How to Know if You Have ADD and What to Do About It

Let me start the post with three statements

1. I have attention deficit disorder, it is a real condition, I have been diagnosed including having radioactive isotopes through my brain to map my development and yet I’m a leader, I have accomplished much, I did well in school and went on to earn a master’s degree and I can actually concentrate when I want to. I wasn’t even aware that I had ADD until I was 40 (I’m now 47) and knowing it has changed my life for the positive. I don’t believe it’s a disease – it’s simply a slow-functioning prefrontal cortex. Essentially – it’s just the way your brain is wired. It’s both your curse and your secret sauce. Embrace it.

2. I believe many entrepreneurs have ADD. I believe the condition actually is conducive in many ways. Many people with ADD don’t work well in corporations & with bureaucracy, people with ADD have a bias towards action, people with ADD often speak up & take action and have strong bursts of creativity. So suck that every teacher who scolded us for not paying attention to boring classes or making people with ADD feel less accomplished :)

3. If you DO have ADD you are highly unlikely to finish this entire post in one sitting. Don’t worry. Save it to Pocket, bookmark it, email it to yourself or whatever other coping mechanism you have. And actually if you have ADD you may just want to watch the videos I’ve embedded below because it’s easier to concentrate on that than reading a blog post.

I’m not a doctor so everything you’ll read and listen to here will be my point-of-view from what I’ve read and from doctors I’ve consulted. Of course you should go on your own journey of discovery. But what I’d like you to know is that for many people with ADD (8% of children, 4% of adults) – just knowing that this is the way your brain is wired is a tremendous boost to your self esteem to know that you’re not a loser for only completing 80% of tasks, for struggling to prioritize, from daydreaming in class or meetings. And when you know this and when your ego boost hits you can develop coping mechanisms that make you perform better.

I don’t believe ADD is a “disease” and that classifying it as such can stigmatize people. My reading on ADD says that it’s just the way that your brain processes information. People with ADD have a slower functioning frontal cortex, which doesn’t make you dumber – it just makes it harder for you to keep your focus on tasks that don’t interest you. But I’ll give you

:)

rundown below.

ADD can be a blessing. I believe it is what drives my huge bursts of creativity and productivity that what Stephen Covey called “The Urgency Addiction.” So if you – or a friend or loved one – think you have ADD please take the time to watch the videos below and/or read brief texts that follow them. And by all means please forward this post to any friend you suspect could use some friendly support.

I sat down with Kati Morton (who does YouTube videos on mental health) to talk about ADD. (part I & part II with embed below)

Part I

Part II

1. What Actually is ADHD or ADD?

I will start from a passage from the Wikipedia definition because I think it does a great job of summarizing

“ADHD symptoms involve a difficulty with executive functions. Executive function refers to a number of mental processes that are required to regulate, control, and manage daily life tasks. Some of these impairments include problems with organization, time keeping, excessive procrastination, concentration, processing speed and regulating emotions.”

As you know doubt know, the ADD part is “attention deficit disorder” and the H part is “hyperactivity.” I think people with ADHD have a little more problems with social engagement due to touching, distracting, irritating and bothering other people due to the hyperactive state. This can be controlled with medicine. Luckily I don’t have hyperactivity but that makes me less able to talk about that. So this will be just my experiences with ADD.

Typically one would have –

  • Distractibility – If I start getting bored with a task, meeting, movie or conversation I immediately start to notice other things to shift my attention to. I have checked Twitter at least 10 times during the writing of this post so far and Facebook 3 times. Email twice.
  • Lack of Impulse Control – I can’t sit still. If a meeting is boring I sometimes blurt out something to get the meeting going. Then I can’t believe I actually did it but I’m usually happy with the result – people moving faster and getting to the point. I don’t do this to be a dick – I do this because my brain is wired that way: Low boredom threshold. I can’t write a blog post and then wait 3 days to publish. It’s finish and publish. It’s why I don’t write for TechCrunch or similar much any more. When they moved to wanting to edit my posts before putting live I couldn’t handle it. Literally. I’m done. GO!
  • Inability to Fully Complete Tasks – I work hard – more than most people I know. I am very logical and structured and form theses better than most people I know. I am good at cranking out documents, memos, presentations, letters and spreadsheets. But here’s the thing – I do them with intense effort until they are mostly done. And then I struggle to go back and edit the minutiae of them. I struggle with the back-and-forth redlining with lawyers. “I did that fucking documents yesterday! Can’t you just handle it from here?” I’m not a completer / finisher. I’m a starter, a dreamer, a workhorse, a leader and I have a bias for action. But not for completing. That’s why I surround myself with amazing completer finishers. Left to my own devices I would pay bills late, sign up the kids for every league past the due date (but talk the people into allowing us anyway), file for an extension on my taxes or whatever other procrastinating non completer / finishers do. My wife is a saint for putting up with me. As are my work colleagues. By the way, if you ever wanted to know why I don’t proof read or edit my posts before hitting publish now you know. I will always fix stuff people point out on Twitter but otherwise I could NEVER go back and re-read something I’ve written. I’ve moved on.
  • Hard Time Prioritizing Tasks or Estimating the Completion Time of Task – I start tasks with reckless abandon for how much time I have to complete the task. I never estimate anything upfront – I just start working. I don’t ever read directions until I’m half way into a task and stuck. I often am running late to a meeting but still at my computer because I didn’t leave myself enough time to complete the task. I rush the last 20%. I study for tests last minute. I write my presentations the night before. I’m a peak performers and I do well under pressure. I thrive on the adrenaline rush and the drama. I have ADD. But I surround myself with amazing colleagues who don’t put up with my bullshit and they drive task completion on time, they plan our LP meetings a year in advance and they make sure I write my presentations early enough for review.

