Functioning with ADHD in an IT world

So I’ve got a reputation of been a productive guy. I’ve heard through the grape vine that some of the people in my company think I don’t sleep. I work constantly. I have no life. It’s funny the things that are said out there.

So in an effort to dispel the myths, and to possibly inspire others, I’m going to dish out some of my secrets.

 I’m ADHD.

I suspect that a lot of IT Professionals can relate to a lot of the ADHD traits. In fact, I think that our industry attracts a lot of AD/H/D’res because of this industries requirement for a fractured attention span and the ability to shift focus on the fly.  I’m sure we can all relate to the ” I’m in the middle of working on this OSPF problem and I’ve got the solution right now, just let me write this down… where is that pen… hmm… what was I saying again… … Squirrel!”

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One of the common misconceptions about ADD is that people with it are unable to concentrate. The truth is, that the pendulum swings both ways. We can be hyper or hypo attentive. In plain english, we are either unable to focus at all, or unable to shift focus.  In our industry, the ability to sustain high focus for long periods of time can be a blessing when trying to troubleshoot a difficult problem. As well, the ability to shift focus on a dime and concentrate for short bursts on a new problem is also extremely useful when you are in a firefight and things are coming at you from all sides.

It’s sad to me how our school systems and parents today treat ADD as a disease that needs to be “treated” with medication. Especially when this is the very “disability” that I attribute a large part of my success to.

How do I use ADHD to my advantage?

Living with ADHD does require putting some tools, habits, and processes in place so that you don’t fall into the traps.  Like so many things in life, I think that most important part is just accepting it for what it is.  I don’t fight how I am, I flow with it.

Don’t fight the days when I can’t concentrate.

Please don’t tell my boss this, but there are some days that I’m sure I don’t get anything done at all. These are the days when I just can’t focus on anything no matter what I do. They happen. So what do I do? I water my social networks and I catch up on podcasts.

What do I mean by this? I pick up the phone and I call people I haven’t talked to in awhile. I tweet. I blog. I log into linked in and see if there are any suggestions for contacts who are not in my network. I call people I talk to all the time and argue over frame types, whether or not programatic nms’s qualify as SDN, whether or not VxLAN are complimentary or in competition. Whether or not network professionals will have a place in the world in 5 years. We argue about anything and everything. I ask about their families.

You get the picture. Basically. I pick up the phone and reach out and touch the people who have helped me grow professionally, intellectually, and emotionally over the years.

This might seem like I’m wasting time, but I promise you that when I have a problem that’s outside of my areas of expertise. I know who’s working in what areas, who’s got what special skills and who I can leverage for help.  I know who I can call just to bounce a crazy idea of off, and most importantly, I get into an environment where I’m supposed to shift from one subject to another which helps me feel sane on a day when I just can’t stay focused.

On these days, I’ve been known to go to the gym. Go for walks and catch up on industry news and technical content. Whether this is the packet pushers podcasts, something from iTunes U, the audio tracks from the http://www.INE.com CCIE written videos that I ripped. ( Yes… I paid for them! ), or sometimes even just pulling up the Khan Academy app and learning how to calculate net present value. Anything is up for grabs and I just go with what I’m inspired with on that particular day. Sometimes, I just unplug from tech and  listen to an audiobook ( currently game of thrones A storm of swords ) and let something that’s been causing me trouble muddle around in my head.  You would be surprised how often I come up with a solution by the time I get back from my walk.

I’ve found that on these kinds of days, I am usually the most creative. Ironically, these are also the days when I am totally unable to act on that creativity.

So I write things down. I used to use post-its, but I have recently switched to mostly electronic formats. I would love to say I’ve settled on one tool, but to be honest, I use apples notes app ( nice that I can synch these to outlook, to my Mac, or to my iPad/iPhone combo. ). I use Evernote, and occasionally, I still use post its.

admission of guilt: I would love to say it’s because I’m getting more ecologicaly aware, but to be honest, it’s because I kept losing the post its. 

Make Hay while the Sunshines

When I have one of those days that I am hyper focused. I work. hard. non-stop. through lunch. I produce documentation. I lab up problems that I’m having issues with, and I keep at it until I get it done. Sometimes my wife has to come into my office at 6:00pm to let me know that I missed dinner because I’m so focused.

On these kinds I open up my notes, I pick whatever is the most pressing, or often just what I feel like doing that day, and I do it. Until it’s done. no matter how late.

The other thing I do is to look at my upcoming project work and see if there’s anything I can prepare in advance. Many people with ADHD are habitual procrastinators. One of the best things I’ve had to learn how to do is to become aware of my ADHD mood and to tackle things which are not due for a couple of weeks far in advance.

This is tough. It’s really tough. But I’ve found that when I’m hyper-focused, all I have to do is to jump in and after 5 minutes or so, I don’t have worry about it anymore. My ADHD takes over and I get the task finished.

Finding your Balance

ADHD is just a different way of thinking. It’s funny to me that people have focused so much on suppressing the symptoms when they should be focused more on simply ridding the waves.  To be honest, I usually go through waves where I will be either hyper-focused, or hypo-focused for about a week at a time. So it actually works out pretty well.

Sometimes, I end up with a project deadline when I’m in a hypo-focused cycle and I’ll admit, it’s tough. But life is tough and I don’t believe in using the “I’m sorry I have a disability” is an excuse for not getting your job done. The trick is just pushing through, planning ahead and finding ways to use your ADHD to your advantage.

Tools

I think I’ll save the tools subject for a future post. There are quite a few things I’ve put in place as far as software utilities, processes, etc.. to try and work with my ADHD instead of against it. Hopefully, sharing some of my coping mechanisms might help to inspire someone else.

Final Thoughts

To me, ADHD is like so many other things in life. It is a blessing or a curse. Which one it is to you depends completely on how you perceive it and how you react to it.

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