Coping With Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD).

To Whom It May Concern…

I wasn’t diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) until I was an adult, that said, in retrospect the symptoms were fairly clear throughout my childhood and teenage years. ADD is traditionally associated with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), but ADHD is actually a type of ADD. ADHD is best known b/c it has all the symptoms of ADD PLUS a huge bundle of energy and externally inappropriate behavior (e.g. talking in class, running when one should be sitting, etc.) that are highly visible. Someone with ADD can much more easily fly under the radar since most of their symptoms will be internal rather than external.

The cerebellum is largely responsible for coordinating...
The cerebellum is largely responsible for coordinating the unconscious aspects of proprioception. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyways, I’ve written up this short post for those who have asked me how I manage being ADD. This article fits nicely alongside my previous article, “Surviving the Darkness: A Crash Course in Muddling Through Anxiety, Depression, And So On.” Now I just need to write another article on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (emphasis on Scrupulosity) and I’ll have shared my coping techniques for all my major mental ills.

Do You Have ADD?

Mental Disorders should be diagnosed by a professional (psychiatrist/psychologist). Why? Because the various disorders can overlap in various ways. For example, my anxiety may appear as ADD as it drains all my attention from what I need to be focusing on. Or conversely, my anxiety could be caused by my inability to focus which is in turn caused by my ADD. You really don’t want to try and treat the wrong thing. While there is overlap in the symptoms, the treatments are oftentimes significantly different – and you could spend years unsuccessfully battling ADD when you really have x (or nothing at all).

So, I suggest talking to a psychiatrist/psychologist as a first step if you believe there is something amiss with your brain.

Medication

I know, I know, you don’t want to hear about medication – but I’m going to tell you about it anyways. I don’t want to suggest that folks go on pills if they don’t need them – on the other hand, if your psychiatrist believes you have a disorder and thinks medication is a good mode of treatment – I’d encourage you to consider it, especially for ADD. Why? Because you will be able to tell within a few days if you respond to the medication. For me, I think the first day I started taking Adderall it made a huge difference in my ability to focus…and has continued to have significant dividends for me.

I currently take the generic form of Adderall XR at a dosage of 20 mg per day – this is a relatively low dose. See the end of this article for an Appendix discussing in more detail medication – but for now, I just wanted to raise it as a possibility.

Psychoeducation

It is important to understand the nature of your illness, why it occurs, what makes it worse, what makes it better, and so on. This is a process of psychoeducation. I’ve read two excellent books on the subject – and they are both excellent and I would recommend reading both. The first is Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Dr. Russell A. Barkley. The second is Delivered from Distraction by Drs. Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey. If you have to choose just one – go with Taking Charge of Adult ADHD.

These books will help normalize your experiences – demonstrating that you are not alone in what you feel and think. They will also provide you with information on medications and numerous other forms of treatment. If you don’t want to see a doctor right from the start these can provide a good starting place with their self-evaluation quizzes which demonstrate the likelihood of your having this disorder in a preliminary manner.

Distraction

I play video games – particularly, historical, turn-based strategy war games…any turn-based game will do though. Why turn-based? B/c the computer takes a turn, which means you have nothing to do for a period of time – and during that time you can get some work done (e.g. homework). No, you can’t do this at work – but for tasks at home, it can be a real help.

In my case I might play a five minute turn, then begin doing research / whatever for the next twenty minutes, then take another five minute term and so on.

Task Management

To some extent we have to live with the fact that we have a REALLY hard time staying on task. This just isn’t going to go away. Take the time to learn how to manage tasks and ensure that you are getting done what really needs to be done. David Allen’s excellent book Getting Things Done is a great tool in this area.

Get Help

My smartphone is crucial to my successful in everyday life. My mind wanders at a million miles a minute. Without my smartphone beeping at me to eat, to attend meetings, to remember holidays – I would not, and I did not (my wife will bear witness!).

Take the opportunity to find people who have strengths in your weak areas. If you are on a team at work, try to ensure you get someone who is disciplined, orderly, time-oriented, etc. on your team. You may be a great idea person, an energetic creator – but your ability to get everything done in the required order on time may be insufficient. There is no shame in accepting the assistance of others to do better.

