January 30, 2023

Our modern, industrial world has conditioned us to believe that productivity comes from consistency. It can, and for many people there’s a strong link. But doesn’t always. 

I’ve been exploring consistency and why it might be time to re-think society’s obsession with it being the only link to success. What if being inconsistent could provide just as many routes towards achieving our goals and creating incredible things as being consistent could?

In this podcast episode, I share 4 unconventional things I’ve discovered by playing with being inconsistent more, and learning to work with my spontaneity and impulsivity.

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Grace (intro)

This is the Future ADHD podcast. I'm your host, Grace Koelma, and welcome to the very first episode for 2023. Today I'm doing a solo episode to kick things off, and I'll be talking all about the topic of consistency when it comes to being ADHD and being consistent with planning, organization and productivity.

So often, consistency gets talked about as being one of the only things that lead to success or need to be in place in order to be successful. And I think that as neurodivergent people, we have brains that are non-linear and divergent. And so today I want to explore the ways that our brains are inconsistent and how, actually, that can also be a really valid route to success. So let's dive into the episode. 

Grace (host):

Hello. Hello, my friends. It's Grace Koelma and welcome to the Future ADHD podcast. It's my very first episode for 2023, and as I've been showing on social media, I have been so excited to launch this podcast alongside our brand future ADHD, our website, our planners and productivity tools, and and I thought, what better way to start this year than to share some musings I've been having lately? All about the topic of consistency and I guess how we as ADHD brains relate to consistency. 

So this topic has been on my mind a lot because across the start of the year, which I kind of call plan a season, it's just the time when a lot of people are thinking about New Year's resolutions and getting more productive, maybe turning over a new leaf as it kind of goes in our society. January hits and people start buying planners, or sometimes towards the end of the year, they start buying them as well. So we've had a lot of interaction and lots of emails and messages and stories from people sharing kind of their emotional journey, finding the Future ADHD Planner. 

And I guess because it's pretty different to other planners because it really supports that shame free, guilt free approach of it doesn't matter if you miss pages, it's one of those things that you can pick up and put down. People are kind of, I guess, taken aback when they discover it. And so when they message me and email me, often they will share a lot about they really wish they could be more consistent and they're really hoping this will help. 

All of the good stuff, all of the stuff that all of us kind of want for our lives, where we may have been struggling to form habits, struggling to kind of finish that university degree, that course, or to start that project, or to finish that project, or to finally take that trip we've always been planning. And maybe it takes saving money and being consistent with our savings. And so there is a lot of emotional nuance and probably a lot of baggage across a lifetime of feeling like, why aren't I consistent? Why can't I just be consistent? 

So I've been thinking about this, and I have some ideas that I want to share that have been around what I've been experiencing, what I have experienced, how I structure my week and really some realizations that I've had. As a result of finding that I just couldn't be consistent and realizing that maybe the goal wasn't to try I be consistent. Maybe it was to really lean into inconsistency. So that probably is a bit of an odd thing to say, and maybe you're like, but I don't want to be inconsistent. I want to be consistent. So stick with me. I'm going to dive into it.

 And maybe some of these things might start to tickle your brain the way that they did for me when I started thinking through them. And of course, you're welcome to disagree and you might be like, Nope, consistency is the way for me, totally fine. But I'm just trying to provide a bit of a wiggle room around this topic because I just don't buy society's conditioning that consistency is the goal and consistency is the route to success. 

Side note, of course, consistency does lead to success. But what I meant to say was that it isn't the only way that we can find success and that society leads us to believe that it is. But I want to provide room in the discussion for how inconsistency might also be a really valid route towards success.

I know that because actually, in my experience and the experience of lots of people I know with ADHD, I've become successful and I run a company now that I get to work full time in, and my husband and business partner gets to work full time in. And we do that because in a way, we've been inconsistent. So I'll talk about that a little bit more. 

And I know probably this all sounds weird from someone who designed a planner, but I designed it for ADHD brains. And the reality is, ADHD brains are different when it comes to consistency. 

My whole life I've wished I was more consistent. I've struggled in so many areas to find consistency. Here are a couple of examples. 

So my fashion I would change my my look, my fashion style every season, if not more. I would I went through a vintage phase. I went through a skater phase. I went through mumbun, chill, relaxed sort of phase. I went through a bohemian phase. I went through a hipster phase. I went through a Lycra and fitness gear phase. I've done a lot and I still can't really decide at the moment. I'm, like in like a bold colors, bright, pastels kind of phase. And so I always thought, well, there are other people I know that always wear neutrals or always wear colors or stick with one kind of aesthetic when it comes to fashion. And why do I keep changing? 

