Amanda Horswill is a digital editor, content and SEO strategist with more than twenty years of experience across a variety of roles in the publishing sector. She also happens to have ADHD, an adult diagnosis that’s changed her life for the better.
- JN: How does your neurodiversity impact your productivity both positively and negatively?
- Divergent/creative thinking
- Octopus thinking:
- Courier Mail - Des Houton = Spaghetti Head - tentacles going everywhere
- Interesting similes/metaphors
- Anticipating problems
- Early career pre-family: long hours, super intense work hitting deadlines
- Post dogs + mortgage + family: too much hyper-focus led to burnout -
- Hyperfocus and ADHD seem like an interesting combo.
- Different ways of thinking leave people disoriented
- Three steps ahead - forget that other people don’t have the same context
- Identity issues with late diagnosis
- JC: What "work" projects are you concentrating on?
- Solve issues that come up for writers preventing them from getting articles out there on Canstar’s WordPress site
- Streamlining CMS
- JN: How about the rest of the time? What do you enjoy doing in your off time?
- Neurodiverse family:
- Son (11yo) has ASD L2 + ADHD
- Not stereotypical: caring, artistic but has communication challenges
- Special interests
- Daughter (late diagnosis - whole family diagnosed at time of son)
- De-escalation activities
- Playing games
- JC: What does your morning routine look like and how has it evolved over time?
- Extra sleep
- Coordinated effort organizing the kids with partner
- Morning routine used as calming / grounding routine
- Start work 8 - 8:30, at home 3 days per week, from home 2 days per week
- Commute time used to transition between environments
- More difficult WFH (don’t have that transition time)
- Remedy: block out time to center (time otherwise spent commuting and transitioning)
- JN: What do you do to optimize productivity during your working hours?
- Compartmentalizing especially when the environment is messy/other people around
- Be ok with the kitchen looking like a trash can
- Channeling hyperfocus
- Prepare space (mental and physical)
- Attention props
- Sensory toys
- The right level of hard difficulty/stimulation
- Sensory toy
- Loud music
- Make the work interesting - find the right job/figure out how to make it relevant
- Folding washing
- Watch movies/listen to music
- Try and do it really fast - beat the PB
- Calm down
- Reduce stimuli by working in the walk-in wardrobe where it’s silent
- Noise-reducing headphones: Loop
- Soft jumper
- Write a big list of everything that is
- Be ok with not knowing the answer
- Find the right colleagues who understand ways of thinking
- JC: What is one habit you'd like to remove from your life (either a bad habit or one that takes up too much time)?
- Procrastabusy: too much time setting up the environment for productivity
- Following up phone calls with tradespeople
- Tactic: husband keeps texting until it gets done
- Eating chocolate
- Talking so much
- JN: How do you switch off at night?
- Sleep has been a challenge especially pre-diagnosis
- Strict shutoff time for work -> transition to family time
- Routine for son
- Take him up to room
- Answer World’s most challenging questions: “Does God exist? Does the universe have an edge?”
- Relational time:
- Dinner together
- Conversation with family
- Bedtime: 10-10:30
- JC: What resources (books, philosophies, apps, sensory toys) do you find most helpful for productivity and habit formation?
- The Highlander (only the first one)
- Google Calendar/apple calendar
- Transition to Trello
- Especially meditation
- Even more especially sleep meditation
- Alain De Botton
- Consolations of Philosophy
- Adam Grant
- Work-Life (accessible Org Psych)
- Is it worth asking about the type of therapy? For listeners that have never done therapy before? Might be a bit too personal
- Sensory toys
- Textured mats (balances the rest of the body because hands get all of the stimulation)
- JN: Where can people connect with you or find your work?
- “Letter to my 10-year self” book
- JC: Do you have any final words or asks for our audience?
- Be kind to yourself
How does your neurodiversity impact your productivity both positively and negatively?
So many ways, both negative and positive.
Positive: My brain tends to go down untrodden paths and find issues or remedies that perhaps other people wouldn’t arrive at straight away. That’s very handy in publishing, as there are always technical challenges crop up, or different ways to present information to readers that make it easier to understand. Like a particular type of diagram, or a simile.
Also, hyperfocus is excellent for writing news and content. Intense focus over a short amount of time on one subject. There are a lot of people I would characterize as having ADHD traits in journalism. It’s made for it.
Negative: My brain can get very tired and I can be exhausted easily if I don’t look after myself properly. And also I can be very annoying sometimes, with all the ideas and thoughts, and low impulse control. But I am working on it.
