How I’ve Hacked My Life to Use My ADHD to My Advantage (Part 1)

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Welcome to the first in a multi-part blog series on my relationship with ADHD, how I handle it, my tricks, and hacks, and what does and doesn’t work for me when dealing with this often confusing, usually misunderstood disease.

First off, let’s understand a few things.

  1. Not everyone has ADHD. You don’t “have ADHD” because you can’t find your car keys, or because the spreadsheet you have to finish for work isn’t exciting.
  2. “ADHD MOMENTS DON’T” FREAKING EXIST. You don’t have an “ADHD moment,” like it’s a sneeze. ADHD is a lifetime condition. You don’t get it for five seconds then laugh about it as it goes away for three months.
  3. There are thousands of people who claim to have ADHD, and who base their self-diagnosis on a myriad of so-called “educational websites.” Please don’t do this. If you were bleeding out of your eyeballs, I don’t think you’d go online to take a quiz to ask “am I bleeding out of my eyes?” No, you’d go to a health professional, one who’s spent years studying and learning, and you’d get professionally diagnosed. I’ve been diagnosed twice, by two different psychiatrists, both of whom came to the same conclusion. So – Think you have it? Seek professional help. I’m not a professional in the world of ADD or ADHD, I simply know who I am, have been diagnosed, and have come up with ways to help myself live better. I’m sharing those ways with you here.
  4. The tips below can be useful to anyone with ADHD or not. A lot of them involve organizational skills, time management hacks, and doing things in advance to prevent negative things from happening later on. (When did Noah build the ark? Before the rain.)
  5. Finally, these tips won’t work for everybody. Hell, if they did, I’d bottle them and sell them under the guise of a miracle cure. They simply work for me. I encourage you to find what works for you, and apply that which does, and dismiss that which does not.
  6. I’m not a doctor, scientist, or anything else in the medical field, and I don’t claim to be. These are simply things I choose to do that help me, and I share them with the hope they can help you. Believe me, I’m not trying to become a Food Babe type blogger. Those people are full of shit, anyway.
  7. Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment below, or email me anytime.

The First Rule: If you have a plan, you’re much more likely to find ways that ADHD is beneficial to you. When you don’t have a plan, it’s usually seven hours later and you haven’t done shit with your day.

The Basics – Starting out: (4am to 8:30am)

I wake up super-early. This is for many reasons, least of which being that first thing in the AM is my time to be on my own without interruption. I can get many things done without anyone calling/emailing/shouting/bothering me. It’s my time. This could include working out, cleaning out my inbox, or simply reading through the news of the day with a cup of good coffee and an overweight cat.

I’ve met a ton of people who stop me right there – “I could never be a morning person,” they say.  Problem is this: More people are awake at night than are in the morning. And as such, you’ll be pinged, bothered, and distracted a lot more if you’re a night owl than if you are a morning person. Try AM. You’re left alone. Want to manage your ADHD? It starts by getting into a zone, and you can’t get into a zone if you’re being bothered all the time. (Tweet this sentence!)

To get to this level of “me-time,” I have do to several things. all of which help me depending on the circumstance.

If I’m working out in the morning, I’ll sleep in my gym clothes. I know this sounds ridiculous, but check it out: if all I have to do when I first wake up is lace my sneakers and walk out the door, I don’t have to think about it. Alarm goes off, and I’m out. If I’m biking or running, I’ll leave my iPod, phone, and keys (and bike,) by the door. It’s a straight shot for me to exit my bedroom and walk out of my apartment. For an ADHD person, the first twenty minutes of the plan to exercise can easily be spent finding your keys, or figuring out where you put your water. Where are my gloves? Is my iPod charged? Where’s my phone? I do this all before I go to bed. When I wake up, all I have to do is follow a plan from my bed to the door, like James Woods from Family Guy when he sees a piece of candy.

Now – Why the workout? Some might say it’s to stay in shape, which of course is quite true. But that’s far from the only reason. Again – This is where I say I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor, hell, I wouldn’t have passed level one earth sciences at Boston University without help. But I know this – I believe in what I’m about to say because it works for me. If it works for you, too, great. I’m also pretty sure there’s data to back this up on the Internet, in respected medical papers, and it can be found with a simple search.

