My open letter to Peter Shankman author of Faster Than Normal and book review.

What turned me to this book?

I’m sure many of your readers including yourself could relate to this but I’m on an endless pursuit to better myself. To your point, with ADHD we’re either on one end of the spectrum or the other, we live on the extremes and I wanted to make sure I was on the right side.

School is where I struggled the most with the typical symptoms so I decided to poke around - I always knew I was wired differently. I was diagnosed just before getting into college. At any rate, after I started my initial dosage (Dexedrine) 6-8 months in, I nearly failed all my classes. I also lost all my creativity. My sister remarked I was zombie-like and lost my personality. So, I turned my cheek to the entire concept and began doing my own experimentation to improve myself.

In college, even though I didn’t get the best grades, I had a strong entrepreneurial drive starting from elementary school. Junior year college, I co-founded my own business with a friend. That business was in the home loans space (yeah, I know). Obviously it didn’t last too long but luckily I was smart enough hedge with college.

The experience gained from this business combined with my background in Computer Science, Mathematics, and Economics landed me a job on a trading desk as a Desk Strat (Quant). In this industry, it was a well known thing: If you didn’t have ADHD, you’re toast! All top performers had the symptoms and they were extremely sought after. Fast forward to now, I lead a Data Science team in Tech.

During the journey of self-improvement, disciplining myself, etc. I got wind of Cal Newport’s series. I’ve been a huge advocate of his work since: Read 3 of his books, took one of his courses, read countless blog posts, and participated in one of his experiments thus far. That’s when I first heard about your ability to dial-in on airplanes (read this about 2-3 years ago).

Recently, I read Ray Dalio’s new book : Principles. He talks about the benefits of understanding your own brain better and repeatedly emphasized “people are wired very differently,” and the creative type need the most discipline. So in efforts to understand my strengths and weakness, I turned back to ADHD.

(By the way, Ray’s definition of a “Shaper” is very similar to the strengths you described on pg.13)

As I was browsing through books ADHD, I came across quite a few but the two I bought was yours and Driven to Distraction. On Faster, the reviews were solid and I recognized your name and it was recent.

Things I could relate to..

The high you described after/during presentations, I experience a similar feeling - this past friday actually gave one to the entire organization. (I also happen to be good at presentations)

I actually wrote this shortly after it:

It’s an incredible rush, from the nerves leading up to it and to afterwards when everyone’s high fiving you and giving “Good job!” handshakes, asking tons of questions… it’s absolutely riveting. It’s the same feeling I get from extreme sports and this high last for hours.

I’ve been diagnosed about three separate times with ADHD.

Though, I do well at my job, I’ve had repeatedly difficulty with coworkers and bosses (not all just 2). I’ve repeatedly been deemed talented but difficult / unmanageable and it’s not my intention to be difficult, but it’s my unique ways which got me into the “talented” category to begin with. Similar what you mentioned on pg 39.

I live in Manhattan as well! So envisioning your stories were pretty easy.

The Squirrel references for key insights..

Firstly brilliant analogy. My friends joke about how my dog and I have similar personalities but most say I’m very animated and cartoon character-like which bodes well for presentations, now that I think of it.

What distinguishes this book from others..

Thought leadership and advice material is often provided as a disparate set of facts. You do a great job of connecting these into a greater, overarching concept.

Which insights did I extract?

  • Early rises (5a) but I go straight to work (90 mins) - meditate - gym - office

    I can’t begin to tell you how much this has positively impacted my life. My issue was waking up and falling asleep before midnight. The WiFi light bulbs coupled with the REM Alarm app on my phone help SO MUCH! This is something I’ve been battling for practically my entire life. As for falling asleep my lights are triggered to dim into this Amber tone by 9pm. It automagically makes me sleepy.

  • EWR instead of JFK

    Though, I’m sure it wasn’t your intention by mentioning which airport you frequented but it made me question why I leave from JFK so often. Newark is much less crowded. Is that why you prefer it? Seems to be nearly the same commute time.

  • Decluttering

    I know you’re a major (pg 139) proponent of outsourcing, however I feel it comes with some bias of being a Manhattanite. The services industry is huge out here. I’ve also found some satisfaction in doing things myself. For example, If I want to take my mind off something stressful, cleaning or doing something else engaging helps me disconnect.

    But when I get my new job (hopefully soon) I’ll give this a shot. For now, I’ve formed this into a Sunday habit.

  • Hot buttons

    After you brought this up, this helped me identify specifically what about my boss drives me up the wall.

  • Sporadic Burst Exercises

    Has been a proven successful so far - an instant boost.

  • Commitment to researching digital productivity hacks

    So far I’ve mined a bunch of good stuff from your book but as the world evolves, I need to start a habit of it.

  • Double up on outdoor activities

    Couldn’t agree more with this. Even in the frigid winters here in NYC, I’ll find enough layers to go running along the Hudson on the way to Chelsea Piers every morning.

Was advice tailored to people with ADHD?

Yes, I would definitely say so. Certainly on decluttering and exercise. I know health & organization/planning is emphasized in most material on productivity, however I think this impacts people ADHD doubly, I can attest from my own experience.

Anders Ericsson, in his book Peak mentions, likens mastering a craft to summiting a mountain: You could either spend a while trying to figure out the path to the top or have a Sherpa show you the way. You sir, are the ADHD Sherpa.

Trivial to insightful ratio?

I was very compelled to write all this to you so I definitely found it much more on the insightful side. Did it blow me away? No (because I read so many self-help books already) , but close enough. What I liked most was how well I could relate to you, that’s a key distinction from any other book I’ve read.

One of my favorite authors Mark Manson puts it this way: Since this book is comprehensive, you’ll find information that’s either trivial or insightful. If it’s insightful great! if it’s trivial, use this as reaffirmation. I think of it kind of doing a math problem and looking at the solutions set just to instill confidence on your approach.

I found this often to be the case, for example, I wasn’t sure about sporadically working out throughout the day. I had tried it once when I was unemployed, even though it was effective stopped because I got a job and it’s awkward to seek out remote areas of a building to do burst workouts. But your emphasis on it re-ensured, it was worth the cost.

How fast did I read it relatively speaking?

I read it faster than any self-improvement book I own and I have at least ~20.

  • Stuff I find helpful in my own routine
  • Meditation Vipassana
  • Exercise, leaning a bit more on the cardio end
  • Preparation & Planning at the hour-level
  • Routines & Habits
  • Nearly a paleolithic diet
  • Reading & Writing
  • Timer cube for time deterministic tasks like cleaning

My favorite part of the book

Often times being as different could lead to poor treatment and/or being ostracized. He reminds us on how to deal with such behavior: At the end of the day you can’t control other people’s actions, but you can only control your own and you should have the courage to be yourself despite what others think.