2. Misnomers about ADD

  • Inability to Focus – This is the biggest misnomer. I can focus the fuck out of stuff that I love and am interested in. I grew up doing puzzles in my room for hours. And I studied every statistic on the back of every baseball card and memorized batting averages, ERA and even birthdates and such. I’m Rain Man when it comes to numbers. If I’m interested I become so damned focused that I really block out everything else in my life to the point of irritability. People with ADD can focus. Just not on stuff that bores us. Which is most stuff.
  • Poor Performer in School / Academically – I think many people assumed that people with ADD can’t be successful. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I always did well in school. I finished work early in class. The problem was that once I was done I would fidget, make noises, throw spit wads, tell jokes or anything to get the boredom out of my brain to avoid sitting still. The principal’s office staff knew me well. They liked me and we joked together. It was hard to be mad at somebody who did well in school and who was funny and agreeable. I learned to program their computers and taught them how to update them. I even learned how to mark somebody present who was absent. But of course I would never do that. I was a tinkerer. I had tons of extra time to play with computers because I had less time sitting and listening to my sorry ass history teacher or chemistry teacher. I got into a great university (UCSD) and a great masters program (University of Chicago) and still did fine even though I could only sit through 50% of the classes. I think online education is going to crush it for people with ADD.
  • People with ADD are Hyperactive – I’m not. I wasn’t. Many people aren’t. I got in trouble but not the wrong kind of trouble.

3. Some Forms of ADD Can be a Blessing

  • Turing your Brain into an Asset: A Bias for Action – My negatives are my positives. I can’t stand bureaucracy. I can’t sit through boring meetings. I hate analysis paralysis. I believe that a 70% directional movement NOW is better than a 90% accurate movement in 6 weeks. This has some negative consequences, for sure. But overall I believe this leads to better entrepreneurship and why I believe so many entrepreneurs have ADD. Just make sure you couple yourself with people with the opposite skills. You’ll need to work with great planners, great listeners, great finishers. Owing up to your brain wiring is liberating and can help super charge you and certainly make you beat yourself up less.
  • Procrastination can be Channeled into Creativity – Yes, I’m a procrastinator. But I never let people down. So if I’ve committed to delivering a presentation – you’re going to get my best effort. If I’ve committed to speaking in classroom I’m going to be there and be high energy. If I’ve said I’ll review your legal doc or Excel spreadsheet I will – even if you have to chase me. But I’ll always be last minute. The pressure to perform drives the creative juices in my brain and I believe the output produces better results.

4. What are Some Common Symptoms?

  • Late to Meetings / Late Always – I know it sounds like I’m just giving myself an excuse but the truth is the people with ADD are compulsively late. It’s partly the inability to plan time and tasks but I’ve also been told that the adrenaline rush stimulates your prefrontal cortex and helps you to focus. So chill, sometimes people literally can’t help being late.
  • Fidgety / Can’t Sit Still – My wife always knows when I’m bored at a movie. I’ll lean forward, lean back. put my head in my hands, take a sip of a drink, tap my feet. These are very common symptoms of ADD.
  • Need to Talk More than Listen – If I attend meetings where I’m not speaking my brain will definitely wander. So I talk a lot. I need to. If I’m engaged then I’m living precisely in the moment. If not then I tune out. Unless you’re absolutely fascinating. But by participating and talking and asking questions it actually helps me to stay in tune with meetings and conversations.
  • Argumentative – yes, being argumentative is a very common sign for ADD. I’m told that just like with being late (and driving fast, over-salting foods and such), being argumentative is an evolutionary response to a slow-processing frontal cortex.

5. How can You Find Out if You Might Have ADD?

  • Visit a Doctor. Obviously.
  • Delivered from Distraction. The greatest book I’ve read on the topic. Every person who suspects they may have ADD should read this book. And take the quiz that will make your chin drop. Then show the quiz to your husband, wife, parents or boss. They’ll understand you 100x better.
  • Healing ADD – I also learned a lot from Dr. Amen’s book so I recommend it as your second book. But I found it a little bit “preachy” and “markety” so just read it with that perspective but there was goodness in there for sure. And I went to the Amen Clinic in Orange County, which is where I got my diagnosis.

Finally

  • I’m sure all the doctors are cringing much like I would if I read your fund-raising advice. But this is my layman’s view of ADD and if I help just one person take action (or feel better about themselves) it was worth it
  • I’m going to do a follow up post on: Strategies for Coping with ADD and what to make of the available ADD medicine

And No …

I haven’t proof read a single line of this post. Sorry. Send me corrections if they bother you and I’ll gladly fix them. If you read every word of this post from start to finish with no interruptions and haven’t checked Twitter or Facebook or Email once – my guess is you don’t have ADD :) but you never know. So buy Delivered from Distraction!