Managing Work Expectations with ADHD

Episode 133

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Shelly and Cam do an abrupt right turn with expectations, from camping in the woods on Phish Tour with Shelly to the environment and demands of work. Wherever there are people there are expectations, and wherever there are expectations there are different interpretations of those expectations. Burnout is actually an indicator of mismanaged expectations. ADHD makes it really tough to distinguish the priority of competing demands, and we often falter when we sense conflicting expectations.

Shelly and Cam explore a few client examples of habitual responses (from last week) and what the clients did to have a different experience with expectations. Using a colorful metaphor from a previous episode of ‘too many tennis balls coming over the net’, Shelly’s client resources her new manager to take a look at all of the end-of-school-year incoming demands and to prioritize and make an action plan for a ‘successful return volley’. The common theme is noticing the expectation and your own response to it. Shifting expectations from an ‘immutable truth’ to actually what it is – a point of engagement for dialogue.

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Episode Transcript:

Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly. 

Cam: And I’m Cam. 

Shelly: And this is Translating ADHD. Group coaching reminders: Resilience is actually closed. That class does begin this week on Wednesday, June 22nd. However, we usually have a waitlist spot or to open up. So if you are interested in that course, go ahead and submit an application. If we don’t have room for you in this course, that application will give you first shot at the next class when we announce it. Cam also has an offering that is Equanimity, and that begins Tuesday, July 12th information for both courses, including pricing and how to apply or on the website translatingadhd.com/group.

So, Cam, my voice is still a little rough this week, and here’s why: I had my calendar littered with phone calls with old tour buddies that I haven’t talked to since before the pandemic just catching up, getting reacquainted with what’s going on with everyone two or three years since the last time I saw them. a lot of talking. So once again, not sick, my voice is a little rough. Sorry about it, but we’re going to deal.

Cam: Yeah. The thing that got my attention, though, from our recording last week, and the story is about re-engaging with your Phish experience, was what you said at the beginning of the episode, which was making space for joy. Letting joy back. That we’ve all been through a lot. We’ve all had loss. And that, I think that with ADHD, we can often try to check that box. Like I got to deal with my loss. I gotta deal with my grief. Then I’ll let the joy back in. And so last week was just a wonderful example of what you do and what you’re doing. To hit that reset button to find your joy and let it back in. How you do it is through your fish experience. So listeners, what is it that you do? Who are you around? Where does joy live for you and where can you reengage with.

Shelly: Absolutely. And interestingly enough, that’s been a theme in a lot of my coaching sessions with my clients lately as well, sort of looking at what went missing, starting in spring of 2020. And how do I start to get that back? It just had a lot of clients looking to re-engage with their own version of community or connectedness or joy.

Cam: I think that’s an episode right there, or it might be a series of episodes. Today we are continuing with expectation. Last week, we talked about our habitual responses to expectation. We shared three different examples of that. And Shelly shared some amazing examples of all three, two of which were from her fish weekend, just being with others. And how expectations are in play. It’s the stuff that happens between people. And so today we look at expectation at work. So we’re going to move away from Phish camping experience and really go into when we’re trying to be successful at work and challenges regarding expectations, how they show up for us when we have ADHD and then what we can do about it. And Shelly has a great example there. So Shelly, I, as I was thinking about the thinking about expectations at work, actually, I thought about how many of my clients come to me in coaching and they often come at this sort of they’re at a place where they’re just crispy and done call it what you will, you can call it burnout, but whatever was working is no longer working that they were riding that arc pony, right?

The adrenaline response cycle. The ability to react and respond to latest and loudest, and they were masterful at that. And that whole, like running it up the flag pole, do whatever it takes. That’s their mantra. That’s the way that they approach work until it no longer worked. And that’s often when people run smack into this ADHD thing is this, oh, I push on the accelerator and nothing happens. What’s going on? And it reveals this whole thing around then neurodivergence and different brain chemistry.

So it just got me thinking about part of the dilemma here is managing expectations and we’ll sort of start with, you know, first of all, what is the working definition? The working definition of an expectation is. Belief that something will happen in the future and it work. There’s another piece that I will add to that. And that is this, it’s a belief that something will happen in the future in a certain way. That’s a fascinating thing that happens is okay. So an activity where we do something and we do it at some future. People do you hear that? The challenge there? And I think we may have alluded to this last week, but the other part is this it’s a belief. It’s not a fact. It’s not a truth. Everybody takes their thinking and interprets it themselves. So we’ll talk about a little bit about what happens at work. So there’s an ex.

