3 - Character Defects of the ADD - Unreliable, Late, Inconsistent

Anyone who lives or works with an ADD has found them, from time to time, to be unreliable, inconsistent performers, and late. For non-ADD sufferers, the ADD appears inconsiderate, irresponsible, and immature. However, these are not character defects but rather reflect a mind which is focused on NOW. You want an ADD with you in a foxhole, on a help desk, on the playing field, in the woods, navigating a strange land, or leading a clamoring group of people - we are finely attuned to our changing environment, sensitive to what others are feeling or thinking, and always dreaming about how we can make our present situation better. 

The problem is, most of modern life isn't like that. Modern life is sitting, writing, and admin work. There is physical labor, but that doesn't challenge the brilliant, speedy mind of the ADD. So, despite their weaknesses, because of their intelligence and leadership skills, they get inserted into the modern educational system and workforce in roles that are not well-suited to their strengths. 

At the core of the differences is TIME. To ADDs, we are in the present. Others are in the present, too, but in context with the rest of time - past, present and future. Time is a modern concept, after all, and tracking it in detail wasn't useful until modern economies developed. 

The rest of the world views time and deadlines within a logical and rigid structure that makes total sense to them. But for me and many ADDs, time is very elastic. Next week is like next year. I can feel my anxiety rise when discussing long-range plans and logistics because it's all just a jumble of dates and time at some fictitious point. 

Almost everyone experiences procrastination. In fact, procrastination is a rational choice; "it's a pretty day; I'll read that memo tonight," or "That project isn't due for a month. I'll start next week." People humorously see procrastination as a human experience. So, when I talk about how it affects ADDs, I get a response: "Everyone procrastinates." That may be true, but for the ADD, time elasticity intersects with a general reluctance to do things that require a great deal of attention. This is further complicated by the difficulty time elasticity imposes on estimating how long it will take to do something. Finally, ADDs have good days and bad days. If the deadline falls on a day when your bio-energy level is low, the quantity of effort it takes to get something done is too great to overcome all these factors. 

That assignment is NOT going to get done on time. Or if it does, it's not representative of anyone's best effort. 

This is why ADDs are seen as unreliable. This is why we are late. It's not procrastination; it's brinksmanship. We didn't see the problem until the last minute. In my case, I often have to have something on fire to find the motivation to finish it. NOW that boring project is NERVE-WRACKING, and it has ALL of my attention. My wife will say that I create emergencies so that I can work effectively. 

This is not fun to experience for the people around us; our co-workers, business partners, and clients. 

Understanding Time Elasticity for the ADD

For me and many ADDs, tomorrow is a long way away. For normal people, tomorrow is another day, and each subsequent day is an equal distance, extending into logical sections of weeks and months. For the person suffering from time elasticity, though, tomorrow is TOMORROW, but so is the next day and the following month. Furthermore, because of this elasticity, I have difficulty estimating how long it will take me to get something done. 

Estimating Time Deficit - ADD-ETD

When I have an appointment, a date, or a meeting out of the office, I have an instinct of how long it will take to get to that location. Commonly - and I find this is true when I talk to other ADDs - I know the travel duration to arrive at the designated time. However, we all know this is not the only time component in this journey - I still have to go to the car, exit the garage, find parking at the other end, and walk to the appointment. This additional time can add up to 15-30 minutes. My mind minimizes this element of the time estimate, and I think I have more time than I do. This gets complicated because ADDs often lose track of time, particularly when engrossed in a project (a contradiction, I know). I will surface, look at the clock and realize I must leave immediately. I am already late, and I haven't even left. 

My wife nearly broke up with me over this when we were dating. I arrived 30 minutes late to meet her for drinks (before the days of cell phones), and she was nearly in tears. "How could I be so rude? So inconsiderate? So mean?" I spend a lot of time rolling events like this back, explaining it was not intentional, showing what I was working on, how I left my keys on my desk, etc.  

Part of the reason it takes me a lot longer to complete a task than I think it will is that there are other factors that ADDs struggle with, beyond the simple challenge of sitting down and doing a task. 

Energy levels: Brain fog, part of the dopamine deficiency syndrome which is a hallmark of ADD, can leave you sitting staring at your desktop mindlessly. Sleep deprivation, the other side of the dopamine/serotonin equation, a result of the anxiety of the mounting pile of tasks, wakes you up in the middle of the night. Then there is just the inexplicable waning and waxing of attention. No matter how well you plan, if you have something due on this day it is an uphill slog to do much more than just answer emails.   
Losing Track of the Assignment: I have gone down many rabbit holes. I am immersed, but in my immersion, my mind imagines a completely different solution to the problem I am facing. In fact, it's not the same problem. I'm 80% of the way down the wrong road. 
Getting into the Groove: It takes a lot of time to find that place where you can simply do the task. I have all kinds of warm-up tricks - writing a blog post, reading a non-fiction piece, pretending I am working by cleaning up my office, desk or other surroundings. Then - when everything is in its place - I can work. 
And Distractions: Email, texts, and interruptions destroy momentum. ADDs don't pick up where they left off - they have to start the Getting In The Groove process all over again. 
Over My Head: I compulsively volunteered to do something outside of my core competencies. I don't know why I did that. I have two choices; 1.) Admit I'm an idiot and that I inexplicably said I could do something I couldn't (lied) or 2.) learn how to do it (see underestimating time to complete a task).

Once you understand these limitations, you can compensate. My wife says it takes me 2.5 times as long as I think it will. Furthermore, the reason there is a place for me at all in the world is that, despite the tremendous effort and time it takes, I do get things done. Sometimes I use a painful task as motivation to complete a different painful task. 

My ADD mind is constantly at work. If I have a pernicious problem or task, my mind is always grinding away in the background, day and night, with little flashes of solutions. Unfortunately, I have no clarity on when I will solve it. For the ADD and the people in his life, this means people have to trust the work will get done. Missed deadlines are not intentional or lazy, the solution hasn't revealed itself. 


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