Every now and then when I have to run into work after hours—just for a second, a quick in-and-out where you’d leave the car running if you weren’t paranoid about having it stolen—Sharon will say, “Don’t get caught in The Vortex” as I’m walking out the door.
And, I understand exactly what she means.
And, it often doesn’t stop me from getting sucked in.
But, at least she tried.
I admit it. I’ve got a nasty tendency to get sucked into things. It’s a product of my non-linear ADD brain chemistry. If you’re a linear person and you’re already shaking your head like my fifth grade teacher, let me just say that the ADD community forgives you. God loves everyone, even linear people. It’s not your fault. Seriously, it’s okay. We’re used to it.
Now, where was I? Oh yeah. The Vortex. Let’s take a peek behind the curtain at a possible “quick trip to the office” on a Saturday morning to reboot a problem satellite receiver:
9:50 AM: Arrive at office. Window of opportunity to reboot is from 10:00 to 10:06, so I have ten minutes.
9:51:00 AM: Log on to computer intending to check the errant receiver and see if it’s still misbehaving.
9:51:30 AM: Paper I left on keyboard reminds me I didn’t file my expense report, just as intended.
9:52:00 AM: Open Excel, pull receipts off the cork-board, begin entering into expense form.
9:54:15 AM: Realize I’m missing a receipt from one of my online vendors. Open browser, surf to their website.
9:54:30 AM: Promo on vendor’s home page reminds me need to buy some USB cables. Click promo. Prices look pretty good, but can I do better?
9:54:45 AM: Staying on-task, I log into my account and send the missing receipt to the printer.
9:55:00 AM: While receipt is printing, browse to competitive vendor’s website to comparison shop.
9:57:30 AM: Competitor’s prices not bad. Try a third vendor just to be sure.
9:59:45 AM: Third vendor has best prices. Order a dozen.
10:00:15 AM: Discover why third vendor’s price is so good. They don’t have any in stock.
10:00:30 AM: Google USB cables looking for price as good as third vendor.
10:02:00 AM: How many cheesy discount cable places are on the internet? At least 3,437,294.
10:05:30 AM: Find better price, but product looks like poor quality.
10:06:00 AM: Click back to original vendor. Price doesn’t look so bad after all. Place order.
10:07:30 AM: Print receipt, walk down hall to network printer, right past rack full of satellite receivers.
10:07:45 AM: See errant satellite receiver’s blinking alarm light. Check watch. Say something neither edifying nor uplifting. Next opportunity to reboot satellite receiver is 11:00 to 11:06 AM.
10:09:00 AM: Back in office. Since I have fifty-one minutes before I can try again, I might as well get some work done. Finish expense report.
10:14:00 AM: Check email. Order confirmation says USB cables are out of stock, back-ordered six to eight weeks.
I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. You get the point.
The Vortex is one face of a multi-headed creature living inside the ADD brain. It can be an ugly face—A very ugly face—but before you go all condemnation on me, I have to point out that the same brain chemistry that supports The Vortex also supports another face, a beautiful face, a face that is a pure and wonderful gift. I call it The Elevator, because just as The Vortex pushes you down, The Elevator lifts you up.
The Elevator is the face of those wonderful spurts of creative energy that lead us to new inventions, new ways of solving old problems, and new ways of thinking, interacting, and managing our world. The Elevator gives us new stories to tell, or radically different ways of retelling classic stories that make them new again. The Elevator lifts us up to places where we can see things that nobody else has seen. A ride in The Elevator is one of the most exhilarating experiences a person with ADD will ever know. In fact, it is The Elevator that causes me to be a bit offended at the very term Attention Deficit Disorder. In The Elevator, ADD isn’t a disorder. It’s a gift.
The conflict here is that we can’t have one without the other. Remove the chemistry that enables The Vortex, and The Elevator becomes a sweet memory and nothing more. The price of our Elevator ride is The Vortex, just as the price of riding in your car is insurance, fuel and maintenance. We can’t remove The Vortex, but with a little help and a lot of work we can manage it.
