Goals Setting Tips for Writers with ADD

I picked up the book Driven to Distraction because my son has ADHD. I hoped to pick up some ideas to help my son thrive instead of struggle needlessly. I got more than I bargained for!

Driven to Distraction by Hallowell MD and Ratey MD
Driven to Distraction

The book started by explaining the evolution of our understanding of ADD and ADHD. Then it gave examples of the various ways it might look in a person’s life. One of the examples felt like it came straight out of my life! I could have cried because he explained the frustration I’ve experienced all my life! I can’t rely on my brain from moment to moment. The story was about a woman who noticed a cough drop on her dashboard. All day she kept seeing it and saying to herself, “I’ll throw it out at my next stop.” All day. When she got home, still there. She pulled into the driveway and said the same thing. From the moment it took her to put the car in park, she forgot, again, to take it in. I’ve always been forgetful. It’s annoying as hell! I don’t mean to forget. My mother has the memory of an elephant so she doesn’t understand how I can forget so completely from one moment to another.

You know the absent-minded professor. That’s me…but without the doctoral degree; I only have a master’s degree. You may not be an absent-minded professor like me. You might have other areas in which you struggle. These strategies are good for anyone, but I selected these with the neurodivergent brain in mind.

*For this series of posts, I’m going to use ADD to mean Attention Deficit Disorder and all of its variants such as Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity. I learned that there are a bunch of different variants not just ADHD, so calling it ADD is easier and more accurate.

Goal Setting Mindset

Not all these will work for everyone; think of this as a menu to choose from ala carte. Try them all and see which way works for you and your brain. Most importantly, no judgment!! I attend a lecture-style DBT therapy session each week to learn the skills my son is being taught in therapy*. They learn the “What” which is to
Observe your surroundings,
Describe how you feel, and
Participate in the moment,
all without judgment and negative self-talk. If you try a goal setting technique and it doesn’t work, that is okay. You are not stupid, lazy, or anything else bad. It just isn’t right for your brain. Try to figure out why it didn’t work and brainstorm ways you can make it better or try one of the other methods.

*This post is no substitute for actual therapy because I am not a therapist. I do highly recommend therapy to everyone. Because, really, who doesn’t need some kind of therapy?

Keep it flexible!

Don’t worry about how other people set goals; create goals to suit you! Some people set goals like:

-2000 words per day
-10k words a week
-5 hours of writing per day
-6 days a week
-Write for 2 hours at 4 am every day.

Man with a fork in front of an elephant. Text says, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

First of all, I work full time, so 2,000 words a day is not a realistic goal. I determined, for me, the hardest part is just sitting down to get started. So I didn’t need a goal of 2k a day anyway. I needed a goal like 15 minutes 4 days a week because 15 minutes is easy. Plus, if I really only had 15 minutes to spare, I could do that and my goal was met. But more often than not, I sat down for my 15 minutes and got hyper-focused on it. The next thing I knew I had 1,000 words and an hour had passed.

As someone with ADD, you’ve probably been beat down enough, you don’t need to be beating yourself down in addition to the world beating you down. So keep your goals simple and attainable. Remember you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

*Hyper-focused means that you focus so deeply on a task that time passes without notice, often one or more hours pass in the blink of an eye.

Sprints/TimeBlocks

Sprints are a good way to activate that hyper-focus superpower. This works great for people who have a high competition drive. Set a timer and see how many words you can crank out in 10 minutes or 45 minutes. You can compete with others or against yourself.

Others say that sprints are too stressful and they prefer time blocks instead. I prefer this myself because I hate competing against anyone except myself. This is also good for my ADD though because I block off time to write for 45 minutes. I am not allowed to move to another tab to research or anything else–just write. I use brackets to indicate areas that need to be researched later. For example, [What kind of gun is she holding?] Then I can designate another 45 minutes for researching the things I need to research or tackle this in the revision stage. You can find these later by Ctrl+F and searching for the open brackets. [

Make a Schedule

I tried many things over the last few years. I have a hard time making something I enjoy (writing) a priority when there is housework to do. I tried making a schedule: Monday- write a blog post, Tuesday- edit blog post, Wednesday- write novel, etc. Put it on your calendar, so you remember your commitment to yourself.

