A new epidemic has taken over in the corporate annals. Most of us have heard of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) a neurological disorder that has a genetic component. The new corporate disorder is called ADT (Attention Deficit Trait). Caused by brain overload, it has the primary symptoms of distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience. Overworked executives with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing time. There is a constant feeling of panic and guilt while pretending everything is fine in facing a heavily intensive workday.
Unlike ADD, a neurological disorder that has a genetic component and can be aggravated by environmental and physical factors, ADT springs entirely from the environmental pressures on our time and attention in the 2 past decades. It is brought on by the demands on our time and attention that have exploded over the past two decades.
As with any disease, the first step is diagnosis. Then we as individuals and organizational leaders need to take measures to work towards controlling the root causes that lead to ADT. The perception that the employees unable to keep up the pace are seen as deficient or weak needs to be ousted out of public memory.
ADT can be restricted only by creatively engineering one’s environment and one’s emotional and physical health. As individuals, these are steps to take to control our external environment and building a positive, fear-free emotional atmosphere:
Tips for overworked executives suffering from ADT
- Sleep, a good diet, and exercise are critical for staving off ADT. Many of us abuse our brains by neglecting obvious principles of care and subjecting our bodies to sleep deprivation and a sedentary work-life of sitting at a desk for hours on end that decreases mental acuity. Physical exercise induces the body to produce an array of chemicals that the brain loves and good sleep allows the elemental rest the body and mind need to function at its optimum best.
- Connect with co-workers. How often do you email the person sitting next to you than walk over to the person and connect personally. In a very well known Ivy League college and the tense super-competitive world of academia, there was a rule issued to “ Make time at least every four to six hours for a “human moment,” a face-to-face exchange with a person you like, you are giving your brain what it needs.” This is very true for other professions as well.
- Develop tactics for getting organized in a way that suits you, so that disorganization does not keep you from reaching your goals. Empower an assistant to ride herd on you; insist that he or she tell you to stop e-mailing, get off the telephone, or leave the office.
- When you start your day, don’t allow yourself to get sucked into vortices of e-mail or voice mail or into attending to minor tasks that eat up your time but don’t pack a punch. Attend to a critical task instead. Before you leave for the day, make a list of no more than five priority items that will require your attention tomorrow. Short lists force you to prioritize and complete your tasks.
- Follow the OHIO rule for processing documents quickly. The rule is to only handle it once. If you touch a document, act on it, file it, or throw it away.
- Set up your office in a way that helps mental functioning. If you focus better with music, have music (if need be, use earphones). If you think best on your feet, work standing up or walk around frequently. If doodling or drumming your fingers helps, figure out a way to do so without bothering anyone, or get a fidget toy to bring to meetings.
- If you do begin to feel overwhelmed, try the following mind-clearing tricks. Do an easy rote task like open a dictionary and read a few definitions, or spend five minutes doing a crossword puzzle. Each of these little tasks quiets your lower brain by tricking it into shutting off alarmist messages and puts your frontal lobes back in full control.
ADT is a very real threat to all of us. If we do not manage it, it manages us. But an understanding of ADT and its ravages allows us to apply practical methods to improve our work and our lives. In the end, the most critical step an enlightened leader can take to address the problem of ADT is to name it.
Bringing ADT out of the closet and describing its symptoms removes the stigma and eliminates the moral condemnation companies have for so long mistakenly leveled at overburdened executives and employees.
By giving people permission to ask for help and remaining vigilant for signs of stress, organizations will go a long way toward fostering more productive, well-balanced, and intelligent work environments.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Adapted from the 2005 article, Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform, by Edward M. Hallowell.