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ADD / ADHD Project Managers

While you’re probably aware that people with ADD/ADHD have trouble focusing on tasks that aren’t interesting to them, you may not know that there’s another side: a tendency to become absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding. This paradoxical symptom is called hyperfocus.  So writes HelpGuide.org

I’ve spent my whole life with all of the symptoms but never wanted to admit actually having ADD/ADHD.  Perhaps it was out of concern someone would label me and force me to take some drug that would change me.  Though it doesn’t help that I drink copious amounts of black coffee, for the most part, I think I’ve fared pretty well.   I think back to my childhood, remembering every report card included a comment from the teacher.

Derek has a hard time concentrating and talks too much.

Hyperfocus is actually a coping mechanism for distraction—a way of tuning out the crap and chaos. It can be so strong that I become oblivious to everything going on around me.  I still think hyperfocus is an invaluable asset.  How do you think I can sleep for 5 hours a night and get so much accomplished?  From the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, I have a thousand ideas in my head.  I scramble to keep up with them, writing them down or logging voice-notes.  I still really don’t like all of the negative connotations associated with ADD/ADHD.  Sure, I have a wicked temper, I’m impulsive, and I’m very forgetful.  But, I don’t think the last is an issue thanks to Evernote.  As for the first two, if you cross me, I will write you off and being impulsive just means I seize on opportunities.  Perhaps this is why I’m doing well on my current engagement.  I am asked to focus my attention on specific issues or opportunities and advise.  But seriously, you think of a successful project manager or entrepreneur and you tell me they don’t have ADD/ADHD.

I hate to cut this post short but I need to…

Hey, look a butterfly!

(graphic courtesy of meggitymegs )

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of Enterprise Engagements at LeadingAgile. I'm super focused on results. But I also take the hand waving out of organizational transformations. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

12 Responses to “ADD / ADHD Project Managers”

  1. May 7, 2010 at 1:49 am

    Derek,
    This is perfect. Another symptom in our firm is the 4 hour hand off. A process that may take 20 to 50 hours – say preparing for a briefing for a client – gets started by the ADD folks and 4 hours later you find they’ve moved on and handed the work to someone else.

    The outcome of course is wak at best, so rework is now needed – on deadline – and the originator comments, why are you guys making this so hard, I had it all laid out last week, just use my slides and the notes I wrote on the back.
    .-= Glen B. Alleman´s last blog ..Knowing What We’re Talking About =-.

    • Derek Huether
      May 7, 2010 at 11:41 am

      If I may, I think your ADD folks need to know their limitations and break the work down into smaller chunks. There is no reason they can’t follow direction and deliver on it. Because I have a million things going on in my head, when someone asks me to do something, I repeat it back to them.

      Let’s make sure I heard you correctly. You’re asking me to… You want it by… Is that correct?

      I rarely give a task to someone unless I have the confidence they will deliver on it and I’m not going to redo it all. On the same note, I won’t accept work unless I know I can deliver on it and meet expectations.

  2. May 6, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Derek,
    This is perfect. Another symptom in our firm is the 4 hour hand off. A process that may take 20 to 50 hours – say preparing for a briefing for a client – gets started by the ADD folks and 4 hours later you find they’ve moved on and handed the work to someone else.

    The outcome of course is wak at best, so rework is now needed – on deadline – and the originator comments, why are you guys making this so hard, I had it all laid out last week, just use my slides and the notes I wrote on the back.
    .-= Glen B. Alleman´s last blog ..Knowing What We’re Talking About =-.

    • Derek Huether
      May 7, 2010 at 4:41 am

      If I may, I think your ADD folks need to know their limitations and break the work down into smaller chunks. There is no reason they can’t follow direction and deliver on it. Because I have a million things going on in my head, when someone asks me to do something, I repeat it back to them.

      Let’s make sure I heard you correctly. You’re asking me to… You want it by… Is that correct?

      I rarely give a task to someone unless I have the confidence they will deliver on it and I’m not going to redo it all. On the same note, I won’t accept work unless I know I can deliver on it and meet expectations.

