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Old 04-23-08, 05:10 PM
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Lightbulb Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Hello all,

I'm a lawyer. I do a TON of writing. I write memoranda and briefs, and I LOVE what I do, truly enjoy it. As a result, I'm reasonably good at it. But I have a pretty big problem that I have to fix, and I'd be interested in others' suggestions about how to fix it... Please accept my apologies in advance that this is such a long post.

The issue is deadlines, not that I miss court deadlines (knock wood) but that they drive me, and I'm finding it increasingly difficult as I age (I am now 41) to produce a draft sufficiently in advance of a court deadline to give my law partners and clients the chance to weigh in.

That I'm deadline driven relates to the way that I write, which has been consistent since I was 6-7 years old. I write in one long stretch, usually overnight, sometimes over more than one day/night. My psychiatrist says that I get into a hypomanic state when I write. And now that I know that, I can see what he's saying. I get pressured speech, a sort of euphoric high, become very creative, and just generally think that I'm the bee's knees. (This is all without medications, by the way, and if I am cyclothymic, I do not get accompanying lows, generally, so these hypomanic states don't come at the usual "price," if you will). When I get into these states, I am able to "see" the structure of the thing that I am writing. I see it so completely that each paragraph naturally flows one to another, and each sentence fits squarely within the paragraph so that it all holds together. I rarely make major structural changes after the first draft. This "seeing" always comes from this hypomanic state.

But I don't seem to be able to induce this state until VERY close to a hard-and-fast court deadline. Internal deadlines do not induce it for some reasons. And when I try to write outside of this state, everything that I produce is mush. That was ok in my teens, 20s and 30s because I had plenty of physical stamina to be able to pull repeated all-nighters, but now my brain starts to conk out when I've had way too little sleep, and thus I'm losing my key hyperfocusing hours between 8:00 pm and 4:00 am or so.

After a lifetime of fighting this issue and thinking all along that I merely lacked discipline, I was diagnosed in June 2007 as ADHD, primarily inattentive. I've experimented with various stimulant medications and anti-anxiety/anti-depressants, and am currently on 100 mg Luvox plus whatever of my assortment of stimulants I decide to take on a particular day. I find that 10 mg Adderall XR seems to work best. Higher than that and I get shaky/a little high-ish. I figure that I've wrung as much out of the medications as I can, and now I have to modify behavior to accomplish the rest of what I need to do. The medications also seem to work against me on some of the key components of producing a written work product.

I've identified four "phases" of writing, if you will (borrowing HEAVILY from Bryan Garner, a legal writing expert), as well as the way(s) that ADD seems to affect each phase for me. I'm wondering if others agree with these categorizations, and then if anyone has practical tips about making this process smoother, more organized, and most importantly, making the break from one phase to another in a timely fashion. Ideally, I think I need to try to induce the hyperfocus earlier, and then somehow wrest myself out of it with just enough time to get a minimum amount of sleep.

So ok, so here are my four phases:

Researching. I'm a natural at this part. I'm like a kid in a candy store. I LOVE digging around on the internet, so this is just a variation on that theme. I'll research until the cows come home, if I'm allowed. This is, in fact, what I'm doing as the deadline approaches. I'm not actually "procrastinating" in the sense that I AM working on the project, but I'm still dinking around opening and closing doors until the eleventh hour. So hyperfocus causes an inability to shift attention away from researching, and thus stimulant medication makes this problem worse;

Cramming information relevant to the project into my brain. This part is very hard for me. I become very sleepy as I try to read the relevant material and tend to "fall" for any distraction, internal or external (can't tune them out, in other words). This part feels tedious, but it's also where I tend to develop my ideas about structure, etc. So distractibility causes an inability to maintain attention when reading relevant material (factual or authority). Stimulant medication helps remedy this problem;

Outlining/organizing written work product. This part is a piece of cake when I'm in a hypomanic state, and near impossible outside of one. Poor working memory creates the need to induce hyperfocus/hypomania in order to bring on this “vision” of the document, so that ideas are organized within a cohesive framework. Although this is induced by a hypomanic state, it seems to me that stimulant medication does not help with this part;

Crafting the written work product. Here I'm referring to the process of stringing sentences and paragraphs together, working from the outline, etc., and putting in citations to authority as I go (which I find I need to do because I craft the statements around the evidence or around the authority). This part is tedious again. The process of finding just the right quote in just the right evidence or authority is very time-consuming. If I don't have a deadline breathing down my neck, it is extremely difficult to keep going with this part. Stimulant medication should help with this part, but in the past it has not seemed to for some reason (I may have just become too tired at this point in the past);

Editing the draft into a final work product. This part is tedious, but not terribly difficult. Once I'm to this phase, I generally do not have difficulty sustaining attention (unlike a lot of ADDers, I guess) but that's probably related to the fact that I'm usually reaching this phase VERY close to the deadline. If my drafts were done well in advance of the deadline, then I might struggle with this. Stimulant medication should help with this part.

