Pinning Safari Tabs for Mental Focus

Have you heard about pinning tabs in Safari? If you have Mac OS X El Capitan then you have Safari 9 which includes tab pinning. From Apple’s Support documentation:

Pin Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Gmail, or any other website you visit frequently throughout the day. Pinned Sites stay put on the left side of your tab bar so you can easily get to them at any time.

I frequently keep several tabs open on my work computer – the three Gmail instances I’m in and WordPress.com’s Reader. Battling with my attention requires me to analyze my behaviors and continuously adapt to prevent problems. I recently discovered I frequently flip back over to Safari to look for the unread count in the tab titles and will derail my current thought process to read the email. My solution? Pinned tabs.

Safari Regular Tabs
Unpinned Stabby Tabs

As you can see I have an unread count in the far left Gmail instance. I’m driven to see what’s behind that (1). Now with the tabs pinned:

Safari Pinned Tabs
Pinned, Less Stabby Tabs

I know the email is still there and I’m super familiar with what order those tabs are in. The miracle though, is, I no longer see the title of the tab and am not driven to read the unread messages. When my mind has a moment to change course during the day, I’ll check my email.

Headphones & Attention

When I worked in an office headphones were a requirement for me. I absolutely needed them to focus. I really don’t use headphones all that often anymore since I started working remote 2 1/2 years ago. Listening to music over decent speakers seemed to be enough. Lately I’m discovering I missed the power behind having the sound close to your head.

The past two weeks I’ve been using my headphones again to help with my attention & focus in the afternoons. My mornings start with using my treadmill under my desk to walk and work. Mid-day when I find my brain wandering, I stop working and do some sort of exercise. Now in the afternoons I’m finding putting on the noise-canceling headphones gives me the boost to wrap up the work for the day.

There’s something comforting with having the music close to your ears. I  usually mix between the New EDM station on Rdio, a couple electronic stations on DI.fm and sometimes BPM on SiriusXM. Most music that has too many words doesn’t work too well for focus.

I’m still amazed after 30 months of working on dealing with ADHD I am still finding things to tweak. 🙂

Keeping Myself Organized Using Trello

My system for helping keep my brain focused during the workday is a system of lists in a note-taking program like Evernote or Simplenote. Every time I encounter an e-mail, talk to a coworker about something, or get assigned a pull request to review I turn that into a checkbox item. If I don’t get to an item in a day, those empty checkbox items get moved to the next day (or week). The system isn’t without faults but it seems to work. The only issue with the checkboxes is they don’t portray status of longer-running tasks.

This next week I’m going to try something different with how I keep myself organized. For simple TODOs, I’ll still use checkbox items. For longer running tasks with different states to jump through I’m going to try using a personal Trello board. We use Trello at Automattic for some projects as well as at RayWenderlich.com for project tracking. I’ve done simple Kanban boards before but I think Trello might be what I’m missing. Their mobile app is pretty good as well which helps with things I think of while on the go.

I’ll report back after I get some time in with it!

The Fear of Missing Out

Working for a 100% distributed company presents a number of benefits as well as challenges. One of those challenges is the fear of missing out or FoMO. It is a real thing.

The Fear of Missing Out is the emotional stress we can experience when we feel like things that should be important to us are occurring without our observance or involvement. Social media plays an important role in this as we experience other people’s involvement in activities that portray a perceived positive impact on their well-being. Even though we know that the world isn’t as rosy as is portrayed through these sites, we feel a tinge of jealous a number of times.

Boy that looks fun.

 

I can’t believe I didn’t go to that concert.

 

I wish I had x to do y with.

Working remote presents its own version of FoMO. The larger our company gets, the more communication channels exist. In Slack we have over 450 channels and a hoard of private blogs to communicate with. You simply cannot subscribe to every blog and channel without overloading your brain. The cost of not subscribing means you feel you’re missing out on something. How do you combat this?

