I’m worried I’m an airhead

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m a 23-year-old woman currently working at a nonprofit. I’ve been in this position for less than two months, but I’ve already received very positive reviews from my supervisor, and I love working with everyone in the office. However, there’s one issue that I’ve been grappling with: I can be a bit dense.

In terms of “book smarts,” I’ve never had a problem — I’ve always done well in school, have never had any complaints about work reports or communications, love reading, etc. But when it comes to common sense matters, I’m a total airhead. I was famous for forgetting to use coffee filters before brewing coffee or spacing out and incorrectly assembling meals during food service jobs in college. Now, in an office setting, I do things like ask for updates on reports that I completed two days ago, or lose a file that’s sitting right on top of my desk. In a recent meeting, someone joked about how a staff member had let the meeting “run on too long” (the conference room clock hadn’t been adjusted for the time change). I glanced at the clock and, in complete sincerity, said something to the effect of, “No way, I can’t believe we’ve blown past two hours already!”

This has been a pretty embarrassing trend throughout my work and social life. None of my past supervisors or coworkers have ever mentioned it, and it’s never affected my work performance. But really, I’m more worried about the subtle effect it might have over time, especially as I get older and my ditziness becomes less…acceptable? “Cute”? My day-to-day work might be good, but no one thinks of the office airhead as management material. I try to be aware of this tendency and think things through before I speak, but it always pops up no matter what I try.

Is this something I can actually address, or ask my manager for feedback on? Am I overreacting about how much others notice this tendency? Or should I just resign myself to occasionally having slip-ups?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 455 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Justme, The OG

    I’m the same way. What helps me is to write down EVERYTHING and make sure everything (like files) has a logical home so I’m less likely to overlook it.

    Reply
    1. Psyche

      Yes. Have a “to do” list and a “completed” list and be diligent about immediately moving things from one to the other. Have a very organized office/desk so that you know exactly where a file should be and again be very diligent about immediately putting it there if you are not actively work in on it. I have also found that avoiding multitasking is helpful since that creates more opportunities for things to fall though the cracks.

      Reply
      1. Justme, The OG

        Agree. I was sidelined from a task yesterday by a very unimportant email that my supervisor sent me. I know not to always check email, that’s why I have the alert noise turned off.

        Reply
      2. AnotherSarah

        +1. I also think this is about appearances. If it’s more “Jane is really organized and on top of things but has this strange quirk,” that’s different from “Jane has this strange quirk and I don’t know if/how she’s getting things done.”

        Reply
        1. selena81

          This.
          I think that if your desk is visible neat and tidy then people are far more likely to see your incidents as just funny little brainfarts instead of a warning sign of a chronically disorganized person.

          Reply
      3. Shark Whisperer

        I use the sticky notes program on my computer. I have a running to do list and I cross things off, but don’t delete them until the end of the week. At the end of the week, I send a weekly report to my manager with all the crossed off stuff. It really helps me stay on top of stuff in my current job that has a thousand moving parts.

        Reply
          1. MM

            You can always email it to yourself and use a consistent subject line, so then you can just search for that subject line if you want to remind yourself whether something is done.

            Reply
      4. Outofsight

        I do this too because I’ll get a lot of “drive-by” requests – where people say “can you do X” as they blow past my desk. I write down every single one before I forget, check mark the ones that are in process, and cross off the ones completed. I also keep a calendar with automatic reminders of monthly, reoccurring tasks and an analog calendar where I write down things that need to stay IN MY FACE, but not actually cluttering up my desk. And lastly, I put sticky notes on all documents with detailes about it so I can take it in at a glance. I started off writing notes like “page 4” until I was like “what about page 4 again?! Darn it past me, get it together!” And now I’m very detailed.

        So you do have the power to address it! No one is perfect, but if your work suffers, it may impact others in a way that shifts their perception from endearing quirk to incompetent mess. Don’t rope anyone in on your blunders unless you have to (eg losing the file or asking for a report). Get the full story before you speak.

        I’m rooting for you, and me, and all of us who need a little extra diligence that comes naturally to others.

        Reply
      5. EddieSherbert

        I’m a big fan of the ‘to-do’, ‘WIP’, and ‘completed’ lists. My manager and I have a biweekly meeting to go over things, so after that meeting, I send her an email with my up-to-date lists (for recording keeping) and then empty the completed list at that point.

        Reply
    2. Alternative Person

      Same, I have epilepsy and things just don’t stick like they used to, so I write stuff down. Checklists especially help me to keep track of everything. I keep a list of events like clock changes/appointments so I have an easy reference for what I’m up to/what’s going on in a given week. I (try to) keep files/documents in consistent places (I keep a file with some stuff in my work bag at all times because it saves the mental load of keeping track of taking stuff out/putting it in). It works enough to keep me on the right tracks.

      Reply
      1. automaticdoor

        I have bipolar disorder, and apparently some of the anticonvulsants can cause short-term memory loss/brain fog. Not sure which ones DON’T cause that, but I’ve basically been spacey since I started meds 11 years ago.

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          you know, I wonder if that explains the young woman I worked with one summer at a church-based organization. We’d all been alerted to be nice to her, so we entered the situation thinking of her as mildly handicapped or something. And she was definitely “spacey.” Nice, and not in the least stupid. But definitely spacey.

          Sometimes it was that there were spaces between her and the things that she said or did (or between what you said, and her apparent comprehension). It made me think that the word “spacey” is actually literal.

          Reply
        2. AnnaBananna

          I’m on Lyrica for nerve pain and it does the same thing. Not only am I not remotely motivated, but I couldn’t tell you what’s on my to-do list to save my life. Or if I even made a to-do list. Or whether I even know where I put said to-do list if I even created it in the first place. >.<

          #medssuck

          Reply
      2. Katastrophreak

        Same, it’s been 20+ years. StickyNotes has been a great replacement for Excel, and i also make enormous use out of Google Calendar feature for children’s activities, dr appointments, family functions, etc.. especially now that it had a remind instead of just an event. Color code all the things so I know which “hat” i’m wearing, and bam! Everyone thinks I’m organized, but really I just do all these things to be minimally functional.

        Reply
    3. Smarty Boots

      Have a good system (lots of suggestions in the comments), but you have to USE whatever system you come up with. It’s no good if you have a detailed calendar and never look at it. So you’ve got to figure out a way to ensure that you that you do — making it habitual really helps, as does putting it in a place that you are sure to see it, and so on.

      As for verbal ditziness– so my problem is not saying airhead stuff, but just talking too much, too forcefully, and talking first (= I’m the first one to say something if we’re having a discussion at a meeting, for instance). I tried to not talk, but I would forget…so I needed a visual reminder. I got a small sun medallion, very pretty, everyone thinks it’s like a worry-bead I carry around. In fact, it’s my stop talking reminder: SUN = Shut Up Now. LOL. Works great. Anyway, find a way to make yourself take a few moments to think before you say anything. Make it habitual, find some way to remind yourself — visually, tactilely, etc.

      Reply
      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        I need this medallion for social situations. I have hardly anyone to chat with in my day-to-day life, so when I finally start chatting with someone, I cannot stop.

        Reply
      2. MM

        A lot of LW’s list of missteps seem like cases of asking someone else for information that she could have ascertained for herself if she’d just stopped to ask herself, “Can I answer my own question?” before voicing it. (Not the clock thing, but e.g. the report thing.) If, having created a system, she can retrain herself to ask herself that question before externalizing the impulse, I think that would motivate her to use whatever system she’s built.

        Note that this does NOT need to be mentally framed as “hiding that I’m an airhead” or “it’s wrong to ask for help/information or express that I need something.” It can be mentally framed as a positive trait: “I am allowing myself to problem-solve” or even just simply, “I can take care of this.”

        I have adult ADHD and was diagnosed in my 20s. I was already training myself this way, because I was sick of feeling like I had to rely on/inconvenience other people for basic information or solutions that, as an adult, I felt I should be able to handle on my own. The ADHD diagnosis explained why I’d had this problem, but the way I solved it was exactly as you say: creating a system AND being motivated to use it because I was sick, at 24, of calling my mom to find out the name of my dentist or what have you. (A key aspect of this is being realistic and able to accept that not all systems will work for you. For example, for years my teachers urged me to do paper filing to keep track of my homework and school papers. I simply could not do that. To this day I consider physical paper as good as lost the second I’m not holding it in my hand. But digital filing and backups I can and do do with a vengeance. It’s not worth trying to force yourself into someone else’s idea of a good system if it genuinely doesn’t work for you; better and more efficient to figure out what does, or can. But of course you do have to be honest with yourself about your motivation before you write something off.)

        Reply
        1. selena81

          .. It’s not worth trying to force yourself into someone else’s idea of a good system if it genuinely doesn’t work for you…

          So true: just because something works for someone else or is ‘the standard’ does not mean it is the right method for *you*.
          I wish teachers were better at offering a variety of homework-planning options instead of trying to pull everyone in on their system (although no system is going to work if kids are just looking for an excuse to ‘forget’ doing homework)

          Reply
      3. aebhel

        Yeah, you need to have a system that’s going to work FOR YOU. The only thing I’ve managed that I’ll actually check is getting a big white-board next to my desk and literally writing out all of my daily and weekly tasks on it, then crossing them out as I go. I leave out the stuff that I do every week, but if it’s something I might forget, it goes up there.

        Reply
    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Second this. I have legit adult ADD, and was in trouble at work on one occasion for things like zoning out at meetings and forgetting something that was said in a meeting 30 minutes ago. (Not to mention my unfortunate stint as an office admin of a small office, where I kept forgetting to set the office alarm on when locking the office up for the day, and watering the potted plants.) I write everything down and keep to-do lists and notes of everything everywhere. I got to the point where most people aren’t even on to me being a scatterbrain anymore :)

      Reply
      1. MM

        Same! Recently a few people have made off-handed comments to me like “I know you’re a really organized person” and I still feel like, “Who, ME? Are you sure?!” before I accept that actually I’ve just improved my handling of the ADHD that much.

        Reply
    5. EH

      Same! I have fibromyalgia, and it can make me forget things almost at random. It’s infuriating.
      My solution: I have a Word document called “Notes 2018” (or whatever the year is). It is My Source Of Truth, and gets backed up regularly courtesy of my company’s OneDrive account. The first thing I do every day is open it and look at what’s on my plate for the day.

      The basic structure is:
      – Goals for the year my manager and I came up with
      – Current To-Dos, in a table with two columns: days of this week with their items under them in the left column, and big picture or low-priority tasks in the right column. I use the strikethrough font effect when I finish something.
      – Archived To-Dos – every Friday I set up a new set of Current To-Dos and move the ones for the week that’s ending into the archived section.
      – Meeting Notes
      – Resources – everything from notes on the org chart to reminders of how to access our staging server for Help doc
      – Kudos, Praise, and Accomplishments – this is a VITAL section for writing personal annual reviews, and helpful when I feel like I suck at my job.

      I use the headings feature in Word to organize everything – if I turn on the Navigation pane, it lets me jump around the doc quickly to find things. I nest things like meetings under the appropriate heading, so I can hide individual meetings under the Meeting Notes heading by collapsing it (“Meeting Notes” is in the Heading 1 style, then the title of each meeting is in Heading 2, etc). The document gets comically long (my current one is 87 pages, and I only started in June), but every calendar year I copy it over to a new one, remove all completed tasks and notes from last year’s meetings and start the new year.

      I also add sections as needed. For example, at this job I actually got a job description (rather than a verbal “ok, you do X”), so I copied that up above my Goals section. I’m also taking a series of training courses required by work, so I am taking notes on them in a “Notes from Training Courses” section below Meeting Notes.

      This doc is vital to my performance – if I weren’t working on a computer, I’d do something similar in a Bullet Journal or something. Having everything in one doc is the only way for me to keep from losing things. The instant there are multiple files for me to look at, I’m in danger of neglecting one of them.

      Also: LW, this kind of day-to-day spaciness can be a symptom of a couple different issues, especially if you’re female – ADD/ADHD manifests differently in those of us who aren’t boys, for example, and a number of chronic health issues can cause brain fog.

      Reply
      1. Owler

        Oh wow. This is great advice for all, but I’m especially picturing it for new grads who aren’t used to having to keep track of achievements for a yearly review. Even just checking it weekly—like making it part of a Monday morning start to the week—would have been a great thing for me to do in my 20s. I hope Allison sees this.

        Reply
      2. Chronic Catchup

        This is such a cool idea, but I’m having trouble picturing what it looks like in practice. Is there any way you could/would be willing to show an example? I’d love to do something like this, but I have a hard time visualizing it. Thanks for the ideas!

        Reply
        1. Maolin

          +1 for OneNote! I have several notebooks – for home/personal notes and lists, for my employer, one for each client, and one for school. Each notebook has tabs – one for each committee/workgroup/project I’m involved in, or each class. Then each tab has tons pages and sub pages, such as to do lists by week (with that perfectly suitable To Do tag checkbox), meeting minutes, tracking billable time/activities, and running narratives on just about everything else.

          It integrates with Outlook so I can link Outlook meeting invites with their notes/minutes in OneNote, flag action items with reminders or create Outlook tasks from items in my notes to be assigned to a team member. I can share notebooks, which is great for collaboration and centralised project documentation from the whole team. I use the tagging functionality a lot – ideas, to do, important, question, and I even have custom tags for team members or groups to make searching and tracking assignments I’ve made. I love that I don’t have to remember where something specific is filed away – it’s easy enough but, more importantly, it’s fastest to use the search box to locate whatever I’m looking for. It took a year or so to get the hang of how it make it work well for my needs, but I’d be lost without it now.

          Perhaps best of all is it’s FREE! It syncs across devices. I use the desktop most of the time (usually on 2-3 different machines), but the mobile app makes jotting down reminders, shopping list items, or that 2am work-worrying a quick and easy brain dump. Now I am just waiting for it to integrate with Alexa and then my world domination plans can be finalized! Three cheers for OneNote!

          Reply
      3. kitryan

        This is cool.
        TLDR: Color coding is awesome, you can also un-color and cross off completed items so the eye is drawn right to the remaining items. Using different colors for different actions makes for quick id of what’s still needed.
        Full version: My to-do list has a rainbow of colors on it. I track and process new submissions that turn around anywhere from same day to next month. So I use three colors for new submissions. Royal Blue, Vivid Red, and Bright Orange. I use a different set of colors for undone tasks (Bright Green, Yellow, Blue-highlighter colors). So a new entry would have a title/submission in Red, for example, and then a list of that submission’s needed tasks/approvals marked in the highlighter colors (I keep a master list at the top of the doc and cut and paste the tasks). As the tasks are completed, I change that item to unhighlighted and crossed off.
        Each day I copy over the list for the new day and all the submissions from the previous day are changed from their title’s bright colors to pastel versions of those colors. Once the item is completed I italicize it and when it’s copied over to the next day I delete all the italicized and thus completed entries, so my list has new stuff right up front and older incomplete stuff below that but no done stuff. I can look at previous entries for a history and see what we completed on that day right away.
        Each entry’s action items jump right out and I can report at a glance that submission X requires items 1, 3, and 5. I make notes with each entry as needed and include date/time of each action so I can make sure we’re performing our tasks within the allotted time frames. It’s a lot of tracking but it works for my job/workflow and between that and a near-obsessive outlook folder system (our submissions are all handled thru email) I have a rep at my office of being super competent and on the ball.
        Maybe some of this can be repurposed – I think the daily diary and color coding could really work for someone smart but with a tendency to be a bit unfocused (because this can totally be me, if I don’t update and utilize my system).
        My kudos folder is separate and so is my how-to document for my job. I really need to update the how-to, it’s best to keep it pretty up to date, but per the earlier post, we don’t have that spare 20% capacity right now, so it’s really hard to find any time to do those sorts of projects.

        Reply
      4. Female Aspie

        Yes to the “Also: LW, this kind of day-to-day spaciness can be a symptom…” I’m a very late diagnosis Aspie and I struggled mightily with interrupting/speaking even when I was trying to control myself in my 20s. It’s a real part of a autism spectrum disorders, not just a self-control thing! So if it’s a pervasive problem in your work and social life, you might consider looking into how ADD/ADHD/ASD present in women. In my 20s, I finally generally learned I needed to divide the length of the meeting in minutes by the number of people in the room and multiple that by how much I knew about the topic to get a sense of how much I could talk. 60 minute meeting with my supervisor about a project I know a ton about? I can talk all I want. 10 minute briefing to the whole company of 200 people about something I know nothing about? I should say nothing.

        Reply
    6. NicoleT

      Yep. I had to shift into this habit after I was pregnant (hormones and sleep deprivation = no bueno). I became known for asking people to pause when talking to me so that I could get a notepad and take notes. I had to repeatedly let people know that this was how I needed to work in order to get things done, and eventually it was “normal” to them.

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        The best advice I got early in my career was to send myself an email at the end of each week detailing what I accomplished that week. I’m convinced that the fact that I have thorough, long-ranging self-evaluations at the end of each review cycle is a big part of why I’ve had excellent reviews. (Yes, I do good work, but I’m very good at pointing that out to management.)
        I also include some fun photos in each week’s round up, which makes writing up a self evaluation more enjoyable.

        Reply
      2. Shoes on My Cat

        I have a “moving/walking” job that has a ton of moving parts -and a lot of work on my own. One of my pockets has a mini notebook and pen. As you have above, I also would stop my bosses to get a moment to write stuff down. One of my bosses really gets (NOW) that the delay is useful as I won’t have to bug her later…& actually has gotten to the point where she will ask me to look through my book for something for her reference! I also -with permission- use my phone’s video or camera feature for tasks I am learning but will do rarely enough that I won’t be able to remember each piece. And a cheat sheet in my Notes app. The videos are now part of official training for the newbies so we all benefit from best practice skills. Last job’s cheat sheet also became a training tool. Basically I assume I WILL forget. So I write it down. Usually that helps me remember but if not…. Also, I use physical aids when possible. If I need to remember to bring food, cooler blocks the fridge so I can’t get am coffee creamer without remembering to load the cooler. Car keys have a snap that I can attach to my purse-which is looped around the briefcase and umbrella. Personal reminders go on phone alerts-repeats have their own sound (or mute if they trigger during work hours). Basically, learn where you goof and start building ways to keep on track. Know Thyself! After a few decades people think I’m really organized. Ha! So when my brain spaces and shorts out, people tend to gloss over it because my overall impression is organized.

