Chad Grayson

What is Time?

I’ve been reading Jaclyn Paul’s Order from Chaos and it’s all about how you, as an adhd person, can organize your time and your living space. And it made me think about how I was structuring my days, and if I was doing that in the most efficient way.

I don’t really have much trouble getting things done lately. I make a schedule, and I pretty much stick to it. But it’s only been in recent months that I’ve zeroed in on what that structure looks like for me and why.

Research has shown that most people generally have about 6 hours of productivity in them during the day. For early birds, that can be from 6 am to noon, and then in the afternoon they need a little pick-me-up. I have never been good in the mornings, no matter how much I have tried to be. I used to think that I was a night owl, and night owls tend to be productive in the evening and nighttime, so like 6pm to midnight. And while I used to stay up that late a lot, I found that productivity was nearly impossible, because my Adderall wears off around 7pm and my brain turns to mush. I believe this is the technical term for it.

What I’ve discovered by a great deal of experimentation is that I am most productive from about 11am to 5pm every day. That puts me smack dab in the middle of the afternoon. I’ve never heard of there being ‘afternoon people,’ but I can’t be alone in this. My brain does not wake up until at least 10:30, no matter what time I actually get out of bed. And after 5pm or so, I can do mindless chores or watch TV or whatever, but if you want me to think deep thoughts about something, you’d better come back the next day. If I play with the timing of my Adderall dose, I can extend this to about 8 pm, but that’s a risky prospect. If something is really engaging, I can hang with it (which is how I deal with my D&D game, which can go as late as 10pm, but sometimes it is a struggle), but really, I shouldn’t be expecting myself to do anything major in the mornings or the evenings.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. We all have preferences for how we use and conserve our energy. If left to our own devices, we all have times of the day that work better for us. There should be no judgment for people who can’t function like others, even though our society seems to make not being an early riser a moral failing.

So, here’s how I need to structure my day.

When I first get up, I need two things: movement and sunshine. So, I need to get up early enough to take a walk outside to start the day. This really helps me ease into a productive state. On my walk I listen to audiobooks or podcasts, and I start thinking about what I’m going to write later, so I am not starting cold. I also like to schedule medical appointments early, so they are not taking up any of my productive hours. Would I sleep until noon every day if I had a chance? Absolutely! But I’ve learned that getting all of this stuff out of the way before expecting myself to do any productive work is best, so I’ve been trying to leave the house around 8am every day. This is especially important in the summer, because if I let it get too late, it will be too hot to take a walk outside. If I needed to, I could walk on my treadmill, but that is a last resort. I need to be outside, if at all possible. In the winter I have more leeway when it comes to time and have invested in a good rain slicker so I can take walks in the rain.

Then around 11am or noon, I start my hours of productive work. For me, this is when I get my writing done. I write for 99 minutes or until I’ve produced at least 2500 words, whichever comes first. (it’s 99 minutes because that’s the longest timer I can set on my Fitbit. It also dovetails nicely with my natural attention span). Once my drafting is done, I practice the guitar for 30 minutes, to give my brain a break, before spending an hour editing, if I’m in that stage with a project. This usually means I’m done with work around 3 or 4pm and can work on household chores or do something else that needs my focus.

My boyfriend usually cooks dinner after this, and I save enough energy to do the clean-up and dishes. The evenings we chill and watch TV or go shopping or whatever. And these days, I try to get to bed before 11pm. No more staying up doomscrolling until 4am!

This is the schedule that works best for me. It’s important to figure out what that looks like for you, so you can try to play to your strengths. I am fortunate that I don’t have a regular day job except when I work at the library 1-2 days a week (that shift is usually 11-2, sometimes 2-5).

It’s important to note that there’s no moral weight to any of this. Morning people are not superior to afternoon people or night owls. And sometimes, you can’t choose your schedule, especially if you have a day job and/or children at home who have schedules you might have to work around.

I also find that I need a lot of downtime in the evenings. Sometimes this is catching up with TV shows. Sometimes it is reading. But whatever it is, I need some time dedicated to not performing any productivity. It’s ok if I am productive, but it must be an accident.

Anyway, that’s what works for me. Your mileage may vary, of course. I think it’s interesting to talk about this stuff and consider how we’re all wired slightly differently. So, if it’s at all possible, figure out what your ideal schedule is and lean into it. If you have a day job that needs you awake and functioning at 7am, but you’re naturally a night owl, you might want to think about switching to something that is a more natural fit. I know that sounds like I think it’s easy. I know it’s not. I’ve found however, that I’ve been much more successful when I play to my strengths.       

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