Saturday, September 6, 2008

Time for the important stuff...

My all-time least favorite work assignment hung over my head like a dark cloud for 2 weeks. It involves cross-referencing and organizing papers. Many many papers. Which is also known as the Nightmare on ADD Street. Usually, it's a task that I could handle intermittently while I completed other work. But in this case, I had a little over a week to finish it, and thinking about the task at hand made me want to down a bottle of Tums.

I began the hell assignment on a Tuesday, and I got a small bit of it done. At the end of the day, I promised myself that Wednesday would be the day that I would knock off a big chunk of it. But Wednesday came and went, and I yet again finished just a small part of it.

I left work on Wednesday feeling rather defeated. The thought of the work I had to do hung over my head like a dark cloud encircled with buzzards. I knew I needed to figure out a better way of getting the work accomplished. As I mulled over options for a "better way," the most novel idea struck me. One really effective way to finish the project would be to -- get this -- actually work on it.

I knew I hadn't been slacking off at work. However, I knew that I had been quick to respond to every email that landed in my inbox over the past couple of days. I also knew that I'd agreed to give a hand to a few others who needed assistance with some random, minor assignments that they had. In other words, I'd put everything else in front of the #1 priority that I needed to complete.

And so, I decided on Thursday to perform some self-recon on the amount of time that I spent on the tormenting assignment. Using the Journal feature of Microsoft Outlook as my timer, I started when I worked on the assignment, and stopped it when I worked on anything else. When lunchtime rolled around, a good 3+ hours after I arrived at the office, I checked the amount of time I'd spent on my "priority" assignment.

36 minutes.

I had spent the rest of my time on work of lesser priority, helping some coworkers, and yes, going for coffee. I maybe spent just 15 minutes on the coffee run. But still, 15 minutes was almost half the time that I spent on what I had deemed to be my #1 priority. Or had I actually deemed it to be my priority?

I think that, for ADDers, time slips through our fingers in a unique way. If we decide that something's important, then that's where our goes. And that's good, because we get to focus our energies on exactly what we want to do. However, that's also bad because there are some things that we must do, like taxes or hell assignments or buying groceries, whether or not they truly interest us. Certainly, you can get H&R Block to do your taxes or even have your groceries delivered. But you still have to decide to toss your receipts into a shoe box and hop in the car, or log onto the grocery delivery Web site.

When I went out at lunch on that Thursday, I thought about the face that having the assignment done would be like lifting a huge anvil off from my chest. I wouldn't walk around all dramatic, as if all the world's problems were mine to solve. And thinking about that feeling of, well, being free from the madness definitely provided me with motivation.

I returned from lunch optimistic that completing the assignment was within my reach. I continued to use the timer to keep myself accountable. Doing so definitely helped, because every time I paused it, it made me think for a minute whether my reason for pausing time merited my diversion from my assignment.

Indeed, at the 11th hour, I completed the assignment. Today, I started a new assignment that I enjoy so much that I didn't even consider using the timer. And because of this experience, I keep thinking about what I believe to be important and how much time I spend on it. Wow. Talk about having something to ponder...


Anonymous said...

I should follow your lead. I'm the stay at home mom, 3 kids, etc. When they're at school, I should be doing laundry/dishes, any domestic task, but I can barely/rarely motivate myself to do so. I kick more into gear after they return from school/sports practices, etc. And tomorrow I have my first job interview in 12 years - we currently send our kids to private schools and will be unable to do so if I don't start contributing financially. Having a job while they're at school will hopefully motivate me to accomplish the mundane tasks I avoid during the limited time I will have evenings/weekends, etc. Let's hope I get that job (that I am way over qualified for, but it fits my current time constraints, etc.) and get my home life together. Thanks for your insightful posts!

headintheclouds said...

I'm a divorced mom and freelancer with ADD. I feel like I'm working at something all the time. Yet I've been noticing how few hours of writing and copyediting I actually fit in. Not that parenting, housekeeping, and self-care aren't important. But I need to do some work work sometimes too!

I already use a timer for certain types of housework (I'm a FlyLady fan), and my daughter and I use talking timers to help us be on time. But I hadn't been using a timer for work.

Then, recently, I had some endnotes and an index to copyedit. I was doing all kinds of housework and wandering on the computer and who knows what else--everything but the editing. But your post inspired me to try a timer. I kept setting it for 15 minutes (a FlyLady thing), and I got through the work pretty quickly.

So ... thanks for your post! I'll be using a timer more in my work in the future. And I've enjoyed your blog in general.

I'm blogging about ADD too. Come visit at

ADD Libber said...

Hi ladies!

Anonymous, did you get the job? Sorry that it took me almost two months to ask. I did have my fingers crossed for you!

Headintheclouds, welcome! I just skimmed through your blog, and I definitely want to spend more time reading it. The timer rocks as a tool to keep you on track. I'm so glad that it's working for you!