Context Switching

ADHD and the issue of context switching

These last couple of weeks, a term made the rounds in our department which I had never heard before and which finally gave me a picture to an issue I had for a while. There seems to be some struggle with context switching at the moment. Which made me realise that this is the fundamental problem I am having when I get stuck with things at work.

Mind you we all wear a multitude of hats, teaching on four entirely different programmes, in some of which we coordinate several courses, and then each of us manages various projects at the side, and we are completely redesigning our courses. On top of all of this there is a ton of admin, communication with students, peer observations, marking, feedback, managing interns, engaging in scholarship. So all in all the completely normal academic life.

However, our deadlines for things seem all to accumulate around the same time between the next three to five months. This means switching contexts between tasks has increased in speed and density, additionally most of the contexts are new, and come with a litany of new rules, regulations and processes, so one cannot simply switch between things one knows. The effort that has to be put in also increased. I am sure once we have a business as usual situation this will become easier.

Now my ADHD related learning from this new phrase, is that certain contexts work better in certain environments. Thinking work, scholarship, teaching planning, conceptualizing, writing content—no chance in the office. At home however, I am productivity ninja. Now admin stuff, particularly anything that needs sorted and is related to regulations and processes I am not familiar with and want to double check with someone—office. No chance at home.

Forms of full failure

The weirdest of them all are emails and filling in forms. I am getting better with emails: although sometimes they still cause so much anxiety that I do not answer. But give me a funding application or ethics form to fill in, or did I tell you I applied for promotion and the forms for that have caused me so much stress. I have cried, I have yelled at the computer, I have cursed like a sailor, a lady, and a pirate who met in a bar. At one point during the promotion application it got so bad the S.O. sat me down and gave me coaching session. I didn’t even know he knew Socratic inquiry technique!

When I open a form—mind you my heart rate increases already trying to find it and download it—all I get is noise. It is so loud it feels as if someone stands next to me and screams on top of their lungs into my ears. This is how loud forms are. Trying to make sense out of them is utterly exhausting. Going into the office when I know I could get three times the amount of work done at home causes me anxiety, stomach cramps, and also guilt because of the work I know will not be done. So I have noticed that if I very strictly compartmentalize the ADHD side effects become easier, less, better. And it gets even better if I align the context with the appropriate environment.

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