RE: ADD/ADHD Problems and Tech Writing/Editing Careers
Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- aps -dot- com
"TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Tue, 15 Jun 2004 13:58:12 -0700
I also have ADD, but not ADHD, although sometimes I wonder since I don't
sit still well for long.... My daughter also has ADD and she is an "A"
student in college. Our ADD profiles look very different with some
overlap. Things I have trouble with she does well and things she has
trouble with I do well, etc. Except we both lose our keys a lot. Heh.
Warning: this email is long and detailed.
"I continue to have a lot of trouble concentrating and focusing on large
or complex documents, following instructions (written and oral),
following through on writing tasks, getting jumbled up when handling
forms and paperwork, ineffective time management, trouble being on time,
and generally feeling/being lost in space most of the time. "
I am actually an excellent reader and I used to have a photographic
memory (now I have smudges in it due to age!) and a phonographic memory
so I remembered everything I heard. Now getting older I have to make up
for the memory not being as good with diligence... taking better notes
and such, and studying my materials more. I don't seem to have too much
difficulty in following instructions written or oral so I couldn't cover
that. I think my daughter has that more than I do. I'll have to ask
her how she deals with that.
My ADD shows up both in hyper focus and in difficulty in concentrating
on certain tasks. I have learned to use the first to my advantage and
work around the second.
The remainder of the email will deal with what I do to "work around" my
READING LARGE/COMMPLEX DOCS
When you say you have trouble concentrating on large or complex
documents, do you mean reading them or writing them? One thing I have
found about reading large documents is to skim through and dip in where
my interest hyper focuses. Another technique I use is underlining....
that allows me to use my ADD-ability to graze... I sometimes read the
end first or the middle and jump around and then go back and put the
information in sequential order later. This is also helpful when a
document is badly written. In badly written docs, sometimes I hyper
focus on a sentence and pick it apart to find the meaning. I also read
parts and intersperse the task of reading the document with other tasks.
WRITING LARGE/COMPLEX DOCS
In writing large documents I also do not write sequentially. This is
sometimes a problem when I work with very linear people who like pieces
of a document delivered in separately, rather than waiting for the whole
thing. Sometimes I have even found people so linear that they write the
document in order of Chapter numbers! I always thought it better to
write the intro last, and often find when I attack a later chapter, it
illuminates something that I must cover in an earlier chapter. My
outlines are guidance, not strict rules. When people ask me to work in
a linear way, I just say I don't work that way. Most people have
understood why I write the way I do. By working through the entire set
in a non-sequential way, I can often make the set stronger. That is the
reason I give, BTW, rather than ADD. I concentrate on my strengths
rather than my weaknesses.
Also for self editing, I do all the tricks. First, I try to get peer
edits when ever possible. Secondly, I try to read the document
backwards and sideways as well as forward, and try to get time away from
the document to look at it again. I make lists and go through with my
lists (this time, check headers and footers, this time reread paragraphs
Finally, I let people know that self-editing is not one of my skills.
My big bugaboo is prepositions. They tend to jump into and out of my
paragraphs. Guess what? Normies have trouble with prepositions too....
Many writers have difficulty with self-editing. Most people can
recognize that problem. The more you look at a doc the less you see.
Any editor or boss that expects the product to be perfect without a lot
of editing time has unrealistic expectations for the most part. I
usually let people know that. If you want it perfect, give me a lot
more time or give me some peer edits first. Ideally, both. If you want
it good and workable, don't worry. You'll get that.
CHUNKING AND REWARDING LEADING TO HYPER FOCUS
In any large or complex set of tasks I find it helpful to write it into
small chunks and do a chunk and reward myself by a distraction like
email or a small walk down the coorindor to get coffee or look out the
window for a minute. Eventually my hyper focus will kick in but if I
don't start out small, I never start at all and the distractions get me.
I have found this way of working very successful and it has only gotten
more successful with time.
TYPES OF JOBS THAT ARE GOOD FOR ADD TWers
I also gravitate towards jobs with a lot of variety, goals that I must
meet but structure myself, tight deadlines, and/or new things to learn.
New stuff gets me past distractions more than maintenance writing.
Because of this I am eligible and better at jobs that some people won't
take or wouldn't like. I like techie stuff too... it helps when I get
to work with cool stuff I like... brings on the hyper focus... so look
at what you like and try to get jobs writing about that....
It helps to have a big desk. I've been most lost when I have to cram
myself into a small space. My first filing system was a piling system.
I have learned to do a combo filing/piling and take time out to
file/organize at some irregular basis... when it gets too overwhelming.
The method I use is to go through one round and throw everything away I
don't need anymore and then take the big pile of stuff I do need and put
them into folders. Then the same deal happens again, my piles as I am
working become unruly and I have to stop.... I know when because the
feelings of being lost come back.
For time management, I use my Day Runner, my calendar on my computer,
etc. Mornings are the hardest because I also have low thyroid, so I'm
not "warmed up" yet. I write myself notes the night before and
calculate the time I will need to do tasks in the a.m. and add a fudge
factor. Yes, I am still late in the a.m. sometimes, but I usually try
to find jobs where that is not important. And I continue to try to
improve on that. There are always the last minute missing keys to
contend with no matter how well I plan. My brain just shuts off
I also find that I can make mornings with meetings... I just have to
make sure I write it in my Day Runner or I will think it is not a
meeting morning and my hazy brain will take over and add in tasks before
I leave... Oh just one more time in the house looking for "thing I don't
And being more clear about what I need and don't need helps. I do need
my car keys but on the occasional off day I can go in without my badge.
I do need my money for lunch, but I don't need that extra notebook.
