I’m not much of an ADHD perfectionist. My lifelong challenge has been not doing things well enough.
Yet, as mentioned in last week’s ADHD Success, perfectionism plagues some my clients.
Here’s the story of one of my client’s perfectionism struggle. So you can see the havoc being a perfectionist with ADHD causes, and get some ideas what to do about it.
I’ve altered the client name and details. Client confidentiality is rule number one for this ADHD coach.
An ADHD Perfectionist Case Study
Terry, 47, is a busy, vibrant woman. A family physician with a robust medical practice and lots of outside interests. She has three teenage sons, a husband, a lovely home.
She hired me as her coach because she couldn’t keep up with the demands of her life with ADHD. Perfectionism wasn’t on her radar. She thought she needed the most help getting organized.
I soon discovered that Terry had an overwhelming backlog of uncompleted patient records. These are the notes a doctor writes after each patient visit.
The backlog had a huge negative impact on Terry’s life.
When the records backlog reached a certain number she didn’t get her paycheck. Plus, she missed many family activities while she caught up on patient records. Many a family photo shows her in the background on her computer working on records.
We started with creating a better system. We simplified Terry’s patient record process. She automated parts of her forms. She discovered that she got more records done working near the busy nurses’ station. Her office was so quiet she couldn’t focus.
Simplifying the process did help. But Terry still had a heck of a time keeping up with the records. The backlog wasn’t as big, but it was still a headache.
So, we dove into how Terry actually filled out the records. This is where we realized that Terry is an ADHD perfectionist.
Terry was spending a lot of time completing each record. It turned out did much more than getting each patient’s medical information correct.
She meticulously pondered the sentence structure, spelling, and punctuation of each record. She even corrected the spelling and grammar of OTHER doctors who had added to the record.
No wonder Terry was overwhelmed!
Overcoming ADHD Perfectionism
Like many ADHD perfectionists Terry couldn’t discern when she needed to do high-quality work.
Of course, she needed to get the medical details correct.
Spending extra time correcting spelling and punctuation? No way did that add value. In fact, that was what was causing the problems.
ADHD perfectionists have a hard time lowering their standards. Even though Terry admitted she needed to let those spelling errors slide by it was hard for her to do.
Our first step was building awareness. Terry couldn’t overcome her ADHD perfectionism until she noticed she was making unnecessary corrections.
Terry set a timer to go off every five minutes to catch her perfectionism. We picked five minutes because that seemed a reasonable amount of time to spend on each record. When the timer buzzed she would check in to see if she’d veered off course.
Our second step was getting Terry to stop being a perfectionist.
We added a mantra for Terry to say when she noticed she was straying into unhelpful perfectionism. I wish I could share Terry’s mantra with you but it’s an R-rated word. Use your imagination.
These days Terry is much better at finishing her records. She rarely gives her life over to her unnecessary ADHD perfectionist tendencies.
Terry still has a small records backlog but it’s manageable. She rarely needs to use her timer to pull herself out of being a perfectionist.
She’s able to give more of her focus to her family and enjoy her hobbies and activities. And it’s been months since she hasn’t gotten her paycheck.
I love happy endings to stories don’t you? If your ADHD perfectionist habit is robbing you of peace and success what are you going to do about it?
Well, for me it is better to do what makes me happy than doing it perfectly at all times 🙂
Ugh… I think this is at the very heart of my existence. I think it is at the heart of my leaving jobs! When I don’t see a job “well done” it drives me out of my mind! I will try this technique, but I am not sure how to quantify my time in my particular job.
Well, THIS explains everything that has paralyzed and sabotaged me throughout my career! Counselling gave me antidepressants and sent me to assertiveness training and group therapy. Some suggested I was bipolar. As it turned out I would exhaust myself from being a star performer, become ‘bored and disinterested,’ lose creativity, fall in love with someone and start over at a new setting. (please excuse the run on sentence) I called it getting bored after the learning curve had flattened out, which may have had some truth to it due to being very overqualified for the position. My fear being that my lack of time management would be judged as lack of respect, care or showing contempt. Not to mention my confusion at seeing less than perfect coworkers get sometimes more favour shown from management! And after I had corrected their mistakes, not knowing how to talk to someone politely about shortcomings. On one occasion trying to point out something that was seriously dangerous was met with an accusation of trying to get someone fired.
It’s only recently, after being diagnosed with ADD post car accident 4 yrs. ago (not my fault), that I have started to heal from the low self worth and lack of confidence. Another counsellor told me to look up toxic perfectionism – never heard of that before. A career counsellor told me that I stay in bad situations way too long and I should take a good look at that. Well, isn’t that perseverance and riding out a tough day, week or year? Okay, it was all fears and focusing on the wrong plate spinning on the end of the stick. It is so uplifting to hear that this brain functioning differently, this lack of executive function at times, this ADD is not my concious doing and I am not a loser! Being a perfectionist and having ADD or ADHD is a thing makes total sense for this creative individual, raised by creative masters in their field. Thank You so much for posting this in a way I could read it for free. Much appreciated!
You are very welcome, Sheila. Blessings to you. Dana