Planners: Your Processing Type

It’s December, and naturally we’re all thinking about the holidays (I hope last month helped you feel more prepared this year!) and about next year. What goals will we pursue? Should we even bother with New Year’s resolutions? Maybe this will be the year we finally get organized!

Well, this month I want to talk about planning and planners. Not so much goal setting and the like, though we may get into that at some point, but the actual processes of planning, choosing a planner, and creating systems that actually work for your particular challenges.

Pinnable image with four computer processor chips, each labelled with one of the four types described in this post.

Information Processing

The question of how your brain actually processes information can be described using a matrix:

 MacroMicro
Visual (also Audio)Everything Everywhere All At OnceColour-Coding
HiddenEverything in boxesBoxes within boxes

The planners you can buy tend to be for Micro-Hidden processors. They’re little books that you write in and carry with you, and everything is categorized and orderly, I don’t think it’s an accident that this is also the type of processor that most organizational systems are designed for. Somehow this Micro-Hidden style has become the expected “normal”, and I really don’t think it’s shocking that ADHDers tend to struggle to meet that expectation.

Most of us default to Macro-Visual, but if you think about the most functional part of your home or the type of planning you are actually good at, you’ll find which style is really “you”.

For example, I’m very much a Micro-Visual processor. I need auditory reminders, I like colour-coding my planner and my filing system, and even in the messiest parts of my home there are little pockets of organization where I have specific things in specific places.

You can also be a combination of types, just like with everything else. So as we go through strategies that may help with your executive dysfunction and planning-related issues, don’t worry too much about whether a given suggestion is meant for a specific type. More often than not, I’ll be describing the strategies as being good for either Macro or Micro processors, or as being good for either Visual or Hidden processors, rather than breaking it down into one of the four.

This idea isn’t mine. It’s from Clutterbug, a professional organizing company here in Canada. Cas (the owner) has done a show called “Hot Mess House” and she has a YouTube channel. She has ADHD, and her system for getting people’s homes organized is based on this concept. She calls each type of processor a different type of bug; I just distilled things into the base descriptors. Macro-Visual processors are “Butterflies”; Micro-Visual processors are “Bees”; Macro-Hidden processors are “Ladybugs”; and Micro-Hidden processors are “Crickets”. I highly recommend her web site and her quiz; doing the quiz is an easy way for you to figure out which type of processor you are!

The Best Planner for ADHD?

The axiom “the best planner for you is the planner you will use” is very true. I don’t think there’s one planner out there that will suit every single ADHDer, mostly because of the whole information processing thing. Couple that with our individual executive dysfunctions, and you have a lot of different planner needs. As a result, I think the most important thing is to identify the features that will help you the most and that suit your processing style, and look for a planning system that meets your needs in terms of both information processing and executive functioning. This system may end up being entirely digital, it may be entirely physical (written), or it may be a bit of both. What matters is that it works for you.

In general, though, a planning system needs to have the following features to make it truly useful:

  1. A calendar so you can keep track of the date, deadlines, schedules, appointments, etc.
  2. A way to keep track of your tasks, ideas, etc.

Everything else is dependent on your specific needs.

My Planner Needs

I’ve used a lot of different systems over the year, and now I make my own pages because I can’t find what I need in-store or even online.

As a Micro-Visual processor, I like to have things categorized and sorted, but I need everything in front of me at once. My husband and my child are both Macro-Visual processors, though my husband may be more of a Hidden processor in some ways and more of a Micro processor in other ways. But this means that a highly visual family calendar is most beneficial, and that keeping schedules and tasks visual for both of them—not to mention hard to miss—is essential.

You may have different needs, depending on which type of processor you are. This week’s printable is designed to help you assess your previous planning attempts, so you can start to really get a feel for what helps you and what doesn’t. Next week we’ll look at features that may help with the different executive functions. My hope is that by the end of December this year, you will better understand how you process information and what kinds of systems and strategies are most likely to help you with your specific executive dysfunctions.

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Holiday Disruption & ADHD: Planned Presents

Okay, so gifts aren’t really all that disruptive, but it can be challenging to figure out what to give people while staying within budget. So let’s look at how to decide what to give and how to keep from breaking the bank.

Pinnable image with a Christmas tree that has a bunch of wrapped presents underneath it.

What to Give

The first thing you need to know is who you’re giving gifts to. And by that, I don’t just mean their names. You need to know what they like to do, what their interests are, etc. Who are they?

Once you know who you’re giving gifts to, you need to start noticing your options when you’re out and about. I like to take pictures of specific items with the price visible, so I can look at my ideas when I’m not in the store. It’s also worth talking to the people you’ll be giving gifts to. Ask them what kinds of things they would like to receive, what kinds of things they like to do (so you can give an experience rather than a thing), etc. Maybe they have a wishlist at their favourite store (or on Amazon). If you’re looking at baby gifts or wedding gifts, maybe they have a registry somewhere or a colour scheme they’d like people to observe.

Think about your skills next. You may be able to make really special, personalized gifts for your friends and family. For example, I relearned how to knit and learned to crochet in 2009, and that Christmas I made everyone in my family a toque (“beanie”; knitted winter cap) using their favourite colours. In 2005 when my middle brother was ordained a priest (in the Anglican Church of Canada), I made him a red preaching stole with hand-embroidered symbols (my own design), and it wound up being hand-stitched as well (and about half of that was done by my oldest brother while I was driving us to the service).

I actually don’t enjoy dealing with Christmas and birthdays even though I love giving gifts. That sounds weird, I’m sure, but it makes loads of sense! Why? Because what I really want to do is just give incidental gifts. If I see something that I know a friend or family member would love, then I want to just get it and give it to them right away. Just ask a few of my long-distance friends about the little things I’ve sent to them out of the blue.

How to Budget

I’m planning to do a whole series of posts on finances next year, so I’m only going to talk about how to keep costs down (or at least reasonable) when buying gifts.

The first thing to do is decide how much you can afford to spend overall. Obviously it’s best to set a bit aside each month for different types of gifts, but since we’re really focusing on Christmas (winter holidays) right now, and we’re looking at about three weeks until you need to have the presents ready to go, we’re going to talk about last-minute gifts this week.