        Reply
        1. Shoes on My Cat

          Oh! And I put my name or initials in favorite color paint pen on all my gear/clothes/etc. Not to keep them from getting taken -as I tell every new person-but to help the item find it’s way back to me. You wouldn’t believe how many gloves, sunglasses, pens, jackets, MY NOTEBOOK, come back to me! My coworkers seem to get a kick out of helping me keep track of my stuff. I do go out of my way to help them whenever I can so perhaps it’s a mutual care thing, which is lovely on reflection!

          Reply
  2. Roscoe

    This really depends on how charming you are. This could either be an endearing quirk, or a super annoying thing no one wants to deal with.

    However, the biggest advice is listen more and talk less. That may not solve everything, but at least you won’t be SAYING dumb stuff

    Reply
    1. Washi

      Honestly, yes to “it depends on how charming you are.” If you’re an all-around hard worker, pleasant person, and thoughtful contributor, you will probably be known as an absentminded professor type. I can be like this as well and am also a young woman, and I think what has helped me avoid the airhead/complete ditz label is that I am super intense about completing work on time, asking thoughtful questions in meetings, and not making typos in my written work.

      Basically, if you’re well-like around the office and doing good work, I wouldn’t worry about this too much.

      Reply
      1. Où est la bibliothèque?

        This can be perilous territory though. I would say not to try to be charming in the moment when you’ve misplaced something obvious or made thoughtless comment–what is amusing self-deprecation to one person is going to be a ditzy giggle to another.

        Reply
      2. Lizzz

        This reminds me of a colleague I had at an old job. She was SO airheaded and it annoyed the crap out of me for the first few weeks, but my opinion quickly did a 180 as I got to know her. She was so kind, cheerful (without it being obnoxious), hard-working, smart, and quick to laugh at herself that her airheadedness became a charming quirk, as you say. She was eventually promoted to a very high position within that company and there was no one more deserving of it.

        I’m sure the same can be said for a lot of us. Everyone has character flaws that are re-contextualized by our character virtues. I have a problem with being overly blunt to the point of rudeness. But because I go out of my way to appreciate others and be positive in general, they know I respect and like them, so they don’t take it as harshly as they might otherwise and even tease me about it (which I always accept in good cheer!). I’m known as “refreshingly honest” instead of “a huge jerk.”

        Reply
    2. Jerry

      +1
      Put a space between your thoughts and your mouth.
      My impression when people say things like what you’ve said is less that they’re stupid and more that they don’t filter anything that comes to mind, which is more concerning than having an idiotic thought here and there.

      Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        Yep. OP already said that they’re working on not saying things that pop into their head – and I know it’s hard, but keep working on that skill specifically. It’s easier to practice pausing before you say something than it is to actually become less flaky – ask me how I know. Now I still think idiotic things all the time, but they’re less likely to come out because I remind myself to pause before I say anything. It became a habit slowly and the behavior trailed off over time.

        Reply
        1. raktajino

          What are some strategies you’ve employed to insert that pause?

          A friend in college used to count to five after someone stopped talking before he’d start, and in fact would encourage everyone to do the same. The idea was that everyone, even people without ADD, needs a chance to process what was just said.

          Last year I brought a subtle fidget toy and fidgeted with that while I counted. Redirecting my energy helped wait out that pause. While the other person is speaking and I have a thought, I write down a word or two to remind myself. If that point doesn’t get addressed, I can remember to bring it up.

          Reply
          1. Sloan Kittering

            I press my lips together and bite the inside of my cheek unless I’m supposed to be talking. Before I start to talk, I try to count to five while I stop biting my cheek. It took a while, but now I have Resting Quiet Face.

            Reply
            1. Jerry

              Mine is less macabre :)
              I just do a full exhale through my nose when I have the urge to speak but no one has asked me a question. The sensation will either pass, or not. If it hasn’t, I speak. Natural conversation has interjections here and there, and being energetic is part of my natural ‘brand,’ but it cuts down unnecessary commentary and foot-in-mouth syndrome substantially.

              Reply
            2. Jay

              I actually put my hand over my mouth. I used to do that directly – rest my chin on my hand with my fingers on my lower lip – and now it’s enough of a habit that simply putting my fingers on my chin reminds me. I started doing it unconsciously in work settings and now do it deliberately in social settings as well. I am a serious overtalker and this has been a big help.

              Reply
              1. Tardigrade

                I do a similar thing with my fingers or knuckles pressed over my lips where it looks like I’m thinking or listening.

                Reply
          2. Alli525

            I have gently held the tip of my tongue between my teeth (mouth closed, of course). I think it’s subtle enough that no one will notice – biting my cheek, as Sloan Kittering suggests, always makes me feel self-conscious.

            Reply
          3. MM

            I’m lucky in that this is part of my personality/values (I love research), but my version of this is that I always ask myself if I can answer my own question before turning to someone else. So if I have a question about say, a report, I will check my own files or the backup site where we upload completed documents or whatever the thing may be before I ask. If I don’t know what a word means or what an acronym being used in a meeting refers to I will google it (or insert other appropriate process here) before I ask.

            I mention it because it’s a bit different in motivation from just “remember to pause.” It’s less about training a habit and more about the framing of how I approach whatever I want to know. I’m internally motivated to find out for myself, and attempting to do so inherently requires a “pause” before asking–because I am making my own inquiries in that intermediate time. Crucially, this does NOT mean that if I can’t find out (or it doesn’t make sense to spend the time it turns out it would take), I feel shame or reluctance to ask the appropriate person. Making use of experts is also part of good/responsible research practice! It’s all part of the same flow. And it makes me feel capable and therefore makes me feel good, so it’s self-reinforcing.

            Reply
      2. TooTiredToThink

        Yep; like in the instance of asking for an update for a report. If it were me; before asking for the update; I would check my emails to see if I had been given an update. There I would then, likely, find that it had actually been completed.

        Reply
      3. LW

        That’s definitely a good strategy! There’s definitely been an uptick in these incidents in my current job (where I’m comfortable with my coworkers and speak up more often) versus my previous job (where my supervisor and I were more distant with one another).

        Reply
      4. Annie on a Mouse

        Yes! I love this! Right now I’m trying to focus on responding instead of reacting. Responding means pausing to hear what the person said, process it, and then think about what they need to hear from me. Reactions are those knee-jerk comments that address what you *think* you heard (not always the same as what was said!)

        Not to make it a moral judgment, because we all have this issue, but responding focuses on the other person, reacting tends to be for yourself. You’re not a bad person if you react, but I find this to be a helpful lens through which to view the issue—being kind is always important to me, so even if I can’t remember to not be impulsive, I can remember to think about the impact on others.

        Reply
      5. Skippity Doodah

        Bubblegum! Obviously not chewing it loudly or sloppily, but I’ve resorted to chewing gum through many meetings so that my mouth is full and I can’t talk. Its not perfect, but it gives me the second or two I need to reassess whether that thought should be heard out loud or should I keep it in my head. Which… probably half still ‘get to’ be spoken aloud, but its definitely curbed some of the dumber or less constructive things that I would have previously blurted out, and its for sure helped me fix my tone on a few others when I actually do ask a follow up question to something someone has just said. I already don’t have a poker face, so I think of the gum as giving me a little bit of a ‘poker mouth’ so at least someone has to be looking at me to see what I’m thinking. For sure wont’ work for everyone, but I’ve found it to be a really cheap and easy fix for at least the part where I should not say quite so many things.

        Reply
      6. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore

        My problem is not that I blurt out every thought in my head, but that I often find myself speaking BEFORE I am consciously aware of even having the thought. My mind goes straight from SUBconscious thought—> opening mouth. I have no idea how to redirect that or put a pause between non-conscious thought and speech.

        And it’s not that I say stupid things, or don’t have a filter, because sometimes when that happens, it allows me to speak in the clearest fashion possible, or in instant, witty remarks that make people laugh*, it can also result in saying things that could have been said more diplomatically, or at a different time, or maybe not said at all.

        I have inattentive ADHD, which I liken to not being able to pay attention to the outside world because I have an infinite number of hamster wheels (aka- thoughts) whizzing along in my brain at all levels of consciousness, 24/7/365, and a LOT of my processing is done on a level I’m not aware of at all. My semi/sub conscious mind is chewing on things constantly, dozens of things, and I’ve often had the experience of it lobbing something back into the conscious mind as a fully formed & fleshed out idea that I already understand. I think somewhat abstractly and highly visually, and have had a number of different mental images of this process taking place while it is actually happening…and it’s as weird to experience as it sounds.
        I just want to know how to redirect that subconscious mind into sending stuff to my CONSCIOUS mind before it sends it to my mouth!

        *A friend once asked me ‘how do you think stuff like that up so fast?’ And I had to answer her ‘I DON’T think it up, it just comes out!’

        Reply
    3. esra

      This is A+ advice. I was very much a book smart, hand-up-in-the-air-to-answer-every-question young, and it took me a little bit before I realized how much that’s not super valuable as a working adult. Really listening, staying organized (seconding the list idea above, but try out different methods, for some people it’s post-its and notebooks, for others it’s trello/asana or calendar reminders), and making sure the meeting/conversation contributions you make are meaningful will go a long way in building a good reputation.

      Reply
      1. Just Another Techie

        Also if one organization scheme doesn’t work for you, move on to the next! I must have struggled for years with the calendar/planner method before I realized it just doesn’t work with my brain. I do bullet journal now, but digitally in OneNote, and it works super great for me, but I know people who can’t make it work at all. Find the scheme that works for you and stick with it!

        Reply
        1. kiwidg1

          I agree. Even though I love the techie tools (One Note, Trello, whatever), I found if I take the time to write things down in a planner book, I’m more likely to remember what I need to do and what I did for that item. I think it’s because it slows me down enough to process it in my brain.

          Reply
    4. Detective Amy Santiago

      Excellent advice.

      This coupled with the suggestion above to keep extensive lists should help tremendously.

      Reply
    5. NicoleK

      Totally agree with this. My coworker forgets her keys, ID tag, and water bottle everywhere. She’ll ask (multiple times) for documents you sent her a day ago. She’ll ask the same question multiple times. She’s also unorganized as hell. But she’s charming, extroverted, outgoing, and gregarious and people give her a life time pass.

      Reply
      1. Quiltrrrr

        My boss is like this! I have to re-send, re-send, re-send emails…but he’s charming and extroverted and it only gets to someone like me, who would rather die than have to ask someone to re-send an email!

        Reply
  3. MuseumChick

    I think this will improve as you get older. I have a friend like this who I have know for three years and I’ve seen here improve a lot in that short time. Don’t be to hard on yourself! It sounds like your co-workers find it charming and/or a benign personality quirk.

    Reply
    1. DouDouPaille

      Until you get to the age when your cognitive abilities start to decline (as mine are at age 50), in which case it might get worse, not better… :-(

      Reply
      1. Nervous Nellie

        Ditto. I’m 51, was for my entire life super sharp and smart and firing on all cylinders, and then…..menopause fog. Where are my glasses? On top of my head? Ah, thank you kindly……and men don’t escape age-related cognitive decline, either. We all spend a lotta time on the AARP website doing those sudoku puzzles trying to counteract the fuzziness. :)

        Reply
    2. LFHICKEY

      I’ve been like this all my life too, and now at close-to-45 years old, it hasn’t actually improved; I’ve just learned lots of coping mechanisms instead. Writing things down (in one place, not on little notes everywhere… learned that one the hard way too) and keeping my mouth shut more has helped. I’m sure I’m still the Office Airhead and I still have to remind everyone who reports to me that if they actually need me to follow up on something, they need to email it to me because I **WILL FORGET** if they just tell me to my face.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        The other thing that often happens is that as you get older you become responsible for more stuff, so there’s more to cognitively overflow.

        Reply
      2. Mbarr

        I think your hard work will have to make up for it. I have a friend/coworker who sounds exactly like you. I won’t lie – when I first met her she drove me insane… But as I worked with her, I realized she was damn good at what she did (technical writing). We don’t work together anymore, but we still hang out. Now I find her… quirks endearing and just plan for them.

        (My favorite example of her ditziness was during a meeting when I made a joke about “It must be a day that ends in Y” and she replied, “But everyday ends in Y!” She caught on… After an awkward pause.)

        Reply
        1. Alison gives the best advice.

          I’m not ditzy and have an advanced degree from an Ivy League school and don’t understand your joke.

          Reply
    3. Smarty Boots

      I’ve gotta say, they may find it charming now because you’re new and they like you, but keep it up and you’ll be getting on at least one person’s last nerve. And probably more than one.

      OP, you are right that eventually (and maybe sooner than later) you will seem less professional and, if you’re forgetting things, you will get a reputation for being unreliable and that’s really bad. People will not want to work with you, you will not get chosen to work on teams, and so on.

      I have a colleague who sounds like you –she’s diagnosed with ADD, don’t know if you are — and I think she’s a wonderful person, love the ideas she comes up with, but I strive mightily to stay off any project that she’s on, and I never choose her to be on any team I’m leading. Ever. (I learned some years ago that if she was on my team someone else was going to have to remind her all the time about tasks she needed to complete and even then it might not get done. Never again.) And I’m not the only one. She’s frustrated that she doesn’t get to lead projects for which she has great insight and for which she would be the logical lead, if not for her record of disorganization and forgetfulness.

      Also, this kind of reputation can follow you even when you’ve changed. People get a picture of you and it’s really hard to put a new picture in its place. Work on this seriously and soon, while you are still new.

      Reply
      1. dragonsnap

        I see where you’re coming from but to me your colleague’s actions sound different from our LW’s problem. Saying something airheaded in an internal meeting is not the same as missing deadlines. If she’s getting good feedback on her work — and she said she is — this seems closer to a perception or relationships issue, not necessarily a performance issue. This does underline though that she should work to contain the ditziness so that it doesn’t start resulting in her missing her commitments.

        Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      Came to say this. As long as it doesn’t impact workflow or cause problems, everyone just sort of laughs it off as a personality quirk.

      Reply
    2. Doug Judy

      Very true. I am a master’s educated person but can be ditzy AF about some things. It’s not unusual or a barrier to success.

      Reply
      1. Detective Right-All-The-Time

        Yes, my best friend is incredibly smart, masters educated, very well respected by her peers and always being tapped for new jobs and projects.
        And she’s ditzy AF. Her brain doesn’t keep track of details well, she sometimes uses the wrong word, she is gullible when someone is messing with her, etc.
        But she is also very insightful, wise, and very thoughtful about the big important things. So the ditzy-ness just becomes an endearing quirk that makes everyone love her even more.

        OP, if you’re good at your job, don’t worry too much about the ditz. People will know you by your results.

        Reply
        1. Sloan Kittering

          It helps that you’re already self aware about it, too, OP! The worst flakes in the work world are the people who aren’t aware they can be like this or aren’t aware how it can create problems for others. Sounds like you already know both so you’re ahead of the game.

          Reply
    3. Bea

      Agree.

      I’ve seen some people who are brickheaded that really cannot succeed but they are terminated rather quickly. If you’re getting positive feedback and just not picking up “that clock is wrong!” kind of jokes or forgetting you already competed a project, that’s no problem.

      Now if you’re trying to assemble a sandwich and slather the mayo on the counter and wonder why the bread is dry…maybe we need to worry.

      Reply
    4. KatieKate

      Same here. One of my favorite former managers was a total airhead about things, but it didn’t matter because she was so great at everything else

      Reply
    5. Alice Teapot

      [Just want to say before anything else that I commend this writer for being self-aware enough to recognize this in herself. A lot of the time, people with this trait don’t even know it’s a thing.]

      I think the thing I’d be more curious about is how much this kind of absentmindedness would affect a managerial role within the OP’s industry. Personally, I work in a department where not being able to keep track of files and asking for updates on reports that have already been completed would impede the ability to be taken seriously by the rest of the team. If that kind of trait appeared in a manager, it would make it even more difficult for some people on our team to get work done. But there are plenty of other teams within the same company where not having common sense like that would be totally fine.

      It also makes me wonder how much the OP is looking to become a manager in the future. There are plenty of people I know in other fields with this same trait, but instead of becoming managers, they just end up being really specialized in their line of work and move up the ladder that way.

      Reply
      1. LW

        Thank you! I’m really trying to work on professional development, and this is one trait that I’ve always been aware of, but hasn’t previously been a huge concern of mine because I either worked menial jobs or with other, equally ditzy academic types.

        My current nonprofit role is actually a temporary one (it’s grant-dependent) so I’m also very curious about how it would affect getting higher-level roles in the nonprofit or government sector! If it makes a difference, I’ve actually been commended on how reliable my work is. The problem isn’t so much that I don’t get things done, it’s that, when it’s time to do my next task, I look around for my file. It’s not on my desk. Must be on my supervisor’s (she takes my folders all the time). I ask supervisor where it is. It’s not on her desk. We both go look for it. It’s on my desk, and has been the whole time. I look like an idiot, and next week, I do the exact same thing all over again.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I know about that. As a one-off, that’s a “these things happen”; as a regular thing, it’s a sign that, for one reason or another (anything from ADD to lack of sleep or whatever, it doesn’t really matter), your strategies aren’t serving you.

          One possibility is, in combination with what people are saying upthread about speaking without taking the time to fully engage the brain, is that you’re responding too quickly in general–that you’re overfocusing on getting a conclusion or a response rather than exploring the substance of the matter or the desk. To me an unfound thing or unanswered question is a significant itch or a pressure, and I really, really want to close the loop and turn off my “unhandled” alarm in my brain.

          But that’s not actually the situation–it’s just something my brain gets weird about in a way that can be sometimes helpful (that might be part of why you’re good at your job) but sometimes unhelpful. It’s actually better if I take time and methodically search my desk (and if you’re like me, you have to learn what “methodically” means when it comes to spatial organization) and accept the brain noise for a while rather than racing to tick my desk off the list.

          So maybe practice taking pauses, especially before communicating with other people. What needs to be expressed, and how do you know that? Is there something other than communication that should be done first? How would you tell somebody else to do that task, and can you follow those steps yourself?

