my teen years. Now it was sharp and focused. And it has been that way for a long time, aided by my lifelong habit of writing things down. Always. I’ll forget if it isn’t written down, but for some things, if it’s written down, I’ll remember it. 

I’m always writing, and so I’ve become the minute taker of most meetings I’m in. Most think I do that to be nice; I do it to not get distracted or bored. I hand-wrote notes in school and in college. It cut down on studying as the material stuck better when I wrote (not just an ADHD thing). My hands are kept busy and that also helps with focus. I find it hilarious that no one knows the real reason I’m organized and good at listening and typing at the same time. If only they knew how easily my mind can wander! If only they knew how hopeless I am if things aren’t written down or made clear and simple! I organize my thoughts so I know what they are in the first place!

A therapist said I couldn’t have ADHD when I asked her, because I’d held down a job for years and also paid off a mortgage. But she didn’t know the struggle that was, the bounced checks I once used to write, the number of visits to HR because I’d lost my temper. I learned from all of that and slowly became better at adulting. But now, somewhere, somehow, 60+ me is turning into teen me. I’m not kidding when I say my work laptop—which comes home with me for my work-from-home days—has been left at home twice so far this year, and I didn’t realize until I saw my empty desk at work.

My teen self scares me. She’s not a bad person, but her forgetfulness makes her inconsiderate of others, and will greatly inconvenience herself/me. I don’t want that part of my teen self back. So I’ve been trying to get reorganized and meditating. 

And I’ve made some discoveries along the way. 62-year-old me is at once fascinated and frustrated by my still not knowing myself, that I still have things to learn about myself. My inner teen finds this all exciting! I do like that part of her. I like feeling excited again about something!

Any organization system has to be ridiculously simple. I went back to Getting Things Done (GTD) and reorganized (and culled a lot of emails) my Outlook at work. I got a system working there combining Outlook and OneNote*. It functioned immediately and wonderfully, helping me stay on top of things. I also have a hand-written to-do list that I write at the start of the day. It helps me focus and settle into work mode. It’s also satisfying to manually cross off done stuff.

But my big challenge is home life. It is far more cluttered, has far more moving parts, and way more emotional involvement than work ever did. And that’s why it’s challenging. I’m personally responsible for and emotionally involved with everything, from paying the rent** to clearing out a closet. I can’t delegate; I can only ignore and I’m too good at that!

So I tried a GTD set-up for home and that’s still a work in progress. I tried a task app (one recommended for GTD), but it failed me the first time I knew I had both overdue tasks and daily tasks for the day, but they didn’t show up together. I had a wee panic attack (I’ve learned that’s likely the ADHD, too), and my next to-do was to get rid of that app. (I know that if something makes me panic rather than just wonder, it’s probably not going to be right for me.) I went back to using Google Keep. I then tried to find a good method for handling daily tasks.

I mean, I do try. I don’t cross stuff off, but seeing this list in Keep does remind me.

Then I realized something. At 62, I realized that I will never do daily tasks. I’ll have to approach them the same way I approach every thing else personal: Cyclically. It’s not a conscious thing. I’ve always “binged”: Three days straight of the same food, then a complete 180 into something else. Three days ago I did the dishes. Yesterday I put them away. It looks like I’ll have enough of a load to do the dishes tonight or tomorrow. There is no daily shining of the kitchen sink. I just don’t use my kitchen like that. It’s just me, so it takes a few days to save up for a load of washing.

There isn’t any weekly, either. I don’t (yet) have any set days for when to do other housework. I may say Saturdays but if the mood/energy/motivation isn’t there, setting aside a day won’t matter nor encourage. Housework ends up being an afterthought. This is why I rarely have guests but I would love to have a guest-ready home so “rarely” doesn’t require three days’ notice. Anyway, getting a weekly routine is a “work in progress”, as am I.

A weekly routine depends on a daily one, I think. Both are about taking care of things regularly. ADHD, however, means you do things when the mood strikes you. So there will be moments of inspiration and energy and even whole days of inspiration and energy—that’s when things get done. And that’s when the law of ADHD**** kicks in: For every doing, there is an equal and opposite not-doing. This is why I cycle from three days of one thing to not doing that thing again for quite a while. This is why I don’t binge eat, but I do binge task. And then nothing.