When you know your total budget, you can decide how much to spend per person. I like to use multiples of $5 per person because it’s easier to math, and I usually expect to spend more per adult than per child. If money is particularly tight, you could decide to give family gifts instead of individual gifts. For example, I could decide to give my youngest brother and his family a board game like Candyland (his kids are the right age for that) and my middle brother and his family (they have four kids, and the oldest is a teenager while the youngest is early elementary) might enjoy a family activity like a cooperative board game, a set of plain dishes and foodsafe paints, or a family pass to the nearest science centre.

If you’re going to make gifts, you need to think about how long it will take to make each thing, as well as how much the materials will cost. Yarn can be very expensive, but you can cut those costs if you have a large stash built up to choose from. Same with fabric for sewn items. Paint can also cost a fair bit, but one tube will do more than one item. One of the art YouTubers I like to watch, Mira Byler, painted 30 wooden tree ornaments in a recent video. She already has loads of different types of paint, so the immediate cost for something like that would be the cost of the ornaments and the ribbon for people to use to hang them up. If you’re doing something like that, you can easily personalize them. And all it’ll cost you is a bit of time and a few materials you can probably buy in bulk.

When to Wrap

My family is notorious for our “family wrapping paper” being the bag from the store the gift was bought at. Not at Christmas (usually), but birthday gifts are usually just in the store bag. I don’t recommend this method of wrapping gifts unless you and your loved ones are like us and have a warped sense of humour.

We are also notorious for waiting to wrap gifts until we’re at my parents’. Why, you ask? Because my dad saves the wrapping paper (we are not allowed to rip wrapping paper off our gifts) and it is kept in a couple of bins, along with labels and gift bags and so on. So we bring gifts to my parents’ and then we find a time when we can be alone with the gifts and the wrapping paper stash, and we wrap and label the presents.

If you don’t have a stash of wrapping paper and/or you’re not travelling for the holidays this year, I recommend using gift bags and tissue paper instead of wrapping paper. You can usually find great gift bags at the dollar store!

So when should you wrap the gifts? Honestly, it may be best to wrap them as you bring them home. Just make sure you label them and have a good place to keep them where you won’t forget about them but also won’t have to deal with other people trying to guess at their contents.

I don’t have a printable for you this week, but if you would like one to guide you through this process, let me know in the comments on this post and I will see what I can do.

Next month we’re going to talk about planning and planners, particularly as they relate to and are affected by executive dysfunction.

Holiday Disruption & ADHD: Tumultuous Travel

Of all the things that happen during the holidays, travel is one of the worst for disrupting our lives. ADHDers are notorious for struggles with packing and timeliness, not to mention how many of us just get lost on our way somewhere!

Let’s talk about how to know what to bring, how to be on time for flights (or the bus), and how to make sure we get where we want to go.

Pinnable image with a photo of an over-stuffed suitcase.

Packing for a Trip

There are a few questions you need to know the answers to before you can pack for a trip:

  1. How many days will you be gone?
  2. Is there anything special you need to bring (e.g., a special outfit, gifts)?
  3. Will you be able to do laundry while you’re away?
  4. What is the weather supposed to be like while you’re there?

The answers to these questions will help inform how many clothes you need to bring and what else you need to pack. Let’s break down the categories.

Clothes

If you can do laundry while you’re away, you can bring fewer clothes than if you can’t do laundry. But let’s look at this from the most practical angle.

The best way to keep your luggage down but have plenty of options for what to wear is to pack separates. You’ll probably want the following:

  • 2-3 bottoms
  • 4-6 tops that all go with all of your bottoms
  • 1 pair of underwear per day of your trip
  • 1 pair of socks per day of your trip
  • pyjamas
  • 1 dressy outfit for any more formal events (e.g., party, church service) you will attend–this doesn’t need to be separates
  • any other items you need (e.g., bras)
  • slippers if you wear them
  • shoes for everyday that go with your separates
  • shoes for your dressy outfit
  • proper outerwear for the weather (e.g., winter coat, rain jacket, windbreaker)
  • wallet/purse

Remember, unless an item of clothing is dirty or smelly, you can wear it again. If you don’t want to wear the exact same outfit more than one day, that’s why you have more tops than bottoms. Mix and match and you’re golden.

Toiletries

How many times have you forgotten to bring a toothbrush on a trip? I have a great way to avoid that.

I have a toiletries bag that I keep packed.

Yes, it means I have two of some things, but it means that when I’m going somewhere all I need to do is grab the bag, toss in the stuff I only have one of, and I’m good.

Here’s what I keep in my toiletries bag:

  • toothbrush
  • travel-size toothpaste
  • travel-size shampoo
  • travel-size conditioner
  • dental floss
  • travel-size body wash
  • razor
  • hair elastics

Other things you can keep in your toiletries bag:

  • travel-size shaving cream
  • brush and/or comb
  • travel-size hair products (e.g., hair spray, mousse)
  • deodorant

When you’re packing to go on a trip, add any jewelry or makeup you need to have with you. Unless you travel a lot, I don’t recommend keeping makeup in your toiletries bag, since it will probably expire before you get proper use out of it.

Other Stuff

Other things you might want to bring on a trip include homework if you’re in school, books to read, hobbies that you enjoy (and don’t take up a lot of space), gifts for family and/or friends you’ll see, and electronics–including chargers–like a laptop or tablet.

The best way to keep this under control is to choose a bag to carry things in and keep it contained to that one bag. This will make it easier to keep track of what you’ve brought, because less stuff and fewer bags to keep track of means you’ll do better at remembering to take it home with you. If you’re doing gifts, you might want a second bag for gifts, which can then house any gifts you receive on the way home.

Number of bags

If you’re flying, you need to keep everything to a minimum, so you’ll want to keep the gifts small and fit them in your suitcase with your clothes and toiletries, and then use your carry-on bag for your activities and electronics.

If your mode of transportation doesn’t charge for extra luggage (e.g., you’re driving), you can use a box for gifts and a bag for activities, and have your suitcase as well.

