Here is the link to the padlet
I wrote this over lockdown for the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children, for their Tall Poppies Magazine. But since I keep losing the link, I thought I had better reproduce the article here so I maintain a copy of it.
The Everything Book
Tracking, scheduling, planning, without judgement
Neurodiversity and Executive Dysfunction
Hi, I’m Lara, and I have ADHD. I’m also autistic, and since learning about my diagnoses later in life, I’m now working on squeezing every positive aspect out of this self knowledge, with the aim of being a better me, and also helping kids to reframe their own challenges. I work with gifted and neurodiverse kids to help them become better self advocates, better social communicators, and take control of their anxiety.
Having ADHD means I respond really well to change, hate routines and schedules, love adventure, and would carry my passport in my back pocket if I thought there was any chance of a spontaneous trip. Being autistic means that I also like to know what’s happening and feel a comfort in routine. I feel safe knowing what is going to happen, who is going to be there, and what will be expected of me. My life is a constant conflict between a need for safety and a terror of being bored.
I also have a different sense of time – living in the moment means it is easy for me to ignore a deadline until it is like a jumbo jet rushing past my head. There is only now, and not now, and an important deadline only gains relevance when it shifts temporally from “not now” into the real and visceral “now”.
So I’ve tried as many different organisational systems as I have tried diets, and “The Everything Book” is the condensed wisdom of the best systems I have trialed, massaged into a system that works for me and my family. Having my everything book means that I still have room for spontaneity, but I can make sure that all the important stuff gets taken care of so that I can relax and enjoy it without worrying that I’m letting someone down.
Time Blocking, Bullet Journalling, and the Pomodoro Method
If you’ve heard of any of these, you’ll know that at one point or another, they have all been promoted as the next big thing, to help resolve executive function disorders. And if you’re like me, you’ve tried just about everything to try to get your life sorted. Add kids into the mix, and all of a sudden, the life hacks that have got you this far start to fail, and the overwhelm can threaten to swallow you whole.
If you haven’t heard of them, I’ll give you a brief rundown here, and some references for more information at the end. Each of these three I have picked out because they have aspects that can be helpful for an ADHD brain, with certain caveats and modifications. Remembering that time blindness is real, and that our attention can slide off a task even if it is important to us, and that our nervous systems are interest based, can help us to find a way to manage our lives that boosts our self esteem, and gives us the dopamine we need to tackle that next big thing.
The Pomodoro Technique is named after the red tomato shaped kitchen timers (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato), and the core premise is that we can tackle anything for 15 minutes at a time. While this may be true, for those of us with ADHD, even when our motivation is high, our attention can wander, and even setting a timer doesn’t help us overcome the overwhelm we feel when a task seems impossible. Conversely, if the task is something we are interested in, we can do a deep dive and not feel the need to come up for air for quite some time, and a 15 minute timer could be an unnecessary interruption if we have managed to get into the flow of a task.
PROS: Only asks that we start a task, and not commit long term. It’s accessible, easy to implement, and easy to understand.
CONS: Doesn’t help us with the task of breaking down a big task into smaller, more manageable and approachable tasks. Can interrupt a flow state and stop us from being productive. If we lose focus 5 minutes into a session, we won’t get a reminder until the end of each 15 minute period.
Time/Calendar Blocking is the idea that we can lump associated tasks into our calendar, and “block out” time for those tasks to be achieved. Three days a week I am working at schools, Sundays I have a long day of work, and Saturdays are family time. That leaves Monday and Tuesday for me to do all my correspondence, bill paying, planning, dealing with staff, training, and general life admin. I try to block out my mornings for the harder tasks so that I can do the fun stuff (that I am more easily able to concentrate on) for the afternoon, as an incentive to get the hard stuff out of the way.
PROS: If time is allocated and scheduled to a boring admin task, it’s importance and urgency are artificially boosted such that the task is more likely to be done. Works brilliantly with google calendar, and simply allows you to share calendars with your family or team.
CONS: You still need to do all those boring tasks, and if you can ignore 15 minutes worth of boring tasks, the likelihood of staying on task for a whole block of time is even lower.
Bullet Journalling was invented by someone with ADHD, as a way of tracking everything in his life in a systematic way. If you spent any time on instagram, you’ve no doubt come across people whose weekly bullet journal spread rivals the Sistine Chapel in complexity, beauty, and organisation. My bullet journal was a coffee stained wreck, with medical letters and appointments spilling out, and a dividend cheque from three years ago waiting to be banked. Over time, my bullet journal became a way for me to feel bad about myself, rather than a system that helped me to be organised in any meaningful way.
PROS: Bullet Journalling was invented for ADHD, and it is at heart a very flexible system, allowing you to add or subtract pages and spreads that fit your lifestyle and the way you work. It’s simple, needing only a pencil and a notebook to get started. You can also use digital planners with an ipad and pencil if that suits your workflow better.
