Structure 2.0: Modeling Time and Productivity
Locating the best productivity tools is often top of mind for decision makers since ADHD disrupts our ability to effectively track and manage our priorities and obligations. Managing and tracking our lists and calendars can feel like a full time job and can also be a great source of frustration. The complaint I hear most often from Global Creatives is that they can never find a tool that replicates their concept of time or accurately reflects what needs to be top of mind. I’m with them. Planners, and the designers who design them, rarely entertain outside-the-box thinking when it comes to research and design.
Does the 1 inch square ‘calendar day’ of a planner fairly represent all that you have going in a single day? All of your dreams and desires?
Do your action items neatly fall into clean categories and bulleted sub-categories?
Productivity planners make the mistake of conflating productivity with linear thinking - put your day into categories and priorities and then pull the trigger! So simple! Many people with ADHD buy this load of malarkey thinking we need to think in neuro-typical ways to be effective and efficient. Global Creatives perceive their world in a much more associative fashion. We don’t see silos or nice tidy baskets to fill. We see interrelatedness and we attend to context. We appreciate multi-verses and creative links where a conversation with Bob in accounting is directly connected to a concept Sarah is developing in R&D.
Find a good tool and you’ve found something that creates a good representation of what is actually going on. Here I think many miss the point. They focus on the tool or strategy they first need to be curious about the underlying process. Want to change a habit? Be curious about your process for change. Want to manage time better? Be curious about time as a very dynamic but mysterious process. We’ve all experienced time crawl and time zoom by, right?
In a recent video I suggest a tip to expand your definition of what structure can be when it comes to managing ADHD. We often think of structures like calendars and productivity tools, and routines. In the video I ask viewers to consider structures built within relationships like roles, expectations and accountability. Another 2.0 Structure I am fond of that works well for our context-wired brains are models.
Our productivity tools have one thing in common. They are all models - representations of things that matter to us - our goals, our time and our commitments. Models, by their definition, represent complex events and processes that are not easily understood or appreciated. Take a look around and you will see graphs predicting GDP growth, models representing quantum mechanics and diagrams at your local garage urging you to flush the break lines in your car.
The ADHD Connection
Here is the ADHD connection. ADHD distorts our perception of reality in interesting and unique ways. Much of my history of living with ADHD felt like experiencing life events in a very indirect manner. The lack of direct experience created opportunity for select filtering and distortion (anyone hear about negative self talk?) and kept reality at a distance that made nuanced and informed decisions difficult. If you want to really get closer to reality, invest some time and attention into modeling - developing better representations of the very processes that matter most - your time and your priority.
A Little Context
I’ve always been a fan of a good model - a picture or graph that takes a complicated concept and cuts quickly to what is most relevant and immediate. An all-time favorite is a graph depicting the stark reality of Napoleon’s 1812 march to Moscow. This map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon's army over time and distance. The width represents the size of the army which, mostly due to disease and bitter cold, gets thinner and thinner until it becomes the width of a pencil line upon Napoleon’s return to Poland (422,000 troops to 10,000). Like any good model it captures the real losses in an effective visual format. In the world of charts and models Minard’s graph is an all-time classic.
My years of science education, both as student and teacher, gave me a healthy appreciation and practice of modeling. I can’t tell you how many styrofoam ball models of potassium I’ve evaluated in 9th grade science but the process of building simple models helps students grasp what can’t be readily appreciated in real life. For my undergraduate work in geology we counted on models to illustrate events and processes difficult to see on the surface. My favorite was drawing models of the underlying rock stratigraphy from fieldwork on the surface. Below is a classic cross-section of the Grand Staircase, strata extending northward from the Grand Canyon. Again, a visual representation of something very difficult to view directly.
Models and ADHD Management
Models can be helpful when it comes to ADHD management because they are easy to remember and recall. My affection for models did not diminish as I shifted my career to coaching developing models to represent coaching processes and processes for change. A model I developed early in my coaching career helped me understand a key personal obstacle in effectively getting things down. We can use models to represent not only time and process but also illustrate essential supports, practices in topic areas of productivity, self-care and effective communication. Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you dig into model exploration and development:
Focus more on the underlying process than a system or strategy.
Stop searching for a strategy and focus more on the actual process in play. How do you experience time? How does change occur? How do you get things done most effectively? How do you learn something new? Systems only work when they align with the underlying processes. I use key collaborator names for my categories in my planner because my process for completion usually involves another person with a vested interest in the project. This approach creates a common context regarding my priorities and for the ADHD brain context is king!
Don’t fall for the siren song of the all-in-one productivity tool.
We often search for one tool to do it all. Have you found it yet? Likely not since our lives are much more complicated than what one tool can accurately represent. A former client made headway when he looked at the process for how ideas are formed, made actionable and finally completed in his highly demanding manager role in a software company. Once he realized it was a three step process of idea capture, prioritization and execution did he develop a system that reflected that reality. He actually uses a 3 notebook/planner system to illustrate each step. The key is that it works for him and how his brain works. He and his team are more effective as a result.
Focus more on practice than ‘the tool’.
With the savvy marketing of productivity tools and processes we are wooed into thinking that a certain tool will be a game changer. So we focus more on the product than the practice. I can not stress the concept of practice enough here. It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters that you ‘do’ when it comes to system development. Through your experience you will learn what works and what does not work. What is a preference and what is not. Productivity gurus create their wisdom through their own trial and error. You can too. ADHD will have us think that we can’t afford any mistakes or need to collect more data before we can start. It’s just a myth we tell ourselves to stay out of action. The same client with the 3 notebook approach honed his system through practice and trial and error.
Research proven process models.
Some really smart people have been thinking about and developing models for various processes for a very long time. Exploring proven models regarding processes that are always running in the background of your life is a good place to start. No reason to reinvent the wheel here. Prochaska’s work on change, Kolb’s work on learning and Maslow’s work on needs are a few examples.
Sketch it, diagram it, model it.
For Richard Dreyfuss, to fully understand the gravity of his role as interstellar traveller in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he built a model of Devil’s Tower (the landing spot of the alien ship) in his living room. To better grasp a process get creative. Sketch it, scratch it on the back of a napkin, share it with others, anything to get it out of your head and into a different medium. Once we see it differently we can shift our comprehension and build new meaning.
Finally, digging in to underlying productivity processes via modeling will cultivate the keys to creating more action - curiosity, attention, interest, inspiration and motivation. Assume a practice mindset regarding model development, do a little research, do a lot of observing and keep scratching on the back of that napkin!