The Apple Watch: An ADHD Hacker’s New Best Friend

It Only Makes Apple’s ADHD Management System More Perfect

After a lifetime of struggling with seemingly basic tasks such as remembering appointments, scheduling projects in functional ways, turning library books in on time, properly preparing for meetings and classes, etc, etc, etc, at age 38 I was finally diagnosed with ADHD type primarily inattentive. More specifically, I have impaired executive functioning, meaning that I have issues with:

  • Forgetting to complete tasks
  • An inability to keep track of personal items like keys and my handbag.
  • Difficulty reading visual representations of things (trying to read a map for me is literally like reading ancient Greek. When I look at a map my mind goes completely blank. I suspect that the way I view a map is something like how some who have certain learning disorders see letters and words backwards and upside down.)
  • Difficulty retaining verbal step by step directions.
  • Trouble with arriving places on time (I am very aware of my problem with being late so I always try to leave early. But somehow I get allow myself to get sucked into something right before it’s time to leave and then I very often get lost traveling to where I’m supposed to be going, even if I’ve been there previously.)
  • Struggles with breaking big projects into steps.
  • Difficulty remembering the details of previous interactions or conversations with others.

While most people think of people with ADHD as impulsively bouncing around the room, I am actually the somewhat fidgety but generally calm person who is most likely to have shown up without the paper meeting agenda that was distributed three weeks earlier.

As much as I admittedly struggle in certain areas, I’ve managed to create a pretty successful career for myself because like many people with ADHD, I also have significant compensating strengths. In any meeting, I am often the idea generator, the people motivator, and the progress proponent. I bring big concepts to my work and I work hard to turn those concepts into reality. I’m great at coming up with creative solutions to tough problems, and I’m often the person others look to for leadership in areas where others have faltered. Neither my work history nor I am defined by my ADHD.

However, I freely admit that in some ways I struggled along for nearly four decades of my life, always wondering how so many others around me found seemed to find simple tasks like taking usable notes in classes and meetings and showing up for lunch dates on time easy and stressless.

After completing the examination that resulted in my ADHD diagnosis, my doctor remarked that he was surprised that I’d managed to accomplish as much as I have academically and professionally given how much I sometimes struggle with certain tasks. He then referred me to a therapist who focuses on coaching people with ADHD, and my journey toward an organization system that works for me began in earnest.

The first thing that my coach suggested was that I ditch my paper-focused organizational system and go electronic. For years I’d had multiple half-assed paper calendar systems going at any one time, with post-its and taped extra notes bulging out of each messy calendar. My coach recommended that I look into acquiring an iPhone, which I immediately did.

I can honestly say that the iPhone changed my life. This device immediately became a totally reliable stand in for the executive functioning areas of my brain that had never worked properly. With my iPhone in hand I can:

  • Easily and quickly capture thoughts in the Drafts app for later expansion into full fledged written work (instead of instantly forgetting fleeting thoughts that might actually have some value)
  • Keep an up to date visual calendar that actually sends me alerts and reminders in advance of my actually needing to be somewhere. With one alert pinging three hours before I need to be somewhere and another one prodding me one hour before I need to be there, I actually get places on time.
  • Utilize verbal turn by turn directions when I drive to new places instead of attempting to read maps. This may be the iPhone function that has most radically changed my life for the better. Between verbal turn by turn directions and the calendar loudly poking me to get out the door and get going, I am rarely late anywhere anymore.
  • Record conversations as they happen so that I have a transcript of interactions with people when we’re discussing something of consequence (obviously, I always tell people when I am recording them).
  • Take quick photos of things I need to remember later, like the numbers on a street sign or where I’ve parked my car in a parking lot.
  • Store documents like agendas and presentations as PDF or Word files so that I have all the documentation I need for various projects in the palm of my hand instead of having stacks of messy paper to keep up with.

It’s easy to see how the iPhone functions as my “extra brain” and how it’s changed my life for the better. I honestly don’t know how I ever got along without it.

