We’re wrapping up our conversations highlighting the importance of taking care of ourselves by diving into executive function, organization and finding your own path to peace of mind with Lisa Woodruff of Organize365®!
What we’re reading this week: Sarah Ludwig Rausch dives into her own ADHD journey in The Daydreamer: Why ADHD in Females Is Underdiagnosed.
Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):
Today’s episode on executive function and the path to organization with Lisa Woodruff begins right after this.
Support for Refocused comes from the team at ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that provides affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans, including medication management and teletherapy. To learn more about the support they can give you, head over to adhdonline.com.
As children, for every one female that’s diagnosed with ADHD, there are three males, and a big part of that discrepancy is that people don’t even realize there’s so much more to ADHD than what meets the eye. Women are really good at masking their ADHD, and that’s what Sarah Ludwig Rausch dives into in the article, The Daydreamer: Why ADHD in Females is Underdiagnosed, live and ready for you to relate to over at adhdonline.com. And, of course, that link is in our show notes.
Hello and welcome back to Refocused. This is episode 64, if you can believe it. Some days I can, and some days I’m like, “How did we get here?” And it’s overwhelming in the most wonderful way, and I’m so grateful to every single one of you who shows up week after week. My name is Lindsay Guentzel, I am the host and one of the producers of this lovely little project we’ve been working on since May. And over the last couple of weeks here in the month of January in 2023, we’ve been talking about the importance of putting on your oxygen mask first. And really the emphasis behind that is we’re no good to anyone around us if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. And that includes everything from getting enough sleep, and checking our calendar every day, and cutting things out of our lives that we don’t need to be dealing with.
So we started the month by diving into ADHD and the somewhat sometimes complicated relationship that we have with food with Dr. Marylin James. Then we moved into how to make some changes in that area with Becca King, the ADHD Nutritionist. Then we talked about money and ADHD and all of the, I’ll say lovely, but I don’t really mean lovely, things that can come from that complicated relationship with David DeWitt.
And now today we are going to dive into executive function and organization with Lisa Woodruff. She is no stranger to this podcast, we had her back on in, oh gosh, just in December to talk about her journey to an ADHD diagnosis, and what she’s going to be doing with that as she pursues a PhD. And then we talked about surviving the holidays, and you can go back and listen to both of those episodes, they’re available right now. And I’m so grateful to Lisa for coming back to dive more into this topic of executive function, because if you’re someone who has ADHD and you’ve done any research, it’s a phrase you hear an awful lot. And I got to be honest, Lisa, I don’t know that I actually understand, or even really know what the full breakdown of executive function is.
Lisa Woodruff (03:45):
Yeah, thanks for having me back, Lindsay. I love podcasts and I love being a guest on your podcast. I want to be clear that I am in my journey to get a PhD, I do not have a PhD. I am a mom, a former teacher. I’ve done a lot of research on my own. I’m 50, so I’ve lived half of a century. But all of the knowledge that I have about executive function is really from my lived experience with my kids who are diagnosed with ADHD, with the students in my class that had IEPs for ADHD, the trainings that I’ve taken in order to facilitate their learning. But I’m not a medical doctor, I’m not a psychologist yet, I don’t have any formal training, so I like to give all those disclaimers.
But I think that when we talk about executive function, what was so interesting to me, I first learned about the term “executive function” when my son started attending a learning disability school in second grade, and they did a lot of parent education, and they brought in experts in ADHD because they found that the majority of the children who were diagnosed with learning disabilities that were severe enough to need this special learning environment also had ADHD. And this school specifically focused on the executive functions, so the things that ADHD impacts that were actually hindering their education.
And one of the things that the headmaster said to me was often students will be enrolled in this school, and they will actually lose their ADHD diagnosis because the school was so cognizant of environmental factors that make it appear that you have ADHD symptoms that you actually do not have, that if you still are functioning in an ADHD capacity in your day-to-day living inside of the environment, this was Springer School and Center, inside of this Springer School and Center, then you definitely had ADHD.
A great example is every room in the whole building was carpeted. So if there was somebody walking in the hallway outside of the classroom, you couldn’t hear that person walking outside the classroom to distract you. And in a regular classroom you may say, “Oh, they’re always looking out in the hallway, so they’re distractable, so they have ADHD,” just making those inferences. And so all of those kind of environmental stimuli were taken away, so that you were just left with if all of your lessons are chunked and they are taught to you at your level, and the teacher-student ratio in the classroom was 12 students to two teachers, two special ed teachers, there almost was no way to not succeed. And so if there was still a struggle, it meant that there was something internal going on.
But then they strove to create strategies. So the whole school was built on strategies. And obviously they were teaching education, but more so the school was teaching the strategies for living in the real world with learning disabilities and ADHD. You cannot change your internal brain wiring, so how do you support your internal brain wiring for the world that we find ourselves in?
And so it was just fascinating to me. And so I learned this term “executive function”, and obviously strove to help my son, and then ultimately my daughter went to that school as well. But when I started my professional organization business 10 years later, and I started organizing predominantly women in the Cincinnati area, I started to see all of these executive functions being what was complicating the organization at home. And more than 50% of the women I was organizing were either self-diagnosed or actually diagnosed with ADHD. And so I started to put on my teacher researcher hat and say like, “Okay, well, if this is what I would do in a classroom with a student to support these executive functions, what would I do in a home to support these executive functions?”