I stuck to it for a while. Then priorities got mixed up. Life happened. I stopped keeping the appointment I had with myself.

Accountability

Accountability is a word with a heavy connotation. To me, it has a negative connotation. But it actually works if you make it fun. For the last 6 months or maybe more I have met online (thanks COVID) with a writing group every Sunday and Monday evening. We chat. We write for 45 min. And we chat again. I have to keep this appointment because others are relying on me to start the meeting. I make it a priority. And you know what? In December I finished my rough draft of my novel!

If you would like to join us, you can find us at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/writingcoffeeandfriends

For years, I’ve thought of myself as a failure because I jump from strategy to strategy trying to find the perfect one for me. I try to bring organization to my chaotic life. I suppose if you look at my life you would think me a successful adult. I keep jobs for a long time (20 years in my school district). I earned a Master of Library Science. I am loved and respected by my students and my peers. Yet, somehow, I still feel like a disorganized mess that knows how to hide it pretty well. When a teacher asks me for a set of books, I bring them down right away, not because I’m amazing but because I know if I don’t, I’ll forget!

Planners

I have always used a planner of some kind. I have tried nearly every planner under the sun, I think. None of them have yet to cure my brain of the attention affliction that irritates me so. Some are more helpful than others though.

Tim Allen saying Never Give up Never Surrender
Galaxy Quest

I read something recently, people with ADD have brains that constantly seek novelty. They get bored easily. So like me with my planners. They use a planner for a few weeks or a few months, then don’t. They forget. This is apparently normal for the ADD brain. It’s not a bad or good thing, it just is a thing. (remember non-judgment).

The solution. Begin again. Pick up the planner again if you felt it had been working well. Otherwise, pick up a new one. It might work better. Never give up on yourself. Never surrender to those feelings of discouragement. Adapt. Know that it is normal for someone like you and me. Move on.

I find myself going back to the Bullet Journal over and over because this seems to work best for my brain that likes change in scenery. If I stop using it for a little bit because life gets out of control, it’s easy to pick up where I left off without wasting a million pages of a predated calendar. So there is another tip for you if you are like me.

I recently read the Bullet Journal Method book. https://bulletjournal.com/pages/book Lots of information about it on the website but the book is nice because it goes into so much detail.

I also like the Passion Planner because it keeps redirecting you towards your goals every single day and it has you reflect on your goals at the end of each month. They offer free downloads of their different styles so you can try each one out for a week. https://passionplanner.com. My ADD brain needs that constant redirection towards my goal to help me get through dull tasks and to keep me from getting distracted by shiny new ideas.

Visible Inspiration

I have a Kanban board above my desk where I can see the status and progression of each item on my to-do list. I love the physical act of moving a sticky note from one column to the next. Here is a great article about using kanban boards https://djaa.com/4-mistakes-while-beginning-with-kanban/ That is my visual inspiration for my goals in general.

The Kanban board is good for breaking down goals and tracking each individual task. Many people with ADD freeze up when faced with a massive project, like writing a book. It helps to break it down into more manageable chunks. On my board, I have 10k words, 20k words, 30k words, etc. You could even break it down by chapter or by scene.

I recently heard of an author who had her book cover made up and hung on the wall in front of her computer to remind herself of the end goal each time she sat down. I would like to do that for my next book.

Summary of Tips

  • Be Flexible (and non-judgmental!)
  • Try Writing Sprints/Time Blocks
  • Schedule your time
  • Accountability helps
  • Try different planners
  • Use Visual Inspiration
  • Break goals down into smaller tasks.

Last, don’t be afraid to change things up when you get bored. Let your process evolve without judgement.

The possibilities are endless. What do you find helps you set goals and keep them?

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