  3. September 7, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    I really loved this piece! And now all the copious amounts of coffee I’ve seen you tweet about make a lot of sense. 🙂

    Of course, I should’ve known. After all, caffeine is our staple diet as the undiagnosed but self-acknowledged AD/HD parents of a grade schooler who has been formally diagnosed and is doing very well on medication. Medication that does not change him, by the way. 😉

    Since his diagnosis, I’ve been reading a lot of AD/HD material. The over-emphasis of the negative impact of the condition is really frustrating. Although some books briefly mention creativity as a “symptom”, very few really focus on how channeling AD/HD behaviour properly can lead to a very fulfilling creative career. I know for a fact that I would be much less creative as a product manager without my “associative thinking”.

    It certainly is my goal to do whatever I can to help our son learn the kind of organizing and prioritization skills that have enabled me to take control of my life.

  4. September 7, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I really loved this piece! And now all the copious amounts of coffee I’ve seen you tweet about make a lot of sense. 🙂

    Of course, I should’ve known. After all, caffeine is our staple diet as the undiagnosed but self-acknowledged AD/HD parents of a grade schooler who has been formally diagnosed and is doing very well on medication. Medication that does not change him, by the way. 😉

    Since his diagnosis, I’ve been reading a lot of AD/HD material. The over-emphasis of the negative impact of the condition is really frustrating. Although some books briefly mention creativity as a “symptom”, very few really focus on how channeling AD/HD behaviour properly can lead to a very fulfilling creative career. I know for a fact that I would be much less creative as a product manager without my “associative thinking”.

    It certainly is my goal to do whatever I can to help our son learn the kind of organizing and prioritization skills that have enabled me to take control of my life.

  5. Nvrl8
    March 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    This is so timely for me as I was just questioning how someone with ADD like symptoms can be successful as a pm since project management is to some extent dependent on due process and rigor, which are atypical of the spur of the moment, passion driven ADD folks. As a veteran project manager with identical symptoms myself, I could not agree more. I am PMP certified and have many extremely succesful projects under my belt with over 20 years in the field. To my regret I had also walked away from fairly good employment as well because of issues related to what I now believe to be ADD. I absolutely agree, the positive side of ADD-like condition such as creativitty, passion for business and ability to inspire sometime trump innatentiveness, potential discontiuity and lack of due process some of the time, but conscious work is also needed to keep things in balance.

    • Anonymous
      March 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      For every half-empty glass someone shows me, I’ll show you a glass half full. It’s reassuring to discover there are more of “us” out there. If you’ve been in the field for over 20 years, you know you’ve been doing something right. Keep up the great work!

      • TEQUILA
        October 21, 2014 at 3:09 pm

        I was recently diagnosed with ADHD (Last week) and I’m a acting PM. I did some Google searches about PM’s and ADHD. This page came up. I want to sit for the PMP exam do you have any suggestions on how to get through it ? When I received my test results I was heart broken because I love what I do but I need to elevate to the next level. This post gave me hope although its over a year old. Thanks

        • October 21, 2014 at 10:15 pm

          If I can pass the PMP, you can. It’s not easy. I felt like I was having a panic attack half way through the damn test.

          I used http://www.rmcproject.com/ products (book and practice tests). I did not go to a boot camp. I created a lot of flashcards. I recommend you map out your learning strategy on a Kanban board. It will help you stay focused. Take the exam first thing in the morning.

        • Rose
          December 21, 2014 at 11:08 pm

          Study the rita mulcahy book. There’s a “game” in there to help with the different phases. That’s key!!

          simplilearn dot com has the closest simulation tests to the real thing.

          Then if all else fails…. a book camp 1 week class I found was helpful to pound the “subjective” approach of PMI into the brain.

    • Nvrl8r
      March 11, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      Sorry folks my id is actually Nvrl8r (same as my licence plate 🙂

      Love this site, will follow and contribute as time permits (gotta run, in the midst of initiating a major ERP project and need to line up our ducks before they fly south for the winter. As you all know, this is the toughest part…)

      here’s a quote a really like:

      “Armageddon was yesterday… today we a have a real issue!!”

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