Savannah Cherry is Director of Marketing and New Business at Slingshot. We spoke with her to discuss her method to build a productive daily routine, how organizations can help individuals with ADHD thrive, and much more.
Thank you so much for joining our interview series! Before we get started, we would love to “get to know you” a bit better. What is your ‘backstory’, and how did you get started?
I’ve always been fascinated with how the mind works, but I knew I didn’t want to go into psychology. After watching both my parents start and grow their own businesses, I decided to take my love of understanding people and my love of telling stories and turn it into a marketing career.
In college, I was a Digital Marketing intern for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, and started working at Slingshot as a Marketing Manager in January 2020. 6 months later, I was promoted to Director of Marketing and New Business.
Can you share an interesting story or anecdote that happened to you, and which you think helped direct your career?
I was bullied growing up… a lot! I was always different from most of the people in my class or on my sports teams, so finding friends was hard. My escape was reading and writing. It felt like entering a world where I felt accepted. As I got older, I wanted to bring that part of me into my career. At Slingshot, I tell stories and share the fun-side of software through video and blogs. It really feels as though the inner-child in me grew up to do what I wanted to: share stories that make people happy and bring them together.
In a way, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. Is there a person who helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I of course have to say my father. He’s always supported me in anything I wanted to do. Study abroad? Go for it! Leaving a sport I loved for my well-being? Whatever you need! His philosophy has always been to guide rather than push. That mentality helped me grow and move on into this chapter of my life.
He may not like it, but my co-worker Dan Murphy has also been a huge supporter in my career so far. He’s taken me under his wing and guided me through the tech industry. When I didn’t know something, he was there to explain. When I made mistakes, he was there to talk through it. I can never thank him enough for all the guidance and knowledge he’s shared with me.
Excellent. Let’s now move on to the core of our interview. For many of us, the pandemic fundamentally altered the way we work. Most notably, many teams have started working remotely, which is very different from the more traditional office environment. In your experience, has this shift negatively impacted people living with ADHD?
I have ADD (which is now called Inattentive ADHD), which many people think is the same thing as ADHD. I think it’s important to start by sharing the differences. The biggest difference is hyperactivity or impulsiveness; while I exhibit all the other symptoms, I’m very risk averse and avoid spontaneity.
For me, the shift to working from home has actually helped me. It’s easier to focus at my home with just myself, as opposed to an entire office with different conversations and meetings happening all day. However, I can see where not having a rigid environment could hinder someone else with ADHD.
Interesting. What would you say are the most significant benefits of remote work for neurodiverse professionals?
I think the reason I’ve done so well at home is that early on I set boundaries for myself and my work. Taking breaks when needed helps me refocus, but not letting those breaks be unproductive. I’ll meditate, get a cup of tea, or walk my dog. That way, I’m in a more efficient mental state when I get back to working (as opposed to drowsy after scrolling Twitter).
Also, I have to say that someone that helps me focus is fidget toys. I never tried them out pre-pandemic because I thought they were childish or would distract me more. Now, I don’t know how I got through meetings without them. They help my mind relax and focus on what’s happening in front of me.
Overall, as a marketing expert, how would you evaluate the impact of these changes on the way we work? Is it mostly positive or negative?
When I made marketing content before the pandemic, there was more of a focus on what we do: we build custom software. Now, I try to focus on who we are. The pandemic has shown me that people want and need connection. We can build that connection by talking about what we as a company like to build and why we do what we do. It’s not so much a customer vs business relationship, but two people trying to connect emotionally.
As some organizations make the move toward making these changes permanent, what are some recommendations that you would make for ADHD professionals, particularly those in positions of responsibility?
Keep doing what you’ve been doing [during the pandemic]. There’s no need to try and rush back to the ‘old ways.’ I’ve learned more about myself and the way my mind works thanks to quarantine and the pandemic. Was it awful? Of course; it’s been devastating for everyone. But it’s important to take what we’ve learned and move in a new direction. I still plan to set boundaries for my mental health, take breaks when I need it, and bring those fidget toys to meetings. I didn’t do those pre-pandemic, and they’re coming with me moving into our ‘new normal’.
Drilling down a bit, a common quest among ADHD individuals is finding the ideal daily routine that provides productive focus without neglecting incoming responsibilities as they arrive. What do you think is a good baseline to start planning a good day at work, and at home?
I want to start by saying that everyone has their own experiences, so you need to find what works best for you. What works best for me is setting realistic daily and weekly goals, both for at home and in the office. I understand exactly what I can get done in a day’s work, and don’t push myself beyond that in terms of tasks and responsibilities. At home, I give myself time each evening to get productive things done, but also give myself time to relax.
We are big believers in the power of prioritization. With what frequency do you think someone should review their day-to-day priorities? And what are some good tips for deciding what is your next task, when you can choose among literally hundreds of options?
The biggest tip I can give is keep a paper planner. When there’s something physical to go off of, I’m much more likely to follow that as opposed to a list on my phone. I write things down based on what they are (tasks, events, meetings) on a weekly basis (or as things come up). Then, at the start of each work day, I order them by priority. That way, I can be more flexible if priorities change, but can still make sure I remember everything I need to do.
On a more personal note, how do you get yourself in the zone for productive work? Any tricks, techniques or aids that you can share?
Find which time of day you’re most productive. Not everyone has this luxury, but Slingshot allows us to pick our own start/end times. For me, I’m at my most creative in the late mornings (10-12-ish). If I need to write a blog or script a video, I’ll try and do it then. Don’t force yourself to be creative; it’s not that easy.
But if you have to be creative or productive on the spot, I always find an activity that jumpstarts my brain in the right direction will help. A quick writing prompt, some basic math problems, or a crossword can be like that pre-workout stretch.
