Understanding Colleagues with a little help from ADHD

Brains are fascinating things. Millions of neurons pass through grey fleshy bits, producing thoughts, insights, hunger, joy, and work for others! It turns out that we are all different, and the neuroscience is starting to explore how these differences occur. Not only that, but structures are being discovered, explaining why we are all different. There are benefits to these variations. You might have encountered some of these in the wild:

  • Do you work with creative souls that are great at thinking of the big picture but rather lose focus when it comes to details? Perhaps an Architect or Senior Developer or two…
  • Someone that appears driven by a motor (and copious supplies of caffeine), but is simultaneously at risk of burnout? Hurrah for your Project Manager!
  • A colleague that is forever losing and forgetting things, but equally comes up with new ways to look at problems? Ye-ha for the Salesforce Consultant!
  • Really really poor at time management but crikey, when they focus they seem to get a week’s worth of work done in a few hours? We love our Developers and Admins!

The above person(s) could have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – these characteristics are often two sides of the same coin; you don’t get one set without the other! For the sake of accuracy, there are also other potential causes for the above characteristics but right here and now we’re going to focus on ADHD which affects around 10% of the world’s population (both females and males).

It doesn’t make them – or us, if you include this author – better or worse, but does mean that we are different to 90% of the population. ADHD comes with significant differences which can benefit you, your company and your perception of the world, but equally has a few hurdles that need to be overcome en route.

Defining ADHD

ADHD is a disorder that is defined through analysis of behaviour. People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with day-to-day functioning and/or development.

It’s genetic, in that it cannot be “cured”, although symptoms may improve with age. Many adults who have been diagnosed with the condition at a young age continue to experience problems as they get older. Equally adults haven’t always been identified as having ADHD when they were children – even though they did have it – purely as a result of diagnostics being better today than previously.

Worth knowing: ADHD is typically diagnosed by analysis of a list of symptoms as well as surrounding factors. People some have just a few symptoms, whilst others may have the full set.

What Difference Does It Make

If someone has ADHD, sometimes life can be a bit of a struggle. We – including approximately 10% of the readers of ApexHours – can be highly successful in life but still face challenges and frustrations.

But now we have a name for the term, we can seek out solutions too.

  • Have lots of excess energy that is getting in the way? Fidget cubes make a great gift! 
  • Struggling to get into the “zone”? Find an accountability partner (“body doubling”), someone to start and end the day with, to whom you can tell them what you are going to do, and then show them what you have done.
  • Have a thought that is bursting to get out of your mind, and you’re worried you might forget it? Jot it down on a piece of paper, so the thought is captured and you can bring it up at an appropriate point later.

The point being, that there are frustrations, but ways to deal with it too.

What’s (some of) the advantages then?

A significant advantage is a different perspective. When problems (coding, architecture, or otherwise) are looked at from just one angle, only one set of solutions emerge. It’s like looking at the palm of your hand, but never the back of your hand! ADHDers tend to look at issues from different angles than the general population and come up with fresh perspectives and make connections in ways that others don’t, or certainly not as quickly.

As alluded to earlier we can also be bursting with energy, particularly excited by new and innovative challenges. Sometimes this can lead to increased risk-taking, but channelled correctly this can lead to new product launches and other forms of entrepreneurship.

Hyperfocus: When we get interested in something we really get interested in something, perhaps leading us to grand feats of concentration, learning and problem solving.

Making the best of these character traits, helps everyone win. Your colleague / friend / employee is less frustrated and you get the best out of them. By working with them – rather than enforcing a template that doesn’t necessarily work – they are happier and you have less to manage and work around.

So what can I do?

It’s important to recognise that one size doesn’t fit all. This is equally true regardless of whether you have ADHD or you think a colleague does. Even – or especially – people with ADHD can show themselves very differently, just like the way that people have different personalities and interests.

Just because something works really well for you, doesn’t mean that it will work well for someone else. As long as the job gets done to the quality level you need, does it matter?

For example, perhaps someone is great at programming but useless at documentation. You could pair them up with someone who loves nothing better than documentation – both parties win and you get a better product as the end result!

Perhaps the best step is to sit down and ask someone what works best for themselves. This could be a colleague, a manager, someone you line manage, or even a partner. Come with an open mind to the conversation – rather than solutions you have already decided ahead of time – and you will be amazed at how all parties can benefit, including a huge reduction in stress and tension!

Want to learn more?

There are various quick self-tests out there on the internet, which don’t prove that you have ADHD but give you an indication of whether it’s likely.

Digging deeper, ADDA, based in the US, offers a free introduction course. Being honest – this author finds the volume of their emails a bit overwhelming. Take it at a pace that feels right for you. In the UK, ADHD Aware offers resources from a British perspective; there are also a number of self-help groups around the country – Facebook, Eventbrite and Meetup are usually the best places to look.

One of my favourite YouTube channels, with plenty of strategies, is the easily digestible How to ADHD, but there is plenty more information widely available online.

Within our Salesforce community there’s the ADHD NeuroForce Trailblazer Group (launched by Yumi Kawai), and I blog about ADHD quite often; in particular I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of people talking about this topic at the various Dreamin community conferences.

We Are Family

Finally, the broader picture. ADHD is one of a family of diagnoses called neurodivergence, which includes Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Autism, Tourette Syndrome and Giftedness. Overall these affect around 20% of the population, and if you have one neurodivergence, you are statistically more likely than average to have other ones too! We’ll be specifically discussing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the near future since that’s very common in the Salesforce/IT sector too.

Speaking of family (and friends), a huge thank you to Lilith van Biesen and Florence Vandenbroucke for help with the preparation of this article, and to Amit Chaudhary for chasing me to get it done!

Paul Ginsberg
Paul Ginsberg

Enabler & Facilitator, Neurodivergency Advocate

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One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have struggled with this for a long time. It got worse as my career became more demanding of my attention. I can share some tips I use that work for me.

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