Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On organization and focus

I have ADHD.  This is not a surprise to anyone who's known me for more than five minutes.  Someone who has ADHD, who wants to do something (like writing for a living) that requires significant focus, self-discipline, organization, consistency, habit, and all the other things that ADHD makes extremely difficult, has to come up with creative, adaptive solutions to get around ADHD's brain chemical problems and attendant cognitive and behavior difficulties. 

I've had mixed success creating and using coping mechanisms throughout my life.  Consistency hasn't been a hallmark of anything I've ever done, and that in itself is a problem with ADHD - even if you create coping mechanisms, you're still struggling against a brain that can't figure out how to stick with the program.  That's the crux, right there - ADHD is a problem that the brain needs to solve, but the tools it needs to use to solve it are the very ones being hampered by the ADHD.  

With writing, my problem is that I'll get an enthusiastic burst of motivation, and then the minute I hit a brick wall, the lights go out, I get distracted, and I just stop.  Even when I'm motivated, it's very easy to go, "Oh, well I'll just check this news site," and then...it's time for bed.  It's a dual problem of focus and consistency.  I have found it close to impossible to stick with a particular coping mechanism, system, or workaround for any length of time, enough to allow me to finish anything.     

Another problem is keeping track of what draft is the most current.  My computer desktop tends to be a confusing morass of disorganized folders copied over from previous computers, multiple copies of the same document, multiple folders called "Documents," and no real system of organization at all.  I've been noodling around with cloud-based storage services to aid me in writing on the go, but I'm always confused about whether they've updated properly, and if not, where my most current draft is.  And it's not like I've stuck with one cloud system - I've got Ubuntu One cloud storage, Asus cloud storage, Google Docs...so I've made my cloud as confusing and disorganized as everything else in my life.  And because I'm confused, that confusion serves as a convenient excuse for my brain to go, "Ah well, look over there at that shiny thing!"  And I don't get any writing done. 

Over the past week and a half, I've hacked my way into an organizational system for writing that seems to be working.  Its beauty lies in its simplicity, but also in the fact that I'm using my own love of gadgets as a motivating factor. 

I recently bought an Asus Transformer tablet running Android.  It's a little 10-inch touchscreen device that comes with a separate keyboard dock that clamps into it and turns it into a little netbook.  I'm using it now to write this post.  A nice thing about the tablet, besides the fact that it's shiny and fun to use, is that it's also very compact and easy to carry with me. 

I also have a big 15-inch laptop that has been my primary writing device for a couple of years now.  It works perfectly for that, but it's extremely heavy and not fun to carry around with me. 

Thus, what I've started doing is this.  I get up every morning about an hour before I have to start getting ready for work.  After a little bit of dithering, I sit down at my laptop and punch out at least some writing.  I don't worry about word count.  I just make sure that I write something. 

When I've hit a wall, or when it's time to get ready for work, I stop, save my progress, and copy the current draft of the document onto a USB thumb drive.  The thumb drive goes directly into a small pocket of a black shoulder bag I carry with me, into which is also placed my Android tablet. 

On my lunch break at work, I pull out the thumb drive and the tablet, and copy the most current draft over to the tablet.  I use the tablet's native (skeletal but useable) word processing program to do some more writing, and then I save my progress and copy the current draft back onto the USB thumb drive.  When I get home, I copy the current draft from the thumb drive to my laptop, on which I have created a folder called "Current Docs," into which the most current draft is copied.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

It sounds like a simple and blindingly obvious system that anyone with half a brain could figure out, and I'm sure millions of people are already using a similar system.  But for someone with ADHD, coming up with a consistent system that a) is simple to keep consistently organized, b) requires the development of a regular routine, and c) is designed to allow a maximum of writing while providing a minimum of valid excuses for not writing - coming up with a system that has all three elements is a revelation.  No clouds, no confusion, and I always have three copies of my most current draft, so it's also a system that backs itself up.

If I want to write for a living, I need to figure out how to streamline all of my routines and habits so that I don't have the excuse of saying, "that's too confusing...ooh shiny."  It may be that I don't stick with this system for as long as I'd like to think I will, but I'm going to give it the old college try. 
Note: I'm writing this using Blogger's mobile Android app, so please beware of typos - I can't find the spell check on this.