Episode 57. Lisa Woodruff on Life-Long Learning and a Later-in-Life ADHD Diagnosis (Part 1)

It’s a busy one! Lisa Woodruff of Organize365® walks us through her own later-in-life ADHD diagnosis and shares the motivation behind her decision to pursue a PhD. Lisa also provides great insight into how the functionality of our homes changes over the years and what we can be doing to adapt along with it, plus how planned neglect can help get all of us into 2023 with a little less stress and anxiety. 

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:00):

Welcome back to Refocused, a podcast all about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hosted by me, Lindsay Guentzel, and produced in partnership with ADHD Online.


I have spent the last 15 years of my life telling stories, working as a journalist in television, radio, print, and now podcasts. And I happen to be one of the many adults, not just here in America, but across the world, who was diagnosed with ADHD during the pandemic. It was a life altering answer to a question I didn’t know I was asking or really even needed to be asking. And it came in January of 2021, just two months before I turned 35. And that is me, Lindsay Guentzel, in a very, very small nutshell.


There’s actually so much great stuff to get to that I’m going to jump right into today’s episode with friend of the show, Lisa Woodruff. You may have already met Lisa through one of the webinars she’s hosted for ADHD Online. She’s the founder and CEO of Organize 365, a company that helps people of all ages learn the functional skills they need to stay organized. And I have to tell you, I learn so much from Lisa every time we chat, and I’m really excited to welcome her to Refocused.


If you like what you’re hearing, show us some love online. Rate, review and subscribe wherever you’re listening now, and follow along on social, @RefocusedPod. And make sure to check out all of the amazing stuff we’re creating by visiting ADHD Online.com/refocused. And of course, if you have a story you want to share or a topic you want us to look into, shoot me an email directly at [email protected].


When you sign on to tell 31 stories in 31 days, you know that there are going to be incredible stories. And there have been. I’ve just been blown away by how different everyone’s ADHD story is and what got them to a diagnosis and what they’ve done after that. And so I’m so excited to bring today’s guest into the conversation, Lisa Woodruff. If you have been paying attention to any of the things happening over at ADHD Online, maybe you follow Lisa independently. She is a phenom in her realm of what she does, and we’ll get into that. But she is the founder and owner of Organize 365, and she might have ADHD. I don’t know if we have yet to confirm the details, but I’m so excited to bring Lisa into the conversation to just dive into another one of those incredibly complex and very interesting ADHD stories. So Lisa, thank you so much for joining me on Refocused.

Lisa Woodruff (03:18):

Yeah. Lindsay, thank you so much for having me.

Lindsay Guentzel (03:21):

Let’s go back. I know when we were together in Michigan in September, we talked about your story, but it is so complex. So in your world, when someone asks about it, where do you start? What is your opening line? Because I think we all have our own way of telling our story.

Lisa Woodruff (03:41):

So pre November, 2022, I would always say that I don’t have ADHD, but I have been a teacher where my job was to actually help those that either had ADHD or were diagnosed with ADHD, catch up to their peers in school. My kids were both diagnosed with ADHD in school. One has lost their ADHD diagnosis, but they both had an ADHD diagnosis in school. And then when I was doing in-home professional organizing in Cincinnati, 50% of my clients either self-professed to have ADHD or had a clinical diagnosis of ADHD.


So ADHD was all around me. I was fascinated by it. I learned a lot, especially the school that my kids went to really specialized in executive function and how ADHD impacts learning disabilities. I’m a researcher, I love to learn, I’m a student, but I’ve always been extremely organized. And so people said, “Oh, Lisa, you have ADHD. And I’m like, “I don’t think so,” because really organized and I didn’t have an IEP and I’ve been successful in everything I’ve done. I don’t have any of the markers that would have caused me to figure out is there something going on that I need to address?

Lindsay Guentzel (04:56):

I’m wondering when the idea of taking an assessment came to you and what that whole kind of moment was, if it felt like a big acceptance, if it felt like a big risk or if it was like pure curiosity.

Lisa Woodruff (05:12):

Huge risk. Huge risk because I sought out, do I or do I not have ADHD, as a 50 year old woman? I’ve grown a company over the last 11 years. It’s profitable, it’s successful. I’ve raised two children, so I didn’t really have any reason to figure out if I did or didn’t have ADHD. The reason I really sought out a true diagnosis, yes or no, was a couple of things. One, I saw a lot of entrepreneurs in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s being diagnosed with ADHD. And I was like, okay, well that’s odd and why would you care? And then the other thing was because I do help people through the podcast and through our courses get organized, what I know is when you get organized, you get more time and then you can use that time for what you’re uniquely gifted to do.


That’s our mission, is to give you back your time so that you could do what you’re uniquely gifted to do so that you can impact the world for good. And what I was finding in mostly women who found Organize 365 that were achieving organization and giving back to society, they all said that they had less stress, less overwhelm, more grace and more time. And I was like, less stress, less overwhelm. Yeah, I guess those go together. Can we quantify that? Could we put that in a study? So we did some academic research, trying to figure out how much time do you save with our products and our courses? And that was really hard to figure out. But what we did find out was that people really wanted to be organized. 87% of Americans believe organization is learnable skill, and yet so few people have. It’s 13 to 18% in any category. I’m like, “Oh, this is abysmal.”


Once I saw that, I was like, okay, I have to figure this out because why are people knowing that they can get organized but they’re not getting organized? What is the thing that is holding them back? So I was thinking about ADHD and I was like, okay, well a lot of our audience members, a lot of people come on the podcast and share their story again, say that they have ADHD or they’re self professed to have ADHD. I’m like, is there any correlation there? And then everybody’s always telling me that I have ADHD. I’m like, all right, well how do we figure this out?