CONS: Everything has a place! And if you can’t instantly recall where that place is, or you haven’t plotted out this week’s spread yet, you can already feel like you’re behind the 8 ball and flailing. Structure and organisation aren’t built in, ADHD means we learn to become very responsive and spontaneous, but any measure of forward planning can feel like we are setting ourselves up to fail.
So, if you’ve tried it all, and still can’t get it together, what’s next?
Never fear! There is a solution. First off, stop judging your executive function against others. Some people sail through these challenges, and never run out of milk, bread, or toilet paper. Those of us who lack that superpower can make up for it with our creativity and brilliant out of the box thinking – as long as our self esteem remains intact.
Enter, “The Everything Book”. It needs to be big enough so that you can write clearly, and small enough that you can take it EVERYWHERE. Think of it as a combination calendar, bullet journal, and notebook, the one place that you record important information, as it occurs to you.
The bullet journal system relies on you knowing where information belongs before it is recorded. In your Everything Book, the goal is to record the information, before you have all the information, and the complete context. When your boss starts talking about a future task, you can make a note, and add questions, without interrupting the flow of conversation to ask. When someone mentions an upcoming birthday, you can note it down and add it to their contact details later. Documents, forms, prescriptions, business cards etc can go into the back pocket of your notebook, and when it gets too fat, you can either have a sorting session, or find a bigger rubber band (or both!).
Key to this system is taking the time to collate and transfer your day’s rough notes into whatever other systems you are using. For the kid, this tends to happen at the end of the school day, when the lunchbox has been emptied, and they are about to start on school work. For me, I tend to do it in the evenings before bed, as I consider what I need to get ready for the next day. And as a failsafe, I have designated Mondays and Tuesdays as my work and life admin days, so anything that gets missed through the previous week gets rounded up then.
Any information that is time sensitive goes into a calendar on paper, and sometimes on my google calendar too. Tasks that are big, multi step projects might get their own double page spread, with related tasks lumped together, and an attempt made to break down bigger tasks into smaller chunks. Shopping lists, errands, phone calls, staff meetings, all with estimated due dates, and durations if relevant.
If you use an electronic calendar, remember to share key information with others that might be involved or affected by your time blocking. Keep a family calendar that keeps everyone informed of events and dates that are significant. How you use these tools will differ from how they work for me. With the everything book, the only non negotiable is to record the information, and then make the time to review it daily if possible, or less frequently if that is what works for you. Pair it with Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, or ask Alexa to keep tabs on you
Remember to keep celebrating the successes – dwelling on what we didn’t get right isn’t helpful. A quick analysis of what went wrong, some compassion for that past you who was struggling, and a thought about what might have helped them in that situation is all we need to set ourselves up for another day. Last week I failed to write something down because I was driving the kid to school, and left my book at home. Next time, I’m going to use my phone to send myself a text message, which will ping on my laptop as soon as I boot it up when I get home. That means my “failure” this time has boosted my ability to think through a problem and find a creative solution, and next time this happens I already know how I am going to handle it. And that becomes a reason to feel good about my ability to handle challenges, not a reason to feel bad about my failures.
Growth mindset tells us that we build the neural pathways that we reinforce. So every bit of positive reinforcement we can give ourselves leads to better efficiency of those pathways in the future.
WHAT YOU NEED TO GET STARTED
- Paper. A cheapie notebook, a fancy handbound book, a binder, whatever. Just make sure it’s big enough to write in comfortably, and small enough to carry with you EVERYWHERE. You won’t be able to take notes in the shower, but if you have it handy, you can jot down notes before you even dry off properly – so hopefully you can take your notes before you forget what you needed to record.
- A writing implement. Any colour, any type. If you’re into stationery, here is your excuse to get a nice pen that writes smoothly and dries quickly. If you do have a lovely fountain pen, and want to use it, just make sure whatever you choose isn’t a barrier to making notes. One of my pens takes ages to dry, so I actually stopped writing notes unless I had time for the page to dry. This pen went back into a drawer, and a more practical pen came out, and my notes got more consistent.
- Let go of your expectations. Remember that “Done is better than perfect”, and focus on writing things down over making sure you get all the details right.
- If in doubt, write it down. Appointments, tasks, birthdays, present ideas, meal plans, recipes, holiday inspiration, budgeting, tracking spending, health symptoms, homework, exams, whatever it is that you have going on in your life, write it down. Get into the habit of having your book handy at all times – after a while, you’ll notice what works for you, what you need to pay more attention to tracking or recording, and what you can let slide, because it’s already automated and built into your life. I don’t track my medication, because I have my medication with coffee every morning, and I NEVER forget my coffee.
