Before reading this, please know that I am NOT a psychologist or mental health expert- I am speaking from my own personal experience with ADD.
“I swear, I’m so disorganized sometimes it’s like I have ADD.”
“I work with kids so much it’s like their ADD has rubbed off on me!”
“I think all of us have ADD in one way or another…”
I’ve heard these comments made by many a Youth Minister. I’ve made these comments on more than one occasion. As a teen on my high school’s Campus Ministry Core Team I bounced from project to project, spearheading one thing after another. I was taking 5 AP courses, getting involved in the theater program and working on the school newspaper. As a brand new college student I kept myself incredibly busy- singing in the choir, helping out with young adult ministry, working 4 Search retreats a year. And at every turn, people would compliment me on how much I was able to do.
And then I became a Director of Youth Ministry.
I went into the profession enchanted by the high energy of the young people and convinced that all I needed was my creativity and copious amounts of caffeine. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
I had a hard time focusing on projects I thought were tedious.
My office space would get incredibly messy and work surfaces quickly became covered with permission slips and forms and meeting minutes.
I had a hard time sitting still at staff meetings that ran longer than an hour.
I would get planner after calendar after organizer after iPad app thinking it would help me stay organized, use it for a few weeks, and promptly forget about it.
I had a growing list of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” projects while things that were actually going on and needed my attention were falling apart because I couldn’t attend to the details.
If I wasn’t wearing my keys I lost them (and even then there was no guarantee that I would remember where they were).
I would work furiously at a project with what seemed like unlimited focus and then would have to get up and pace, almost like I was driven by a motor instead of my own will.
My pastor went from excited and enthusiastic about this “dynamic, young youth minister” that was hired with all kinds of fanfare to irritated and frustrated because I had a hard time keeping a regular schedule and missed meetings that I myself set up.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Maybe you know a youth minister like this. Maybe you are this youth minister. Maybe you’re at your wits end because you are supervising a youth minister like this.
If this sounds all too familiar to you, don’t be too hard on yourself! It’s possible that you or your youth minister might have Attention Deficit Disorder.
I spent most of my first year as a Director of Youth Ministry trying to figure out why I had a hard time completing even the simplest of tasks, and it wasn’t until I was at my wits end that I went and got myself checked out- it turned out that I did, in fact, have ADD. I went and bought all kinds of books to help me out, but the best help I got was talking with someone who had ADD and trying different methods to help me stay focused and organized. I am still learning how to work with my ADD instead of against it, and here are some things that I do to help manage my ADD:
- Create a Schedule: every day, before I do anything, I write my schedule for the first half of the day. After lunch and my afternoon prayer (which don’t change, they are at the same time everyday) I go back to the board and set my schedule for the afternoon. That way I can look at what I’ve already accomplished and assess what needs my full attention. Here’s an example of what my daily schedule might look like:
- Break down big projects into smaller, more manageable tasks: for example, instead of overwhelming myself with something like cleaning out the entire Youth Ministry closet in one day, I break it down to cleaning two shelves a day for the next week. It might take longer to do, but it will get done.
- Establish step-by-step guides for projects and tasks: sometimes people with ADD can overcomplicate things that are really simple tasks. Creating a step-by-step plan allows me to focus on what needs to be done without letting my thoughts wander to future tasks. Step by step plans also allow me to see what I have done so far and reward myself when I complete a big project.
- Develop habits and routines: As I mentioned earlier, I have a set time every day for lunch and prayer time. I don’t schedule any meetings during that time, and the people I work with know that I’m generally not available during those times. Habits and routines make it easier to get the more “nuts and bolts” tasks of ministry done.
- Work in intervals: one of the best things I’ve done to help with my ministry work is to work in increments of 25-30 minutes with a 5 minute break to stretch and refocus. There are tons of timer apps available to help with this- I use a Pomodoro timer.
What are some of the things that you do to help manage yourself in ministry?