How to ADHD has really been on the money lately with incredible work tips that have really sung to me.
Taking on too much work.
Ah YES! Over committing is a huge challenge for my life for a number of reasons. Living a life in line with your values seemed a bit like the title of a pop psych book from the 90s (and personal baggage for another time). However stepping back for a minute and looking at what life values I need to prioritise was really great. Instead of fitting in one more request for other people, I really need to hit pause and take time out for myself, and the things on the top of my value list that I’m ignoring. Things like personal health and relationships.
One way that I’m looking at that at the moment is by monitoring my emotional health using the Daylio app. It also tracks potentially related stuff like healthy eating, exercise and personal timeouts. Because the best way to get an over committed data junkie to take time out is with the lure of more data.
The other thing is Trello. I talk about this a lot. I have a personal Kanban for projects that I need to achieve and hard and soft deadlines for that. For other work requests I’m building in two times a day of 30 minutes where I clear &/or prioritise those requests. Of course I can’t ignore everyone (as much as that sounds like heaven) but it does mean that I can block out times to focus and on what task knowing that the alerts will get dealt with in their own space.
That’s a great segue into the other great vlog – Monotasking. It’s a great reminder about the illusion that multitasking is somehow good. I’ve known for a long time that my brand autistic neurotype deals with interruptions by crashing my brains hard drive. It’s no secret that changing my focus requires a good 5-10 seconds to shelve what I was doing and making the turn. Even then it takes a bunch of effort to do. But split focus is also a pain for other neurotypes.
Monotasking is a great way to do lots well. Blocking out slabs of time to get things done. It’s also good to block in slabs of time to do social or answer people’s questions. It’s an idea I want to try out more and see how it goes.
Here are the two quick YouTube eps that I’m talking about. Love to hear the ways you are hacking your work for your brain.
I get the message. I don’t belong. I know that people would be upset to know that their words say that, but it’s there.
A work conversation recently to a group of colleagues was along the lines of, “it’s so much better for you to go into the office and have those organic conversations; to be able to catch someone in the corridor and get an answer to a question. We were all in yesterday and it was so easy and we got so much cleared.”
I know what they mean and I know that they mean well, but what they are actively telling me (and people like me) is that your authentic self is not welcome and your personal health is not important. ie: you don’t belong.
That’s a pretty strong statement for me to make. But it’s necessary because it’s in direct contravention of disability equity and inclusion goals. The act of having to prove fundamental truths about ones experience, and having to prove the barriers for disability is part of the problem. Milton’s double empathy problem1 states “when people with very different experiences of the world interact with one another, they will struggle to empathise with each other.” The issue is the lack of equality in the relationship creates a paradigm that, as the autistic experience is not able to be felt by others, it is frequently questioned, dismissed or disbelieved, despite evidence to the contrary.
Conversely we understand and accept the needs for a large portion of neurotypical & allistic society to need spontaneous interaction to function at their peak. If you need that to be at your best we support it (if it could not be at our expense that would be great too). Many of the needs of the widest part of the neurotypical (and frequently white, cis-male, heteronormative etc) community are baked into the work culture. But often that is at the expense of the minority.
Too many times in the past when I’ve come up against group pep talks (or group reprimand) I’ve approached the speaker to clarify what I’m doing wrong or explain the difficulty in doing what was asked. Every time I’ve been told “Oh I wasn’t talking to you”. What that DOES tell me is that I’m rarely, if ever, talked to. Like the opening speech. Hence my problem. What has been said in those moments are a general statement establishing general expectations, ie: the status quo. I exist outside of that ie: I am siloed.
So why is the office environment a problem?
Inherently it’s not, but a couple of issues are2:
Autistic folks keep a lot of information in conscious memory. On top of that we are asked to performatively mask in order to fit into the work culture taking up additional resources. Screening out background noise, smells and UV lighting takes even more resources. As a consequence there is not a lot of conscious processing left to focus on what we need to do. Therefore social interruptions and “can I just grab you a moment” can be crippling.