And that’s kind of how I started to teach the skill of organizing, and overcoming these natural pathways that these women’s brains were using in their home environment when there’s not a lot of structure. Home is a place where we have the least amount of structure. And so I created scaffolding and structures at home that allowed them to then better function in their executive functioning.
Lindsay Guentzel (08:02):
I want to touch on the carpeted hallways. I’m having this flashback to the one teacher who always wore heels, and you could hear it clicking down the hallway, and it would bounce off of everything, or classes would be out in the hallway moving. And you’re right, it’s not necessarily that some students have ADHD, but it is a distraction. And so I’ll take the curtain back here a little bit, prior to us starting to record this episode, you made a comment about my hearing. I must have really good hearing. And the other day I was working remotely, I was at a coffee shop, and I was listening to music, and I was just plugging away. And you know that feeling where you’re in the groove, and you just feel like everything is going well? And someone walked in who started talking, and all of a sudden I’m like, “God, is he talking really loudly? Because I can hear my music, I can hear him.”
So I took my headphones off, I pressed pause on the music, and I was like, “He’s not talking that loudly, but I can’t tune him out.” And all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, I get it.” It’s not necessarily that I can’t focus on what I’m doing, it’s that I can’t turn off that part of my brain that goes, “I don’t need to be listening to this person’s conversation.” And so when you said that about carpeted hallways, it just took me back to that feeling of, “Well, what’s going on out there? Who’s out there? What’s happening?”
Lisa Woodruff (09:25):
Yes, a TV show is not background noise to me. I know everything that’s going on in that TV show. My husband will say, “You’re not listening to me.” I’m like, “I hear you. I hear the baby. I hear our daughter. I hear all of you simultaneously, and I understand what all of you are saying. I just can’t respond simultaneously. I’m not missing anything.” Interesting that you say that about your hearing, because my son, who has ADHD, is an audio engineer and his hearing is just so clear. He could hear trains from miles away, he could always hear things in the distance. And the only way he got through high school after he got out of Springer School and Center was he would have an AirPod in, just one, at that time it was like one earbud and the other one would be hanging down. And he would run music through that to counteract everything else that was going on, otherwise he just could not even focus.
And I think you said earlier about where is this going and the research, I think that we have not even really started scratching the surface of the research of the myriad of different ways that all of our brains process information, and all of the unique giftings and learnings that we have in our brains. It will take decades for us to unpack this. But I think that we’re actually more different than we are similar, and that each of these heightened awarenesses serve a certain purpose. But because public schooling, and schooling in general, is more of a move everyone through a continuum, create a well-rounded child, it’s just not created for the uniqueness and the individuality. To comprehend how you would educate at a unique and individual level, I don’t even know where you would start, but I think 50 years from now, that’s what we will be doing.
Lindsay Guentzel (11:15):
And I said this to you in the first episode that I had you on, this idea that the world is supposed to be one-size-fits-all. And it’s not only in the educational system that we’re seeing that kind of fall apart, but how people are working. And we can look back at the pandemic, there was just a day where everyone stopped going to work. And all of these people who had been relying on that structure, on that body doubling, on that knowing when you got to the office, you did this and then this and then that, and that’s how the day went, and then the days just kind of piled onto each other, we were left to our own devices.
And I’m curious, when you started to look at these women, predominantly women you were working with, most who had either been diagnosed with ADHD or thought that they had it, could you find a correlation between where… I don’t want to say where the wheels fell off, because I think that that sets us up to think that we actually learned what we were supposed to do and then we didn’t do it right. I actually think we leave the nest, we leave high school, we graduate, we move on, and we’re just expected to know what to do.
It’s kind of like when the oil ran out in my car, and my dad got very upset that the oil had ran out, it’s like, “Well, no one actually told me what I was supposed to do.” And it’s not even just telling me, it’s also then going, “Okay, when you hit this mile mark, I need you to tell me, and then you build upon that.” It was like this expectation that you get told once and then you’re good to go. And so I’m curious, what have you learned about where we’re failing human beings in setting up executive function?
Lisa Woodruff (12:56):
Yeah, I think it’s twofold. So the first is exactly what you said; in your family of origin, there is a structure for you as a child. Now, you may have had organized parents or not organized parents, but your sphere of influence in your childhood home is predominantly your bedroom. You’re in charge of your bedroom. You either did a good job with that or you didn’t do a good job with that. Maybe the house you lived in was neat as a pin, organized, or it wasn’t organized at all. But at the end of the day, how you were able to organize your bedroom, your homework, your school schedule, that was kind of like your innate organizational ability that you were born with, because that’s the space that you can organize when you’re under the age of 18.
And then you left that structured school setting. And if you went to a structured work environment, like you went to go work for a Fortune 500 company before the pandemic and you showed up at nine and you left at five, there was a structure there. And in both of those settings, if you were diagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability or any of these things, then the structure was in place in the institution of the school that you went to, or the workplace that you went to, and then accommodations were created for you to be even more successful within that structure. Now, if you chose to be a freelancer or to be an entrepreneur, then you didn’t have that structure of a business. And often, people who are diagnosed with ADHD do better when they have children than when they don’t. And when the kids actually go to school or when the kids graduate, that’s when they actually find out that they don’t have as many structures, because they use the kids’ daycare, school, preschool structure to create structure for them.
