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Adult ADHD’s Dirty Little Secret Revealed

adhd-heroWhat did I accomplish all day? Many of my adult ADHD coaching clients and learners ask themselves this question every day. Heck! You’re likely asking yourself the same question today.

What’s most frustrating is that while you came into work fully intending to tackle the three-inch pile of work in your inbox, and you didn’t stop all day, now you’re leaving the office with a six-inch pile! To add fuel to the fire, you’re leaving two hours past quitting time. What happened?

You’re “Suffering” from OCB

Many adults with ADHD engage in what scientists call “organizational citizenship behavior.” You helped person after person; you put out fires for your team, you saved your boss’s day and you even “rescued” another department struggling to meet a deadline, all while your own work continued to pile up. The solution seems obvious until we look at why you do it.

It’s All About Rewards

Why wouldn’t you just let your colleagues deal with their own work challenges and instead, deal with your own work? Helping your colleagues solve problems provides you with something you crave. Everyone enjoys accolades and recognition, but ADHDers require more immediate feedback than is typically handed out in the workplace. Positive feedback is often only offered as part of a bureaucratic process of annual evaluations; it’s too bad we don’t do the same with negative feedback. No one seems to have a problem dishing out negative feedback immediately and often at high volume!

How Will You Retire Your Hero Suit?

Let’s suppose you decided to do your work instead of helping your colleagues. You won’t be nearly as motivated to do your own work when getting through your piles rarely seems like “saving the day.” No warm fuzzy feeling and what about feedback? If you’re lucky, your boss has a great memory and mentions your great work the next time you get your next annual evaluation in five, six, or twelve months from now. Not very immediate, or gratifying, is it?

Three Great Ways to Deal with OCB

I’m not proposing you retire your hero suit altogether; after all, helping your colleague also provides goodwill you can use to get out of a jam in the future, that is, if you and your colleague can remember the numerous incidences when you saved the day. You might also enjoy other aspects of OCB, such as the teamwork and camaraderie it provides. However, approached correctly, your OCB can actually help you craft a better work environment.

  1. Identify ways you can be more present to what you accomplish when you complete a task you’ve been assigned. You can give yourself your own immediate positive feedback.
    1. Some of my clients pat their own backs – no joke! They lift their right arm straight in the air above their head, bend at the elbow and pat away.
    2. Others print out their to-do list so they can enjoy the sensation as they energetically scratch out the task off their list for the day.
  2. Target a job that allows you to do more “hero work.” I’m not suggesting you slip permanently into a spandex uniform and call yourself a superhero. Rather, choose a career where your strengths can be put to good use, such as in a customer service role, or researching solutions for people etc.

I can already hear some of you say “Yeah! but…”

  1. You may not be able to leave your job because your family depends on you, or you have great benefits, such as a pension and medical plan. What you can do, though, is ask your boss for more feedback, or look for opportunities within your current organization that allow you to do more hero work. Many organizations are willing, even eager, to offer new positions to existing employees rather than lose a good employee to the competition. Seek out a position where you have more opportunities to solve problems or work on special projects.

You could also take on a slightly bigger challenge that will make your organization a better place to work for everyone. Whether you’re playing the hero and saving the day, or you’re completing your normal workload, ask your internal clients about the impact the work you do has on them, and then reciprocate. Tell them you appreciate what they do; be specific and honest. It is amazing what one person can do in a workplace. Teaching others how they could thank someone by modeling what you are looking for can, over time, even change workplace culture. It’ll certainly make your day more enjoyable.

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