Masking leads to suicidality and burnout3. Reason being is that if you succeed then you have just proved that a persona is more valid than your authentic self. If you fail then you let slip your authentic self to your detriment. Additionally the effort to maintain that persona takes energy and focus that you need for your basic work and self.
Multiple conversations at the same time like in a lunch room, or corridor, require screening out of background noise and stimulus. That takes effort. That’s not even starting on eye contact and body language.
Not having time to prepare information for a conversation means that a lot of processing power will have to go into dragging that information into conscious memory, and shelving the task that you were on.
Often the spontaneous conversation will require an answer that hasn’t been scripted. Yet again this increases the amount of conscious thinking to
a) parse the information and formulate a response,
b) judge the position and personal status of the one you are talking to in case they need a specific tone or level of detail,
c) edit that response for generally socially acceptable norms,
d) keep looking for facial and/or body language cues from the person you are talking too. NB/ I have to do this in conscious memory.
We are expected to do all the above AND not rock the boat.
By existing outside of that I am excluded. So isn’t existing outside of the rules a positive accommodation? No. I’ll explain.
To fit into the work environment I’ll need to subject myself to exhaustion and pain OR not be in the room where decisions are being made. Not being in the place where the organic conversations were being had means being excluded from the decision making process (bad for me) and having ones knowledge, skill and experience removed from the decision (bad for the business).
Because I am rarely in the room when these decisions are being made I am frequently coming up against last minute deadlines. These scrambling for deadlines and approvals further impact mental health as well as business outcomes and can lead me to working 12+ hour days.
People don’t want to deal with disability and so they work around it and create a silo. This leads to more forceful insistence and begging, which in turn leads to more alienation.
So there’s got to be a solution right?
Sure, I’m not going to just complain and run (that’s no good for my own mental health at the very least). The solution is to be prepared. Set meetings with an agenda (or create them in the moment) and write stuff down. Designate someone to take minutes. Follow up and inform. Plan. Respect boundaries.
But there are other things as well. Celebrating team wins need to be done in a way that everyone can participate in. Staff x-mas parties are excluding, and if I attend I do so at my own health cost. Team building activities are the same.
So keep in mind that (despite what pop-organisational psychology might suggest) we are not all the same. You have a diversity of colleagues and reports. Treat them with equity (not just equality) and find the way to come together. They alternative is loss of talent and headaches – but also depression and burnout.
It’s a lovely sunny winter weekend afternoon over here in Sydney lockdown. I’ve just made a batch of spinach and cheese arancini and am contemplating the medium future in the way that you do when you are observing time by the rate that a cat has to shift its position on the bed to remain sleeping in the sun.
TLCC2021 stirred up a few thoughts for me. One was inspired from the many incredible sessions that I went to from the Tessitura Enterprise team (whom I always imagine as being Starfleet Officers). I succumbed to their insistence that I finally read CRM at the Speed of Light, and not leave it as a shelved trophy for my Zoom background.
The other was this blog post on the ADHD tax, that I’d been thinking about for some time. If you are not familiar there has been a term floating around the online community about the concept of this tax, the cost to ADHDers for replacing things that have gotten lost, credit score hits from forgetting bills, late fees for things that have not been returned on time, impulse buys for things that we honestly don’t need, etc. It is one of those things that ADHDers will sigh and agree, and a recent Reddit post with almost 9000 upvotes and 700 replies underscores that sentiment.
Back to reading Paul Greenberg, I was at around chapter 2 on collaborating with customers when those two thoughts crashed together. At TLCC I was banging on about making equity for neurodivergent folks in the workplace. This is incredibly important for belonging and inclusion for our colleagues. It is a simple step to widen that thought process to our ND customers.
I’m going to quote Starfleet’s quote of Paul Greenberg definition of CRM
“CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy supported by a system and a technology designed to improve human interactions in a business environment”
Paul Greenberg, CRM Magazine, October 2003
It’s that final bit that really is the kicker for me. In CRM at the Speed of Light 4th ed Paul goes on to define Social CRM as
“Social CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, processes, and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment.“
Paul Greenberg, CRM at the Speed of Light
The collaborative conversation in a trusted and transparent environment is important because, as we continue to see, we need to walk the values we talk.
