Frankenstein Automations and my ADHD

Hey all,

I wanted to start a thread to hopefully unearth and understand the challenges we face INTERNALLY as automators.

I’m recently diagnosed ADHD (after 34 years of life!) and honestly I have never been more content (probably the meds LOL).

Something I struggle with daily is overwhelm and while automations help this, I sometimes find they also make things worse. The more I understand automations, the more optimisations I see and the more I want things to be streamlined.

I’ll give you an example…

I’m a BIG Coda fan… it’s my second brain… BUT the issue with CODA is how ‘editable’ (if that’s the right word) it is.

Anytime I find myself in there, I find another way to optimize it, but this often takes away from the task at hand. So I have a notes note (which I am considering switching to Obsidian) constantly open where I capture all my ideas so I can continue to focus on the task at hand.

Does anyone else suffer from anything similar? What are you doing to help overcome the automation overwhelm?

I’ve just integration a Pomodoro timer that sits in the top left of my monitor and it has a ‘goal’ attached to it, so I look at this and it reminders me to stay on track… BUT, not really loving this either, haha!

Danny

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I’m not disputing your diagnosis but ‘overwhelm’ is not restricted to ADHD.

I would say that automation is a journey and what I perceive in your post as a worry about tinkering is entirely normal.

Not having ADHD, at least not diagnosed as such, I can say I too get overwhelmed and I also fiddle a lot with my automation - sometimes to the detriment of the task in hand.

Two things:

  1. Your automation is evolving to what you need - and is an investment in the future.
  2. Automation is a learning process. What I couldn’t do yesterday I might well have learnt to do tomorrow - by research and tinkering.

A case in point: We moved to Outlook from HCL/IBM/Lotus Notes last weekend. I spent more than I should have this week automating my way back to as good as I was on Notes. I’m almost there and I hope he end result will be better than with Notes.

It sounds like - with your writing it down - you’ve adopted strategies to make it take more to overwhelm you. I should probably think about some for myself.

I hope you find this encouraging; That was part of the intent.

I have ADHD diagnosed members in my household and the issue you described is not limited to creation of automations or even to people with that particular path of neuro diversity. I think what you have identified is a specific case, but since you have only recently been diagnosed, I think you are going to discover many scenarios like this and thus a need for broader tactics.

The key in all cases is to find techniques to keep you focused on what you are doing more than removing the distractions. The distractions are more appealing than what you are doing, so, in my opinion, you need to make what you are doing more appealing as a higher priority than removing distractions. Life is always filled with distractions and you cannot always remove all of them, but what you can always (attempt to) do is control your focus.

Take a look at resources on productivity and focus as well as ADHD discussion groups and podcasts. You may even find the Automators hosts have another podcast each that deal with such things.

Hope that helps.

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Thanks for your reply Martin!

I agree overwhelm isn’t just an ADHD trait, I am sure we all feel it at some point.

It’s almost as if our love for automation creates this ‘want’ for everything to be as efficient as possible… which in turn creates this ‘overwhelm’ as we see most tasks we do as requiring more optimization.

I’ve started using Obsidian - the graph almost makes sense of all the moving parts - downloading it from our mind and onto paper!

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Thanks Sylumer…

you need to make what you are doing more appealing as a higher priority than removing distractions

As simple as it sounds this was a bit of mind blown statement for me - so THANKYOU!

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Hi Danny,

I relate SO MUCH with your post. There are dozens of us! Dozens!

I’m not sure if I have ADHD specifically but I also get carried away on automations. It’s fine to automate things but it becomes a problem when the time you’ve spent on the automation is longer than the cumulative time it’s supposed to save.

I noticed that when I don’t progress on a task it is often because of my emotions. Something along the lines of “I need to ask a question to this colleague but I don’t like him” or “That’s a topic I’m supposed to know and if I ask questions people will think I suck and my boss will immediately fire me”. Or “I don’t understand this bug and I feel like a loser every time it shows up”, then I walk away for coffee, come back, and get upset that my problem didn’t resolve itself while I was gone. So what helped here was:

  • Understand that I can have ups and downs in self esteem and it cycles, always
  • Trust people to not be total pricks just because I asked for their help
  • Trust people that I won’t be fired just for asking a question
  • And finally: realise that many people have doubts and that people who never doubt about anything are imbeciles I wouldn’t want to hang out with in the first place.

