Jordan McMahon

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Wiring Your Tech to Fight ADHD: Keeping Everything Connected

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Getting work done often feels like an uphill battle I’m destined to lose. My brain can’t seem to differentiate between the work in front of me and my surroundings, so it constantly screams “no THIS is the important thing you need to look at RIGHT. NOW.” every time it’s made aware of something new in the environment. This means that when the two guys sitting next to me at a coffee shop start chatting about their startup idea, a friend texts me about my plans for the night, or I see my Twitter app in my dock begging to be checked, I can’t get my mind to chill out and remember they’re not as important as the deadline I’m about to miss.

Each time this happens my pile of work gets bigger and I have to spend more time and energy worrying about how to handle each of these things than actually getting work done. When I should be focusing on one project or assignment, I end up fumbling between five different things in a failed attempt to multitask. For anyone with ADHD, this makes things worse because in addition to being easily sidetracked, we’re often unable to prioritize our issues and finish them on time.

In the past I’ve dealt with this by feeling anxious and “busy” as a result of my piling workload, often leading to a sense of frustration with the things I feel are keeping me from my actual work. If you’ve found yourself discouraged by the apparent impossibility of keeping your focus on the things that matter, there’s a better way.

Make your phone the middle man

As more of our work gets delegated to our phones, it makes sense to consider how we can best use its features to make us better at getting work done. When you’re working through smaller and more trivial tasks like sending out messages, sharing links, and anything else that tricks its way into becoming our next Important Thing, iOS’s Share Sheet is an invaluable tool in keeping us diligently focused on the things that really need our attention.

Starting with iOS 8, Apple began seriously reworking its in-app extension system, known as the Share Sheet, to go beyond sharing articles to Facebook or Twitter and making it a key player in using iOS as a productivity tool. These changes made it easier for apps to talk to each other to reduce friction and bring the functionality of your most important apps with you across iOS.

The lack of executive function that comes with ADHD is a serious deterrent to completing my work, and the Share Sheet has played an important role in mimicking executive function by telling me where I can send my information rather than having to fret over it myself. As soon as my phone is hit with something that might be useful later on, I can tap the Share button and send it to any number of apps that will keep it for when my work is done. This way I don’t have to worry that I’ll forget about it or let it fall into a pile of things I’ll forget and never see again.

Putting it to use

Before you set up your Share Sheet, it’s important to know its limitations. It’s meant to send things like audio, text, links, and videos between apps as a way to cut down on how much time you spend switching apps instead of interacting with them. It can’t streamline everything you use your phone for, but it can cut down the time you spend messing around with the app switcher and worrying about staying on track.

When you tap on the share button inside an app, let’s say Safari, you’re presented with a card with three horizontal panels. The top, AirDrop, allows you to share things between devices. Below that you’ll find the Share Extensions, where you’ll find basic functions like sending links or media selections to other apps.

Most of your time in the Share Sheet will be spent here, and you’ll find that with the right apps it can do more than just send links to your friends and family. I use mine to:

  • Send links to Pinner for later access and research
  • Create new notes or append selected text to an existing note in Bear. A recent update to the app added a full-fledged web clipper to its extension that lets you turn an entire web page into a note in Bear, much like Evernote’s clipper. I haven’t gotten to mess around with it too much yet, but it’s one of the most powerful uses of share extensions I’ve encountered.
  • Save an article in Pocket so I can read it later
  • Turn a link into a task in Todoist, which I use for job applications, things I’d like to turn into an article, or resources for an upcoming article
  • Create linked posts on my link-blog TypingPixels
  • Share links to multiple networks with a few taps using Linky
  • Sending articles to my Kindle via the Kindle app
  • Create a PDF of a web page to read in iBooks

 

To set yours up, tap the share button in any app, scroll all the way to the right on the middle row, and hit the “More…” button to view all of the share buttons your phone has available. A lot of them won’t really help you, but if the apps you rely on for work have an extension that can save you some time, tap the switch to enable it and get to work.

For an extension to make its way to my Share Sheet it has to be used at least once a week or significantly reduce how much time and thought I have to put into the process it replicates. It’s a rigid guideline, but without it I’ve found myself with a cluttered list of extensions that take too much time to sift through.

This has saved me countless hours by taking the primary ways I handle links and content and turning them into actionable buttons that are always two taps away.

Below Share Extensions are Action Extensions, which allow you to do more hands-on work with the content.

For more robust tasks, iOS’s Action Extensions can automate things that would otherwise take a few minutes and get you through them without a second thought. Where Share Extensions can only take content as input and output them elsewhere, Action Extensions allow you to manipulate that content by adding to it, trimming it, and changing the way it’s viewed.

 

Like Share Extensions, Action Extensions are entirely customizable and can take advantage of third-party apps. I’ve used mine to cut down on how much time I spend copying/pasting text, as well as running specific workflows without having to switch between my current app and Workflow to do it. My most used Actions are:

  • Finding a word or phrase on a web page
  • Running Workflows, like Tweeting a selected quote, creating a PDF in any app, using text-to-speech on an article when I can’t sit down to read it, pulling all images from a web page, and viewing older versions of a web page. (Note: The day before publishing this article, Apple acquired Workflowand began to remove some features, like Google Maps, Uber, Line, Google Chrome, and Telegram integrations, as well as submitting Workflows for other users to access)
  • Saving selected text to Copied, my clipboard manager of choice
  • Automatically pasting my passwords into a sign-in field from 1Password, which used to require switching to 1Password, logging in, selecting the password, copying it, switching back to the sign-in field, and pasting the password.

These may sound simple, but before extensions it often took me at least twice as long to get these same things done by requiring me to switch back and forth between apps every time something came up. Now it’s all waiting for me no matter what app I’m in. Since implementing this system I’ve had less instances where I feel the need to address ten things at once, and my ability to get through my workload has increased drastically.

Today’s work economy makes it hard to not feel like we have to multitask to stay afloat. Those of us with ADHD are especially bad at this, so we need to set up systems and barriers that can ensure we stay focused without letting things slip through the cracks and pile up with no clear escape route.

Once we figure out what matters most and create a way to quickly deal with everything else, we can keep our focus on what’s important and ensure our work gets done with minimal stress.

When you set it up to make transferring between tasks easier, Extensions can take that overwhelming feeling that comes with the way ADHD makes things simultaneously feel inaccessible and urgent, and make it manageable with a few taps.

Jordan McMahon