What "work" projects are you concentrating on?
At Canstar, we write about personal finance, such as home loans, credit cards, personal loans, and investing. We have so much content. As well as editing and writing about it, one of my major projects at the moment is to streamline our production process and improve our content management system.
How about the rest of the time? What do you enjoy doing in your off time?
Time off? HA. I am the mother of two neurodiverse children and my husband and I tend to just relax on the back patio when we have time off! But I like to do calming things, such as gardening, learning new arts and crafts skills, and writing.
What does your morning routine look like and how has it evolved over time?
My morning routine usually involves hitting snooze as much as I can, and then going downstairs to help get my son off to school. I am at my desk around 8.30 am when working from home, or I go into the city twice a week to work.
Transitions are hard for me, it takes a while for my head to catch up with my body. So I always take a few minutes to centre myself. This could be getting a cup of tea, or just sitting in place and taking a few deep breaths.
Taking the train to work is great for that.
What do you do to optimise productivity during your working hours?
I find that my brain gets bored on tasks that I don’t particularly find interesting, as do most people with ADHD. There are a few techniques I use:
Deadlines - If something doesn’t have one, it doesn’t get done. I set soft and hard deadlines. I used Google Calendar for this but hope to transition to Trello soon.
Many projects at once - I find I work best jumping in and out of different types of work. I used to get stressed about this, as often I wouldn’t finish things. But now I just embrace it, and have faith in myself that everything will get done, just not in a linear progression.
Priority list - The downside of many projects at once is that it can get messy. I have to have this or I get so off track. If I feel like things are getting out of control, with my brain racing down alleyways too much, I will revisit this priority list and reshuffle it. I often ask for help from my manager or team for this if I am struggling to prioritise. I use Google Keep for this, and also I communicate with my team via Slack.
Downtime - If I am stuck, or my brain is just plain tired, I acknowledge it and take a break. I used to not do this, and I burnt out. I will listen to music or go for a walk or just sit and stare.
Focus aids - If I need to focus, I’ll use different physical and mental aids.
- I recently bought some ‘Loop’ earplugs that soften the noise. This is when there’s an annoying noise that breaks my focus, like the sound of my airconditioner or a mower outside.
- I also have a speaker on my desk for when I need to fill the room with noise to allow focus on something boring.
- Chewing gum - when I have nervous energy and feel like eating or running, etc, I will chew peppermint gum. It keeps my nervous system occupied without calories.
What is one habit you'd like to remove from your life (either a bad habit or one that takes up too much time)?
Relying on unhealthy habits to get that dopamine hit, such as eating too much chocolate!
How do you switch off at night?
My career in newspapers was very bad for switching off at night. Now, I have to draw a hard boundary around work. I finish at x time, and then I switch into mum mode. It’s the only way it works. I wind down after the dinner’s cooked and the family is settled, and we usually watch TV together or talk. Then it’s the bedtime routine for my son, and that’s usually the time that I am truly switched off.
What resources (books, philosophies, apps) do you find most helpful for productivity and habit formation?
Therapy. Working with a psychologist has helped to get my life under control, and helps when I am overwhelmed. I see someone who has experience in neurodiversity.
I am a big fan of Alain de Botton - in The Consolations of Philosophy, he wrote something like “Thank god for work” as it gives us something to do during the day and a purpose outside ourselves. That helped.
Also Adam Grant, the work productivity scholar. He has a great podcast and lots of great books about original thinking. He helped me to understand how I could use that to work WITH work.
Where can people connect with you or find your work?
Do you have any final words or asks for our audience?
One of the best techniques I have used to date, which I know you may have heard of and use, but I would love to talk about. It’s the ‘curious scientist’ approach, coupled with the ‘cup’ metaphor.
So with ADHD, in particular, the mind and body can get out of sync and I find it hard to work out what is going on. But it’s usually all there, screaming at me, but my mind is too messy to hear.
So, I switch into curious scientist mode - which is when I look at myself from the outside.
This is all to work out how full my cup is. My cup is a metaphor for what my mind and body can reasonably tolerate. When it’s empty, it’s easy to cope with small stresses as there is room for them.
But when it’s full up, the slightest stress could make it overflow with emotion.
So I try to detach from the noise. I find a quiet place and write down what I observe about myself.
I have a list that I follow.
How is my heart rate?
How am I coping with small interruptions?
How are my moods?
How does my stomach feel?
How is my digestion?
When I work out how full my cup is, then I can take action to either empty it or weather the storm until I can empty it.