Another example would be in the different brands and businesses that I've run. I have always been inconsistent with my Instagram feed. So I've never posted consistently. I've never got a schedule going scheduled in advance. It's never happened for me. I've more just posted whenever I felt like it. 

I've been inconsistent with seeing friends. Sometimes I'll see friends all the time, become best buddies. Other times I just will go long stretches without seeing people. I'll sometimes forget to check in because I get really busy with a project or hyper focusing on something, and then it's like the whole world fades away. 

I've been inconsistent with hobbies. I've played music, I've done art, I've done sports. I've stopped sports. I've started a bunch of different random, hyper focus fixations that I've come across on the internet, like origami or cross stitch or paint by numbers and then just ditch them again straight away. 1.2s I've changed my diet, I've changed my exercise routine, or just gone long since without ever exercising much beyond kind of walking and being in nature. 

And of course, I've been inconsistent with planning, so I've used planners for some periods, I've ditched them for others. I've gone through whole years where I haven't used one at all. And I guess the biggest one I've seen in my life is that I've been really inconsistent with where I've lived. So part of the way my ADHD shows up is in adventurous tendencies. So I love adventure, I love travel. And some of the most fulfilling and funnies of my life were the years that my husband and my kid and I, when he was a baby, we traveled the world, and we did sort of a nomadic lifestyle for three years. And we lived in a van, we renovated it, we stayed in airbnbs, we were hopping through different countries, and we went through America, Europe, and Asia. And I loved that change. And so ever since we did that, I've really struggled to stay somewhere for longer than a year or two. I love, I guess, the possibility of living in a new place, and I start to get itchy feet pretty quickly. 

Our modern industrial world has conditioned us to believe that productivity comes from consistency. And this is everywhere we look. It's in schools, it's in workplaces, it's in the media, it's in the things our parents say to us in a well meaning way. It really is kind of in the water and we just drink it from the sake and we're born. And I think that the reason it's there is because there is truth in that, that for many people there's a strong link between consistency and productivity. 

But I think the missing piece is that there's also a big link in my experience and the research I've done between is inconsistency and productivity. And because there's not a lot of research done in this area and it's not seen to be as valuable as the consistency and productivity link, often we can believe that if we're inconsistent we are going to be unproductive. 

And this starts in school because schools are structured around systems where kids need to be working kind of efficiently and consistently across a day so that the teacher can create predictable routines and outcomes and ultimately kind of run the whole thing like a big factory type system. And this is because of the scale of schooling and because you're managing so many students that you need to be able to report back to parents and have systems in place so that you're not losing track of things. So consistency helps with that. Inconsistency doesn't really have a place in the school system and out of that conditioning we enter our adult lives feeling like, yeah, like I've got to be consistent. That's what I was taught in school. 

But I've been exploring consistency, as I said and I feel like I want to rethink my obsession with it as being the only link to success. Because what if being inconsistent could provide just as many routes towards achieving our goals and producing awesome things as being consistent could. So, in today's podcast episode, I want to share four unconventional ideas that I have been exploring around the link between inconsistency and productivity and how that might be the best route for the ADHD brain. 

So number one is that consistency is a behavior, but it's not a meaningful measure of the quality of output or result. Because consistency is a neutral word, it can be attached to positive actions or negative actions. It's easy to think how a positive action could be benefited by being more consistent, like exercising regularly. 

But what about a negative link? You could consistently forget to put petrol in your car and then you consistently break down on the side of the road. The gold standard of consistency assumes that there's one way to be productive and produce high quality results. Because ADHD brains are nonlinear, divergent, emotionally sensitive and highly imaginative, we naturally operate inconsistently. And because we're living in a fast paced world that wasn't designed for our brains, we struggle, trying to force our inconsistent model into the structure and routine box. 

So capitalism and systems of power offer us consistency as a solution when we're struggling. Except, try as we might, it's not working. And the more we fail to be consistent, the worse we feel about ourselves. Shame creeps in, and when shame is around, it throttles all our natural creativity, our imagination, and therefore, in a lot of cases, our productivity. So I've been thinking about this for a while and experimenting and monitoring my own work habits. 

