By Michelle Seitzer
Lyn Christian wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until later in life. But in looking back, Christian remembers some of the signs.
As a child, Christian vividly remembers struggles with spelling and focus. As an elementary school teacher, Christian recalls roaming the classroom while students took their spelling tests, occasionally forgetting the placement of the test key used to aid struggling students.
Eventually, Christian left the field of education to bring their instructional design skill set to Franklin Covey — a company whose solutions and products are based on the very things that many people with ADHD often find most challenging: time management, organization and planning.
New Job, New Struggles: Time Management and ADHD
“My ADHD really stared me down at my new job,” says Christian. “Here I am, managing the time management curriculum for an internationally renowned company that specializes in time management, and I cannot get their system (of planning and organization) to work for me,” Christian says.
Christian remembers getting credit to shop company stores for Franklin Covey pages and planners. But the majority of Franklin Covey’s products — such as its famous planners — are rooted in traditional time management tactics that rely heavily on planning ahead, which can be a struggle for many with ADHD and executive function challenges.
Finding What Worked: A New Way of Planning
Still, Christian found validation from colleagues, and enjoyed promotions and success at Franklin Covey.
“When I was just hired, the senior VP said to me, ‘Lyn, I know that if you were a school teacher, you had to manage students, you had to manage your classroom, you had to manage relationships with colleagues and parents, you had to manage your lesson plans, and you had to manage how to grade. So you know how to juggle all the balls,'” Christian says.
Perhaps the most transformational thing Christian learned during this time was a mindset shift from time management to one of focus management.
“It starts with getting your head around being able to manage your focus — because if you can manage your focus, your time and energy follows,” says Christian.
That realization, along with Christian’s discovery of an organizational system that worked best for them, is the basis of an online course called “Be Focused.” Christian is now a master-certified life and business coach. And learning how to stay organized and focused on accomplishing goals — with an ADHD diagnosis — is among the topics frequently discussed in podcasts, workshops, trainings, and articles. It’s also covered in their recently published book, SoulSalt: Your Personal Field Guide to Confidence, Purpose, and Fulfillment.
We asked Christian to share top tips for mastering the challenges of ADHD and organization — of ideas, time, energy and focus — in the workplace and beyond. Here they are:
• The “pickling jar” for ideas
People with ADHD often speak of the countless ideas that daily, unceasingly flow into their brains.
“It’s almost like those of us in ADHD-land have a lightning rod sticking out of our frontal cortex,” Christian says. “And we’re zapping other people with our ideas and thinking if we do that, maybe they’ll help us make them happen.”
But as so many ideas come to people with ADHD, they have to write them down or might forget them, says Christian. And over time, people might forget which ideas are theirs and which ones may have came from other people.
What Christian recommends is having a canning or pickling jar (or simply visualizing one) where you can store your ideas and let them stay and marinate, a place that you can come back to.
“The ideas that stay bright, the ones we keep returning to, those are the ones that are probably ours and worth pursuing or holding on to,” said Christian.
When it comes to knowing which ideas to pursue, Christian offers this advice: “I have to really ask myself: ‘Is it OK with me to make a millimeter of progress in many places, or would I rather make miles and miles of progress in one or two areas?'”
• Divergent vs. convergent thinking
When it comes to effective project management and planning, Christian says, leaders in the workplace may use divergent thinking — big, broad, sprawling ideas. Or they may use convergent thinking — or bringing things together.
Both are equally important for leaders and professionals, says Christian — as outlined in a recent Harvard Business Review article which affirmed the value of these “two gears,” and in knowing how and when to shift between the two.
These two types of thinking come into play when planning, organizing or project managing. As the article states: “Leaders who are adept at shifting power modes let everyone know when it’s time for divergent thinking (during idea generation, for instance) and when it’s time for convergent thinking (to, say, map out next steps).”
• Three types of planning
For those who have a job that requires planning — whether long-term or short-term or both — Christian recommends having a system for daily planning, weekly and monthly planning, and project management.
Franklin Covey recommends the “Big Rock” method when doing longer range planning. That means assessing and prioritizing the ongoing tasks that take up the biggest chunks of time — instead of focusing on sorting through the “gravel” (things like emails, phone calls or laundry).
Find what works for you. That might mean writing your plans and projects down on a large dry erase calendar, in a paper planner, or via one or several of the countless digital planning tools available. Visualizing your plans and projects by connecting them to a calendar — whether actual or digital — is a helpful way of managing focus and ensuring completion.
Watch this video to see Christian’s focus management system for these various types of planning in action: