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I Believe I Can Fly!

Working remotely or managing remote employees with ADHD - anyone relate? As a leader, how do you coach your employees to stay productive?
Work life balance

It’s Tuesday morning, I get up, check my never-ending inbox and my calendar for the day. My to-do list left over from yesterday has multiplied like Gremlins who jumped in a pool and were fed after midnight. I have a sip of Red Bull and think, why I am drinking Red Bull? it’s so bad for me. An email from my boss pops up on screen…I add it to my to-do list. I chug the rest of the energy drink hoping it gives me magic wings as advertised. 

Then… I think about having wings and where I might fly instead of having to tackle the day’s work. During the time I have contemplated traveling the world with my newly sprouted wings, my screen saver comes on it’s a photo of the Eiffel Tower. 

I think, Ooh… that would be a great place to start. But wait, COVID is still a thing… and work. 

I realize my little exercise in astral projection has only managed to take my focus from the ever-multiplying items on my to-do list and now I’m feeling even more pressure because of lost time. 

Working from home during all the craziness and change is an adjustment for everyone. But for many of us who are in the ADHD club, sometimes these adjustments can compound the pressure of everyday work life.  It can be a constant struggle to remain productive with ADHD, even more so working remotely. For organizations, managing employees with ADHD adds another layer to the challenge of leading a remote work force. After spending almost half of my career working in a virtual environment, I thought I’d attempt to bring some awareness to those who lead and manage employees with ADHD and possibly help others in the same boat feel like they’re not alone out there in the ADHD ocean…

Let’s talk about Focus. The issue with focus for many with ADHD is not whether we have focus or can focus but being able to direct it and maintain it constructively especially under the mounting pressure of organizational change and uncertainty.  Often, I find working from home does wonders for my focus. There are few distractions and I can settle into my space and just hit the “Go” button. However, some with ADHD, myself included, can experience “Hyper-focus” and become engrossed in a project or task or…. astral projection…. In some cases, I like to consider this a “super-power” (hyper-focus not astral projection) in other cases, such as when I get “sucked down a rabbit hole” not so much! 

Several years ago, while working from home, I was preparing for a sales meeting with a Pharma company that was studying certain treatments based on blood type. As I started doing my research about the company’s research, I became engrossed. I completely lost all track of time and realized I had been reading medical journals and clinical studies about blood-typing for 8 hours straight… without a break. I finally looked up, eyes blurred and dry rendering me unable to blink. My head now jam-packed with useless, but interesting, facts including conspiracy theories about red-heads, negative RH factor and aliens (really! look it up). Facts which incidentally still take up valuable real estate in my brain. Wait, I feel like I am forgetting something. Oh right! My sales call. That was supposed to start 30 minutes ago. Ugh. 

 I called my prospect hoping I hadn’t blown my opportunity to win the business. He was annoyed that I showed so little respect for his time. I sheepishly explained what had happened that made me lose track of time. Skeptically, he quizzed me, then laughed hysterically, and confided that he has been in that situation himself, also admitting his ADHD. 

The call ended up being great (and I got the contract), but it was still an embarrassing reminder of my struggle with focus.  

At the time I had never disclosed my ADHD to my boss or asked for any coaching or accommodations to help me be more productive.  I read books and talked about it with friends who I knew had some of the same issues. I found ways to help keep myself on track, which worked great provided I stayed self-disciplined enough to apply them. But the everyday occupational challenges that exist for us with ADHD, myself included, are on-going. 

I am fortunate now to work for a company that focuses on Leadership Development, Coaching and HR Consulting. Having the insight, understanding, and support from my manager and a cadre of colleagues who are professional coaches make a world of difference. 

I often think back to the times in my career when I didn’t have the same type of support.  I didn’t let anyone know about my issues with focus and hyper-focus, but I wonder if I had, would my colleagues know how to support me or recognize the challenges? The workplace has evolved, and companies are understanding more and more how important it is to work with talented, skilled, and experienced professionals who just might need a few “reasonable” accommodations and understanding. I wonder how different my experiences would have been if I had reached out long ago and let the people I worked with and for know how they could provide those for me. Maybe if I had, I might actually be able to fly by now… 

Jill Seeley is the Vice President, Talent Management Services at Newland Associates, a Career Partners International Firm (CPI)

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