I’ve worked on that long enough to have a more positive attitude toward blockers at work.
In addition to that, I did find a couple of things that helped me kill distractions so that I can go through blockers in a timely manner.

  • Quitter app: this hides or closes apps of your choosing after a timeout.
  • The Timing app to have a hard look at what I actually spend my time on the computer (scary!)
  • This “song”. The Top Comment is absolutely worth a read.
  • A “Focus script” which is an AppleScript that closes or hides apps that I shouldn’t be in. I trigger it using a keyboard shortcut and hit it when I suddenly realise that I’ve been slacking.
  • Using iOS Focus Modes: Home and Work. Each have their own home screens. That way I can see “oh, right, I shouldn’t be on the phone now” as soon as I see work apps. Home one has one icon which warps you into the Work one. Mac and iOS sync focus modes so I can use BetterTouchTool to enable it with a keyboard shortcut.
  • Recent attempt: use a plain Word document in which I write two things: What I plan to do day by day this week and what I want to do one day. An icon is available on iOS as well in case I’m not on the computer. Doing so makes my brain rest more often and worry less that it will forget something, it’s right there in the document. A bit hit and miss but it’s been more helpful than not.
(** Focus.scpt **)

hideIfRunning("Brave Browser")
hideIfRunning("BetterTouchTool")
hideIfRunning("ControlPlane")
hideIfRunning("Jira")
hideIfRunning("Slack")
hideIfRunning("Spotify")

quitIfRunning("Calendar")
quitIfRunning("Messages")
quitIfRunning("Microsoft To Do")
quitIfRunning("Notes")
quitIfRunning("Reminders")
quitIfRunning("Signal")
quitIfRunning("Spark")
quitIfRunning("Mail")
quitIfRunning("System Preferences")
quitIfRunning("WhatsApp")
quitIfRunning("Script Editor")

on hideIfRunning(appName)
	tell application "System Events"
		if (name of processes) contains appName then
			tell process appName to set visible to false
		end if
	end tell
end hideIfRunning

on quitIfRunning(appName)
	set isRunning to false
	tell application "System Events"
		set isRunning to (name of processes) contains appName
	end tell
	
	if isRunning then
		tell application appName to quit
	end if
end quitIfRunning

A lot of this post resonates with me. I tend to get a little too caught up in building automations and learning tools rather than focusing on the core activity, like writing or studying or learning to code. Learning tools is good, but it should be second to doing the task.

One thing that’s really helped me is avoiding speculative automation. I find myself doing this a lot: I think about something I’d like to do, then build a shortcut for it before even trying to do it the normal way. Problem is, since I haven’t done the task yet, I have no idea what would actually help. I just end up wasting my time building some flashy thing that doesn’t help.

Only once I’ve done something manually 5-10 times (minimum) and I see an obvious way to make it better, do I give myself permission to build an automation. That way, I have a clear sense of the problem and some possible solutions before I start tinkering.

This also helps me not waste my time by only automating things that actually bother me: if I think of something once and it never comes back up, it’s probably not worth my time to automate. :slight_smile:

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Thanks so much Sebastien.

You’ve been so helpful.

That quitter script is great! I’ve just actually added that at the very start of my Pomodoro session, I quit all the un-necessary apps so it gives a ‘fresh’ canvas to start with.

It’s funny about the time saving with automations…

I think we need to rate our automation ‘saving’ on a couple of factors.

  1. Time saving
  2. Brain power saving

I’ve also just created an ‘optimisations’ sheet in Coda (which feeds from my inbox).

Whenever I clear my inbox I rank the optimisation on how much it will really save me. Then I put it as an ‘action’ or a ‘nice to have’ - similar to your text document.

Thanks again!

Thanks afriendlypotato!

