Inattentive and hyper-focused management tips for managers
Issue 121: Managing yourself to manager others
When I initially brainstormed about this topic the original title was going to be, "Tips for managers with ADHD." It’s since evolved and I want to focus on tips on inattention and hyper-focused management—AKA how to manage yourself. I’m not a clinician and do not want this to come off as any type of advice (remember, I don’t believe in giving advice). The goal of this is not to give you solutions, but shared experiences that you might relate with. With that in mind, I’ll share how inattention and hyper-focused create struggles for me as a manager and the systems I put in place to maximize my output.
The truth is most companies (and people) have a specific mental model of what a good leader looks like—their physical appearance, background, and how they conduct themselves. Moving into leadership means you have to go against the grain with what you're used to and play the game. Leadership for people with ADHD or neurodiverse attributes can be extremely challenging. People might think you're a bad manager because you don't fit the bill. If you forgot something that was said, you're seen as a bad leader because you can't remember. I write this to tell you that companies will always try to fit you into how they work—gotta play the game.
You’re responsible for a lot as a leader: results, team well-being, engagement, etc. In addition, the scope of your work spans downward (your org), outward (cross-functional), and upward (executive). You need to be able to have a 30,000-foot view and the ability to look at the 1px one.
There are multiple facets and attributes of ADHD I’ve experienced since I was a child:
Inattentive: Short attention span, distractible, disorganized, procrastinate, may daydream and be introverted; not hyperactive or impulsive
Hyper-focused: An intense fixation on an interest or activity for an extended period of time. People who experience hyper-focus often become so engrossed they block out the world around them. Children and adults with ADHD often exhibit hyper-focus when working intently on things that interest them.
The combination of being inattentive hyper-focused has created quite a paradox for me—being easily distracted while having the ability to go really deep on something. I often forget the name of the person introduced to me 30 seconds ago but can easily tell you the 1995 Dallas Cowboys offensive line players (from Left Tackle to Right Tackle) are Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Ray Donaldson, Larry Allen, and Erik Williams—The Great Wall of Dallas. The latter is because when I am passionate about a topic, I can go deep and remember important things. If people aren’t aware of my challenges, it may come off as not caring about them or listening to them, and that sucks. I don’t want people to feel that way.
Being inattentive and hyper-focused means I have the determination to do something for 18 minutes or 18 hours straight depending on the task at hand.
This isn’t about “fixing” yourself, but putting the best environment in place for you to be successful and fulfilled. We’ll look at three sections: working with others, personal systems, and planning/organizing.
Working with others
When Kevin Wong joined as our Director of Product Design at Webflow, he brought an immediate burst of organization to the team—one of his many superpowers. One of the docs is a "Working with me doc" which encouraged people to share the best way to collaborate and engage with them at work. I'm upfront with people about what I need and what they might expect. Instead of shying away, I'll onboard new reports and tell them, "I struggle with remembering things at times. If I forgot something we discussed, please know it's not intentional and I'll do my best to write it down to recall." It's not the responsibility of my direct reports to manage my inattention, but the more they're aware of it they'll likely empathize over getting frustrated by what otherwise could feel like a lack of care or attention to them.
I have great leaders on my team who excel at organization, asking for clarity, and delivering that. Let people on your team do what they're good at so everyone can benefit from it, especially yourself.
I've come to terms that there is no organizational structure where I work that will ever be intuitive to me. This isn't a criticism of the structure, it's a personal problem for me. I’ve learned it’s important to create personal systems that make sense of the information given to you.
A few examples of what I’ve done to organize the organization that makes sense to me:
Slack is too overwhelming, even with folders. Instead, I have a markdown file in Obsidian with the key channels I need to monitor by linking the icons. The fact that it’s in a personal space helps me navigate the chaos
There are way too many Google Docs at work. Every company deals with the working source of truth doc written by someone who left the company a year ago. I have my own markdown file with a link to the doc for reference but take personal notes and highlight key aspects of the doc that are important to remember
Finding Figma files are chaotic. I take a similar approach by creating a Figjam file with a visual reference to all the most important files.
