In case you missed the message, June is Binder System Month, where I share with you all the tips and tricks I use in my own binder system to make my life work with ADHD, in the hopes you can adapt some for your own life.
As usual, scroll to the end for the printable. (I suggest you start reading at the three priorities section.)
The Origins of My Theming Pursuits
I’ve been using a binder in one form or another for several years, but I’d always pull free printables off the internet and use those until recently, but the thing is, printables are not one-size-fits-all, especially when you have something up with your brain.
Recently, after I’d been exploring making custom printables to make my life easier, I was listening to ADHD reWired, an amazing podcast put out by Eric Tivers. This particular episode guest-starred Alan Brown and discussed theming.
If you haven’t heard it, go listen to it right now. I’ll wait. If you don’t have the capacity to listen to the whole thing (and that’s okay, I’ve been there too), there’s a handy dandy timestamp cheat sheet below the episode on their page so you can jump around.
I have to set time aside to listen to podcasts with a fidget-to-focus tool and take notes, because my auditory memory is so terrible. So I actually sat down and listened to the whole podcast and made notes and then I had to review the timestamps to make sure there wasn’t anything important that I missed. (Thanks, Mr. Tivers, for keeping me sharp for those college lectures.)
It was worth it in the end. I may have come out of it mentally drained, but I did have a lot of information I could apply to my own life with clarity.
I am currently in the process of developing a theming system I use and apply in my own life, over days, weeks, and eventually over months.
So You Want to Use Theming to be Productive
The first thing I want to say is I am not a theming expert. I am not even a productivity expert. I am just a young squirrel with executive dysfunction trying to Figure Things Out™. This blog was created so I could explore how to be the best I could be and hopefully someone else could apply what I’d learned and not struggle so hard themselves.
If you want to know how to theme your life perfectly, this is not the place to go. I can at best offer an overview of theming and how I use it to impact my own life in a positive way.
The major takeaways I got from the podcast are as follows (and I’ll go through them in more detail shortly):
- Theme your months and refer back to that each day.
- Theming your days on a recurring schedule is the most beneficial.
- You will be doomed to fail if you have more than three priorities per day.
There’s other things in there that are very important, and they may actually be more important to you than the stuff I gleaned from it. That’s okay.
Theme your months and refer back to them each day.
This is actually the easiest part and it does not require a printable. I actually wrote this on my iPhone’s word processor and printed it from there.
I pick a total of four themes for the month, two professional and two personal, in areas of my life that I feel need it. I sometimes reference back to the Wheel of Life that I discussed in the Binder System Month post (under personal development) and will be discussing later in more detail.
Then, after I’ve decided my focii, I find a good quote that speaks to me about either the themes I have chosen or some other resonating element in my life.
Some people find this hokey but I actually think it’s very beneficial. For many years, there have been times in my life when I feel I was meant to see or read something that I encountered organically. Frequently, these are Anais Nin quotes, such as the one at the bottom of my about page. (Since I encountered them out of context, I was not aware when I was a teenager that Anais Nin tackled the human experience in the first half of the twentieth century and frequently wrote vivid sexual encounters.)
Right now, I am trying to balance caring for those around me with caring for myself and I experience shame at my shortcomings. Therefore, the quote I found resonated quite well with me.
“If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy that you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself.” – Barbara De Angelis
I stick this in a protective sleeve and make it the first page in the scheduling section of my binder. I therefore see it every day when I open up my binder, and I make sure I concretely reaffirm what I’m doing with each of the values each morning.
Theming your days on a recurring schedule is the most beneficial.
My ADHD is still too intense to implement this concept completely, but I am working towards it. It’s a pretty simple idea, so don’t let my own executive failings deter you, especially if your own life is structured such that you could benefit from this.
If I were to theme my weeks, I would probably have it look like this:
Monday | Writing
Tuesday | Photography and/or Photo Editing
Wednesday | Programming
Thursday | Research and Learning
Friday | Self-care
So the idea here is that, for me, when I start the week, I am wanting to write especially for this blog. That’s very important to me, so I might as well anticipate this and work off that desire and write up my posts for the week. Then, I need to do photography for the posts and for other projects in my life, and I need to do that early in the week so all the posts get out on schedule.
Wednesday, I can spend hours working on programming projects and really engage with it. Programming for me only requires high levels of concentration when it’s a new concept I am learning. Otherwise, it’s like practicing a foreign language I already know, deeply enjoyable. Then I can spend Thursdays on research and personal learning. I always have psychotherapy on Fridays, so it makes sense if I use that day for self-care and relaxing.
The problem is my life is never so cohesive and organized.