It’s so true about the speculative automations - I think creating some time and distance between the idea of an automation and actually executing really helps - something I have just starting implementing (see my notes on my optimisations sheet above).

Thanks again!

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I would also say that considering the development to be iterative helps. And there’s no need to iterate on a schedule.

Almost everything I develop I use - whether in the day job or not. (A few times I’ve built something for the challenge with little intention to actually use it.) And eating my own cooking leads to iterations.

Thanks Martin - I had to re-read ‘no need to iterate on a schedule’ but it’s so true.

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Welcome to my life, I also have ADHD, and this is sort of how I ended up with the podcast—it justifies my “oh, I’ll just create an automation for this” (well, some of the time).

Time blindness is a real issue for me, I often think it’ll be 5-10 minutes to do something only to look up an hour (or 5) later and realise I’ve sunk a lot of time into these things.

What I always do now is write down (using Stickies on my Mac, and keep it floating on top) the actual problem I’m trying to solve, so it’s a bit more in my face!

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Hey Rosemary, great to hear from you.

Time-blindness is definitely an issue here too! I’ve just taken your advice re-stickies. I am finding my Pomodoro timer method also helps as it doesn’t ‘let’ me go more than 25 minutes off track!

Idea for a future podcast??? - Automations to simplify an ADHD life!

I don’t know about you but I find a lot of the information on the internet is catered for people who aren’t as ‘techy’. I.e. the advice will be, use a task tracker (lol!).

Funny. I have a very loose relationship with “the problem I’m trying to solve”. “Abstracting from the problem at hand to possibilities” is my trait / fault / proclivity.

As there’s such a thing as “St Vitus’ Dance” I think I’ve got “Viticci Dance”. :slight_smile:

Oh I absolutely do that, and love to do it, the problem is when I do that but fail to solve the original problem I had that I actually needed to fix—so I have to go back and fix that to be able to do whatever the thing is. I try to make notes of those options, and/or solve the “real” problem first before expanding and doing the rest.

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Your last posts echo a lot with a book I’ve been reading lately, which is “I think too much” by Christel Petitcollin. Not the best book on the topic but very accessible for the not-a-big-fan-of-books like I am.

Basically: a minority of the population (~15%) is incredibly sensitive to detail, be it visual, sound, taste, … a couple of examples:

  • you notice typos and dead pixels immediately.
  • you can detect a small beep from a microwave two rooms away in a crowded party and that sound annoys you.
  • you can remember that one perfume that you’ve last smelled at a grocery store nineteen years ago.
  • you notice optimisations everywhere (okay that one was easy :face_with_hand_over_mouth:).

What the author wants to get across is that being sensitive like that is usually correlated with a different neurological setup which could be summarised as having a dominant right-brain. You actually have a supermind which is amazingly fast, but by being so fast it gets bored quickly and wants to do much more than the task at hand. On top of that you’re likely also a perfectionist and a completionist, so your mind wants to clear all of the decision paths before making decisions, which makes you slow and insecure deciders.
When at work you’re only assessed by that one task you’re assigned, and they don’t care that you’ve found so many automations along the way, then it becomes a problem. I’ve been there so many times that I lost count.

Cherry on top - actually you’ve already noticed from a young age that you had a different way of thinking so you felt out of place for a while and that messes with your self esteem. You’ve carried this doubt for so long that you don’t even believe me when I tell you that you have a supermind. You’ve convinced yourself that it’s you: you must have a problem, an anomaly, something that needs to be fixed. That’s how vicious of a circle it can be. Be free my friends.

The author’s book’s analogy is that you are like a Formula 1 racecar :racing_car::dash: incredibly fast, yet very fragile, and definitely not adapted to all types of roads. What you need to work on is how to make this mind of yours unleash its power at the right time and the right place.

ADHD and focus are topics that quickly get a psychological dimension so my apologies if I went a little too much in detail here. I feel that mental health is still not considered seriously in the workplace and I’m tired to pretend it’s not a taboo in 2022.

Anyway. You’re not alone. Absolutely not. And I will defend your beautiful minds til the end.

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This is such a great Analogy Sebastian!

Thanks for the amazing post

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