Keeping Track

When you’re at your destination, you’ll need to keep track of your things so you don’t forget to bring it all home with you. I recommend having a checklist for everything that you brought so you can consult it while packing to leave, but there are a few more tricks you can use.

  1. Keep your clothes in the suitcase. If you need to hang something up, keep your suitcase in the same area as the closet. To separate dirty clothes from clean, I use that pocket that goes across the back of my suitcase to hold dirty underwear and socks, but you could use any other way of separating your clothes within the suitcase (e.g., other pockets in the suitcase, a space-saving packing bag).
  2. Keep your toiletries bag in the bathroom and the items from it in the bag or nearby (anything you use in the shower will need to dry off before you return it to the toiletries bag).
  3. When you finish using something, put it back in the bag you’ll be transporting it in. This keeps it all together and you’ll be less likely to forget it.

Being on time

It’s so easy for us to be late for things like flights. Here are my best tips for being on time when traveling.

  1. Know when you need to be at your destination or the airport (or other transportation hub).
  2. Know how long it will take to travel to your destination or transportation hub (wherever you’re going from your house). This will tell you when you need to leave.
  3. If you’re taking a plane or other mode of transportation, consider calling ahead for a taxi or shuttle to take you to the transportation hub. You tell the taxi service when you need to be at the airport (or whatever) and they send the cab for the right time based on traffic and so on.
  4. Pack the day before you’re leaving so all you have to do is load the car.

Finding Places

A map is a great thing. If you have trouble reading a map, GPS is an excellent substitution. Take note of things like landmarks to help you remember where to turn and stuff. Getting specific directions can also be really helpful, but make sure they’re written down so you don’t forget them.

This week’s printable is meant to help you make your packing checklist and figure out when to leave. I hope it helps you have a great holiday!

Holiday Disruption & ADHD: Sloppy Sleep

Sleep is notoriously difficult for ADHDers. Either we find it hard to fall asleep because our minds are racing or we forget to go to bed until we’re falling asleep sitting/standing up. All the traditional advice to solve these problems revolve around “sleep hygiene” (because hygiene in general is so easy) or bedtime routines.

What really sucks is that sleep is vital for optimal brain function, so when our sleep is messed up our brains don’t work as well as they might otherwise, which means that our symptoms are harder to manage.

Now add in the disruption of the holiday season.

Is it any wonder that we get overwhelmed so much more easily during the holidays?

A pinnable image of a child climbing the stairs to go to bed.

How much sleep do we really need?

When my son was born, I took some time to really look into the question of how much sleep we need. It’s definitely more than we think!

In general, if you’re getting less than 7 hours a night, you’re sleep deprived. How sleep deprived depends on your age:

Age groupRecommended amount of sleep
Infants 4 months to 12 months12 to 16 hours per 24 hours, including naps
1 to 2 years11 to 14 hours per 24 hours, including naps
3 to 5 years10 to 13 hours per 24 hours, including naps
6 to 12 years9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
13 to 18 years8 to 10 hours per 24 hours
Adults7 or more hours a night
Chart from The Mayo Clinic, at link given above.

Of course, there are other things that impact your sleep. Interruptions (like when you have small children) and hormonal changes (like with pregnancy or menopause) affect your sleep quality, age affects how well you sleep, and sleep deprivation increases your sleep needs.

What’s the point of sleep?

We actually don’t know all of the reasons we need sleep, but we do know a few things.

Perhaps the biggest reason is that our brains build up toxins during the day–all that thinking and firing neurons and so on creates a bunch of waste–and those toxins can’t be disposed of while we’re awake and creating more.

We also know that a lack of sleep contributes to a number of health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and mood disorders. On top of that, sleep deprivation can often look a lot like ADHD because it affects the frontal lobe (where executive functions are managed). That’s why a sleep study may be part of the assessment process. (It is important that the professionals involved understand that ADHDers tend to have difficulty sleeping properly anyway.)

Sleep Problems and ADHD

The biggest issue ADHDers tend to have with sleep is struggling with actually falling asleep because our minds are racing. We just can’t turn that off.

Other problems ADHDers seem to experience more often than non-ADHDers include:

  • forgetting to go to bed due to hyperfocus;
  • not getting tired due to messed up melatonin production; and
  • non-24 sleep-wake disorder (N24–your circadian rhythm isn’t on a 24-hour schedule).

That Racing Thoughts Problem

Some good ways to get your brain to finally shut off and go to sleep include putting your imagination to good use and telling yourself a story; reading a book until you’re actually sleepy; and doing some kind of puzzle book until you’re sleepy. All of these things can be done in bed with the lights off, using a bedside lamp to illuminate your book if necessary.

That Hyperfocus Problem

The biggest problem I’ve found here is that it’s difficult to predict what is going to trigger hyperfocus. Setting alarms to remind yourself that it’s bedtime can be helpful with that, as long as they’re alarms you won’t ignore. Creating an evening routine that will get you to bed at a good hour (based on when you need to be up in the morning) can also help with this, particularly if your routine doesn’t include activities that you tend to hyperfocus on. For example, including reading in my evening routine would be foolish, as I’m likely to simply stay up all night reading!

That Melatonin Problem

Melatonin tends to be the first thing people suggest whenever someone says they’re having sleep issues. And it can certainly help you get to sleep and stay asleep, as long as you follow the guidelines. However, it’s important to know that you may need a very small amount (smaller than the pills sold in-store are, so you’ll have to cut them), and that there can be weird side effects. Remember, “natural” doesn’t mean “totally safe”!

When you’re taking melatonin (or any sleep-related medication), you need to take it around half an hour before you want to be asleep, and then you need to be in bed ready to sleep before you hit that mark. If you miss it, you might as well have not even bothered taking it. If your dose is too high or too low, you may wake up multiple times in the night or you may have disturbing dreams.

When I tried melatonin, I found that I couldn’t get the dose to where it helped me fall asleep but didn’t give me weird dreams. (When I say “weird” or “disturbing” dreams, I don’t mean nightmares, though some people have had that experience. Mine weren’t nightmares, but they did tend to be gory–just not scary.) When the dose was too high, I woke up in the night but did find it easy to fall back asleep.

