In this article, I want to share with you some tips for managing the task of doing research online with ADHD.
My name is John Hicks and I am known for my work with The Studying With Dyslexia Blog. For the past ten years, I have been actively seeking to understand what neurodiversity is and what the strengths and weaknesses of my ‘version’ of neurodiversity are.
Of course, whilst my focus on it has been for the past ten years, I have experienced it for 50 years with many ups and downs along the way. In 2019, I underwent a neurodiversity assessment which involved a screening for ADHD/ADD. I went into the assessment thinking it was going to tell me that I had dyslexia and dyspraxia and I got a resounding “Nope! But you are testing positive on the screen for ADHD/ADD”.
For a full diagnosis of ADHD/ADD, I would need to consult with a psychiatrist but I chose not to as I personally wanted to explore putting strategies in place to cope with the downsides of the way that I think and behave but allow the strengths of my thinking type to shine.
The trouble with my brain and internet research.
As a blogger, internet research is truly important in getting resources and content together but whilst I may start a task with a full-on sense of purpose and the drive to get the task done, it didn’t used to take long before my mind got bored (looking for stimulus) and I was looking at guitar videos on YouTube. At times, I would waste perhaps an hour of time going down the ‘rabbit warrens’ of the internet only to find that I had forgotten what it was that I was first searching for and then having to find a way to restart the original process or task that I had set out to do. With this challenge then came the tendency to berate myself for not being focused, experience guilt and at times my own self-esteem would fall through the floor.
So here is my first tip...
Understand what is going on when you feel that you are struggling and show yourself some kindness.
I can only speak from my own experience, but I found that when things didn’t go my way and my level of productivity dropped and my procrastination increased, I would judge myself. I would be my own fiercest critic. This would drop my mood and then the appetite for stimulus would increase and the problem would get worse.
I would also notice that if I was working to a deadline the ‘last minute’ energy that got my work completed almost too late always seem to work well. Somehow I had the knowledge that I needed from being able to ‘jump around’ on the internet. I was still making connections to my work even if I seemed to go around about it the long way. I appeared to be able to get a ‘high level’ overview of the content or research that I needed for me to write articles which I was able to remember, but the deeper details got forgotten and often I would struggle to find that content again on the internet without digging into my search history or my many handwritten notes.
So whilst on one level I was distracted whilst also putting in a load of effort to ‘chain me’ to my desk, somehow I was still able to remember information that I had collected on my very indirect journey of internet research.
I realised that I was judging myself too much and this was making matters worse. I needed to find a way to show myself a bit of kindness and in doing that I found that my appetite to do everything but the task I set out to do started to decrease.
Pick the time of the day when you are more likely to focus and be on task when you do internet research.
Did you know that we all experience cycles of energy throughout the day that help or hinder the tasks that we choose in any given moment. Often referred to as ‘Circadian Rhythms’, we experience a biological clock that can affect how we feel and behave throughout the day.
For me personally, I like to think in terms of periods of the day when I am most cognitively able and so I choose those periods for cognitively difficult work such as internet research.
I discovered that my cognitive ‘fuel tank’ was full during the mornings and then there was a dip in energy for this type of work until late afternoon and into the evening. Weirdly, as a dyslexia consultant and therapeutic counsellor, I can work face to face with clients throughout the day without dropping focus but I need to ensure that my writing work (as well as my accounts and other admin tasks) get done too.
So broadly, what I do now is to schedule my research and writing work for the morning and some evenings when I know my brain is at its best for this work and then schedule my own meetings for the afternoon when I am confident that I won’t have a problem in terms of energy levels and focus for that work.
Use Assistive Technology to support your weaknesses.
So as I intimated earlier, one of my weaknesses is ‘jumping all over the place’ when doing internet research. When I took a closer look at this, I realised that even though I would often go ‘off piste’ I was still able to find good information and resources, but if I didn’t have a strategy for collecting those useful morsels of information then it would severely hinder me when I came to write articles etc. Being able to quickly capture those links for information and resources is crucially important so that when I came back to writing an article I could rely on my ‘capture strategy’ for good content. Initially, my strategy was to have a Chrome browser with numerous many tabs open but this slowed down my computer and sometimes I would lose that content when I closed the browser. Then I started to capture using Microsoft OneNote, which is great, but it took a number of steps with copying and pasting to put the information into the right place. This would then hinder my workflow and make it even more likely for me to lose focus.
More recently, through my work with Aventido, I have been introduced to Pro-Workspace. A really simple PC app that allows me to collect URLs and the metadata behind those URLs with a simple mouse click. In Pro-Workspace, I can select categories as to where to put those URLs and be confident that when I am ready to be focused on writing, I have all my reference content safely stored in one place for me to retrieve when I need it.
I also use text-to-speech technology when I am proofreading any written content that I produce, especially when I am tired. I find it is easier for me to listen and hear mistakes in my work that to visually find them and so this way I find my mistakes faster.
Get support in developing positive strategies for productivity with an ADHD brain.
There are some great organisations out there that provide neurodiversity coaching enabling clients to develop great strategies for overcoming some of the weaknesses that come with being neurodiverse. Often this coaching can come free as a result of getting support from the Access To Work Scheme that is available here in the UK.
For more information about Access To Work simply click here.