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Blog #12: Keep It Simple!

Updated: May 19, 2023


Life is full of complexities: what to eat, what to wear, where to go, who to see, how to pay bills, how to meet this deadline, etc. These are typical questions, but for people with LD or dyslexia, they become even more complicated because of their invisible disability. Things that may seem to be relatively straightforward become a complicated maze for some folks with neurological processing problems. For instance, many individuals with LD or dyslexia can have difficulties with areas like these throughout their lives:

  • prioritizing things

  • organizing things

  • making decisions

  • setting goals

  • planning activities

Clearly, such problems can create hurdles at work, at home, at school, and in the community. Since it can be a characteristic of an often invisible disorder, the cognitive organization of information and stimuli are areas that definitely need further exploration.

*Note: Please remember that not ALL people diagnosed with LD or dyslexia have problems with organization and/or executive functioning. However, for folks that have these issues, much more information needs to be available to them. That's the goal of this podcast and blog.


Definition

A topic like Keeping It Simple has an equally simple definition: to make things easier and uncomplicated (Dictionary.com, 2023). Another way to look at this important topic is: finding a relaxation and ease in all aspects of one's life. Or, you can think see it as a ". . . simplicity of mind, body, family, love, profession, friends" (Rebecca, 2021). All of that sounds so uncomplicated and straight-forward and in this complicated and crazy world. But, if there's one thing most of us can agree about right now with all of our divisions and conflicts, it's this: Keep It Simple sounds like an impossible task--but a wonderful way to live! The benefits listed below give you lots of reasons why pursuing more simplicity can be critical for a happy and successful quality of life.

One of my favorite articles that actually inspired me to do this podcast is by the British Dyslexia Association (2023). It's called "Living with a Dyslexic Partner". They start with a wonderful quote: "There is a common misconception that dyslexia only affects the ability to read and write. In reality, dyslexia can affect memory, organisation, time-keeping, concentration, multi-tasking and communication. All impact on everyday life." How true, how true! Here's the article for you to read yourself.

While I focus on the academics, communication, and the social effects of dyslexia in other podcasts, I thought it was time to look at the other side of the coin--organization, time management, following/giving directions, multi-tasking, and observing daily routines. For instance, just take a minute to think about your own life. It doesn't take long to see how you naturally do all of those things every day in multiple environments and in myriad ways. But, what if your brain just doesn't work that way? That's when it's time to Keep It Simple.....




Benefits

Living with daily stress, anxiety, frustration, and confusion may seem normal because of your LD or dyslexia. But, let me share a secret with you--it doesn't have to be that way. By learning how to simplify, you'll be amazed at how different your life can be. Many authors underscore the benefits of Keeping It Simple. For instance, Nathan (2021) says, "Everyone dreams of their best life. Harness simplicity as your tool for growth and learn why less is more." Others assert that learning how to Keep It Simple can significantly cut down the chaos, stress, and anxiety in your life. It can also lead to many, other benefits as: financial independence, focusing more on your loved ones; helping you become much more grateful; decreasing sadness, fear, and irritibility; and facilitating better mental and physical health (CITATIONS). In general, it's one of the quickest ways to happiness--plus it's free and legal! Who could ask for more than that? For a nice summary of the benefits of living a simpler life, check out the article below.


Scenarios

Scenario A

Cho is a bright student who just loves her nursing classes. She has always wanted to work in a pediatrician's office just like her uncle with young children, especially infants. Now, after years of hard work and saving every penny, she is finally in the University RN program. Nonetheless, the more she delves into her studies and practicums, the more she realizes how much she needs to be detail-oriented and organized. She clearly has the stamina, critical thinking skills and empathy to make her an outstanding nurse. Still, she is often frustrated, embarrassed, and discouraged by her poor organization and processing problems due to her LD. She has never talked about her disability to anyone before, but now thinks that she may finally need some help.


Scenario B

Patrick has always had a gift for woodworking. Even while he was in high school, he was making shelves and repairing furniture for family and friends. He spent summers helping out Robert, a master carpenter in his town, who taught him everything he knows. Now that Patrick is married and expecting a child, he wants to make more money by starting a small business for himself. He already has orders for a few pieces and has started a course in business management at the local community college. But he knows that his problems with organization, time management, and multi-tasking could really keep his business from being a success. He's already feeling stressed out and defeated even before he starts.