That N24 Problem

N24 sleep disorders require consultation with a sleep specialist. I am definitely not able to provide assistance with this beyond recommending you keep track of your sleep as best you can if you think you have an N24 sleep disorder, so you have lots of data to present to your doctor.

What About the Holidays?

I don’t know about you, but during the holidays I have more trouble than usual following a sleep schedule. There are fewer demands during the day, and more fun things to do with family and friends in the evening. When my whole family is together, my brothers and I are prone to talking until the wee hours, solving world hunger and all that; when I was a kid, if I was sharing a room with a cousin, we’d stay up and talk all night.

What I’ve noticed is that my in-laws prefer an earlier bedtime, and I am considering trying to take my cue from them next time we’re all together. Other than that, the best thing to do is to get a solid routine in place and then create a contingency plan (as per two weeks ago) to follow as needed.

This week’s printable is meant to help you keep track of your sleep and figure out what helps you get enough sleep. There is a tracking chart included, as well as a worksheet to use for developing a functional bedtime routine for yourself. You’ll also find some information about good sleep hygiene, such as when to shut off your devices and what to drink before bed. I hope it’s useful for you and for your doctor, should you decide to seek help with your sleep issues!

Holiday Disruption & ADHD: Messy Mealtimes

Remember those four things that heavily impact how difficult your ADHD symptoms are to manage? Diet, sleep, exercise, and stress. This series as a whole is about lowering your holiday-related stress levels, which should help somewhat. Part of lowering your stress levels, like we discussed last week, is maintaining your routines.

This week, we’re going to talk about diet.

About Diet & ADHD

First, my disclaimer: I am not any kind of medical or nutrition professional. I am not offering advice regarding the actual content of your diet beyond general suggestions based on the nutritional guidelines adopted by most food and health related services in Canada and the United States. Always consult your doctor and/or a dietician before making any big changes to your overall diet. And of course, eat what you enjoy eating that fits within whatever dietary constraints you may have (e.g., food allergies, food intolerances, food sensitivities).

Now that’s out of the way…

You’ll find lots of information online about dietary intervention for ADHD. Some of it is supported by science, but a lot of it isn’t. The problem is that a lot of the unsupported ADHD-related diet stuff tends to be offered up as a way to cure ADHD. Which it isn’t, because ADHD isn’t caused by food allergies or sensitivities. But dealing with those food allergies or sensitivities, if you have any, can make your ADHD easier to manage. For example, studies have shown that people with food allergies or something like celiac disease may have some cognitive problems similar to those seen in ADHD. However, those problems disappear once their diets have been adjusted, and they obviously do not actually have ADHD. Of course, if you do have ADHD and one of those food-related issues that causes brain fog (etc.), then adjusting your diet will help with the food-related symptoms, but you will still have executive dysfunction.

In general, the best diet for ADHD is a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and a little extra protein. Not a low-carb diet necessarily–your brain actually requires glucose in order to function–but protein actually provides more energy over a longer period of time, and it has other nutrients that ADHDers can need more of, such as iron. And yes, you can eat extra protein if you’re vegetarian or vegan; meat is not required.

If you’re really confused about what will be best for you and your health, find a registered dietician and discuss your diet with them. This can be pricy, but it’s worth it for your overall health and functioning. I do recommend a dietician over a nutritionist, though a nutritionist may be cheaper, because dieticians have professional guiding bodies that ensure ethical practice and give you somewhere to go if you think your dietician has done something they shouldn’t. Meanwhile, in a lot of places the term “nutritionist” isn’t regulated at all, so someone may not have any food science education whatsoever.

Okay, let’s talk holidays and food.

Meal Messiness

I don’t know about you, but I forget to eat. There are a bunch of reasons for this, all related to my ADHD:

  1. I might get hungry but be hyperfocused and forget to get food.
  2. I might make food and forget about it until there’s no time to eat.
  3. I might not get hungry at all (sometimes due to medication, sometimes my body is just weird).
  4. I might be hungry but unable to find anything I actually want to eat.

On top of that, I also tend to overeat. Again, there are a bunch of reasons for this, all related to my ADHD:

  1. I might seek out high-carb food like chips and candy for a quick hit of glucose for my brain.
  2. I might snack absentmindedly while watching TV/YouTube, reading, or doing something creative.
  3. I might have extra helpings of something that tastes really good.
  4. I might be extra hungry after not eating all day (see above).

I’m also notoriously bad at figuring out what to make for lunch. Breakfast is easy, and I’m good at supper, but I’m not a sandwich person and need things to be easy in the middle of the day.

Basically, food is already chaotic for me, and I bet it is for a lot of other ADHDers. Add in holiday disruption, and you’re going to struggle even more.

So how to handle holiday disruption and food?

Set Alarms

Those little hand-held computers we all carry in our pockets these days can be fantastic for reminding us to eat. I even found this great little app called EatWise (not sponsored, not affiliated) that will remind me to eat at specified intervals. It’s free and available for both iOS and Android.

Carry Snacks

Keep snacks nearby. Things like granola bars, trail mix, fresh fruit, cheese strings, and yogurt cups can be great options. Eating something that combines carbs, fat, and protein will help keep you going when you’re hungry but not able to have a full meal.

Drink Meal Replacement Shakes

If you’re struggling with eating actual food, a high-protein meal replacement shake (e.g., Boost) can be a decent option. This should really be a once in a while kind of thing, but it’s worth keeping some around just in case.

Plan Your Meals

Meal planning sounds hard, but it’s probably not as hard as you think it is. In fact, I’m going to suggest you keep it as simple as possible. There’s a bit of work to do to get it set up, but then it’ll be easy to maintain. There are a few different ways to make this work for you, depending on whether you’re hosting others or visiting. So let’s look at the general set up first.

Set Yourself up for Success

In general, you probably have food that you like to eat. You also have meals that you’re good at making. Start there. Write everything down. Don’t worry about anything except writing down the food you like to eat and like to make. Microwave dinners are absolutely an option.