And then along that time, when you’re really doing what you’re uniquely created to do, there are a lot of God incidences that happened, coincidences, where if I hear anything two times I’m listening for the third time. And then I’m like, “All right, you just do this thing.” So ADHD Online reached out to me to do a webinar for their audience. I was like, okay, yeah, blah, blah, blah, do a webinar. And it was a really well attended webinar. They were like, “How about if we do another one?” And I was in this period of time in the summer of 2022 where I was like, “You know what? I’m not doing these one off webinars anymore, all the time.” I was like, “How about if we just partner? How about if I do a whole series?” Because I had all this research to share. So as I was sharing this research, my audience was like, “Okay, what’s ADHD Online?” I’m like, “Yeah, what is ADHD Online?”


So having children that got diagnosed with lots of things, neurotypical and otherwise, as children, I know how hard it is to achieve a diagnosis of any kind and the hoops you have to jump through and how little time women in their 40s and 50s have, like they have negative time. Even if they’re organized, they still have negative time. There’s just so many things. And when I heard that you could get an ADHD diagnosis in three days for $150, I was like, “I have $150.” That’s literally what I thought, “I have $150.” And I thought if Organize 365 is reaching people who are not feeling organized and want to be more organized and want to be more productive, that to me is in alignment with your executive function. I’ve been talking about executive function for the entire time I’ve been talking about my podcast, which is how ADHD presents in real life, like how many things can you remember and are you on time and can you organize everything that you need to do and do you have productivity?


And so I was like, well, it’d be interesting in the next research study that we do to parse out who doesn’t have an ADHD diagnosis so that we could actually test executive function. And my hypothesis is, which is why I’m going back to get my PhD now, is that you can improve your executive function by learning organization at home, which mitigates or reduces the effects of ADHD. I know, huge assumption. Well, first we have to know how the heck can we figure out if people have ADHD or not? So I was like, all right, well I’ll take the test and I’ll find out from ADHD Online. And yes, exactly what you said. I was like, okay, so this is scientific, this is research. If I’m going to partner with somebody, I want to know that the test is accurate and that it’s something that I should share with my audience. Because I share very little outside of my own products with my audience. And so I was like, I’ll take the test.

Lindsay Guentzel (10:08):

And then what happened? And the reason I ask is I’m trying to get to kind of the follow up because I know that you took the test, it said you had ADHD. I’m curious what it told you. But then I’m curious what you did after that because you mentioned you’re going back to get your PhD, and I love how you talk about the curiosity behind this is my hypothesis. You can improve executive function, which then mitigates some of the other things that come with ADHD. And being a combined type and understanding myself better, I understand that my lack of organization in certain areas of life means that I take on too much or I’m overwhelmed or I walk through my house and I’m like, there’s just too much stuff everywhere. And that feeling, we all know that feeling of just that right through the middle of your chest.


And when that happens over and over again, you start to feel like this is life. But I think any of us who have either done the whole thing, just the whole caboodle, walked through every area of life and figured it all out or have figured out how to organize small areas that you feel good about. Sometimes I get very down on myself for how disorganized my house is. And then I go, “Well, our kitchen’s very organized and I have kept it organized.” And that is a win. And I think once we start to look at these small wins and building them up, and that’s just a tangent of my own experience, but acknowledging that it’s not impossible, it sometimes needs to be smaller steps. And so you get this diagnosis and you’re using it then to figure out how it fits in with you because every person says, “Well, yeah, you have ADHD, but you’re so organized.” And again, it’s like that old stereotype. And I love your story because it again just adds to the acceptance and the acknowledgement of how complex ADHD can be.

Lisa Woodruff (12:19):

Yes. So 8,000 thoughts I have on this. The first one is this. I am a very eclectic learner. I take from so many different sources. I have a political view, but I love to learn about other political views, other countries, other ways of thinking. I have a religious perspective, but I love to learn about other religions, other ways of worshiping, other perspectives. So I have an opinion, but also I like to take in the whole, and I think this all goes back to my two children are adopted. And so I don’t know their health history. So there was a lot that I had to do for them as we were raising them. One to determine what was normal and what wasn’t normal for their physiology. And then also to help them with their health needs. One was extremely asthmatic and another one had a lot of food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies. So things that doctors would be like, “This is a problem, here’s how we solve this problem.”


Things that were brain based, based on mood learning disabilities, ADHD, many other that are more brain based diagnoses that weren’t really cut and dry. And so in order to meet their needs, I was a stay at home mom at the time and my job was my children. And so I used everything that was available to me in traditional medicine, in alternative medicine, in energy work, you name it, we tried it. I mean lots of money on my kids. And we have spent almost all of the money that Greg and I have ever earned on two things, education and health. All of our money goes to education and health and we take one vacation a year. Other than that, all the money goes to that. And so as I was figuring out like, okay, let’s just figure out if ADHD Online is ethical and if it is a good thing to do, I’ll use myself as a Guinea pig, 150 bucks, what’s the big deal?


But I didn’t want to stop there because that to me, a diagnosis is just a marker that tells you that you’re on the right path. To me, it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning. So I wanted to know definitively do I or do I not have it? So ADHD Online said yes I did. But while I was deciding if I was even going to do that test, I was talking to a friend of mine in Cincinnati who’s an ADHD coach, who coaches on executive function. And we talk about how the Sunday basket and the Friday work box externalize your executive functioning just based on my education, I’m a teacher, how I would help you if you were my student. But I’m not a doctor, I don’t have a PhD or any of that. And so she said, “Okay, well what I would do with a client is I would run them through the Brief, the Brief, which is an executive function test.


