Bonnie

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for Attention Deficit Disorder Adults

Bonnie Mincu

Senior Certified ADHD Coach

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Don’t Let Unanswered Questions be a Productivity Killer

ADHD Ambiguity and AnxietyIn both work and everyday life, you sometimes need to make decisions based on imperfect information.  Or take a course of action without knowing all of the facts, and with no guarantee of the outcome.

If you’re the more impulsive type of ADD/ ADHD person who’s not afraid of risk, this isn’t a problem for you.

But if you lean more towards perfectionism, your ADD may have you hyper-focusing on the ambiguity, the questions and unknown factors, allowing them to keep you stuck.  You then escalate the question into a fear of the worst case that could happen if you don’t have the answer. This leads to even more avoidance.

The worst thing you can do is turn a simple “I don’t know” into an endless loop of “What if” rumination. Mental paralysis like this will affect your productivity.

That happened with my ADHD Coaching client Chloe. Ambiguity created anxiety for her whenever she needed to make a decision or write a report in her middle-management job.

 Here’s how to turn ambiguity into an action step.

1. Write down each “unknown” that has you stuck

I asked Chloe to think of all the questions or points of ambiguity that she had regarding a recommendation report she had to write to senior management about a sensitive work situation. The primary one was:

 “I don’t know if I’m evaluating the situation correctly.”

Without feeling confident about this issue, Chloe felt great anxiety. She was afraid that whatever she wrote would cause her own judgment to be questioned.

 

2. Turn each unknown into a question you CAN answer, or an alternative to move forward

Use the powerful word “HOW” to start you off.   Even if your initial question is “I don’t know how to…” you can ask yourself, “HOW can I find out?“

Chloe could start by turning her concern into a question of how to get an answer:

HOW can I be sure I’m evaluating the situation correctly?”

 She could then brainstorm possible ways of getting the answer.

If nothing was feasible, Chloe could then ask herself:

HOW can I move forward WITHOUT certainty of the answer (and not have my judgment questioned)?”

 

3. Turn your answers into actionable steps, where necessary

QUESTION: “How can I be sure I’m evaluating the situation correctly?”
ANSWER: Ask more people who were involved.

  • ACTION: Set up interviews with those people.

QUESTION: “How can I write my recommendation report without certainty?”
ANSWER: State your assumptions and rationale in the report, and include the concern about limited information.

  • ACTION: Start a rough draft of the report, and stop delaying!

 Google it!

For almost any “I don’t know how to…” or “What do I do” question you have (that is not completely job-specific), you can find the answer on a search engine like Google.  And many of the entries that will come up are YouTube videos that show you what to do, step by step.  It’s amazing how many videos have been created to show you exactly how to do – almost anything!

For fun, I tried to think of a couple of questions so far-fetched there would be no answer on it in Google:

  • “How to run PhotoShop on a 1989 Apple?”
  • “How many people in the world are named Emily?” 

And there actually were answers to those!

Take the Search Engine challenge:   Can you think of a question that you’ll find no information about in an online search?

Please Share!

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Author: Bonnie Mincu
Senior Certified ADHD Coach, Founder of "Thrive with ADD," Bonnie has been coaching adults with ADD / ADHD traits since 2001. She has developed numerous training programs to help with the challenges of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

Comments

    Shannon Jager

    Love your blog Bonnie! So here’s a classic example of my ADD: I took the Google challenge and typed “Population of Constantinople in 1250 AD” (I’ve been reading The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry). This wasn’t hard for Google at all and I got a list of pages and pages of references to Constantinople from the Dawn of Time on. I read through a couple, copied part of one into Word for my Files in case I ever wanted to read it again. Started reading another and found a bunch of estimates of populations of major cities of the world throughout history and spent 10 minutes reading through that. I realized that one of the other sources was a reference to a syllabus for some college course, so tracking that down led me to the syllabus for “History 303: Early Medieval and Byzantine History: Constantine through the Crusades,” (taught someplace with a 504 Area Code), so had to read through that since I’m a former college teacher myself, got caught up in the book list for the course and had to check Amazon for a couple, then remembered that I was going to look for a beginning yoga book today and found one for my Kindle. And I still haven’t watered my plants, first thing on my To Do list for today.

    (by the way, estimates for Constantinople’s population in 1250 vary between 250,000 and 150,000. Dropped to about 50,000 a century later due to wars and the Black Plague.)

    Thanks for all your helpful articles. Nice to know I’m not alone!
    Shannon

    Shannon, Your research sounds fascinating!

    You don’t have to be ADD to fall down the rabbit hole of the internet. I probably should have set a RULE for my Google Challenge: Set a timer for 5 minutes!

    Debbie Baumoel

    Great article! You have perfectly named that fog that comes over me that makes me not be able to move forward. Thank you so much!

    That’s a good way to think of it! “The Fog of ADD Ambiguity.”

    MelCho

    explains the paralysis i feel with all of the complicated projects i have to accomplish. i always fear asking other people for help clarifying questions that i don’t know the answer to. it really induces a lot of anxiety and takes forever to get anything done. any tips for how to overcome this, other than just taking the steps needed to get the questions answered and start on the project?

    There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t feel some anxiety asking questions except to do it often enough. (I just read your comment in my “Requesting Permission” post about the critical superior from your past, which could have contributed to your fear.)

    Any new behavior can feel anxiety-producing the first time, or if you only do it rarely and as a last resort. Once you consciously make it a regular part of your repertoire, it will stop feeling like a big deal. However, if you’re a sensitive soul and have to ask questions of an abrasive person, you will have to guard against a tendency to take their reaction or tone of voice personally. Remember, it’s not about you!

    When feelings get in the way of doing your job, you can quickly recognize those feelings, but focus on getting ACTION done as quickly as possible. The best way to get clarification is right in the moment of conversation, or as soon as you read an ambiguous email. If some time has elapsed, write out the way you want to ask the question and then immediately ask it! Sometimes the “just do it” motto really is the final answer.

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