Procrastination and Throwing Switches
Tom is sweating. He is sweating because he is feeling the heat coming down from upper management. Tom's boss Jim has asked Tom for a proposal for an important ongoing customer, two weeks ago. Now Jim, a fair manager and a supporter of Tom, is feeling the heat himself. The problem for Tom is that Tom is already behind on the last project long over due for the same customer. Tom has ADHD and struggles with follow-through. A vicious cycle too common in many work places begins to unfold. Tom has been putting off the completion of the project for months. His team has moved on and now he needs key information from a contractor who has moved on too. Tom is stuck and instead of communicating his status to Jim, Tom avoids Jim. Tom makes excuses and plays a dangerous shell game to keep one step ahead of Jim. Unfortunately, all of Tom's time, attention and energy is now focused on avoiding Jim (and the truth) with nothing left to dig out of the hole he has created.
Why does Tom put himself in this impossible position? From the outside ADHD looks like a breakdown of discipline, integrity and resolve. From the inside it is very different. The challenges related to ADHD are mechanical in nature - challenges with management and regulation in the executive function part of the brain. Reliable mechanisms rely on throwing the right switch at the right time to start a process, stop a process or change a process (transition). ADHD disrupts the ability to 'throw switches' effectively. Months ago, Tom struggled with locating and throwing the right switches to finish a task in a timely fashion. Now the stakes are higher for Tom. Ironically, more pressure creates more challenge to throw switches effectively. Pressure takes executive functions offline. Now Tom can't throw switches to, first, stop the behavior that is not working (avoidance) and, second, start engaging in behavior to rectify the situation (engage Jim). His locomotive continues to rumble down a track that ultimately does not serve Tom's agenda.
Think about doing a task. You (switch) have new awareness of a need, you (switch) make a plan, you (switch) engage the plan and you (switch) stop engaging the plan to a new completion point and (switch) new awareness. From start to finish we make multiple transitions through a task. Living with ADHD is often knowing the switch to throw but not always throwing it in a timely manner. If Tom is in an overwhelm state focusing on juggling tasks but not engaging tasks to completion, he is not making progress. Furthermore, if Tom is down in the engine room he is not driving the train. He may not be picking up important cues from his manager to seek collaborative support from the now long-gone contractor. ADHD makes one unaware, disengage and incomplete. As we can see with Tom, a breakdown in one area can create a domino effect in other areas.
Looking further at this scenario through the lens of the AEC Model can help Tom understand what is actually going on (Awareness) in order to make a different plan and execute that plan (Engagement). It can also help him better understand how his ADHD shows up at work. Tom has breakdowns in all three areas of AEC. He has a lack of Awareness of all the Engagement around covering/evading/avoiding for all of his lack of Completion. Tom is so busy covering his tracks he fails to (switch) stop and realize the futility of his actions. The inability to create effective awareness, engagement and completion has Tom super busy but hardly productive.
When Tom stops the bogus engaging and accepts that what he is doing is not working, he will gain a new accurate awareness. From new awareness, new and powerful engagement and completion is possible.