When I work out, I get that “runner’s high,” that comes with any kind of workout, whether it be running, swimming, biking, lifting, etc. It’s the exact same high I get when I skydive. We’ll talk about that in another post.

But long story short, I’m pretty sure that high is made of up endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, all the things that those with ADHD never have enough of floating through their veins. When I finish that run, land that skydive, cross that finish line, or bow and step off that stage, it puts all those wonderful chemicals right at the forefront of my brain, right where I need them. I can’t stop smiling, I’m usually in the best mood I’ll be in all day, and If I can sit down at a laptop within thirty minutes of finishing, I can write for hours and hours without being distracted by anything.

So that’s why I workout first thing in the morning.

How can you find those brain chemicals first thing in the morning, and make them work for you? (other than with drugs, both legal and illegal, which we’ll talk about in in upcoming post,) 

For me, routine is important. With my traveling all over the world, all the time, you wouldn’t think I have routines, but the fact is, I have more than you might imagine. For instance – When I get back from the gym, I simply have to take an immediate shower and get dressed, even if I’ll be sitting on my alone on my couch for an hour drinking coffee as I work. If I’m not dressed, I don’t feel complete. If I don’t feel complete, I’m looking for something to give me that completeness. That’s a problem. When you don’t feel complete, you can’t 100% focus. It’s like a pebble in your shoe, or the tag on your t-shirt that won’t stop scratching you.

Something as simple as the habit of putting on your shoes every morning can mean the difference between focus and non-focus.

Breakfast – The most important meal of the day, the start of your morning, the blah, blah, blah… I’ve never truly bought that. Cavemen didn’t eat by the clock, they ate when they caught something and killed it. Sometimes that was at 1am, and yet there weren’t that many fat cavemen around. Eat when you want to eat. But eat the right things.

For me, that’s either oatmeal, or freshly-made juice. Why? Because those are the two foods I can always have in my house. Oatmeal you can buy as big as you need to, so if you’re using Google Shop or doing a Costco run, just buy a 50 pound bag of oatmeal and keep it somewhere. Face it – We don’t eat healthy in the morning because we either don’t have time, or don’t have the necessities to do so. Oatmeal removes that problem.

As does Farmivore – I discovered this company when I was a guest on Fox Business the other week – Essentially, if you own a juicer, they send you enough fresh vegetables and fruits to make eight juices a week, for about $40 a week. It’s totally worth it. The ingredients are sitting there, and you can go to town with them each morning.

That’s breakfast. Just eat something healthy, that gives you sustained energy. You’re going to need it as you move through your day.

Next post: Hacks that get me to my first meeting, to the office, and through to lunch, including several apps that I rely on daily.

I want to hear your thoughts below – Whether you loved or hated this post, and whether I should do more. As always, thank you for reading.

Join the discussion 53 Comments

  • Margot Potter says:

    Thank you for sharing this! Great post, filled with helpful hints for staying on track and keeping focused. It’s a fascinating thing and hard to explain how you can be relentlessly focused one moment and utterly distracted the next and how the smallest things most people wouldn’t notice can derail you. I find that creating routines, making lists and checking things off, and consciously removing distractions helps keep me on track. Looking forward to hearing more about how you navigate ADHD and turn it into a win. These tips are helpful for anyone who works for themselves and struggles with staying the course, keep ’em coming! Thanks!

  • Bill Peterson says:

    Peter, this is great. My son (he’ll be 13 this month) has ADHD (diagnosed by one of the best, Karen Miller at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center). We help him manage his day through, in large part, a combination of medicine, diet and sleep. I’ve often wondered, “Ok, what the hell do I do when he goes to college. Gets a job. Doesn’t live here anymore. Grows up….” Hearing how you manage as a grown up on your own is really valuable to me. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • Jonah says:

    Thanks Peter for this post. I have adhd as well and I use similar tips like this to get me through. I don’t like the idea of medication, so I have worked out a lot of routines that help me get through the day. Can’t wait to read the next post.