As part of your job, I imagine you have to talk to people outside your organization on a regular basis. For some, this is incredibly difficult and mentally taxing. Do you have any recommendations to overcome this type of anxiety?
Oh, boy! This is still my biggest mental hurdle. I care so much about other people and their opinions that I worry about every word. This isn’t fair to yourself; you have to give yourself room to mess up and grow. We all do it!
The biggest piece of advice when talking to potential clients or partners came from Dan Murphy: “When you go into a meeting, don’t think, ‘I hope they like me.’ Instead, say, ‘I hope I like them.’” This helps get the focus off of yourself and your flaws and instead lets you center on the person and problem you might be able to help solve. While we may think it, not many people (if any) go into a conversation hoping that you’ll mess up or say the wrong thing. Everyone wants the other to succeed just as much as themselves.
At a systemic level, what do you think organizations can do to help employees with ADHD thrive at work, and contribute at the top of their capacity? What are some DOs and DON’Ts?
As an organization and community, we need to break down the barriers and stereotypes around mental illness (in this case, specifically ADHD). There isn’t one way to suffer from mental illness; everyone’s experience is their own. Automatically assuming something about a person based on their mental illness is the same as discriminating against someone for a physical disability. When we start to see mental illness as an injury similar to a physical one, we’ll be moving in the right direction.
DO open up a conversation on the specifics of how someone with ADD functions and what they need to be successful. DON’T assume you know what’s best for someone else, and also DON’T assume no one in your office has it. Chances are, someone does, but they just haven’t felt comfortable enough to share it.
What are some specific tools or techniques that you recommend in order to stay organized and productive? Can you give a concrete example of how to integrate them?
So I’m a very tangible person; I need to see it to understand it. One thing I do that helps (as I mentioned earlier) is having a paper planner. If I can write out everything I need to get done in a week, it helps me to remember it.
Prioritization is also an issue that we’ve touched on: everything seems pressing and important to me some days. When this happens, you need to step back and decide what’s most important. Have a supervisor or higher-up? Ask them what they see as the most important area for you to tackle, and have that area be your top priority. Are you that higher-up? Think back to your business values and goals. What’s the most important one? Tackle tasks that help address that.
Lastly, take breaks. If you work for a good company, they’ll understand that taking a 5 or 10 minute break in the middle of the day is better for your productivity and mental health. But don’t go scroll on TikTok in the break room. Have a quick meditation or have a self-introspection. When you’re overwhelmed, walking away from it completely will just make it worse when you get back. Take some time to breathe, think through it, and come back.
Getting a bit more serious now. I read about lots of people who went through their young years thinking they were incapable of great work, only to learn as adults about their ADHD. This finding is often liberating, and it enables them to understand how their mind works, and how to best deal with it. What are some red flags for someone who has not been diagnosed, but who suspects they suffer ADHD?
This all circles back to one of my first points: I was different from everyone else. To try and fit in, I hid the parts of me that I now know are due to anxiety and ADD. The first part of that question hits home for me: I did believe that I would never reach the lofty goals set for me, so I pushed away the ‘bad’ parts.
If you or someone you know feels that the way you learn or experience the world isn’t ‘right,’ you may have ADD. You’re not lazy, or forgetful, or stupid, or annoying. You are a person who processes things unlike anyone else around you, and that’s perfectly fine.
For someone who ticks some of these boxes, what next steps would you recommend? Read more, or talk to someone? When is it a good time to seek professional help?
If you think you have ADHD or any form of mental illness/disability, talk with someone. A parent, a friend, or even a doctor. It can be super liberating to find out that what you thought was ‘wrong’ with you is just the parts of you that aren’t ‘normal.’ Once you truly know what’s going on, you can put boundaries and measures in place that help elevate rather than hinder you.
Ok, we’re winding down now. Something I like to ask everyone: Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson” quote? How has it been relevant to you in your life?
There’s a quote from Marilyn Monroe that I think back to a lot: “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies, so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart, so better things can fall together.”
There’s no going back and ‘getting rid’ of my mental issues or the situations I’ve faced. While horrible at the time, I’ve grown and learned from everything. Everything happens for a reason that has gotten me to where I am now and to where I’m headed.
Finally, my favorite part of the interview, the “rapid fire” session! Short questions with one-line responses:
- In the recent past, what book has impacted you the most?
Reading for fun can be super hard as an ADD adult! I will say the piece of entertainment that affected me the most recently is (finally) finishing WandaVision on Disney+. It teaches so much about grief and loss that touched me.
- Coffee or tea?
I have a cup of coffee every morning, so I have to say coffee. On the weekend, I cuddle up with my dog and sip my coffee on the couch. It’s a great start to my day (when I can).
- What was your childhood dream job?
Don’t laugh: I wanted to be a music video producer in middle school!
- What public figure do you admire?
I’d have to say Johnny Depp. He went through so much physical and emotional abuse in his past relationship, but still tried to be the bigger person. It says a lot about forgiving someone.
- What advice would you give to your younger self?
People’s opinions don’t matter! As long as you’re happy with yourself, or you’re not hurting anyone, who cares?
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find Slingshot on our social accounts (@heyslingshot on most platforms), our website and weekly blog at yslingshot.com, and our bi-weekly newsletter Daredevil Diaries. I am also on LinkedIn, of course.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
About the interviewer: Pablo Diaz-Gutierrez is the founder and CTO of Appfluence, an award-winning software company that focuses on helping busy professional make the most of their limited time, better organizing emails, projects and meetings. Priority Matrix has been recommended by ADHD experts as a useful tool to help manage time, tasks and life priorities. Appfluence is producing this interview series to highlight the tools and techniques that top experts find most effective. If you would like to suggest a new topic or interviewee, please reach out to us.