Scenario C

Joe has always been a true romantic and really, really wants to find the love of his life. As an airline pilot who travels to countries all over the world, he meets men all the time who are attracted to his good looks, charm, and intelligence. However, the more they get to know him, the quicker the relationship cools. In fact, he recently lived with Dave for 5 years in what he thought was a stable, committed, relationship. But since they broke up, Joe is continually haunted by Dave's final comments. Dave told him bluntly that he couldn't deal with Joe's forgetfulness or zoning out during conversations. He was horrified by Joe's impulsivity, dis-organization and messiness at home. He was also tired of all the unfinished projects that Joe started and never completed at their condo. Joe knows that these are signs of his ADHD/dyslexia, but doesn't know what to do. How can he find someone who will love him and put up with all this?


Scenario D

Sue really enjoys learning new languages and visiting other places to see different cultures with fresh eyes. She was recently invited by her college roommates to do a three week cruise to China, Viet Nam, and Cambodia. She would have to use all of her vacation days as a Senior Lab Technician, plus every penny of her savings to go on the trip. But, it would be worth it to have this once-in-a lifetime opportunity. What's keeping her up nights are worries about her learning disabilities. Due to her LD and dyslexia, Sue has difficulties with executive functioning. She often has problems: following directions; beginning or completing tasks; giving up when she's challenged, coping with unexpected situations; or adjusting to new plans quickly (Cordingly & Whetzel, 2019). With accommodations and support from a wonderful company, she has learned to compensate for her LD on the job. But how would that work on a trip like the cruise where people, places, and things are constantly changing?




Connection with LD and Dyslexia

When most people think about LD or dyslexia, they tend to focus first on reading and writing skills. These clearly can be hurdles for folks with non-apparent disabilities. However, an equally important area which is often over-looked entirely, are organizational skills. Organizational skills can have a significant impact on adult success as they permeate all areas of adult life. As seen in the scenarios above, they can significantly shape everyday experiences at work, at home, at school, or in the community. Consequently, as children with LD grow into adults with LD, organizational skills become more and more critical to a satisfying quality of life.

Let's start by looking at the connections between organizational skills and learning disabilities. I could give you my thoughts, but the two articles given below do a much better job. The first article by Walmart-Gayda (2010) is a basic article about LD in Canada that breaks processing issues into 5 components: perceiving, thinking, remembering, and learning. Such critical areas to effective organizational skills as planning and decision-making are clearly effected in all asects of adult life.


I really like the next article because it so eloquently explains how folks with dyslexia process ideas and stimuli. It ends with a great quote by Einstein: “If a cluttered desk reveals a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk reveal?” (Graham, 2021). You go, Alfred!


Another way to look at the connections between LD or dyslexia and organizational skills is to dig deeper into the recent literature about Executive Functioning Disorders. Executive functioning skills are a form of neurological processing that combines motor, sensory, communication, and cognitive skills (Pathways, 2023). Most children start developing these skills as babies, with the ages between 3 and 5 being the most crucial years for development (Harvard, 2023). However some individuals, such as those with neurological processing problems like LD and dyslexia, may be at risk for executive functioning problems due to multiple causes, such as: genetics, differences in brain development, variance in brain chemicals, ADHD, mental health issues, brain injury, or extreme stress and anxiety (Belsky, 2023, ADD MORE HERE).

Executive functioning skills can significantly impact attention and memory everyday in the areas of: thinking, paying attention, remembering, using time management, concentrating, planning, prioritizing, or multi-tasking(CITATIONS). The folks at JAN sum this up well: "People with executive functioning deficits have difficulty monitoring and regulating their behaviors. These difficulties can include monitoring and changing behavior as needed, planning future behavior when faced with new tasks and situations, and anticipating outcomes and adapting to changing situations (JAN, 2023). For more information, check out the article below.


There is also another, hidden side to executive functioning skills. As the professionals at CHADD explain: "The partner without ADHD may interpret the poor communication, emotional outbursts, and failure to carry out commitments as evidence that the partner with ADHD does not care for or love [them]. Likewise, the adult with undiagnosed ADHD does not understand what is going on and externalizes blame on the significant other or others to protect his or her self-esteem" (CHADD, 2023). So how do you deal with this multi-challenging disorder? Look at the Tips below to take a fresh approach to organization.




Tips and Tricks


Tip #1: Simple at School

One environment where children and adults usually receive accommodations for their LD or dyslexia is at school. Typically, this is one of the first red flags that something is wrong--the student just cannot keep his desk or cubby organized; her backpack is a mess; or their homework is totally illegible. This is the kid who loses everything or can't follow directions to save their lives. If not given support, such problems will become worse and worse as the student gets older and the coursework and school culture become more complex.

