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Object Permanence in the Workplace

I could honestly write a book on this one. It's been a real struggle of mine and thankfully through learning about myself and what I struggle with, tried and tested workarounds, and also what my best friend and co-director witnessed and recently bought for me, I have found another way to work with it.

So what is it?

Object permanence is a cognitive concept that is essential for navigating the world around us. However, for children and adults alike with ADHD, object permanence can be very challenging.

Having ADHD and symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness can make it difficult to understand the relationships between objects and their surroundings, leading to difficulties with object permanence in the workplace, school etc.

One common difficulty that adults with ADHD face in the workplace, is remembering the location of important documents, files and materials. This can result in wasted time and lost productivity, as they search for items that they need to complete their work. It can also impact their ability to prioritise tasks, leading to missed deadlines and decreased productivity.

It can also impact adults with ADHD by making it difficult to for them to multitask effectively; they may struggle to keep track of multiple projects and deadlines at the same time, leading to missed opportunities and lost productivity. Additionally they may have trouble following the path of an object that disappears from view, which can result in issues with problem solving and anticipating the consequences of their actions.

In my case it can also mean that a conversation in the workplace can be had and in the moments leading from this, when walking from one office to another, a prioritised task can be forgotten as I have been distracted by something else I have seen, heard or thought about. Unless of course I have something in my hand as a prompt or I'm still discussing things with a colleague on my way to the office to start the task or write it down. I'm sure this happens to others too. Personally for me, it can happen in a matter of seconds and the object you see in the image below (a keyboard-sized glass top angled whiteboard) is my new and probably the best tool I have had in my office since the post-it and I've been using them since I worked as a personal secretary many years ago.

Fortunately there are several strategies that can be used to improve difficulties with object permanence in the workplace.

  1. Develop a system for organising documents and materials. This can include using colour coded folders, labelling and creating a designated workspace for each project or task. By creating a system for organisation, individuals with ADHD can improve their ability to locate important items/materials quickly and efficiently.

  2. Use tools such as calenders, reminders, note taking apps, whiteboards. These tools can help individuals with ADHD stay on top of important deadlines and tasks, making it easier for them to prioritise their work and avoid missing important deadlines.

  3. Adults with ADHD can benefit from seeking support from their employer or colleagues. By communicating their difficulties, they can work together to create an environment that is supportive of their needs. They employer may be able to provide additional training or resources to help them improve their executive functioning skills, while colleagues can help by providing reminders and support when needed.

On a more personal level, the tools and techniques used are down to an individual's preference.

I previously used a bullet journal, but as stress levels rose due to deadlines, my responsabilities and life in general, I found it too time consuming to organise and I also confused myself with the various keys I devised, as I kept forgetting what they meant (I had changed them and not recorded them).

I now have a space on the wall for my post-its for longer term projects, and the fabulous glass worktop space you see in the picture above for the everyday "get this done by the end of the day or within 24 hours" tasks.

Some individuals use notebooks, others use diaries, preferring to write things down (which can help cement things to memory), others prefer storing information using technology and setting reminders about them. It's about finding out what works for each and every individual, because what works for one may not work for another.

It's important that the individual with ADHD be held accountable by their colleagues and managers. By this I don't mean punishing anyone for their mistakes or mishaps once something has happened, it's about supporting and allowing the individual to work to their full potential to prevent mistakes and mishaps.

What I mean by accountable is that colleagues or managers check in on their progress and asks the individual questions around how a project is going, the length of time to a deadline etc.

By holding regular meetings, allowing for regular one-to-one's, performance reviews and feedback, it also ensures that the systems in place to help the individual with ADHD, are actually working. It can also give the individual with ADHD an opportunity to say when it isn't. If this is the case, it could be because there are changes in their workload, the work environment or the system has changed and no one has told them. (This has happened to someone I know on a personal level which is why it deserves a mention).

Being held accountable works for me, although I want to be clear about one thing - there is a difference between being held accountable and being micro-managed. This I know from a previous employment.

If you are like me and have ADHD (with or without an official diagnosis), I hope you've got something from reading this. Either from knowing you are not alone or further hints and tips that you hadn't thought about.

If you are an employer and may have individual(s) with ADHD who appears to struggle (and lets be real here, not every recognises this or if they do, they may not want to disclose it and that is their right), maybe it's down to object permanence.

If you are an employer and are still reading this last paragraph,, I'm hoping it means you are congratulating yourself for supporting your employees. Or maybe it means there are lightbulbs going off as you think about how you can support a particular employee, increase their productivity and help them to reach their full potential, which in turn will benefit you as their employer. Either way, you cannot unknow what you now know!


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