Overloaded circuits: why smart people underperform

Harv Bus Rev. 2005 Jan;83(1):54-62, 116.


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, 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 gray disappear. People with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing time, and they feel a constant low level of panic and guilt. ADT can be controlled 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 recommends that companies invest in amenities that contribute to a positive atmosphere. Leaders can also help prevent ADT by matching employees' skills to tasks. When managers assign goals that stretch people too far or ask workers to focus on what they're not good at, stress rises. ADT is a very real threat to all of us. If we don't manage it, it will manage us.

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Personnel / psychology*
  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Professional Competence
  • United States