And so this ability to create the own structure for you is something that is more challenging for people who have executive function deficits, not all. And so typically you see that we, who are diagnosed with ADHD, go one of two ways. We either create so much structure and rigidity that we lose our way if our plan goes off course, we don’t know what to do. I used to say with my son, he was like an old-fashioned computer, and you had to power it down, which meant he had to sleep, and then the next day he would reboot and you could try again. But you couldn’t change the plan midday. That was not a thing. That day was lost. You just have to wait for the next day. Or they go the other direction and they say, “Look, I’m a free spirit. I don’t need structure. My brain is creative.” And so they resist all structure. They do unschooling, they just do all these things. There is no right or wrong. But that is generally the environment, you go one way or the other, and then the second part happens.
And the second thing that happens, which is what pushes most people over the edge, is they experience a new stage of life or an unexpected event. So a parent gets sick, a parent passes away, a family member gets sick, they go through a divorce, they move, they get a new job, they have another baby, some big event, or they have a 40th birthday. The 40th birthday is really, really big. So you have a big life event. And then that additional life event on top of the fact that there’s either way too much structure that is untenable, or no structure at all, just makes the whole house of cards come crashing down, and then they don’t know how to rebuild from there. And because life just keeps moving on, and no one knows what’s happening at home, and no one gives you support at home, you end up treading water pretty much for the rest of your life.
Lindsay Guentzel (16:26):
You mentioned with your son kind of having to reboot, and it reminds me of this all-or-nothing mentality. And I’m curious how you walk through getting started, because I know for a lot of us, we don’t want to get started until everything that’s in our past is boxed up and put away and cleaned up and it looks perfect, and then it just gets dragged on.
Lisa Woodruff (16:51):
Yeah, so today as we’re recording this in Cincinnati, everyone has a snow day. Guess what we don’t have outside? Snow. There’s no snow. All the schools called off, so now we have the snow day. So you have all these kids that are at home and there’s no snow. And then so you’re supposed to go to work, and then nobody’s watching your kids. And so for many active parenting people, this is a complete loss day for them. And so I was supposed to be on TV this morning, and they canceled me the day before. I thought that was very nice of them, not to have me come all the way down to the studio and cancel me on air that day. And I was like, “Great.” I went to bed knowing I had three more hours and I would fill them the next day.
I did not used to be that way. I used to be like, “Oh no, the TV canceled. So now what am I going to do?” And I would’ve putzed around for that three hours the next day and not had anything to show for it. But now I’m like, “Okay, my schedule is kind of like puzzle pieces. And that space opened up, so I just moved a new puzzle piece into it.” But when I shared that on Instagram, many people commented, “I don’t know how to pivot. I don’t know how to adjust.” And I think that this all-or-nothing, and this perfectionistic mindset, is because in school you got an A, you knew what you were going for, you knew when the assignment was due, you knew what you were supposed to do, you knew what your letter grade was going to be. We’re set up our entire lives for that, and then we go become adults and we try to get an A in our housework, and nobody’s checking it! And it doesn’t even necessarily need to be done, but we’re trying to create order through response to authority, versus living our own unique life.
And so the more that you can say, “Here are all the things I want to do in the future, here’s what I think my day’s going to look like tomorrow. Oh, my day changed. Okay, I’m going to grab this puzzle piece, and I’m going to put it in, and I’m going to move that one out,” part of that comes with age, and part of that comes with… I like to say, “I’m a person of excellence, I am not a perfectionist.”
And so if there’s one thing I could teach you that is a mantra I have taught in my podcast, perfection doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist. So stop track… It doesn’t exist. You’re a person of excellence. And when you decide that you want to take full control of your life and not live a reactive life; to be proactive, to create the structure that you need in your life, you need to know that this is a one, two, three-year process. This is not a, “I’m going to clean out my house in a weekend, and then all of a sudden I’m going to have a more perfect house.” And so you have to get comfortable with micro incremental change.
And then once you start to see success in one area, maintaining that area and moving on to the next, and actually learning the skill of organizing… Organizing is an executive function. Productivity is an executive… That’s actually the name of the executive functions. They’re productivity, getting started, which is task initiation, organization. Those are actually what the executive functions are!
Lindsay Guentzel (19:47):
I have somebody in my life who I am trying to… I don’t want to say convince, I’ve been talking with them about my own ADHD diagnosis and some of the similarities that I see in them. And their response is always, “But I’m really organized, and I was really organized as a kid.” And I was like, “Okay, so here’s where I tell you that that could be your people-pleasing, that you knew,” and you kind of touched on this, Lisa, “you knew it was good if you had all of these things together. If you were organized. You were like the prize student. People were excited about that.” And I could see it in their face, where they’re like, “Oh, I am a people-pleaser. And yeah, that does kind of fit in.” And it makes me laugh a little bit, but it also, like you said, we are so far from even scratching the surface. And the one thing that I just love is we’re actually having these conversations and people are realizing how powerful the human brain is, in good ways and in ways that make us really frustrated.
Lisa Woodruff (21:00):
So the Organize 365 mission is to teach the skill of functional organizing in a year so that you can do what you’re uniquely created to do. And I think that’s where we get stuck. We know that we need to improve our executive functions, we know that we need more organization in our life. And so we get stuck in the loop of, “Okay, well it could be a little bit better. I can be a little bit more organized. I can make this a little bit more structured. I can get a little bit…” And so that incremental change that I talked about in the beginning, there needs to become a time in your life where you go, “It’s good enough, this is good enough.” Because I now have enough organization, time management, self-control in my life, which are all executive functions, so that I can clear out this bucket of time to do what I’m uniquely created to do, and everything behind me doesn’t fall apart again.