No Shame

When I write these articles I think to myself, “Do I really want to write this? Folks are going to think I’m crazy. What if they don’t want me to work for them, or think I can’t be responsible b/c of the illnesses I struggle with?” I feel shame and guilt over my weaknesses – but the truth is they are real and I’ve got to live with them…and, honestly, most folks who interact with me don’t know I have these issues – unless they read an article like this or I tell them.

Our illnesses are a weakness, but they are also oftentimes a strength. They allow us to see things from a different perspective and to attack problems from a different angle. In spite of these weaknesses I don’t find myself producing inferior work to others…though I do find myself producing inferior work compared to my potential. But each day I progress a little further in my ability to manage these handicaps.

Don’t let others shame or guilt you if you struggle with these forms of illness. Don’t let folks make you feel stupid or like a dead weight – you aren’t. Most importantly, tell the little voice inside your head to shut up when it criticizes you, b/c that is the harshest voice of all.

Appendix: Adderall

There was some concern about Adderall in the past causing death in some patients. From what I understand more recent studies have shown mitigating circumstances to be involved in all deaths by patients on Adderall (but go look at the reports and ask your doctor…I’m no clinician).

When I first took Adderall it caused heart palpitations. Now, I have Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome, so right there I have a heart condition which makes my case a bit abnormal compared to most.

That said, I took Adderall for some time and the palpitations decreased in frequency. Eventually I moved to XR (extended release) b/c Adderall is a quick-acting medication which is flushed out of the system in a matter of hours and I needed something that would help me focus throughout the day – not just for four hours. Once I began taking XR, palpitations ceased entirely, though when I later took a regular release Adderall I again experienced heart palpitations – so I stay away from them.

Again, I have WPW and have heart palpitations on occasion (and have had them for years before ever starting Adderall).

“But Dave, I don’t want to rely upon drugs.” Do you drink coffee, tea, energy drinks? Consume large amounts of sugar? Then you are already relying upon a drug. I just take one in smaller amounts under the supervision of a doctor. Which do you think is safer/healthier? 🙂

Dear Mark: Thoughts on Simpleology

Introduction

I’m always trying to improve myself. I’m always learning, always looking, always seeking. I’m a bit of a technophile, I love the ways that technology can improve our lives. I use all sorts of systems – including task management systems. I’ve used a number of them over the years – most recently I was a big Asana advocate (and I still use it)…

One system that I began using way back in the day (2005, 2006?) and have continued to use off-and-on since then is Simpleology. Lately I’ve been using it more and more…I’m not ready to switch everything over YET, but I am impressed by the system and wanted to share a bit about it with everyone…as well as disclose to Mark Joyner (Founder/CEO of Simpleology) and his co-workers my thoughts on the system and the areas that need to improve/be refined before it can really, REALLY be what I need.

Why Simpleology is Different

The first thing to note is that Simpleology is different from other task management systems. Are you familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology? It utilizes task management – but it is not just a task management system – rather it is a process by which one engages life, especially the task oriented aspects of it. Simpleology is along the same lines.

I suppose you could use Simpleology simply as a task management tool – but its real power is when you get up in the morning (or in the evening in preparation for the next day) and work through the workflow that is Simpleology. It takes the massive amount of ideas, problems, opportunities swirling around in your brain and guides you through the process of selecting which tasks you should actually work on today. It helps you be productive in the right areas and to feel productive at the end of the day.

With other task management systems (e.g. Asana) I sometimes feel overwhelmed. Great, I’ve got hundred of tasks and sub-tasks…but what do I need to do today? How do I decide?

In addition to this, Simpleology provides a number of “life hacks” that help you increase your productivity – and one of its strongest (and weakest) points is the ongoing interactive training that is available to teach you the usage of the web application.