If you’re responsible for feeding more people than just yourself (e.g., you have children, you’re the primary meal-maker in your family), do the same for each person you need to feed.

Once you have your list, you’re going to sort it. For whole foods like potatoes, carrots, steak, etc. you’ll divide them into proteins (include dairy products here), fruits & vegetables, and carbohydrates (grains & potatoes). Put candy, chocolate, chips, and other “junk food” in their own group. Your final grouping will be for full meals, like casseroles and microwave dinners. Full meals are things you can’t really separate into the individual components. Meal replacement shakes go here.

If you’re feeding more people, sort their lists of food as well. Then compare the sorted lists and create a master list of all of the foods that appear on everyone’s lists. You’re going to want to use this master list for any meals that you will all be eating. Be sure to note any food allergies or sensitivities; you don’t want to make anyone sick.

You now have what you need for meal planning.

everyday meal planning

I don’t think it makes sense for ADHDers to make strict meal plans. Life is way too unpredictable for that! Instead, use the components on your master list as your basic grocery list. These are the staples–basic meal building blocks you want to keep on hand, so you can easily feed yourself (and others) based on what you feel like eating and what you’re up to cooking. Doing things this way also lets you shop the sales at your local grocery store. Stock up on your staples when they’re on sale, and that way you’ll always be able to make food you like without spending too much.

when you go to make a meal

When you are going to make something to eat, you can look at your list to see what your options are. Choose something that sounds like it will taste good and fits your current cooking ability. For a meal that isn’t from your full meals category, you want to choose a protein, at least one vegetable or fruit, and a carbohydrate. The “balanced plate” illustration most government sources use suggests half your plate should be vegetables, a quarter should be protein, and a quarter should be carbohydrates. I agree with this, though a little more than a quarter of your plate being protein is also good.

Remember that a snack is just a really small meal.

when you have guests

If you’re hosting people, you may be responsible for keeping them fed. If so, get them to make lists of their favourite foods and meals before they come, so you can compare their lists with your master list and adjust your staples for the time they’re there. It’s also a really good idea to check if anyone needs to eat at particular times, such as if they have diabetes, so that you can figure out how to make sure that happens for them.

when you’re the visitor

Now that you have your master list, you can pass a copy along to your hosts so they can plan meals more easily. It’s also a good idea to ask if there is a set schedule for meal times, since that will help you know if you’re going to need snacks.

hosting a festive meal

If you’re going to host, ask your guests to bring side dishes, and you provide the protein. If you have to provide all of the food yourself, figure out the timing early so that on the day you know what to do when, and make some things ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about them on the day of the meal.

This week’s printable is all about meal planning. The first two pages will guide you through the process of creating your master list of meals and meal components (print these two pages for every person you need to feed). The rest of the document is about planning a festive meal. I hope this will help lower your stress!

Holiday Disruption & ADHD: Broken Routines

Something I don’t see discussed often enough is how much we ADHDers can get thrown off by a disruption to our routines, even when the disruption is fun or positive. Since the USA has Thanksgiving later this month (Canada had Thanksgiving in October) and Christmas will be a month after that, I thought this would be a great time to talk about strategies to deal with the many ways in which the holidays can screw us over.

Let’s start with routines.

Pinnable image for this post. A picture of a checklist on a clipboard with a cracked egg on it.

yes, you have routines!

Routines seem like the impossible dream a lot of the time, but I’m here to tell you that you have some, even if you think you don’t.

Do you always brush your teeth after you shower in the morning? That’s a really simple routine.

Do you always have spaghetti for supper on Wednesdays? Also a basic routine.

What typically happens is that we fall into routines almost by accident. Most people talk about routines as being these intentional things, but for us they’re more like magic, and they can poof really easily.

The easiest way I know to find out what your routines are is to actually write down what you do, in order, every day for a while. You don’t need to keep track of the time or anything, just the stuff you do. When you have at least three weekdays, you can compare the days and see what things you do in the same order every day.

Those are your routines.

Because a real routine is a collection of habits that are chained together, it’s not something we think about when we do it. It’s just what we do. The thing is, routines give us structure, which is something we struggle with. (See last month’s posts for why that’s hard. Executive dysfunction sucks.)

So when holidays come–or anything that disrupts our usual lives–those routines get disrupted, and it can be really hard to recover from that disruption. And the resulting lack of structure is stressful, which can make our ADHD symptoms harder to manage.

routine disruption

Routines can be disrupted in a lot of different ways during the holidays. Work and school are often cancelled, or if you work in retail you have extra hours. You might have houseguests. You may travel to visit family or friends. In some instances, your routines can continue as usual. In others, things are so out of the ordinary that you can’t maintain them at all.

So how do you mitigate this disruption?

figure out a minimal version

Try looking at your established routine and pull out the activities that feel most important to complete. That’s your minimal version of your routine. It can function as your alternate routine when time is short.

pick a different time

Maybe you can’t do your routine at its usual time, but maybe you can do it at a different time of day. Figure out whether that routine needs to be done when you currently complete it or if it can be moved.

do something else to get the same result

What is the point of the routine in question? Is there another way you can get that result? For example, if your morning routine isn’t going to work in full when you’re visiting your family because you can’t shower due to how many people are competing for the bathroom at that time, maybe you can break up the routine and move showering to a different time of day (see previous heading), or maybe you can clean yourself using wipes or a washcloth instead.

Do you have any other suggestions for ways to manage when your routines are disrupted? Please share in the comments!

This week’s printable is meant to help you figure out what your routines are, get an idea of what kinds of things might disrupt those routines, and come up with contingency plans for said disruption. As a bonus, I’ve included a worksheet to help you add new habits to your established routines.

Next week we’ll start looking at planning for the holidays. Disruption is easier to handle if you know what to expect, and that’s what planning is good for.

Back to Basics IV – Succeeding with ADHD?

We’re going to finish this month of ADHD Awareness by talking about success. What is success? Why do some people seem to achieve success while others struggle constantly? Is success really possible with ADHD?

In order, my short answers are: that depends; it’s all about support; and yes, but.

So let’s get into it.