ADHD-ers are well familiar with catching up on all the missed housework in one weekend, never to touch even a duster again for at least three months. And people who do not have the energy system of ADHD do not understand why getting into the habit of doing something daily is not easy nor helpful. We need a break from the familiar to rekindle the novelty that keeps us interested. Familiarity breeds boredom which breeds procrastination. We’re not never going to do the thing, but it won’t get done until we feel like it.***

The problem is that some things can’t and shouldn’t wait, like dishes, trash and laundry. So I’m approaching this stuff now, not as a “daily” or even “weekly” list, but rather a list of “must be done within next x days”. Haven’t quite worked out the details of that. Like I said, it’s a brand-new thought so this is truly unfamiliar terrain. But this feels more doable than a forced daily list that I’m never going to complete because I had no laundry or dishes to do.

Something else I realize I find rewarding (a wee dopamine hit) is to write down what I do in a Done list. Since to-do lists are so hit and miss, but I’m not entirely inactive, the Done list captures when I do actually do dishes and put them away, and do laundry and fold it and put it away, and anything else that needed doing and suddenly got done because “I felt like it”. (And in writing this, I also realize that a paper daily to-do at home like at work is worth trying.)

[Insert actual Keep dailies – My daily todos which don’t get crossed off but do serve as a visual reminder. Uhm, need to get back to that decluttering thing.]

“I am ready to take on new goals.”

At work I started listening to Louise Hay talks on YouTube. It was familiar, calming and encouraging. I used to be a member of the same church organization she was, currently known as Centers for Spiritual Living, rooted in the book “Science of Mind” by Ernest Holmes. So I searched out some YouTubes with affirmations and found “I AM AFFIRMATIONS of Gratitude, Self-Love, and Success”.

Thing is, this thing doesn’t make me sit still and repeat the affirmations. I started listening to it while getting ready for bed, carrying my phone around with me. If I instead listen (and repeat back) to it in the morning, it’s while I’m taking a shower. No, I haven’t listened to this consistently for 21 days. But, my daily-for-a-bit-then-skip-days “routine” has nevertheless yielded some results. For one thing, I turn this video on, and I don’t want to sit still while listening to it, so I do a bit of tidying and stuff for the 15 minutes it plays. My hands are busy so my mind can focus.

Slowly, I’m cracking the code for what makes Keera work. I think I’m on the right track. I felt like blogging again.

Thanks for reading.

“I am ready to take on new goals.
I recognize that this is the best time to take action towards my goals.
I am actively taking steps towards my goals.
I am patient.
I enjoy watching my goals unfold.”

YouTube video linked above


*) We use Microsoft 365 at work. Outlook lets you turn an email into a task so I use that a lot. For tasks where I’d like to add notes, I export the email to OneNote. OneNote lets you create an Outlook task from the note, so I see the OneNote stuff in the Outlook task list.

**) I’ve used the rules and software of YNAB for over 10 years to help me not only budget, but gain clarity with where my money goes. I have never missed paying rent, but I used to miss other things.

***) I write this on a Saturday, while doing laundry in our communal laundry room. And instead of being lost with no sense of time, my subconscious has had me glancing at the clock on the computer every so often. This is how it was when I was actively meditating, a natural flow: I glance at the clock, I see the time, I check the countdown on my phone, I’m ready to go move my laundry from washer to dryer—on time and without stress. This is a good day.

****) I made this law up. No two people will express ADHD exactly the same.

By Keera Ann Fox

I am a bi-lingual American who has lived most of my life in Norway.
Jeg er en tospråklig amerikaner som har bodd mesteparten av mitt liv i Norge.

3 replies on “Watching goals unfold”

We all recognize ourselves to various degrees when reading things like your post, above, but there’s no doubt that at worst, this becomes a real challenge and a handicap. I recognize your coping mechanisms. I discovered the focus on the “here and now” as a benefit before it became “a thing” when I would escape work for walks during break times and lunch and just kind of exist within the day, for those brief periods, instead of skittering along on top of it trying to get my work done.

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