What It Needs

I’m using Simpleology, but I’m not fully sold on it yet…Here are my concerns, big and small:

Big

  • The interactive training for Simpleology is great – it keeps you moving forward at a good pace – but it is also frustrating. Sometimes I just want a PDF user manual1It doesn’t have to be PDF, HTML, DOC, whatever is fine – just something I can read! to Simpleology. I want to begin using some features before I’m trained on them via the interactive training. Most features are fairly intuitive, but the exact mechanisms and business logic underlying these features isn’t clear and could cause me issues down the road…Here are a few areas I need to know the nuances of w/out waiting for the interactive training:
    • Recurring Tasks
    • Observe & Change
    • Engines (this is supposed to allow custom programmability / triggers within Simpleology)
    • Projects (this is a new feature in 5.5, I haven’t messed with at all)
    • Delegation Station (This seems powerful, but I need to know exactly how it works – what happens when the individual isn’t a Simpleology member and I assign them a task? Can they complete it and tell me it has been completed w/out becoming a member?
  • You can’t jump between different sections of Start My Day. That isn’t true, you just need to change to Expert mode instead of Guided.
  • The pricing model is unwieldy. You can get a great base of features for free, then move up to pro for $7/mo., but then the ultimate, elite package is $57/mo. I’m not suggesting that is too much – but there needs to be more steps in-between. For example, I’d suggest making the Business Growth, Financial Growth, Recurring Tasks, Observe & Change, Update Trackers, Ben Franklin Habits, and Prioritize add-on modules that can be purchased individually. I really have no use for the Business Growth or Financial Growth modules at this juncture. I can probably live without the Update Trackers or the Ben Franklin Habits module – but the Recurring Tasks and Prioritize modules are must haves for me – but there is no way I can afford to spend $57/mo. to get these features (ok, recurring comes with pro…). I think this would increase revenue – and folks might still find themselves throwing in all $57/mo. eventually – but it is a more gradual progression (you gotta boil a frog in a pot by slowly turning up the heat, right?).
  • The lack of storage for historical tasks. Mark informed me these limits are done away with in 5.5.

Small

  • Under Lists there is no way  to make a task disappear from its list once it is completed without deleting it. It should be able to be moved automatically to archived targets once it is completed.
  • Under Lists there is no reason to have “Mental Lockbox (Legacy)” for anyone who doesn’t have items in this category.

Other Stuff I’d Like

Here are a few items I’d like to see, but that aren’t core necessities for me (rated 1-10, 1 being unimportant to me, 10 being very important…although none of these reach the importance of the big items listed above)…

A Little History

[I’ve never met Mark in real life, I’ve never had an extended conversation with him, but I have used his products for years and followed his journey over time…and I figured I’d write down my thoughts and memories before I forget them…This section has little practical use.]

I haven’t been online as long as some, but longer than most. I remember this slick marketing guy I used to follow – Mark Joyner. He wrote a bunch of books, founded a bunch of companies (ROIbot, SearchHound, StartBlaze, Aesop Search Engine, etc.), and I thought ran Trafficology – but it seems Wayne Yeager ran this, maybe Mark can clear that up for me? Perhaps my memory is just lying to me. If you had to sum up Mark in one phrase at the time I would choose the title from his 2002 book MindControlMarketing0.2He always harped on his time spent in the military working in intelligence and how this provided him with many of the skills he shared regarding MCM.

Mark had a way with words that soothed you into compliance – and he was willing to teach you how you could become a mind control master as well.

Then in April 2003 Mark sent out a surprising email. You can read it in its entirety here. I think you’ll quickly see the power of his sales phrasing (mind control marketing). I was never comfortable with selling using these techniques – but I still followed Mark for a lot of his more mainstream guerrilla marketing tips (is that an oxymoron?).

Mark decided it was time to go find himself, “Bottom line is, it’s time for me to simplify. My business has become so incredibly complex that it just isn’t fun any more. It’s time for me to clean everything up, finish the unfinished business, and move on.”

Then in 2005 Mark came back on the scene with Simpleology. I remember giving it a try pretty early on. I thought it was cool – I don’t remember much about it other than some PDF books teaching productivity hacks. The usual mind control marketing techniques were evident in the early rendition of the Simpleology site. Mark used the popular technique of offering the basics for free and then charging you for the premium parts once you were hooked. Don’t get me wrong, what Mark gave away for free had real value.