We have a general rule that anything said in Slack is ephemeral. It’s searchable, yes, but unless you were pinged either directly or in a room, we can’t expect people to “catch up” on backchat when returning. More permanent things have to be documented on an internal blog if they are to be treated as such. People who should be made aware of the items that don’t belong to that team should be pinged in the post. The assumption is you should be following your team’s blog pretty closely.

This gives us the benefit to start unsubscribing to things. At some point one of these checks causes the balance to be made and information flows between barriers. You have to trust this happens. Once in a while you get surprised by a piece of information but you just roll with the punches.

The FoMO also happens when you’re in person with your coworkers. We have an annual get-together we call the Grand Meetup. We’re all at the same place at the same time for over a week. There is SO MUCH going on this week that you will miss things. You should miss things. There are so many people to meet, activities to participate in, and projects to work on that we can forget to sleep.

The fear is real. It will grip you. Remember to breathe, take a step back and trust that its okay if you don’t experience everything in life. Just don’t forget to look out your own window once in a while. 🙂

 

Featured image credit – https://www.flickr.com/photos/deathtogutenberg/15065313478/

Biggest Lie To Your ADHD Self

Most of my journey the past couple of years with coping with attention problems is increasing my self-awareness. I am my own obstacle and I must hack my own consciousness to work the way I need it to.

It’s easy to slip into old habits and totally forget the tools you’ve put in place. All it takes is one of those well-known “ooh shiny” moments and you’re off track for an hour reading about nuclear testing instead of solving the problem for work.

One of the tools I use is keeping a log of things I’ve accomplished in the day/week. The log gives me a complete picture of what I’ve been able to focus on and lets me easily reflect on the past week. I tend to find the holes this way – places I’ve let tasks slip through. This seems to work much like the effect looking at photographs lets you recall and retain memories. The problem I have is I don’t remember to write things in the log all the time. Then I forget about the log.

I’ve discovered one of the biggest lies I keep telling myself even with all of these tools and practices. What is that lie?

I’ll get to it [the task] in a few minutes.

Yeah, it never happens. Ever. I always forget or something more important on the signal to noise ratio scale eclipses it. My goal is to stop letting this little lie derail me. If the task takes a few moments to complete, DO IT NOW.

My Signal-to-Noise Ratio

I’ve mentioned before on this site and other places that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and that I’ve been doing a lot to manage it. I didn’t really connect the dots until I started working remote for Automattic almost two years ago. It’s a continual process for me and I’m continuing to make adjustments over time to combat it. I have good days and I have bad days.

Medication

After I got diagnosed with ADHD by an accredited counselor and my primary physician, I started on medication to help. It was my goal at that point to not be on the meds long term but rather use them to show me where I could be. It’s hard to see the destination without an idea of where you’re going or even why you’re going.

The medications worked pretty quickly. Within the first week I started seeing things in life I always ignored. I went to a museum in Houston with family and discovered myself reading the signs around exhibits and actually taking in what I was seeing. It was amazing. Within a couple months I realized I wasn’t eating food regularly any more (it’s a common side effect) and my personality was changing too. We also increased the medication a few levels to figure out what was the right level to be at. I ended up taking myself off of the medication a bit earlier than I had wanted to originally but I could see the longer I was on it the harder it would be to come off. I wasn’t addicted per se but the clarity I got from it was hard to give up. Really hard.

Post-Medication

Since I’ve been off the medication I’ve been using the tools my counselor and I came up with to help with concentration and focus. Primarily its a mix of the following:

  • Exercise
  • Note taking
  • Music
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness

Exercise

Being active is a huge part of the success with dealing with ADHD. Working at home gives me a ton of flexibility to include exercise in my daily routine. I’ll break up my day around noon with a bike ride, walk or step aerobics in my basement. Since February of this year I’ve been using a treadmill under my standing desk with some good results. I try to walk in the morning and afternoon and then stand in between. I find it gives me some different kind of focus than when just purely standing. I haven’t fully decided if I’m more successful with the treadmill desk but I am benefitting from the activity being more regular health-wise.

