Paying Attention at Automattic

All of my teen and adult life I realized that I perceive the world a little differently than most. I’d like to think I’m a smart guy but I never did very well in high school on exams especially for topics that weren’t science/math/computer related. I couldn’t read textbooks very well; my eyes would gloss over the details and I’d realize after reading a page I retained none of it. I hated research papers the most. In my early teens I discovered electronic music (at the time everything was called techno) and I realized listening to it while doing homework would keep that part of my brain busy so I could somewhat focus. I never put a name to the condition and just moved forward.

In my adult life, I coped with the challenges of whatever this condition was through a series of tools that I put together through trial and error. None of these tools were formally created by myself, much like the music discovery in my teens, I found what worked and continued with it. I ended up continuing on into college part time at night while working full time – I found the context shift during the day allowed my brain to focus on the learning. I did very well and my grades finally reflected how I felt what my potential could be. Work itself was a challenge, but I realized I liked taking on a number of different tasks and spending a pre-determined amount of time on each every day, keeping a structure in place to prevent boredom. I continually wanted to learn new things. Music and noise-canceling headphones also were still in my toolbox.

As I elevated myself in my career, getting more responsibilities like peer mentoring and tech lead on projects, I found the tools I had in the past didn’t quite work for this. Having to interact with others and integrate with their workflows caused me to derail pretty quickly. Keeping focus and retaining facts got hard at times. I plugged on.

Flash forward to me starting at Automattic.  Automattic, if you’re not aware, is an entirely distributed company.  All of us work out of our homes or wherever we may be.  We are all forced to be self-starters and good communicators over IRC and through posting of internal blogs.

I realized pretty quickly – within the first week there – that my quirkiness with focus and attention was more than just an annoyance. It was preventing me from maintaing cohesiveness between the work days and I felt like I was losing track of important details. I had an annual physical coming up so I decided to voice my concerns with my primary care doctor. He was receptive to what I was talking about but required me to talk with a specialist in the clinic – she is a trained counselor that deals with a variety of issues, ADHD being one of them. It was apparent to her that I had been showing signs of ADD (not so much hyperactivity) and suggested we take a layered approach to combating it. I was not comfortable with being on medication for the rest of my life but was willing to give it a whirl so I had some idea of what “normal” feels like.

So what’s my next steps and am I seeing any improvement? Short answer, yes, the medication seems to be helping with attention and focus. I can have conversations with people and I hold onto the train of thought much easier. I’m doing other things as well including meditation, yoga, exercise and some computer software to keep things in check. I’m also started a new internal blog at Automattic called Automattention for those of us who want to talk about ADHD and how it affects our lives at Automattic. I also plan on sharing my experiences here as I think it’s something a lot of people can benefit from hearing!

17 thoughts on “Paying Attention at Automattic

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