What is success?

suc*cess noun 1 the accomplishment of an aim; a favourable outcome (their efforts met with success). 2 the attainment of wealth, fame, or position (spoiled by success). 3 a thing or person that turns out well. [Latin successus (as succeed)]

The Canadian Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

Society tends to consider the second definition the only type of success that matters; I would say that the third is the most important, because it is about a person’s character rather than their material gains.

But the reason I say that success doesn’t have a single answer (that’s what I mean by “that depends”) is that first definition. “The accomplishment of an aim” is individual. You decide on what you want to accomplish, and you put in the effort to achieve that goal. Which means you get to define your own success.

I encourage you to think about what kinds of things you truly care about. What does success really look like for you? Maybe it is that second definition, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe “success” for you is having lots of good friends who know they can depend on you and who you can depend on in times of need. Maybe it’s being a good parent and raising children that meet that third definition. Maybe it’s much smaller than any of that and it’s simply about living each day the best you can and treating others with kindness and understanding. That’s the point: success is subjective, and you get to decide what it is for you and your life.

Why do some people achieve success while others struggle?

You know that old saying, “Behind every successful man is a woman?” Well, that’s what I mean when I say that it’s all about support. Not that women need to support men to succeed; rather, I mean that all people require support from others in order to succeed. That’s why we stan rags to riches stories: people who rise above their starting place, especially without lots of support, are our heroes.

The fact that everyone needs support for something is an important one to remember, though. It’s not wrong or bad to need support, it’s human. It’s just that some people need more support than others for specific things, and unfortunately the stuff ADHDers struggle with—executive functions—tend to be things that contribute to success, particularly as the world defines it.

It’s also totally possible that people the world considers to be unsuccessful have actually achieved the success they wanted. You don’t know if you don’t ask.

Can ADHDers succeed?

Yes, ADHDers can be successful in business, in life, in love, etc.

But.

ADHD means we’ll probably have to define success to mean something specific and personal to us, that takes our particular flavour of ADHD into account.

ADHD means we’ll need to adapt our road to success based on our particular interests, skills, challenges, and strengths.

ADHD means we’ll probably need people to support us in our less-than-stellar executive functions.

If you look at the ADHDers touted as successes, you’ll see a few commonalities, and if you really dig you’ll probably realize the following:

  1. They’re successful in a field they reliably hyperfocus on; and
  2. They have people around them who handle the stuff they aren’t good at, from Executive and Personal Assistants to manage schedules and tasks, to cooks and cleaning staff (or a spouse who is good at those things).

So define success for yourself, and then think about ways you might get there. Your path doesn’t need to be linear. It doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s path. Your success also doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s success. Figure out what matters most to you, and make it happen.

This week’s printable has been around for a couple of years at this point; it’s a worksheet designed to help you work on this very thing. It actually goes with a couple of YouTube videos I did on the topic of ADHD and life dreams, so go watch those, too.

I look forward to learning about your definition of success and how you’re going to achieve it!

Back to Basics III – Treatments for ADHD

So far this month, we’ve talked about what ADHD is and looked at executive dysfunction—both the good and the bad.

Obviously, we’re looking at more bad than good. One clearly-defined criterion for psych diagnoses is the requirement that symptoms cause distress/make it hard or impossible to accomplish necessary activities of daily living.

But once you have the diagnosis, or once you think you might have ADHD, what can you do about these challenges? Russell Barkley says that ADHD is the most treatable disorder, but what does that really mean?

Pinnable image for this post, with illustrations of a bunch of different types of treatment for various medical conditions.

The Big Four

The first things to look at when considering your ADHD symptoms are diet, exercise, sleep, and stress. Keeping these within healthy ranges will generally help your brain and body function at their best, and that will give whatever treatments you attempt the best chance at helping you manage your symptoms.

diet

A good diet that has lots of protein (not like ridiculously high, just higher than average) is important for good brain function. Other important components here include Omega-3 fatty acids (found in eggs and fish, for the most part; vegans can find it in walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and edamame) and plenty of vegetables, as well as complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat bread and pasta, beans, potatoes).

Exercise

Regular exercise (especially cardio) is amazingly good for your brain! It wakes up your entire body and keeps dopamine in your system, which is great since dopamine is one of the primary neurotransmitters involved in ADHD. When you exercise regularly, you also make it easier for those dopamine levels to remain higher for longer periods of time.

Sleep

When we sleep, our bodies do a bunch of things like healing and rejuvenating. Our brains do that, but they also work through all of the events of the day, committing things to long-term memory and stuff like that. We need to make sure we’re getting at least eight hours of sleep per night to make sure our brains are functioning at their best.

Stress

Stress, even positive stress, increases cortisol in the body and makes it harder to function normally. Keeping yourself on an even keel can actually help your symptoms a lot, as long as you don’t let things also get boring!

formal diagnosis required

Most of the things you can do to help you manage your ADHD symptoms don’t require a formal diagnosis, but some things do. Namely, accommodations at work or school, and medication.

Medication

Medication is still the first (and sometimes only) place people turn. It’s very well-researched, and its effects are fairly well-known. There are many different types of medication available for ADHD treatment, so don’t stop after one failure. There is a fantastic chart linked in the sidebar that outlines the different applicable medications, their typical doses, and expected side effects. It doesn’t go in-depth, but it does give a solid base to work from. I recommend you share it with your doctor.

A good treatment plan will not involve medication only. If you ever have to stop taking medication, you will require strategies to help you maintain your lifestyle. It’s better to establish those strategies while you’re taking effective medication than to wait until you don’t have that support.

Accommodations

Accommodations are things that help you succeed. For example, wearing noise-cancelling headphones if you work in a cubicle so that you can focus on your work; having extensions for school assignment due dates; writing exams in a private room; or bringing a Tangle (quiet fidget toy) to work meetings. You do need a formal diagnosis of ADHD to access accommodations, and you will need to register with your school’s resource teacher (for grade school) or disability centre (for post-secondary), or discuss needed accommodations with HR. None of this guarantees you accommodations, but it is more likely.

Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback needs to be individualized and administered by a trained practitioner. It uses a variety of computer-based activities to retrain your brain in specific areas of functioning. I do not have personal experience with it yet, but I know a few people who have had good results and hope to finally get the paperwork in so that I can do it soon.