          Reply
          1. LW

            What you’re describing is how I feel, exactly! I have a really hard time when things are left undone; I once backlogged 500 clients into our new online system (originally proposed as a year-long, only-if-you-have-nothing-else-to-do task) over the course of a day because of how much it bothered me to leave it partially finished. My supervisor was impressed, but it only turned out well because none of the other work I had to do was time-sensitive. Thank you for this advice– I’ll definitely work on this!

            Reply
            1. kitryan

              My solution to the ‘where is it – oh it was there all along’ kind of issue is that everything has a minimum of 2 places it can be. There’s the ‘unsorted’ place, which is kept minimal because things are sorted on the reg, and the ‘proper’ place, which is by type of item. For hard copies, I have an in box for stuff I haven’t done my thing with and then I have my filing cabinet with each employees’ file, which is in turn organized chronologically and a few other files/binders for my other, smaller, responsibilities. Then, if I’m missing something, it’s either in the file or it’s in the in box. No exceptions (of course there are exceptions but I keep them super rare). For emails, it’s the inbox or their designated folder. They come out of the inbox when they’re dealt with and they’re dealt with as soon as possible, so if someone asks about project X, all the info I’ve received is either in the in box or in the project X folder, subdivided if necessary.
              I then *must* keep it up, because I will get anxious if my area’s a mess and I *know* I’ll succumb to making unconsidered statements about what’s going on that will turn out to be wrong. I also have that *must get it done* energy and I try to channel it. I also pause when I feel out of control and look around and take 5 or 10 minutes to organize my email inbox / tidy my desk / complete some small tasks which all can give me a feeling of accomplishment and control and make me better able to tackle whatever the big issue or problem is.

              Reply
          2. epi

            Your last paragraph reminds me of duck debugging. You explain the problem and your proposed solution (if any) to an inanimate object– or you could just write it down. Many of us have had the experience that we discover the solution to a problem for ourselves in the course of explaining it, or come to understand a topic better through teaching it. In duck debugging you get the benefits without having to share your sillier thoughts with another person. It can also help you take a second to anticipate other people’s questions, most importantly, having a reasonable answer to “What have you already tried?”

            Reply
        2. Où est la bibliothèque?

          I am very, very similar. For some reason concrete objects cause me a lot of trouble. I misplace things constantly. I’ve been known to be driving and suddenly panic–crap, did I forget my keys??

          …well, no, because my car wouldn’t be moving if I had.

          Crap, did I forget my phone??

          …well no, because I have it plugged in to the USB port and I’m listening to a podcast.

          I’ll be absolutely convinced that I can’t find a file at work because for some reason my brain has decided it’s in a red folder, and I’ll scramble and panic. But it’s within arm’s length and I’m looking right at it–but it’s in a green folder and it always has been. I’ve slowly learned the specific areas where I can’t trust my first instinct (like folder colors) and work around them.

          Reply
          1. Kiwi

            I find it helps to stop and interrupt the panic by specifically picturing the thing I’m looking for. It’s such-and-such a file: how big is it? What’s it say on the cover? It’s a red file … wait, am I sure of that? Ok, let’s look at all the files, not just the red ones. Oh, there it is. It’s green.

            Reply
        3. bonkerballs

          My boss has this issue. She can’t find things right in front of her and she can’t make computer programs do simple, every day tasks, etc. Unless I’m standing right next to her. It’s become an ongoing joke with us. She doesn’t actually need my help, she just needs to tell me there’s a problem and as soon as I get to her desk, the problem has magically solved itself: the file appears or the program starts working, whatever. I don’t think she’s ditzy, I think she’s just cursed and I seem to have magical powers.

          Reply
          1. TiffanyAching

            My husband is like this, he loses his keys or wallet or phone on average once a month, searches the apartment high and low, can’t find them anywhere. When I join the search, I usually find the item in about 2 minutes, in a really obvious place — like on the kitchen table, or the nightstand, or on the floor next to the jeans he wore the day before. Not hidden or under anything, there’s no way he didn’t see the phone or keys, it just must be that for whatever reason his brain won’t process the information. I think sometimes we just need another set of eyes because we get over-focused.

            Reply
            1. PhyllisB

              Sigh!! My son is exactly the same. He used to get so aggravated when I would offer to help find something. Two things finally happened. 1. I stopped offering and would let him flounder until he would get disgusted and leave without said object which I would find the minute he left the house. 2. He realized (finally) that it wasn’t a personal criticism of him when I offered, and he knew I really COULD find it in two minutes. Now he looks and then comes and requests my help. The funny thing? I lose my own stuff all the time and can’t find it. I mean, I do eventually, but recently I lost a favorite pair of socks and it took me three months to find them.

              Reply
              1. Helena

                I often ask my husband specifically to “come and be a second set of eyes” when I can’t find something that I know is there (keys, usually). If he can’t immediately find them, I know they are actually lost!

                Reply
            2. MM

              Once, as a kid, I picked up my teddy bear to look under it for…my teddy bear. I’ve gotten better at these things (largely by learning to slow down and focus if it’s important), but I still do it. Just the other day I looked all over my room for a particular pair of pajama pants. Couldn’t find them anywhere. The next day I walked in at the end of the day and saw them in full view on the end of the bed.

              Reply
        4. Ali G

          Here’s my take. It sounds like you aren’t slowing down enough to really think about the problem you have to solve. If you take your folder example, how closely did you look? Did you just do a cursory once over and say “hm, I guess the folder is on Boss’s desk” and then go ask her? If you don’t slow down to really think about the problem, you are going to skip to the next logical step too quickly. So next time, spend 5 minutes looking at *every* folder on your desk, not just the ones you think might be it, before asking someone else.
          Do this with other things too – project status updates – check your email for updates before asking others. The point is to exhaust all options YOU can do before reaching out to others to help solve your problems. This gets easier as you do it more.

          Reply
        5. Genny

          Just FYI, U.S. government jobs, once you get your foot in the door (and this trait really wouldn’t really affect that), are largely based on corridor reputation/network. You have to be qualified of course, but what your co-workers say about you matters a lot for advancement.

          Reply
        6. LadyofLasers

          I have always been of the spacy sort (and actually got diagnosed with adult add this past year). One thing that helps ( especially with losing things) is to idiot proof my life as well as possible. I set alarms for everything: I even set regular alarms to remind me to leave at a reasonable time every day. For stuff, I keep as much as I can digital, reducing clutter and making things searchable. If I do need hard copies I put them in a folder that I keep visible on my desk. I usually still have to search for things, but it goes a lot faster if I know there’s a limited number of places I put things away.

          Reply
          1. kitryan

            Yeah, my keys are always on the hook at eye level right next to the door, on the side with the handle. When I reach for the door handle to leave I am *staring at the keys*. Then, the keys are clipped to the bag and on my return, immediately hung back on their hook. So I can’t lock myself out unless my bad brain convinces me to break protocol. So I’ve removed my bad brain’s admin access to some of my routines :).
            Same deal for other stuff. Wallet is always in bag, bag is always on hook next to front door…

            Reply
        7. AnonJustForNow

          I didn’t get an official ADD diagnosis until age–with its attendant sleep deprivation–made my list-keeping inadequate to deal with daily matters. Turns out that half of the lowest dose of adderall in the morning gets me 4 or 5 very well focused hours (followed by some increasing fuzziness in the afternoon / evening, which is fine for experiencing life, doing more lateral-creative thinking, etc). Trading predictably-increased focus at one time for decreased at another has been a good trade-off for me, and perhaps because I don’t do the standard “two doses in a day or extended release,” I don’t seem to be habituating. If anything, it’s improving my sleep, too. May not be safe if you have a complex high speed commute on the way home, though. If I did, I might take another quarter of a pill around 2 PM. I also tend to do a bunch of cooking in the morning hours of either saturday or sunday, so as to make good use of the chance to both focus and multi-task.

          Ask yourself if, on a bad day, you have a variety of attentional or organizational challenges at home, too–that’s what drove me to get a diagnosis.

          Reply
        8. Shoes on My Cat

          I do this!!! If what I need is right in front of me, I’ll never find it…but I can find a dropped contact lens or a hidden tiny object no one else can, especially if it’s out of place. Go figure. I’ve learned that if I can’t find something where it “should” be, I walk away, wash my hands, whatever it takes to switch my brain out of search mode. Then I go back and look again, sometimes touching every item in and adjoining the target area when I know I have a blind spot for The Thing. It’s helped a lot! It also helps that my boss accepts that I have this challenge, & knows I know I have it. She is very patient and focuses on my other qualities like work ethic, ideas, etc. Good Luck!

          Reply
          1. CanadaTag

            Ooh, that’s a good idea for breaking the brain’s blind spot! I don’t have this *often*, but it does happen – and of course, usually for something I need or desperately want *right then and there*. When that happens, I’ll try this! So thanks for this suggestion, even if not originally meant for me! :)

            Reply
        9. Alison gives the best advice.

          I echo the sentiments about how great it is that you are self aware enough to write this letter. It sounds like you are lacking confidence to take this self-awareness to the next step and not involve your manager every time you get confused or feel there is a momentary set back or missing file. Take some deep breathes and have the confidence to first try to figure it out yourself. Also agree with all the comments that you need a better organizational system. As part of that, maybe ask your manager to shoot you an email if she actually does take a file.

          Reply
    6. Parenthetically

      Totally. You can be competent and respected AND a little bird-brained about things. Knowing you have airhead tendencies and making efforts to compensate for them are steps the irritating version of an airhead never reaches.

      Reply
    7. Junior Dev

      One thing i will say is if you are a manager with this issue, take corrections gracefully. It drove me nuts when my last boss would insist she had said one thing and get mad at me for not doing what she wanted when I clearly remembered her asking for something else.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        Yes! My former manager is like this – she will insist, vehemently, that stuff happened that none of the rest of us remember, or we remember something else happening. Put stuff in writing as much as you can, even just as recap emails after a check-in. “Just to confirm, we talked about XYZ, you’re going to take care of ABC by DATE, I’m going to make sure to get you the information for that report by next week. Anything I missed?” So that you have something to go back to later.

        Reply
    8. aebhel

      This. It can be a problem in certain kinds of roles, but it sounds like LW is doing good work, so it’s not negatively affecting her job.

      Reply
  4. Observer

    Get yourself evaluated for ADHD and similar conditions. I can’t say that that’s what you have, but boy does it sound like something of that sort. Make sure you’re dealing with someone who really knows about this stuff and deals with a lot of adults with ADD.

    Also, even if you don’t wind up getting a diagnosis of that sort, many of the techniques that people with ADHD use would probably work for you. I’m sure a number of people will jump in with suggestions. I know there have been a number of suggestion threads on this site, as well.

    Reply
            1. boo bot

              Squirrel!!!

              … Oh, right, I have ADHD too, and getting proper treatment for that as an adult changed my life completely (for the better!)

              I was so scatterbrained I used to joke about having a poltergeist who hid all my stuff, now I can navigate the basics of human life. It’s amazing; get evaluated.

              Reply
              1. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore

                I didn’t get evaluated til I was in my late 40s, and boy howdy would it have changed my life to have learned how severely ADHD I am at a very young age!

                Reply
    1. Sally

      I came here to say this, also! I became much less of an ‘airhead’ once my ADHD was properly treated. I haven’t lost my keys in years!

      Reply
      1. PhyllisB

        Another thing is to pay attention. My main things to lose are my coffee cup (morning) wine glass (evening) reading glasses, and car keys. My solution was; I got my husband to hang a key rack by the front door and the first thing I do when I enter the house is hang up my keys. I have several pairs of reading glasses and used to try to keep one pair in each room. That didn’t work, so now I put ALL of them in one central location. If I misplace a pair I go get another, and when I run across the originals, take them back to their home. The drinking containers is still somewhat of an issue but now I do the famous retrace my steps routine. Of course, in an office things will be different, (and I certainly hope you’re not leaving a wine glass missing at work!!) But you can try to centralize, and once again, PAY ATTENTION!! “Okay, I am setting the Brewster file down here…” yes, it takes extra mental energy, but it does help.

        Reply
        1. Amelia Pond

          For the keys problem, my mom got a carabiner and put them on that, then trained herself to ALWAYS hook them onto her purse. I ended up putting mine in a pocket on whatever purse or backpack I use. I’m proud to say neither of us have lost our keys in 10 years.

          Reply
          1. MM

            The key (sigh) for me is to make sure that there is a SPECIFIC pocket in every purse, backpack, or pair of pants where the keys go. They can’t just go “in the bag.” They have to go into the Key Pocket. Otherwise, when I put them in, put on my shoes (or grab the trash, or whatever), immediately can’t remember for sure whether I put the keys in the bag, and check the bag to find out, I can’t be certain my check was dispositive.

            Reply
          2. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore

            I trained myself decades ago that keys go immediately in the purse (or the Designated Key Area if there is one- table in the entry way, key hook) not just because I lost them in the house, but because of how often I used to lock them in my car (I will also never go without a magnetic spare key box for this reason- it’s been awhile but still…)
            The habit is now so ingrained that if my keys aren’t in the Designated Key Area, the first place I look is my purse, and 9 out of 10 times that’s where they are.

            Reply
        2. LizB

          I handle water bottles and scissors with the one-in-every-room method, and chapsticks with the many-in-one-location method. It took some experimenting to choose the method for each object, but I can pretty much always find one of those items when I need it.

          The biggest scatterbrained thing I do is forgetting whether or not I’ve locked my apartment door when I leave, so I trained myself to, as I’m testing the door handle to make sure it locked properly, literally say out loud “I locked the door”. This forces me to pay attention to the fact that I actually did it, and makes it harder to forget thirty seconds later.

          There’s also some research showing that saying the name of the thing you’re looking for out loud can help you zero in on it — which leads to me turning in circles in my kitchen sometimes, going “Oven mitts, oven mitts, oven mitts…” but I usually find them myself!

          Reply
        3. AgainAnon

          I did this for years. Finally got a diagnosis and (modest levels of) medication when I realized exactly how much of my mental bandwidth, all day long, was repeating my “remember where” lists and my “what I’m doing next” litany either mentally or subvocally. To the point that my time and energy for real thoughts got badly squeezed.

          Another tip off–if you lose the thread when passing through doorways from one room to the other, like they’re some sort of portal of forgetfulness–that happens in small ways to everyone, but it should not consistently wipe your mind of the thing you went to do.

          Reply
        4. LilySparrow

          Yes- setting up physical systems is important. Basically, you’re outsourcing executive functions to an external structure so you don’t have to burn bandwidth trying to do it in your head.

          Reply
    2. Bee

      Yup. Some of this is definitely not (like the clock thing), but things like forgetting that you completed a report or not being able to find something right in front of you are classic ADD. So even if that’s not the issue, look into management techniques for people with ADD!

      For me, two big things are setting up a precise workflow on my desk so I know how something needs to be handled at a glance, and writing my to-do list on a whiteboard across the room. Having it off my desk but within sight is essential for me – I can just look up and figure out what I should work on next.

      Reply
          1. Jadelyn

            I’ve heard it said that folks with ADHD have two concepts of time: now, and not-now. Anything not-now gets shuffled off to be dealt with at some future point when it becomes a now thing, and often forgotten along the way.

            Reply
            1. MM

              I’ve read this descriptor over and over since I got diagnosed and EVERY TIME it still hits me like a revelation. Like, yes!! that’s it!!! Oh my god, it’s not just me!!!!

              Reply
          2. A Very Smart Airhead

            Yep, not accurately gauging passage of time or being able to predict how long something will take… but the thing that jumped out for me is just blurting out! Impaired executive functioning = little to no filter.

            Reply
        1. boo bot

          LOL, the clock thing sounds like something I would do. I have no sense of linear time, even with medication, so if I look up at a clock and it says 2 hours have gone by, when I think it’s been 15 minutes? I’m gonna believe the clock.

          Reply
      1. LilySparrow

        Looking at the clock and processing it incorrectly is a textbook ADHD move.

        ADHD doesn’t mean you are blithely ignoring things or carelessly not paying attention. Sometimes you can be looking directly at something – even trying hard to notice things- and not see it. Or listening to someone and realize you didn’t take in what they said.

        Sometimes the brain just doesn’t properly record or comprehend the input.

        Reply
    3. Kathryn T.

      Add me to the list, undiagnosed ADHD was the first thing I thought of there. I’m not qualified to diagnose and you can’t diagnose over the internet anyway, but boy it would not surprise me.

      Reply
    4. Zena

      I 100% agree with the ADHD eval recommendation. I’m a similar age to OP and was doing the same “airheaded” things at work. While I did well at school, I was consistently making ridiculous errors on things I absolutely knew how to do. Getting on a low dose of attention medication and using coping strategies recommended by my therapist has helped me immensely be more kn top of things and less “ditzy”.

      Reply
    5. Matilda Jefferies

      I also have ADHD, and a lot of the things OP describes sound like things I do as well!

      Also, OP, check out the book “ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life” by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau. As Observer says, even if you don’t have ADHD, you might find a lot of the strategies useful regardless.

      Reply
      1. twig

        Not the OP — but thanks for the Book Rec.

        My husband and I have just figured out that we both have ADHD inattentive (and been diagnosed with it) in the last year. we’re both in our early 40’s. it’s been life changing. I thought I was just an airhead space cadet who needed to “try harder.”

        OP — look into this. even if you do not have ADHD– look into the techniques recommended to deal with life while ADHD.

        Reply
        1. KatiainCA

          Hi twig, I was evaluated and diagnosed with ADHD inattentive at 31, and it’s a game-changer! You & your husband (and perhaps eventually the OP) might enjoy “Delivered from Distraction,” which I found so helpful I bought copies for my mother and brother. The main author, Edward Hallowell, has ADD that isn’t responsive to medication, so he manages it with all kinds of alternate strategies, including focusing on his strengths. It’s both charming and informative!

          Reply
        2. LadyofLasers

          I just got diagnosed too, and it has been such a game changer, if for only because I don’t beat myself nearly as much!

          Reply
      2. scooby snack

        This is the book I was coming to recommend! I got a diagnosis a year ago, at 29, and reading that book blew my mind. I had no idea I wasn’t the only person struggling with such things!!

        Reply
    6. justcourt

      That’s what I came here to say. I had the same issues (and more), and turns out I have ADHD with just the attention deficit & none of the hyperactivity.

      Reply
      1. Holly

        As someone who read this post and said “wow, this is me!” and now reading your comment I’m like… should I be evaluated???