And now, I have what I would describe as the iPhone on steroids. What do I mean? Well, my husband has gifted me with the Apple Watch Series 3 and I now feel more capable than I ever have before.

If you already have an iPhone, you may wonder why you would want an Apple watch. In my experience so far, the watch doesn’t replace the iPhone. Instead it simply extends its capabilities. There are things that the iPhone can do that the watch can’t. But the opposite is true as well. By using the Apple watch and the iPhone as an integrated system, you have an ADHD hacker’s dream system.

Here are some of the ways that I am using the Apple watch to maximize what I get out of the iPhone.

  • My Apple watch has cellular service so I can leave my iPhone at home if I know I won’t need all its capabilities but even without the iPhone, I remain connected with phone, email, text messaging, and Facebook messaging all available on my watch.
  • My watch is automatically synced to my iPhone. Anything I enter into my iPhone calendar, messages/email or contacts automatically shows up on my watch and vice versa.
  • The watch allows me to make and receive calls, hands free. I just tell Siri who to call, then get ready to talk. I can use the watch as a phone without headphones — just talking as I normally would with the watch’s phone picking up the sound of my voice — or I can use any bluetooth enabled headphones to chat. Today I was taking care of a few needed phone calls while working in my garden. With the phone on my wrist, all I had to do was talk at the same time as I pulled weeds.
  • The watch’s calendar is synced to my iPhone calendar and I have set up my watchface to always show me the next item coming up on my calendar. In this way, my calendar comes to me instead of me having to go to the calendar. The watch’s calendar will also tap/buzz my wrist at the times I have alerts set up on my calendar
  • The watch gives my wrist a gentle tap/buzz when a new message arrives, insuring that I don’t miss any important messages that come in when I’m out and about. This is a more discreet way to keep up with your incoming messages than the pinging sound that the iPhone makes — a noise that everyone around you can hear. (Note: both the iPhone and the Apple watch allow you to turn off notifications)
  • The Apple watch doesn’t have a keyboard. Instead it has a robust voice to text dictation system and a library of pre-written brief replies such as, “Sounds good,” “Sorry, I’m busy then,” and, “In a meeting. I’ll get in touch later.” It also has a large selection of emojis. With the voice to text dictation system I can easily tell my watch what I want my response to a message or email to say. But even better, between these brief pre-written replies and the available emojis, it’s easy to quickly dispatch responses to whatever type of message I receive without being tempted to waste time typing out a longer response.
  • When I use Apple maps on my watch I get a gentle tap/buzz on my wrist just before each turn that the map tells me to take. This makes me a more alert driver and much less likely to miss a turn.
  • One irony of using an iPhone as your primary ADHD tool is that if you’re anything like me, you frequently set your phone down somewhere and forget where you’ve put it. The Apple watch offers a “ping my phone” feature that causes your phone to emit a loud pinging noise every time you hit the ping my phone feature, making it super-easy to find a misplaced iPhone.
  • I can take my watch with me places where it would be rude to take my actual phone.
  • This one is big. Because the watch doesn’t have a browser or real social media apps available, you can stick to the important basics of managing your life: your calendar, messaging and emails, activity tracking, and mapping capabilities, all without finding yourself with your head buried in your phone, sucked into a lengthy session of Facebook, Twitter or Buzzfeed catch-up. The Apple watch offers everything I need for on the go productivity with nothing that I don’t. And that frees you up to do things that actually are productive.

I love my iPhone. Like I said, I honestly don’t know how I got along without it for all the years before it came into my life. But I also love the fact that I now no longer feel absolutely tethered to carrying it with me wherever I go. If I want to go out walking, make a Target run or hit a yoga class I can do all of those things with all the on-the-go productivity that I need strapped onto my wrist — nothing to carry around, drop or leave somewhere. Then, at other times when I want to take Facebook, Safari browser, a Power Point presentation or Amazon with me, my phone comes along. Together, the iPhone and the Apple watch are this ADHD girl’s dream combo.