So here is my pitch. In the interest of a modern and inclusive CRM (business and customer) relationship, how are arts orgs helping our customers with the ADHD tax? How are we helping patrons remember shows with pre show emails? How are we giving our customers clear and actionable ways of exchanging without judgement? What are our rules with regards to a cooling off period on impulse buys? A friend’s (Martin Keen) recent forum post on adding an iCal element to booking confirmations was a great thinking point on inclusive design and being broad in our DEAI goals.
There are a number of business rules, processes and technologies that we can use to engage our customers in ways that make our relationship stronger. I’m excited to look at my own organisation’s accessibility from increasingly broad perspectives.
Another conference over. Sad but true. It was about 50 hours of video and face to face over the week. As with conferences it was hyper focus for the week followed by info digestion time. Well meaning folk talk about looking after yourself, only doing x hours, regular breaks etc. and a lot of that is right. I would sleep in 1-3 hour shifts but my waking focus was all on conference learning and sharing. I’ve tried other ways of being but it’s not healthy to be honest. A little thing that allistics don’t really understand is that it’s not the hours that cause stress but the human interaction and switching between tasks that really get us. Suffice to say that it was a great conference with a lot achieved.
As always I went to quite a few Customer Relationship Management lectures and picked up a great suite of recommends – some that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time like “Nudge” (Thaler and Sunstein), “Decisive” (Chip and Dan Heath), “CRM at the Speed of Light” (Paul Greenberg) … and the huge favourite “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman.
So I started by post conference reading on Daniel Kahneman. This book has come up in many conversations and readings over the years and is built on 40 years of research. Systems processing in psychology breaks thinking into 2 processes
System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach”. System 1 activity includes the innate mental activities that we are born with, such as a preparedness to perceive the world around us, recognise objects, orient attention, avoid losses – and fear spiders! Other mental activities become fast and automatic through prolonged practice.
Of course I’ve come across intuition and heuristics before. I was a psych major and spent untold hours as an acting student at university in Sandy Meisner “magic circles” acting impulsively. These things were either ideological (the former) or a bit of a pretence (the latter). I was always told that I was too ‘much in my head’ as an actor and not impulsive and ‘gut’ enough. I got better at faking it OR rehearsing so much at home that the thinking became unrecognisably fast, like remembering lines by reading them off the script in my mind. I’d argue that people were just ignorant of the calculations that they were doing in social situations and the amount of relationship math that was going on to interact with others were just the thing that they liked to call “intuition.”
Then I discovered I was autistic.
Well it was a long time coming to be honest. I was many times called autistic or aspie (amongst other things) when I was overloaded enough that the mask dropped. I rolled with it and tried harder. and harder. and … well it got to a point when I was working with others a lot more than usual in strategy and inter-team negotiation. And when my boundaries were crossed one to many times I did what comes naturally – I researched – and discovered my autistic self. Meeting more and more autists I realised that I was not just hard work, a broken person, or less – but a fully functioning autistic adult. That’s a conversation for another time.
Back to “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman I was reading about word association games and impulsive thinking and exactly how (neurotypicals) think about these things. Having thoughts that just into their mind when another is said as if by magic. You see this doesn’t happen for me. When word associating with my wife and she says yoghurt I think hard and come up with the yogurt that I just put into the fridge and make a conscious choice that I’d go with blue like the navy blue sticker that was on the carton. Or if she said smile I would conjure the list of emoticons and go to the next one in the list as a conscious choice. Impulsive thoughts to me are just cognition at speed.