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          Honestly, I would say do it. It may turn out you don’t have it! And that’s great! But that’s how I got diagnosed, after a few dozen times of going “Oh my god, other people do that too?” in response to posts about living with ADHD, I started wondering if maybe I had it too. I got screened, they were like “yeah you’re practically off the charts with the inattentive type.”

          Reply
          1. JaneB

            I had/have the same sense of recognition. However, my Dr says there’s no screening available and my counselor (who I see for anxiety, a known ADD/ADHD linked issue) says ADHD/ADD in adults isn’t a real thing. The joys of living in the UK…

            Reply
            1. Zillah

              Wtf. That’s absolutely absurd. Would it be possible to find a new counselor who specializes in ADHD/executive functioning/etc?

              Reply
                1. Zillah

                  Ughhhhhh. I hate that. (I had a friend who couldn’t get proper treatment for her OCD in the UK, even though it was really messing up her life. It was awful.)

                  Not that it’s always affordable in the US, either.

                2. Imagine This

                  The NHS offers screening for ADD and ADHD in both children and adults. Support and treatment are available. Your GP can refer you and should take this seriously. If they don’t – complain!

            2. Escapee from Corporate Management

              I’ve dealt with that attitude. It’s damaging because (1) yes, ADHD exists in adults, and (2) there are multiple validated questionnaires that help diagnose ADHD (none of them are perfect, but using more than one produces a very good success rate). I have family members who were diagnosed later in life and it was astounding how treatment helped. Not just in their ADHD, but also in reducing the anxiety or depression that can accompany ADHD for some people.

              Reply
            3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

              (way offtopic) I had that issue with my son in the US. I needed to get him tested for Aspergers in the one year when my employer decided to switch us all to an HMO, which meant he could not see anyone other than his pediatrician without a referral from the pediatrician. She made me tell his entire life story in front of him, then said something to the effect that I didn’t know what I was talking about, there was no way he had Aspergers, refused to give him a referral to a test I’d already scheduled, and sent him to a therapist who was a friend of hers, who wasted our time for a year until I somehow pushed him far enough that he caved and gave him a test and a Dx. I’d already gotten on a waiting list with a really good therapist who specialized in AS, too, but she would not see you without an official Dx, so I had to cancel that too. We came back to her a year later, when my son was 13, he saw her for two years and she was amazing. She taught him a ton of coping techniques, was an advocate for him in his middle school, and once came in to talk to a panel of his teachers about him. He went on to graduate high school at top of his class, graduate college with a 4.96 GPA, work at an office job in Silicon Valley that he’d moved across the country for, basically an AS success story that I think him having been treated by the right therapist had contributed immensely to. It just kills me that we lost a year because of the stupid HMO.

              Reply
              1. C Baker

                It’s too late now, but for anybody else reading: In the US, if you think your child has a learning disability (and autism certainly qualifies) then the public school system is required to evaluate at your request, even if you do not send your child to the public schools.

                You might still have to go private, but it’s a good place to start if you have limited funds.

                Reply
            4. Frederica

              Your counsellor and doctor SUCK. I’m in the UK and know several adults with ADD/ADHD who’ve been evaluated and diagnosed as adults. It’s highly unreasonable to claim what they are saying. I’d recommend investigating your options!

              Reply
            5. Jadelyn

              Unfortunately I’m in the US and know absolutely nothing about the NHS other than what it’s called, so I can’t really offer advice. Just commiseration – it’s awful being invalidated like that. And your counselor is straight up wrong, by the way. I mean, what do they think happens to children with ADHD? That they’ll grow out of it? That’s not how mental health issues work. And if kids with ADHD aren’t “growing out of” having ADHD, guess what happens? They turn into adults with ADHD! So yes, even discounting those of us who got diagnosed as adults, there very much is such a thing as ADHD in adults.

              Reply
            6. Observer

              Good grief! If your doctor means “There is no screening that we’re willing to do” that may be true – I have no idea how the NHS works. But if he means in the more general sense? Nope, that totally not true. And I’d really be thinking long and hard about a counselor who claims that adult ADD is not a real thing. Even if you don’t have it, it speaks to a shocking level of ignorance.

              Reply
            7. lobsterp0t

              Ah-ha! Your doc is telling you tales. It took me 18 months (and counting) but I had to negotiate really hard with my GP to get referred to the Adult ASD/ADHD clinic for assessment and I’m just due to be assessed in January-ish of 2019.

              My advice? If you can, keep a diary of your behaviours. Do the online ADD inventory (on somewhere like ADDitude mag). See a different GP at your practice and take that in and explain the practical manifestations of your suspected symptoms. Don’t let it go.

              It can mean a wait if you’re on the NHS but there absolutely will be an ASD service within your CCG area – and if not they’ll have an agreement with another area to assess and treat.

              It could be possible there’s a lack of consultant psychiatrists (who do the eval/diagnosis) – but keep fighting.

              Reply
            8. CanadaTag

              *stares*
              That sounds almost like what my mother was told in 1994 about the possibility of me being an Aspie – when told I was eighteen, they said, “Oh, she’ll grow out of it!” This was because of a lack of funding for adult programs, as we found out three years ago. *headdesks*
              Eighteen years later, I finally received my diagnosis.
              And my sister was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago (while getting her daughter diagnosed, same thing), so yeah. But I also don’t know how to navigate NHS, being in Canada my entire life, so no suggestions there, I’m afraid.

              Reply
        2. Zillah

          I didn’t get evaluated until I was 15. It’s still a problem, but knowing what it is has still been so helpful. If you can be evaluated, I strongly recommend it.

          Reply
        3. Amelia Pond

          It definitely wouldn’t hurt anything to get evaluated. At worst you’re out a little time and money, at best you have an explanation.

          Reply
        4. justcourt

          If you have insurance/can afford testing, do it.

          Maybe it’s just that AAM readers skew female, but you’ll notice a lot of the people responding to this thread are women. The symptoms of ADHD for women are different from men, and women tend to be diagnosed later. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was almost 30 because my symptoms were dismissed as me being scatterbrained rather than having ADHD.

          Testing was difficult (I had to go through about 6 hrs of testing), but I learned so much about the way that I, personally, learn and process information. And I also got a course of treatment that involved meds and behavior modification. It can be hard to stick to some of the things that were recommended (ugh, why is the treatment for ADHD the exact type of thing I’m so bad at?), but it has helped out with a lot of issues I have been having.

          Reply
          1. Holly

            Wow, that is fascinating. I guess I’ve been hard on myself and not considering that it could be medical (and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself even if it’s not).

            Reply
          2. LJay

            Also, the ways that the types manifest are different for women than men.

            I thought that I had switched from hyperactive type to inattentive type as I had gotten older. However, it turns out that the ways a hyperactive adult female manifest are different than a hyperactive male child.

            I know enough and have enough self control where am able to keep myself from jumping out of my seat or beating up my little brother. But impatience/anger while driving, cutting people off when they are speaking, etc are apparently actually still part of hyperactivity.

            Reply
            1. MM

              Yeah, one of the reasons it tends to manifest differently in girls vs boys (and women vs men) is that girls/women are socialized differently, precisely around self-control (or at least giving the appearance of it), violence, and physical movement. So it makes total sense that you didn’t have issues like leaping out of your chair but do have issues with emotions like impatience.

              (I actually think one of the reasons I wasn’t diagnosed as a kid was that I went to Montessori school until I was 12, and in the Montessori system kids are encouraged to decide for themselves what they want to study/work on, change what they’re doing when they want for the most part, and–at my school at least–sit wherever/however they want that doesn’t harm someone else, up to and including lying down on the floor. So a lot of things that would have been “problems” at a normal school were just whatever at mine. By the time I changed to a more traditional school, I was old enough that I could self-regulate a bit better even if it was taxing for me.)

              Reply
    7. brain foggy nelson

      this! i have a lot of similar problems to a more severe degree and am in the process of getting a diagnosis (for whatever it is – may be adhd or may not). in the interim, “your life can be better” by Douglas Puryear was a HUGE help for me in developing strategies to work around my brain fog. it’s not very pricey on kindle.

      Reply
    8. Shark Whisperer

      I am going to add on the even if you don’t have ADD, a therapist or coach who specializes in executive functioning skills could really help you a lot. My partner (who does have ADD) has similar problems with forgetting and misplacing stuff. It really became a struggle when he went back to school, but he went to a therapist who specializes in executive functioning and the techniques she taught him helped him so so much.

      Reply
      1. Wine Slinger

        If you don’t mind explaining, how did you find a therapist that specializes in that? I have been trying to find one and coming up short with the search engine through my insurance provider.

        Reply
        1. ArtsNerd

          Try the Psychology Today directory. You can search by specialty, and then find a provider who accepts your insurance from there. Alternately, you can call one provider and ask for a recommendation to someone who might be a better fit. I played a lot of secure voice mail phone tag, but the end result was WORTH IT.

          Reply
    9. Zillah

      Yup. I have an app called “2Do” that I can sync across all my devices, and it’s a life saver in terms of dealing with my ADHD.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        Any tips for remembering to, you know, actually use the app? I’ve had 2do, and currently have toodledo, which I really like but inevitably after a couple weeks I stop using them because I get a task that is super quick and I don’t want to stop to put it in the list first, but then it’s like the one skipped turns into not putting another thing in, and then not putting something in because I forgot, and now my list is out of date and would take a concerted effort to get back into order and that sounds like too much focused work on admin stuff and I’ve got other stuff I need to get done more urgently, and then I’m out of the habit of it and that’s that. (Until a year later when I’m trying to get my shit together yet again and cycle back to it for another short stint…)

        Reply
        1. Zillah

          I assign deadlines (even for things that don’t necessarily have deadlines) so that I’ll actually get the push notification on my phone/ipad/laptop – I find that helpful in remembering to use it, because it’s chiming at me at least a few times a day. I also often set things up so that they’re repeating events, so I don’t have to remember to keep putting them in (which is where I fall down).

          I was still kind of in that cycle until I got the laptop app, which really helped me – IIRC, it’s more expensive, but being able to type things in really helped me, because it’s quicker.

          (I need to update my lists in it, because I’ve been too stressed to recently, but I’ve generally been pretty successful at keeping it going now that I have it on my laptop, too.)

          Reply
          1. Zillah

            Also, what you’re describing has literally always been me with planners/to do lists, so I’m definitely not a weird aberration who’s totally pulled together! This is just literally the only things that’s worked halfway properly.

            I’m still always late, though.

            Reply
        2. Matilda Jefferies

          One of the reasons I stop using any organizational/ planning system is that I get bored with it (hello, ADHD making it hard for me to manage my ADHD!) I used to try to get Very Stern with myself, and force myself to keep using System X because it worked for me before, so it should work for me again!

          Except my ADHD brain just doesn’t function like that. Eventually I decided to just accept that fact and work *with* my brain, rather than fight against it. So when I find myself not using a system any more, I try a different one. Then when that doesn’t work, I try another one, and so on. There’s no pattern to it, and often I do end up going back to systems that have worked before – I figure, whatever works for me in the moment is what I will use. The only really critical thing is that I only use one at a time, otherwise I’ll confuse myself even more than I already was.

          Reply
          1. Zillah

            Except my ADHD brain just doesn’t function like that. Eventually I decided to just accept that fact and work *with* my brain, rather than fight against it.

            This is so key. It’s better for your self-esteem/emotions, and it’s also more effective.

            You can’t shove a square peg into a round hole, and non-neurotypical people are pretty strongly conditioned to do so. I’ve really been trying to teach myself to work with my brain rather than battle against it. It’s still a WIP, but it helps so much.

            Reply
          2. Competent Commenter

            I have the same issue with getting bored with systems, so I know to say, “This is the system that’s working for me now, and maybe in three months I’ll have to redesign it.” It’s always a challenge to stay ahead of my brain, and to not get discouraged.

            Reply
          3. motherofdragons

            Working with your brain/personality/lifestyle is really important in forming any new habits. Trying to work against your own grain is just setting yourself up for failure. Like if you’re a night person, don’t try to get up early to go to the gym, and so on.

            Reply
        3. Smarty Boots

          Make one of your daily tasks: check list of tasks and update. If the app is dinging at you to do this, perhaps you will be more likely to do this.
          My work calendar has the first half hour blocked off with a short task list: review today’s schedule, check email and answer pressing messages, add emergent tasks. Last half hour is blocked off with a short task list: check tomorrow’s task list and update, check email and answer messages that got pushed back [and so on]. On Friday, end of day list is to check the entire next week.

          I am not a naturally structured person, btw. I really prefer spontaneity. But I know I have too much to do to remember everything, and I’d like to keep my job, so… I don’t use any apps because I can’t stand having things making noises at me and I know I will ignore/silence it — but I’ve made those work calendar task lists habitual so I actually do them. Also they pop up in my email!

          Reply
        4. Observer

          What can help is using an app that syncs across all your devices (even if it means paying for it) that lets you take a picture directly from your home screen, lets you record voice notes from your home screen, and also lets you send emails to it.

          So, if you get an email about this “little, REALLY quick thing” that you don’t want to take the time to write up, you send / link it to the app, and then just assign it a time or deadline. If someone comes to you with such a task you can quickly make a voice note for yourself with you then just add your deadline to, and if someone hands you anything that’s related to the task you take a picture.

          Reply
        5. MM

          Maybe apps just aren’t the answer for you (or you need to rotate/evolve systems, like Zillah said below). I spent years trying to become someone who could keep track of papers. Eventually I gave up on that and just digitized and archived/backed up everything, and now it’s completely fine 99% of the time (because I only have to remember to organize something ONCE, and then it’s in that file tree forever–whereas with paper, even if I did manage to physically put it where it ought to go, if I then took it out for reference, I might not remember to put it back). If something isn’t working, it’s okay to accept that and try another strategy!

          Or similarly, for whatever reason, I do way better just keeping my cards and cash on my dresser when I’m at home, and in a pocket on my person when I’m out, than I do carrying a wallet. I lose them less, and if I do lose something, I haven’t lost *everything at once.* It just takes some trial and error–I hit upon the wallet thing by total accident. I lost my wallet and then couldn’t remember to get around to buying a new one even after replacing my cards (natch), and just gradually discovered that actually I was better off without a wallet.

          Reply
    10. OH GOD BEES

      I also came here to say this!

      It is embarrassing, but I’d say it hasn’t held me back. Humility & a healthy sense of humour goes a long way – I’ve found it actually can sometimes help me build rapport, because everyone has had those moments (even if mine are more frequent). Perfecting the smile, slight eye roll and “I can’t believe I just did that!” goes a long way.

      Be kind to yourself when you have those moments, and it will be easier for people to forget/get over.

      Reply
      1. A Very Smart Airhead

        Love this advice! +ten billion. If the people OP works with are at all decent human beings, they won’t be jerks about it.

        Reply
    11. RabbitRabbit

      What kind of doctor would do an ADHD/ADD evaluation in an adult? I’ve struggled with being easily sidetracked for years/decades (though at least I’m punctual), and really think I need help.

      Reply
      1. Shark Whisperer

        If you don’t need a referral from your GP for your insurance, I recommend checking out Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool. You can sort my issue, so you can find practitioner who specializes in ADHD.

        Reply
      2. Daughter of Ada and Grace

        I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist. I made the appointment because of other issues I was having, and figured I’d ask about ADHD while I was there. (I’d seen discussions of how it manifests in women here and elsewhere, and it sounded very familiar.) I apparently have the textbook presentation of ADHD in intelligent adult women, and a very low dose of a non-stimulant medication has done amazing things. (Remember the other issues I mentioned going to the psychiatrist for? Stimulants could potentially make those issues worse.)

        Reply
      3. Zillah

        A psychiatrist should be able to do the evaluation – you could always call their office and ask if they have experience with adult ADHD, if you want someone who’s really in tune with it. I was diagnosed by an educational psychologist when I was a teenager, but I’ve been evaluated by psychiatrists since then (new insurance, etc).

        Reply
      4. No Name Yet

        If you want a full evaluation (interview, screeners, testing), I recommend seeing a psychologist for neuropsych testing. They’re not cheap, but if you live near a PhD training program, they often have student clinics with much lower rates (and LOTS of oversight/supervision).

        Reply
      5. Competent Commenter

        If you happen to be on Kaiser, you just go directly to the psychiatric department and either a psychologist or psychiatrist will do the evaluation.

        Reply
    12. Retired. Retired. Working

      Yes, this sounds just like my ADHD. There are self help books, lots of tips on the internet, and meds. All can help immensely. First you need to be diagnosed, then work out a treatment plan. Good luck!

      Reply
    13. Kitrona

      Oh good, someone else said it already! Yeah, the things OP describes all sound like things I’d say or do, especially before I had adequate treatment, and I have ADHD Primarily Inattentive type.

      Fortunately, I’ve known a lot of people (myself included, not to sound conceited) who have loads of charisma along with ADHD, so that can help you skate by for a while, but things have been SO much better since I was diagnosed and got treatment. Now people like me AND I’m pretty dang effective at work! :P

      Reply
    14. The Other Katie

      This was also what I was going to recommend. Attention disorders fall into the “it’s not a problem unless it’s a problem” category of mental quirks, but it’s something that’s useful to know about yourself and the coping strategies can be really helpful even if you’re just on the “a bit ditzy” end of the spectrum.

      Reply
    15. Oryx

      Agreed, especially because ADHD gets missed in girls and women because it presents differently and often shows up less as hyperactive and more as inattentivness that gets girls labeled ditsy, dreamers, or air head

      Reply
    16. Jadelyn

      Was just coming to say this – it’s not a diagnosis, as we’re just a bunch of folks on the internet, but I have ADHD and this sounds suuuuper familiar. Very smart, but tend to forget even everyday “basic” things, get distracted/sidetracked super easily, etc. A number of my ADHD friends, from groups for folks with ADHD, have also told very similar stories of their work-lives before getting diagnosed as adults. A screening can’t hurt, at the least, if you’ve got good mental health coverage anyway.

      Reply
    17. AKchic

      I was going to suggest undiagnosed ADHD too. Women are less likely to be diagnosed because we don’t exhibit the same “hyper” traits that are so stereotypical of ADHD in boys, so the adults in our lives don’t take us in. We get passed off as “flighty” or “absentminded” and labeled “daydreamers”.

      See your doctor and really advocate for yourself. Some doctors may even try to minimize your problem(s) and tell you to take a vitamin, but you will need to keep pushing.