Please tell me your thoughts about this structure. Does it square with your experience? Have you hit upon any tricks or techniques that help you turn off the hyperfocus from certain things and switch gears, and then turn the hyperfocus back on to do other parts?

Boy, if you've made it this far, you now see why it's a misnomer to call what we lawyers write "briefs." Thanks for having the stamina. And thanks to all in advance for their input,

Sandy
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Old 04-23-08, 05:52 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Thinking outside the box: is there any way you can delegate the task of writing briefs and save yourself the hassle? (and yes, I read your whole post).
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Old 04-23-08, 06:01 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Well, Driver, you raise an excellent, and probably obvious point. Most lawyers with my experience don't write their own briefs; they delegate to younger lawyers who bill out at lower rates. I have on occasion worked with drafts from other lawyers, but I almost find it harder than writing the brief myself, probably because I'm diving into the organizational aspect without the benefit of the hyperfocus/hypomania.

In any event, usually when I'm brought in to work on something, the client or my partner is looking for my written work product. So yes, I could delegate, but it wouldn't likely do me a lot of good. This is what I do, if that makes sense. And I love it, too.
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Old 04-23-08, 06:01 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

The only thing I can figure is to start your research asap and since you like that and dont need a stimulate do this maybe more in your down time. Like you I love researching anything, spent hours on what vacuum to buy, oh this is about you . Then for cramming info, do this: right when your stimulate really peaks, and etc....... Maybe if you work more with how you are instead of against it. As far as the getting started on the research you probably have no problem, but after that is where you will have to catch yourself at peek performance time. You could always get a coach, or teach the legal assistant how to coach you. Or break your draft down into even really small steps. One of the posters had this great idea of putting all her to do's and projects on index cards. When she had problems she broke it into even more steps. I dont know how long you usually have to do this but if you did it this way to where its not soooo much work and incorporated it into your other daily work so you dont get so bored with it.
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Old 04-24-08, 01:48 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

I'm afraid I can't offer you any advice on this, but I did want to comment because I very much recognize the hyperfocus way of writing.

I'm not a professional writer, actually still a student at University, but I do enjoy writing short stories and such. The first three weeks that I started on Concerta, I didn't feel like I was able to write anymore... I couldn't develop a storyline, the events didn't make sense, etc. Then, at one day when I was at a restaurant at the airport, trying to study, I suddenly got inspiration and started writing - it almost felt like I was possessed. It was amazing to see what I put on paper, because it was written in a completely different style than I normally write. When my focus dropped after a while, I decided to go home and continue on my computer - where I finished the story, then went to edit it.

It was like I could see the construction of how sentences should be, in a much clearer way than before, I could also spot errors right away, basically - I really understood how it had to be, technically, and gave it some twists that I'd never done before in writing. When I was done, I showed it to a friend and she was utterly amazed. She asked me if I really wrote this, because it was almost perfect in every technical and grammatical way, and that it completely seemed that English was my first language (which it's not at all, since I'm Dutch, but for some reason, I really like writing in English). She was also very surprised about the different style, and really raved about it - which of course was a great compliment, but made it all together a really interesting discovery.. that on medication, I could get into a totally different level of hyperfocus.

But yes, just like you, I always lose myself in projects with researching, writing etc - I love it, discovering all the information and fitting it together. Often I keep going on for a huge amount of hours, without breaks, and especially now I'm on concerta, I often will forget to eat. In the end, that's not always the best thing, especially not when it turns into an all-nighter, but it's fascinating! I love that flow.
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Old 04-24-08, 01:58 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Thank you, Precious,

I've been on several different types and dosages of stimulant medications. I think all totaled we've tried Adderall IR at 2.5, 5, and 10 mg, Adderall XR at 10 and 20 mg, Focalin XR at 10 mg, and phenteramine at 10 mg (I think). It seems to me that the Adderall works best, and probably best at the lower doses. Ideally, I think I'd get a 5 mg XR. I much prefer the XR.