You receive your packet and it’s this is what we expect. And you’re told this is what we expect. But if you have a manager who takes that expectation and interprets it themselves and then re delivers it to you. That becomes problematic for a couple of reasons. One thing is we tend to have a pretty good BS. We are like, wait a second, they’re asking me this. And yet over here, I heard this and it’s contrary that actually there are competing expectations all the time. And for us trying to decipher which one is the priority, right? Remember we have a priority issue. So here they are competing. It’s like it creates confusion and maybe trips us into over. And we either, again, shut down, bristle or just run it up the flag pole.

The other thing can happen is right we’re get ‘er done people, right? Is that we come in and we’re eager. And if we’re running it up the flag pole, then we become the, get her done guy or gal or person is that people will like send us an email. Hey John, would you mind taking a look at this real quick.

I have clients who will receive these seemingly innocuous emails. It’s like in there as an ask. And it’s sort of like, if we are too eager, we put others’ priorities first. We’re just using others as prioritization. Right. So then guess what we’re doing? Honoring our own stuff. We’re always responding, reacting.

And then people pick up on that, oh, Hey this guy they’ll take care of it. So we find ourselves again, just trying to stay up with these inquiries. We’re always able to do the most urgent, but the things that really matter, they seem to fall off our list every day. Right. That thing that’s so matters to you because there’s no external expectation there. External in the sense of it, there may be there, but there is no consequence or accountability and support. We’ve got to figure out how to do that ourselves. And that’s going to be the second part of our conversation today, is how we can take expectations and turn it into some useful tool to dialogue.

Shelly: So let’s start with the first part and a very timely client scenario. I have a client who works in a specialist. So that school works with multiple school districts. And for any of you in education or academia, you know what the ends of a semester or the end of a school year looks like in terms of a lot of work being shoehorned into a very small amount of time.

And that goes 2, 3, 4 times as much for this client. As each school district is reaching out for their kids in this program to get whatever information they’re missing or whatever it is they need in order to wrap up their end of year while. My client is also still trying to do her good work of meeting with her kids.

So unlike a traditional school, her end of years still involves her same daily work with her kids. There’s not extra space in her schedule. However, There are these extra demands coming from a number of different places. And so this client last week came to her coaching session, really wanting to focus on how do I keep up with the good habits that we’ve already established.

That helped me orient to my day. And that’s where we started the conversation, but where we ended up going. Was around how to weave in these expectations in a way that makes sense in a way that makes sense to her and in a way where she’s clear what the priority is because she faces decisions like, do I move or cancel sessions with kids that I will have to make up before the end of the year?

Is this urgent enough that I do that or not. And in previous years she couldn’t contextualize that very well, which led to this sort of day-by-day, reactive mode, scramble often tears in the last few weeks of school, and then a big crash at the end, sort of dragging oneself over the finish line. We made it again.

That was awful. And now I’m crashing. For the entirety of my break, because as a special school, she’s not off all summer, she gets a two or three week break and then she’s back to it again.

Cam: So this is the same client that we were talking about a few weeks ago, Shelly. Right? It was around habitual responses to time. And I need these big chunks to do these reports. But that realization that I can use big chunks for other more important things. Is that right?

Shelly: Yes, because that’s exactly right. And so this conversation started with. All of these supportive practices that we’ve put in place around tasks and time. How do I stay with those? How do I not go to work and get that first urgent thing flying at me and then spend my whole day in reactive mode or spend this whole last two or three weeks of the semester in reactive mode, because of that had been her experience up to this point with end of school year. And she’s been doing this, provide a decade.

Cam: So we can see how expectation is we pull expectation in here, how that feeds in to how she’s viewing her time. And prioritizing and distributing her efforts in order to take care of the immediate, but also attend to these more important things. So what happened there? Like right before you worked with her and started to figure out how to integrate that and, and do both. What was the thinking there was it just running up the flagpole? Was it I’m going to, I just have to work extra hours until it’s done and then collapsing.

Shelly: So there was some freezing. So she calls that rebel mode. Which led to working extra hours, a lot of running it up the flagpole and her primary frustration. And what led to the meat of our coaching session was the statement that here I am getting requests through my boss because the requests come to her boss, and depending upon which kid it is, get filtered down to the person that works with that kid. I have all of these requests coming from all different directions and it’s hard to distinguish the priority because to the person requesting they can’t move on and continue to wrap up the end of their school year until I have gotten them what they’ve asked for.

And so how do I possibly manage that while? No. Gumming up my own schedule by canceling appointments and having to also make those up before the end of the year, but also without having people waiting on me and preventing them from doing what they need to be able to do to close out their school year.

