best practice how to neurodivergence

organised slackness

I wrote earlier about my breakdown/breakthrough leading to diagnoses of ‘the clusterfuck combo‘ of Autism and ADHD. I’m starting to share some of the adaptations I created through my past work in media arts, as well as lessons from my recovery, repurposing them for my new working practices which place my personal wellbeing at the centre.

One of those old practices is a thing I call “organised slackness”: how we can explore and set up some systems which work for us in advance, and then let them, and their technological tools, help us in the ways we each best flow over time. A bit of organisation now allows for a lot more slackness later. Now I understand much better what that ‘accidental strategy’ was all about (my clever subconscious neurodivergent brain just trying to find its own flows), I’ve recently dusted it back off again and am now starting to use it for my personal life as well as the new working practices I’m creating – all to ensure wellbeing stays as high a priority as my work (if not higher!). I can’t say I’ve got it all in perfect working order… yet… but it’s starting to make more sense. I’m curiously grateful that such an intensely forced STOP as the breakdown actually gave me the time to get used to what life-without-work-as-my-only-constant might look like. Rebuilding with that intention front and centre is an interesting work-in-progress, and I want to share some of that in case it helps others.

I now have an Autism Support Worker and an ADHD Coach. The former is tasked with focusing on my re-entry back into work, the latter on what I need personally to build and maintain a less challenging and more healthy life – again, to ensure that these both hold equal presence and value. Rather fortuitously an old friend from my media arts life, Sarah Dopp, has recently retrained as an ADHD Coach and runs QueerADHD. I’ve had more time to get to learn about my Autism than I have with my ADHD, and I’ve struggled more with the latter than the former. Sarah’s focus with me is to help me to learn to love and work best with those sides of my neurodivergence and my physical wellbeing. Each session we talk about what I’m experiencing, and she provides insights into what specific ADHD traits might be informing or disrupting those experiences. She’s amazing and funny and smart and kind… and I am so very grateful to have this opportunity to work with her.

Recently she told me there’s a thing in ADHD where our brains simply get bored with repetition or sameness, making our erratic focus even harder to maintain. She says we basically need to ‘resparkelise’ things to keep them interesting enough to be arsed about.

Reworking lists & plans & changing shit up all the time, in seeming chaos, yet still getting amazing shit done out of nowhere… is just how we are, rather than it being a failing. Instead of looking at what we may have been taught to do as Producers or Project Managers (or anything) and repeatedly feeling like losers because we simply cannot ‘do things the way others do’, we’ve basically got to stop using other people’s methods. We’ve gotta do our thing, our way. And in this glorious world of technological innovation, we can let the tech carry some of that load.

I recently shared a little infodump from my recent experiments with to-do lists and planning apps with a friend who’s exploring their own ADHD diagnosis, and she suggested I share it with an ADHD group (generating a great opportunity for my hyperfocus and special interests to go nuts!). It’s not exhaustive as there are a billion options out there (too many, in fact, especially for the indecisive neurodivergent brain), so I’ve added some things I look out for when testing these things at the end.

A handful of options

For anyone who has an Apple Watch or an iPhone, there’s an app called Owaves which has “complications” (tiny widget based apps) for the Apple Watch and widgets for the iPhone. I use Android and don’t have a smartwatch so I’ve only tinkered with it a little bit on my iPad, but Sarah blogged about it recently and I think it’s worth exploring for Apple users (they promise an Android version is coming too). It’s visual and playful – providing much opportunity for the ‘resparkelising’ our neurodivergent brains need. 

I’ve become quite enamoured lately with a platform called Marvin, which works on Apple, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux, and has a web access version too. I love this because it has an inbox to dump all items as they pop up for me, folder type structures (for the all-important “break it down, keep it small” I wrote about here), frogs (those horrible tasks we repeatedly avoid dealing with), a day planner to select which you’ll do today (minimising long list overload), and some strategy layout options to aide different modes of thinking per project/task. It’s also eversoslightly gamified, if validation helps to motivate you.

Priority Matrix
Priority Matrix has possibly the most nerd-appeal of the systems I’ve tested, both in look and function, while still remaining really simple to use. It’s a quadrant setup offering a range of different matrices for strategies, and I’ve found it handy for approaching the more work side of my planning and thinking.

Tiimo pitches itself as being designed specifically for the neurodivergent brain. I’ve actually not properly tested this one… because I carelessly mucked up the free trial period and haven’t gone back to try again and dive deeper. Some NDs rave about it because it offers alarms and notifications to help remind our forgetful brains that we need to do things like drink water and eat food in order to stay alive (yes, we really do need reminding about that kinda thing – research ‘Interoception’ if you want to learn more about how the neurodivergent brain often fails to hear or interpret signals from the body). 

All these come at varying costs, either as an outright app purchase, or more commonly a monthly/annual subscription. This can be a real challenge for us as typically we don’t have regular or well paying jobs. Marvin is the only one I’ve found which offers to help out if you aren’t economically thriving. Full disclosure: I emailed them about my situation, and they gave me a whole free year’s subscription in return for writing a review about them on a tech site – bargain!

What to look for

I strongly recommend exploring apps which support how our brains work, where you can:

  • braindump items as soon as they pop up, just to capture them; 
  • “break it down, keep it small” into subtasks/projects, and sort them when you’re in hyperfocus; 
  • a ‘daily planner’ option, where you can schedule tasks as they rise up in your curiosity/awareness as things you’d actually like to prioritise in that day/hour;
  • any where you can simply just enjoy using it, sensorially & practically. 

Play with models which suit your headstates & patterns. You could have one app for everything, or one for workbrain and a different app for lifebrain. Think about whether alarms and notifications will help or hinder. Play with ones offering resparkelising, minimalism, validation, alarms, social connections for buddying… whatever it is that your brain responds best to. It’s gotta be fit for your brain’s purposes, not the ways other people have told you you’re supposed to think/practice.

I’ve been finding that when I have been breaking the tasks down small enough, I can find myself choosing to drop a couple in between other things, chipping away at the whole while gaining the small wins/progress/confidence boosts along the way. All of these ways of thinking can help us work with who we are, instead of beating ourselves up about who and what we are not.

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