The higher doses of Adderall and the other stimulants seemed to cut off my creativity and vision somehow. I'm not sure how or why. But it seems to be that I need to take the stimulants only for certain tasks and not for others, and that means that the tasks need to be on different days. Up until recently, I would often end up researching right up until I had as many hours before the deadline as I expected to have pages. At that point (when hours left WITHOUT sleep = expected pages) I'd HAVE to switch over to writing because it always took about one hour per page to write. So a 50 page brief would be at least 50 hours, just for the writing. (And for those of you who are business people and doing the math there, yeah, I generally don't get brought in in low dollar figure cases unless there's something bigger on the line than just that one case.)

Thank you to people for their comments (including those who have PM'd instead of posting).
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Old 04-24-08, 04:27 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Yes, I've also been playing with the idea of maybe not using my medication for a day when I really want to write. A friend of mine described it really well, she mentioned a friend of her who is taking anti depressants, but who said that "she writes best when she's in a manic period". And I can relate to that, because since it's creative writing, it does help when you really get emotionally involved in what you're writing, no matter that it can be an rollercoaster of heights and lows!
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Old 04-25-08, 02:06 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Dear Sandy,

Ned Hallowell here. I HOPE I am doing this correctly, as I am new to this site and to this technology. It would be a shame for me to write a reply and for it not to reach you!!! Please let me know if this reaches you.

What you describe is a complex problem, to put it mildly. You have broken it down into its component parts brilliantly. Let me make some comments and suggestions. But first, let me commend you. You are awesome! You are tenacious, extremely intelligent, creative, brave, and full of the kind of never-say-die attitude that convinces me you will beat this problem. You are a phenomenal person, and you ought to feel extremely proud of yourself and the work you are putting into realizing your dreams. It's my bet they will come true!!! Here are my suggestions:

First of all, medication. Medication is best for re-creating the high you get from deadlines. In fact, one of the reasons people with ADD tend to put things off is precisely to get that kind of high, which is caused by the adrenaline the you secrete when you are panicked and under the gun. Adrenaline is nature's own stimulant medication, chemically and functionally similar to the stimulants we prescribe. The reason people with ADD do so well under pressure is that adrenaline helps them focus, while it can make others spaz out. If I were you, I would not give up on finding the right dose of the right medication to be taken at the right time. You so clearly identify in your posting the times when meds do help and the times when they donot help. That leads me to believe you ought to be using short-acting meds, so as to avoid carry-over into the part of the process that meds impair. Have you tried short acting Ritalin? Say, 5 or 10 mgs? I'd give that a try. Make sure you use BRAND NAME Ritalin, not generic methylphenidate, as it tends to work much better for most people.

Second, fish oil. If I were you, I would take a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil. Make sure you get pharmaceutical grade fish oil. The two brands I know well enough to recommend are the brand manufactured by Barry Sears (order it online at zoneliving.com and take the dose he reocommends---most people take too little) or the brand manufactured by Carol Locke (you can order it at omegabrite.com---same advice, take the dose they recommend). Both of these brands are top-notch. Fish oil is good for you in many ways, but it is especially good for the brain, as the brain has lots of lipids, and some of these are essential fatty acids, which the body cannot synthesize, you must ingest. Fish oil has these. It is also especially good for ADD and for mood. Get on fish oil now!!!

Third, physical exercise. My friend, John Ratey, just published a book called Spark, which detailed the myriad ways in which exercise helps the brain. If I were you, I would get on a regimen of physical exercise at least a half hour 4 times per week. In addition, I would use physical exercise when I hit the roadbolcks you mention in the writing of the briefs. Just get up from your desk and run in place as vigorously as you can for 2 full mintes, then do 25 jumping jacks as fast as you can, then do 10 push-ups fast, then catch your breath for 30 seconds, then sit back down. The whole process will only take 5 minutes or so and it will truly reset your brain.

Fourth, encouragement. Do you have a friend who you can call when you are fogging up? Some people hire a coach, which you might need to do. But, before doing that, try getting a friend to work with you. You'd be amazed how helpful a minute or two of rah-rah encouragement can help.

Fifth, diversion. Sometimes it is good to get your mind completely off the topic. Keep a joke book in your drawer, a book that will truly make you laugh. This is also a good brain refresher.

Sixth, reminders of people and places you love. Keep photos in your work area of people and places you love. I have a mobile over my desk of photos of people and places I love. When I get bogged down I lean back and look up at it. Soon I feel better.

Seventh, music. The right kind of music helps many people, myself included, work better.

Eighth, sleep. Make SURE you get enough sleep. Enough sleep is that amount of sleep it takes for you to wake up without an alarm clock.

Ninth, I would refer you to my book CRAZY BUSY: OVERBOOKED, OVERSTRETCHED, AND ABOUT TO SNAP. It has many suggestions in it that I think could help you.