Cho, in Scenario A, is a prime example of that phenomena. She is smart, sociable, and has always done well at school. Because she is quiet, passes her classes, and very independent, no one has ever noticed how dysfunctional her organizational skills are. For instance, she is always turning in reports late because she can't find what she needs. She frequently loses important documents or files in the multiple piles of paperwork everywhere in her room. Another example was how she was always struggling to find patient files during her practicum experiences. The article below is from one of my favorite places to get reliable information about learning disabilities in general--Landmark College. Their focus on effective teaching techniques and strategies are always helpful. This article is also from another great source of anything about LD and adults--LD Online. (Be sure to check out both sources for some of the best, most credible stuff you'll ever read about learning disabilities.)



As yo can see, creating a Master Student File could be a lifesaver for her. Or, Cho could try Herrity's (2022) suggestions for sorting and digitalizing important paperwork. See her 7 easy steps below:


There are lots of other great, simple techniques to compensate for your issues with organizing documents, files, etc. For instance, every time you start a new notebook for meetings or class notes, just leave the first few pages blank. Then, you can create an index later to find everything + it's a great way to review the information while it's still fresh in your mind (JBCN School, 2018). Another idea is to sort all of those piles of paperwork using the RAFT system: Read, Act, File, Toss (Heather, 2021). This first deep dive into all of those piles will make you feel better right away! If you're like Cho, try one of these techniques and see how they work for you....



Tip #2: Simple at Work

Another area in adult life where organizational skills can really be an issue is the work environment. Whether you're on the road, in the office, or working from home, it can be a constant challenge to keep appointments, meet various deadlines, organize masses of paperwork, or follow multiple directions and unspoken expectations from supervisors. Many authors provide quick easy tips about how to simplify and organize your work life better that are useful to folks with LD or dyslexia (ADD CITATIONS!!). Here's one place to get you started:

The key here is to personalize these strategies to fit your particular situation. For instance, Patrick in Scenario B, is very talented in woodworking. However, he can also be his own worst enemy if he becomes his own boss as well. All of his life, he has had continual problems with multi-tasking. He needs to follow his own schedule and concentrate on one thing at a time. His teachers and family would lose patience with him when he was overwhelmed with too much information or too much to do. This could be a real issue if he starts his own business, where he will have the primary responsibility for: creating a business plan, billing/accounting, scheduling projects, meeting deadlines, marketing, customer service, meeting compliance and legal obligations, etc. That's a lot of multi-tasking for one person, especially one with LD! Pullein (2021) has some great ideas to address issues at work. Check out his article below.


Patrick could still achieve his dream as a small business owner, but he will need to compensate for his organizational problems by: a) setting priorities in his new business plan; b) organizing his home workspace (Pelta, 2023); c) making sure that he meets important deadlines (CITATIONS); d) not forgetting to return phone calls or go to meetings (CITATIONS); and e) accurately billing clients or paying bills (CITATIONS). One way to do this would be to make a "First Things First" list right after he writes his business plan to focus on activities that will have the highest payoff (Remitr, 2021). This will help him focus on one task at a time. Second, Herrmann (2014) suggests to write all important phone numbers on a calendar or notepad that you check everyday. Make sure that you list both the name and phone number, with a time to call them back. (Another creative way to jog your memory is to clearly imagine their faces when you write a reminder in your calendar--I know that sounds crazy, but it works! I've tried it myself.) Third, use a reminder app on your phone to help you remember deadlines or important meetings or work on one task at a time.

By the way, if you want to start your own business like Patrick, there's an amazing amount of free resources and government programs available to get you started. For instance, check out this site:


So, what about you? Do any of these situations sound familiar? Does multi-tasking drive you crazy, but you have to do it everyday at work? If so, Keep It Simple by using these tips or others listed in the Resources below.



Tip #3: Simple at Home

Maybe you've never thought about it, but most Americans spend over half of the day in their homes. In fact, whether you are eating, hanging out with family, feeding your dog, doing housework, or sleeping, various researchers report that most folks spend 62% of their time or over 10 hours a day at home (Casselman, B. & Koeze, E., 2021; Yau, 2023). That percentage keeps growing, especially since COVID-19. Also, if you homeschool your children, are a part-time student, or have a job with a hybrid schedule, those numbers will be even higher. As you can see, organizational issues clearly shape how you live everyday. Such diverse issues as: getting along with your family in a small space, completing household chores/responsibilities, paying bills, or meeting various appointments definitely can create hurdles that won't go away.

One example is Joe's relationship with Dave in Scenario C. Dave was clearly devoted to Joe and Joe was planning that they would grow old together. But, thinking about it and then living that dream are often two, very different things. Dave plainly couldn't put up with Joe's disorganization and messiness. He got tired living with projects that were never started and would never get finished. Living with Joe's impulsivity and chaos was just too much for Dave. Joe desperately needed some of the tips given in the article below.