      In the meantime – lists are wonderful, but so is routine. Everything has a home, everything has a system, and every day has a checklist. Also, every day has a “what I did” list so you can review what you did each day in case you’ve forgotten and can double check yourself. Write down every phone call (phone number, who, quick blurb, maybe even if you transferred them or took a message). It will help. I had a ton of notepads filled with notes and they came in handy during investigations (internal and external).

      Reply
      1. Zev

        Rejection sensitive dysphoria is also a big ADHD symptom that isnt talked about as much and can be very pernicious, especially for women and girls — and it sounds like OP is dealing with some of that as well as the more “classic” ADD/ADHD symptoms (executive dysfunction, completing tasks in a set order, time blindness, impulsive speech).

        OP, whether you have ADHD (or another condition) or not, remember that 1) you are human and allowed to make mistakes, 2) your value as a human is not contingent on you performing Perfection, and 3) reacting to your mistakes/imperfections by taking responsibility, holding yourself accountable, being humble, and being able to laugh at yourself makes you GOOD management material. How many bad managers are bad because they throw people under the bus, or cover up their screwups, or have no empathy for their (human, imperfect) employees?

        You’re looking at your “airheadedness” as a character flaw. Turn it around and try thinking about how it can be a strength.

        Reply
        1. Anonny

          I must say, I’ve read about RSD before and I might need to read more about it because I don’t understand the connection with ADD/ADHD.

          Reply
          1. LadyofLasers

            It’s a term coined by an expert to describe the strong painful emotional response in ADHD brains as a response to failure, but it’s not an official diagnosis and there’s debate as to whether it should be classified as a separate condition from the social anxiety that usually accompanies ADHD. My two cents is that ADHDers experience overwhelm and emotional disregulation when rejected, and they probably experience it more often due to disorganization and combined that amplified the normal pain of rejection.

            Reply
        2. sb51

          This! (Since Zev didn’t define it, rejection sensitive dysphoria basically means you take critiques *or hypothetical critiques* way harder than people without it. So when the truth might be that your coworker thinks “Person sometimes misinterprets things if you ask her a question when she’s deep in thought on something else, so make sure you have her full attention first if it’s critical” becomes your thought “oh god my co-workers think I’m a complete airhead and I deserve to be fired the SKY IS FALLING”.)

          I have it. Someone else in my life has it even more so and for both of us, just knowing it’s happening helps us take a deep breath and look more objectively at the issue.

          Reply
          1. Zev

            Yes, thank you!

            I think a lot of us get criticized for this in layman’s terms, e.g. “You take everything too personally” or “You’re too sensitive,” or meaner comments involving words like “paranoia” or “self-centeredness.”

            It’s really hard to identify, work on and improve these issues without the framing of RSD. But knowing it’s an intrusive thought pattern in your brain — and not a personal failing — can help a lot

            Reply
      2. Jadelyn

        Ooh, I like the idea of a “what I did” list. I might try designating a scratch pad for that purpose and see how it goes.

        Agreed re: routines. Stuff that I don’t make a set-in-stone routine for, is stuff that’s going to go undone more often than not.

        Reply
      3. A Very Smart Airhead

        Re: Lists and Routines: I don’t know if I can recommend a product here, but check out Panda Planners. They’re structured for planning ahead, setting goals, and reviewing at the end of the day. I love them.

        Reply
    18. FidgetFingers

      I also add my endorsement for getting evaluated! It’s worth noting that ADHD in women, especially adult women, largely goes undiagnosed because behaviors and misfirings can be categorized as “ditziness.” Some of the hyperfixation common in ADHD serves us well in a school setting but not in a workplace, so we can get by without a diagnosis until adulthood.

      Reply
    19. animaniactoo

      Adding another voice to the “this sounds like…” territory. Not me, but my sister and my cousin. My nephew also has a form of autism that involves issues with executive function and he’s in the process of learning similar organization techniques to the ADD methods. It’s worth being evaluated, and checking into the coping/processing methods in the meantime for things that seem like they would help OP limit the number of times she asks for an update on something she finished 2 days ago.

      Reply
    20. LW

      I’ve actually considered that it might be ADHD, but I dismissed the possibility because, generally, I’m insanely organized. My inbox’s folders have folders, my to-do lists are separated into multiple categories, that kind of thing. Occasionally, I’m sitting at my desk and the only thing going through my head is like, elevator music. Or I look around my organized desk and think I don’t have a file, only after I’ve asked my supervisor if she’s got it, it turns out it was on my desk the whole time. None of that sounded like the typical symptoms of ADHD to me, so I let that go.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        It’s perfectly reasonable to seek evaluation based on “I’m wondering if there’s something interfering with my processing”–you can get an answer that is “No,” or an answer that is “Yes, but not ADHD.” It’s not a situation where you need to be pretty sure and just need testing to confirm it. Think if you had weird ear crud or a painful toe–you don’t need to have an idea of what’s causing it before you ask a doctor about it.

        Reply
      2. No Mas Pantalones

        I have ADD and am ridiculously organised. Like, I’ve had people I work with ask if I would be willing to organise their homes on a contract basis. Everything is colour coded, cross referenced, etc. And my lights have been shut off because I simply forgot to pay the bill, even though I had the money to pay it and it was marked in my calendar.

        I do really well when I’m stressed to the max. I can zoom in and focus on 93 things at once because every sense and synapse is active and buzzing. I thrive in New York because the city is complete sensory overload and it feels like home in my brain. It’s when things settle down a bit that I start to get air headed. If I’m not “activated,” I could forget where I left my right hand.

        Reply
      3. animaniactoo

        Being ridiculously organized is one of the ways people deal with the symptoms of ADD.

        But – it also might not be ADD and could be something else. My sister has a couple of additional different disabilities and my nephew has one that create issues with executive functions like mental tracking.

        And the sitting at your desk elevator music thing? Absolutely ADD potential. I have a friend who describes it as Look! Squirrel! – you can have habits both of being so deep into something that it’s almost impossible to distract you from it AND being easily distracted by any stray thought that crosses your mind.

        Reply
      4. Matilda Jefferies

        Yep, same. I have no problem with organization, but there are lots of other ADHD things that I struggle with!

        Zoning out is a big indicator, and there’s also something called “hyperfocus” where you get so zoned *in* to something that you lose track of everything else. Edward Halliwell (one of the authors recommended above) has suggested that it should actually be called Attention Variability Disorder, rather than Attention Deficit Disorder, because our attention spans can go so far in one direction or the other.

        The other thing that twigged to me in your letter is speaking impulsively, combined with errors like the clock thing. That is 100% me. Lots of people on this thread are suggesting things like “think before you speak” – which is good advice, but it’s really hard for someone with ADHD to do.

        Obviously none of us here knows if you have it or not – all I’m saying is don’t discount it because of one indicator. ADDitudeMag.com has a ton of self-tests and articles to help you decide if it’s something worth exploring with your doctor. Good luck!

        Reply
      5. Competent Commenter

        Diagnosed at 49. Yes, you can be very organized and have ADHD. In fact, that’s a great coping mechanism. I was a very good student all through K-12 and college, partly because I was really organized.

        Your experiences sound very much like ADHD. Try the ADHD Experts Podcast from ADDitude Magazine. There are many, many episodes, each stand-alone, and you hear from experts describing all aspects of diagnosis and coping for children and adults. Check out the ones that cover diagnosing.

        I hope you do get evaluated! You’ve got nothing to lose (expect some money, and depending on your insurance maybe not even that) and a lot to gain. I wish I could have been diagnosed 30 years ago. All those years of struggling, even though I looked put-together on the outside, have left me with so much shame. That’s very typical, especially for women.

        Reply
      6. Zev

        Sometimes, people don’t *seem* to have ADHD symptoms because they are exerting enormous amounts of energy to cope with them — such as being SO highly organized that their ADHD can’t (usually) sneak its way in. So it might not look, to them or to outsiders, like they’re having trouble, but that’s only because they’re spening a lot lot lot of effort and energy on managing it. And they assume everyone else spends equally as much time/energy on the same thing.

        I’d definitely suggest doing some reading and research. ADHD isnt what society thinks it is, and it can influence your life in a lot more insidious ways than are easily apparent.

        (p.s. and not to make a joke about it but me, my partner, and about 3 other friends I can think of off the top of my head have all said “I thought it might be ADHD but I dont think it is” and all of us were diagnosed with it within a year of saying that. So. Maybe that should be listed as a symptom, lol)

        Reply
        1. kitryan

          I’m not diagnosed but this is basically me. It’s less draining for me once the system is in place and I try to optimize things so it’s not so much work but I agree, it’s possible to become very organized either because hyper focus or because coping mechanism.

          Reply
        2. A Very Smart Airhead

          Plus, LW mentions being “book smart” and it tends to be masked by intelligence as well. I skated through school on brains alone, then found that I struggled intensely in college and in the workplace where I needed more than just intelligence.

          Reply
      7. LurkieLoo

        I second the organization and ADD/ADHD possibility. If this does turn out to be a diagnosis for you, it may also help you to read and recognize some of your behaviors and know how to help people communicate/work with you.

        I worked with a person with ADD and when I was getting so frustrated with how this person who is otherwise so organized and on the ball just was not hearing the words coming out of my mouth and interpreting them just about opposite, I turned to the internet and read a lot about ADD/ADHD and communication. It improved a lot by keeping one on one conversations shorter back and forth exchanges versus larger blocks. (Just one random example.) I think if YOU knew these things about yourself and could communicate some of your interaction strategies/struggles with your co-workers and supervisors, it would help everyone.

        I’m not saying you should do this right now, but as you figure out what does help you and what things absolutely make it worse. I think that’s applicable even if you don’t have ADD or ADHD. The more you know yourself and can communicate to others, the better. I absolutely want an email on everything so I can add things to my list. My boss prefers face to face and verbal communication. Sometimes I ask for an email and sometimes I add it to my list on the spot.

        For your folders specifically, you could maybe ask your boss (or anyone) to send a quick email or leave a sticky note if taking a file off your desk so that you know who has it. Then at least you will look harder on your desk before going on the hunt if there’s no note.

        I’ve also known several extremely smart people who would have made the exact same exchange about the clock. I think you might outgrow some of that with more experience with life in general. Then it will be more noticeable with the people who already know that about you and intentionally yank your chain. I think a lot of commenters have made great suggestions for coping strategies.

        Reply
      8. LadyofLasers

        Try reading ‘Women with attention deficit disorder’ by Sari Solden. It was hugely helpful to me when I was trying to decide if I should get evaluated.

        Reply
      9. Anon today

        The hyper-organization may be how you’ve gone this long without getting diagnosed. My DH first thought I was a hyper-organized control freak with my schedules and lists and structure–turns out that is how my coping mechanisms manifested, to overcome the outright panic I felt inside about missing something.

        Your update and your letter both ping ADHD as I’ve experienced it.

        Reply
    21. This Daydreamer

      Another ADHD space cadet here (as if you couldn’t tell from my screen name)!

      Get evaluated and get a book about ADHD in the workplace. Even if it isn’t ADHD in your case the book is very likely to be helpful.

      Reply
    22. A Very Smart Airhead

      I was worried I’d seem like I’m armchair diagnosing… but yes. I have ADHD and am just like you say: book smart but an airhead. If that IS your situation, getting treatment helps, and I’ve found that being in a women with ADHD support group on facebook helps WORLDS to normalize the things I thought were awful traits of mine. I also second what Observer said about finding someone who knows what they’re dealing with for ADHD. I was diagnosed in my early 20s but nobody bothered to tell me it was about more than focus until like ten years later.

      And if it’s NOT your situation: Try anything you can to be mindful, even if it’s narrating where you put things, adopting a rule to not put off anything that takes two minutes or less, schedule in buffer time to refresh your memory on a report you wrote, etc. And as the first commenter on this thread said, if you don’t have ADHD, your symptoms are similar enough that you may find some of the tips and tricks offered to ADHD people helpful. Here are some: https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/adhd-in-the-workplace#2 In particular, I thrive best if I take time to be in a quiet space (if you don’t have an office, maybe try to take a walk to clear your head) and I write down EVERYTHING. There’s no harm in saying, “oh, just one moment while I write that down, I want to make sure I don’t forget what you said.” And I make sure to keep a really organized calendar. My office is a mess all the time but my calendar is always tidy and perfectly up to date and color-coordinated, and it helps a lot. I use Trello to manage my to-dos and I’m working on being mindful about immediately opening it and entering anything I need to do. I also schedule time at the beginning of my day to plan what I need to do (tbh I don’t always make good on that but I keep trying!) and I schedule time at the end to wrap up projects I’m working on and make sure to shut down my computer almost every day so I’m not coming in to yesterday’s mess.

      And FWIW, I’m well-respected in my office and even beyond, and I manage to make my strengths outweigh my … quirks. I’m a woman in my mid-30s and I’ve been in my field 10 years. And a bit of the ditziness went away with age, but I’m definitely still spacey compared to other people, ha! Best of luck, LW. :)

      Reply
    23. Alice

      Yep, I’m a combination ADHD/Autistic person, and I agree with Observer about using organisational techniques designed for people with these kinds of conditions, even if you don’t have them yourself (but please see someone if this is a huge concern to you, you may find it is because of something like ADHD or Autism and your life is just generally easier from having that knowledge about yourself). Specifically, the time comment suggests that maybe you could benefit from a visual timer? These are based on the same principle as an hourglass, in that you can very quickly see how much time has passed and how much is left, but you can get variations (like the ones which have a coloured circle that diminishes as time passes). Also, colour coding files, bullet journaling (the simple version, NOT what shows up on Pinterest) and visual schedules also may really help you.

      Reply
  5. shergak

    I think this is something that will reduce in frequency as you get older, just because the LW has mentioned that they’re working on it. Also, I think we all slip up at times, and say silly things without thinking. The best thing to do in those situations is to own it and make it your own. If you can do that, it becomes a quirk rather than a blemish and it’s something that’s part of your working personality. As long as it’s not affecting the work you’re doing, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. It might even end up being useful. :)

    Reply
    1. Competent Commenter

      I’ve got to respectfully disagree. After I had my baby at 41, it’s like my brain fell apart. I did exactly the kind of thing that OP describes only way worse. And it just kept getting worse and worse. I’m 52 and just started hormone replacement therapy because I need to get some of my brain back. :(

      Reply
  6. Zip Silver

    This is more like a personality quirk than anything. If you manage to do your work well, then a silly personality flaw won’t hurt you personally. After all, we see raging assholes become upper management, and that’s a much worse personality trait than being a little airheaded.

    Reply
  7. Mike C.

    Give yourself some time to gain some confidence in your achievements and you’ll be fine. It’s easy to think that everyone else has it all figured out and is put together but the truth is that we’re all pretty much in the same boat. Don’t make a big deal out of the little errors you make and no else will either.

    Reply
    1. Doug Judy

      I’d be willing to bet most people who have made coffee on many occasions has forgotten the filter or has not realized a clock was changed after Day Light Savings. And everyone has lost things on occasion.

      Reply
      1. Temperance

        Sure, but it’s clearly a problem for LW, which is why she wrote in. Everyone does these things sometimes, but it’s a problem if it’s all the time.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Though as the OP notes, it’s possible that the problem is that she’s overly aware of lapses that are happening at an average rate. I don’t know if we can tell from here or not, but I’ve certainly encountered that too.

          Reply
      2. Tardigrade

        I have made several pots of hot water in my life – didn’t even put the coffee in there at all.

        OP, I would imagine you’re way way WAY more aware of these “errors” than anyone else is.

        Reply
        1. London Cat Lady

          This.

          OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this, but please don’t feel bad. Everyone forgets things, or makes mistakes, and nine times out of 10, the only person who remembers it is you. It doesn’t make you an airhead. Remember we’re usually our own harshest critics!

          You’ve said no one at work has mentioned any concerns of this sort. Is there any chance someone outside work in the past has said anything to make you feel bad? I’ve been going through this with my flatmate recently – when I’m going to the shops, he gives me money to get him things, but he’s very specific about what he does or doesn’t want to eat, and he makes me sound like a right thicko when it’s not 100% to his satisfaction. For example, he wanted plain cranberry juice the other day, which I got him, but when I got it home, he checked the back of the carton, and it was only there that it said in the smallprint that it was 80% apple. Like it’s my fault the company mislead their customers! He lectured me about not being able to get the simplest thing right, which made me feel like shit, but I told him to get it himself next time, if he’s going to be like that when I do him a favour. Sometimes you have to accept someone else has the problem, not you.

          Reply
          1. kitryan

            Cranberry juice is very tart and I’ve only seen 100% cranberry juice for sale as a specialty item. It is frequently cut with other, sweeter fruit juices. I’m guessing he doesn’t realize this since if he did, he should have warned you or given you his preferred brand name. Relatedly, your flatmate is being an ass. I think his punishment for being pretty insulting to you after you tried to do him a favor is that you just don’t do him any more favors. If a favor gets you a lecture, he doesn’t deserve favors.

            Reply
  8. JaneB

    The guy who was the office air head in my generation (joined the organisation in the same year or two I did during a growth phase, twenty years ago) – who did MUCH dopier things than you’ve described here – just got promoted to manage our whole department. (maybe the gender thing helps, but there IS hope for air-heads to be appreciated for their other qualities).

    Otherwise – I can be quite dopey (also book smart and life stupid as my dear father says, and add in clumsy and focus problems) and have still managed a career (I don’t WANT to be a manager so I never tried that route). Lists help, logical homes for things help, and not getting publicly embarrassed or letting people see you think it might be a big deal really helps – laughing at yourself if appropriate and moving on gives everyone else the cue to do the same thing.

    Reply
    1. Armchair Analyst

      This. I can’t imagine any of these examples being a holdback for a man, at all. I am not sure what that says about the current system.

      Reply
    2. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore

      I’m dyspraxic (as well as having severe ADHD), and so clumsy that if I hadn’t learned to laugh at myself a long time ago, I would have died of shame before my age reached double digits.

      Reply
  9. Jess

    Sounds like it’s worth getting a health screening, to figure out what’s behind this. Once you have a better sense of that, you can figure out how to accommodate and if there are specific skills you can learn or tools you can incorporate. But I’d suggest getting the initial help outside of work.

    Reply
    1. raktajino

      A health screening is a good idea, even setting aside the ADD angle that others are suggesting.

