Using Bookends to ADD Structure to Your ADHD Day

Sharb Bookend At a recent Catalyst for Change North Coast Adult ADHD Meetup participants shared what was challenging them most and a common theme emerged – the need to bring more structure to their days.

Structure can be elusive to the adult with ADHD.  We understand what it looks like and how it can benefit us in getting things done.  We can readily give examples of when we benefited from it: the structured days we experienced in school, the structure imposed by particular types of jobs, or the structure created when caring for another.  We understand that without structure, we can find ourselves aimlessly floating through our days and we also understand that having structure can result in us getting more done. Creating structure isn’t usually as easy as it seems like it should be though.

One of the easier ways to introduce structure into a day is through a process I call bookending.  Bookending is a term I originally used to help coaching students understand how using particular coaching skills at the beginning and end of a coaching session can help give structure to a session.  In the same way, bookending your days can support you in bringing structure to them.

Let’s start with a metaphor.  Your day is like a book shelf.  Each task or activity is represented by a book.  Some books are significant and stand well on their own – these are the books representing solid commitments of your time – a job outside of the home, your commitment to care for an aging parent, etc.   Others are flimsy paperbacks requiring more support to keep them standing.  These books might represent exercise, errands, or other tasks or activities you want to get to, but have trouble getting around to. Without proper support on your shelf/your day your books/tasks tend to collapse on each other.  Bookends at the beginning and the end of a day give you basic structure.  An additional bookend or two inserted during the day give even more.
Morning bookends are especially important to help you transition into your day. and might take the form of a daily commitment to take your child to school, meet a friend to exercise, or connect with a colleague.  This type of bookend is particularly helpful because it gets us moving and a body in motion is more likely to stay in motion.  In addition, a bookend connected to another person provides us with accountability. Face it, it’s a lot easier to break a commitment to your treadmill than it is to break a commitment to a friend or loved one who is counting on us.

Mid-day bookends might look like blocking out time in your calendar for lunch or for dinner and again committing to others.  Maybe you’ll commit to walk with a friend at lunch time each day, or commit to your family to have dinner on the table at a particular time each evening.

A last example of a bookend might be an established bedtime – say 10PM each evening, that will support you in getting enough sleep AND prevent you from falling prey to the less productive second wind ADHDers seem to get from 10:30PM to 1:30AM each night.  I believe this is my most important bookend of the day, because my brain needs sleep and getting to bed on time sets me up for a better tomorrow.

By bringing structure to your day, bookends allow you to look at the tasks in your life and slot them into the time existing between the bookends. A well supported day is more likely to be more productive. How are you already using bookends to support your days?  Any examples you’d like to share that work for you?  How might more bookends help you?

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10 Responses to “Using Bookends to ADD Structure to Your ADHD Day”

  1. Ellen Delap March 25, 2014 4:29 pm #

    I love the visual of bookends for different sectors of the day. I can especially appreciate the bookend at night, when it’s time to get ready to wind down and head to bed. That gives me the lots of positive energy for the day ahead.

    • Andrea Sharb March 25, 2014 6:24 pm #

      Hi Ellen, So glad you can especially appreciate the bookend at night and took the time to share what it make possible for you the next day!

  2. Margaret Lukens March 25, 2014 5:31 pm #

    What a helpful metaphor this is, Andrea, even for someone without ADHD! If my day seems to be getting “floppy” like a well-thumbed paperback, I’ll look for a way to create a more structured book-end.

    • Andrea Sharb March 25, 2014 6:36 pm #

      Margaret, thanks for pointing out that this metaphor can be helpful for anyone. Your image of a “floppy” “well thumbed paperback” brought a smile to my face as I recognized that I had that kind of afternoon. Luckily a special dinner with my husband tonight for his birthday regrounded me and brought some structure back to my day.

  3. Yota Schneider March 25, 2014 6:51 pm #

    This is a great metaphor Andrea! It’s a fantastic and very helpful way to look at how we structure our day whether we’re dealing with ADHD or not. I know from experience that the busier I am the more I accomplish. It’s the slower days that tend to support my procrastination habits. Making the effort to introduce bookends in a less structured day can be very effective. Thank you!

    • Andrea Sharb March 25, 2014 9:18 pm #

      So glad you connect with the metaphor Yota and I’m glad you find it helpful. You’re so right that being busier allows you to accomplish more. I find that structureless days are the bane of my existence.

  4. Linda Samuels March 25, 2014 8:42 pm #

    Andrea- I love the way you connect together the idea of bookshelves, bookends, and daily structure. I have to admit that I kept looking at the photo and wondering if those were “Harry Potter” books. That made me think about an additional point here. It’s not just having the support at beginning, middle, and end of your day. It also matters what you’re choosing to support….as in what are the books (or activities) you’re saying “yes” to. Supporting the wrong things won’t give you the results you want.

    • Andrea Sharb March 25, 2014 9:40 pm #

      Linda, yes, those are the Harry Potter books in the photo.:) I love the connection you’re making – it can make all the difference in the world what you’re choosing to support. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  5. Deborah Zechini March 25, 2014 11:57 pm #

    So sometimes I find it hard to stop at night. I like what I do (organizing) and don’t want to stop. I guess the bookend would put a stop to that! But then I see a bookend as restricting my desire to have flexibility in my life. Hummmm, must figure out a way to use bookends and have flexibility. But since I don’t have problems with procrastination and I get lots done, maybe I don’t need bookends….except at night 😉

    • Andrea Sharb March 26, 2014 8:53 am #

      Deb, I think I know what you mean. For me, stopping and going to bed can be agonizing, because I know just how much I could get done with that second burst of energy, based on past experience. Training myself to bookend my day with a 10PM bedtime hasn’t been easy and I struggle with it internally many nights. Just last week, I asked my husband as we got ready for bed, “don’t you hate the thought of having to go to sleep, when there are so many amazing things you could be doing and accomplishing?” Even after 26 years of marriage his simple answer of “no” still surprised me a little. I still allow myself some flexibility with the bedtime bookend – it’s only for weeknights and going to bed gives me permission to put on the brakes of doing and enter a state of being, where I can think, journal and read for a good 30-45 minutes before getting tired enough to sleep. This is something I missed out on completely when I had only two speeds – “on” and “off”. I’d love to hear your thoughts on bookends and flexibility – there is always room for expansion on ideas. : )

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