“How is it that you have accomplished so much and have ADD?”

My neighbor had come over, hesitant to ask but bursting with anticipation, just to ask me this. She explained that someone close to her with ADD used the condition as an excuse for why he can’t stay focused, why he can’t be on time, why he can’t have a job…

You know, little things like that.

She and noticed that I do ADD things too (I can’t say I’m surprised…Squirrel!) and wanted to know how I get anything done with that kind of obstacle in my way.

(For those of you wondering ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder and has nothing to do with math.)

My answer is this: Achieving is a choice.

We ALL have things that we are naturally good at, and weaknesses to overcome, but achieving is a choice. Joey may be naturally better at running than Gerald but if Gerald applies more effort in practice his heart will be healthy. He gets the reward of exercise. If Joey wins the race that doesn’t automatically mean he’s achieved more than Gerald. Success isn’t a competition.  We all can achieve. The winning and losing in life comes down to our ability to persist.

Does it take longer for me to do certain tasks? Yes. Am I able to other tasks faster? Yes, if I stay with a task and persist with focus. For me, focus is putting blinders on, like on horses, and not seeing all the things from left to right that I could be doing in that moment. I don’t want the distractions of the moment to overpower the goal of the hour, so I put my mental blinders on and focus.

That is my choice.

In coaching my team or clients I call this kind of mindful focus “Taming the Monkey.” Monkeys jump all over for no apparent reason and seem to never get anything accomplished. If you put a Fitbit on a monkey, it would get log the needed movement, but not a needed result.

I tell all the monkeys in my brain what we are doing.

So, to answer my neighbor, and anyone else who would like to know, this is how I do it:

  1. Set Up in Advance. Set up my to-dos on my desk visually in order of complexity. Usually the night before.
  2. Play First. To get myself in project mode, I sit down and let my monkey have fun for a few minutes doing the busy work of the office.
  3. Snowball Up. When playtime is over, I start in on simple tasks, like deleting emails and build up in complexity from there, staying on each task for a set amount of time.
  4. Keep It Fun. Monkeys like noise, as does my ADD, so I may have on the radio for the simple tasks. It’s not all deprivation from the moment I sit down at my desk.
  5. Talk To Yourself. Once I move from simple task to ones that take more focus, I turn off the sound and let my brain fully engaged. I need all my power to mentally talk to myself in the task. I chew on the words, reminding my monkey to focus. Good monkey.
  6. Stop On Time. I work for a set time. Giving myself permission to stop working at a certain time keeps my monkey from feeling trapped. Happy monkey.
  7. Break It Up. I chunk up big projects. I do some today and leave some for tomorrow. My ADD brain is great at working on solutions when I’m not at my desk. When I’m mopping the floor I can think through the actions coming up.
  8. Phone Off. I do NOT answer my phone or look at my texts until the time is up and I’ve let the monkeys go. Then I can do texts and messenger so fast it’s almost like I am a teenager.

When I follow my rules for productive focus consistent, my monkeys stay tame and happy. I have even found that ADD is an asset to me! I can see the pieces of a project coming together, and those little thought monkeys can go grab the pieces I need. We could all blame a perceived weakness on brain chemistry. We all have a reason why we can’t. We can all make excuses.

Excuses are distractions. When we focus on distractions, we see all the things from side to side and behind us that could go wrong, instead of looking forward toward all that could go right. Seeing others as better or worse is just fogging up our vision. A well-trained horse with blinders keeps going because he sees his next steps clearly, and straight ahead. Wild monkeys see too much, but the solution is easy: You just have to make custom blinders for your monkey. It may be challenging at first, but if you do you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of being a workhorse and the benefits of being a fun creative monkey.

So, yes my brain likes to bounce around, it’s part of my humor genius. Working at focusing on one thing at a time, I don’t need to be distracted by others naturally better at focusing than me. Instead, I can find joy in the process and be happy with my progress along my own path. No matter how long it takes me to reach my goal, I got there, and that’s a reason for a dance party.  There is a lot of joy to be had in dancing like no one is watching.

Going all out like a monkey.