      My husband went through a ditzy phase (noticeable and occasionally awkward) and it turned out his b vitamins and possibly iron levels were really low. He was on a medication that limited uptake from diet. When he started taking supplements, the difference was almost immediate.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Thyroid stuff in either direction will also screw you up. That’s another reason why you don’t go in asking for a specific test but saying “Hey, I have this problem–can we look at what might be causing it?”

        Reply
      2. Office Gumby

        Fifthing this. There may be a legitimate medical issue going on.

        I thought I had a hearing issue. People would say stuff and it sounded muddled, so went and got my hearing tested. Turns out my hearing is fine (ie, the ear works great). However, once the signals reached the brain, there was a cognitive issue in interpreting said signals.

        Brain training is resolving this.

        Reply
    2. GreyjoyGardens

      Yes to a health screening. I felt my brain power drop off precipitiously as I approached 40 – too young for “age related” brain stuff. It turned out to be *severe* sleep apnea. A CPAP has given me my life, and my brainpower, back.

      Sleep deprivation – whether due to apnea or another condition or a new baby or simply “I don’t want to go to bed-itis” can show up as similar to inattentive ADD, memory problems, forgetfulness, foggy brain, etc. I always think it’s good to have a sleep test if you are told you snore or are an active/noisy sleeper in any way, or you wake up with a headache or dry mouth in the mornings (a big tell for me).

      Reply
  10. Sparkles

    My manager that I have here is totally like that and she is pushing 60. Everyone loves her, and she is a fantastic manager- one of the best that I have ever had. Sure she has her quirks that can sometimes be annoying, but it’s never anything major. I would maybe suggest making a checklist for your work? Maybe visually having that list could help you so things wouldn’t slip your mind? Just spitballing here :)

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yep you can compensate for being a little scatterbrained by being a good listener, compassionate, and a good problem solver – and those are all super valuable qualities to have.

      Reply
  11. Crow Taylor

    When you get more experience with the world, you’ll have fewer chances to make wrong assumptions about new experiences because there will be fewer new experiences.

    When it comes to progress updates and stuff like that, you might do well with a deliberate organization system like bullet journaling to help keep progress on projects and stuff fresh in your head.

    Much of this will get better with time.

    Reply
    1. Amanda Boland

      Seconding the bullet journal as an organisational system.
      It takes a little getting used to at first, but it’s incredibly simple and powerful. It gets everything out of my head and captured somewhere external. I work much better working on paper than digitally for that kind of thing, and it’s the best I’ve tried over a 30-year professional career (ask an elder about Filofax sometime!)
      I’m currently using a modified bullet journal to manage the corporate governance of eight client companies, and my own, on an ongoing basis. It hasn’t let me down yet, and perimenopause is making me very scatter-brained indeed.
      You’ve got this. Best of luck!

      Reply
  12. Bea

    As long as you’re enjoyable, a good worker and understand you’re prone to this behavior (which you hit all these points from my POV), you’ll be fine!

    Yes. You may end up rubbing some prickly particular folks wrong. We all do.

    I’m not dense but have plenty of moments. We all have quirks, most do not set you back unless it’s in one of those “wrong fit” setups.

    Lighten up on yourself!

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      I agree, I think OP is being pretty tough on herself. Who hasn’t blanked out on an routine task or forgotten that a clock didn’t get set ahead? There are some people who are super tough on others (but these people are kind of lame), and some field that precision and attention to detail is everything, but I don’t think this are fatal flaws OP is describing.

      Reply
      1. Bea

        I’m extremely hard on myself. If I had a dollar for every time a mistake made me tailspin while my boss was like “relaaaaax!! It’s no big deal.” I would finally be rich. Whereas others making mistakes tend to just be a casual “oh we can fix it.” or “oh well, cost of doing business!”

        So I’m extra sensitive to others being hard on themselves.

        Also if the “dumbest” thing you do in your life is follow up on a closed issue, that shows you’re aware that report was important!

        I’ve done the “where are my glasses?????” dance, only to look down and oh goodness gracious, they’re in my hand. I’ll laugh in someone’s face if they ever tried to tell me I wouldn’t be successful. I’m already successful.

        Reply
    2. JuniperGreen

      Agreed! OP – this is an early phase of your career, so you’re still figuring out what types of actions result in different kinds of consequences. It sounds like these are small matters that might not even qualify as “mistakes” – so the only thing you’d be judged for is how you respond. If you do so calmly and good-naturedly, and make a point that you DO get the joke or remember “oh but of course, that was already taken care of…” others will see you as level-headed and easy to work with, rather than someone prone to spiraling at the first sign of trouble.

      Just make a point to follow through on your committments and double check your work for quality and consistency. Eventually, when you have a larger workplace gaffe (as we all inevitably do), you’ll have a demonstrated reputation as a reliable good worker.

      Reply
  13. Devon11

    Are you me? Im very much the same. Wheres my phone, my keys, ect is a common occurrence. Everyone jokes and thinks its cute, although its frustrating for me. I do my job well and i am reliable, in the end thats how people view me. Be careful though when it starts interfering with your ability to perform functions of your job. When i have to pay super close attention to detail i have to take a bit longer to do that task.

    Reply
  14. AmySantiagoToo

    I think it might be worth really focusing on those things that you’re struggling with, and trying to redefine it for yourself from “airheaded” to , “I struggle with these things.” For instance, I’m a really analytical person, and that usually goes hand in hand with mechanical abilities. But in my case, it doesn’t. I’m terrible with mechanical things, to the point that I’m the only person I know who’s ever set a computer on fire replacing memory. (Note: burning plastic smell sticks around for a long, long time.) I’m also terrible with directions – think left, right and north south. This doesn’t make me airheaded, it makes me bad at these things. It’s possible that if you really think about it, you might be able to determine that some of the things you’re struggling with are just… things you struggle with. Some of the others might be anomalies that you’ve lumped in with airheadedness. And if you can redefine it for yourself, you might be able to either improve, or just say, eh, I’m terrible at this. That makes it easier to explain to others as well, so they don’t rely on you to do the things you’re terrible at.

    Reply
    1. motherofdragons

      I really like this reframe! Telling yourself a different story about yourself also prevents you from buying so much into you being an “airhead” that you start talking about yourself in that way to others, which is neither great nor accurate.

      Reply
  15. Linzertart

    I just want to say that the fact you are aware of this tendency and want to make change means you aren’t dense or an airhead. We all have things we’d like to change (I’m working on paying more attention to detail and proofreading!) so good for you for seeing yourself for how you are and working to improve. Be a bit nicer to yourself, too. :)

    Reply
    1. Just Employed Here

      Whereas I’m working on paying more attention to content than to details and proofreading… :-/ If I read something that contains spelling mistakes or clumsy expressions, I focus so much on those that the actual meaning doesn’t really register.

      Don’t get me started on signs in several languages, with every translation containing its own weirdness…

      We really all have things we’d like to change!

      Reply
  16. Amber Rose

    As far as asking about things already done or losing files, I keep a lot of work tracking spreadsheets, and I check them before I do anything so I can see what’s done and what isn’t. I also have a lot of file racks and stuff for sorting things.

    The rest of it is not that big of a deal. It doesn’t affect workflow, and probably nobody even really thinks about it beyond it being just a part of who you are. I’ve had plenty of managers who were like that. My current manager is like that, and I have a HUGE amount of respect for her, because she gets work done and knows everything. She’s also the person who came in to work two hours early to soak the office in glitter and Christmas decorations, and who can spell ‘coalescing’ but not ‘pressure.’ Whatever.

    Reply
  17. Cassandra

    This, like basic project management, can be something that you don’t realize people have invented systems for. :)

    Bullet journaling is the hot system du jour, but that doesn’t mean it’s for you — just means it’s something you could try. Getting Things Done (which has associated mobile apps, if those are your thing) is another well-reputed tracking system. To-do-list apps are legion, and you may even have one built into your work email or intranet. Kanban boards are cool — I have one in the form of a giant sticky note on the back of my door, and a friend turned her monitor background into one that she puts (Apple-style) “sticky notes” on.

    You’re not an airhead. The human short-term memory has well-studied, well-known limitations! Almost all of us need to exteriorize stuff in some way or we’ll drown in minutiae it’s impossible for us to remember. Your job now is to start giving exteriorization systems a try!

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      Wunderlist is my go to for my personal life. At work, I use a combo of Outlook’s “Notes/tasks” section to keep track of long term stuff that isn’t available to be tracked through our project management software.

      Reply
    2. verylisa

      I like Getting Things Done personally, and recommend reading the book for ideas even if you don’t end up adopting the system wholesale. My big takeaway from Getting Things Done is that relying on memory is always going to get messy for most of us.

      I need to get stuff out of my head and into a trusted external system, which could be a notebook, a to-do list app or something similar. This has become more important in recent years where some chronic illness problems have resulted in frequent brain fogs. It got so bad I thought I’d have to retire from the workforce or find another career, but I’ve managed to keep puttering along by getting more diligent about capturing every random to-do in my trusted system.

      I still forget stuff sometimes, and when that happens I apologise as soon as I discover it, and do my best to fix whatever’s been forgotten. I tell myself that every owned and acknowledged mistake is actually an opportunity to build trust — people aren’t so worried that I’m secretly covering up general incompetence if I confess to specific instances of incompetence when they occur. :) (No idea if that’s what other people are actually thinking, but it comforts me to think that way!)

      Reply
  18. Asenath

    Everyone occasionally has slip-ups. You could try some tricks to deal with any that might affect your job – some method of tracking your work so that you have a way of knowing which report you finished – and then practice in using your new method. But for the rest, I don’t think you should beat yourself up about them, especially since (a) everyone has them and (b) your supervisors aren’t flagging them as the cause of work problems.

    I mean, I’m the woman who missed the baptism one of her best friend’s children because I forgot the time change, and I’ve got lots of reminders and checks built into my workday (I love organizing stuff with Excel and Outlook). I still sometimes sort of forget things like I (and not, as I had vaguely assumed, a co-worker) was responsible for revising a document by a deadline. So when I realize I flaked out on some procedure or deadline, I apologize, fix it fast. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not even particularly important unless it’s happening so often that it’s causing serious problems. And if you’re getting good feedback, I’d guess it isn’t in your case. I was even forgiven for missing the baptism. And at least it wasn’t the baptism at which I was a godmother.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yeah, to me, saying something a little silly in the heat of a conversation is a “meh, let it go” thing. Losing files probably just means you need to implement a system and pay more attention. These things are really common but OP is putting an extra layer of pressure on herself by labeling herself an airhead. Try to cultivate that growth mindset where everybody is just working on different skills and nobody comes out of the box perfect.

      Reply
  19. Mouse Princess

    I have a manager like this but she makes zero effort to be professional in her work (loses important documents, has a really messy workspace, has multiple planners and calendars that she is always misplacing or misreading, etc). I wouldn’t mind her ditzy personality (making silly nonsense comments, spilling things in our office, forgetting her phone all the time) if she just managed her work professionally. My advice would be to make an effort. Be organized. Create a file system. Get a calendar that works for you. Make lists. You can have a ditzy personality and nobody will mind if you make silly comments or spill coffee as long as you don’t mess up your actual work.

    Reply
  20. AnotherAlison

    My advice would be to focus your career direction into things that don’t require high levels of organization and staying on top of things–like not project management. You can put systems in place to be sure you’re not misplacing files or asking for info you already have, but it may never be your strength, and it can be annoying to coworkers when people need to be good at this and aren’t.

    Otherwise, I’d train yourself to take an extra second before you speak (with exceptions such as in the course of an ongoing conversation). The clock comment is the one that stuck out to me. Communication is really important, and if you don’t lean towards the more administrative tasks, you might get steered towards those types of roles. I think thinking before you speak is completely fixable, though, and where I would focus your energy.

    Reply
  21. Emily

    I’m definitely NOT diagnosing you, but I would recommend looking into getting tested for ADD or at least checking out symptoms and seeing if anything clicks with you. I excelled in school and therefore wasn’t tested until I was an adult — so much of my absentmindedness/forgetfulness/etc suddenly all made sense. Just a thought!

    Reply
    1. Holly

      This is really me – I always excelled in school (despite a constant struggle with disorganization, punctuality, and procrastination/attention management) but now that I’m adult I’m finding it catching up with me at work… now I’m considering if I should see someone.

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        My family has a history of people bright enough to get through school while struggling with their undiagnosed learning disabilities. Until a couple couldn’t do it, and were diagnosed. My sister has ADD, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia – getting her diagnosed meant figuring out that my dad also has Dysgraphia. He’s stopped feeling as bad about his handwriting.

        Pretty much, the worst that happens if you don’t have anything is that you’ve learned you don’t have anything. If you do have something, being evaluated gets you more quickly towards resources that have been developed to help with what you’re struggling with.

        Reply
          1. animaniactoo

            Dad has a history of inheriting things from his children. I have some rather severe allergies, pretty much the only person to have major allergies in our family – he turned 50 and popped out with about half my allergies. We should stop getting diagnosed with stuff. ;P

            Reply
    2. LilySparrow

      Yes. ADHD symptoms manifest differently. Some cause problems for kids in school. Others only start causing problems when you have to keep up with adult responsibilities.

      The difference between a trait and a disorder is whether it’s interfering with what you want and need to accomplish. If these teaurs or quirks, or weak areas, or whatever you want to call them, are undermining your professionalism and could hold you back from progressing in your career then it’s worth exploring techniques and self-care measures to help redirect or manage them.

      Reply
  22. CTT

    Some of this stuff I think is okay (I would probably make the same mistake with a clock that hadn’t been changed like you did, or wouldn’t judge if someone else did), but for the work-related stuff like following up on reports or misfiling, you just have to have systems in place. Try to find a list-making stsytem that works for you so you can see what you have literally crossed off, or always cross reference your emails before asking for a status update (because if you are emailing these things but not checking before you ask for updates, I would think less airhead and more sloppy with a side of superiority, like “I’m too busy to check my own work”). Forgetting things isn’t a total barrier to success, but it sounds like you’ll feel a lot better if you work on it.

    Reply
  23. CMBG

    What is considered airheaded in a woman tends to be seen as an interesting quirk, eccentricity, or “absentminded professor” quality in a man.

    Reply
    1. Zillah

      I agree completely – but even if the double standard isn’t fair, it might be one that OP has to deal with. (And I also think that the behavior can-be-but-isn’t-always problematic for everyone.)

      Reply
    2. CTT

      I work with a few absent-minded men, and in my experience, that “oh it’s just a charming quirk!” gloss is only given by people who don’t interact with them regularly. Which is a problem in of itself, but it’s not something that uniformally is getting a pass from those who have to corral that behavior.

      Reply
    3. Observer

      I don’t necessarily disagree, but it’s not really helpful to the OP. If she gets tagged with this stereotype, it’s going to hold her back.

      Reply
  24. Cube Ninja

    I think most people find this sort of thing fun/funny. If it’s an actual issue that impacts your ability to get things done, I’d follow some of the good advice other commenters have already provided. If it’s just a personality quirk, it’s likely to get better over time, especially as you gain additional experience.

    If you’re otherwise capable, competent and do good work, an overwhelming majority of people will hardly even notice, because a LOT of people do derpy stuff on a daily basis and I say that as someone who has absolutely never put the cereal in the refrigerator and the milk in the cupboard.

    Reply
  25. Name Required

    I had a friend who was like this and it turns out she had ADHD, which manifests in women very differently than men. After she began treatment, her “airhead” qualities were greatly reduced, and the extreme organization she had built in her life as a “coping mechanism” for her “forgetfulness” gave her an edge once the symptoms of her disorder were addressed.

    Regardless of whether you have a medical condition or this just a personal characteristic, if you’re taking reasonable measures to perform well at your job, you’re pleasant, and you’re not hurting anyone … I think it’s unkind of people to look down on you for the occasional forgetfulness, and it reflects more on them than you. Everyone has quirks, and this one is yours. The best you can do to show that you are management material is to perform well, treat others respectfully, and pursuit opportunities that make you more qualified to reach your goals. I think you can overcome the occasional “airheadness” by being confident and making a point to advocate for yourself and your achievements where appropriate.

    Reply
    1. scooby snack

      100 percent agree. How you respond to your blips in common sense and how you carry yourself when it matters (in focused discussions, etc) will be a lot more noticeable than the blips themselves. (In my experience, even if you get a few chuckles at missing the joke or forgetting something obvious but sharpen up when it’s necessary, the latter leaves a bigger impression.)

      Reply
  26. coffee addict

    I’m there with you, this is exactly the type of things I do! I really think that in terms of interacting with your coworkers and bosses, you’ve really just got to adopt a good sense of humor about it and have a few responses already in your head for when you make a small mistake. It also can really help to just take a moment or so before you make a comment. I have a tenancy to blurt out whatever’s on my mind and taking a second to think it through really helps me!
    In terms of work, I recommend writing EVERYTHING down. I have a OneNote notebook where I write down every single task (no matter how small) and then check it off as soon as I’m done. I have it organized by week, then by project. Every Monday morning, I transfer the uncompleted tasks from past week to the current week and that helps me remember what happens before the weekend. If I need to ask for something or if I’m looking for a file, I always check my list and the previous couple lists as well to make sure that I haven’t forgotten about completing it already.
    Overall though, I think you’re probably reading a little too much into what others think of you. You’re mindful of the fact that you have these moments and that goes a long way!

    Reply
  27. agnes

    It helps me to pause for a minute and make sure I am present in the moment. A lot of what you are talking about sounds like maybe your mind is elsewhere. Self reflection before speaking, running a mental checklist as you are doing certain task–these things help me.

    Reply
    1. Washi

      Same. If the OP suspects she may not be neurotypical, she should check that out, but otherwise, the biggest thing for me is NOT multitasking, and it’s something I try to practice in all areas of my life. When I’m washing dishes, I direct my attention to how the water feels on my hands, how the glass reflects the light…and practicing at home helps me at work to stay present. I’ve retained my speed but improved my focus. I still have absentminded moments, but to outsiders they seem like an exception rather than my natural tendency.

      Reply
    2. Où est la bibliothèque?

      I also find it helpful to keep a mental checklist of what topics other people are almost certainly better at than I am. It stings my pride a little, but it definitely helps.

