Tedium + Detail = Stress at Work!
My ADHD Coaching client, Amy, really struck home with a comment she made last week. She said:
“Doing well at a high-level skill is easy for me. It’s focusing on no-brainer administrative work that’s stressful!”
Amy is a contract specialist for a large financial company. For years, she’s handled complex legal documents for her firm. When reading a contract, Amy’s ability to hyper-focus on the details was phenomenal. No legal loophole escaped her attention. But last year, the Evil Gods of Career Havoc handed Amy a project straight out of Administrative Hell.
Amy’s Project from Hell
Amy was tasked with overseeing the processing, throughout the year, of enormous amounts of confidential administrative financial data: personally entering it into a database, following up on it, and ensuring that hundreds of employee records were kept up to date. This project did not require intelligence or accounting or legal skill. It did require a great deal of patience, an ability to follow through on administrative process, and a sustained focus on maintaining numerical accuracy.
In other words, the requirements of this project were a perfect fit for qualities that Amy, as someone with ADD / ADHD, did NOT have!
Most stressful for Amy was knowing that her boss was counting on her, as a top performer, to do well at this very visible responsibility. He didn’t understand at all how this “easy” task could be difficult for someone as smart and capable as Amy. Amy felt that her attempts to explain or to get help were perceived as whining.
Amy procrastinated on keeping detailed records throughout the year, putting in a minimum of effort on the project while concentrating on her “real” work. Then, when it came close to the time for an internal audit at her firm, things got ugly. It became apparent that records that were less than meticulous weren’t good enough. Putting in 80-hour weeks wasn’t sufficient to catch up on the amount of missing data that had slipped through the cracks all year.
For the first time in a 30-year career, Amy got a negative performance review and a “warning” in her personnel file.
Fear-Based Adrenaline Creates Focus
This past month, focus has no longer been a problem for Amy. Under the high-adrenaline stress of fear, Amy has become obsessed with the project, unable to sleep at night even though she’s exhausted. Now, instead of procrastination, Amy is driven by perfectionism. She realizes she’s spending far too long on the appearance of the spreadsheets, hyper-focusing on unimportant details like font size and color.
I’m concerned about Amy. I had intended this post to be about ADD and stress, how we often find work that’s easy for other people to be the most difficult. In writing it, I realize that it says more about ADD / ADHD in the workplace, and how we tend to deal with things we find uncomfortable, or that go against our grain.
As someone with ADD / ADHD, it’s important to be in a job that’s the right fit for you. But when you’re tasked with something that’s a wrong fit, it’s critical to develop a workable strategy for performing the task rather than avoiding it. That’s where ADHD Coaching can be invaluable!