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Are You Doing the Thing You’re Doing?

Most of my family probably has ADD, or maybe ADHD. None of us have ever been diagnosed, either individually or as a group, but the tendencies are obvious in me and my wife. Our children both display the documented behaviors in different ways. My mom still derails our conversations to pinwheel through multiple tangents without ever returning to the original topic.

I heard the terminology as a kid, but never even remotely thought it applied to me. Sure, people with ADD or ADHD struggle to focus their full attention on tasks, especially when those tasks seem boring, repetitive, or require sustained mental effort over longer periods. Wandering minds are more easily distracted. Impulsive minds can act spontaneously without thinking things through or considering consequences, interrupting people, or changing activities on a whim. But that was just how my brain has always worked. I’ve never seen it as a problem, and am grateful for the arsenal of tricks I now regularly employ to outsmart myself.

I have been actively building fences to corral my behavior ever since I knew that becoming a father would require more out of me as a person. Bringing a life into this world meant that maintaining more command over my active presence in life was no longer a luxury.

Maybe you’re like me, and you have a difficult time focusing. Maybe you like to check Slack or email or do just about anything else other than the work that’s right in front of you when it gets hard. I’m most likely to check Slack, not when someone messages me, but when I hope that someone has messaged me, after I get snagged on what I should write next.

I’m better at meditation than ever, but still have a hummingbird brain more often than not. A few years back, I finally figured out that I could never still my brain entirely. So instead of trying to quiet those thoughts, I now work to redirect them.

I started this year with a promise that whenever I found my mind wandering, I would ask myself one of the three following questions, depending on the task at hand:

1. Am I doing the thing that I’m doing?
2. Is this something I can prototype?
3. Does this behavior align with my goals for this year?

That first one is the most important. I need to always be “doing the thing I’m doing.” It’s a more specific way of saying, “stay present.” If I’m writing, I need to stay off Slack. Same for if I’m in a meeting. If I’m in a conversation with someone, I need to stay in that conversation without thinking about anything else. If I’m watching a movie or TV show, then my phone should not even be within reach.

Figuring out ways to automate my decision-making to foster action is always worth the investment for me.

Any time I feel like my mental energy is weaker than it should be, I ask myself if there’s something about the situation itself that can be improved by building a system around it. Anything from what kinds of work I schedule for different times of day, to every part of the writing process.

That last question requires the most honesty, especially considering how easy it is to convince myself that I thrive on spontaneity and impulse. When I catch myself drifting from task to task or diving down yet another unproductive rabbit hole, asking myself if my current behavior aligns with my goals can be a serious buzzkill, but it’s also a compass to steer me back on course every time.

Consistently asking myself these questions turns kaleidoscope thoughts into clear vision, focusing my energies on building the life I want instead of the one that is happening to me. Your questions are probably different from mine, but I bet coming up with three and being willing to ask them at the right (and perhaps uncomfortable) times will make your flow easier to find.