      Example: if my first thought is “no, it goes the other way” when people are talking about timezones, then I remind myself not to voice that thought out loud right away because I have embarrassed myself converting Eastern to Pacific before and I am probably wrong.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Oh, God. I should do that. I’ve had some deep dives into Dunning-Kruger effect lately that wouldn’t happen if I remembered my limitations a little more.

        Reply
    3. another commenter

      This year I discovered the “point and call” technique. It helps me not worry about whether I left the stove on or locked the door.

      Reply
  28. CupcakeCounter

    This will probably become less of a problem as you age and as you get more accustomed to working in your field. When things are new those examples you provided are somewhat normal, even for more experienced people. In the mean time, definitely don’t play it for laughs but do acknowledge it when it happens so that others know that you are aware. You might hear that they were the same way or they have this really great system that might work for you too. A task list or e-tool is helpful especially during busy times or “OMG ITS THE HOLIDAYS AND I GET 2 WEEKS OFF SOON I CAN’T WAIT BUT ALSO HAVE 300 PRESENTS TO BUY” brain (me currently).
    My mom is the opposite of you – great at work but a total airhead outside of it. She is always the most excited for Christmas morning because she always forgets what she buys for people. I remember one year she actually lost some of the presents and found them 2 years later and put them out.

    Reply
  29. Ptarmigan

    When something happens (if it’s not totally trivial), take a moment to think about why (did you forget to look in a particular place? did you not think to change the clock?) and implement a procedure to prevent its recurrence. For example, you might want to set a reminder every year on the DST changes dates (spring and fall) to fix the clock in the conference room. Or you might need a reminder to yourself to look for a file on your desk. Or you might want to keep a log of everything that you work on so that when someone says, “Can I get another copy of that Stevens report?” you can look at your log to remind yourself that you worked on it.

    One thing that really helps me is that I keep notes for every project, in a folder for that project (in the computer, though you could do this on paper too, depending on your job). My notes say things like “PTARMIGAN – last time, we tried to use the such-and-such report, but it turns out that report is only updated every six months. Instead I asked Bartleby for his more updated report and that was more helpful.” Because even though it always feels like you’ll remember things, in practice I now know that I never do.

    In general, try to assume you won’t remember anything, and just make it possible for your future self to get help from your current self.

    Reply
  30. The Rat-Catcher

    I was famous in college for being the key-losing, phone-losing, joke-missing ditz. I’m an intelligent person but geez, did I just miss things.
    It does get better as you get older. I’m 28 now and do notice a significant difference from when I was 23. If you are good at your work, you may become more known as an absent-minded professor – and hey, that person is a professor!
    With things like looking for a report you already completed, maybe you establish a procedure where you check your completed work first, before asking. But things like missing the joke happen to everyone. It’s embarrassing as he’ll in the moment, and people might tease you about time, but it’s not the kind of thing that makes people think you’re not manager material.

    Reply
  31. Liet-Kinda

    I feel like you were probably given enough shit about spacy moments and losing track of minor detail by jerky 18 year olds anxious for nobody to notice their weird personality quirks that you became agonizingly aware of every spacy moment or minor detail. And in being agonizingly aware of them, “airhead” became your disparaging self image, and every mistake you made after that just bolstered it. But I truly think that nobody is noticing and tracking these things enough to make a trend or impression of you from it, and I know for an absolute fact that everyone around you is boofing small tasks and overlooking files on their desks and forgetting about the time change. Once you hit mid-career, I think it’s generally understood that just about everybody is busy and distracted and is getting pulled in four directions at once, and I think people are probably inclined to cut you some slack if they even notice these minor boofs.

    Reply
  32. Less Bread More Taxes

    I am on the spectrum, and while I wouldn’t consider myself ditsy, I do take things extremely literally. I can totally picture myself making the comment about the clock.

    The best way to combat it is to be cheerful but not dwell too much on it when someone corrects me. And also produce really good work so people don’t think it bleeds into your projects.

    Reply
  33. Ok_Fortune

    It won’t help solve your problem directly, but—be kind and genuine with others. The more they like you and know that you forgive their failings, the more they will forgive yours.

    Other than that, look for projects that play to your strengths, of which it seems you have plenty. Not everyone is analytic and detail-oriented and that’s perfectly fine.

    Reply
  34. Startup mess

    I have this problem too. Here are some tools I use to combat this.
    – Evernote (which is synced on my computer and phone) to keep digital check lists and notes on everything
    – Trello for my project management. I find the kanban method very useful to keep myself on track.
    – Calendar for reminders and I set deadlines for EVERYTHING. If someone asks me to do something, I always ask for a deadline too.
    – Timer tools – this helps me to keep meetings short. I use tomatotimer to help keep focus.
    – I also visited a business psychologist which I found helpful and helped me realised that I’m not lazy or stupid, but I need to use systems and tools to help me succeed.

    I also let people know that I’m like this, and that they need to write things down/give deadlines. I don’t think this is unreasonable to ask, and always works well for me. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. EddieSherbert

      I LOVE Trello. So much. I love it. Cannot recommend it enough.

      I am also a huge calendar user as well – monthly tasks, things I should just remember to do occasionally (like check a specific inbox), tentative things that coworkers asked to revisit “next quarter” or whatever. Expense report due dates. They ALL go on the calendar. I do snooze or reschedule things occasionally – just make sure you do NOT dismiss it before it’s dealt with (even if you’re thinking “I will do that right after I respond to this email – you might forget anyways. I do!).

      Reply
  35. dramalama

    I struggle with this a lot. One thing that I’ve found helps consistently: get enough sleep. I find I’m way less likely to drift off or get distracted (the main way I find myself making dumb mistakes) when I’m well-rested.
    The other thing is that I’m not an organized person by nature, but I’m viciously organized at work. I spreadsheet EVERYTHING. If I can look at a box and get an instant update, then that takes the pressure off my own poor brain. I keep my desk as organized as I can be, and even if I’m just going to the file room I jot down everything I’m going there for.
    The final thing is to forgive yourself. You may agonize over things like not realizing the clock hasn’t been adjusted, but I guarantee everybody forgets about it as soon as they’re done laughing over it.

    Reply
  36. Lyra Silvertongue

    It’s clear from your letter that this is bothering you a lot more than it bothers anybody around you, and while that might not make you feel better, it also probably means no one is giving it much thought! Your coworkers probably feel that they do equally annoying/silly things that you never notice either.

    Another person commented talking about ADHD – I don’t have ADHD but I do also have a tendency to zone out on basic things while being competent at my actual work, and I definitely found looking up resources for ADHD to be useful because the coping mechanisms and such are generally very transferable. Personally I make a lot of lists and keep a kind of rough log of things I do in a day to keep track, though I work freelance so it’s somewhat more necessary to do that. The act of noting down when I’ve finished something or scheduled a call helps it stick in my brain better. But it sounds like it’s not even affecting your work, more your personal life/self-perception? It honestly might get easier as you get older and a bit more self-assured. It might not be about learning to eliminate all those behaviours but just being able to live with them and not focus on them.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yeah, I get that if I had made the clock comment in a meeting and everybody heard and had a good chuckle, I’d probably feel like that was a Big Thing that I Screwed Up. But if someone else made that comment, I wouldn’t put it down as a black mark against them. Somebody gets tripped up by changing the clocks every single time, this year it was you, NBD. If nothing else, being 23 and new to the workplace will get you a pass on this type of thing. In Five years you’ll be completely used to the office setting and the routines around time and it probably won’t be a big deal.

      Reply
  37. PB

    I work with some extremely smart people. The amount of stuff they know is staggering. Practical knowledge, however, can be lacking. In a lot of cases, I think they’re so busy thinking about Big Important Things, details like changing the clock fall through the cracks. Sometimes, they ask me the weird or silly questions, and I’ve never thought less of them for it.

    My point, really, is that if you’re good at your job, a lot of this can fly under the radar. It’s possible that none of your bosses have said anything about it, because they don’t view it as a problem. I mean, they probably noticed that you forgot a coffee filter, but if you learned from the mistake and you’re good at your core job responsibilities, they might have thought, “Well, that was a silly mistake! She probably won’t do that again,” and let it drop. I’ve never labeled someone an “airhead” for this reason, and have definitely seen people get promoted despite the occasional gaff or silly question.

    It’s a good thing to be aware of and try to improve, but ultimately, it might not be the hindrance you think it is.

    Reply
  38. LovecraftInDC

    Everybody else has already mentioned it, but I’d say for the work-related things, it’s all about organization and tracking. I don’t really suffer from the ‘daylight savings’ part of this, but ever since taking on a management position, I’ve found myself constantly re-asking questions I already got answers to. My solution was to create a massive onenote document and throw everything that comes up into it, as well as increasing my usage of our project/issue tracking software.

    Reply
  39. kittymommy

    I guess I’m going to go against the grain and say that it could end up being an issue later on. I’ve worked with a lot of office airheads, some got promoted, some didn’t (it seemed to turn what they were air-headed about), but by far, almost all of them wore on the patience of the co-workers. What was cute or quirky for the first couple of years ended up being irritating and grating after 7-8 years. Especially if it ended up affecting others (using examples in the letter: forgetting to use coffee filters and then a colleague comes in to coffee and coffee grounds all over the floor). It’s definitely going to help if you are competent and good at your job and I’m not saying that it won’t affect promotions/career growth, but it may end up influencing how co-workers view you and interact with you.

    Just a different perspective.

    Reply
    1. raktajino

      I agree that it *could* impact the OP negatively. However, it’s much more constructive and encouraging to suggest ways to ameliorate that. Saying “yup you’re doomed” is just as unhelpful as a naive “nope never gonna be a problem, forget about it.”

      OP, you’re not doomed. At the same time, it’s still worth thinking about and working on fixing, so it’s great that you’re asking the question and being introspective!

      Reply
      1. Kittymommy

        With all due respect, I did not say they were doomed. In fact I did state that it may not affect them at all. Or it might. Recognizing and being prepared for both possibilities in a good course of action.

        Reply
        1. raktajino

          Oh I realize that, I was just speaking as to why people might not be taking the negative angle. You were definitely more tactful than that.

          Reply
    2. Observer

      Which is why a lot of people are also offering some practical advice on how to minimize the potential problems. But, it’s good for the OP to realize that being easy to deal with and competent at her work goes a long way in ameliorating the problem and also that she doesn’t need to be quite so hard on herself.

      Reply
    3. Lucille2

      I think it would negatively impact OP if the negatives never improve and the positives don’t outweigh the negatives. If she does outstanding work, people tend to forgive the small mistakes. I could see myself doing the coffee filter thing at times when I have a lot on my plate and my mind is focused on other things. A simple, routine task is often done by going through the motions not thinking about them. If it happens often, just let someone else make the coffee. These problems don’t have to be career-killers if OP is able to successfully handle the fundamentals of her job.

      Reply
    4. Working Mom Having It All

      I think this can especially be a problem in a competitive work environment. In my field (entertainment), it is very common for there to be several people hired at the same time for entry level positions, but only a few of those people are going to be chosen for promotions. In some positions, there is an unwritten year shelf life where you’re expected to prove yourself, or even in some parts of the industry where jobs are more like contract positions than full time/permanent, where you really only have till the end of that particular gig to prove yourself.

      In situations like that, being thought of as an airhead, even if your work is otherwise good, is a huge liability. Because at the end of the year or contract period, someone who probably doesn’t know you all that well is going to decide the lucky few who get promoted or asked back. And that person is not going to pick the person who sticks out because they are ditzy. This also DEFINITELY impacts women more than men.

      That said, I also think there are a lot of easy fixes for this, the first of which is to just not go around telling people how flighty you are.

      Reply
  40. E

    I’m the exact same, haha – I could have written this letter a year ago. However, the longer I’m in a job, the more time I get to develop routines and systems which help prevent daft mistakes – the worst of them, anyway (everyone still slips up now and again). When you start at a job and you’re making small mistakes like this, you can feel really vulnerable and like the spotlight is always on you. But with experience, with building confidence, listening to advice/watching your coworkers, and developing your work routine – all of which you, as a smart person, are definitely capable of – you will improve enough to prove everyone wrong and shake off that airhead image.

    Reply
  41. Anom-a-lom-a-ding-dong

    OP- Knowing that you have these tendencies is half the battle.

    As a fellow “airhead” (I don’t know that I agree with the word you used, but since you used it, I will too!) I did a few things that helped make it easier for me to perform well at work:

    -Since I didn’t have faith in my ability to remember anything happening remotely in the future, whether it was appointments, operational work, or following up with people on things, I started putting ALL of them in my Outlook calendar, so I’d get a reminder once it needed to be done, and didn’t have to worry that I was forgetting it. Now that it’s been a few years, I’m really glad I did it. Maybe not everyone needs a system like that, but it keeps things from falling through the cracks for me.

    -I minimized the number of tools (virtual and otherwise) I used to manage my documents and calendar, so that I had limited places to look for stuff. I’ve combined my work calendar and personal calendar so that I can see both on my phone at the same time, and I try to use OneDrive for every sort of document I have, so I can search by keyword if I really can’t find it. I keep all my notes in one place as well (with a bunch of sub-folders so I can keep things organized).

    As for the stuff you mentioned about the conference room clock conversation- OP, please don’t overthink that. Everyone says silly stuff like that once in a while! If you’re really concerned that it’s happening often, I’d recommend asking a trusted coworker or your manager if they are seeing it as a problem, because that will help you get an outside perspective.

    Reply
  42. Coder von Frankenstein

    Each time something falls through the cracks, stop and ask yourself how to change your setup so that it won’t happen again. You lost a file on your desk? Get a filing cabinet and use it religiously; or get your files in electronic form and keep them in a shared drive. Forgot to use a coffee filter when brewing? Put the filters on top of the coffee machine so you physically can’t put in water or grounds without moving the filters (may require discussion if it’s a shared machine). Late with a bill? Set up automatic bill pay. Your goal is not to get better at keeping track of stuff in your head, it’s to reduce the amount of stuff you *have* to keep track of in order to function.

    As for the occasional moment of “ditziness” in conversation… well, I’m not sure what if anything to do about that. You could try and make a habit of pausing before speaking, but that has its own issues (it can make it real hard to get a word in edgewise if you have coworkers who talk a mile a minute). Still, if you can become known as a reliable worker who delivers a stellar product, you can probably get away with occasional moments of cluelessness in conversation.

    Reply
    1. T. Boone Pickens

      Well said Coder von Frankenstein.

      I would separate the instances into two pods, the clock/coffee ‘airheaded’ stuff is harmless. As many other have mentioned, just own it and laugh about it and nobody will pay it any mind.

      The work related pod–files/asking for updates is a more serious matter and I guess it would depend on the frequency. If you consistently work on say…100 reports (arbitrary number) asking about an update on something that already happened once a month or so would be a non issue if I were your co-worker. If you only work on a few reports and you’re asking for the same incorrect updates? Yeah, I’m going to start to question and get annoyed with you, especially if it becomes a roadblock for me (which it doesn’t sound like it is).

      Lots of good tips from other posters about checklists/tools/etc. Gl OP!

      Reply
  43. Oblique Fed

    Hi there OP,
    I think you’re right that this is something to be aware of and pay attention to. Your letter resonated with me by reminding me a lot of myself. I was book smart, loved to read, got great reviews, but also perceived as kind of “spacy” or “flaky” or… you get the idea. It actually really stressed me out, because I would sort of lean in to the “oh haha, Red is one of those artsy disorganized types!” story because it felt less bad to me than “Red tries really hard and does this anyway and it feels like failing every time.”

    I found out in my late 30s that I have ADHD. It had been masked because I am also gifted- so I was able to sort of “brute force” my way through things most of the time and never had any of the red flags in school that would have led to a diagnosis. But finding out made SO many things make SO much more sense… and also really helped me find strategies to cope with the lack of focus and distractibility that was giving me that “space cadet” reputation. (some of the things you describe – like “spacing out” during a boring or repetitive task and missing steps – remind me a lot of my own symptoms.) Apparently ADHD in women is a lot more likely to manifest in behaviors that get called “ditzy” or “airhead” or “spacey,” and thanks to the wonders of cultural sexism, can get put down as “women be ditzes” rather than “this specific woman has an executive function disorder.”

    I’m not saying that you have ADHD – you can’t diagnose someone over the internet, and I’m not an expert in that anyway. HOWEVER, it might be worth looking up some “ADHD in women” articles/checklists to see if any of the descriptions resonate as something to check in further. I’m offering this based on my experience, because I’d have had a lot easier time of it over the last 15-20 years if I’d gotten diagnosed earlier.

    That said, even if ADHD isn’t what’s going on with you, the TECHNIQUES meant to help ADHD-ers cope with their symptoms are usable by anyone and I have found them super helpful.

    Another pro tip for helping your reputation at work – get a notebook. Carry it to all meetings. WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN THAT HAS AN ACTION ASSOCIATED THAT YOU NEED TO DO. Use this to keep track, and refer back to it in future meetings. I do this because my memory is awful but that – along with various other coping and time-management strategies – means that my ADHD self has a reputation (ironically) for being SUPER ORGANIZED and on top of everything. Once you are cemented in people’s minds as ON IT, they are more likely to dismiss the occasional breakthrough inattention as “that’s not like her at all, she must be having a bad day” and not “sigh, she’s such an airhead.”

    Good luck, we’re all rooting for you.

    Reply
    1. Oblique Fed

      Hah all my fellow adult ADHD-ers came out of the woodwork while I was writing this comment. It would be great to have an open thread some time for all of us to swap coping strategies for work. :)

      Reply
      1. Zillah

        Yes! Alison, I would really love this! (Or just an open thread for people who aren’t neurotypical in general to talk about coping mechanisms at work.)

        Reply
      2. Matilda Jefferies

        Or, rather than making extra work for Alison, maybe we could start an ADHD topic in the Friday Open Thread every week? That would also allow us to check in more often, since…uh…some of us are likely to forget. ;)

        Reply
    2. Anon today

      Also recently diagnosed in my late 30s, figuring out how to adjust, while at the same time looking back at my life astonished at just how much ways I struggled are things that can be because of ADHD. Another gifted kid who got through by brute force, as you said.