So there’s just this complete inability to distinguish priority and everything got put on the same level of urgency. And so here she is, minute to minute, day to day, just jockeying stuff around to deal with the next most urgent thing. The next most urgent thing. In fact, cam, she brought in your, your tennis balls, your overactive tennis machine.

She says up until this period of time in the school year, it feels like I’m playing tennis. And then all of a sudden I’ve got all these tennis balls flying my way and I can’t possibly hit them all. But boy, am I trying. And it’s painful.

Cam: Yeah. So there’s a point here that I’m really curious about and it was. Realization where she came to the coaching call with this topic, because that reminds me of last week with your examples of, oh, I’m noticing what I’m doing, I’m going to own it. And I’m going to step back and see, is there a different way before we go there though?

You just reminded me. I have to do a quick little client side bar here of where I had a client who had the exact same thing. And yet it ended up very different. So I’m working with this person. They come to coaching and as a part of our startup, he sends me some of his material. And part of it is a 360 review.

Of his colleagues and I’m looking at it and you wouldn’t believe the vitriol in his colleagues notes. It was pure hate And I’m looking at this guy and I’m like, here’s a nice guy. He’s, well-meaning seemingly well-respected out in the world. And yet the people closest to. Are so frustrated and so angry and I’m like, something’s not squaring here.

Something’s not squaring where, what you’re saying and what I’m seeing on paper are not adding up. And as we kind of dug in what became clear. Was, he was doing a, not so great job of managing all of these multiple expectations. I love what you just said. It’s sort of like when we’re in a group, someone else has something and it’s like, they can’t continue until someone else works on it and hands it back to them. And so your client is feeling that they’re feeling that responsibility, that, that pressure. And yet it all comes in at the same level. And so part of our work is being able to prioritize and distinguish and work on something and move it forward. This comes back to the six CS, right? Engaging to a completion point, moving those melons forward.

Going back to an old episode, this guy had gotten so overwhelmed. All he was doing was playing a show. He would just say, yep. I’m getting into it. I’m getting to it. I’ll be right back with you. And then over here. Yep. Yep. Yep. Got it. Give me another day and then nothing. And if you want to create a lack of trust really quickly.

Is when you tell somebody you’re going to do something and you don’t do it repeatedly. And that was the thing that was happening here. He was such in an overwhelmed state that all he was doing was basically moving the shelves around and not moving anything forward. All he was doing, he had time to, again, just move the shells and not move anything forward. And so it became a really difficult situation. Very difficult.

So starting to first of all own, and here’s the thing he couldn’t do was own what he was doing, just to like, again, dismissing downplaying and not getting to that place of awareness, Shelly and taking responsibility for his actions and inactions.

So let’s go back to your client here and what she did.

Shelly: Ah, first of all, she’s showing up proactively, as you said, she is looking forward to the end of the school year and saying I’m having a different experience at work. And I want that different experience to continue. I want this last two or three weeks to be different than it’s been before. And for her, it wasn’t the shell game.

Although if that was her work life all the time, there’s a chance that it could become that. It was like this intense amount of pressure and urgency crushed to the finish line. Just reacting to this reacting, to this reacting, to this with no sense of what else matters. Other than the thing before her, in that moment for two or three weeks, just completely wearing her out.

So we started by talking about the practices she already has in place and how she will remind herself of the positive outcomes of sitting down and doing her morning planning. And then we started to talk about where do these extra tasks. These things that only come up this time of year fit into that. And she kind of paused and went, you know what? I have a newer boss. Who’s a little different than my old boss. And one thing this new boss is really good at is helping me prioritize. I’m remembering a conversation a couple of weeks ago where she asked me to do something. And she helped me figure out how and where to fit that into my plan for the day and also what I could let go of.

So when she hands me something, there’s a resource here. I don’t have to try and prioritize this on my own. I can ask her to help prioritize for me. To help me contextualize this with the other things on my plate. And so she did, she went and she had this proactive conversation. She didn’t wait until stuff started coming in.

She had this proactive conversation with her boss. it really helps me when you hand me an unexpected priority task for us to pause and have this conversation to help me understand the priority to help me understand what else I can let go of.

Cam: And to create context around the work at hand.

Shelly: Absolutely. And there was an unexpected additional benefit of this proactive conversation. And that is that her boss is doing a better job of protecting her and her coworkers in terms of not just being a colander with huge holes that everything passes through down to her and her colleagues, but really being the sieve, helping sift out what’s the priority. And what’s not pausing and asking those questions before even passing on the task. And so here, not just my clients. Is having a different experience with this end of school year, her coworkers are and her bosses. And everybody’s more on the same page about how to handle things, because instead of everybody individually holding their two tennis rackets, furiously swatting, the tennis balls, they’re now looking at those tennis balls as a collective and tackling it as more as a collective.