These, and many other suggestions, are simple but effective ways to change your life and compensate for your lack of organizational skills (CITATIONS). For instance, Joe could work on writing down phone messages, deadlines, schedules, or other important information in a small notebook by his phone charger. He could de-clutter one room at time. He might have prioritized a single home improvement project with Dave (Indeed, 2022) and then donated all the other materials to neighbors or to charity. These are simple activities, but big steps for someone who has lived with chaos and disorganization all of their lives. They also might have also saved Joe's relationship. So, what about you? What kind of craziness do you live with at home due to organizational problems? Try a few strategies given in the Resources below and see if they work for you.



Tip #4: Simple in the Community

We've talked about how organizational problems can shape adult life at home, at school, or at work. However, there's one more place where these issues really affect everyday living. Let's call that category "community living", as this is where you typically relate to the rest of the world outside the boundaries of the home, school, or work environment. For instance, whether you live in a condo in a big city or a farm out in the country, you interact with others in your day-to-day life as: a neighbor, a voter in various elections, or a taxpayer. Frequently, you'll spend a lot of time in your community doing everyday errands, like: going to the bank, doctor or dentist appointments; using a pharmacy; taking the bus or subway; buying groceries; filling your car with gas; going to your church or synagogue; and so forth. You may also be a volunteer at your child's school or play golf with your buddies every Saturday.

All these are facets of everyday adult life, but they can still be full of hidden obstacles if you have problems with organization skills. For example, look at Sue's situation in Scenario D. Sue lives a happy life with a great job, lots of family and friends, and a wonderful place to live. Nevertheless, she is like some other adults with LD/dyslexia, as she has difficulty making transitions to any new environment (Leather & McLoughlin, 2018). Another obstacle is her issue with following directions, a problem that continually drives Sue crazy--and those around her. Many years ago, Sue's special education teacher explained to her family that all of this was due to her problems with auditory processing and working memory. But, Sue doesn't care about that anymore; she just wants to go on the cruise and have a good time.

So, what types of accommodations could help her Keep It Simple during her vacation? It's clear that Sue will be traveling to many countries with various languages, different people, and out-of-the ordinary settings throughout the trip. A critical skill for her vacation is to correctly follow directions. Sue could really use the hints from Morin (2023) given below. For instance, when hearing important information, she could remove as many distractions as possible so she could really focus and concentrate. She could ask clarifying questions if needed and ask that the directions be repeated in simple steps. Of most importance, she could record what she hears, either on her phone or by writing it down.


Sue could also use some other tips to help her make successful transitions to all of the new environments that she will be seeing on her trip. The next website below (Sinfield, 2023) has lots of practical tricks in this area. All of these ideas would help make Sue's trip one of the best experiences she's ever had.



If making transitions or following directions drive you crazy, try a few of the Tips from this Podcast to see if you can Keep It Simple and change your life.



References


Resources/Miscellaneous Thoughts about Keeping It Simple


a) Accommodations in the workplace: A great place to start is an article titled: Dyslexia at Work by Healthmanagement (2023). A lot of their suggestions are simple, free, easy to use, and applicable to any workplace. Examples are: providing verbal as well as oral instructions; using voicemail instead email to give valuable information; choose a quiet location, if possible, for meetings and briefings; set interim, as well as final, deadlines for important projects, give clear, concise instructions one at a time, etc.

*Note: While this article is from the UK, many of the ideas translate into the American workplace as well. Another wonderful area to check out workplace accommodations for people with LD and dyslexia is the Job Accommodation Network. Their sections on executive functioning and the workplace are outstanding (JAN, 2023). See Resources below.



b) Social Wellness: In Podcast #10, we talked in depth about Social Wellness. One of the really interesting facts I uncovered is that often Social Wellness and Keeping It Simple go hand-in-hand. The authors below say it much better than me--they're worth checking out for many, many ways to make your relationships and daily life happier and more productive:



c) Social Media: Another connection that I never expected to find is how social media relates to Keeping It Simple. Numerous authors (CITATIONS) have talked about the negative aspects of too much social media and how it can really manipulate your life. Negative examples are: unhealthy sleep patterns, depression, anxiety, distorted body image, cyberbullying, unrealistic expectations, and addictive behaviors (Stegner, 2023). What was surprising to me is the idea that cutting down your social media will definitely simplify your life in many ways. For example, Lapcevic (2019) asserts: "We have so much right at our fingertips these days. It seems that all the information and technology should make life more simple. But it rarely does. All this connection to information and people has an incredible way of robbing us of joy and time". She doesn't suggest that you drop out completely; just slow down and take that time to re-visit other areas of your life. Check out this source as a place to start to find a healthy balance between social media and your everyday life.



Transition Connection



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