The whole goal of organization, time management, all these executive functions, is to give yourself a sustainable life, and then open up as much time as possible for your unique gifting. And people who are diagnosed with ADHD are out-of-the-box thinkers. They are where everything in the world comes from. We need you to be pressing into your unique gifting and calling. The struggle is when you get into your unique gifting and calling, and you don’t want to go and keep up with the laundry and keep up with the mail and keep up with the housework, because you’re so excited about what you’re uniquely gifted and created to do.
So there needs to be, “I’m sorry, you’re an adult, but you still need to clean your bedroom every week. You still need to pay your bills every week.” You have to just bucket out this piece of time, suck it up, buttercup, get your actionables done, so that you have more time to do what you’re uniquely created to do. And then when you do that, you have more freedom because you know the time that you’ve set aside is purposeful, and not setting up your future self for disappointment, or frustration for those around you that love you.
Lindsay Guentzel (23:05):
A realization that I had, and I’ll use the cleaning your bedroom. Let’s say I don’t clean my bedroom for one week, and then the next week I don’t clean it again. So I’ve got, let’s say, five things in that room that I’m supposed to do the first week, I don’t do. Then for the second week there’s another five things, so there’s 10 things to do. And then the third week, it’s 15 things to do. And so instead of doing a small amount each week, then I’m faced with this monster project, which I don’t want to tackle because I feel overwhelmed by it, and so it just keeps growing.
And what I realized is all of that time I was wasting not doing a small amount each week, or at the end of each day, cleaning up my desk, and letting things get out of control, and then letting them spiral, all of that time that I was wasting, was time I could be spent doing things I actually wanted to do. So I’m in my office craft room right now, and I was cleaning it out this weekend because I finally had this realization that this is what is holding me back. This room, all of the stuff in it, all of the stuff I’ve been moving from house to house for over a decade. And I finally was like, “Enough’s enough.” And I laugh because I found a planner from 2021, and I was flipping through it, and on multiple pages there was like, “Spend 25 minutes cleaning up craft room.” And it’s like I have been dealing with this since we moved into this house five years ago, and all of that time could have been spent actually doing crafts and not cleaning the craft room.
Lisa Woodruff (24:39):
Lindsay Guentzel (24:41):
So what is the secret to getting started? And I know you’ve got the Sunday Basket, and we’re going to touch on that at the end, but I think some people feel so overwhelmed with getting started, they just feel like, “I don’t even know where to begin.” And so what is one actionable item that you suggest to people that they can start doing that isn’t a massive commitment?
Lisa Woodruff (25:05):
So first I want to say that, at least for myself, the reason why I tend to not start, and as you were talking about putting your bedroom off week after week, I was feeling the overwhelm of having to go in and do the bedroom on week three. When we put things off, we create such a big project, and it is overwhelming. And so when you think about getting organized, and as I’ve taught people to get organized, what I’ve come to realize is we all have a certain level of organization that we can do on our own. There’s no one that has zero organizational ability, and there’s no one that has 100% organizational ability. Everyone is somewhere in the middle.
So there are areas that you know how to organize. Might be cleaning out your fridge, cleaning out your backpack, your closet, your bedroom. And often it is the spaces that you see most often on Instagram, in TV shows, because you see multiple repeated examples of how to organize a refrigerator. You don’t have to have it look that pretty, but you know what it would look like if it was. You see very few examples of how to organize a storage room, or how to organize holiday dishes, or how to organize some of these things you have.
So the first thing is when you say you want to get organized or you want to get started, your desire and your momentum will usually take you as far as it has in the past, and then you’ll get to the point where you go, “Well, it’s good enough.” And I perceive that the reason you’re saying “it’s good enough” is because you don’t really have the skillset to go beyond this, because you don’t even know the picture of what that would look like if you were more organized. And I like to call this Swiss cheese organizing. So you’re like, “I cannot live this way anymore. I’m getting a black trash bag. Everything that is not breathing is going in this black trash bag. Okay, I feel a little bit lighter. All right, I’m going to clean out the pantry, I’m going to clean out my closet. I’m exhausted. That’s good enough, I’ll live with this.” And then you go another 3, 6, 12 months and then you do it again and you do it again and you do it again.
So inside of Organize 365, what I have tried to create, and people have been successful with, is like, “Okay, once you get your house to where you already know how to organize it, I’m going to show you how to organize everything else. Your laundry room, the electronic cords, the cleaners, the kids’ clothes, all of it. So that literally you can declare that your house is organized.” There’s pluses and minuses to that. The minus is it works, and people actually get organized, and then they don’t know what they’re uniquely created to do. And that’s why they kept going back to getting organized, because then they didn’t have to wrestle with, “How should you be spending your time for the betterment of society?” So that’s number one.
So if you are like, “Okay, yep, you got me. All right, I will get started. I already know I know how to do some of these areas, I’ve just let them go. How do I get started?” First of all, give yourself a set amount of time. 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes, I don’t care how much time it is, and put it on your calendar every single day, and make an appointment with yourself to spend that much time getting organized. It is impossible to not get organized when you start spending a certain amount of time every day organizing, because you can only reorganize things that are organized so much before you start moving on to other areas. And you will. It may take a couple of years, but you will get organized. That’s number one.