Note taking

Taking notes is a huge deal with ADHD. You have to leave yourself a reminder of where you left off on a task or else you will forget. Short notes are sometimes not even sufficient – a few words is sometimes not enough to remind you. It’s crazy how often I can forget to do something even hours later without a note. I haven’t found the perfect single place to leave notes so it’s a combination of sticky notes on my monitor, handwritten notes next to my keyboard and electronic notes in Evernote. I should boil it down to one place but I tire easily of a single solution and then stop using it.

Music

I’m not quite sure how I’d survive without music. I’ve been listening to electronic/trance/techno music since I was 12 years old when I discovered it allowed me to concentrate on tasks. Most electronic music (if there isn’t a lot of vocals) will busy the part of my brain that is trying to derail me. Working in a regular office environment you’d always find me with my headphones on. Working at home I’m using open speakers and I find that I don’t get the same effect. I actually don’t listen to music consistently throughout the day but when I find myself straining to finish a task, I find the right music to assist.

Meditation & Mindfulness

I should practice formal meditation more. Years ago I would set aside time to meditate and I enjoyed it. In the two years I’ve worked remote I’ve only done a full meditation exercise a handful of times. I tend to use short moments of meditation thought to help center myself when I feel like I’m going too many ways. Being mindful of yourself is a big help. Be aware of when you’re started to swerve off course and recognize the signs. Being on the treadmill desk is a little like meditation … it’s amazing how much around me sort of fades out when I’m walking and working.

The Noise

What it comes down to is you have to try to reduce or replace the noise in your head with something else. In radio engineering Signal to Noise Ratio is the amount of desired signal vs the background noise. You want more signal than noise otherwise your transmission isn’t effective. Signal is analogous to the task or idea you’re trying to focus on and the noise is everything else going on in your brain that’s trying to derail it. You have to find the ways that work for you to reduce the noise or improve the signal.

Much like radio engineers there are things you can do to improve signal and reduce noise – some of which I’ve mentioned. Everyone is different. For some the only thing that works is the medication – and it works well. Don’t be ashamed if you are on medication to help. There is such a negative stigma with taking medication for mental conditions which to me is crazy. Find what works for you! Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work down the road or if you fail with an experiment.

Walking While Working – Another Step For Focus

Walking While You Work

I’m not going to link to any articles or research about the benefits of walking while you work. I’ve been standing at my desk since I started working at home and to me this is the next progression. I have ADHD and I’m always trying to find ways to hack my brain. I decided to get in on the treadmill desk game.

The First Steps

A couple months back I ended up buying a cheapie treadmill on Amazon to experiment with walking while working. I used it a couple of times with some success but I ultimately felt it didn’t provide much help for my focus. I kept doing research to determine what the issue was and spent time observing myself during a walking session with it. I was surprised it wasn’t obvious why I didn’t like this experiment.

Primarily the treadmill is too narrow for my clown-sized feet. Okay they’re not Krusty-sized but size 11 shoes are not terribly compatible with an 18″ belt. I frequently found myself walking off the belt and then getting jarred out of my concentration. The sides are also not raised up very much so there is no subtle guide for your feet to bump into if you’re not accurate.

I’m just under 230lb and while this is nearly 60lb less than when I started this journey for fitness, it’s apparently the edge for the treadmill at low speed. The motor needs to be a high torque type as slow walking is complete hell on a standard treadmill. I expected the thing to blow up and take my ankles with it in the process.

I didn’t want to spend a boatload of cash investing in a treadmill that I may or may not end up using. This was $200 with delivery and it served its purpose. The problem is I wanted to continue walking which meant I needed to find another larger treadmill or else I’d stop.

The Second Step

I’m sure you’ve noticed the step pun by now.

