Finishing projects with ADHD

posted by Jeff | Monday, September 19, 2022, 9:08 PM | comments: 0

As part of the reframing of my life following the ASD and ADHD diagnoses last year, I have gradually decided to give myself a little grace when I look at the difficulty I had in school and in college. I often attributed my grades to slacker tendencies (thank you, Gen-X stereotype), but now I better understand that it wasn't a defective personality that hindered my ability to follow through and do the work.

The math was never simple, because why could I blow the curve in my broadcast law class, much to the dismay of my classmates, but "D" my way through a psychology class I only went to three or four times? I now understand that to be hyperfocus, a kind of hidden super power of ADHD and ASD, where one can engage deeply in something and barely notice the world moving around them. That seems counterintuitive, especially in the context of ADHD, which makes it difficult to focus on anything, and I don't entirely understand it myself. I found myself trying to explain it to a neurotypical colleague recently, and the words don't come easy. In some ways, it's easier to describe what it isn't, like obsession, addiction, or other negative things that are ongoing. Hyperfocus is very much an in-the-zone thing that leads to a specific outcome. It has an ending.

There seems to be a tipping point or trigger that leads to hyperfocus, which makes me wonder if it's something that you can summon. My work on my open source forum this year is definitely something that I've engaged in with these productive bouts. It wasn't always that way though, because writing code started as a means to an end, to get something on the screen on the Internets. I've never been able to retain basic electronics knowledge either, because as a kid I would play with one of those kits by building circuits with no interest in how they worked, I just wanted the light to blink. I could apply this to a hundred other things, like trying to learn the guitar or basic woodworking.

During the last holiday weekend, I had three projects that I wanted to complete. The first was to finish the coding problem I was trying to solve. The second was shoot a little B-roll of the newest Lego set so I could post it on our YouTube channel. Finally, I wanted to install some plugs inside of a cabinet drawer in the kitchen for charging (there was already power there). I barely got the coding problem done, but didn't get anywhere with the other two. Even now, the power project is only about half done, while the camera is sitting next to the Lego.

This pattern is so predictable. Like my education days, I'm still learning to accept the situation not as a personality problem, but more a factual observation about how I'm wired. I still come back to that curiosity on how I might apply hyperfocus intentionally to constructive things that I'm less interested in doing. It would also be ideal to apply it to things that I am interested in, like unfinished projects.


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