I’ve posited this to my autistic psychologist friends and looking forward to what they have to say. From the recent feedback they seem to agree. We don’t do System 1 thinking. We don’t attribute malice to a big triangle that is following a smaller one (you neurotypicals are weird), we think about it and respond ‘appropriately’ (I realise this is laughingly subjective). It’s the same reason I believe that we autists have a large disregard for gender stereotypes with our high gender queer constituency and a high sense of justice in our shirking of nonsensical social convention. Of course I’m massively biased but I know that because I don’t do System 1 thinking. I think that we do an incredible processing job emulating heuristic thinking and doing so wonderfully well. But I’m sure that my thoughts on this will evolve when I talk to our incredible community further who will enlighten me more.
Your friendly neighbourhood autistic here. It’s autism awareness/acceptance/appreciation month so I thought I’d share a couple of great resources for helping yourself and other colleagues interface better, smoother happier, etc. It’s more specifically Autism Awareness Day on the 2nd April but I was busy with my ADHD taking me in many other directions so … here we are. And I’m going to just assume that you are aware and accepting of us so let’s move onto appreciation.
Of course it’s always good to start with “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” We’re all different and mileage may vary but these below are a good starting point.
Hunter Hansen is a great advocate for autistic professionals and he sounds like Owen Wilson so what’s not to like! All his content is great but especially relevant are the youtube vids
Ashlea McKay. Now I’m going to riff of the last Hunter video as a segway into Ashlea’s great advice. But first a bit about Ashlea. You’ve heard me mention her in a previous post about using a codeword (banana) to indicate informations processing time in a meeting. Well she regularly posts tips and thoughts about autism at work in her Quirk Monster Bites on LinkedIn. The one that jumps out at me everytime is about Open Plan offices. Yeah we all hate them. The ‘pop-in‘, the ‘have you got a second‘, the ‘I’ll just save you form overwork with my mew tiktok dance‘ – yeah it’s exhausting to us. You can read her take here
Dr Nancy Doyle is neurodivergent and her Genius Within (based in the UK) has a lot of great information about all neurodiversity and advocacy in the workplace. Her articles on Forbes and posts on social are also worth a read. Information neurodiversity is here
Neurodiversity Media by Rachel Worsley is the last trip on our tour and definitely not the least. There are an incredible number of free resources for autistic and ND workers and managers including case studies and advice. They also have Toolkits to help addressing issues and getting every one on the same equitable footing.
Thanks for reading my little autism appreciation and awareness post. Remember to read autistic/bipoc/trans/disabled voices and listen to what they have to say. Happy holiday if you are having one, and just general happiness even if you are not.
I work a lot I’m told. I’ve often been accused of having a Martyr Complex and frankly I’m a bit over it. This is something that a lot of neurodivergent and autistic folks I’ve talked to have experienced as well and I think I understand the reasons.
Hyperfocus and special interests are things things that are very central to the way neurodivergent people experience the world. Being focused on a single topic for a long period of time is very common to me. Hyperfocus is a state of being where I can keep attending to a single thing for hours and/or days on end. In the work environment it can mean working on a single problem for a week until I finish it.
Breaking out of that is aggravating to the point of painful. Having that done for me by people banging my desk or waving in front of my face for attention, is frankly aggressive and violent. Saying that “but they were only trying to be friendly” is no more a reasonable statement than it was in the 80s when it was used by grabassing men. It needs to stop. Ashlea McKay has been incredibly eloquent in here covering of that hereand here when she says “Good intentions do not negate not-so-good impacts. They didn’t mean any harm, but they caused harm and that harm has an impact.”
So let’s talk about the Martyr Complex.
I know my limits. I know how much I can take and when to back off, and I build those into what I can take. Most ND adults are the same. We’re good. Believe us. It’s part of negotiating our spoons budget. Hyperfocusing a task for me is a low cost way of working. I can do a lot of focused work and spend less energy. Let’s say it’s like getting on the freeway – I can zoom away without having to stop and start. But everytime someone interrupts to save me from working to hard I have to get off the freeway and stop – and it costs me more energy. And starting again to get back on the freeway is intense. What it effectively does is blow out our energy budget and can lead to burnout, frustration and meltdowns. All because someone wanted to save me from overwork with their funny tiktok dance.