And I would see how their executive function is functioning. Like, how well is your brain, your prefrontal cortex of your brain, functioning in real life? And she said, “And after you take that test, then I would tell you if I refer you to get an ADHD test or not.” So I took her test and the ADHD Online test on the same day, mailed off the results to her and sent in the results to ADHD Online. So ADHD Online comes back and says, “You have ADHD.” And Barbara comes back and she says, “You do not have ADHD.” She said, “Your executive function is all within normal limits. I would not refer you for ADHD testing.” I was like, “We got a problem.” So either I’m right, I have ADHD, but over time, because I know over time I have improved my executive function, that I’ve pulled it into normal levels so that I can be successful or I never had ADHD to begin with.


So then I was like, well, I have to figure out who’s right. Is the executive function test right? Is the ADHD test right, or am I right? I do have ADHD, but I’ve pulled my executive function into normal limits. But that was my thing. And still nobody even knows that I’m doing these tests. So I’m like, okay, so this is all the summer of 2022. And again, it’s because I really want to partner with ADHD Online. But now I’m like, oh geez, either I’m right that I figured this out or ADHD Online is wrong and they aren’t doing their testing. So I approached a psychologist in Cincinnati to actually do the test. Now, I have been diagnosed at the age of 17 with dyslexia. So all my lack of attention to detail had always been attributed to this very late diagnosis of dyslexia and the fact that I couldn’t do spelling.


So the therapist didn’t even want to see me. She was like, “I don’t even know why… You don’t have ADHD. There’s no way.” She’s known me for 20 years. She’s like, “There’s no way you have ADHD.” And I was like, “Why?” She goes, “You’re way too successful.” And I’m like, “Are you telling me that you can’t be successful and have ADHD? Are you telling me that you can’t mitigate the effects of your own ADHD if you don’t have pharmaceutical intervention?” And she said, “Yeah. Basically, if you have ADHD and you don’t have a medical intervention and you don’t need medical talk therapy in order to overcome your ADHD, then you never had it to begin with.” I’m like, “That’s ridiculous.” I do professional development. It is my job. I have read all the books, I’ve done all the courses, I’ve done all the… This is my life, this is what I’ve done.


I believe I was a child with ADHD and I was able to overcome it. And she says, “Well, what do you want me to do?” And I was like, “I want you to run every single test possible to prove either way if I do or do not have ADHD.” Now, what’s interesting about almost all of these brain things is they’re based in childhood. You either had them as a child or you didn’t. You can’t develop ADHD when you’re 50. And so then you had to go back to childhood. She said, “Well, I’d have to see report cards,” blah, blah, blah. I was like, “I have it all, because I’m a scrapbooker.” So when I went to see her, I had it all. I had all my report cards. I had an IQ test from when I was seven. I had every single standardized test. She was like, “Holy cow, how do you have all this stuff?” I was like, “I’m a scrapbooker.”


So she asked for, before she would see me, she asked for the ADHD Online report and I was sweating bullets. I was like, “Oh great.” This is going to be a two pager. I’m going to send it in. She’s going to be like, “You wasted your money.” So I had to go on the ADHD Online portal to download it and it’s a hefty document. It’s significant. I was like, “Oh good. There are a lot of pages. This is going to make me look good.” So I sent it over to her and I went down to see her. She knows of me because of the kids’ learning disabilities. So she’s seen me as a parent advocate and how well I advocated for my kids. So we talked about the kids a little bit, and then she looked at my stuff and she said, “Well, I can run a couple tests if you want, but you’re definitely ADHD.” And she’s like, “You are very ADHD.” She’s like, “You score off the charts for both hyperactive and not hyperactive.”


And I was like, “Interesting.” She’s like, “Yeah. Now, first of all, I asked your mother to fill out these forms and your mother thinks you’re perfect. Every single thing was zero.” I’m like, “No, I was a chatty Cathy.” She’s like, “You were just really, really good at hiding it and you loved learning, so you just kept asking questions and you just kept going on.” She said, “But furthermore, you don’t have dyslexia.” I was like, “What?” She’s like, “No, it’s your lack of attention to detail. It’s your ADHD that presented as dyslexia.” So then she gave me the dyslexia test and I do not have dyslexia. I couldn’t believe it. And I said, “Well, why do you think that they diagnosed me with dyslexia?”


And I told her that I learned by whole language. So late ’70s, early ’80s, there was no such thing as phonics for children. We learned through whole language. And she said, “Well, that’s why. You didn’t have the basis of phonics.” She said, “Well, why do you have it now”? I said, “Because I went to college to be a teacher and then I taught reading.” She said, “You fixed your own problem.” You fixed your own dyslexia by learning phonics and then having to teach reading. And it’s just fascinating to me because I think that growing up, you went to a doctor because a doctor would diagnose you with something and then they would fix it for you. But now today, we are in charge of our own healthcare. You’re in charge of your own life. If you don’t know this, you are the only person that can help you and you’re the only person that can hold you back. And you can’t really help or change anyone else around you. You could just change yourself, which will often change those around you. So now I have my answer.


One more thing that the therapist said. She said, “There are two things that help me say that you actually are ADHD because you’re really good at hiding at, Lisa.” She said, “When you told me about your driving record.” She said, because she couldn’t see any risky behavior in me. She’s like, “So the fact that you got so many speeding tickets and so many accidents,” she’s like, “That’s a classic ADHD thing.” So then she asked me to tell her about money. I was like, “Well, do you want to know about real money or Lisa maths?” She goes, “You don’t even have to go any further. I know where you are on money.” I was like, I spend until Greg goes, “We cannot have this much debt.” And then I stop spending until it comes into the normal level and I go earn more. And then he’s like, “Okay,” he gets kind of comfortable and then [inaudible 00:21:27]. She goes, “Yeah, classic ADHD.”

