COMING INTO FOCUS

Jan 16, 2020 | Narrative

Or: How I Quit Procrastinating and Learned to Love the Morning

 

Back in 2018, I was diagnosed with ADHD. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever lived with me. Which is to say: if you’ve ever seen me start to pack a suitcase and stop to reorganize an entire bookcase midway through, then the diagnosis should make perfect sense. I honestly wish I had done something about it sooner, rather than just joking about it. I can’t help but think about how I could have been a much more successful student in my college years with even a rudimentary understanding of what I was up against. A lot of the tools and structure that I benefit from today came with age and maturity, but it can still be disheartening to reflect back. At least I’m here now, I suppose.

 

 

The diagnosis gave me a sense of clarity that I hadn’t realized I was missing. It gave me terminology for things I have been experiencing for as long as I can remember. Sure, I had been aware of ADHD, and had even joked about having it for years. I mean, my third grade teacher called me “the moon man” for a reason. But I had never truly acknowledged the fact that because my brain is wired differently, the constructs that work for others do not necessarily work the same for me. I’ve been able to treat it with medication, but that has only been one part of unraveling this knot.  Over the years, I have learned that I have to be meticulously organized if I ever hope to accomplish anything, but I only recently figured out that it’s because my brain’s natural state is chaos.  I mean, I wrote the fourth paragraph of this essay first; I can’t write anything in a logical order to save my life. My muse is an explosion, it moves in all directions at once. A combination of Google Keep and Passion Planner have helped keep me check.

 

 

The other important tool in my arsenal has been exercise. Yoga has been a fundamental part of my shift in thinking. I’ve written about it on here, but the short version is that it’s the most effective way that I’ve found of shutting up my brain from time to time. Biking has also become an increasingly important part of my life. My trip to Amsterdam last summer awakened a new level  of appreciation for it. I’ve always loved that it does two things at once; it’s good exercise and it gets me to where I need to go. It’s also a great alternative to the toxic culture and “hamster wheel” feelings that overwhelm me most gyms. It was biking to work and listening to audiobooks this summer lead to my most important realization yet: I needed to become a morning person if I ever hoped to find success in writing.

 

 

I have never been a morning person. I still don’t truly consider myself one. I haven’t stopped setting three different alarms to wake up every day. I can still stay awake past 4am and sleep past noon on the weekends if I let myself. The old me is still very much a snooze button whore. But back in August last year, I had a revelation of sorts after listening to the audiobook of Cal Newport’s Deep Work. The book is loaded with useful information about finding focus in today’s very distracted world. The key takeaway for me was realizing that my ability to focus works like a muscle. Which is to say that it gets tired and wares out after awhile. Add that to living in the age of smart phones and social media, and you can start to see what a disadvantage living with ADHD can be.

 

 

I had always done my writing in the evening after work. Or rather, I routinely procrastinated actually writing until after midnight, and then stayed up into the early hours of the morning where I would force myself to finish and deprive myself of sleep. It wasn’t working out all that well for me. A factor that I hadn’t considered before was my day job. For those who don’t know, I spend my 9-5 hours most weekdays providing IT and A/V support for a global NGO. I love my job and my co-workers, but one of the major pitfalls is that I am constantly interrupted throughout the day. Phone calls, walk-ins, technology emergencies, etc. All of it takes a toll. By the time I come home from a full day of that, my ability to focus has been severely depleted.

 

 

It’s no wonder I felt like a failure as a writer. The process I had been relying on for years was doomed to fail from the beginning. As with my ADHD diagnosis, I only wish I had recognized this sooner. Since we’ve already established that the clarity of hindsight can be a real dick, I won’t dwell on that point any further. I now have a better understanding of how my own brain works, and it explains everything from my obsession with spreadsheets to my need to collect and read not just some, but ALL of the Goosebumps books. The amount of writing progress I have been able to make since August has speaks for itself. I’m still trying to shake the feeling that I’m catching up after falling behind over the years. I’m here now, and that’s what matters. For the first time in my life, I feel like my ambition is finally on the same planet as my productivity. I finally have the means to get to where I need to be.

 

3 Comments

  1. Pam

    I’m interested in what your mornings look like now. How much writing time is built in?

    I have a friend who couldn’t make herself get up to write before work, so she built in a half hour of reading time before writing. Looking forward to that got her up. I’m interested in these bargains we make with our brains and bodies.

    Reply
    • Daniel Stalter

      Right now I’m pretty good at getting an hour in. I’d like to build myself up for 2 hours. I think a big part of it, for me, is preparing for it the night before. I get my clothes and breakfast ready. I close out everything on my computer so that it’s just the document(s) I’m planning to work on and music to play. Getting enough sleep is key; no amount of motivation can overcome sleep deprivation. That’s by far the hardest part for me. Then the last bit is that I don’t check my phone or email until after my writing is done.

      I will say that I break all of these rules sometimes and it’s been a less than perfect change for me. So this is more the ideal morning that I strive for, but not always what happens.

      Reply
  2. Just T

    Teach me your ways.

    Reply

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