  • Kevin A. Gray says:

    Great piece, Peter and thank you for continuing to share. After 35 years of struggling, with the support of my wonderful wife, I skeptically sought out help and was diagnosed ADHD. I’d underachieved my whole life, fought like hell to keep a career, and struggled with many of the typical problems we work through everyday.
    For years, I could not figure out why I, as an intelligent person, continued to make “stupid” mistakes and “dumb” life decisions; why I was careless and impulsive; why I continued to be my own worst enemy.
    I’d always disregarded the ADHD explanation. ADHD, I thought, was invented to give bad parents an excuse for their poorly-behaved bratty kids.
    I just had passed the two year anniversary of my enlightenment. I can’t say I’ve hacked it — but I’m dealing with it. I’m optimistic of a better future, now that I understand me. I commend you, because clearly you’ve used it to your advantage to achieve even greater successes. In doing so, you’re using your platform to obliterate the ADHD stereotypes.

    I don’t know that this was ever your intention, but keep it up because (no hashtag) the struggle is real.

  • Gary Ware says:

    Great post, and I can’t wait for the rest of the series! Being someone with ADHD I can’t agree more with this post. I used to think that I can function on lack of routine, but boy was I wrong. The less I have to think about stuff like that the better my day is. I recently started adding elements from the Book Miricle Morning to my routine and it has helped to kick the day off right.

  • Kelly says:

    Great post. People really don’t understand what it’s like. Routines help me be successful every day. I’m a crazy list maker. If I don’t have a prioritized list, everything gets lost in the shuffle. If the house or my desk isn’t completely clean, I can’t accomplish anything. For me, ending my day with a clean work area helps me the next day. Otherwise I start my day off messed up. Some days I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything and everything is scattered. The hardest part of my days is dealing with emails flying into my inbox, throwing off my lists and tasks, distracting me from my work. I’ve come to think of my ADHD as a super power rather than a burden – I just have to harness the power to be successful. Looking forward to your next post.

  • Erin McKenna Nowak says:

    As the wife of a person with ADHD, I have seen my husband use several of these exact techniques to change his life (and our entire family’s lives) for the better. As a Mom of 3 (our middle one being the only ADHD kiddo), I teach my daughter these same strategies to help her be successful. At 8 she is already a bright creative powerhouse, but I can see the effect of stigma just starting to creep in. Nothing is worse than hearing “I’m stupid” from a bright kid who just isn’t able fit into a standardized box. Why should anyone have to be boxed in? Thanks for being one of the examples, along with my husband, that I think of when I remind her (and myself) that she can be very successful and do great things in life, not despite who she is…but because of who she is. Great post.

    • shankman says:

      You’re a good wife, Erin. One of the hardest things I need to accept is that despite never wanting to blame ADHD for any arguments or fights, I know that sometimes, my brain simply works differently, despite how much I try to help it regulate – and that leads to me not being the best partner I can. So I keep trying to improve, and try to use those occasional setbacks as learning moments. Doesn’t always work, sometimes I just get super-angry at myself and beat myself up for what feels like forever… But small moves, right? One step at a time. Keep having that awesome way of looking at things. Your husband, like me, is very lucky to have someone who gets it. 🙂

  • Peter, I’m totally with you on the power of routine, especially when traveling. It’s also interesting how different foods work for different people. I need protein first thing, so I always scramble some eggs (or know the night before where I’ll get them in the morning), but it’s about the routine.

    I hadn’t thought about the endorphins, but it makes sense, and probably contributes to my “exercise every day for the rest of my life” mantra.

    More, please!

    • shankman says:

      That’s a tough mantra to keep up – I’ve never made it mine despite wanting to, because I know life interferes from time to time – So if I can’t get to the gym or the park for a run or bike, I’ll make sure to skip the subway if I can, or even just do some lunges while waiting for my flight in some random airport. 🙂 Thanks for the comments! 😀

  • Belinda Hazelwood Willis says:

    Yep, yep, and yep! I am focus-challenged myself and I have to have structure and routine to survive! I’m also a change management specialist and I work with others – individuals and organizations – to identify the need for change and to sustain those new habits. It’s one step at a time and those steps are not always foward! Thanks, Peter!

  • Amy says:

    Good advice. Wanted to read more. Confirming what I know I should do – get up earlier!