Number two is inside of the book ADHD, the executive function of organizing with ADHD that I wrote, I teach you a mantra, I teach you a script so that your body naturally starts to do this script. And I know it works, because people who listen to Organize 365 podcast will say, “I was just going to sit on the couch and listen to your podcast, and next thing I knew I was organizing. There’s something about that podcast that has created a script in me that I have to organize when I’m listening to you.” And so the script is this; you go in any space with that black trash bag, and you get rid of as much trash as possible. And I like to audibly say, “Trash, trash, trash.” Now I know I have ADHD. I didn’t know I did before. But this keeps my mind from thinking, “Oh, that’s a cute book. I should go read that book.” Or, “Oh, I want to…” and I’m like, “Wait, I’m saying something. What am I saying? Oh yeah, I’m saying trash. Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be picking up trash.” So you kind of self-correct.
The second thing is I always look for any food and dishes because, I don’t know why, but it’s all over my house, and then I move that in. And then the third one is any laundry, every room in every house always has laundry. By the time I’m done with that, the trash, the dishes, the laundry, your 15 to 25 minutes may already be up. That’s fine. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. But eventually, you’ll get done with that in one, two, or three minutes. Now you’ve got 14 more minutes, 24 more minutes. Now you’re going to start to, “I’m going to organize the books.” Pick one small thing, “I’m going to organize the books. I’m going to declutter and I’m going to organize the books.” And that is two different skills; decluttering and then organizing. So most people know how to declutter, because there’s so many TV shows about it. Organizing takes a little bit of teaching.
Lindsay Guentzel (30:05):
How does accountability fit into this? Because I think a lot of us were raised in an environment, and it kind of goes back to the anecdote I shared about my friend who was a people-pleaser and became very organized, and we need that gold star, we need that acknowledgement. And so I’m wondering how you encourage people to find their own accountability, because it can come from certain people in your life, but that also can sometimes be good and sometimes not be good. But sometimes it has to happen.
Lisa Woodruff (30:38):
Yeah. I like to not tell anybody when I start something new. So if you’re like, “Okay, I am going to get organized.” Don’t tell anybody. Because as soon as you tell somebody, I don’t know, for me, I’m kind of a rebel. I’m like, “Okay, now I’m not doing it, because I told you I’m doing it.” It’s probably the ADHD in me, I think it is. But if I’m doing it as a surprise, then I have more energy, because then it’s going to be a surprise.
The other reason I say not to tell anybody is because you can organize your backpack, your bathroom, your closet, your bedroom without telling anyone in your family, and then they’re not immediately looking for results. Because organization is not about what it looks like at the end. A little bit it is, but mostly it’s not. More it’s about how you feel, and how your space functions, and how you’re able to find things, and how you save so much time, and how you feel so much more in control. And those are not things that people can see on the outside. And it could take you a couple months to get your bedroom and bathroom and closet organized, and you’re just kind of doing your own little thing. A little bit here, a little bit there.
So interesting about the accountability, because I was a teacher, in the Organize 365 products, everything that we sell has a teaching component, so it has an online dashboard. It has a physical component like a workbook that comes out or a box or whatever. And then we have our own community app, because you need a supportive community of people who are doing the same thing that you are doing, that are not going to judge you. I think most people do not try to get organized because they’ve tried it before and they have not been successful. And the examples on Pinterest and TV shows are unattainable, so it’s almost like why even bother? That if you do tell someone, then they’re going to hold your organization standard to the one of the picture that they have in their head.
Whereas in the Organize 365 community, and inside of our app, every product has its own community group, and everyone is so… You’ve never met a more encouraging group of people, non-judgemental, and people will show their house, they’ll be like, “This is where I’m starting.” And then the comments come through: “I’ve been there.” “You can do this.” “You’ve got this.” “How many minutes?” And it’s just so encouraging. It’s really hard to find it anywhere else. It’d be like if you want to go on a diet, and then you tell your skinny sister about it, that’s not going to be helpful. But if you join Weight Watchers, and you go with other people who are trying to hold themselves accountable and they’re following a certain food plan, or if you want to run a marathon and you join a running group, you got to find people who are also trying to work on that part of their life together. That’s where you should find the accountability.
Lindsay Guentzel (33:19):
I love that you mentioned that, on the topic of accountability, because I hadn’t thought about that, but it makes complete sense because it doesn’t matter what it is, if you tell someone about it and then they question you, oh, those defensive walls that come up? And it is quick.
Lisa Woodruff (33:36):
Yeah, right. And then you immediately, you were so excited, and then all of a sudden you’re like, “I knew it. I knew I’m not an organized person. I don’t even know why I bother, so I’m not even going to try.” It’s just human nature. If something comes easy to you, you don’t understand why it’s so difficult for someone else. Just like we see so many possibilities.
Lindsay Guentzel (33:58):
Lisa Woodruff (33:58):
How can you be so linear in your thinking? How can you only think there’s one option here? There are like, 89 options, and if you give me five more minutes, I’ll come up with 8,000 options. How can you not see more than one option for this predicament that we’re in? So you need to be around people that are working on the same thing that you’re working on.
Lindsay Guentzel (34:14):
I really like that you also kind of touched on the internal celebration that we should all have when we’re trying something new, and to think about what that’s adding to our lives. And we touched on it a little bit in the last episode with David DeWitt and money, and talking about how saving money, it doesn’t give you the same sexy dopamine rush of spending money, but there’s stability there, and that brings peace of mind. And when you were talking about the chaos of a house and not being able to find things, and I think all of us who have clutter can think of going room to room trying to find something, and trying to find it again, and not remembering where it was, and where we put it, and it’s exhausting. And so there’s peace of mind that comes from that. And that can be the accountability.