Lindsay Guentzel (21:32):

And it is. It’s so wonderful to hear you say that because again, it falls outside of this very small bubble. I love that you talked about the learning styles. And I don’t even think it’s just isolated to learning styles. I think this world is so one size fits all and it’s for everything. Even thinking back to middle school, anyone who was an individual man, we were not okay with that. We did not know how to accept anyone who did not want to fit into this tiny little box that we didn’t even create. Someone else created it and we just kind of stepped into it and we’re like, “Okay, it doesn’t fit well. The arms are a little short and the pants are a little tight, but everyone else is here so I should continue to do this.” And once you realize that and realize, like you mentioned, learning as an adult about phonics, learning is something I think we do not talk about.


There’s two things I think that we do not really prepare people for. One is lifelong learning and being curious and wanting to understand things better. And I think a part of that ties in with we do not prepare people to ask for help. And I say ask for help, but I don’t mean asking your neighbor to help you when you’re on vacation. And that fits into it. It’s not isolated just to that. But I think I didn’t understand things growing up, but I was afraid to acknowledge that. And asking for help so that I could understand it wasn’t okay, it wasn’t supported. It was very much like, “I don’t want anyone to know that I’m not getting it. Everyone else is getting this, why can’t I get it?” If you polled every person, there would be more people who would say, “No, I don’t understand anything that’s going on, but I’m also too afraid to speak up.”

Lisa Woodruff (23:34):

Yeah, I was always the one that asked all the questions. I was in Catholic school, so I asked the questions of the priest, I asked the question of the bishop when he came to town. And my priest who was leading the class, when I was asking the bishop about why I had to go to confession was like this, like, “Oh my gosh, why is she still talking? Why is she still talking? Why is she still talking?” Because I wanted my questions answered. I had questions and I wanted them answered.

Lindsay Guentzel (24:05):

It’s so interesting, I think, as an adult having this later in life diagnosis and obviously looking back, there are things in my life that I know I would change and I can’t change them, I can only move forward. And what I love about how you are looking at this is you know why you are here on earth. You know your purpose. And now you’re taking this new chapter and figuring out how you can take that and intertwine it into your purpose.


So tell me about what’s on the horizon. And I say that because I imagine between now and whenever you get to that point, it’s going to change. So right now, how do you look at what you’ve learned and how it’s going to fit into what you’re doing here for your life, your purpose?

Lisa Woodruff (24:55):

I love what you said earlier about how in middle school we were all trying to conform to one person. I think that one of the benefits of being an American and living in America is that we do have so much individualization and so much opportunity to follow your dreams and do really whatever you want. Now of course there’s a lot of responsibility in that because you can follow your dreams that do whatever you want and you can fail, but you can also succeed. And so the more that we can start to pull on the strengths of what make each of us unique and special and the gift that we have to give the world, the better as a whole society we are. But with that, you have to understand your limitations even more than your strengths. Because if you’re just like, well, I’m brilliant and I’m going to go do this thing, but I’m not going to do my taxes and I’m not going to take care of my body, then you’re not going to live very long.


So what I really want to do is help people realize that you have to have organization, you have to use the prefrontal cortex of your brain. Now, if you have ADHD, I have always said that the best support for you is another person. This is why there were secretaries by the way. And this is why you have administrative assistants and this is why you buy housekeeping services and this is why you get an aid for a child in school because you do have so many ideas and so many possibilities in your brain of different ways that you could go, that the day-to-day details really are boring because you’re on such a different wavelength thinking than others around you. But you have to recognize that you are in the world, you are on the same earth. So there are things that we have to do. And the more that you can look at the things you have to do every day, eliminate as many as possible or automate them or outsource them.


And then the few that are left, I like to task, stack and then task, batch. So all cleaning happens Saturday morning. If it’s not Saturday morning, even if, like I just walked by this morning, there’s this huge stain on the rug and I’m like, “I’ll figure that out Saturday morning.” It’s Wednesday. I’m like, “I’m not even.” My husband will see that tonight and he’ll be like, “We have to fix it,” and he will talk about it till Saturday and I will deal with it on Saturday because I know that I have way too many other things going on. So part of it is realizing that you don’t get to opt out of your life and everything in your life that you don’t want to do, but you can reduce it. You don’t have to send Christmas cards, you don’t have to change your bedsheets every week, if that’s what your mom did growing up. You could do it once a month.


Start to think about all these things that you feel are obligations at home that you’re already not… Let’s be clear, we’re already not doing them. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to reduce the amount we’re doing.” No, we’re saying that we are going to accept the amount that we’re doing is the normal and stop worrying about the amount that we are doing. That has to happen. Because if you don’t do that every once in a while and just kind of make yourself a list of, okay, instead of 100 things, these are the 20 things I’m going to do every month around my house. These are when they’re going to get done. I’m going to put them on autopilot so I can go do what I’m uniquely created to do.


Then when you’re doing what you’re uniquely created to do, you’re remembering, when was the last time I changed the furnace filter? Did I pay the bills this month? And it’s distracting you from being able to really press into your gifting. So that’s what I want to do. That’s what I’ve always said is I’m not a Pinterest organizer. I don’t end up labeling anything around my house. My husband actually still doesn’t even think I’m organized, which is hysterical because I am. But it doesn’t look like a magazine. I’m not trying to get your house to look like a magazine. I’m getting you to a functional level of organizing so that your life can run on autopilot, so you have as much time as possible to do whatever you want to do based on where your brain is taking you today.