- Once a day, once a week, whatever interval works for you, categorise your random notes into meaningful pages. Events can go on the calendar, to-do lists can be prioritised and allocated to days, and future plans can be scheduled sensibly, instead of my usual catchall category of “later”.
- Break down big tasks into smaller, achievable tasks. Washing the dishes can seem overwhelming. Breaking it down into smaller tasks that we can check off a list gives us a sense of achievement, and a dopamine hit that can help us get motivated to tackle the next task on the list.
- Congratulate yourself on a job well done. An ADHD brain needs dopamine, and task achievement releases dopamine. Ticking off a checkbox and allowing yourself to feel good about that achievement might just give your brain the dopamine it needs to be able to tackle the next job on the list.
Thanks to @fartmarbles on Tik Tock, I have successfully programmed my first nfc shortcut, to tell my phone I’ve taken my morning meds.
More public speaking, a completed assessment (not marked, just pass/fail, and I’m assuming a pass since no news is good news), finally got the paperwork to the lawyer to go ahead with forming the charitable trust for Gamechangers League, and kiddo is still trucking along ok at school. Not loving it, not reaching social or academic heights, but ok.
And last night I was assessed for my competence at using the laser cutter at Tap Lab and got my full licence, so now I CAN LASER CUT ALL THE THINGS!!!
I celebrated by making squirrel earrings. As you do.
This time last year we were just settling in to Auckland, and visiting Hobbiton.
Not much has really changed. Squish is still (mostly) going to school happily enough, Mark seems to be enjoying arguing with data sets at work, and I am ticking along, mostly being a mum, and advocating for Squish at school, and also as the area delegate for Creative Fibre.
We all miss home. I miss watching my favourite little people growing up, miss watching Squish interact with his cousins and his grandparents. Mum and Dad have been here for a visit last month, and Bev & Ted are coming in a few weeks too, but its not the same as being able to see them every week. I guess homesickness has kicked in with the weather getting colder here.
Our little house in Westmere is a lot like the house in Denistone where Mark and I first lived together. Its a draughty old council house that hasnt had a kitchen renovation since it was built in (probably) the late 1930s. But the location couldnt be better, we see the sea every day as we drive down to our street, we are about 100m away from a gorgeous public reserve and a bit further to the community garden. The Countdown (Woolworths) is a 4 minute walk away, and the bus that goes from there goes right past Inigos school to Marks work.
I have met some wonderful new friends, and although uni doesnt seem to be working out at the moment, life is good.
The New Zealand government has a philosophy that all kids should be catered to in the school environment.
“The New Zealand School Trustees Association describes school policy as a framework that integrates culture and practice, values and actions. Inclusive schools ensure that the principles of inclusion are embedded in their policies, plans, and actions. They develop specific policies for the inclusion of students with special education needs ”
Which is great, right?
So Squishs school has approached me to ask if I might consider helping out as a teachers aide for a few weeks while they get a more permanent person in to work with a new kid. Ive started back at uni, so I dont know if Ill be able to juggle work and uni and family in the longer term.
The new kid has a global developmental delay, and he needs an aide with him the whole time while he is at school. I did my first shift today.
And it was fine. Hes a lovely kid, responsive and keen to try new things, and he has loads of energy and enthusiasm. It was hard work, but I can see that working with him has the potential to be quite rewarding in the long term.
But yesterday, a teacher in the same school told me that there simply wasnt enough resources to be able to give my kid the differentiation and attention that he needs in order to be integrated into exactly the same school. That he would need to be home schooled if I wanted his learning to be tailored to his needs.
So much as I hate the whole my kid is a precious snowflake syndrome, it is rather a double standard to claim that the school can be all things to all kids – except the ones at the wrong end of the bell curve.
At the Mind Plus information session we went to last week, I asked about emerging research and best practice in the field of teaching gifted kids. Internationally, more countries are starting to have classes just for gifted kids, and that these classes give kids the best opportunity to develop their strengths and work on their weaknesses.
NZ policy is to cater to everyone, and giving extra support where it is required within the school setting – just not to kids like Squish, who struggle at the other end of the spectrum.
Squish’s school has just become part of this awesome program.
Over the holidays they have built a bike track around the school play area, and hopefully he’l learn to ride at school. Check out the video on the linked page, it looks like a really positive intervention for the kids.
And I have re-enrolled in uni. It’s going to cost me about $200 to sit each exam, but other than that I can continue to study from New Zealand, and still earn my degree in Australia.
Living in NZ has been mostly great. We miss our family and friends, and great Middle Eastern food, but all three of us have found things we absolutely adore about living in NZ. Mark is doing challenging and interesting work, and living a short walk from work has been great for us spending time together as a family. Mark gets to see Inigo both in the morning, and in the evening – in Sydney he was usually asleep by the time Mark got home from work.