Lisa Woodruff (35:05):
And it’s the elimination of the negative self-talk in your brain. We’re not nice to ourselves. We would not say to other people what we say to ourselves. And I will say, once my house was completely organized, my husband, who’s a perfectionist, is like, “Hey, could you organize this house?” I’m like, “Dude, it’s organized.” He’s like, “I don’t think so. I don’t know how you have a business.” I’m like, “No, I know where everything is. It’s organized.” Once you get to that point, you have mental clarity. You have your mind back. And I didn’t realize that. I always thought that once you were organized, you would have more time to do what you were uniquely created to do.
But it was when I was interviewing people on the Wednesday episodes on my podcast, and they talk about going through the transformational journey, and over and over and over again, they would say, “Lisa gives us grace. There is no judgment. We’re allowed to take as long as we want, as long as we’re making progress. And I got my mind back.” And finally, I said, “What do you mean you got your mind back?” And they’re like, “Oh, I don’t talk negatively to myself anymore. I don’t worry anymore. I don’t wonder if this thing is going to be done, because I already know that there’s a time and place for it to be done.” And I was like, oh my gosh, you’re right.
I literally have nothing in my head anymore. I used to have a never ending running to-do list where it was a… As I’m talking to you, Lindsay, I’m like, “There’s nothing.” I’m not thinking about what I’m doing now, I’m not thinking about anything, because everything in my life is organized. It has a place, it has a time, it has a cadence. All my ideas have a place to be. And so I’m able to be fully present all the time. And it’s from being organized.
Lindsay Guentzel (36:42):
I love that. That’s incredible. And I think it’s a gift, and I think we don’t know that that’s possible sometimes.
Lisa Woodruff (36:52):
Right. Yeah, because it sounds like hocus-pocus. I hate to even say it, because I’m like, “I sound like a lunatic.” It’s like, “Really? I don’t know anybody who has their brain, how can you say that you can…” The unexpected still happens. I still get overwhelmed. I still have to reprocess through as I go through life changes and stages. But an employee came in today, and they had a big life event happen this weekend. Now they are pretty much a full-time caregiver, and they’re like, “In the past this would’ve sent me into a tizzy. But you know what? It’s not that it’s not challenging, but it’s really not affecting my life very much.” And she’s become a full-time caregiver! And it’s because she has so many systems in place and so many processes in place, and because she’s so organized, that we have capacity.
So organization gives you time. Once you’re organized, then you become productive. Productivity gives you capacity. And that’s what we all want. We don’t want productivity so we can do a longer to-do list. We want productivity so that we can impact our world for good. So we can have capacity, and we can be the one in a crisis where people can turn to us and say, “Oh my goodness, this happened.” And we can say, “Oh, I can step in, I could do this and I could do that.” And it doesn’t create chaos on the back end of our lives. We actually can offer help, and not create our own chaos in the process.
Lindsay Guentzel (38:13):
And you touched a little bit on the importance of community when you’re doing, really, anything in life, whether it’s something you’ve done before or it’s something new. And I love that you’ve helped build that for these people who find that. Who go to a place where they feel supported and they feel like they can be honest, because I think there are a lot of people who walk through life who never find that.
Lisa Woodruff (38:35):
Yeah, well, I always thought that you were either born organized or you weren’t. And I was, so I was lucky, and you weren’t, because I knew how to organize. And over time as I was doing in-home professional organizing, I realized that my clients were learning the skill and they were canceling my services. And I was like, “Wait a minute, this is a teachable skill, this is way better than me being a good organizer and I can give you organization. If I can teach you how to become organized yourself, that is a lifelong skill that you carry with you.” And well, in the studies that we have done, the research studies Organize 365 has done, 87% of Americans agree that organization is a learnable skill. We’ve done this study three times, and it’s always 84, 85, 87%. It’s a high percentage. Then we ask the same people, “Are your family organized? Storage organized? Paper organized? Personally organized?” And the responses are 18 to 13% yes. That is such a huge chasm.
And I think the reason why is because while apparently Americans believe organization is a learnable skill, the people who are organized don’t know why or how they’re organized enough to teach it to people who are disorganized. And instead what you often get is judgment, or, “”y way is the only way, so I’ll come in and I will rescue you, and I will put my system in your place.” And that does not work, usually. It works for a period of time, and if you have enough money, you can have that person keep coming back and maintaining their system for you. But it only works for a period of time. But once you learn how to organize your own space based on how you use your space, that is a skill you’ll have with you for the rest of your life.
Lindsay Guentzel (40:18):
One of the things that you help people with is organizing their tasks throughout the week, and the things that they have to get off of their plate, and you do that through the Sunday Basket. And when we were at the International Conference on ADHD back in November in Dallas, we had a conversation that talked about the Sunday Basket, and you gave me permission to hold off until February. So hold on one second. All right.
So, you will be so proud of me, I knew where it was because I put it away, I haven’t even opened it yet, but you were so kind to send me your Sunday Basket planner. And so I’ve got the scissors out, because when I got back from Chad, and I was trying to get my life in order, I thought, “Oh, I could open this, and I could put it together.” And then I was like, “No, Lisa said to wait, this is just another distraction. I don’t need to look at any shiny objects.” So now where do I begin?
Lisa Woodruff (41:18):
So I just want to say this is not rocket science. I’m not Einstein. It’s not like other people have not created to-do list management systems. But I am a kindergarten teacher, so I am someone who’s been able to take that kindergarten instruction level, and create a product that literally everyone can use. It can be as detail-oriented as you want if you’re a very, very structured person, and it can be as big as you want if you’re just a big picture person.
