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Maybe It’s Not ADHD: Why Smart Professionals Struggle at Work

Tell me if this sounds familiar. Do you fidget through meetings or lose track of appointments? Feel like you’re not working to your full potential because you feel scattered in different directions? If you answered yes, don’t worry, you’re not crazy—but perhaps you are crazed.

Most business professionals suffer from a newly recognized neurological phenomenon called attention deficit trait, or ADT. ADT isn’t an illness, but it is a direct response to modern office life and the hyper-connected environment in which we live and work. In other words, brain overload.

Unfortunately, ADT has become an epidemic in today’s professional settings. The core symptoms of ADT are distractibility, inner frenzy and impatience. People with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, managing time, and may even feel a constant pressure.

I discovered ADT while treating executives who came to me complaining that they might have attention deficient hyperactive disorder (ADHD). I realized that these executives displayed the typical ADHD symptom of not being able to focus, but also that this symptom disappeared during vacations or time off, which is not the case with ADHD.

It is possible to control ADT by changing your professional environment. Below are some tips busy professionals can employ during their day-to-day routine:

1. Ask colleagues to transition to email- and cellphone-free meetings.
2. Make time for a “human moment,” a face-to-face chat with a friend or co-worker.
3. Go for a walk outside, around the block or up and down a few flights of stairs. Just move.
4. Eat lunch, and eat it in a different location than yesterday.
5. Break down large tasks into smaller ones so they’re easier to tackle.
6. Keep a section of your work space clear of clutter.
7. Schedule an hour a day that’s free of meetings and e-mail, for yourself and your own tasks.
8. Build a short “to-do” list of items for the next day and stick it to your monitor before you leave.

In addition, professionals can employ the “Cycle of Excellence,” a five-step plan that draws on my own work with ADHD patients, created to help them overcome ADHD symptoms and become more productive in everyday life. This plan brings together experimental evidence on peak performance into a unified series of steps that create ideal conditions to propel to excellence. The five steps in the “Cycle of Excellence” and what it teaches are:

Select: Put the right people in the right job and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains.
Connect: Strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members.
Play: Help people unleash their imaginations at work.
Grapple and Grow: Enable employees to overcome pressure to achieve mastery of their work.
Shine: Use the right rewards to stimulate loyalty and people’s desire to excel.

Remember, today’s workplace is a pressure cooker and even the most talented people struggle to sort through the influx of information, relentless demands and unprecedented stress. You’re not alone and you can overcome.

Dr. Ned Hallowell also explores the question, “Do all entrepreneurs have ADHD?” Discover the innate traits—shared by those with ADHD—that define an entrepreneur.

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