After some discussions with my coworkers and a bit of online research, I opted to get the LifeSpan TR1200-D3 unit. It’s the middle of the line and doesn’t come with the desk since I already have an UpDesk. My reasons behind picking this treadmill were:

LifeSpan Stats

  • The console unit has bluetooth and connects to my Mac to show the current steps. It also syncs with their online service which does suck but provides a record that’s usable enough.
  • It’s rated to be used for an average of six hours a day and is limited to 4mph or lower.
  • The unit comes with a shock absorbing frame to make my moobs the only thing that jiggle and bounce.

The one downside is that while it has wheels to move it around, it doesn’t have a safe way to lean it up against a wall. I’ve come up with a temporary solution using an old yoga mat but I want to make something a bit more secure.

Observances & Suggestions

After walking for a week I’ve already made a number of observations that I didn’t expect.

  • My original UpDesk tends to wobble when it’s fully raised up. I ended up buying 3″ casters for the feet a while back and those are barely high enough with the treadmill under it. Instead now I raised the keyboard up temporarily with a cardboard box. I find my wrists are now at the right angle for typing although with no wrist support my accuracy has taken a hit. Not leaning on the desk while I type does however have the benefit of not wiggling the screen. My monitor is on an arm and I have it tilted up while I’m on the treadmill.
  • I’m using Things to keep track of ideas/tasks I think of that I can’t do when walking. There are just some tasks that aren’t conducive while you’re walking (like testing apps on devices) and you need a reliable place to put those task reminders. I also like to stick with one task as a time while walking to prevent my brain from getting derailed. So far I’m happy with Things.
  • Don’t overwalk. When you get into something (like me typing up this post) it’s so easy to lose track of your steps. You will be sore the next day.
  • Get good shoes and don’t wear those anywhere except in your house or on the treadmill. Snow, dirt and dust will make your treadmill look ugly and harder to maintain.
  • Buy a good treadmill mat to go underneath if you’re on hardwood floors.
  • Even though LifeSpan tracks activity I’m still logging my walking activity with RunKeeper. I like the social component of RunKeeper and since it has all my exercise activity in it why not keep using it.

Next Steps

I’m just going to keep at this. I need to find the balance of walking time during the day vs productivity levels. Once I come up with a good solution to store the treadmill upright I believe finding this balance will be easier. I do not want to stop doing my normal exercise routine (step aerobics at home in the winter and also going to the gym) so I’ll have to be careful to not burn myself out. In the end I want this to be a good way to maintain focus and to help train my brain to be better at tasking.

I’ll keep posting about my experiences here!

Treadmill Walking

I like Shiny Things

Last week I was having a discussion with my coworkers about how I think someone should feel when viewing/interacting with their site stats in the WordPress world.  I made a list of things I’d expect and one of them I wrote down was definitely inspired by my personality:

do really like shiny things.  Okay maybe part of it is attention-related but in general I like things that stand out.  Why have stuff that’s dull and drab when it perform the same function but LOOK AWESOME?

You’ve seen my laptop.

You’ve seen my desk lamp.

And I’ll further confirm it with my shoes and custom WordPress backpack.

BrightThings

 

Shiny Things keep me engaged and entertained.

My Attention So Far

In the recent past I blogged about my trials and tribulations with my experiences with ADHD working at Automattic.  I figured it was time to give a follow up on how things are going!

Back in October last year I started on a medication called Vyvanse to help me cope with the problems that ADHD had been presenting.  My ultimate goal with the medication trial was to keep it just that – a trial.  I’ve lived with the spastic brain patterns all my life and I just wanted a few months of clarity so I knew what to work towards.  Late February, I decided to take myself off the medication.

The first thing I realized when I was on Vyvanse is that my eating patterns got all screwed up.  I started losing weight which I felt was a great side-effect since I was almost at my heaviest ever prior to starting the medication.  It gave me the jump start I needed to drop the weight.  I also stopped a different medication before starting Vyvanse that may have caused an interaction – one that helped alleviate Cluster Headaches (a whole other set of posts for this).  Turns out that medication in itself caused the weight to pile on and made it very difficult to lose it.

