What Productivity Skeletons are in your Closet?
We all have them yet Global Creatives can have a walk-in closet full of skeletons related to work performance and productivity. Keeping up appearances can be exhausting as we expend precious bandwidth keeping these characters from the light of day. This is about concealing what you think can hurt you the most. Lots of negative emotions can exist here like shame, disgust, guilt, fear, anger and resentment... and every time we pass this proverbial closet it reminds us of all those negative thoughts or feelings and as a result impacts our ability to get things done.
The hard truth
It's likely that you are not doing a great job concealing these unsavory characters. Humans (your co-workers) are perceptive and results are hard to fake. The very action of keeping the door closed on these spooky critters can inhibit positive change in these areas (meaning: positive change is extremely difficult in the presence of negative emotions). Stepping past the initial emotional response for someone with ADHD can be a richly rewarding discovery of executive function breakdown. Business school 101 - Understanding the dilemma is the first step to locating a viable solution. Only when you learn about your executive function challenges will you develop sound work-arounds and, in addition, address some of the negative emotions associated with the challenges.
Here are a few skeletons that my professional ADHD clients struggle with:
A relatively inert pile of not-so-urgent work that is starting to show signs of rot and decay. Like carrion on the side of the road in need of some scavenger activity, it can be hard to ignore the stench of this work over a period of time. Additionally, the guilt associated with not addressing these items makes them take on an additional inertia that is difficult to overcome. The longer it sits the harder it is to move.
Commonly referred to as fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. The chronic lateness. The lack of adequate preparation. The last minute completion that is so hard to hide. It's easy to want to pin responsibility for your challenges here on others - a demanding client, a jammed printer - but the common denominator is your own fire fighting/crisis behavior that ultimately impacts your own efficiency.
You don't like the way your brain works and doesn't work. As an externally wired group who naturally compares to others we can wish for any brain other than ours especially a 'neuro-typical' brain. In keeping this under wraps you are actually hiding your natural tendencies and strengths from others and yourself. This is one of the most damaging and limiting skeletons.
This may actually be a real thing in the closet. To keep the appearance of a clean productive space you literally throw everything into a drawer, a closet - anything that hides the stuff from view. In reality most of the stuff in the closet is likely not important but this habit reveals big holes in any paper (and electronic) filing system. Closely related to Scramble-itis.
A very real manifestation of a tapped pre-frontal cortex. Overwhelm tips the individual into a frozen posture basically erecting a dam across a flowing river of necessary decisions. This is a terrible affliction for someone in a high stakes decision-making position and is related to a not so effective coping strategy of delaying till the absolute last minute (procrastination).
You snap at someone or something — the frozen computer, your cracked iPhone screen, your colleague, your customer — then feel immediate regret for doing so. Trusting relationships take years to develop and one snap or outburst can undue those years of careful work. Global Creatives struggle with regulating emotions because executive functions are responsible for managing feelings and emotions. Matched with impulsivity we can do or say something we immediately regret.
What to Do
Skeletons like any boogie man get their power from staying hidden and in the dark. But they are only powerful behind the door, feeding off our fear of the unknown. If we look past the emotions we feel about each of these ailments we can dig into the cognitive challenges related to ADHD. A quick disclaimer - I am talking about emotions associated with and generated from continuous ADHD challenges. If you struggle with emotions then seeking professional support is always a good move.
With respect to ADHD it is highly likely that each of these skeletons has their origin in executive function breakdowns. The feelings we assign to them are additions we add over time with each successive failure or perception of failure.
Acknowledge the closet. Acceptance is a powerful gesture here and a first step to change. Acknowledge the feelings associated with the closet and recognize that some are connected to ADHD and past work performance. Also acknowledge that there are likely emotions not connected to ADHD and past performance. Acknowledge and set aside for this exercise.
Breathe and open the door.*
Let them out and let them be scary for a moment and then like any skeleton in the light of day, they will fall to the ground in a heap of bones!
At this step you must activate your inner forensic anthropologist. Think a mix of Richard Leaky and Quincy ME (or your favorite CSI character)- professionals who, led by training, fact and curiosity, study human behavior through a pile of bones. Don't laugh. This is actually an approach based in neuroscience. You need to access areas of your brain not primarily governed by emotion. Leading with curiosity and focusing on facts can help achieve this.
Get curious. Ask yourself these questions:
What makes it scary?
What is the emotional response it elicits in me?
How much of this is psychological and how much is cognitive (executive function)?
What are some possible executive function breakdown points contributing to my lack of success?
An example: Backlog Guilt occurs because most of the backlog is stuff no one is asking for and I am wired for external expectations. I need a way (process, support) to address items only important to me!
How would things be better if I had a proactive solution for this dilemma?
What resources are available to me? Who might be a resource?
If I strip away the emotions I feel about this dilemma, what obstacles still stand in my way?
Acknowledge your progress. When you approach difficult challenges in a more constructive way, two things can happen:
Your perspective shifts from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
Your feelings start to change about the actual issue, often diminishing in degree and frequency.
This topic and related exercises are all in the realm of awareness - clarity of opportunity and resources but also being clear on what is holding you back and addressing obstacles head on.
*If you are not prepared to 'open the closet' on your own then hire a professional counselor to open the closet with you. Know your own limitations!