Since I run my own company from home, I get a lot of choice on how I work, and I'm using that flexibility to lean into inconsistency instead of forcing myself to be consistent. And I'm reporting back on how it's going on the podcast. And honestly, what I'm discovering is fascinating. I'm learning for me that consistency sits on the surface and it doesn't work in isolation. It's deeply tied to a range of other factors, some of which are outside of my control. Here's an example you could decide. 

You could be consistent with work or study. You could consistently go into your home office every day and sit down at your desk. But the quality of your work that day will depend on a range of things, not just consistency. Like how well you've slept last night, how much you've eaten, whether you've started the day with exercise and fresh air, the state of your nervous system, and most importantly, when you have ADHD your emotional state. 

Here's an example when I've had a fight with a friend, or I'm ruminating on a weird comment that someone flung my way, or I'm avoiding a big task that I feel intimidated to start, that emotional state is the key determining factor in the quality of my work. That emotional state impacts my productivity the most. So if I'm anxious or feeling guilty or off kilter, even if I can't put my finger on why, I'll be spinning my wheels more and get less done. 

But if I'm locked in emotionally and passionate or curious about the topic area of my work, I'll find I can easily slide into hyperfocus, where ideas flow, clarity is abundant, problems are more easily solved, and the quality of my work is much, much higher. But I mean, of course, doesn't everyone get affected by emotional stuff that could also affect their work? Yeah, we're all human. We all have days where we're distracted by emotional crises in our personal lives. 

But I've been talking to a lot of people with ADHD, deep diving into forums, examining my own experience and correlating it with that and this experience with ADHD of being thrown around by our emotional lives. And that effect on our productivity seems to be more impactful and more intense for people with ADHD, like everything we experience. 

Thought number two is that our ADHD nervous systems are like hypersensitive Richter scales when it comes to detecting emotions. So if emotions are like earthquake tremors rumbling up from our subconscious and our surrounding environment, ADHD brains have Richter scales that are highly sensitive to even the slightest tremors in our emotional landscape and the environment around us. 

So we're highly attuned to the emotional states of other people too, not just our own emotional state. I find that I will react to a subtle emotional stimulus that less sensitive people around me, maybe those people down the more neurotypical end of the spectrum will not even register or react to. I also feel emotions at a more intense level and can often get stuck ruminating in emotional ocean where others may feel something unpleasant and then kind of just shrug and keep going with their day. 

I remember that when I worked in an open plant office and someone seemed to be having a bad day, I would begin to work anxiously, and my nervous system sort of responded in fight or flight, and that was in response to their negative energy. I may have started the day full of energy and passion, which is my recipe for productivity. But when I noticed that the bad mood of the person around me, or I maybe heard them speak harshly to another team member, I would instantly see my productivity levels drop in the hours that followed. And I would begin to fret and ruminate and try and work out whether I could help smooth things over to kind of get the office environment back to an equilibrium. And then I would get stuck in that state. My productivity levels would plummet.

So even though this is an ideal to get kind of drawn into negative emotions in the environment around us and getting stuck in those states, it can also be really helpful because with every negative there's also a positive. So I guess it comes down to whether your emotional state and the one that you end up getting stuck in is serving you. And if you want to be productive, isn't negative states serving you? And obviously you can't always control it. But because ADHD often gets linked with negative associations when it comes to emotional regulation, I think it's really important to talk about how being stuck in a positive emotional state can also be really incredible for productivity.

And ADHD brains have a tendency to get stuck both in negative emotional states, but also we can get stuck in positive ones. So with that idea of being kind of a Richter scale that's really sensitive to tremors in the environment, we're super sensitive to positive emotions too. While neurotypical brain types may be mildly pleased or momentarily pleased to receive, say, positive feedback in a meeting, or they might benefit in a small way from an uplifting work environment, a positive work environment, the difference for an ADHD brain is huge.

So if we get even a small compliment from our boss or a colleague, it can send us into an extended happy zone. That means that we work at high energy levels and output sometimes for the rest of the day. And even like a positive high vibes work environment or a boss who really gets us and assigns us projects that we're really passionate about, all of that can mean that we have this emotional kind of joyous state of high energy that kicks us into that hyperfocused gear where we work faster and produce highquality results.

And often those are really in contrast to those around us who are tending to work more consistently. So yeah, we can't always switch it on. It is incredibly linked to emotional states. And so when we're feeling good about ourselves, when we've received some positive feedback or we've had a really positive morning, we will take that momentum and travel that into the day and sometimes have a really, really productive day.