Lindsay Guentzel (28:47):

I have a few points. One, I love that you mention what do you want to do in life? You don’t have to send Christmas cards. These rules, quote, unquote, societal rules were set. And it’s great that people follow them. But we can all do what we want in our own way. And I love that you said like we’re not hitting all of the things we’re supposed to do anyway. So acknowledging that, but also acknowledging that we are running through a list that was not set by us, that we have not agreed to. And then when we don’t do those things, a lot of us feel shame and embarrassment and regret and like we’re not keeping up with the Joneses. And it’s like, no, that’s someone else’s life. What is happening in your own bubble? And it’s those feelings that come with that.


I have to laugh because the other day, you know mentioned, when did I change the furnace filter? Every month I text my partner because he’s my responsible one, he’s my bill payer. And every month on the third or fourth day of the month, I’m like, “Did I send you mortgage?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” And I’m like, “Okay, okay.” And so it was just not too long ago, it was November 3rd and all of a sudden I had been delaying and delaying and delaying just going online and paying my car payment. I have the money in my account. Why couldn’t I just open the computer? And I said, “You’re doing it again. This is a five minute task. Get up, get your computer, open it up, go and pay it.” And you’re going to die. You are going to die. Because I go to the Chase website, I sign in. Two months ago, I had paid two months to get myself ahead because I knew I was going to be busy in October. I was thinking ahead, very proud of myself. And then I set up automatic payments and did not remember.


So on November 1st, it had come out of my checking account and two days later I was still stressing out about it and I opened it up and I’m not joking, it was just this, “Oh God, thank God that’s done. That is done.” All I have to know moving forward is that there is money in the checking account, which there will be because I have worked on that over the years, not being a great money person. But it was just this feeling of you did that for yourself and now you don’t have to worry about it. But it was so funny those two days, I’m like, “Why didn’t I just look on the first?” But it was that thing bouncing around in your head, you’re driving your car and you’re like, “Car payment, I got to do my car payment.” And then you get home and you’re busy or and it’s like, car payment, car payment, I’ll take care of it tomorrow. And it’s all of those things that build up and it gets to just be so much.

Lisa Woodruff (31:33):

So I created the Sunday basket 20 years ago for myself when my kids were six months and two years old and I was running a direct sales business and they were extremely sick. Joey was on eight asthma medications at the age of two, eight. That’s a lot of asthma medications. It’s ridiculous. Nebulizer machines, adoption paperwork, and just everything going on. It’s like I can’t do this. And so I created the Sunday basket, which holds all my mail, but also all this random ideas. I have no cards in my car, in my purse, everywhere. So yeah, I’d be driving, going, “Did I make the car payment?” And then when I get home, if that can wait till Sunday, it goes into Sunday. So here’s the thing. You don’t get to opt out of your life. Have ADHD, don’t have ADHD. If you don’t take care of your bills and your body and your house, that’s not adulting.


You have to do adulting. I was sitting together with my son the other day and we were voting remotely or whatever, absentee ballot. And he’s like, “This is some next level adulting stuff, mom.” Because I’m always teaching him all of these adulting things. You don’t get to opt out of adulting, but you could put it in a box. Once you listen to your brain, write down whatever your brain has to say, if it can wait till Sunday, it waits till Sunday. Yes, you have to spend two hours on Sunday doing all of those things, but you’re spending 10 hours a week doing all those things anyway because you’re doing them as your brain is reminding them of these tasks. Start to train your brain to tell you whatever it wants to tell you. Write it down and then you’re like, “Great, I got to do this for two hours on Sunday.”


You can go out and get a fancy coffee first. You can do it with wine, you can do it however you want it, but you have to do it. And it’s kind of like you have to get your homework done for the week. And for me, I’ll do whatever my energy takes me to do. And then on Sunday I’m like, “Okay, I got to do it.” And then I will plow through everything. And some Sundays I’m like, okay, and this is going to be the Sunday where I’m going to spend two extra hours and I’m going to set everything up on automatic bill pay or I’m going to make a really cute monthly checklist so that I remember to check all these things off and I take some extra time to do a little bit more of the organizing.


And some weeks I get it done in 15 minutes. I’m like, “Are there any bills I have to get paid this week? Anything that’s going to catch on fire if I don’t wait until next Sunday?” And I’ll push everything to next Sunday knowing that I’m going to have a three hour time next Sunday, but I just don’t want to do it this week. And I’ve at least covered the emergency things.

Lindsay Guentzel (33:58):

I love the idea, you talk this word adulting. Hindsight, in my 30s, when at my age my mom had a house and a husband and three kids and all of those things that she was balancing and she was very much the secretary of our family. Everything ran through her. I love going home and you open up her calendar, she has the old fashioned calendar and everyone’s birthdays are still written in there and she sends out cards and that is her jam. That’s how she loves to operate. And I don’t work that way, but I think I’m supposed to because that was my visual growing up. And it’s so frustrating, I think, how many opportunities we have in life to start this young. And yet my senior year of high school when I could have been taking basic investing or an adulting class, could there be a community ed adulting class for adults?


Because I think one of the things that we fail to really acknowledge is that’s a generational wealth thing. That is a thing that your parents or your educators or the adults in your life, as a child, teach you about. And I think we don’t ever want to talk about it because we don’t want to paint the people we love in a bad light. But that was not taught to me. That was not a thing we dove into. And so now as an adult, I’m going, I don’t know what’s happening. And I get that there are people who figure it out as they go along, but for some of us that’s not easy.

Lisa Woodruff (35:44):

Well, and I think one of the things I realized about six years ago when I was organizing people’s houses was that I had a lot of clients. I literally organized 12 and 13 year olds. I organized people in their 20s with their new babies. I organized people in their late 30s. I organized people 65 and up. And what I found was all of the houses looked the same. The floor plan was the same in all of the houses, but the way they used the spaces in the houses were different. And I was like, “Oh, okay.” So there were two variables. I love math. So there are two variables in what I was learning about every 20 years, how you use a house changes. So when you are under the age of 20, your house is your bedroom, which I call a mini apartment. And everything about your life is inside of your childhood bedroom.