    • shankman says:

      Thanks, Amy! Getting up early rules! 😀

      • Amy says:

        Questions: 1) how many hours of sleep do you try to get? 2) do you make up sleep by sleeping more on weekends?
        Thx

        • shankman says:

          I try and get at least seven – Doesn’t always work – But that’s the goal. Does that mean I have to give up late nights out more often than not? Yes – But in the end, I’ve learned that I’m rarely missing anything. 99% of all “networking events” that require evenings and alcohol can usually be skipped in the first place. 🙂

          If I REALLY need to catch up on sleep, I work out a solution on weekends or usually, on planes.

  • Catherine says:

    More, more, more! Wonderful post Peter. And those life hacks are pretty awesome for all entrepreneurs and business people even those of us who only have forgetfulitis – ie ‘I lost the dang keys again’. I have several dear friends with ADHD and I know how much they struggle with it – definitely forwarding this. I give you all the credit in the world. Oh and my oatmeal is boiled eggs or almonds. I always have those grab and go high energy items in my kitchen to quick start my morning.

    • shankman says:

      Thanks, Catherine – I’m excited to see how this series will evolve. So great to see so many readers wanting more! 🙂

  • Susan Giurleo says:

    Exercise to help with focus-yes! Have you read SPARK! by John Ratey? all about the benefits of exercise to manage ADHD.

  • Your posts make me smile. Why? Because you are about as real as it gets. Thanks for that!

  • specialkids says:

    Thank you.

  • Catherine Gear Banks says:

    Peter, I probably will get blasted for this, but here goes. I have a (diagnosed, by several docs) ADHD 15 year old son. We are constantly telling him what a super power this is (or will be when he figures out how to harness it).

    I want to send him a link to your article but there is some PG language in it.

    Now, do I know that my son has heard this language before? Absolutely.

    As his mother, though, I just can’t send it to him.

    So, let the bashing begin… I’ve said my .02.

  • Ellen Delap says:

    Fabulous! I love that you focus on ADHD and strengths!

  • Russwell says:

    Peter,

    As a person who was always very highly intelligent and therefore never needed to study all the way through my BA degree, I never knew I was ADHD until I was in Graduate School, when I tried to learn how to study and apply myself–largely unsuccessfully. I did earn my MBA ten years ago, but have had minimal success career wise, and am currently doing a job that a high school dropout would be qualified for.

    Entrepreneurship and forming a start-up has been a goal of mine. I (and my team) won first place in the business plan competition for my entrepreneurship class, yet every time I have attempted to “get going” and translate that academic success into the real world, I have succumbed to distraction. Medications never have done anything for me, one way or the other.

    This post (and the rest of this series of posts, I am sure) is (and are) exactly what I have been looking for.

    Thank you,
    Russ Maxwell

  • Cindy says:

    What a great post… honest, clear and positive. I appreciate you educating people that ADHD is real – and an accurate diagnosis leads to more than just proper treatment, it should lead to understanding, compassion and SKILL training. The sooner parents and teachers understand how ADHD impacts learning and behavior – the sooner they can empower kids learn to how to manage their magnificent minds! As a professional I look forward to your future posts and I will be sharing with my world…

  • Bonnie says:

    Thanks for writing this, Peter. I know when I get up early, I do much better. The silence helps me focus, and I have a whole bunch of other strategies for getting through the day. I couldn’t survive without my handheld device, and I’m pretty compulsive about lists. I’ve also found that the key to my success is a business partner who is structured and organized, and now that our business is more established, I depend on our team to remind me of what’s next on my agenda. We also use a good CRM (https://www.method.me/) to make sure I’m not dropping the ball. I have also learned to delegate the stuff I’m not particularly good with.

    It’s always a struggle, but I’ve come to accept the gifts that my situation offers, and I keep working on the challenges.

  • Hillary says:

    Nice job, Pete. Hope it helps many people 🙂

  • I do not have ADHD, but I am raising a son who does. Adult insight is some of the best advice for parents, because many of us have no idea what it’s like to have ADHD. I look forward to the rest of this series, and gleaning some tips for my 12-year-old.