I don’t work for the same reason as neurotypicals. I don’t do it to earn credit or as a badge of station (sorry Vu). I do it because it is a task that has to get done and it holds my interest. Of course I deserve acknowledgement and I deserve to be respected, but that has nothing to do with a Martyr Complex. Mainly because as an outsider to the social hierarchy there is nothing to gain there. The work gets done because the work needs to get done.
Burnout looks like Martyrdom. So ND folk tend to work different hours to NTs. We work when the flow demands it but hyperfocus doesn’t discriminate. When you are on you are ON. We don’t get halfway through a task and go off to work with the team and pick it up later. HOWEVER we also feel an incredible pressure to conform to what the status quo demands. This is called masking, and many an autistic has written articles about the dangers of masking. So you’ll often find us showing up 9-5 (or in my case 7:30-6 to avoid the public transport peak hour sensory overload) and then also working till midnight while I hyperfocus on a task. In fact working outside of the hours of NTs in open office environments is less energy due to the interruptions and sensory overload being absent. All this masking and extended hours lead to burnout.
Autistic superpowers. Ugh this is hard. The toxic positivity and the need for us to prove ourselves leads to overwork. There is a burden for us to appear infallible as a reaction to the tragedy narrative, and it’s a pressure that leads to overwork and burnout. Dr Nancy Doyle puts it better than I here.
Our Spikey Skill Profiles. A friend reminded me that we get resentment often (and sometimes irrelevant praise) for being great at stuff. Riffing off Nancy Doyle again “Whilst everyone has strengths and difficulties, for neurodiverse people the difference between them is significant.” Of course that depends on what you attribute to the normal that you are different from, what does occur is that we can really shine at some things. This is the superpowers at work. In this case though they can create a friction with colleagues when this is looked at as competition. Us being good at something, and sacrificing ourselves to be good at it, can leave them feeling inadequate. They don’t understand we’re not competing with them, we’re competing with ourselves.
Work social functions are a nightmare! I get panic attacks at staff BBQs and social functions. There are too many conversations to focus on, incredible amounts of sensory overload and social games that I’ll never be able to understand. The amount of focus that requires is incredible and I hate it. But not attending these functions can have serious implications on promotion and advancement, as has been documented by the feminist and BIPOC movements in detail. Also not attending tends to attract Martyr labels.
Personal time. What I do with it is my business. What neurodivergent people do with their time is their own business. If I have a special interest in (for example) organising mental health forums for in arts and culture and that gives me energy and satisfaction then that is great. I’ve been told that I’m hopeless and that I can’t help myself [being a work addict] because I follow my special interests rather than “go out with friends”. This is just gaslighting. One might not understand a person’s interests but there is no need to minimise them because one doesn’t get it.
So can we agree not to do this? Using the Martyr slur against neurodivergent and autistic folk is gaslighting. No one is wanting you to feel bad. By and large that wouldn’t even occur to us. The more you can help us shake off masking and stop gaslighting the easier it’ll be for us all.
Special thanks to Carrie Beesley and Mel Granchi for their input
So I’m off home. Post trip I had a few meetings and said farewell to my SDC/STC/CRH/ACM pals. Went to a groovy little breakfast place in the Gaslamp called Broken yolk with a crowd. I went back again this morning. One thing that is really apparent is the size of food. I’m surprised every time I come to the US. Food is massive! I’ve tried to stick to two meals a day and some fruit. No matter how much exercise I’ve done here I think I’ve added 10kg 😮
After the gang left I took a trip up to Balboa park. I’ve been humongously home sick and I really needed to distract myself now that it was just me. I’d been there twice before but Friday is After Dark which is a festival of food trucks and late night museums.
Most interesting thing was that it was my first Uber!! Yeah hello 2017! All the cool kids were doing it at the conference so I thought I’d give it a go. Also what’s app. That was the group chat of choice at #TLCC2017 and with free wi-fi all over the place it was worth it. It’s almost like I work in IT or something?!
I got a burrito and went to the Nat (aka San Diego Natural History Museum) to see the dinosaurs. Main thing for me was how much I impressed myself with my hilarious Instagram feed.
