Alternating Types of Tasks

May 16, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~2 mins

There’s something liberating about putting a name to something you didn’t understand. This was my exact experience when I learned I am ADHD. It gave me words to explain the way I think and those words have given way to a deeper comprehension of how I operate.

Putting a name to it also makes it easier to connect with people in the same boat. And it makes it possible to learn what others do to take advantage of the positives and overcome the negatives. So naturally, I did some research and found that many try to eradicate it entirely. It’s seen as a disease to overcome. But you may be doing yourself an injustice by trying to delete a portion of who you are. I would rather heighten the useful aspects and downplay the detrimental. If I have an overactive mind, is there a way to allow myself to bounce from thing to thing and still accomplish my creative work? After a bit of experimentation, I’ve discovered a way to do this.

I can only will myself to focus on a new task for about 20 minutes - unless I’m really excited or interested in it, then it can be days before I come up for air. But when I’m not in hyperfocus mode, 20 minutes is about all I have.

For a long time I’ve been breaking my projects down into 15 - 20 minute tasks. My focus-ability may be why I’ve done that but I can’t say for certain. Typically, I would sit down and work on a project with the intent of completing three or four of these tasks. And I’ve had fairly good success doing so. But it’s never occurred to me that this was a bad idea. It’s what everyone else does and they seem to have a great success with it. Why shouldn’t I follow suit?

Learning that I am ADHD gave me the clarity I needed to explore other options. If I can naturally focus on a task for 20 minutes, what if I started a completely different type of task afterwards instead of doing more of the same? What if I alternate between coding, writing, learning, and admin every 20 minutes?

Bingo! It turns out that I’ve wanted to work this way all along, but I couldn’t see it. Yes, there are times when I get into flow and won’t switch. If I can focus for longer, why move on? But if I can’t focus, I don’t fight it. I switch to a different type of task and come back at the next switch off. After all, I tend the bounce quickly. Why not take advantage of it?