No Diagnosis Needed

The rest of your options can be accessed without a formal diagnosis. I’ve listed them here with what my experience has shown is most effective at the top. That doesn’t mean that the options lower on the list won’t be helpful for you, it just means that I didn’t find them useful.

ADHD Coaching

ADHD coaches help you learn, develop, and implement strategies that work for you, so that you can better manage your ADHD symptoms and be able to do well if you have to stop taking medication. Do be careful about who you hire; coaching is not a regulated profession, so look for someone who has a good track record and has done training in life coaching as well as education in ADHD.

Talk Therapy

Sometimes you have a lot of stuff you need to work through, so this can be very helpful, whether you see a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Many professionals in this field will use elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a type of behavioural therapy where the practitioner (a psychologist or social worker with training in CBT) helps you think through your behaviours and come up with better ways to react to different situations.

Meditation

If you’re able to meditate, this can be really helpful in getting your mind centred and teaching your brain to actually concentrate or focus on what you want it to.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about getting us to focus on the actual now and the immediate future, rather than dwelling on the past or thinking really far into the future. Being truly present in the moment instead of jumping ahead in conversations or tuning out because something else caught our attention.

Supplements

Krill oil (or other fish oil), rhodiola, reishi, and other supplements can be helpful in promoting optimum functioning. Dr Amen also has some suggestions in his book Healing ADHD. (This is the only thing I would suggest Dr Amen for. Many of his ideas, including the many types of ADHD, are fringe.)

Disclaimer: I am not a medical or other type of health care professional. This post is meant to serve as an overview of the different treatments available to ADHDers, not a recommendation or endorsement of any one course of treatment in particular.

There are probably other treatments that I’m not aware of yet. Please comment with anything you’re aware of that isn’t covered in this post.

This week’s printable is a long one, but it’s designed to help you keep track of your various treatment attempts and how they affect your symptoms. It’s fillable, so I recommend saving it before you start filling it out, and name it whatever treatment you’re going to be tracking. You can also print it and keep it in a binder, and bring it with you to your appointments.

Back to Basics II – Types of ADHD

There are three types of ADHD: Inattentive Type (ADHD-I), Hyperactive/Impulsive Type (ADHD-HI), and Combined Type (ADHD-C). Is it really as simple as this, though? Well, sort of. Let’s talk about it.

Pinnable image for this post, featuring a person running up a flight of stairs towards a light bulb.

The first thing to remember is that ADHD is diagnosed based on observed behaviours. The second thing to remember is that the division between the types is really kind of arbitrary. The third thing to remember is that which kind you’re diagnosed with has nothing to do with what treatments will or will not be helpful for you, because regardless of what type you have, it’s still all caused by a problem with your executive functioning.

ADHD-I Symptoms

  • Makes careless mistakes/lacks attention to detail
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  • Fails to follow through on tasks and instructions
  • Exhibits poor organization
  • Avoids/dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  • Loses things necessary for tasks/activities
  • Easily distracted (including unrelated thoughts)
  • Is forgetful in daily activities

ADHD-HI Symptoms

  • Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, squirms in seat
  • Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected
  • Experiences feelings of restlessness
  • Has difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activities
  • Is “on-the-go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers
  • Has difficulty waiting their turn

If you are a child, you need to show at least six of the symptoms of a given type for at least six months, in multiple settings; if you are an adult, you need five. They also need to be evident prior to age 12. For ADHD-C, you need to meet the criteria for both ADHD-I and ADHD-HI.

But what if we look at these again, through the lens of executive dysfunction?

ADHD-I is then characterized by difficulties with:

  • Attentional Control;
  • Cognitive Flexibility;
  • Cognitive Inhibition;
  • Goal-Directed Behaviour;
  • Organizational Skills;
  • Planning;
  • Self-Monitoring; and
  • Working Memory.

Meanwhile, ADHD-HI is characterized by difficulties with:

  • Cognitive Flexibility;
  • Goal-Directed Behaviour;
  • Inhibitory Control; and
  • Self-Monitoring.

ADHD-C, then, is characterized by difficulties with everything.

But, well, I don’t know about you, but I see an awful lot of overlap on the executive functioning issues. In fact, what I see is that the thing that distinguishes ADHD-I from ADHD-HI is that ADHD-I has trouble with Attentional Control, Cognitive Inhibition, Organizational Skills, Planning, and Working Memory, while ADHD-HI has trouble with Inhibitory Control. Both types have difficulty with Cognitive Flexibility, Goal-Directed Behaviour, and Self-Monitoring.

This means that it would be incredibly strange for someone to have “pure” ADHD-I; some of the criteria for ADHD-HI are likely to show up at least some of the time (and more often than they would for someone who doesn’t have ADHD) since they’re caused by issues with the same executive functions. Same goes for “pure” ADHD-HI.

Okay, this post is getting a touch maudlin, so I’m going to take us in a new direction.

Last week’s printable was about identifying areas where you need supports. That’s important to know as you’re looking to develop systems and materials to help you manage your symptoms and your life; the thing is, nobody is made up of only deficits. We all have some strengths, and it’s really important to know what yours are.

For example, I was diagnosed with severe ADHD-C, and I honestly do struggle with an awful lot of things I “should” be good at as a stay-at-home-mother. At the same time, I have some strengths that help me get by, and I’m hoping I can find ways to harness them moving forward.