Immediately after stopping the medication for ADHD I discovered I was somewhat back where I was last summer.  Scatter-brained, overwhelmed with the communication from coworkers, and unable to focus on long-term goals.  I had to force myself to use the tools my counselor encouraged me to develop while I was on the medication:

  • Centering yourself
  • Exercise to reset your day (yoga, aerobics, a quick walk)
  • Elimination of distractions
  • Listening to your own mind

and one of the ones I recently rediscovered myself:

 

Exercise has been a big part of my success, I believe.  Three to four days a week I will do some aerobic exercise which usually ends up being step aerobics.  It’s simple enough to do at home and it is a great workout.  I set up a workout area in my basement so that I can leave the equipment up and it gives me the locale change I need.  I also track calories with MyFitnessPal, movement with the Nike+ FuelBand SE and RunKeeper for the social aspect.  I have a Withings Scale to help with tracking weight and it syncs across all of the apps to help with calorie burn calculations.  Good stuff.  I’m down 30lb from my heaviest last summer!

So how’s it going?  Well, actually.  After a month of the difficulty of readjusting myself to being off the medication I re-discovered one of the things about my personality I missed – my random thoughts and internal tangents.  I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t feel just right – I missed seeing the weird things, the small things, the things people easily pass by.  I’m embracing my ADHD and I’m learning how to control it so I can use it as an advantage.

Paying Attention at Automattic

All of my teen and adult life I realized that I perceive the world a little differently than most. I’d like to think I’m a smart guy but I never did very well in high school on exams especially for topics that weren’t science/math/computer related. I couldn’t read textbooks very well; my eyes would gloss over the details and I’d realize after reading a page I retained none of it. I hated research papers the most. In my early teens I discovered electronic music (at the time everything was called techno) and I realized listening to it while doing homework would keep that part of my brain busy so I could somewhat focus. I never put a name to the condition and just moved forward.

In my adult life, I coped with the challenges of whatever this condition was through a series of tools that I put together through trial and error. None of these tools were formally created by myself, much like the music discovery in my teens, I found what worked and continued with it. I ended up continuing on into college part time at night while working full time – I found the context shift during the day allowed my brain to focus on the learning. I did very well and my grades finally reflected how I felt what my potential could be. Work itself was a challenge, but I realized I liked taking on a number of different tasks and spending a pre-determined amount of time on each every day, keeping a structure in place to prevent boredom. I continually wanted to learn new things. Music and noise-canceling headphones also were still in my toolbox.

As I elevated myself in my career, getting more responsibilities like peer mentoring and tech lead on projects, I found the tools I had in the past didn’t quite work for this. Having to interact with others and integrate with their workflows caused me to derail pretty quickly. Keeping focus and retaining facts got hard at times. I plugged on.

Flash forward to me starting at Automattic.  Automattic, if you’re not aware, is an entirely distributed company.  All of us work out of our homes or wherever we may be.  We are all forced to be self-starters and good communicators over IRC and through posting of internal blogs.

I realized pretty quickly – within the first week there – that my quirkiness with focus and attention was more than just an annoyance. It was preventing me from maintaing cohesiveness between the work days and I felt like I was losing track of important details. I had an annual physical coming up so I decided to voice my concerns with my primary care doctor. He was receptive to what I was talking about but required me to talk with a specialist in the clinic – she is a trained counselor that deals with a variety of issues, ADHD being one of them. It was apparent to her that I had been showing signs of ADD (not so much hyperactivity) and suggested we take a layered approach to combating it. I was not comfortable with being on medication for the rest of my life but was willing to give it a whirl so I had some idea of what “normal” feels like.

So what’s my next steps and am I seeing any improvement? Short answer, yes, the medication seems to be helping with attention and focus. I can have conversations with people and I hold onto the train of thought much easier. I’m doing other things as well including meditation, yoga, exercise and some computer software to keep things in check. I’m also started a new internal blog at Automattic called Automattention for those of us who want to talk about ADHD and how it affects our lives at Automattic. I also plan on sharing my experiences here as I think it’s something a lot of people can benefit from hearing!