And then in your 20s and 30s, you move out of your childhood home of origin into sometimes a dorm room, apartment, condo, maybe into a house. But you move into a separate dwelling and now you realize you don’t own anything. So you’re accumulating the whole time. If you want to hang a picture, you need everything to hang a picture. You want to clean the floor, you need everything to clean the floor with. You don’t own anything. Everything was just magically in the house when you wanted to do that before. Then in your 40s and 50s, you’re never at home because you’re in your prime earning years, prime networking years. You’re in the prime of your life. And so you’re rarely at home. So even though you have a lot of ideas about how you would organize or decorate your house, you’re never there to actually physically do it.


So you have to be very portable and almost everything you consume in your 40s and 50s is in liquid form. You go from coffee to a protein shake to wine and back to coffee again. Most of your calories are all in liquid form, and as you take a drink. And then you go to downsizing in legacy. And at that point in your 40s and 50s, someone near and dear to you often passes away and you realize how much physical stuff is related to somebody’s life after they pass. And you start to say, “You know what? I don’t want somebody else to have to do this for me. And why am I storing all this stuff in storage anyway? We should be looking at the photos, we should be making the afghan, we should be creating the quilt out of the clothes, we should be looking at the trophies.


Whatever is in the storage room, you start to pull out. And so you have these four 20 year blocks of time. But also, each generation looks at stuff differently, based on how hard it was to acquire it in their teenage years. So baby boomers had to earn their money for everything that they earned in their teenage years. There was no Amazon, you had to do the job, you had to do the paper route, then you saved the money, then you went on the weekend and you paid in cash and you were only able to buy one thing a year and you valued that one thing. So when those same baby boomers were able to buy Beanie Babies for their kids, the way that they showed love to their kids by buying the Cabbage Patch and the Beanie Baby and all that was to be able to take the hard earned money that they’d earned during the week and spend it on their children in some tangible way.


Well, those children, who are Gen Xers or millennials, we like experiences. And we would rather spend time with you. And why did you keep all these dusty Beanie Babies in your attic that I now have to get rid of, that you thought was this monumental investment in my future? And it’s how hard it was to earn the money and how hard it was to acquire the object, which is why you have all these basements and addicts full of all these things that you think are just total trash, which at this point, they have no monetary value. But for the person who’s saving them, they are the amount of work it took to get the thing. I was organizing a woman, very, very successful woman, she’d gone through a divorce, had six kids and she was making a lot of money. And she had all these boxes.


I think there were over a hundred bins of kids school papers in the basement. And I turned them into an album for each kid. Each kid got a binder of their schoolwork and I went through and I got rid of, she literally still had every single newsletter, every spelling test, every math test, like every single paper any of them did. And she said to me, “You realize that these 100 boxes were the physical representation of the fact that I was a good stay-at-home mom.” My job was to be a stay-at-home mom. And the fact that I kept all this stuff and I kept it all organized is the physical representation that I was good at my job, which was being a stay at home mom. And when you look at your physical stuff, it’s not about the physical thing, it’s about what it means to you. How hard was it to get it? How much of your sweat equity is in that thing? How much of your identity or what you are doing?


So as you’re getting organized, you have these 20 year blocks of time where you need to use your space differently. But also then you have to layer on there the generations. So often, when I was organizing a baby boomer and a millennial together in a storage room, I would say to the baby boomer, “Okay, tell your child what it was like to get this and why you got it.” And then the child gets to have the experience that they’re looking for and then the baby boomer is able to let the thing go because they’ve been able to say to the millennial, “This is how hard it was for me to get this.” The millennial gets the experience and then says back to the baby boomer, “Thank you. I appreciate that you did that for me. I really, really value it. Now, can we send it to the landfill?” So it comes full circle. But you have to have that interchange.


And I also noticed this inside of kitchens. You’ll see this the most in your kitchens. So as a child, you go to the kitchen as if it’s like the cafeteria and you’re just kidding whatever is there. And then when you’re in your 20s and 30s, you have to stock the cafeteria. You have to learn how to buy that stuff. What are your food preferences? How are you going to do it? Are you going to cook from scratch? Are you just going to eat out, and this is just where takeout gets heated up. Are you going to be gluten free? Are you going to be vegan? What’s your thing going to be? 40s and 50s, it’s all about the drink stations and the lunchbox stations.


And then what’s ironic when you hit your 50s and 60s is that you almost never eat at home. But when you do, everyone in the world is there with you because you’re doing Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and all. And so you have to have literally more than any other kitchen would have, but you’re only going to use it five times a year. But you have to have every single thing and everybody’s preferences. And once you get your brain around that, that we don’t use the crockpot in the fall and we don’t use the grill in the spring, then you’re like, “Oh, I could put all the grilling things downstairs when I bring up the Thanksgiving and Christmas stuff. And then when I take that down, I could bring up the crockpot. And then when I take that down, I could bring up the grill.” And you start to use your kitchen not as where every single thing that’s kitchen is stored, but how you actually use that in the generation you are, in the age you are and the people that are in your house.


It makes it easier to make decisions, which is why you can’t just go online and download a printable of everything to get rid of out of your kitchen. Do they know how many people are in your family? Do they know your economic circumstances? Do they know how you celebrate holidays? You have to take a lot into account when you think about how you’re going to use your space.

Lindsay Guentzel (42:55):

I have so many thoughts.