So this is the Sunday Basket. You’re going to open up your fabric box, it has a divider in it, and you have slash pockets. And then it has a big space where you put things all week long that can wait till Sunday. So I’m going to teach you this right now.
Lindsay Guentzel (41:59):
Lisa Woodruff (42:00):
We are so overwhelmed with our lives. And some of the messages I heard from productivity people were, “You should open your mail as soon as you get your mail. You should only touch something once.” So if you find something that needs a new battery, go get it a new battery right away, and then put it back. You shouldn’t move it somewhere else, move it somewhere else, because that’s a waste of productivity time. So only touching things once and opening your mail right away are productivity killers. Absolutely productivity killers. Because we are creating all these little microtasks throughout our days, and we’re creating never ending to-do lists. And every time we have five minutes, we go, “Okay, what’s one thing I can do in this five minutes? How many things can I check off my to-do list? How about I rewrite my to-do list?”
And in case you didn’t know, the to-do list is never, ever, ever going to go away. And as a matter of fact, if you can ever get it done, you’ll be so bored that you’ll create a new one for yourself the next day. So stop trying to finish your to-do list. And I try, I was like, “I’m going to conquer this to-do list.” And I did, and I got rid of it, and I was bored. And I was like, “Okay, this isn’t working.” What I did instead, when my kids were little, which is when I created this Sunday Basket, 20 years ago, I realized that I needed a bigger bucket of time to actually get all of the bills opened and paid in one setting. I needed a bigger bucket of time to actually change all the batteries in all the toys that the kids had. I needed a bigger bucket of time to do whatever. Versus all these little things, and constantly running around, and doing all these little things.
And so I decided that if it could wait, every single thing that could wait until Sunday, must wait until Sunday, and that immediately cleared up an hour a day during my week. So if you don’t get the mail and bring it in and open it, and you think, “Oh, that only takes a couple minutes.” Time yourself. It takes five to 15, by the time you get in, you decide, “Okay, that’s recycling. Okay, this isn’t recycling, okay, I’m going to open it. Oh, that’s a bill. I could pay that right now. Do I have enough money?” No, I just take the mail. It came snail mail for a reason. I throw it in the Sunday Basket. I don’t even open it till Sunday.
I will say my husband was not happy when he found Christmas cards of the kids’ Christmas money that they should have had on Christmas when I did my Sunday Basket on December 28th. I didn’t care, because he doesn’t do the mail. So if he wants to do it another way, he can do it. If I’m going to do it, even during the holidays, you’re going to get… The money still spends. So, oh well.
So if it can wait until Sunday, it must wait until Sunday. And then that’s where you start to get some time. You are so overwhelmed with actionable to-dos, that you can’t find time to get organized. Where are you going to find this time? You have to, at some point, draw a line in the sand and say, “From this point forward, I am turning my ship 180 degrees from living a reactive life based on whatever text message and Instagram DM and mail that’s coming in and letter that’s coming home from school and all these things that I’m responding to, to I am going to plan my life.” And the ability to turn takes six weeks. It is six weeks. And if you can even mark it on the calendar. So for you, Lindsay, six weeks, we’re talking about the middle of March. Why are you laughing? The middle of March!
Lindsay Guentzel (45:17):
I’m laughing. I’m laughing because the way you explain it actually makes sense to me, and at the same time terrifies me.
Lisa Woodruff (45:24):
Right, because you’re already dropping balls, and you’re like, “Are you kidding me? I’m pretty sure there’s a ball in there that I’m going to drop.” So I’ll give you permission, as you’re going to put the mail inside of the Sunday Basket, you can flip through. If it looks like it’s money, go ahead and open it. Nothing I teach is so black and white that it can’t be adapted. But if there’s not enough structure to help you be initially successful, then you can’t make an adaptation. If everything’s adaptable, then there’s no point in having a structure at all. So I ask you to do it this way for six weeks.
Now, this system comes with a ton of slash pockets, but we’re only going to talk about the first five for the first six weeks. The other ones are all project oriented, and you’ll learn those in the co-working time, so we have a 90-minute co-working time every Sunday, and you can watch the replay if that’s not a good time for you. Remember, you’re learning. So you need to set aside time to learn. I can’t teach this to you by osmosis. You can’t just buy the box and then all of a sudden magically you don’t have any to-dos.
But there are some things that we have to do every single week. There are things that have to get done this week. You have to make a call, you have to pick up a prescription, you have to do whatever. You need to update your calendar, you need to go through your text messages, you need to go through your email every single week. You need to make a list of all the errands that you need to do outside of the house, and any orders that you need to place. You need to look at your finances and pay your bills. And then we have a slash pocket for things that you’re waiting for. Like, “We’ve sent in the stuff for the refund,” but you are waiting for the check to come back. You have sent in the quarterly tax payment, but you are waiting for it to reconcile. So any of those things that you’re waiting for.
And the only thing you need to do for the first six weeks is every time, every single time, a task comes across your plate, I want you to start asking yourself this question. “Can this wait until Sunday?” So you give your dog a flea and tic medicine, and it is the last flea and tic medicine. Want you to take that box, and put it in the Sunday Basket, because they don’t need flea and tic medicine for a month. That can wait until Sunday. You replace the toner cartridge in your printer, you take the box of the toner cartridge you just put in the printer, you put it in the Sunday Basket. The toner that you just put in there will definitely make it until Sunday.
