Using ADHD Productivity Hacks to Work Faster Than Normal [Book Excerpt]

The following excerpt is adapted from “Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain” by Peter Shankman, published by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Peter Shankman.

While I advocate using some kind of assistant, I also know that I wasn’t able to afford that for quite some time as I was getting my career off the ground, and I certainly didn’t have anyone to hire when I was in school who could help me. How I wish the amount of technology that’s out there today existed when I was just starting out.

Remember the scene in the eighties film “Wall Street” where Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) looked at his computer first thing in the morning, and a calendar program told him it was Gordon Gekko’s (Michael Douglas) birthday? I remember watching that movie around the time I was in high school and thinking that if I had that calendar program, I could save myself a ton of missed deadlines! I went to a computer store to buy it, and nearly fainted when the person behind the counter told me that the cheapest calendar software program was $250, and worked only on PCs! (I had an Apple IIe, so I was out of luck either way).

Today? And of course, it’s free. Meanwhile, the $35 a month I spend on Google Apps is worth its weight in gold, every single day.

Knowing that a lot of people reading this are entrepreneurs, students or somewhere in between who simply can’t hire someone at this moment in their lives, I’m going to share with you the tools I use and swear by. The majority of them are free or super cheap and don’t require an assistant or anyone else to do their jobs. These tools can replace about 75 percent of the busywork you hate to do. These tools control every facet of my life and make so much of my daily life just so much easier.

I’ll try to group these into some logical categories. As always, I’d love to hear about your favorite apps—I’m always hunting for new ones! Tweet me: @petershankman.

Related: Founders of Share the New Rules of Productivity

Laptop tools

Let’s start off with the big ones (the apps on my computer) and then we’ll move to the phone. I’ve tried carrying an iPad, I’ve tried the Surface, I’ve even tried carrying an extended keyboard with me and connecting it to various devices via Bluetooth. In the end, I always come back to my MacBook Air.

Embrace the cloud

The cloud is a gift for people with ADHD. There are times when I come up with a great idea, or a way to improve something I’ve been working on previously—and I have the time right now to work on it. But if I don’t have the files I need, well, I’m screwed. Even if I don’t have my laptop with me, I at least have my phone and can dictate to it, or make changes on the fly if need be. Within the next five years, our entire life will be in the cloud. Stuff will just be wherever we need it to be. We’ll be less and less dependent on the physical thing, which is great for those with ADHD!

Hold everything

Because I’m almost always with my laptop, headphones and power cord, I need something in which to carry it all, preferably something I won’t forget. About sixteen years ago, I discovered SCOTTeVEST. In completely full disclosure, I’m now on the SeV advisory board. SCOTTeVEST is a clothing company with multiple lines of jackets, pants, shirts, shorts, women’s and men’s clothing, all with multiple pockets, streamlined for those on the road, or who just don’t want to take a bag. It’s hands down the most useful clothing I own.

I’d be lost without my SeV. The jacket I travel with has more than thirty pockets that hold everything from my laptop to my headphones, power cords, adapters and even a toothbrush and toothpaste, a few Band-Aids, and an extra pair of underwear and socks. (Hey, you never know what might happen).

The point is, I have everything I need to be and stay productive at all times, so if I find myself with some unexpected short-burst downtime, I can get right to work.

Write in peace

I can’t write if I’m distracted. You’re asking, “How can he possibly write wherever he is, on an airplane, on a bus, in a shopping center, with all that’s going on around him?”

The answer is simple: my headphones, plus an app I discovered a few years ago called OmmWriter. OmmWriter is a wonderful word-processing app that works both on Macs and PCs and goes full-screen while playing very calming music accompanied by a peaceful snow scene. Most important, it shuts down all your other alerts, anything else that could pop up from your computer when you’re trying to get something done. It lets you put on your headphones and work without interruption. It’s like your own private writing room where you can close the door behind you to focus on writing in peace. Anywhere I am—on an airplane, in a busy airport terminal, at a loud coffee shop—I have access to distraction-free writing.

Take note

Wunderlist is brilliant for keeping track of everything that comes into my head—ideas, to-do items, you name it. I type it in, and it shows up everywhere, including on my desktop, thanks to a website where everything syncs up automatically. Think of it as Evernote, but for one-line items you don’t want to forget. There are similar apps out there, like Simplenote. Find the one that works best for you.

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Home smart home

As we get more and more technologically advanced, the concept of the connected home (the Internet of Things, as it were) becomes more and more of a reality, and this is a massive benefit for those with ADHD.

I’ve set up my home in such a way that I’ve completely removed the occasional worries I used to have—things like “Did I shut off the lights?” Or, “Did I leave the air-conditioning on for the cat?” With one simple app, I can log in, check what’s going on, and forget about it. These apps and my connected home also allow me to think a little less about the everyday tasks I used to spend time on. My phone, thanks to GPS, knows when I’m a tenth of a mile from my apartment building, and depending on the season and time of day, will turn on the lights, or heat, or AC before I’m even in the elevator.

When I leave, it’ll do the same thing in reverse. Having one or two or three fewer things to think about, for the ADHD brain, eliminates the need to worry about things that would otherwise drive me up a wall.

It’s a new world out there. For those with ADHD, it’s never been more exciting.

“Faster Than Normal: Turbocharge Your Focus, Productivity, and Success with the Secrets of the ADHD Brain” is available now at fine booksellers and can be purchased via

Reviews of “Faster Than Normal”

“Peter is a pioneer, an adventurer, an inventor and a seer. His advice is the best kind of advice. It is advice learned in the trenches, in the arena, on the fields of life.”
– Edward Hallowell, MD, from the foreword, bestselling author of “Driven to Distraction”

“Peter Shankman is living proof that living outside the bell-shaped curve, combined with a drive to succeed, can produce amazing results.”
– Jordan D. Metzl, MD, author of “The Exercise Cure”

“While ADHD may be considered a ‘deficit’ to some, Shankman positions it as an attribute within the context of our immediate future. ADHD is a unique gift of creative synthesis that makes sense only inside of the complex digital networks and hyper-stimulation that now defines us.”
– Amanda Steinberg, CEO, Worth Financial and author of “Worth It”

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