Executive FunctionDefinitionExample of Strengths
Attentional ControlThe ability to control what you pay attention to. It’s basically being able to concentrate.Hyperfocusing on important projects or topics.
Cognitive FlexibilityThe ability to change your behaviour and thought processes based on changes in your situation or gaining information.Understanding different points of view.
Cognitive InhibitionThe ability to tune out unrelated stimuli and stay on task or follow a train of thought.Hyperfocusing on a special interest to the exclusion of all else.
Goal-Directed BehaviourThe ability to control your behaviour so that you’re working towards achieving goals.Hyperfixating on a topic or activity such that you become an expert in a short amount of time.
Inhibitory ControlThe ability to stop before you act so you can choose the most appropriate way to behave in a given situation. It’s got a lot to do with self-control.Recognizing which fidgets or stims are inappropriate in certain settings, and choosing alternatives that are more appropriate.
Organizational SkillsAll that sorting, putting things away, etc.Setting up solid organizational systems.
PlanningThe ability to think ahead and to break goals down into smaller steps.Breaking down large tasks or projects into small steps.
Self-MonitoringThe ability to keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re coming across, as well as notice things like hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, the need to use the bathroom, etc.Realizing that you always get hungry or thirsty at a particular time of day, and making sure you have a water bottle and snacks on hand.
Working MemoryThe ability to hold information in your mind so you can use it to make decisions and complete tasks.Keeping a notebook and pen on hand so you can write stuff down instead of having to remember it.

Note that these examples of strengths aren’t necessarily strengths in executive functioning; often we develop solid coping mechanisms in response to our struggles, and we should absolutely consider those mechanisms strengths that we have in those areas.

This week’s printable is a reproduction of this chart, with the example column blank. This is your opportunity to think about what you’re good at in each area of executive functioning, including ways you’re dealing effectively with your deficits.

You’re good at stuff, it’s just hard to see sometimes.

Back to Basics I – What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that primarily affects executive functioning. In simpler terms, the brain of a person with ADHD develops differently from that of a typically-developing brain, and those differences make it harder to control our attention and our behaviour. I recently had a bit of hyperfocus on ADHD-related stuff, so this post is going to explain why, as a result of what I learned, I’m more convinced than ever that ADHD is primarily a disorder of executive functions, just like Russell Barkley says.

A pinnable image of a cartoon therapist talking to a child. Text in the bottom right corner reads “Back to Basics: What is ADHD?”

 * Most of this information came from Wikipedia or the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.

The diagnostic criteria for ADHD in the DSM-5 are categorized as either inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity.

INATTENTION AND EXECUTIVE DYSFUNCTION

Inattentive SymptomsRelated Executive FunctionsExamples
Makes careless mistakes/lacks attention to detailAttentional Control Self-MonitoringUncorrected typos in essays and reports
Difficulty sustaining attentionAttentional Control Cognitive InhibitionDaydreaming during meetings or class
Does not seem to listen when spoken to directlyCognitive Inhibition Cognitive FlexibilitySpacing out during conversations
Fails to follow through on tasks and instructionsWorking Memory Planning Goal-Directed BehaviourStarting a task and leaving it unfinished
Exhibits poor organizationOrganizational SkillsMaintaining a chaotic living space, desk, locker, etc.
Avoids/dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effortAttentional Control Goal-Directed BehaviourPostponing homework as long as possible
Loses things necessary for tasks/activitiesOrganizational Skills Goal-Directed BehaviourSearching daily for shoes, toys, keys, etc., often multiple times a day
Easily distracted (including unrelated thoughts)Attentional Control Cognitive InhibitionGoing off on tangents during conversations and in written work
Is forgetful in daily activitiesWorking Memory Planning Goal-Directed BehaviourWalking into a room and not knowing why

Attentional Control is the ability to control what you pay attention to. It’s basically being able to concentrate.

Cognitive Flexibility is the ability to change your behaviour and thought processes based on changes in your situation or gaining information.

Cognitive Inhibition is the ability to tune out unrelated stimuli and stay on task or follow a train of thought.

Goal-Directed Behaviour is about controlling your behaviour so that you’re working towards achieving goals.

Organizational Skills are all that sorting, putting things away, etc.

Planning is the ability to think ahead and to break goals down into smaller steps.

Self-Monitoring is the ability to keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re coming across, as well as notice things like hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, the need to use the bathroom, etc.

Working Memory is the ability to hold information in your mind so you can use it to make decisions and complete tasks.

HYPERACTIVITY/IMPULSIVITY AND EXECUTIVE DYSFUNCTION

Hyperactive/Impulsive SymptomsRelated Executive FunctionsExamples
Fidgets with or taps hands or feet, squirms in seatInhibitory Control Self-MonitoringClicking a pen, chewing on a pencil, constantly adjusting sitting position
Leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expectedInhibitory Control Cognitive Flexibility Goal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringPacing while thinking or talking through an idea
Experiences feelings of restlessnessSelf-MonitoringAlways wanting to be in motion or to move on to a new job or living situation
Has difficulty engaging in quiet, leisurely activitiesGoal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringPlaying loud games, talking loudly when indoors
Is “on-the-go” or acts as if “driven by a motor”Inhibitory Control Self-MonitoringMoving constantly, particularly the whole body
Talks excessivelyInhibitory Control Self-MonitoringTalking more than others in a group
Blurts out answersInhibitory Control Cognitive Flexibility Self-MonitoringAnswering questions in class without raising hand first
Has difficulty waiting their turnCognitive Flexibility Goal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringGoing straight to the head of the line without being invited
Interrupts or intrudes on othersInhibitory Control Cognitive Flexibility Goal-Directed Behaviour Self-MonitoringStarting to talk during a conversation before someone else is finished saying their piece

Cognitive Flexibility is the ability to change your behaviour and thought processes based on changes in your situation or gaining information.

Goal-Directed Behaviour is about controlling your behaviour so that you’re working towards achieving goals.

Inhibitory Control is the ability to stop before you act so you can choose the most appropriate way to behave in a given situation. It’s got a lot to do with self-control.

Self-Monitoring is the ability to keep track of what you’re doing and how you’re coming across, as well as notice things like hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain, the need to use the bathroom, etc.

Obviously some executive functions interact with each other more than others, and that is probably what makes the difference between what type and how impaired we are. Granted, this is just conjecture, but it makes logical sense to me.

Of course, to the general public, ADHD is still just hyperactive little boys, and all of these issues we have are just signs of poor parenting, laziness, etc.

The printable for this post can be found here. It’s a copy of the symptom/executive function charts with definitions and examples, plus a blank version you can use to write down examples of your own executive dysfunction. I hope it’s helpful for you in figuring out just where you’re struggling, since knowing that can help you figure out supports.