Structure. It’s a common bullet point in any list of what helps those of us with ADHD get through a day. We know it’s true. We’ve experienced it. But why is it such a great help?
And why is routine not? What’s the difference between routine and structure? They would seem to be the same thing, on the surface.
To figure it out, I took a trip back in time, to when I worked in a factory.
I was a pressman, working with a five man crew on a web printing press. This is the kind of press that prints on paper that reels off of a roll at an alarmingly fast speed. The press not only prints the paper on both sides, but it cuts it and folds it as well.
To make things even more exciting, through the wonders of modern mechanics, we didn’t shut down when a roll was done, we pasted the leading edge of the next roll onto the tail end of the last one. This meant that the press kept running. Or at least it was supposed to.
If the paper tore we shut down to rectify that. If something mechanical broke, we shut down to fix it. If the job was done, we shut down to change to the next one.
I hated shutting down.
It made me look like a company man, but I hated to shut down. Changing over jobs or repairing parts of a press weren’t harder work than printing was. And they weren’t beyond my understanding, but they did involve assessing priorities and keeping track of everything that needed doing.
When the press was running, I knew what needed doing. I knew because I had made it my job to know. I could get everything done and have time to ascertain that everything was right. It wasn’t a routine, it was a structure.
Not far away …
In another part of that same factory there was a bindery, an area where they put the parts we had printed together into books and magazines. The machines were smaller, and they had one operator and a bunch of people who stood in one place beside the machine and put the copies we had printed into piles on top of the machine.
The routine was to pick up a handful of copies, make sure they were straightly stacked and set them on top of the last bunch … then do it again.
Maybe it was because the job didn’t involve as many different things as mine, or maybe it was because you stood in one place, but I vowed that if I was every transferred to the bindery, I’d keep on walking, right out the door.
I didn’t know I had ADHD back then, but I did know that working at a job like that would have been the end of me.
Routine or structure, what’s the difference?
To me, routine seems to mean a set list of steps to be done in a set sequence and time. Structure, on the other hand, would be knowing what needs to be done and understanding why so that it gets done on time, and then being left to do it.
Are they really that different?
On the surface they seem the same. But as hard as they are to differentiate between, I still know I couldn’t do routine.
But I was good at structured work. Oh yeah.