By Ann Marie Van Den Hurk
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a phrase commonly used when someone has difficulty paying attention or hyper.
Often, ADHD has a negative connotation. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, about eight percent of the United States population has some form of ADHD.
Common symptoms in adults are difficulty paying attention, impulsiveness, and restlessness. That may translate into disorganization, poor time management, challenges focusing on a task and low frustration tolerance.
What if we reverse our views on ADHD from a negative to positive? And what is we learn how to harness the ADHD brain for better focus and productivity?
The ADHD brain is wired differently than the typical brain. Many traits associated with people who have ADHD are a rebellious youth; below average or average educational performance; tendency to switch between seemingly unrelated pursuits and struggle with daily responsibilities. They also have a seemingly superhuman ability to hyperfocus for a long time followed by a lull or doing something utterly irrelevant to the previous task.
The ADHD brain is wired for creativity and curiosity. ADHD is common with entrepreneurs. Sir Richard Branson, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Edison, and The Wright Brothers are some well-known names who had ADHD.
Peter Shankman, a successful serial entrepreneur and New York Times Best Selling author who has ADHD, decided the transform the narrative on ADHD from negative to positive. Recently, he wrote, Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain.
This book is helpful for those with ADHD — officially and unofficially –because it helps them harness the ADHD, but what about people without ADHD? How can this book help them? I spoke with Shankman recently about ADHD and his new book.
Peter Shankman: Everyone can use a few extra hours of productivity a day in their lives, right? The hacks that I use to harness the power of my ADHD can (and should) be used by anyone who simply wants to be more productive! From figuring out how to avoid wasteful choices to learning how to prevent triggers that can throw you off course, the ADHD hacks in Faster Than Normal are for everybody.
Q: Rituals, routines, and triggers play a huge part in the book. For non-ADHD, what are the top three takeaways you share?
A: Focus on changing up your brain chemistry first thing each day. I won’t start my morning without exercise. To do this, and to fight the “stay in bed and hit snooze” mentality, I have automated lighting that turns on before I wake up. I sleep in my gym clothes, and I get to sleep early. By the time the alarm goes off at 3:45 a.m., I’m awake and ready to go. The first two hours of my day are spent exercising, which drastically ups my dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline, and gives me the focus, mental acuity, and preparedness I need to be the most productive I can.
Eliminate choice wherever possible. The less time you have to spend on stupid decisions, the more time you can spend on things that matter. I have two sides to my closet.
For example, one side says “office/travel” and filled with T-shirts and jeans. The other side says “speaking/TV” and filled with button-down shirts, jackets, and jeans. I don’t have to waste time looking at other items; they’re not even in the same closet.
I avoid the distraction and choice of “this sweater or that vest,” and dressed in five seconds. If I had everything in one closet, I’d remember the person who gave me the vest then I think I should look her up on Facebook… It’s now three hours later, and I haven’t left the house.
Know your triggers and how to avoid them. Most people with ADHD don’t do well in regards to moderation. It’s simply not a thing. We don’t have “leftover pizza,” and we usually have a hard time having just “one drink.” So I don’t let myself get into situations where moderation is needed.
I simply don’t drink. I avoid places where I could do things to excess; it’s in my speaking contract that if I have to speak in Vegas, I fly in and out on the same day. To quote from the movie “War Games,” the only winning move is not to play.
Q: What are additional things, people can do to increase their productivity for success?
A: Focus on healthy. Pizza, junk food, etc., are all dopamine releasers. The problem is, they also come with tons of fat and carbs, and usually just require you to eat more next time to get the same “high.” Focus on healthy food instead — the healthier I eat, the easier it is to use my ADHD to my advantage. Get your chemicals from exercise and other more beneficial options.
Find a zone of focus. For me, it’s an airplane. I can get on a plane in NYC, write for 14 hours, and land in Tokyo with a brand new book. Nothing to bother me, nothing to distract me. It’s the best place in the world for me. Where’s your zone of focus? Chances are, it’s not in your office.
Schedule meetings only one day a week, and keep them short and standing. Want a meeting with me? Happy to do it, but it’ll be 20 minutes, and we’ll either be standing while we do it, or we’ll be doing something physical — like a spin class with a coffee afterward.
Not only does this combine the best of two worlds and save time, but it also acts as a deterrent to those who don’t want to take the time. I don’t do “mid-day” meetings anymore. They waste too much time and break up the flow of my day.
Drink a ton of water. When you’re ADHD, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. If nothing else, learn to like water like Michael Phelps likes water. I try and drink at least six liters a day. If nothing else, it gets you up and to the bathroom, which is better than sitting all day at your desk.
By putting into place simple strategies, you can create a path for your success in business and life.
(Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.)