An Open Letter from a Friend: “Folks, ADD Stinks!”

January 19, 2021

An Open Letter from a Friend: “Folks, ADD Stinks!”


I’m always on the lookout for great content to share here in Glover Gardens, and Facebook had a treat for me yesterday. A friend and former colleague at a high-tech software company penned a marvelous essay about having ADD, and gave me permission to reprint it.

I should note that I never suspected my colleague Bill Hensley was plagued with ADD during our dozen-plus years of working together: the co-worker I knew was a software development guru and fun person, the guy you could equally count on to wear a Dilbert tie to work on Halloween, and to give you an unassailable SW dev estimate to include in proposals that would never be questioned or overridden by senior management. In other words, a consummate professional with a free spirit.

Here’s what he had to say.

Folks, ADD stinks, and I think it is just getting harder as I get older. It’s totally misnamed, too. Attention Deficit Disorder should really be called Attention Control Disorder. It’s not a lack of attention that’s the problem, but the ability to control what I pay attention to. If I’m interested in something it’s easy, but if I’m not it can be nearly impossible. I will try and try to get started on it, and immediately be distracted. I call that “bouncing off” of the task.

The flip side is that once engaged I can really, really focus. In other words, getting started is much harder than keeping on going. If I can ever get started on a task, really get focused on it, I can grit my teeth and keep going until I finish, or exhaustion overwhelms me. But getting started, oh, is that ever hard! And getting interrupted, unless it is a brief, trivial interruption, is a disaster. Restarting is just as bad as starting all over again. I waste hours getting started, but I can work for hours on end once I am able to focus on something.

People with ADD can be really effective, especially doing things they love. But progress tends to come in bursts of productivity, and then only when given large blocks of uninterrupted time. The hardest things are the ones I really don’t want to do. I can waste days on those!

One thing that helps is the impending doom of a hard deadline. Please don’t do that to me, it’s miserable! But if you really need something from me it might be the only way to get it. Another thing that helps me reduce the amount of wasted time is to do quick mindless things when I’m having trouble concentrating. Like cleaning up my email inbox. I figure it’s better to be doing something of low value than nothing at all. Sometimes I can make progress on an uninteresting task by tackling little chunks of it, then rewarding myself with a diversion.

Self management with ADD has been a lifelong challenge. If you have an ADD employee or family member I hope these insights will help you understand them. If you can help them channel their energy and focus their time on things they are passionate about, they will surprise you with what they can accomplish!

How do you experience ADD/ADHD?

P.S. I wrote this when I was supposed to be working on something else. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Bill’s essay, or perhaps I should call it an open letter, was fascinating to me, because he is obviously doing a great job with the workarounds. But also, I recognized myself in his words… I’ve never been diagnosed or even suspected of having ADD, but I struggle with the same inability to focus on something I’m not interested in.

It’s always easy for me to concentrate on the fun stuff, like hoofing it around London with a camera in hand, especially when there’s a party

Also, like Bill, a deadline is my worst enemy and best friend at the same time. I’ve always said, “Panic is a great motivator!” which is where I end up when procrastination is no longer an option.

In closing, I hope you found as much value in Bill’s perspective as I did. Comments welcome!

3 thoughts on “An Open Letter from a Friend: “Folks, ADD Stinks!””

  • Dear Bill, dear Kim,
    One of the best things about having ADHD is that I’m not alone. I heard this from someone else and this post had exactly that effect on me. I just got my screening results and at that point was not surprised at all anymore.
    Yes, apparently I’m a huge inspiration to others and a regenerative source of enthusiasm, fun and creativity. And there is also the dark side of not getting important things done, both in private and in my work life.
    “Folks, ADD stinks, and I think it is just getting harder as I get older.” I already loved the first sentence. I always knew I was different, but the pandemic with two younger kids and too many things I felt I need to do (for my dopamine boost / motivation) threw me off the rails and probably also that I’m getting older.
    Thanks to both of you for sharing.

    PS: I came up with “Attention Deviant High-Activity Demeanour” for myself, I think we need a more positive name for it.

    • Jan, I really like “Attention Deviant High-Activity Demeanour”; it captures the essence but doesn’t make it a handicap. I’m sorry to hear that this year of crisis has thrown you off the rails, but I also know that you are soaking up wisdom through this experience that you will share with others. You already are!

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