Lisa Woodruff (42:57):

I know I didn’t take any breaths. I’m really sorry about that.

Lindsay Guentzel (43:00):

Oh gosh, no. It is so fascinating because I love having these conversations and I think I’ve always thought like, “Oh, I’m not really a lifelong learner.” But as I’m listening to you, I’m like, no, I just learn differently than this one size fits all mentality, which is hysterical that I have been spouting that for the last couple of months and it’s just now clicking. But I can’t wait to listen back and take notes because so much of what you touched on is literally what causes me anxiety. But looking at it differently is how we should be doing it. And I want to ask you one thing before we wrap up because obviously we could just keep going and I hope we can. I hope we can sit down one day and figure out how can we dive into some of these topics and do them in small digestible conversations.


This was more introducing you to the audience. But I want to ask, because I think one thing that I have a hard time with is this later in life ADHD diagnosis brings up the fact that I have always been terrible with money. And I love you talk about the reason we’re attached to things or the reason that we choose things or the reason that we buy things or work hard for things is kind of the lead up to that. What did I do to get this? And for me, as someone who is very impulsive and is working on it, I can look around the room I’m in right now and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, so many of my impulses are sitting here in things that I’ve purchased.” So then you get to the point where you’re like, “I’m ready. I’m ready to clean up. I want to make this better.”


And then those feelings of, “Well, I spent money on it and I worked really hard for that money.” And so it’s figuring out how to go, okay, is that weight more than the weight of keeping it and dealing with the stress and seeing it around and working around this one piece? Or do you go, “Yes, I spent money on that. I no longer need it and no longer serves me. It’s actually bringing more stress into my life.” And you let it go and then you work on not letting it happen again. But I think for a lot of people it’s that, oh man, I worked so hard to be able to get this. And even though I know it’s impulsive, I also still don’t know how to be okay saying, “Yep, let’s get it out here.”

Lisa Woodruff (45:22):

So I had create a rule for myself. And I actually did this maybe, well, I did it in 2012, the year that I started Organize 365. I was turning 40, I was overweight, depressed, I was quitting my teaching job to care for my kids again. But we were in the most debt we’d ever been in. I was failing at everything except teaching. And my administrator told me I wasn’t a very good teacher. And I was finally old enough that I was like, “Okay, you’re wrong. I’m staying up till midnight and getting up at 5:00 AM for this job.” And I was teaching 14 different students, individual algebra lessons because I was in a Montessori school. I wasn’t required, but that’s what I was doing. So I was like, “You’re wrong. I’m really good at this. So goodbye.” So I quit. And it took me 30 days to actually quit.


And then I ended up in January at home and I was like, “Shoot, the only thing I was still good at was teaching.” That’s what I was putting all of my effort into. I was not a good wife, I was not a good homeowner. I was not even a good parent. And I was like, okay, I’ve got to take back this house. And as I was taking back this house at the most debt we had ever been in with no income, by the way, I was faced with exactly what you’re talking about. All these projects that I’d bought all the stuff for, but I hadn’t even started them, or I’d started them and not finished them or they were almost done and it was dozens, dozens of projects. And you can’t get your money back. You can’t get your money back. So I was like, “All right, I’m going to have to create a rule for myself.”


And really, that’s what a organization is. It’s thinking through something all the way to the end, deciding what the rule is going to be for yourself, and then using that rule instead of constantly trying to make decisions all the time. And you can change the rule. The rule doesn’t have to stay there forever. So it’s like, I need a rule to stop doing this because I get really excited about the project I want to do, and I love going to the store and buying it, or now just add to cart. I don’t even think about it, it’s on its way from Amazon. It will come the next day. I won’t even remember what I ordered and I just did it 12 hours ago. It’s insane. I’m a lifelong learner. I love books. Books, audio books, all kinds of books. And so I was like, all right, how am I going to stop myself from this impulsivity?


And so in 2012, I made myself either finish or get rid of all those projects. I had one year. They either got done or they got donated. So that’s how I got rid of those. And I’ve been really, really good ever since. And this 24 hour rule is how I do this. Here it is. If I do not have time to actually start the book or the project in the next 24 hours, I’m not allowed to purchase it. So it’s Wednesday. So if I want to paint a bedroom on Saturday, I cannot go buy paint on Wednesday. I have to buy paint after work on Friday or Saturday morning because then Saturday if you’re like, “I don’t feel like painting,” because we’re all about our energy, whatever. So I have to use the buying energy and the doing energy in the same 24 hours. Now I’ve gotten to the point with Audible, because I have hundreds of books in Audible and I’ve listened to 90% of them because my rule with Audible is if I’m not ready to hit play and start listening for an hour, I cannot add it to my library.


So I have a huge wishlist. But until I’m ready to actually listen to the book, I can’t actually even use a credit for it. Otherwise, I will literally use a credit for something in the morning thinking I’m going to do it after work and after work I’m like, “Nope, I’m in a podcast mood,” and I’ll listen to… And I’ll never listen to that book. I’m contrary to myself. It’s really frustrating. So the 24-hour rule is if I want to buy it, as soon as it shows up, I’m actually going to do it and I have the time on my calendar to do it and I’m in the energy and mindset to do it. And so I don’t buy as much. It’s not a fail safe plan, but it works 80% of the time.

Lindsay Guentzel (49:20):

I love it. And nothing is fail safe. It doesn’t matter what the rule is. There’s always exceptions. That’s why there’s the saying, the exceptions to the rule. And I think that 24 hour rule, man that is fascinating. And it’s so interesting to hear you lay it out, especially with the paint example, because I think in our heads we go, “Oh no, no, no. It makes so much more sense on Wednesday to get prepared for it.” But we know our tendencies. And my boyfriend, who’s very organized, is someone who could stop on his way home from work and pick up the stuff and have it there and wake up on Saturday and do it. But I’m like you, I’m the same way. I need to be in the moment. I need to feel like it’s the right time.


