I've long wondered what career coaches actually do. I generally consider myself to be pretty clueless as to "how the world works" -- it happens easily when you can't overhear side conversations! -- so I tend to seek out alternative sources of information whenever possible. So I'll be working with Sally Schmall, an academic career coach, to see what I can learn. When I first wrote her, I explained that I'm at the point where "Future Dr. Mel" development would benefit from scaffolding, since I'm a bit of an odd duck in academia both in terms of wanting to do unorthodox things, and in terms of wrangling deafness and ADHD while doing them. From my original email:

The ADHD/deafness coping strategies I find are often addressed towards those struggling to perform at adequate levels, and have little guidance for people who are already doing okay but could do fantastically if they developed better strategies -- whereas the academic career advice books are written for folks with normal hearing and attention spans.

We start next month, right after fall semester classes end for me. She asked some background questions about my writing habits and how I wrangle my ADHD nowadays; I'll post my answers to the writing self-assessment in a moment, but first: ADHD coping mechanisms and how they interact with my writing.

  1. Exercise! I hit the gym MWF first thing in the morning, and the dance studio TR first thing in the morning, and know I'm good for an hour or two of work-sprinting afterwards. I used to do pushups before take-home exams and run laps in between exam sections, and still do variants on "are you distracted? exercise!" now when I notice it during writing.
  2. Getting as close to gluten-free as possible -- I'm more distractable with wheat, less distractable the closer I eat to paleo, so I have semi-accidentally gone paleo (well before I learned that it was a diet called "paleo"). I now treat gluten the same way I treat alcohol -- a nice treat, but one I know will do temporary things to my mental abilities.
  3. Sleeping. If I ask myself whether I'm tired, the answer is yes and I need to go to bed. (I have a huge problem with hyperfocusing when I am tired, because I lose the ability to tell whether I'm tired or not.) Oftentimes I am in the middle of writing when I realize I need to go to bed (and the writing may not yet be done, so clearly I need to find better ways to plan/schedule writing so it's not always interrupted by rest).
  4. Ritalin, which I only got starting this August, and which I'm really reluctant to take, but which does dramatically decrease focus problems, including during writing -- so, for instance, I was consistently taking it during the last week of writing my quals -- but haven't taken it for the past 2 weeks because I'd rather "tough it out." (I know, I know. I'm trying to empirically determine how much a difference it makes, how long it lasts, etc. so I can make better decisions as to when to use it.) A related coping strategy which I use with similar infrequency is caffeine -- coffee and/or tea. Yay, stimulants.
  5. Adventure working! If I'm restless, I can run to and work in the libraries, coffee shops, restaurants/diners nearby... if I'm really restless, I might drive several hours to my cousin's apartment, or to Indianapolis, or... (and on any trip, the only things I bring with me are what I need to work on what I have to do.) These days, most of my adventure work is writing.
  6. Lots of scaffolding, reminders, and routines. Pack my backpack and pile it to block the door the night before I need to leave, lay out the items for the first project I want to work on in the morning, put neon post-it notes on doors, always put my keys in the same spot, always do things as soon as I think about them whenever possible. Unfortunately, I have not figured out ways to get this sort of thing into my writing life.

If you've got other things you'd add to this list, I'm curious to hear them. I know plenty of distractable academics who have been super-successful, and would love to swap strategies with a sort of distractademics club.