Mark has also found a new choir to sing with, an octet that has paid gigs, and they are flying him down to Wellington for a gig next month. Exciting stuff.
Inigo has two rocking schools. Freemans Bay School is a lovely city school with loads of green space, a kitchen garden, the freedom to go barefoot and climb trees, and the ability to just be him, without the pressure to conform to anybody elses idea of normal. The school is very child centered, and Squishy is loving the freedom and personal power he gets from taking responsibility and ownership of his learning process. Its not perfect, but he is a much, much happier wee beastie when Monday morning rolls around each week than he ever was about going to school in Sydney.
And then there is One Day School. A place where kids get to explore a new topic each week, with the freedom to apply their own initiative and resources however they see fit. Where the kids are guided and encouraged to explore the topic through their own eyes and methods. I cant speak highly enough about what this experience has meant for Squish. He was already a great thinker, but he is gaining so much confidence and passion for learning, that he is wanting to do homework so that he can have more time at school for his projects.
I have withdrawn from university again this semester because the exam period fell exactly in the middle of when Marks contract here ended, and the uncertainty about where we would be living was very damaging to my ability to focus on study. So I have thrown myself face first into the Auckland (and greater New Zealand) fibre scene.
I have joined Creative Fibre, and attended lots of different groups. I have learned bobbin lace, and loom weaving, and supported spindling, and how to use a hackle, a drum carder, and now I have even bought a double treadle spinning wheel. And last month I taught my first class – Unravelling Ravelry. Some of you may laugh at the thought of me teaching Ravelry (yes, you Emily!), but i have come a long way, and the process of putting together the class notes taught me a lot. The class went brilliantly, and I am happy to say that the owner of the yarn shop has asked me back to teach two new classes. Learn to Knit, and Continental Kntiing both coming up.
Our tenure in NZ ends in about six weeks, and we have not yet reached an agreement with Marks employers that will enable us to stay here long term.
The stress, of course, is huge. On the upside, Mark and I have weathered some pretty rough storms in the past, and we are very lucky that we are able to communicate effectively and present a united front. Well get through this, and will be thrilled at the outcome. If we have to come back to Sydney, we get to have Summer and Christmas with our loved ones, Squish will be able to go back to choir and piano lessons, Ill get back on track with uni, and Marks job will carry on, and Im sure he will find another choir.
And if we end up staying here, you can look forward to lots of pictures of our travels around this lovely country, and more fibery adventures, and the joy of packing up a three bedroom cluttered house to move into a tiny two bedroom apartment. Joy!
So, on RUOK day, how are YOU doing? If your glass is only half full, can I help you top it up a little?
Today I did my first session as a counsellor for a new project trialling using Google Glass for breastfeeding information and support. I didn’t get any calls, but I did have a lovely time fiddling with the technology (I don’t get the glasses, just the software!), and working out the kinks. And I got started on uni for this semester, Cognition I, another one of those units that puts fear into the hearts of second year students. I’m only doing one subject this semester, with the aim of getting great results and lifting my GPA – and eventually being offered a place in honours.
And… There is further talk of Mark going to New Zealand. Still nothing confirmed, but we have agreed to the idea of thinking about considering a short term move. No idea what we would do with the house, or the creatures, or any practicalities, and it all may fall over (if a single person without a family volunteers for the role!), but we’ll see.
Over the past few days I’ve been leading groups of new first year students around the campus to give them a gentle and friendly introduction to campus life. Most of my “mentees” were mature age students, and I shared some of my history with them as a way of explaining that life has challenges, but there are mechanisms in place within the university to support people who have added challenges, and that different people have different challenges – your worries are every bit as valid as mine. We all need a bit of help sometimes.
I made a point of stopping the tour outside campus wellbeing and explaining in detail about the services they offer. Mostly because I don’t know if I would still be at uni without that support, and because I know that the attrition rate for first year students is really high, and I want “my” team to know that help is available when life gets sticky.
And the response I got was the usual “you’re amazing”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, apart from a general uneasiness. Later I reflected that going to uni is a very selfish act, and that the people that support me to do this are the amazing ones. My husband is amazing. His forbearance and tolerance border on saintly at times. I’m not amazing. I am a sorry and broken person who has no choice but to gather the pieces in a bucket and carry on.
Without Squish, without Mark, I wouldn’t have even been able to find a bucket. Without my parents, my in-laws, my friends and family, I’d be living on the streets and eating out of bins. Or I’d be dead.
So I loved this piece I read today. We are amazing because we are human. Extending empathy and compassion is part of what makes us human, and without that we lose our humanity.
Standardised Numerical Grade 74
I should be thrilled.