Secret Weapons for Scattered Minds

ADHD Hack: The Miracle Cube Timer

It occurs to me that maybe if I talk about some of the things that help me work better, it will… well, help me work better. And help some of you work better, so it’s a win-win all around, right?

Say hello to my little friend.

The first and best contender that comes to mind is my cube timer.

Is it expensive for a timer? Not gonna lie, right now it’s clocking in at nearly $20 on Amazon, which… yeah, for a little cube of cheap plastic with a timer mechanism, that sounds pretty steep, but this thing has saved my mornings.

See, I am one of those people who is perpetually late to everything.

Let me emphasize: EVERYTHING.

The majority of my mornings during my middle- and high-school years consisted of setting an alarm for a good hour and twenty minutes before I needed to meet the bus, then hitting the snooze button until twenty minutes before I needed to meet the bus, then scrambling to get ready for fifteen minutes, then still occasionally getting sidetracked by that really freaking fantastic book that I couldn’t stand putting down for my remaining five minutes until my mom started yelling for me to get my rear in gear already because the bus was there and I was still trying to find my other sock.

(The phrase “Are you reading?” was often hollered accusingly through my bedroom/bathroom door. Let me just say for the record: had I owned a tablet or smartphone during my childhood years, I would have never made it to school on time ever. And let’s not even talk about when I went off to college. Here’s another tip: No morning classes ever. You will hate yourself. You will hate the world. You will miss so many lectures. It is Not Worth It.)

But back to my little friend, the Miracle Cube Timer.

After learning about the whole ADHD-minus-the-H deal, I found my little cube while link-hopping on Amazon. I had seen timers recommended for helping people keep focused on a task, but I couldn’t see them working well for me. I didn’t need something to limit how much time I spent on a project (usually), I needed something to keep me focused on working on the project in the first place.

And I certainly didn’t need to dither over whether I should set the alarm for 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, or however-many minutes. Choices and ADHD do not good bedfellows make.

But that’s what makes this little guy so gosh-darn good.

It’s a cube, so there are six sides: a zero, four choices for timer lengths (different colors have different times; the blue one has 1, 3, 5, and 7 minutes), and one side with the on/off switch and timer display and battery door.

Alternately, I also have the green timer, which has longer intervals (1, 5, 10, and 15), which I keep on my desk. I use this one when I’m working on something that might suck me into hyperfocus at an inopportune time (drawing, coloring, crafting, etc.) or if I’m doing pomodoro sessions for writing or cleaning. It’s handy, but it’s not nearly as vital as my little blue timer for the mornings.

Simply turn it on, flip it so your desired time is facing up, and it will start counting down. When it goes off, either flip it so the zero is facing up or turn it to start another timer. There’s also a little red light that blinks while it’s counting down and changes to a fast blinking when the timer is at thirty seconds or less. Easy-peasy!

When I’m first getting ready in the mornings (and I still give myself about an hour and twenty minutes, though I no longer hit my snooze button since I finally found an alarm set-up that works–I’ll talk about that later), I’ll flip the timer to 7 or 5 minutes. Then, as it gets closer to my time to leave, I’ll start using 5 or 3 minutes. When I’m down to the wire, I set it for 1 minute, over and over, until I’m ready and heading out the door.

It works great for several reasons.

  1. It keeps me aware. I do still read or browse the internet sometimes in the mornings (I am a weak-willed person, alas), but the timer keeps me from getting completely sucked in and losing all sense of time.
  2. The changing intervals give me a growing sense of urgency as my morning moves on. By the time I’m down to 1 and 3 minute intervals, I am focused and going full-speed to get ready.
  3. It only takes one hand! Any other timer you have to pick it up with one hand and set the time with the other. This one, you just reach over and flip it to the correct side. It’s genius, and I love it.

It has only one downside, and that is that I have to remember to use it in the first place. *sigh* Let me tell you, if I get out of my usual morning routine and put my timer off to the side for whatever reason, I’m screwed. Luckily I’ve gotten pretty good at making sure that it’s laying out in plain sight the night before–yay, progress!

So there you go! One secret weapon from my scattered mind.

Daily Life Whattheduckery

Confessions of a Scattered Mind

Confession time: I’m a perfectionist.

I’m also a well-read perfectionist, so I know that it has less to do with genuinely wanting to create something that is the best that it can be and more to do with social anxiety and fear of rejection and avoiding vulnerability. (Thank you, Brene Brown.)

I’m a hot mess, but at least I’m self-aware.

I also seem to work in cycles, the duration of which varies by how much effort and enthusiasm are involved in a particular project. The cycle goes something like this:

  1. Pre-Project Hyperfocus: A wild New Idea appears! Said idea slams into my brain and promptly takes over approximately 90% of my thought processes. This is the stars-in-my-eyes, love-at-first-sight stage, when I can see all the possibilities.
  2. The Flash: The work begins. Heart, soul, and sanity pour into the project. Planning and plotting are so much freaking fun, I swear. (Is there a job where you can get paid just to plot stories? I would rock that.) If I’m lucky, the Flash stage lasts into—or by some miracle, through—the writing process. That’s rare. So rare.
  3. Post-Flash Depression: The energy is gone, hope is lost, the project stretches into infinity with no end in sight, and the world is a cold, dark, lonely place. You know when I vanish from the web for days/weeks/months at a time? This is that. (Sorry. I’m working on it.)

I’m still trying to understand my own brain. The more I learn, the more I see how to work with my idiosyncrasies, and the easier my life gets. Sometimes. Also, the more I feel like my brain is actually a separate entity more akin to a sleep-deprived two-year-old.

There are certain things that help string the Flash out longer. Dropping back to planning/plotting can help, but it also tends to bite me in the butt—it leads to things like scrapping entire swathes of finished story, redoing outlines from the ground up, and basically starting everything over at square one. Repeatedly.

(Ask me about my Dominion novel sometime. Actually, don’t. Please. I think I’m on revision three-hundred and ninety-something…)

Slowing down can help… or it can send me into Stage 3 even faster. Rather, the key seems to be finding ways to increase momentum, yet not too much! Too much also leads to Stage 3. Surely there’s a happy medium?

Interaction helps, getting feedback and being able to talk it over with others, hear what works and what doesn’t, but that can backfire spectacularly. (“Did you just say you’re writing about giant alien lizards?” / “No. No, I did not.”)

I keep seeing the advice to “break it down”—take a large project and divide it into small, manageable chunks. And that can work for a little while, too, if I can trick my brain to give up the Big Picture and focus on the Small Picture, which it does not like at all.

I think this stems from certain chunks being less shiny than others, and my brain knows that there are really shiny chunks it could be working on but instead it’s stuck with this ugly, non-shiny chunk to finish first and it’s just not fair. (I mentioned that my brain is a two-year-old, right?)

So at the moment my projects break down something like this:

  • Nanoia planning – slowly pulling my way free of Stage 3
  • Nanoia draft – easing warily into Stage 2
  • Any Witch Way serial – so much Stage 1, oh, my god

Now, please excuse me. I have chapters to write, plots to weave, and self-help audiobooks to peruse. Until next time!

TL;DR—my process remains a work in progress, my brain is weird, and holy crap, I have got to get to work.