Things took a much more concise approach by Oct. 2006. By 2007 things had developed to the first iteration of the web-based software that has become so powerful now and the old marketing techniques seemed to be taking a back seat. I began using the software again sometime during these early days.

In 2011 the site received a complete reboot – and I once again began using the system. Now, Simpleology has been innovated upon yet again – upgraded to 5.5 and I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the early access users.

I’ve been impressed by Mark’s movement from mind control marketing techniques to creating products that don’t need any mind control to sell.3Not that his earlier products lacked value, just that now his products contain such value that persuasive selling isn’t necessary. You’ll see some of that old style peering through every once in a while – sometimes you get redirected to pages that encourage you to sign up now and get huge bundles and deals (even within Simpleology). I kind of wish these would go away – but to each his own.

Is Asana The Task Management App We’ve All Been Waiting For?

[Important: I’ve writtens several followup articles, in chronological order: Asana: Thoughts Down the Road, Asana: Yes, I’m Still Using It, and Further Down the Road with Asana.]

Image representing Asana as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

For the last few months the buzz around Asana, a new task management application, has been increasing. But my Google Reader is pretty packed with blogs – oftentimes hundreds of new stories in a single day – and task management posts are usually filed away for review another day…when I eventually have time. I went back through most of my “for a later day” posts and found a number of task management related posts – including ones for Asana. I visited them all…expecting that none would offer the unique set of features I have been hoping for…but so far Asana is looking AMAZING. I’d like to take you along on my journey of exploration…

One’s initial visit to the Asana website shows an aesthetically pleasing design – but a little busy. Perhaps I’m different from most people1Okay, okay, I know my friends are going to jovially reply, “Dave, of course you are, you are strange.” But what I mean here is, in this particular area am I strange?, but I hate watching videos and prefer reading text.2I think this has to do with my ADD, I have a hard time sitting still while videos meander about stuff I know or don’t care about when text allows me to jump in and out exactly as I desire. The Asana homepage puts the emphasis on signing up or watching a video – bleck! Thankfully, if you scroll below the fold you’ll find “Learn More about Asana” and get a quicker view of the featureset.

Here is what impressed me at this point:

  • It is Free – For all intents and purposes, Asana is free. Sure they are interested in profiting from corporate sales, but for your general needs and for any small to medium sized business, Asana is free.
  • It is Team – A lot of great task management applications are out there, but many of them cost an arm and a leg or they don’t support teamwork…being weak in either of these areas really undermines the product…and those that are strong in these two areas then oftentimes demonstrate weakness in underlying features.
  • People Views – The ability to view what is going on by the person responsible is pretty sweet. Not entirely a new concept, and maybe just cooler b/c it is called “People Views” instead of “User Views” – it feels more Facebookey (umm, Facebookie, Facebookesque, someone help me out here!).
  • Calendar Sync – This is a pretty sweet feature, though it isn’t one I personally find essential.
  • Inbox Integration – One of the goals for Asana is to completely replace a diversity of workflows – ensuring data is recorded within Asana. Part of this involves automatically integrating email conversations into Asana threads. This is a simple feature many do, but Asana’s looks really slick.

Not to say that is all there is to see…there are numerous other neat features – those are just the ones that I really like – mainly b/c a lot of other task management applications are missing one or all of these features.

I do have one question at this juncture: Is thirty team members a firm number or does this reset for each workspace? I’m guessing it is the former, but hoping it is the latter. I suppose the latter option would open Asana up to abuse by its users – who could theoretically just create a new workspace whenever they ran out of users (but that would get extremely unwieldy). Reason I ask is b/c I’m involved in multiple venues – and thirty people is a lot when each venue can contain thirty, but not so many if thirty has to last over all my different venues.3For example, I would want to do workspaces for work, for home, for church, for other projects…for any one of these thirty team members is enough – but if I have to have only thirty members between all the workspaces? Might be a little tight.

Next thing I did was explore their blog – from the beginning…and I was impressed. The frequency of posts is regular enough and the quality of the posts is quite deep. At the bottom of this article I’ve included links to additional reading, including a few by the folks at Asana. Take a read and you’ll quickly see that these posts reflect a depth of philosophy, clarity of communication, and quality of composition that exceed many technology blogs whose sole purpose is to cover technology – not sell a product.

