I specialize in helping people with ADHD get organized. ADHD is a neurological condition. It’s caused by a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and a variety of other circumstances. People with ADHD are often challenged with organization, regulating attention, distractibility, hyperactivity, impulsivity, procrastination, low self-esteem, and people pleasing. Time management, planning, and prioritizing are tasks that are often very difficult for people with ADHD.
When my clients hear that I also have ADHD, they get very curious. One of the hallmarks of ADHD is being disorganized. How can I be organized and also have ADHD? While I have/had the supporting genetics, environment, and other stars aligning to make me prone to having ADHD, there were also a few key things that sparked my interest which helped balance out my ability to be organized.
• There were horses. When I was 7, I started horseback riding lessons at a very old-fashioned school which had been around since the 1950s. No parents were allowed, and there were strict rules about how we needed to present ourselves and the horses we rode. As kids, we were held responsible to fulfil these high expectations. I remember us all loving it! There was nothing more gratifying to me than a nicely groomed horse, freshly cleaned tack, and polished boots. We had the right amount of support from our teachers, who slowly weened us off needing their help. It fostered a great amount of independence for neatness and organization at an early age.
• There was hot glass. In college, I developed a love for blowing glass. I transferred out of architecture school to get my BFA in Crafts (and later MFA in Glass). Glassblowing is kind of a combination of an art and a sport, mixed in with the thrill of glass breaking or overheating and melting. It requires all of your attention. It taught me incredible skills of time management, body awareness, focus, communication, planning, and being aware of both myself and my surroundings all of the time. One of the reasons many people with ADHD can’t pay attention is because there’s not enough to pay attention to, and so they get easily distracted. With glassblowing, the stakes are too high to get distracted. There are actually quite a few glassblowers with ADHD because they have finally found something that they can pay attention to. Many neurotypical people think too linearly to be a glassblower. They don’t seem to have the expanse of focus that people with ADHD can extend. You’ve got to be able to keep track of many different things at once (where you’re standing, what your hands are doing, how hot or cold your glass is, what you’re doing next, what step someone else is on, is the equipment functioning properly… the list goes on). There is very little flexibility to get distracted and stop what you’re doing. Not only that, taking proper care of the tools used to work glass and the glassblowing environment are also fundamental to having a safe and productive day making glass. I also worked for years as a production manager, so developed a strong interest in productivity and efficiency.
• I was born in 1981: The year of the metal rooster. Although I was predestined to have ADHD through my genetics, environmental factors, and my upbringing, I was given the gift of being born during the year of this very organized and disciplined Chinese astrological sign. There are 12 different animal signs and 5 different elements to accompany each animal, for a total of 60 different combinations. Water, wood, fire, earth, and metal are the different elements that can accompany each of the animals. The characteristic of metal is highly disciplined and organized. The rooster is the most disciplined and organized of all the animal signs. Paired together, metal and rooster, I got the added ancestral ammo to lead me to the profession of being a Professional Organizer.
I have a deeply embedded interest in cleaning, taking proper care of animals, making glass, and caring for both the environment of the barn and the glass shop. These interests spilled over into a love of homemaking. While I’m not overly ridged or obsessive about organization, I have a strong affinity for organizing and cleaning. People show me photos or videos of their disorganized closets, garages, and offices, and I get visibly lit up with joy. This glee I have with organizing is why I can easily help others get organized. For a variety of reasons, many people with ADHD do not share this same affinity for organizing. Some do, and just need some support as they work through their clutter. Others are much more suited to do a variety of other things, and organizing is just not their cup of tea.
QUESTION: Ok, so you can organize, clean, plan, efficiently disperse your focus on in the hot glass studio, groom a horse, are you sure you have ADHD?
ANSWER: Yes! There are many other facets to ADHD that are beyond the stereotypical disorganization, loud hyperactivity, and disarray.
What’s still a challenge for me?
When my clients hear I have ADHD, they often like to ask me how it shows up for me. I like to be transparent about this, because I know how this type of sharing builds trust and rapport.
- I always want to be doing multiple things at once. This is probably one of my biggest assets and flaws. I can get a lot done, but sometimes feel a loss of presence. I rarely feel depressed, but I often experience a sense of being optimistic, sometimes overly optimistic, which can bubble over into an occasional bout of anxiety. The mornings can be the most challenging for me. I simultaneously want to read, exercise, eat breakfast, walk my dog, vacuum, unload the dishwasher, take a shower, check social media, and who knows what else! When I’m not careful to temper my energy expenditure, my adrenals can get kicked into overdrive, and I basically have to stop everything I’m doing so that my nervous system can recalibrate.
- People pleasing. To add to my desire to do multiple things at once, I have to closely monitor my boundaries so that I don’t overcommit. I’m a member of Toastmasters and one of the leaders of my club, a member of a business networking group, on the board of Seattle NAPO (Professional Organizers group), and have other loved ones that I want to continue building relationships with. As an introvert, all this socializing can really take its toll on me, so it’s an ongoing battle to be realistic about how I disperse my social energy, and the tasks I say yes to.
- Finishing personal projects. In addition to being a Professional Organizer, I am an artist. I often have the desire to start new projects before finishing other ones. I’ll also weave in some home improvement projects to compete with the time needed to complete the art projects. And after 20 years of wanting to learn how to play the Djembe, I’ve finally started learning how to play both the Djembe/Ashiko and the Kette drum. It’s also possible that I may have just attended my first official “band” practice last Sunday, but more on that idea to come. This idea may just be wishful thinking, but you never know! I’ve already started brainstorming band names and my outfit for our first show. And then there’s the Feng Shui training that I’ve been doing, at my own pace. I just met with my professor last night over Skype (he’s in Sydney, Australia).
- Reading is extremely challenging. I have a goal to read 25 minutes per day. The only time this ever seems to work out is if I do it first thing in the morning. I need pure silence. I prefer to read on my Kindle where I can highlight the interesting points in the book. I’ll also take notes with my phone so that I can enhance my information retention.
To combat all of these challenges, I’ve developed ongoing systems so that I can allow myself to be myself (desiring to do all these things, making life more interesting and letting my creativity flow). I’ve created my own life-hacks so that I can get to appointments on time, continue actively working on my goals, and not get too frustrated or stressed out while being the high achiever that I am. I love working with my ADHD clients to collaborate on ways to get things done without feeling too overwhelmed. Feelings of overwhelm, frustration, and stress are very common with people with ADHD. As we work together, we can customize strategies that work for you.
There are many myths about ADHD, and because of this many females go undiagnosed. This is sad to me, because once I had a proper ADHD diagnosis from a professional I trusted, it helped me gain a lot more self-compassion for myself. One of the most common things people with ADHD have been told is to just “try harder”. When you realize how an ADHD brain works versus how a neurotypical brain works, you can learn to “try differently”.
Being a Professional Organizer is an ideal job for me because here’s so much to pay attention to, and so much variety that I get to do every day. I get to work with lots of different people, work in different locations (in the Seattle area or on Zoom), and solve new organizational puzzles every day. I absolutely love my job!
If you have ADHD, what has helped you cope in this neurotypical world ? Please let us know in the comments!
By Jean Prominski, Certified Professional Organizer
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