I hope this reaches you, and I hope it helps!!! I know you can win this battle. I know you WILL win it. Please keep me posted. You are an awesome person!!!

Best wishes,

Ned Hallowell
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Old 04-25-08, 02:49 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Quote:
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You are an awesome person!!!
that's what I keep telling her, and it can not be said too much!
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Old 04-25-08, 02:52 PM
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Smile Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Dr. Hallowell,

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

I was diagnosed in June 2007, and have worked on this relatively steadily since then, doing all of the things that you describe. I actually did many of them already, long before I knew that I had ADD. In fact, the exercise, fish oils, photos, and diversions (I'm partial to Spider Solitaire and YouTube) are lifelong things. I felt last summer that I was very, VERY close to re-working my writing habits, so to speak. But then in August I had something personal happen that derailed my work on this for a while. After that, I believe that I just got into a pattern of getting very little sleep, and everything blew up on me. My law partners essentially wrote me off (which was heartbreaking for me, to be honest, because I saw them as family), and that created a bad scene for me, too.

But I'm taking a break at the moment, re-charging the batteries, so to speak, and I'd been feeling that I was close to being ready to dust myself off and get back at it. Your post has made me feel very, very, VERY good about that. So thank you again.

I'll be at the ADDA conference in Minneapolis in July. I'll come find you and say hello and thank you in person then.

Sandy
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Old 04-25-08, 03:28 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Dr. Hallowell - thank you for your post, these are definitely things I can use as well!
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Old 04-25-08, 03:29 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

I'm an illustrator, but those steps correlate almost exactly with my own approach and difficulty with my work. each project I have presents those same difficulties for me, too.I try to do sketches, a 'rough draft', now that I have a team under me, one day before deadline, meet with them, then spend the eleventh hour finishing the big creative steps alone with my coffeepot late at night.I now have 2 deadlines- the sketch/proposal meeting, and the finished work.maybe arranging a meeting timefor the day before... and taking notes, to share at it, as you're absorbing the information; would this help you?
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Old 04-25-08, 04:09 PM
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Cool Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Yes, Reesah,

It does. For those who are unfamiliar with Bryan Garner's writing seminars, he breaks the writing process into four phases, which he calls "madman, architect, carpenter, judge."

The madman is the creative phase, in which you're ironing out what you want to say. In my work (but it seems to me that his methods are equally applicable to any sort of writing other than maybe PURE creative writing, but perhaps they'd even work for that), the madman part is the researching, reading, thinking, and brainstorming. I end that process doing something that he calls a "whirligig," which is a form of "mind mapping" (thanks to QueensUGirl for suggesting the phrase "mind mapping").

The architect phase is the process of outlining, which is greatly enhanced (for me) by the hyperfocus/hypomania that seems to be induced in the madman phase.

The carpenter is the process of constructing paragraphs and sentences working from the outline. There's a bit of creativity there in word choices, phraseology, etc., but it's a very tedious process, in general, because it's so slow going.

And the judge is the final editing process.

Bryan Garner recommends that one have a deadline for each phase. I tried that with the most recent brief that I wrote, but it was an unusual situation in which I wasn't "allowed" to do any of the madman work (because we'd done it all before) and I was therefore having a very hard time "seeing" the brief for the architect phase. I was also absolutely wiped out, because I slept very inconsistently in the two months leading up to that point. So I can't say that following Garner's approach worked smashingly for me in that go around, but I think that the overall methodology is sound, in part for the reasons that you state, Reesah.

Sandy
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I was dreamin' when I wrote this. Forgive me if it goes astray. ~ 1999, Prince, 1982.

I was dreamin' when I wrote this. So sue me if I go too fast. ~ 1999, Prince, 1982.
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Old 04-26-08, 10:31 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Ok from what's been described here it sounds as though when you people write etc, you're unlocking your creative brain and turning off the logical brain (hence the reason why you just see the sentences and paragraphs etc and the whole thing just appears to write itself; and also why it tends to only happen when stressed or emotional and you don't notice the passage of time).

Sandy, I'll recomend and approach from left-field. Get your hands on the book, "Drawing from the right side of the brain". In there are exercises to help you shut off the logical brain and turn on the creative brain.
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Old 04-26-08, 11:47 PM
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Re: Writing, deadlines, hyperfocus, and "procrastination."

Driver,

What an outside-the-box idea. Are you SURE that you don't also have ADD?!

Just ordered it from Amazon.com. Thanks so much for that tip.

Sandy
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I was dreamin' when I wrote this. Forgive me if it goes astray. ~ 1999, Prince, 1982.

I was dreamin' when I wrote this. So sue me if I go too fast. ~ 1999, Prince, 1982.
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