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What Working In A School, Taught Me About My ADHD Brain!

Now this post, may not seem relevant to you, you might think; “I don’t have ADHD or OCD” I won’t bother reading it, but I genuinely think we are all on the spectrum and can all benefit from the simple key principals to getting the results you want.

Also, if you work in a school or have a child with ADHD, I think it is a valuable read!

Now I have two conflicting things going on in my head 24/7, they never stop. The ADHD side which spurs new ideas, is easily distracted and which finds it hard to focus on the detail, but then an OCD side which craves order, logic, routine and structure.

During my career, before I did what I do now. I worked in lots of roles in public health. I was lucky to work in lots of countries but my last “job” was in a school.

When I started by first business whilst still working at a school, I worked night and day. Left the school, came home and worked on my business. It wasn’t a very “balanced” life but the ADHD side of my brain got a huge kick out of doing something creative. The OCD side of my brain loved going back into school, the structure of the day, and the “bells” which denoted change to the next activity or part of the day.

The start and end of the day was clearly denoted by the kids arriving, and leaving. When I arrived my work brain activated, when I left it had permission to turn off.

But when I started working for myself and from home, the structure was gone. There was no start or end of the day, no timetable, everything just became one, and I struggled. I felt like I was on a constant treadmill except I was walking through mud, whilst my brain was always two miles in front of me!

Then I came across five key things which changed that and allowed my ADHD brain to focus and to build two successful businesses:

1. Time Blocking

2. Power Hours

3. Just One Thing

4. Systems

5. A Theme

You see what my brain wanted, ironically was structure, it was this which led to the OCD side. The ADHD side of it was wild with no boundaries of the possibilities. My brain was constantly firing signals of what I could do next, which to be frank is exhausting. But what my brain needed was some structure, guidance, and purpose, that way it could get a break from thinking, so it activated OCD mode to try and get control, to the extreme.

It wanted permission to not have to keep thinking and instead to think about just one thing. It sounds silly at first, but honestly try it, give yourself permission to only have think about one thing. It is hard at first and takes practice, even more so it you have ADHD.

I liken it to a somebody I used to work with years ago who had Tourette’s. He used to say the worse thing he could do was to try not to tick, to fight it. Instead, he used to give himself permission to tick and it made it easier to manage and for him to relax.

So, what are these five key things:

1. Time Blocking Have your calendar on your phone and block out time for everything! Breakfast, workouts, admin, projects, family. Structure your week ahead so you know your timetable, 1-2 hours chunks of time devoted to something. Then when you get an idea or a distraction, you can add it to your to-do list to be done in that block of time, then file it in your mind. When that time comes, do it. This way the ADHD side of your brain can rest that the great idea you had has a safe place and time, and it doesn’t have to be distracted by it right now. An ADHD brain gets restless. It likes change and shifting focus. So don’t block a whole day of doing the same thing, mix it up. It means you have pre-planed distraction and keep your brain busy on your terms. By scheduling the fun stuff with the boring stuff, it breaks up the day, scheduling exercise helps burn any excess energy when you need to. It can also help with cravings or overeating. I 100% turned to eating to break up my day, to change my minds focus, and to take away working from home being “boring”. So now I know when lunch and dinner are and it means I can focus until then, and not just wander to the fridge for a snack when I am bored and need a break. Strang as it seems my ADHD brain now is constantly thinking about what my next activity is and what I need to do then, which now helps motivate me and focus me through my day, whilst staying productive.

2. Power Hours “Alexa Set Timer 1 Hour”. It is literally as simple as that. An ADHD brain finds it hard to focus on the detail. So instead set just one hour to knuckle down and do it. Admin, art, housework, whatever it may be. Challenge yourself to work focused on it for an hour. All in, no distractions. You will be amazed at what you can do in an hour, and it means you can hold your attention long enough in the hour to get some great work done, and you know when then next break or distraction is going to happen. At first you might only do one power hour a day, or an hour might be too long, so start with 30mins and work up to the hour. The trick is to win the game, to focus until the time it up, by winning you get a sense of achievement, and an internal fix of the feel good hormones, it becomes self-rewarding. If you start with too long a period of time or 8 power hours in the day, and get distracted, you lose the game, feel bad, you fail, and it becomes demotivating to do it again.

3. Just One Thing This can be anything, but there is always one thing we can do each day to move us towards our goals. We can feel overwhelmed about everything we want to do, could do or even what we can’t do. But each night before you go to bed set your one thing for the next day, something you promise yourself and commit to doing. Then the next morning focus on it, again it removes overwhelm and holds your attention on just one task, whilst making a step forward. Of course, have a long to-do list on the go, but make one thing a priority each day. This just like the power hours, helps train the ADHD brain to focus for longer and longer periods of time. Whilst you always win the game and get that dopamine hit!

4. Systems Rob is a collector; it is one of the things I love about him (most of the time).

However, I am the opposite. I don’t have much “stuff” and what I do is organised. My wardrobe literally has boxes labelled; tops, middles and bottoms and the washing when it is done goes in the boxes. When I worked in the school the lady in charge of finance used to moan at me because I used too much coloured paper, because every different form we used in my team I had copied on a different colour.

It made sense to me, it’s the orange form or it’s the blue form. It’s easy, organised, systemised. Every form had a place, the tray was labelled, again easy, you know where to get it, you know if it has run out and it takes away time looking for it! In business, when we set up, we concentrated lots of the systems and procedures behind the scenes, with everything being digital, why? Well because if we didn’t my ADHD brain would wander, and I would never get anything done, which is kind of a problem when you are are self-employed, and everything relies on you doing something.