I prioritize my daily tasks in a written form... I usually start out the
day with a list unless my schedule interferes by putting a meeting first
in the day, but then I write it as soon as I can (and put the meeting
off and cross it off as done.) So first I write everything I think I
need to do in the day or the next few days and then I write "HI, MED,
LO" by them. I try to be strict and clear about what is really "HI" and
do those things first.
Being ADD, numbering the tasks by order doesn't help as much. Having
three "HI" priority tasks to do helps more than having 1, 2, and 3,
because I rarely am going to stick with order.
And lots of times I do better by trying to do two things at once because
it takes care of the distractible part of my brain. This is counter
most advice I read out there, too. So try it at your own risk.
I like crossing things off lists. Sometimes when I am resisting a task,
I write on two or three separate lists. He he. My day runner, my list
of things to do at work, etc. Then I cross it off every list when I get
DOING TWO THINGS AT ONCE
It helps the distractible part of my brain to be busy. So sometimes I
also listen to music during the more boring, tedious tasks. Not just to
screen out sounds in the environment but to keep the scanning part of my
brain busy so it won't keep distracting me from plodding away.
I have also found redundancy in systems to be life saving. Make sure
you have a spare set of keys for those days that the keys just won't be
found. I have two sets of deodorant in my house and a spare sample of
deod at work. I keep extra copies of important documents. When in
doubt, I reprint out documents that may be lost in my piling system as
needed. I have to make up the harm to the environment another way. I
read that in a book for parents of kids with ADD... buy several pairs of
the $1 mittens... having the redundancies saves time for dealing with
other important things and gives relief.
Sometimes deadlines help me with hyper focus and if I put that together,
say, with music and other techniques I'm off and running. When not near
to deadlines it helps me to work on the tasks that most interest me and
not feel guilty about that!
I trained myself to always touch my keys before I lock my car door. As
a young woman I constantly lost my keys but in time I cut down on
incidents of losing or locking my keys into my car... just by training.
Yes, my mind still turns off sometimes in the most inopportune time but
it cuts it down to once or twice a year rather than weekly! And a
person like me should not be without emergency road side services
Counter to popular belief, sometimes procrastination is good. Okay, a
lot of time it is bad and it bites me in the ... but think about this.
"Why am I procrastinating?" I learned over time that sometimes I
procrastinate for two different types of reasons. The first are
emotional. Maybe I am afraid of the blank paper. Maybe I resent being
asked to do the tasks. For those types of tasks I can work through my
emotions by talking with my trusted friends (and do make sure that they
are trustworthy) or writing/journaling or self-comforting and self talk.
The second are task-related. Sometimes its something that I sense or
know will never be important. This task is not really needed. It's
busy work, or the project is going to be cancelled or change direction.
And I know because I've been in this biz a long time. Sometimes I have
a barrier before I can achieve the task and by asking myself, "Why am I
procrastinating?" I can figure out what support and resources I need to
achieve the task and chunk that into my "things to do" list.
My daughter has ADD too, and so we commiserate with each other. We know
it is harder for us to live, but we are like ducks... we look cool above
water, and underneath our little feet are paddling double time to just
keep up with life. However, you don't have to let anyone else know
about the secret. Normies forget their keys sometimes too. I find
being honest, " I'm sorry I'm late today, I mislaid my keys" is fine. I
don't have to go into detail most times.
GET RID OF THE SHAME
The most important thing is to not be ashamed. Shame only keeps me from
working well with my assets and doesn't help me make up for my defects.
I have read that ADD is the mindset of the hunter/gatherer. During the
hunter/gatherer days it was important to scan the environment constantly
and then hyper focus on the berry patch. Thinking of my technical
writing tasks as the environment and the next task as the berry patch
helps too. Thinking of myself as a hunter/gatherer trapped in a
farmer's world helps me to appreciate the farmers and appreciate my
bold, creative self. ADD for me is not a disorder. It is a different
way of paying attention. I don't pay attention in a linear way. I
scan, dip down into details and scan again.
A FEW OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES
I have found some books on organization more helpful than others. Julie
Morganstern's Organizing from the Inside Out is more helpful than others
because it goes by individuality...
I have also found the materials on the Clutterer's Anonymous website
helpful for organization and time management.
My naturopath has me taking "L-Thenanine" a new amino acid that is
supposed to help. (I just started this week, so I am not sure if it is
helping or not.)
SUMMING IT UP
Finally, I just want to say that I have been a technical writer and
business analyst for over 20 years. I have been promoted and stayed
employed throughout these difficult times. Sometimes they likes ya, and
sometimes they don't. A few jobs I had were not suited to my
temperament and talents. Using the methods above I have thrived as a
technical writer and I am a good one. I achieve quality results and I
focus on customer needs.
The reasons you haven't been promoted and/or have been laid off may have
something to do with your ADD. They may not. I'm going to guess in
these times it is as much or more a result of the times than your
abilities or lack of thereof. To the extent that you can self improve,
that will help your self esteem and self confidence. I am going to
guess that lack of confidence is as much or more a causal effect than
ADD itself. ADD can be worked around. Lack of confidence has to go.
Don't let the linear world get you down. Scan your environment for
opportunities to use your hunter/gatherer talents to meet the customer's
Be kind to yourself. Grow and learn. Adapt. But above all else, be
kind to yourself. Others will be more kind to you and you will find your
niche. Hang in.
Rose A. Wilcox
Center for Process Excellence, CHQ 8th Floor
Rose -dot- Wilcox -at- aps -dot- com
Buffy: We're literary!
Xander: To read makes our speaking English good.
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