For example, yesterday I was supposed to drive a grand total of two and a half hours to coordinate and transfer paperwork between two different doctor’s offices. Then I was scheduled to have an MRI, which ended up getting cancelled because my insurance decided they wouldn’t cover it, so I actually spent hours alternately on the phone with my insurance and my doctor.
But I digress.
You will be doomed to fail if you have more than three priorities in a day.
Ah, here’s where we get to the actual application of the theming daily I made. I bet you were wondering if it was actually going to happen in this post. It is, I promise, and we’re going to start talking about it now!
The three priority concept basically dictates that if you have too many different priorities, nothing is an actual priority.
To that end, I actually implemented a two-priority system for my daily. While you frown in confusion, let me specify that there actually an inferred third priority, in the weekly and daily admins I do. (Yes, my ADHD is bad enough that I have to prioritize to shower or I will not remember to shower.)
Just to quickly recap, as we with ADHD have problems with prioritization and planning, a priority and a task may or may not be the same thing. A task is generally a sub-element of a priority, especially when executive dysfunction is concerned.
For example, if you can actually just say, “I’m going to clean the garage out,” and then you actually manage to clean out the garage, you are able to make a task your priority. However, if you asked me to make it a priority to clean out the garage, I would need to sit down and write out what tasks I needed to do to make that priority a reality.
Confused? Okay, look at it like this. I pulled this from my own theming daily from a few days ago.
Tasks: Update all links on site, put printables on page, update blog calendar for month, write/schedule grocery experiences article, do final edits on weekly themed printable
Another example might be cleaning the kitchen; there’s specific tasks you’ve got to do in that process to make it happen. You have to unload the dishwasher, put the clean dishes away, fill the dishwasher, run the dishwasher, wash the floor, wash the stove, wash the counters, etc. The priority is cleaning the kitchen. The tasks are sub-elements of the priority.
It’s also very important to know how at what level your executive function skills are able to take over.
For example, I have on my scheduling to “Write article,” there’s actually more to it than just writing it. After that, I have to proofread it, take and edit any associated photos, remember to tag and categorize it, add the links, etc. Then, when it’s all shiny and ready to be born, I have to schedule or publish it and all of its associated social media.
When my executive function skills are practically nonexistent, I have to write out a to-do list that looks like this:
- Actually write the article
- Proofread article
- Take photos for article
- Featured image
- Photo 1
- Photo 2
- Edit photos for article
- Featured image
- Photo 1
- Photo 2
- Tag/categorize article
- Add the links
- Link 1
- Link 2
- Schedule/publish article
- Schedule/publish social media
This is how broken my brain can get. There was this one time I had to remind myself that in order to write the article, I had to first log into WordPress first and click “New post.”
However, generally, my executive function skills take over at a certain depth, so I don’t have to dig down to the simplest concepts. Then, my to-do list looks a lot better.
- Actually write the article
- Proofread the article, add tags/categories, and links
- Take and edit the three photos for the article
- Schedule/publish the article
- Schedule/publish social media
My executive functions take over after a certain point and I can lump things together for efficiency. I still have some helper words (like a reminder I need three photos and not one), but overall it’s pretty organized.
It’s extremely important to write your to-do lists with your executive functionality in mind. You need to learn to find that sweet spot of how deep you need to go before what function you have can take over and regulate the minutiae.
That sweet spot may also affect what classifies as your priority. On really bad days, when you need to consciously self-regulate everything, that takes up a lot of time, so your priorities can’t be so broad you will never be able to accomplish it.
If you are having a terrible day (or week or month or year) and you need to accomplish something for your blog, for example, just have it be one article. Your priority is then be that one article and everything you do will be devoted to getting that one article out. By the end, if it isn’t midnight, you will be too mentally and emotionally exhausted to do much else.
If you are really functional and you are in control, you could say you are going to prioritize “blogwork” and then specify three or four specific articles you are going to crank out or admin tasks you need to accomplish.
You can nest the articles together (i.e. “Write x, y, and z”) and then go as deep as you need in your tasks to find that sweet spot without taking up the space of writing it thrice.
Okay, now that we seem to have gone down the rabbit hole of crafting nice to-do lists, I would like to call your attention back to the whole reason we are here, or were supposed to be here: The Theming Daily.
This one is dedicated to you, Eric Tivers and Alan Brown, though you will probably never read this.
Useful when: You want to be productive by being specific in your priorities.
Note: There are two different downloads. One has a grid in the daily tasks space so you can write it in every day (like shown in the example image). The other has fillable forms in that space, so you can type in your dailies and print them.