August 8, 2023. For the umpteenth time, I have failed to address the action items I assigned myself in last month's GHDR report. I think this is because I'm trying to force myself to work in conditions that I can not actually thrive in without (1) meaningful conversation and (2) immediate need from (3) an external engaged person.
To date, I had still been convinced that the immediate tasks were building The Colony by providing communication materials (edited for clarity):
- Drafting a mission statement and strategy that encapsulates the main points.
- Creating reminder cards, consider writing new articles, and host design livestreams.
- Explore livestreaming the design process to generate interest while improving in-person communication skills.
"The Colony" is my notion of a shared space where like-minded self-empowered, conscientious, curious, generous, positive-minded and kind people (aka The Tribe) could gather. I am quite sure that this is the kind of environment that I thrive in. To improve the odds I have believed that I need to make an example that is visible to others.
In past Groundhog Day Resolutions, I've realized that without spirited external dialogue my motivation dwindles. This affects my productivity in completing revenue-generating work. This is not uncommon in the neurodivergent community that I now find myself a part of, and there are days where I feel a downward spiral of lost productivity that I need to avoid due to the extra mental resources I need to devote to managing my overactive hypersensitive nervous system.
Given my dwindling "time-for-money" earning potential as I age, I think productizing my design skills is my most viable option. There is precedent in the relative visibility of my Productivity Tools and articles on personal development (e.g. these very Groundhog Day Resolutions diaries). Creating a marketplace for myself and my colleagues, within the context of a colony of like-minded folks. This seems like a necessary condition for success.
The problem? I need like-minded engaged people around me to juice my production powers. Producing the materials I need to promote the idea therefore requires people around me to make that happen. My efficiency is extremely low because try as I might, the lack of co-creative dialogue makes progress proceed at a snail's pace. This is, based on the various lived experiences of neurodivergent people with AuDHDCombination of ADHD and Autism (Clinically diagnosed ASD Level 1 in my case, which was called Aspergers Syndrome in the past). In my case, ADHD seems to express as a need for external memory aids to maintain focus, with a limited amount of energy to do tedious tasks with uncertain rewards in the future. My ASD, by comparison, expresses as the need for understanding in tremendous detail with an accompanying logic that I can communicate; this is quite different other communciation styles and causes a disconnect in relatability., just the way my brain works. I can't resolve this working solo in my basement.
Working Through the Energy Mismatch
In times like this, I revert to hermit mode to stop distracting interactions, but this is directly counter to the need for meaningful conversation. Without such conversation, motivation dwindles. So, I've been playing with the theory that it's not the interactions themselves, but my emotional reactions creating more anxiety than is necessary. Here's my working notes:
Reducing Open Loops with other people
If I am waiting for a response or think I am expected to respond, this burns energy at a high rate and I can't focus at all. Hermit mode takes care of this by eliminating the source. The updated version is to close them quickly or refuse to open them, though this can be perceived as hostile by non-autistic people who don't understand my needs. This eliminates a lot of stress.
Synthesizing conversational partners through Narrative Journaling
As I have a lack of conversational partners in my areas of work, I've been using narrative journaling to tell stories about my work in an ongoing roleplaying adventure.
Moderating "fight or flight" responses caused by stressors
As I've read more about autism and ADHD, I have realized that there are a lot of situations which create a physical stress response in me. I had previously thought that I was "just experiencing anxiety" but I had not realized how continuously I experience it every day. The physical response I have to everyday interactions is a surge in cortisol and adrenaline, and this is exhausting. I have been more mindful about detecting when my stress response is activating, and then reminding myself that there is no need to have this response because I can simply drop these commitments if they cause me stress. Many stressors are due to internalized expectations from other people about being tidy, responsive, competent, and socially agreeable. I don't need to adhere to them.
Maintaining the minimum nutrition and hydration goals
I'm trying to avoid sugars and breads while eating more vegetables. I've been trying to drink a minimum of 64oz of water a day. I've been finding ways to eat less by cutting things out entirely, as "eating in moderation" is not a feature of my ADHD brain once it goes into executive function disregulation due to understimulation or mental exhaustion.
Decoupling from expectations of a normal sleep schedule
My body and my brain have different cycles of exhaustion. If I have a particularly demanding day of resolving uncertainties or negotiating any kind of social interaction, this knocks my brain into an understimulation state that craves novelty and sensation to recharge. I can not sleep in this state; it's like trying to go to sleep if you are physically hungry. Likewise, there are times where my brain is so depleted that I have to nap to reset it with a nap, which has the side effect of resting the body which now is out-of-sync with the day. There might be a way to maintain synchronization by brutally limiting the number of uncertainties/social interactions to a tiny window of about 2 hours a day, but as a freelancer this would be extremely difficult. Fortunately freelancing allows me to have a flexible schedule so long as I deliver on time.
The Problem of Working on the Colony Remains
The mitigating strategies I outlined above are all I can do to maintain my project commitments, and this leaves zero energy for anything else. For every 4-6 hours of "focused work", I need about 12-18 hours of recharge time. If I am having a particularly challenging day where I have to make dozens of decisions, the recharge time skyrockets and I go out-of-sync with the 24-hour day.
Working Against My Strengths
Today, I realized I am setting myself up for failure yet again. I have legit strengths in generating possibilities and drawing connections between them. My ability to work solo, however, comes at an extremely high energy cost that WILL lead to burn-out after two weeks.