So instead, everything is check listed, set as routine and as much as possible it automated with online bookings, payment etc. and prompts are built into the system for me, so I can concentrate on what I must do next. I have a google to-do list with every business task on it, set on a reoccurring schedule, daily, weekly, monthly. That way nothing gets missed and it keeps me focused and on track, I don’t have to think about what I do next, each morning the computer tells me. This helps my brain with its craving for routine, and by being organised and making the everyday stuff as simple as possible, it means not only that it actually gets done, but more importantly it means I don’t have to control my ADHD brain to focus on doing it, instead it frees up time for the ADHD side to be creative, look forward and work on the fun stuff.

5. A Theme

Whilst writing this blog, I realised that working in a school as an adult helped me build these strategies, the time blocking, focus, organisation, structure. So why then do kids at school not succeed? I make it clear I am no educational psychologist and there is lots of people who are far more knowledgeable in the subject, who might argue against me, I talk only from personal experience. However, what I found was the key to these strategies working was theme and motivation. Working in a school as an adult helped me because I was motivated to be there; by wages and my job in the school was a department I enjoyed and I was responsible for my own day.

As a kid; a school can provide these strategies and structure by accident, however pupils are normally forced to focus for longer periods of time then they have trained their brain to work for, and they are forced to focus on the detail. Ask a student with ADHD to focus in detail on something that doesn’t motivate them, that they don’t enjoy, when focusing is naturally so hard, acts like my friend who had Tourette’s, supressing the urge/tick, it just makes the urge stronger, and they are actually less able to concentrate.

That is why I encourage my clients in adulthood who have ADHD to focus on a theme, just like I did. Something they are passionate about, which motivates them, which they can immerse themselves in all the different aspects of.

My business is based fundamentally on all the things which motivate me, inspire me, and I enjoy; veganism, fitness, health, nutrition and helping people. Whilst it is all focused on a central theme, it is actually a broad subject area. This is what is great for people with ADHD, and can make them really successful. If they find a core theme topic, which aligns with their values, beliefs, intrinsic motivation and their identity, but also is broad, they can thrive. How? I will give you an example. One minute I can be writing a blog post about ADHD, the next a social media video about veganism, the next go to the gym and post about it, then cook dinner with Rob whilst creating a recipe. There is lots in my theme that my ADHD mind can think about and do, and because I am interested and motivated in all these things, I want to do them. But the key is that when you have a theme, doing or becoming distracted by any one of these things, still works towards my overall goal and my business success. They are not unwelcome distractions, but instead all valid contributions to my goal. So I am harnessing those distractions and what my ADHD brain wants, to actually grow my business around this core theme.

Let’s think again at the student in the classroom. They don’t like the subject, they can’t hold focus, they become disruptive, they get in trouble, they are demotivated, there is no reward for trying to focus, and the cycle goes on.

If the student was doing something they enjoyed, if the subject content was taught in context and relevance to what motivated them, and if their day was structured around their theme, then whatever in their theme they got distracted by, they would still be making progress. E.g., if their theme and what motivated them was carpentry, then maths linked to carpentry, science linked to carpentry, all allow for a world of distraction possibilities but that can be harnessed to keep focus and for them to turn out an awesome carpenter! But of course schools can’t facilitate a personal theme for every student, instead ADHD students have to fit in the school boundaries, something incredibly hard for a student with ADHD and which often becomes a downward spiral.

In Conclusion

The last thing I will mention about my ADHD brain is that it doesn’t have an off switch. It constantly goes round, and I can easily allow myself to constantly act on it, to keep working late, to get up in the middle of the night to do something, to just keep working until I crash and burn out.

Sometimes, I do have to do something there and then, because it plays on my mind so much that I can’t sleep.

However, a skill I have had to learn is to turn my ADHA brain off and give myself permission to do nothing. I am still not perfect at this. But I try to do it by routine and by trying to practice my meditation, which helps so much!

We try and have dinner at 6.30pm when I am at home, so at 5.30pm I pack away the laptop, take it upstairs out the way and try to leave my phone in a different room and check it only when needed.

I am still not great at this, the vibrations of the phone with messages and social media alerts, seem to echo around the house until I am drawn to my phone.

But with the other five key principals in place, I manage my ADHD brain to be productive and take steps forward with my businesses each day.

I truly believe, and it is backed up by research that people with ADHD make very successful entrepreneurs, in my coaching business I have worked with lots of them. Their imagination, creativity, ability to think outside the box; mean they can be very very successful if they are working on their business and personal theme.

It also makes them terrible employees, I was a terrible employee, or is it that the normal workplace is a terrible place for people with ADHD to work? Sit someone with ADHD at a desk for eight hours, with a list of tasks to do on their own, if they haven’t learnt to control their ADHD, they won’t, and they will fail at focusing and getting those tasks done.

This is why running their own business is sometimes a lifeline and best thing for people with ADHD to do, however, to do it successfully, they must focus on the detail, so they must have strategies and support in place to do this as simply and as effectively as possible.

I help people get those strategies in place and get the results they want in life, with my one-to-one life coaching, I can help people with ADHA not just cope with their ADHA but truly use it as their superpower in life!

Best Wishes

Gary Ⓥ

The Vegan Online Coach


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