One item that becomes very clear while reading the blog posts is that Asana is being utilized heavily by Asana – and this is always a good thing. Products suffer when the creators of the product do not have an investment in the product beyond monetary success. Asana will oftentimes provide its own most standing criteria for ongoing featureset.4For example, as I was reading Asana posts I thought to myself (and I don’t know what already exists at this juncture), “Boy, it seems great…but what if someone at Asana is slacking off? How do they track that?” I’m sure Asana will hit that bump (may have hit?) and will respond appropriately…this is the advantage of a company using their own software.

Okay, so I have some more stuff I like about Asana:

  • Company Culture – Some tech companies have really led the way in creating (again) a culture where the company cares about its employees. For a while employees were disposable assets – but some companies have moved back and forward at the same time – back in purely statistical financial analysis but forward in employee satisfaction, productivity, and longevity.5Perhaps the tech industry innovated in part out of necessity. The technology sector requires specialists – the longer you stay at a job the better you are at it…picking up a n00b may save a few dollars, but there will be a huge learning curve and the lost experience and productivity are significant. Asana seems to be following this tact with company-wide lunches and regular yoga sessions.
  • The Methods – It is obvious that David Allen‘s GTD methodology is widely utilized within Asana – but beyond this one sees numerous management innovations to streamline and increase productivity, reduce errors, allow rapid development, and so on. These models are impressive and could be copied elsewhere (and perhaps where copied from elsewhere).

On the other hand, and this is not uncommon in technology culture, I’m wondering how many hours the folks in Asana are putting in a week? In this post Jerry Phillips notes folks eating lunch and dinner together (at 7 p.m.) which makes me ask, “When did you start working?” Sure, sometimes long hours are required – especially in IT and especially during the startup phase – but this can become a dangerous, long-term practice…and usually does not involve overtime compensation for the employees.

Now, what about the team? The team behind a product is an important consideration. In general I like two types of teams: the teams where you don’t know anyone and the teams where you see everyone’s legacy. The teams I don’t like are ones with a lot of fluff and bravado without necessarily a lot of accomplishment or technical ability. So, I tend to prefer companies that are either lean, mean startup machines run by some guy in his basement or companies that have be-knighted geniuses on the workforce.

  • Dustin Moskovitz – “co-founder of Facebook” (yup, that is impressive), “CTO…VP of Engineering” (okay, that is much more impressive…not just an idea guy, this guy works with the tech…and Facebook has some pretty impressive tech). Last but not least, note that Moskovitz dropped out of Harvard6I’m assuming since he only spent two years as an economics major. and didn’t major in the technical field yet excelled in it.7He was an economics major at Harvard…someone correct me if he had a technical background from elsewhere…
  • Justin Rosenstein – Justin may not have been CTO or VP, but he did hold significant positions at both Facebook and Google – mecca8Nope, not a spelling error, “pilgrimage” doesn’t connote the right sense here. tech companies. Again, appears to have dropped out of college…not that I’m suggesting that is a good idea (I completed my degree and work for a higher ed institution), but it occasionally indicates someone just has such great ideas or ability for self-learning that they are able to “skip a step.”
  • Malcolm Handley – Worked for Google on several significant projects including Android, Google Earth, and Mobile Maps. All pretty sweet products.
  • Greg Slovacek – Again a Google guy – his work seems a little more from a niche, but this can be good as well – indicating a passion for deep understanding of particular topics and a willingness to slog through the mundane work it takes to make stuff happen.
  • Jerry Phillips – Okay, she gets a pass b/c she studied psychology and now is working in technology…I just think that is cool.
  • Jack Stahl – Stahl seems like an interesting character – and interesting characters oftentimes bring something unique and powerful to a team. Note Stahl attended Burning Man, and while that is kind of mainstream, its also like the outstream portion of mainstream…nothing I plan on attending. 🙂 He also impressive technical experience from Yelp.
  • Avital Oliver – Wow. Look at this list: “started coding as a child”9This isn’t surprising, but it does indicate that technology runs in his blood…Something those who have it sometimes wish they could escape, but never can…the draw of tech. always calls them back when they attempt to pursue other ventures., “large-scale re-implementation of the Israeli Air Force tactical information system”10This probably means he’s an algorithmic genius…, and “founded the School of Mathematics in Brooklyn, NY”11Ummm…You don’t look this old dude.
  • Kris Rasmussen – Was “chief architect” at Aptana – an impressive company with impressive products. Don’t forget he co-founded RivalMap12A company somewhat in the same arena as Asana. and worked for numerous tech. companies including the (to some) tech mecca Microsoft.13I think Microsoft is impressive, and a ‘mecca’ though I don’t know much about their corporate culture. Yeah, they have been a pain at times but they’ve moved in some really great directions over the last number of years with much more openness…though this whole Windows 8 / HTML5 push…I’m not sure about.
  • Theresa Singh – Okay, can we get Theresa to write some articles for us on Post Colonial Literature? That’d be sweet, thanks. 🙂
  • Yup, I’m getting tired of ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the team Asana has assembled…but there are still a lot more folks who stick out on the team: Donnie Thompson (gourmet chef), S. Alex Smith (machine learning at Facebook), Jackie Bavaro (Google and Microsoft14Wait, is that allowed? Isn’t there some sort of “I will always be an enemy of (insert Google or Microsoft here) for as long as I am alive?”), David Braginsky (Facebook, Google, “numerous startups”), Andrew Watterson (Meebo), and Bella Kazwell (Gmail, Google+).15I apologize to those team members I didn’t mention explicitly – Stephanie Hornung, Tim Bavaro, Kenny Van Zant – I expect great things from you as well, I’m just not as personally familiar with your accomplishments.