I mean really. I’m hilarious 😐
Next point of business was to see the ball game. Padres we’re playing the Washington Nationals (of whom I’d never heard) and were soundly thrashed. Not that I cared as I got the late bought the cheapest ticket and spent the night watching the game from the best spots in the house. I was happy to buy a Simone a hat (and add a cunning disguise) and stand behind the floor seats. Once that was over I went back to the hotel to Skype home (told you I was into IT!)
So today was check out and logistics anxiety. Anxiety for me means I should keep moving and on schedule. After breakfast (and a Superman comic) at Broken Yolk I checked out of the hotel, had them hold my bags and then took the ferry to Coronado. After wandering around in circles for a while I found a bike hire and followed the 1hr leisure loop suggested by the guy at the desk … until I passed the unmarked turnoff and rode halfway to Mexico. Thank God Australians are good at Olympic cycling because I think I broke a third or two on the way back trying to make the ferry. I made it though, with enough time to buy some more gifts like socks with cats on them and a cute Coronado T-shirt (cause she keeps running out of those things and wearing mine).
With only a couple of hours left I hung out at Seaport Village, bought myself a less sweaty and more touristy shirt, ate a final taco and went back to pick up my bags and Uber to the airport. Got her in plenty of time with a feeling of incredible joy to be traveling home.
I can’t wait to get back even jet lagged and straight to work. Oh well it was pretty great all anxiety considered.
A couple great things I’ve learnt from TLCC that really helped me out.
Before going – do your research
There are questions you are going to want to solve. Have a list.
Some will require testing with the Devs.
Some will be pestering the Vendors/Sponsors.
Some will require bugging Tessitura Staff
Stalk people (responsibly)
Remember that list? Look up the people who likely have the same issue and meet up with them. In my case it’s about emailing and finding a time to catch up or say “hi” at an event. It’s less creepy than it sounds. We are there to network and solve problems after all.
Best things to have when I need a hand from someone …
A value add. Sometimes a collaboration is enough. Sometimes you can intro someone to someone else. It’s always good to be able to exchange help though and mutually grow from the experience.
A two way conversation. Listen and learn as well as talking about your own issue. Listening is a great way of solving your problem and follow up with an open ended question to dig deeper.
Keep it short. We all have many things to see and do. When you have an ask try to not monopolise someones time and catch up for more later. You will bump into the same people about 100 times over the week.
Speaking on bumping into people – I’ll often find myself introducing people to other people that have like interests. Two people are a conversation. Three people are a network.
More business cards. I ran out on the first day when chatting to people about my presentation. They are great to have and a good way to keep the conversation going.
Follow up. A thanks is always nice and also you can expand your network with Linkedin invites or whatever works for you.
Thanks cost nothing. If your moved or excited about something a quick thanks can really make everyones day.
The thing with Tessitura is that people are incredibly keen to share. It’s a great community. Keeping these things in mind really help with my anxiety and occasional bouts of impostor syndrome.
So this is my first work conference overseas for Sydney dance company and I’m in San Diego California. We got in a day early and spent some time seeing the sites, mostly the San Diego Museum of Art and the Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. The Globe is a Tessitura Network member so I’m going to call that work, tax deductible work.
First day of the conference is today. Lots to take in. Also lots of faking it. Not the skills. I have some of those and am happy to ask for help where I need it. Mainly the social aspect. My anxiety has been swinging wildly in and out. When it’s in it’s hard to focus on tasks or make decisions and the world feels like there is an ugly after taste that I can’t quite work out. When it’s not there I can get a little over the top like I’ve finished a gruelling test. Modulation is tricky.
People in SD are very nice. I’ve heard that tourists say that a lot about wherever they visit. Drowning in a foreign culture can leave you appreciative of the smallest things and less likely to be demanding. But regardless people here have been great.
I’ve reached out too a couple of people to talk about things I need help with or to give a hand in return. I’m going to see how that goes. Anyway of to see how it goes. Wish me luck.