And it is this retraining, from doing things so fast that they don’t end up on a to-do list, to creating as much time during the week as possible and putting all these actionable tasks on the weekend that, what ends up happening after six weeks, is that the time to go through your Sunday Basket, and it is going to be 90 minutes, at least, go so much faster. Because if you’re making financial decisions based on mail that comes every single day, you do not make as good of financial decisions as if you do all of that one day a week, and really look at the money coming in. Or if you get paid every other week, maybe you do it twice a month. And you just start to save a lot of time by like, “Okay, I paid all the bills, I stamped them all, they’re all ready to go,” versus one at a time.
And at six weeks, six weeks is the magic mark where you start to realize that you can think again, because you’re deferring so many things to Sunday that you’ll have a random thought during the week and you’ll be like, “Oh my gosh, my brain was so busy being a to-do list generator and task-oriented brain, I was not able to hear my really creative thoughts, my really “aha” thoughts that really solve bigger problems in my life, and for my family, or bigger things that I can be doing to move my business, my family, my personal life forward.” And until you get that mental clutter out of your head of this never-ending ticker tape of a to-do list, then you don’t get to use your brain as a real brain.
Lindsay Guentzel (49:12):
Well, I honestly didn’t plan this, at all, and I, in the middle of our conversation, was like, “I’m going to get the box out,” and I have to tell you. So six weeks from now is my birthday.
Lisa Woodruff (49:22):
Lindsay Guentzel (49:22):
So I feel like we have to… Wait, when is your birthday?
Lisa Woodruff (49:26):
Lindsay Guentzel (49:28):
My birthday is March 18th.
Lisa Woodruff (49:28):
Lindsay Guentzel (49:32):
Stop it! Okay, so here’s the deal. We are going to have a birthday party podcast celebration. We are going to talk about what I’ve learned over the last six weeks. I just got chills like you would not believe. Okay, this is… You can’t make this up.
Lisa Woodruff (49:47):
Lindsay Guentzel (49:47):
This is unreal, I am… The one thing I have to say, Lisa, is that even if someone is not ready for the Sunday Basket, the way you describe it and the way you break down how our brains work during the week, and how much wasted energy and time goes into that, it is very easy for people to understand. And I’m so excited that people get to hear that, especially now at the start of 2023, and they’ll get to move on. And now they will get to come to our Sunday Basket birthday party in March. And every time I speak to you, Lisa, and I say this over and over again, I learn something new. But you have it just so streamlined and it works so well, and I’m so appreciative of the time and energy you put out into this world, and I’m so… How cool that we share a birthday!
Lisa Woodruff (50:38):
I know, I know.
Lindsay Guentzel (50:39):
I love it.
Lisa Woodruff (50:40):
I know. And actually, the physical Sunday Basket will be five in March, and the concept will be 20 years old in March.
Lindsay Guentzel (50:48):
It’s a big month. It’s a great month. Anyone else who’s a March 18th birthday, hit me up on email and we’ll add you into the fun. But Lisa, as always, this was such a wonderful conversation. I am just really excited to go. And at the same time, I’m going to put my basket together, I’m going to find a spot for it, and I’m going to start putting stuff in it, and I’m not going to touch it until Sunday, because, like I said, the way you broke that down makes so much sense for me, and I can’t wait to get started. So thank you so much.
Lisa Woodruff (51:22):
Thank you. I’m super, super excited to be able to check in with you in six weeks. This’ll be such an awesome testimony!
Lindsay Guentzel (51:29):
I’m pretty excited, I won’t lie. Like I said, you lay it out in a simple way, and it does make sense. And fingers crossed, fingers crossed, we’ve got a good six weeks ahead of us, and it’ll just be smooth sailing from there. So thank you so much for joining us, and we’ll connect in six weeks.
Lisa Woodruff (51:50):
Lindsay Guentzel (51:57):
A big thanks to Lisa Woodruff, CEO and founder of Organize 365, for joining us once again on Refocused. To learn more about her and the incredible company and community she has built to help people of all ages learn the functional skills they need to stay organized, head over to organize365.com and follow her on social, @Organize365.
I’m so excited to share that, over the last few months, we’ve been working really hard to grow the team and to build a better foundation for creating even more to help the ADHD community. And I’ll be introducing that team to you more formally, and they have titles, very official titles, and I can’t wait to share that very soon because it’s, without a doubt, a result of a lot of hard work, and just the most wonderful support from ADHD Online. So get excited, because that is coming soon. But in the meantime, for old time’s sake…
Refocused is produced and hosted by me, Lindsay Guentzel. Our production team includes Al Chaplin, Sarah Gelbard, Sarah Platanitis, and Phil Rodemann. Support also comes from Keith Boswell, Claudia Gatti, Melanie Meyrl, and Susanne Spruit, along with the entire team at ADHD Online. The show’s music was created by Louis Inglis, a songwriter and composer based out of Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. To work with Louis, you can find his email, as well as links to his work, shared in the show notes.
To connect with the show, or with me, you can find us online, @RefocusedPod, as well as @lindsayguentzel, and for the last time, because we even got a new official email address that we’ll be telling you about soon, you can email us directly at [email protected]
Just in case it’s been on your to-do list and you need that extra push, it would mean so much to the entire Refocused team if you could take some time and leave us some love online. Whether that means giving us the good old rate, review, subscribe wherever you’re listening right now, or by sharing us with your social networks, maybe a favorite episode or a story you really connected with from our first Refocused Together back in October. You can also just follow us on social media, @RefocusedPod, and my personal account for all of the cat videos in the world, @lindsayguentzel.