Why do I put myself through it? I think it's because I have a low opinion of "idea guys" who lack the deep understanding of the problem domain or do not do the hard work. I want to have the technical production competence to execute to completion because I don't want to be associated with such people. That said, I have historically been doubtful of my ability to execute BECAUSE of my motivational energy issues and just how difficult it is to work solo. I have to acknowledge that I definitely CAN do this while also acknowleding that it's only been GREAT when I worked face-to-face with dedicated and engaged like-minded people. My attempts with Groundhog Day Resolutions started in 2007, and I have tried to find a way around this. It's been what...15 years? I don't think it's possible to work around this need.
Here's a novel idea:
Instead of beating on myself to jump straight into production and complete it ASAP, I can instead wait until the conditions are right. I can prepare shovel-ready plans and starter designs that show what is possible, and let the opportunities emerge as people come across them.
This has the following ramifications:
I can redirect my emphasis on producing concrete deliverables away from the final product. Previously, I had considered design and planning as just the first step in a long process. My stubborness was in thinking that "it's just an idea that I must make real to demonstrate my competence".
As someone who actually enjoys planning and design, this is a much easier task for me than trying to do the production work by myself. I can design and write with very little energy cost, but because it feels so easy it didn't feel like real work.
By accepting that my design and writing work are themselves highly valuable, this allows me to drop the need to move immediately into production to prove my worth. I think this is a bit of an inferiority complex I have with regard to "real programmers" and "real designers" who have an established production record, but these days I recognize that I have strength in defining and documenting entire systems with relative ease. I didn't acknowledge this previously due to shame in not being able to just PRODUCE non-stop as an "army of one".
So starting today, I am dropping the production tasks I have set up for myself, which immediately lowers the stress I have feeling so behind in dozens of projects. The important part, though, is that this is NOT giving up because I remain prolific in my writing and sharing of ideas. I am giving myself permission to write about everything as it pops up, drawing on incidental conversations and bits of trivia I encounter on the Internet. It's very much how I started blogging in 2005, and maybe this approach will be my entry point back into public media. These are the seeds that I can spread that have the potential to attract like-minded people to The Colony. In hindsight, this has been working for years?
The New Strategy
Directive: I have to put the signal out into the Universe and wait for her to respond. The key tenets are something like this:
Writing comprehensively about ideas is sufficient and complete as a product. They are seeds that spread ideas, and the better I can make these seeds (blog posts, videos, shared design work, social media ramblings, what have you) the more attractive they are.
I do not need to build the product until someone follows the trail of seeds back to me. I am fully confident that I can then plan the production on the spot, as this is a skill I have developed. I have come a long way from the noob I was at age 20. This is the bait! This is the attractor for The Colony!
In the meantime, sharing ideas is itself very fulfilling for me, as are the conversations that can happen from them. The Coworking Discord is a place where I'm seeing this happen between the people who have somehow stumbled into it and liked what they saw.
My websites are imperfect repositories of my interconnecting ideas and experiences. By improving and adding to them, I improve my chances of drawing the right folks into conversation. I may have to be more explicit about sharing ideas in some kind of public forum too, but I will play that by ear for now.
Fundamentally, my insight is to break the connection between PLANNING and ACTION. I do not possess the ability to efficiently put my ideas into action. I need people around me who are invested in the conversational process and acting together not only for reasons of my cognitive challenges, but because I simply love this experiences.
The Month Ahead
I think it will be freeing to be able to share ideas without feeling guilty about not executing on them immediately. Accepting my production startup requirements as not being weird but necessary will help a lot!
That said, I still do need to make sure I'm making stuff to share and not forgetting. That means my responsibility is to do something to move toward my "strategic horizons"A replacement for fixed goals more suitable to minds like mine (or so my theory goes). See strategic horizons entry.. So let's revisit last month's goals again with this in mind:
Revised Goal: Drafting the Mission Statement
This actually doesn't change, but I already do have entries on this in the various journal entries on The Colony, Expeditions, and so on from last year.
Revised Goal: Creating Reminder Cards and Articles
These are no longer a to-do because I think that I can write these when someone asks for it or when I create one because I need it.
Revised Goal: Exploring the Option of Live-Streaming
This is no longer a concrete to-do, because I think I can rely on my natural urge to try stuff out. It can also be an emergent need.
None of these are particularly hard concrete to-do items anymore, which has me concerned that maybe I will forget to do them. I think I could start a NEW habit of daily reflection on strategic horizons in the morning. Really, just reading the list of them or looking at this diagram and others from the February 2nd Kickoff:
I already have this printed out next to my desk, and I now need to plant copies of it everywhere so I can't avoid it.
Another thing I need to do is reach out and offer a collaboration more often, which I can start to do via social media and on my coworking discord. They can just start out as conversations which are, after all, the motivating factor I am craving.
Finally, there are some important to-do items on the list, such as making the software versions of my PDF design workflow. That is somewhere on my GHDR kickoff diagram, I think. so I think I'm covered.
So that's the plan. It seems a bit ridiculous and loose-y goose-y, but that's totally a Sri-style experiment and I am embracing it. If it fails horribly then at least I'm being consistent with prior years' efforts! 🙃