And get to levels of innovation or creativity, imagination or problem solving depending on our career and what we are needed to do that will actually far exceed our more neurotypical colleagues. But then on the flip side, if we have a negative warning or negative things happen and we catch other people's negative vibes, that can really bring us down and make us unproductive. 1.1s And when we feel shame about ourselves, when we feel like we're failing, and if that's a permanent thing every day, then we will start every day feeling that negative energy and that will mean that we can't truly succeed.

So thought number three is that like it or not, ADHD brains are wired to actually favor inconsistency. And we work best when we're inconsistent. So if you look at the kind of jobs that ADHD people thrive in, I actually think that, and most of the Internet can occur, is that we work best when we're environments that favor inconsistency and often a good shot of adrenaline. So that's why you'll find so many people with ADHD in jobs that vary a lot, hour by hour. They are creative and have a lot of spontaneity involved. So maybe jobs where you have to think on your feet and respond quickly in moments of crisis.

So I often think of careers like journalists chasing a story, doctors and nurses in the emergency department, actors, musical artists, school teachers, coaches, writers, chefs, extreme sports people, full time travelers and entrepreneurs. Of course, ADHD research shows us that our brains are wired to be interest based, not not importance based. And I think our search for novelty and dopamine is actually essential to us being able to work at our peak.

For me, I've found that inconsistency is the key. Inconsistency means that when positive emotions and skills align, I dive deeply and hyper focus on projects and work around the clock while the dopamine is there. And then when I run out of steam, sometimes up to weeks later, if it's a really long hyper focus session, I will slump into a heap.

But contrary to how that may look from the outside, with fears of burnout and you pushed yourself too hard and you shouldn't have worked like that, I actually don't think that's a bad thing. It's inconsistent. It's big sprints, big, intense periods of work and hyper focus and creativity. But because those periods are so intense, they require an intense. Extremely opposite period of rest and rejuvenation afterwards. And our world, our society, our culture just isn't used to seeing people in those extremes of extremely productive and focused and you can't even tear them away from what they're doing or what they're passionate about. And then that extreme opposite of like lying down, resting, reading, relaxing.

I mean, as I'm talking, I'm looking and a hammock out the window at the front of our place that I love lying in. And that sort of that view of having someone who is relaxing. It's almost like our society is deeply uncomfortable with that. And I feel it too, as a mum, I feel like, well, am I allowed to relax? Am I allowed to switch off? It seems like a luxury, but I'm learning that my brain needs it, especially if I've been hyper, focusing on something. I need to let it rejuvenate and do the things that really help it to rest and recover. So my work life has followed an inconsistent path to my career trajectory.

Took me from being a school teacher to a journalist, to a full time traveler, as I mentioned, and then to being an entrepreneur now and running future ADHD. And we also ran several brands before this. And we basically, my husbands and I, working together, we've just always needed these sort of exciting, creative, entrepreneurial projects to keep going. I can't imagine working in one career or field consistently for year after year.

And what I always think of is Ben Stiller at the beginning of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, where he was stuck in that tiny, airless, gray office in the worst, most boring job in the world and he just dreamed of escaping. And that's how I feel like my worst nightmare would be stuck in a tiny room like that, having to input data into a spreadsheet. So I am enthusiastic and excited and energized by the idea of inconsistency, of adventure, of things not always being predictable and consistent.

And given I've been this way for more than three decades, it seems like when I think about some of the things I've achieved and the travel that I've done and the choices I've made, actually, inconsistency is working pretty well for me. And there might be times where I need to try and form a habit around consistency.

Like we can't live in this unstructured chaotic world all the time. But I think a lot of the problems come with ADHD when we are trying to fit this square peg into a round hole and we are feeling shame from our parents or our colleagues or our bosses or our university lecturers around the fact that we aren't consistent. Instead of really leaning into the strength of inconsistency and recognizing how many gifts that brings.

And I actually think that the reason my brain loves inconsistency is because it's so driven towards things that it's interested in, that give, it dopamine, and it's so adverse to boredom that consistency is simply too boring to stand. And so instead of pushing against my brain wiring, I wondered what might change in my work, in my productivity, in my life in general, if I lean into my propensity to be inconsistent and just embraced it. So I asked myself what the positives of being inconsistent were and what that might give me as a gift. So the positives to inconsistency and there's probably more than I could even list here, but I see them as spontaneity and conceptual agility. So especially when we're working on projects that require problem solving or innovative thinking, spontaneity is really important. And being able to be agile in the way that we think through things and not be stuck in an old way, all of that comes with inconsistency.