There are no magic check-lists that will keep your Vortex at bay. If there were, I’d be selling it and making a pile of money. You need to find what works for you, and when you find it do it with all you’ve got. Here are a few tools that have worked for me:
When I was diagnosed with ADD and began to learn about my brain chemistry and how it works, a whole lot of things about my life began to make sense for the first time. Once I understood that I wasn’t bad, just wired differently than the majority, I could begin to see patterns in my life, ways I’d adjusted and self-medicated and learned to cope with the difference—and ways I hadn’t. This is an area that can be difficult to work on alone. You might need a coach, whether professional or amateur, to help you see yourself. Understanding how you’re wired will equip you to make the most of what God gave you.
What I’ve come to understand about The Vortex is that all I need to do to be sucked in is do nothing. In the scenario above, I was sucked into hunting mode. All it took to pull me out of that was a reminder. Understanding how easily I can be sucked in, if I had arranged in advance for a reminder that my window to reboot had arrived, I could have accomplished the reboot the first time around. All it would take is something as simple as an alarm on my phone, or listening to the satellite feed so the silence at the top of the hour would get my attention.
- Proximity Effect
I’ve learned that there is a direct relationship between proximity and focus. In other words, the farther you are from the thing you need to keep in focus, the harder it is to maintain focus.
In my office, I could neither see nor hear the offending equipment I’d come to reboot. If I’d chosen to pass my time working on something close to the receiver, the odds of forgetting the primary mission would drop exponentially.
My friends at Merriam-Webster tell me the word triage means “The sorting of patients…according to their need of care.” In other words, when you go to the ER with a sprained nose, the guy who’s bleeding all over the floor gets first priority. I use triage in my work every day, prioritizing broken equipment, technical requests and deadlines constantly. I’ve learned that a little triage can go a long way toward keeping me on-task and out of The Vortex. In the example above, I didn’t have to go into my office. I could have seen what I needed on the front panel of the receiver. If I’d never opened the office door, I probably would have done the reboot on schedule.
Imagine the scenario above with these simple Vortex management tools applied:
9:50:00 AM: Arrive at office. Window of reboot opportunity is from 10:00 to 10:06, so I have ten minutes.
9:50:30 AM: Stop at office door. TRIAGE: Is there anything in there I NEED to reboot the receiver? No. Don’t even go inside.
9:52:00 AM: Arrive at satellite rack. Observe blinking error light. Check other readouts. Check time.
9:53:00 AM: NUDGE: Patch audio from target receiver into speaker, so end of program will remind me to reboot if I become distracted.
9:55:00 AM: PROXIMITY: Error light on rack a few feet away catches my attention. I investigate.
9:57:30 AM: Error not a big deal. Clear error light.
9:58:00 AM: PROXIMITY: Standing near rack, Take out iPhone, check mail, browse Facebook feed.
9:59:00 AM: Bored. Fling angry birds at pigs to pass the time.
9:59:50 AM: End of satellite program audio reminds me why I’m there.
10:00:00 AM: Reboot receiver.
10:00:30 AM: Fling more birds.
10:03:00 AM: Check receiver. Reboot complete, everything is happy.
10:06:00 AM: Listen to satellite-delivered program on car radio while driving home.
10:12:00 AM: RESULTS: Arrive home and thoroughly surprise Sharon, who expected my “quick trip” to take hours.
If it seems a little too easy, that’s because you’ve never done it. It’s not easy at all, and there are days when it’s nearly impossible—but it will always be impossible if you don’t try. I’m not parroting that “You can do this if you’ll just buckle down and try harder” thing linear people are so fond of bashing us with. If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me in my childhood, I would have squandered all that money long ago.
Here’s the thing: those linears are half right. You—and I—can do it. We just can’t do it their way.
Discover how you’re wired.
Find the way that works for you.
Then, meet me in The Elevator.