The three examples I shared helped me organize the organization that makes sense to me. If I reorganized or rewrote everyone’s documents, it wouldn’t be collaborative nor make sense to them.
Create a Personal Knowledge Management system
If your company wiki as a Knowledge Base, then your Personal Knowledge Management system is the wiki for your brain—contextualized and written for what makes sense to you.
My Personal Knowledge Management system allows me to have a company wiki that makes sense to me. Though this may seem counter-intuitive initially, it’s important to create a structure that makes sense to you. Instead, I develop a personal knowledge management system for work on product journals, notes, and other file structures that make sense.
Thinking on a canvas
If you created the browser and internet from scratch today, I'd take a gander that it'd look more like a free-form canvas than a scrollable rectangle. Tools that have a visual canvas like Obsidian 1.1 and Muse are game-changers for me. It's difficult for me to comprehend the flow of work without visualizing it. I’m like Amelie Poulain’s mother, who has to dump everything out of her purse on the table in order to organize things. This is basically how my brain works!
There are times I won't share these visualizations with others because it'll confuse the Hell out of them. The goal is for you to make sense of things to you before distributing them outward.
One of the best learning tools in school for me was flashcards! For me, the index card is the most powerful design tool ever invented. There have been times I've written important Jira tickets on an index card to memorize. I keep a stack of index cards next to me in case I need to write something down to memorize. If I do it in a digital note, I'm going to forget where it was. Having a physical deck of index cards helps me physically see the most important things
Planning and organizing
“The separation is in the preparation.” —Russell Wilson, AKA Mr. Unnnnnnlimited, AKA the “Broncos country, let’s ride” guy.
There is no worse feeling than a manager who is not prepared to your 1:1s or constantly canceling them. Preparation is crucial for me to have a successful week. Switching context is common for managers. You may go from a 1:1 to an exec meeting then off to an external interview. Having pockets of time to prepare makes the difference between being completely present or inattentive. Here are a few tips on how I make time to prepare.
No notifications, ever
I turn off all system notifications across all of my devices. Yes, all of them, all the time. The push notification is the most destructive invention for me. I tend to do things that are urgent by automation and setting my workspace to make it easy to get notified.
Create work blocks
Though a lot of meetings are a part of a manager’s day-to-day, it’s important to have time to plan for the future. I love Benjamin Evans' tip about scheduling deep work time for two hours a day.
I'm fortunate to have an assistant who manages my calendar and schedule. She's great at making sure I have time between meetings and blocks of time to review work and have the space to think about 2023.
The infamous Think Week
Sometimes, work blocks for a day may not be enough. The reason is often the work blocks become something completely different:
At times, you may have to bulldoze the entire calendar. You may be familiar with Bill Gates' infamous Think Week where he goes to the woods to review employee pitches and ideas. I would love to do a Think Week 52 times a year! I did one this year in April and have a goal in 2023 to do more deeper thinking weeks each quarter to plan.
Communicate your needs upfront, ask for help
Create a structure for what makes sense to you
Identify the best method for understanding the flow of work to you
Create a space that allows you to find notifications and alerts, not for them to find you
Embrace repetition in re-organizing and re-writing
What you struggle with is often derived from a strength
There was a time I felt so bad about these behaviors. It made me feel like a bad manager or leader. Now, I view it as where I need support and have made peace with it. Your struggles often are on the opposite spectrum of what your strengths are. I'm a believer in having a growth mindset and there is always room for improvement but have shed the guilt of what I struggle with.
In the end, the success of a team is the collective group's strengths and gaps. The best performing teams balance, support, and force multiply their strengths. Remember, in the right environment, your struggles can be your strengths. If you won't remember, write it down somewhere!
Tweet of the week
If you’re in Los Angeles on Monday, December 19 there is a Webflow Meetup in Culver City
A list of software I enjoy that’s helped me gather my thoughts.
Software I use
Obsidian: My primary writing software for free writing and structuring notes. 1.1 introduces a visual canvas
Muse: A powerful tool for thought focus on visual thinking
Pocket: Bookmarking articles and links I need to remember quickly