Now, with such a great team I’ll admit I have some hesitation over Kenny Van Zant – but with the rest being so excellent – I imagine I am mistaken. Let me explain. My hesitation with Van Zant comes from his association with SolarWinds. I’ve used a number of their products – both free and trial – but always found them to be of that somewhat lumpy enterprise class that Asana is attempting to overcome. I also hate having to enter my contact information every time I want to download one of the products – free or trial…but I’m sure Van Zant is great and maybe he can put in a word to his friends at SolarWinds that the contact info. every download is annoying (maybe we could just create an account so we only have to enter the info. once…?) and provide some streamlining of the enterprise feature-set but sometimes clunky products (no, I haven’t actually used SolarWinds enough to give real feedback…I just know when I’ve tried them they haven’t been entirely intuitive or slim and I’ve found other options I like better).

Wow, this is a really long article…guess this is what happens when you can’t sleep from 4 a.m. till (now) 6:30 a.m. In any case, I’m going to sign off for the time being. I’m not 100% sold on Asana yet, I haven’t played with it enough – but I figured it might be helpful to compile the info. I’ve been compiling myself about Asana into one place…b/c I have OCD and do things like that. 😛

The Problems:

Okay, so I’m working through Asana and I’m seeing a few issues. Here is what I’ve found so far:

  • Asana does not support recurring tasks – this is a killer for me! They are apparently working on it currently…
  • The new workspace setting is a bit buried, there seems to be plenty of real-estate on the lower left where it is nested to display it directly.
  • It isn’t clear that keyboard shortcuts such as new task work only when  one is already in an existing task.

Features I’d Like to See:

Here is my wishlist:

  • [Still Unavailable: 6/12/13]: A Windows desktop application that would feel similar to Notepad…I don’t like having to even open a browser.
  • [Still Unavailable: 6/12/13]: Some form of chore assignment functionality similar to ChoreBuster.
  • [Available with Organizations, Not Workspaces: 6/12/13]: The ability to move tasks and projects between workspaces.
  • [Available with Organizations, Not Workspaces: 6/12/13]: Have projects and tasks which span workspaces.
  • Support for recurring tasks. This functionality has been added, though they are doing a “roll-out” which will take several weeks.
  • Native Android application.
  • Granular Permissions for Workspaces so one can allow individuals to see one project but not another, without barring everyone from access to a project.

For those interested in some further reading…Here are some good articles/posts: