ADHD and Work Performance: Is Medication Enough?
“I discovered I had ADHD. I’m trying some medication so that ought to fix the problem.”
Marco, an emerging leader in a engineering firm, had symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that included extreme restlessness, lack of initiation and follow-through, inattention to details, difficulty with prioritizing and planning, and irritability. He felt overwhelmed and worried that responsibilities weren’t fulfilled, then procrastinated, and then shut down. He became exhausted did even less. His performance evaluation was approaching. Marco is smart and skilled, but prior to his diagnosis, he faces significant barriers to productivity at work. He is not alone.
ADHD in Adults is Increasing
Research indicates that ADHD is rising in the U.S. adult population. When such problems arise, leaders and others in the workforce are encouraged to seek help from their physicians. Often medication is the first treatment offered. But is medication the silver bullet? Is it ever enough to solve a long-term or complex difficulty like ADHD? Not really.
Medication can be an important first step, since it reduces the severity of symptoms and provides renewed energy, greater attention, and the patience to change behaviors (and attitudes). However, if the goal is to attain high productivity and career advancement, it is equally important to develop a structured, systematic plan related to productivity at work—and to enlist experts to help you gain and maintain greater self-regulation. For example, a neuro-psychologist can administer a battery of tests to ascertain thinking and other strengths and vulnerabilities. After a neuro-psychological evaluation, a psychologist, social worker, or other therapist may provide insight, mindfulness training, or cognitive behavioral therapy.
Physicians, psychologists and social workers can help identify positive and practical ways to integrate general healthy habits including sleep and exercise routines. Family therapists can help with the understanding and coping with symptoms with spouses or other family members. Often social support helps the person with ADHD to stay on track. In addition, a productivity or life coach may provide general structure, monitoring and accountability.
Much like being effective in business, personal management of ADHD requires a system, strategies and support. Some important elements of support include monitoring medication side effects and how well the medication is working, as well as identifying any co-occurring conditions. For example, depression and anxiety often co-occur with ADHD, and it is not until the ADHD symptoms are under greater control that the symptoms of anxiety or depression become evident. In addition, other problems like addictions and abuse may be identified.
There are inevitable ups and downs in any effort to overcome problems and make changes. Often, it isn’t whether you will get off track, but if and when you will get back on track. Almost anyone can change anything for a day or two. However, if you want long-term, satisfying and productive change, it takes work and commitment. Self-regulation of thought and behavior is the key to continuous improvement and long-term change. It often takes a team and feels like you are putting together a puzzle.
Medication may or may not be your first step, but don’t view medication as a silver bullet, especially if you are in a highly competitive and stressful position. As you attempt to combat your difficulties, broaden your perspective and consider who can assist you in developing and sticking to a plan. Engage with experienced professionals and learn self-regulation strategies that can be integrated into your unique career and life. Over the long haul, you can better manage your difficulties and enhance your leadership productivity by finding the helping team you need.
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