And as I’m even saying this, I’m laughing because one of the things that we, I would say our biggest argument in our house is what we’re going to eat. And so it’s funny, I’m now thinking, oh it’s the opposite. I can eat the same thing. I could say on Sunday, “These are our meals for the week,” and we’re going to be good. My boyfriend is like, “No, I don’t know that on Wednesday I’m going to want that.” And in my head I’m like, “What are you talk talking about?” And now I’m like, “I’ll just send you the copay after Lisa,” or maybe I’m working through some stuff here. But it’s so fascinating, we’re all just so different and what works for all of us. And so it is figuring it out and I think probably the biggest part about figuring it out and then making it work is communicating.

Lisa Woodruff (50:54):

Yeah, my husband’s the same way. This is my next thing because I eat this every day at 11. I don’t ever have to make a food decision for the rest of my life, I don’t think. I could just set the menu, I’d be good for the next 50 years. But yeah, he has to be in the mood before he’s going to eat. I’m like, why? It’s just calories. It’s just to fuel us to the next idea I have.

Lindsay Guentzel (51:16):

Oh gosh, it’s so funny. It’s so funny. I want to ask before we wrap this up, if there was one thing you would suggest, and I know that’s a big thing, but what’s the one thing people could walk away from this conversation and do that is quick and gets them started and is energizing and moves them in the right direction when it comes to organizing? And again, acknowledging that, that looks different for everyone.

Lisa Woodruff (51:47):

So I have a whole series of podcasts called our Glossary because I’ve made all these different words like a Sunday basket, an apartment for kids, the 24 hour rule. Another word that I have is called planned neglect. So I’m going to leave you with planned neglect. Planned neglect is this. You are purposely going to make a rule that for a period of time, not forever, but for a period of time, this rule is going to be in effect. And this rule is going to save you time so that you can use it for something else. So something that I did that was planned neglect for a period of time was I said, “We are no longer using regular dishes. We are only using paper plates.” And I think I did this for a solid year and that just made the decision every time we went to do anything, I just grabbed a paper plate.


I knew it was more expensive, I knew it wasn’t great for the environment. But in that period of time, I did not have time to do dishes and I did not want to do dishes anymore. So that was our rule. Another rule I made, another planned neglect, when my son was learning to drive and his school was 30 minutes away, so that was two hours of driving every day and our daughter’s school was 45 minutes away the opposite direction. So I was driving 25 hours a week every week in the car. We had some disposable income, but not a ton. And I decided planned neglect. For a period of 18 months, I did not do any laundry. So what that meant was I did wash the towels because they were bulky and big and the jeans. But other than that everything went to the laundromat and they did the laundry for me.


And that was about $40 a week, which wasn’t a lot of money, but it was a lot of money. And so making that rule and I felt guilty about it before and I still feel guilty about it now that I like did not do my own laundry. Who am I? But I did not have the time. Laundry doesn’t take a lot of time, it takes a lot of little bits of time and I didn’t have them because I was never at home. So for a period of 18 months while I was teaching my son to drive and then teaching my daughter to drive and doing all this, driving myself in, I did not do our laundry. So I want you to realize this. You can learn the skill of organization. Everyone can learn the skill of organization. When I was a first grade teacher and I finally got my classroom, my third year of teaching, I got my classroom because I had taught intervention classes and they decided they put all the intervention students in one room instead of dividing them into all the classrooms.


So I had all the children that if they were going to fail first grade, were going to fail. And in our district, we did fail kids in first grade. And I stood up at a parent teacher conference and I said, “Your child cannot fail first grade.” It’s physically impossible for a child to fail learning. The only thing that can happen is the teacher can fail to teach. You can’t fail to learn, only the teacher can fail to teach you. And I want to say that. You cannot fail to learn organization, you just probably didn’t have a teacher that could actually teach you organization.


So I encourage you to come listen to the Organize 365 Podcast, if you like this podcast. I have a bunch of playlists which are portions of the Organize 365 Podcast. You could just go listen to the Glossary playlist. But I want to give you grace, I want to give you understanding and I want you to realize that I am the teacher of organization and I take the onus on me for the fact that Americans, 13 to 18% feel organized, but 87% believe organization’s a learnable skill. That’s my fault. That’s because we haven’t made organization chunkable for you to learn.


And while you are coming to the idea of like, “Oh, you mean I can be organized? I can learn?” Yes, you absolutely can. I want you to figure out how could you find the time, 15 to 30 minutes a day to devote to your organization. And in order to do that, what planned neglect thing would you do? What would you take off your plate and say, I’m not going to do this right now because I’m going to learn organization instead. And then once you learn organization, organization is where time comes from. You’ll get so much more time back when you are organized. The Sunday basket will give you five hours every single week after four weeks of even using it. And then once you get the rest of your house organized, that’s going to add another 10 hours a week. You’ll get so much time once you actually are living an organized, productive life.

Lindsay Guentzel (56:04):

Lisa, this was such an amazing conversation. I can’t wait to just continue. But thank you for coming on and sharing your story and then sharing the background for Organize 365 and providing some actual tangible things for people to use moving forward. I really, really appreciate it.

Lisa Woodruff (56:20):

Lindsay, thank you.

Lindsay Guentzel (56:25):

I highly, highly recommend checking out organize365.com. It includes a ton of free resources to get you started, including the Organize 365 podcast. And stay tuned for part two of the conversation between Lisa and me, which was actually recorded in person last month at the International Conference on ADHD, in Dallas.

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