Cam: Right. And thinking about what kind of game are we trying to play here? It’s not just about hitting tennis balls, but what’s our strategy. What’s the game we’re trying to. Is it a long game, right? Is it a quick game? And so I appreciate that example and it just, it reminds me of again, where we started last week with what to do with expectations, as opposed to this thing that just is, our all or nothing thinking, and we have a propensity to kind of want to go it alone or. Values self-reliance that is a societal thing. It’s also an ADHD thing. It’s of like, gotta be independent, gotta show them that I can do the job. And so just do it and not pause to stop and clarify too. Wait a sec. Let’s look at this together. And so being able to. Overcome that urge to just dig in and stay up late. Cause you reminded me of when I was a teacher and it was the same thing I had end of year, you know? and then it was these end of year, bigger reports that the overarching reports and it was like cleaning up my room and stacking of all these different things I had to do.

And I would just grit through it. I would just stay there longer than anybody else. And I would basically eat into my summer vacation and limp out at the end of June, basically, you know, like something’s got to change. They’re not understanding that I had some options there that it’s like, oh wait, this is a place where I can dialogue.

And so it’s so wonderful that your client realized she had a resource in her manic. That it wasn’t just, the manager was a pass through just passing through the stuff, but that she could collaborate with her around. Okay. What is this thing? What’s the context. What’s the timeline? What is my role? What’s my responsibility. And so that’s the thing I want to go a little bigger here because ADHD never operates by itself. Right. That if you’re looking at a new organization is in the culture, right? How do they address or approach expectation? Do they see it like a compliance thing? It’s just like, you just do what we say and there’s no feedback loop, right?

Are these immutable or are they open to die? I think that often a manager can feel any kind of challenge, right. To how we do it as a challenge or a threat, because they’re got their own pressures. And if we’re all in our crouched position, we’re all like, ah, we just gotta get it done.

We gotta all breathe. Take a step back. And. Is the organization open to a different way of thinking? That’s the other thing, Shelly, is that again, this focus on the way we do it, that it’s done in a certain way, and there’s too much focus there. It’s really about, getting it done. And is there openness there to an interpretation of how it’s done? We think different. We do differently. And to be able to embrace that fully is to find an organization that’s going to support you there, that it’s not going to feel threatened when you come back and say, Hey, can you help me out with this? Can you help me with priority here? Because all of us have too much coming over the transom too much coming onto our desk.

And those open dialogues are really helpful for us. So starting with seeing expectation as this thing that is not just this immutable object that you must comply with, but actually a point of engagement and to find a colleague, a manager, a support that appreciates the way you show up in the world and work in the world.

Shelly: Well said, Cam, and this speeds right into your stuff, my stuff, our stuff, which we’ve talked about in the context of work before – meaning there was an opening there for my client to get some from this manager because of who that manager is and what that manager brings in terms of strength. There may not have been an opening. If that manager was a different person, if that manager themselves was responding to that urgency and just trying to swap the tennis ball. And that is the part we so often miss as ADHD people. And that is where looking at the habitual response first, just kind of examining how we show up and who we’re being in these situations can open the door to examine what’s possible here, and what’s maybe not possible. What’s not something I can effect change on. And what does that mean? For my overall decision making here and how I feel about being in this organization.

Cam: And it goes back to, again, just to use the metaphor of hitting tennis balls. It’s not just about hitting tennis balls. Yes. We want to have a good groundstroke and a backstroke and be able to, to volley and rally and all that stuff. But it’s too. What’s the game we’re trying to play. Do we have other people on our side of the net helping us, or does it feel like we’re all by ourselves?

Shelly: Well said, Cam, and I think that is a good spot for us to wrap for today. So if you like what we’re doing here on the show, three ways you can help us out, you know them well, by now. The first is leave a review wherever you listen. This helps other people find the show and lets them know how we stand apart. The second is don’t keep us a secret, share us with the other neurodivergents in your life. And that is by far how most of our audience members find us. So thank you to those of us that are sharing the show regularly. And finally, you can financially support the show by becoming a patron. This helps Cam and I cover all of the costs of running this show and bringing it to you each week, including our editor and assistant, you also gain access to our discord community where listeners are working together to do their own understand, own, and translate work. To become a patron, visit the website translatingadhd.com, click on the Patreon link and for $5 a month you’re in. So until next week, I’m Shelly.

Cam: And I’m Cam.

Shelly: and this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thanks for listening.

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Episode 133