Inconsistency also brings births of passion and excitement. It brings curiosity on topics that, yes, the curiosity will wax and wane, but the positive is that when it's running at full speed, it's an absolute rocket fuel for my ideas, new products that I want to bring out, new projects. And it's from that inconsistency that I create really amazing things. Th and inconsistency brings novelty, so I'm not getting bored at all. And so I've got a lot more energy to bring to tasks because boredom, I think, really SAPS my energy and means that I'm less productive.

Yes, it does mean that with, say something like instagram with future ADHD, I might be a bit more random with my timing. Sometimes I won't post for a week and then I'll suddenly feel inspired and post three times in a day. But I feel like because I'm posting when I truly feel like it, my content has more depth and passion. And when we consider all of the recent discussions around AI, this is a really, really important thing to have this authentic, passion fueled content still popping up in a world where a lot of stuff will be controlled by AI.

It means that I have a hyper focus and momentum when I get to projects that interest me. And so that is inconsistent. It's not a consistent hyper focus across a whole year. There are ebbs and flows, there are extremes of hyper focus and extremes of rest, as I've said. But that is inconsistent. And that kind of sprint mentality on a project where I just go really hard at it works really well for me. It means I'm able to achieve a lot in a short period of time, especially if I'm largely uninterrupted.

And I want to say, like, it is unachievable and unhealthy to keep that kind of hyper focused pace. So taking breaks is so crucial. And that leads me to my thought number four, the final point I want to make, which is that you're inconsistency also gives us something really essential. It gives us meaningful deep rest if we work with it. 1.1s

So I have huge periods of creativity, as I said, productivity, hyperfocus, where I'm on a role, working on a project, and then I'm using my planner a lot and I'm creating a lot of new products or ideas or innovating new concepts, and then I need periods after that time of cruising, resting, recovering. And that's how my ADHD brain works best. All of the highly successful ADHD entrepreneurs and coaches I know, they talk about these huge waves of hyper focus and then these huge spells of waiting, sitting, perusing, reading and resting.

So I like to think of my ADHD brain in kind of a pattern, like a wave that waves crash consistently, but every wave looks a little different to the last. So really they're consistently inconsistent and not one wave is the same. And like waves, they come in sets, they come with a bunch of big, intense waves in a row, and then there's a lull where the tide goes down a little bit and the waves are not crushing as big on the shore. And that's how I feel. Like a lot of my ADHD intensity and emotional states and curiosity and hyper focus, all of that feels like the repetition of waves and sets. 1.7s

So I invite you to see how this lands for you and whether you feel like you've been resisting inconsistency, whether you've been putting it down or shaming it or wishing it wasn't so. And what might change in your productivity in meeting your goals if you started to see inconsistency is actually one of your strengths.

And of course it's not going to work every time. Um, it's not going to be perfect every time. Nothing ever is. But I know for sure that trying to squelch it and shame it and push it down and force your brain to work in this more linear way is also not going to work at all.

So I want to offer you in 2023 the idea with your planner and with your attitude to productivity and planning tools in general. What if you had instead of a consistent approach to planning, what if you had a responsive planner or a dynamic planner, an evolving way of approaching your planning, urban flow, flexibility, accessibility. Something that's shamefree a planner that feels like a comforting home even if you haven't visited that home in a while.

Maybe it's a planner that's got your back a ride or die planner. I don't know. Choose the word or words that most resonate for you and maybe write it in the front of your planner for 2023.

Or if you're not using a planner, maybe write it up on your fridge or put it up on your wall, on your mirror, because. 1.9s Working with our strengths, working with the things that make our brains so unique. And learning to appreciate those things is the easiest way to start seeing the results that we strive for and hope for in our lives.

And that's what I've seen in my life. And when you fall off the bandwagon and you miss a few days with your planner, which is inevitable. Maybe when you're not being as productive as you'd like towards your goals, remind yourself that your main goal isn't actually consistency. It's having a flexible and adaptable attitude to your inconsistencies and to looking for ways that those inconsistencies might actually be the perfect way to work on something to go with curiosity and passion when it leads you to work in hyper focused mode if you're inspired, and then to rest hard when you're tired.

So those are my musings this week, and because I have ADHD, I am bound to ruminate and tease apart and reconsider this topic again and again. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and please feel free to DM me on Instagram or email me at hello@futureadhd.com to share your thoughts. And I'd love to hear what this sparked for you to ease and clarity. My friends, thanks for listening and I will talk to you next week.

[End of episode]

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