Stop forcing yourself to be normal and embrace the random of ADHD

TL;DR (Am I the only one who thinks that these should be at the top?) It seems most readings on how to deal with ADHD symptoms focus on strategies to make us conform to the way “normal” people function. I think there needs to be more of a focus on how ADHDers function in their own way and how we can use that to be extra productive.

In my latest therapy session, I found myself saying these words:

“I latched on to studying ADHD because I knew that my brain worked differently from other people. I figured that if I could learn how I can harness that different way of thinking, then I could use those strengths to solve all or most of my problems. Then it wouldn’t matter if all my furniture was on the ceiling or not, if it meant my house stayed clean, I would just become the quirky guy with furniture on his ceiling!”

You see, I have a huge problem with keeping my living and work space clean. For the most part it’s no problem for me. I know where everything is for the most part, and I’m comfortable working and living in that environment. It only becomes a problem when company comes by. I’m afraid they will be disgusted by my low standards of living and not want to associate with me, but that’s a different topic.

See, just about any research you do online for how to conquer your mess/clutter when you have ADHD seems to point to a single solution. Start small, simplify your task, and work in short bursts. This works for the most part. It allows you to tackle the mess, and get to a clean house. The problem is that the house never stays clean and before you know it we are tackling the mess again in short simple bursts.

That’s when we try and tackle the repetition problem by setting up ways to keep up with the maintenance. We put up checklists, set schedules, and attempt at making these smaller cleanups into new habits for ourselves. Essentially we are trying to force ourselves into behaving like any “normal” person would.

I first stumbled upon this behavior when I was living in my previous apartment. When I woke up in the morning I would walk over a pile of dirty laundry on the floor in the hall. I had a laundry hamper, but it was in my bedroom. The problem was that I didn’t feel like walking through my apartment half or fully naked to my room to place my dirty clothes in the hamper, so they just lived in the hallway until I did laundry. This, however, created a messy look in my apartment, and my cat had a random unfortunate tendency to think that it was an alternative to her litter box. I needed a simple and powerful solution.

That was when I thought to myself “If that’s where I’m throwing my laundry, then that must be where the laundry goes!” So I moved my hamper to fit my behavior. I had to eventually get a skinnier and taller hamper to make room in the hall, but the change had a great effect! I am now describing this behavior as “Embracing the Random”.

Fast forward to today. One of my posts on Reddit prompted a comment from someone in the community. It lead me to this article (We’re Driven by Attention — Not Lacking It) and the one linked inside about the idea of an Interest Driven Nervous System. In it was an interesting sentence that got me thinking:

“As he puts it (consequences be damned), [ADHDers] are only motivated if something is Novel, Interesting, Challenging, or Urgent.”

I considered that if that were true, I could use those attributes to make a priority system for my todo lists. At work I have been having trouble tackling my list of things todo because priorities kept shifting, and I wasn’t interested in certain projects, and I kept hitting road blocks in the projects I liked. Essentially I was being buried by my todo list at work and was anxiety locked, not knowing where to start. So I got to work on my new system instead, thinking that I would end up with something like Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix.

What I did find was very interesting. These four attributes have specific properties that affect my behavior. Interesting things will catch my eye and cause me to pay attention to them. These will be things that look abnormal, behave in a way that’s new to me, or are presented to me as a problem I could fix. These interesting things, upon further inspection, will usually lead me to something Novel. These will be things like a new way of thinking that I could learn from, or a simple game to get me better at something I want to be better at. Now, Challenges are different. I define those as something that gets in the way of normal function. In that case, Challenges are the road blocks in our tasks and projects, and the more challenging something is, the more frustrating it gets, and we ADHDers lose interest. So the “Challenge Value” negates the “Interesting Value” of a task. UNLESS the task is urgent. Urgency to a task will overwrite our ability to lose interest, because something of importance is at stake. Therefore the More urgent it is, the more we will dedicate time to it whether we want to or not.

Since I have a background in web design, I ended up thinking of this as program code. Here is what that looks like in psuedocode for those of you who have any interest:

i = Interesting
n = Novel
c = Challenging
u = Urgent

function ADHD {
	For (i = value; i >= 0 ; i--) {
		Do {
			If (taskCompleted) {
				return victorious
			} else if (i <= 0) {
				return defeated
		} while ((n - c) > 0 || u > 0)

function Work (N) {
	if ((N * random) > 50%) {
	If ((brickWall * random) > 50%) {

So… What does this all mean for tackling my todo list. Well, to start off, I took my list and started organizing it in the order of tasks I find most interesting. I also looked at the projects that had the most urgency value and moved them closer to the top. They didn’t get to the top at first despite them being urgent, but that’s because they depended on a few of the non urgent tasks (but more interesting) tasks above them. I think this worked in my favor, because it allowed me to work on more interesting tasks and make progress before I had to move to less interesting projects thereby boarding the “productivity train”. This small change in tactics, allowed me to get more work done in the past few days than I had in a while.

I still have a lot of work to do on this idea, but the progress I have made really helps to drive my point home. If we start using methods that support our ADHD behaviors instead of forcing us to behave the way “normal” people do, I think we will make far more comfortable progress and help WAY more people.

Embrace The Random