Executive distress

Jan 11 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

From the current issues of Harvard Business Review: "Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform".

Frenzied executives who fidget through meetings, lose track of their appointments, and jab at the "door close" button on the elevator aren't crazy - just crazed. They suffer from a newly recognized neurological phenomenon that the author [Edward M. Hallowell], a psychiatrist, calls attention deficit trait, or ADT.

It isn't an illness; it's purely a response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live. But it has become epidemic in today's organizations.

When a manager is desperately trying to deal with more input than he possibly can, the brain and body get locked into a reverberating circuit while the brain's frontal lobes lose their sophistication, as if vinegar were added to wine. The result is black-and-white thinking; perspective and shades of grey disappear.

People with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing time, and they feel a constant low level of panic and guilt. It is possible to control ADT by engineering one's environment and one's emotional and physical health.

Make time every few hours for a "human moment" - a face-to-face exchange with a person you like. Get enough sleep, switch to a good diet, and get adequate exercise. Break down large tasks into smaller ones, and keep a section of your work space clear. Try keeping a portion of your day free of appointments and e-mail.

The author also recommends that companies invest in amenities that contribute to a positive atmosphere.

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