Many clients come to me because the struggle of managing their adult ADHD has gotten to the point of overwhelm. Overwhelmed with life which has put them in a state of shut-down. As a result, they experience an inability to focus, organize, or accomplish daily tasks.
An interesting fact to note of people with ADHD is that they have what I like to call “Organizational Envy”. This means that their desire to be organized is so strong that they buy every organizational tool, basket, closet organizer gadget, hell any gadget that promises organization will be the lasting result! I have to confess, baskets and bins were my vice.
The problem lies, in that, the tool becomes one more item for them to manage. It sits in the corner, or on the table, or in the closet with all the other “great ideas” that will help them to become an organized person, some day. Sadly, this contributes greatly to the overwhelm.
Usually in my first session with clients we discuss this unending desire to become organized. I attempt to reassure them that this is perfectly normal and that they are not alone. They are usually shocked that I know their dirty little secret. Not only do I know it, I have lived it.
Much of what goes on in my first sessions is building a rapport with clients. Talking about their ADHD is new to them and they feel vulnerable. Will I be judged? The last thing I want a client to feel is ashamed or judged. They truly are doing the best they can with the knowledge they have.
Many express feelings of shame that they should know better because they have read (attempted to read) all the ADHD books out there but they still feel like failures. Here’s another very important piece of information to add here regarding adults with ADHD, we don’t read the books!!!! We buy the books for the same reason we buy the gadgets!
Our desire to understand our ADHD and to get organized is real, the problem is we don’t know HOW to do this without a little coaching from someone that understands.
We are great visionaries! We can see the big pictures but we can’t bring these great ideas into this realm without first learning some basics. This is the point in my sessions where we start to dive into how each individual experiences their ADHD.
I see numerous themes amongst clients and I also see some unique traits. One common theme I see is that most clients also have an Executive Function Disorder. EFD is an inability of the frontal cortex of the brain to perform higher level tasks such as analyze, organize, decide, and execute daily tasks! This is also referred to as our “working memory”. A place where we can hold information and manipulate it.
Imagine how shocked and relieved my clients are when they hear this. “You mean I am not just lazy?” “No”, I tell them. “You have a disorder of your executive function”. Insert puzzled look…
“Now what”? Now we need to look at how you are organizing your day to day activities, responsibilities, fun, down time, etc. They usually tell me “Not too well”. I usually chuckle with them, not at them.
So, tool #1 to help organize what feels like chaos at times is the “Dumpster”. I created the dumpster out of desperation and my unending desire to gain some sense of order in my daily life.
The name is telling. What automatically comes to mind? Yep, that big blue or green trash bin in your apartment complex or behind the neighborhood grocery store. Its purpose is to take all the trash that is accumulated from other places. It is the “Mother Ship” for all the trash.
My dumpster is the same concept. Because we don’t have a working memory, we need a place to “dump” all the information that is coming at us. We need ONE place to put all of this information, initially, so that we can capture it. That is the goal, to capture it! Organizing and sorting it comes later.
Another fascinating piece of information here is that most people with ADHD already have a place to capture all this information. Can you guess the problem? They have 20+ places they are tracking this daily information.
The notebook by the phone, the one upstairs in the office, the little pieces of paper torn off the envelope to write down the date for the birthday party, the napkin at the bottom of their pocket or purse, their hand…
Time to breathe, I am a great therapist/coach because I live your struggle. No, I am not psychic and I have not been following you around. Many client’s wonder how I know so much about them. I AM YOU!
So, I have to create some guidelines and rules for my dumpster. The most important rule is you get to pick ONE, and only one notebook. I always tell clients to make it the prettiest, biggest, fanciest, notebook you can find. Love it because it is your new working memory. Yes, see it as an extension of your brain!
It will go everywhere with you! The goal is to fill it up and then you can start a new one. Client’s feel so satisfied when they fill their first dumpster. This is a new task for us, an accomplishment! Fill it up with all the “stuff” you attempt to hold in your head. I am here to tell you in a very loving way that you CAN NOT hold all those items in your head. Stop trying.
I get a lot of questions about the style of the notebook; lined paper, size, leather bound, an app on your phone. Pick something that appeals to you and stick with it. This is the only one you use to record all the information coming at you that you would normally try to remember.
The purpose is to have it accessible at all times and to write down everything you want to remember at some point in the future. This might be an event, a great idea, notes from a meeting, a sonnet, whatever.
It becomes your working memory. It’s job is to capture information. Once the information is captured the next step will be to review it and transfer the information to other places. Like your calendar or planner. I help my clients decide those next steps depending on what it is they capture in their dumpster.
At the end of each session, I assign a “homework” task. The point of this task is for them to be working on something we discussed in session between the sessions. The homework for session #1 is to find a dumpster and try it out.
Get a notebook that we will call “THE DUMPSTER”. It is a place where we “dump” all information that is coming at us that we need to be able to access in some way at a later point in time.
Help us to feel less overwhelmed in having to remember all the information that is coming at us. Also, a sense of security in knowing that the information has been retained and can be easily located when needed. An added bonus is it improves our relationships with significant others in that we remember events and follow through on commitments.
- Carry it with you at all times.
- Fill it to the brim.
- Don’t worry if it gets messy because all the info will be transferred and you can focus on neatness then.