    Penny Williams
    Author of “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD” and “Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD”
    ParentingADHDChildren.com

    • tish says:

      I just wanted to let you know, I recently stumbled upon a site called understood.org , it has several helpful articles, but the most amazing service they provide are simulation modules so people can experience what someone who has a disorder based in those areas, one of which is attention issues! Being someone who has had ADHD all of her life I can tell you first hand that its so hard to explain what we’re going through or what we’re having trouble with ir identifying why because it’s always been our normal. I never understood just how different the way i interact with the world is until i went through it myself and I thought that’s it that’s exactly what I go through! Another website that’s great for info and articles is Additudemag.com

  • Kelly Loubet says:

    Thanks so much for doing this Peter!

  • Elaine DeLorenzo Spitz says:

    This is super helpful, Peter, thank you!

  • Kristie says:

    Just read this post with my 16 yr old ADHD (diagnosed) son. We both very much enjoyed the insight from an ADHD adult and are looking forward to the rest of the series. He has definitely had some struggles but is very encouraged to try some of your tips 🙂 Thank you!

  • Elizabeth Higbie says:

    I can’t wait for your next blog.

  • Vegan Shanti says:

    I think that as a person who is currently struggling with add to the point that it is severely impacting my life in multiple ways, this post is very inspiring. The doctors I saw have not helped me, but information like this may finally make a difference. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • ShannonP says:

    Thank you for your post, Peter! I have one son diagnosed with ADHD and throughout the process of helping him over the past year and learning all I can, I realized that there is a strong chance I have it, too. Had my intake appt on Monday and will be doing testing in about two weeks.

    I can’t wait to read the rest of this series! Several of these tips sound really helpful for me now and writing this comment has given me inspiration for some things to try with my son in the mornings!! Thank you!!

  • Tracy says:

    I’d be interested to read how you deal with memory. I have 2 children with ADHD diagnosed .
    Memory is a big issue for both, everything is forgotten , even trying to remember to do things to help you rember things is a total nightmare.
    Tracy x

  • Shiva says:

    Just what I was looking for. Brilliant!

  • fernando jimenez says:

    hi, peter

    So when I was 13 years old, I was taken to a neurologist, he told me that I have ADHD, so thanks to my mother she didnt want me to take the “medicine” anymore, so 8 years later I went to the same neurologist and he made spent money on exams to in the end tell that I don’t have ADHD.

    I’ve been learning about ADHD for a long time and knowing hasn’t help, ironic, eh? when knowing doesn’t help ya at all.

    So What Should I Do? besides the obvious Answer

    I don’t fucking know what the fuck to do, I’m desperate

  • David Nicolas Hoffmann says:

    Oh look! Bright and shiny. Oh look, Bright and shiny. Oh look! Bright and shiny. Thank you for the insight.

  • Steve Scheipeter says:

    I stopped the “shiny object” joke once I became aware of the damage this illness has caused in my life. I accept that I suffer from ADHD, having been diagnosed by a professional, but I hate it.
    Gratefully so, I have been introduced to various methods of dealing with it as well. Along with regular exercise such as running and lifting weights I have found yoga and meditation to be incredibly helpful and quite frankly, life changing.
    I look forward to further blogs. Thank you for being willing to share so honestly.

  • joncarllewis says:

    Great advice. Thank you!

  • Megan says:

    I just stumbled on this post and THANK YOU! I’ve managed to find my own routines over the years to manage my ADHD, but you pointed out some new ones that I’m going to try.

  • Renee says:

    Wow, I have an ADD child and all of this is SOOO very helpful! Thank you so much to Arya T. for introducing me to your material! I will continue to read your blog and I look forward to reading your book Faster than Normal!!!! Keep at it! 🙂

  • Taylor Fritz says:

    By the way… I know you’re not a doctor or a scientist, but you regarded ADHD in this post as a disease. It’s actually a disorder. 🙂

    great post overall! keep posting

  • Djamel Aidoud says:

    I really like this post, you putted words on what I needed.

    Best regards from France.

    Djamel

  • Francine says:

    Finding this in 2018. I get up at 4am or 3:30am too because it’s the only time I can get things done. Love the tips for sleeping in clothes. This is ANOTHER one who stumbled on for my daughter. I am just recently getting diagnosed at 32 years old and since I have discovered so many odd things that I do that are coping mechanisms for other people too. Love oatmeal and juice and having everything ready at the door. <3 it all! Will be continuing to read.

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