      Reply
  44. Yeah, no

    Oh, hello there 23-year-old me! I used to be like this but as I’ve gotten older I’ve improved. I worked at a military base with NCOs and high-ranking officers and they could laugh off my dense moments because the actual work I produced for them couldn’t be beat. I had the charm (not flirting skills, but actual pleasant charming personality) to laugh those moments off while internally screaming at myself to get it together. I’m at a point now in my life where those moments are few and far between so when they do happen I just chuckle at myself and apologize. My coworkers know me well and know my work, so they just have a laugh too. I don’t worry about them thinking I’m actually dumb because they still come to me for my thoughts on a process or my opinion on a case. Just be aware of it and be willing to acknowledge those moments as silly ones when they happen and you’ll get there.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      EVERYTHING was so new to me at 23 in my first office job that I was probably processing a much bigger cognitive load than I realized, and it made for some weird errors. Ten years later it’s much easier to focus my attention on what’s most relevant, and I’m better able to sort out what is unusual from routine.

      Reply
  45. MLB

    I can understand the concern, but if it’s not negatively affecting your work, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You sound like you’re making an effort to improve things, so just continue on this path. Think harder about things before you actually say them out loud. If you’re not already doing so at work, make lists and create your own documentation. PAY ATTENTION to the things around you and educate yourself. So many people nowadays have their heads buried in technology and don’t pay attention to what’s around them. It makes a lot of them them seem dumb, which is kind of ironic considering the technology they have their heads buried in can provide them with so much information.

    Reply
  46. Kala

    I’m a manager. I’m also a little bit “ooo–shiny object”. I’ve left my phone in so many conference rooms people recognize it. (I’m focusing a little on the comment about being “management material” in the opening post.)

    Stuff like losing your keys, messing up coffee, not tracking the current time in a meeting where you were presumably focused on the task at hand, can actually even help with relationship-building if you use it to incite friendly conversation. It’s just your personality, and most people appreciates the person who brings some humor into a situation, including if that person is a manager. It makes you more human, even as you get older and the “cute” adjective sometimes transitions to “quirky”.

    Stuff like asking others for the status of your own work is something that you might want to address. As you get more responsibility, the ability to provide accurate information about the status of projects becomes more important (particularly if you have a team, and you’re tracking all of their work). Additionally, being a good communicator (which includes having a thorough understanding of what you’re trying to communicate), is something people often look for when deciding whether someone will be successful in a position with more responsibility.

    I think if you can become solid with the second category, you’ll be perceived as competent, and the first category will just become your unique quirks. (And who wants to work with a perfect person? Not me.) At least, that’s how it worked out for me — I’m about 15 years into my career now.

    Reply
  47. Alfonzo Mango

    I think this is a very normal insecurity to have, and I’m sure you will grow out of it as you get used to the working world, your new job environment, and when you just grow up a bit.

    If you’d like to work on it now, you can easily track your work by keeping a journal, be sure to listen more than you talk, and learn how to handle these mistakes with grace and not self-deprecation.

    Reply
  48. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

    I can be like this. I can share some of my techniques for coping.

    1. Act deliberately – this sounds weird, but sometimes I go on autopilot, I’ve found that I sometimes have to slow down and really think about what I’m doing (this one is mainly in my non work life for doing mundane tasks, like closing the garage door or turning on my alarm at night). Your description of making coffee without a filter sounds like it falls in this category.

    2. Slow down… before asking for an update, stop to think about what you are going to do, why you need it, and at what point in the process/task you are.

    3. Find (an) organization system(s) that work for you. Files on your desk, emails, notes, and all other things. Be diligent in using. I call this my glasses theory- I will only allow myself to set down my glasses in 3 places in my house, because if I didn’t then I’d find them in the freezer or some other nonsense place. Apply this same principle to your work things… files only go in one spot – organized in whatever way makes sense. Notes are only taken in one notebook or stored in one electronic system, emails are filed or marked in one specific way that makes sense to you.

    Be mindful when trying new org systems, it may take you awhile to find the one(s) that work. I actually have 2 or 3 systems in my rotation that I use during different periods, I like bullet journaling (a simplified version) for most times, but I’ll use different tools depending on the project and the workload all the way down to a child’s whiteboard that sits on my desk for when I’m in frantic-just get it done mode.

    4. We all have our ‘airhead’ moments don’t think you’re the only one. I’ve had some doozies… like the time I slipped away quickly from a conference call/meeting to refill my water glass. I went to slightly close my door so I wouldn’t annoy everyone and instead of closing slightly, I managed to close it the entire way. Wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that it was locked and I couldn’t get back in! Luckily we suck at security and everyone’s door is keyed the same so I just had to pop my head into my neighbor’s office and borrow their key. But yes, that was super embarrassing!

    If it helps, this hasn’t affected my career prospects and I’m quite successful.

    Reply
    1. someone else

      This year I discovered the Japanese “point and call” technique, used by train operators. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointing_and_calling. I’m not generally forgetful, but I often used to worry “did I turn off the stove?” “Did I lock the door?” This technique has helped eliminate those anxious thoughts, because I can remember pointing and saying “the stove is off” and “the door is locked.”

      Reply
  49. Jaybeetee

    I’ll say right off the bat that I’ve done a lot of what you describe, OP, and I was diagnosed with ADHD earlier this year. I want to hedge here and not “diagnose” you, but it sounds familiar! I also did very well in school, which is a big part of why I wasn’t diagnosed until recently.

    At the same time, some of what you describe sounds like normal slip-ups that everyone does (like, the clock thing may have felt ditzy to you, but I could see a lot of people having a confused moment if they didn’t realize the clock hadn’t been reset), and some of it sounds like just lack of experience in a new setting (at least for me, I found school to be very “work on this task, then on this task, then on this task”, whereas the working world often requires more juggling and keeping track of multiple things at once). The good news is that you appear to be doing good work and getting positive reviews. Over time, you’ll likely find your own shortcuts for dealing with whatever forgetfulness, etc, you’re prone to, and you’ll develop a good enough sense of your strengths and weaknesses that you’ll know to avoid certain jobs that you’d likely struggle with. There are certain job descriptions I read these days where I just KNOW, “Oh, I’d suck at that”- like if they need a fast pace AND high accuracy, or a lot of multitasking.

    One thing I WILL advise, if you can, is to try not to beat yourself up too hard after you have one of these airheaded moments. Most people don’t focus on these things as much as we do, and I found with me, if I had a particularly egregious moment, I’d get so distracted feeling mortified about it that I’d get flustered and make more mistakes! If you can learn to let these moments pass with relatively little embarrassment or flagellation, you’ll likely make fewer mistakes overall and will come off more professionally anyway.

    Reply
  50. Iced Cappuccino

    I also have had these problems. I have a weak short-term memory and attention problems. What works for me is taking a lot of notes – get into the habit of writing things down before they escape you and develop systems to track your work. I didn’t used to be organized but I learned to be so that I can work around my weaknesses.

    The second thing that worked for me was getting a job that relies a lot less on my memory. At my current job, if I have a file on my desk, I know it needs to be done, and when I’m done the file I bring it to the next person and it can disappear from my brain whenever it pleases lol. At past jobs as a receptionist or cashier at a café I struggled a lot more – when I took phone calls I had to write down every word people said to me or I’d forget the subject of their call by the time it was my turn to speak.

    If you haven’t had any comments from your managers about your job performance, it sounds like you’re already in a job that suits your strengths/weaknesses, and if you’re performing well I bet your coworkers don’t even notice or care.

    Reply
    1. Iced Coffee, No Milk or Sugar

      I am just like you, especially the phone call thing. I was never a receptionist but I’ve had supervisors dictate things that I needed to be doing/saying to others. I have learned to write it down otherwise I will be asking my boss 5 mins later “what was the thing you said to email Jane?”

      I think it got better as I got older, but at one of my first jobs out of college, I was told that I was a hard worker but a “space cadet” because like OP, I was asking for an update on something I finished 2 days ago.

      Reply
  51. Temperance

    LW, maybe a chat with your doctor is in order. Not dxing you, but Google “executive function disorder”.

    You aren’t a ditz. You’re clearly an intelligent woman.

    Reply
  52. Liquor Store Lady

    I’m a young woman with non-medicated ADD and what you’re describing sounds a lot like what I deal with in my daily life with the clumsiness and the forgetfulness.

    For good strategies to keep things straight when my brain literally seems to separate out the thought of putting something somewhere and the action of putting it down into two different pieces, I try to make sure that if I’m going to set one thing down, everything goes with it if I can’t put it in its designated home. Keys on their own are easy to lose entirely, but if I make the time to put the keys, the bus pass, the phone and my box cutter all in the same place, it sticks it differently in my memory. The same thing with the little computer work I have helps, I set up patterns of when I start stuff so that if I lose where I am on the pattern, I can think back through the steps and double check things to see where I’m at. In my personal life, I use an app called Wunderlist where I can make repeating checklists that I check off tasks step by step and can make task lists in a list to break it down further if I need to. It doesn’t stop all the forgetfulness, but it at least gets me back on track when it happens.

    As for the clumsiness though, the best I’ve managed to do is when working with glass is to try and be mindful of where my hands are around it and accept that no matter how much care I put into it, there will be yet another time I walk into a doorframe. I can mitigate it by being conscious of my space and taking more time to be careful about how I move around in a place, but even so I still have bruises on my leg from walking into a chair yesterday. The most important thing I’ve found there is that the clumsiness gets worse the more upset I am with myself for being clumsy. Taking the time to forgive myself and then laugh off tripping over nothing or walking into a wall actually makes it easier to not do it again.

    I don’t know how much that will help you but what you said reminded me of me four years ago before I started practicing these things in my daily life and I hope maybe something in here will help.

    Reply
    1. raktajino

      Thanks for the Wunderlist rec! I’ve developed a habit of doing things the instant that they occur to me, which has its downsides but is my main ADD coping mechanism. More intrusive and accessible checklists would probably be an improvement.

      Reply
  53. raktajino

    First, remember that we all have our airhead moments. We all say dumb things and make dumb mistakes. What matters more–and is more memorable–is that you clean up after mistakes that have an impact. It’s also very likely that you’re more aware of your dumb moments than anyone else is, because our brains and memories are sadistic in that way. The fact that you’re self-aware of the dumb things is great…except if it continues to haunt you. But even that’s pretty common.

    If it is a general pattern though, I echo other’s comments to write things down and listen more. Before you say anything (within some sort of parameter), check to find the answer yourself, or wait to see if it gets answered. (Or in the case of the clock, revealed as a joke!) Writing things down will help cement important details in your memory, even if you rarely look back over or can read your notes.

    It may improve with age. I’m 35 and have found that I have more self-control and self-awareness than I did at 25. I also have a much better handle on my anxiety and ADHD than I did at that age. And work habits are more ingrained, so my default behavior is more work-appropriate. Granted, I still do and say dumb things possibly more than my average coworker, but now I’m not the *most.*

    Best of luck OP!

    Reply
  54. DouDouPaille

    Just throwing in my two cents – practice stopping for a few seconds before you speak. Don’t immediately blurt out whatever comes to mind. It’s a good strategy even if you don’t consider yourself an “airhead.” I’ve saved myself from many foot-in-mouth situations by just reviewing my thoughts for a few seconds before I verbalize them, to make sure that I’m considering all angles before it’s out there and can’t be taken back!

    Reply
  55. gecko

    It’s ok to be a little absent-minded! Start wearing tweed and you can be an absent-minded professor type :)

    But seriously, I think it’s worth it to be aware of it and treat it with humor—“oh darn, did I already ask you that? I’m sorry, the little guy who sweeps in my brain must have been overeager!”—BUT without self deprecation.

    So no “I’m an airhead” or “I’m a ditz”! When you say that stuff you start to believe it…but more than that, other people believe it even if you mean it as “I’m book smart but sometimes organizational stuff escapes me!”

    For instance sometimes I used to joke that I didn’t know this or that really basic thing about the world. Even when I was being really obvious that something was a joke, people half-believed me and that was way too much. People generally believe what you say about yourself if it’s not too unreasonable.

    If you need to bring it up—“sorry, I can be absentminded!”

    Also don’t worry about not getting a joke and appearing gullible or something! Your reputation is way more about how you react to that than “messing up” in the moment. You’re good!

    Reply
  56. scribblingTiresias

    Nthing the recommendations to get yourself tested for ADHD, but on top of that- if you feel achy, fatigued, and sluggish all the time, it could be fibromyalgia or a thyroid issue. I’ve got ADHD and fibro and boy nellie when they’re flaring up I look/feel like a total ditz.

    Reply
  57. nnn

    One thing you could start doing immediately while you’re still on your journey to fixing the problem is use it as an opportunity to give your colleagues credit.

    For example, in the situation where you didn’t notice the clock hadn’t been reset, you could say “Oh, ha ha, you got me! Good one!” Tone and delivery is genuine – it was a quality joke, you fell for it, you’re a good sport and genuinely giving them credit for it.

    Or if you miss something and someone catches it for you, you can say “Oops, thank you for catching that!” Apologize as appropriate but don’t talk yourself down too too much, instead put the focus on thanking the person who helped, proportionately to how much they helped.

    People tend to feel positively about people who appreciate them, so this could buy you time and social capital as you work on solving the underlying issue.

    Reply
    1. raktajino

      These canned responses are great! For me, and I suspect a lot of people, not knowing how to shake off an awkward moment just makes those moments worse.

      Reply
  58. beth

    This is a quirk of yours. Some people will find it charming, others will be irritated…most ultimately won’t care all that much. Everyone’s got something, after all! If it’s not interfering with your work (which it sounds like it’s not, given the positive feedback you’ve gotten) it’s probably nothing to worry about.

    Reply
  59. blink14

    My advice would be to stay organized the best you can, so you can avoid things like misplacing files or asking for the same information repeatedly. If there are deadlines, keep a list and check off each one so you know it’s been completed. I write lists for all kinds of things at work, using small notepads or bigger Post-Its, and usually each list is separate by task or project type. You can also set reminders in an Outlook/mail program calendar. For files, I usually tend to keep two piles on my desk – one for items I’m working on and one for items that I need to refer to frequently. Everything else is put either in file drawers or file holders.

    The other examples you mentioned most people are just going to consider part of your personality and not be bothered by it. I’m sure a lot of what you consider “air head” moments are just simple human mistakes that people make. You’re young and have a lot of years ahead of you in your career, I think with time and experience, some of the work related issues you’re seeing will go away with that experience.

    I will say if this crosses over into work responsibilities too much, that would be a time to be concerned and really check yourself by being highly organized. There’s a girl who was hired for the department that shares space with mine, and we sit close to each other, which means I overhear a lot about her (she also doesn’t have an inherent “inside voice”, which is another story). She’s CONSTANTLY dropping things, forgetting appointments, double booking herself, and losing her ID which has specific access privileges on it electronically. She has the skills and the knowledge to do her job well, but doing things like losing a really important ID (more than once!) and forgetting appointments/trainings are not good things and have been noted by her supervisors.

    Reply
  60. Penny

    Hi!
    Funny enough, I thought the same thing about myself…
    Took some therapy to realize that my “mental load” was causing me “not to be mindful” about my current task.
    Here’s the run down: When are you doing your tasks, such as making coffee, are you busy thinking about all the steps of making coffee, and what the next step is, and which step is after that, etc? Mental load is like your brain trying to multi- task. It’s thinking about what you’re doing next, while holding a conversation with a friend, while remembering that one item on the grocery list you forgot, while walking around the kitchen getting your things for coffee– all at the same time.
    So what happens is, things get dropped. Which comes out as making me look like an airhead because while I know that to make coffee I need to put the filter in, I make that simple mistake because I’m not mindful of what I’m doing in that moment.

    So, I’m currently working on making a list of steps I need to do for a task– and then start my task purposefully.

    I hope that helps… Maybe that’s not the case for you, but for me it’s helped me come off as less ditzy.

    Reply
  61. Laughing Alone with Salad

    This is very much me also. I have found it helpful to think in terms of capital. I build capital by being reliable, helping people out in a stretch, going above and beyond, etc. – like you’re probably doing since you’ve gotten good reviews. Then, when I do or say something real boneheaded, I have that capital to spend–people won’t think less of me because they have a bigger history of me doing well. If there’s someone new for me to work with, or if I’ve done a bunch of bonehead moves in a row, then I’ll need to focus on building up my capital with those people by doing things to make sure they know they can count on me and that I have strong ideas and ways to contribute. And I’ve learned that I will always need support with certains specifics, like someone to double check any time I have to list dates. You’re clearly responsible, caring, and hard working, so you’ll be fine!

    Reply
  62. YarnOwl

    I think the way this is perceived depends a lot on 1) how good at your job you are and 2) your personality and attitude the rest of the time. It sounds like you’re not having performance problems and like people like you, so I’m betting this isn’t going to have too big of an effect on you.

    I can think of one woman I work with right now who is like that, and it truly doesn’t bother people or affect her reputation negatively. She’s still great at her job, and she’s a really nice person, so when she loses something or forgets something and it’s a small deal, nobody gets upset or thinks she’s an “airhead.” We know she’s not going to leave us in a lurch or cause real problems for us just because she’s a little forgetful sometimes.

    On the other hand, my old manager, who was really unkind, power-drunk, manipulative, incompetent, and straight up malicious was also super forgetful and could never keep track of anything and it drove everyone crazy. She was bad at her job and caused a ton of problems for our department and the colleagues we worked with, so it drove everyone crazy that she could never set a meeting time correctly or remember where we were on a given project.

    I’m also pretty forgetful, and I use my own version of a bullet journal that I keep with me all the time to write down what I need to do, all my appointments and notes to myself, etc. I also have a big desk calendar that I put EVERYTHING on the moment it’s scheduled so I don’t forget anything.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yeah I will say that when I was starting out, there were a couple people who were really unpleasant about small errors that I made in innocents. They were very dry, by the book type people who invested a LOT in details and being organized. That is a valuable personality type, but it takes all kinds of people to make a world. Both of them were pretty universally disliked and didn’t have a lot of emotional intelligence, which hindered them in other ways that they probably couldn’t see (but their color coded binders were perfect!). I really felt terrible about myself for being a flake at the time, but looking back on it, I was actually okay for the career I wanted, which was much more about people and communication. So sometimes you have to be okay with people not liking you.

      Reply
        1. YarnOwl

          Maybe you could be a little nicer when you point out incorrect spellings in the future, since you used one in your response two comments below this one.

          Reply
          1. Sloan Kittering

            I don’t think I’ve ever pointed out anybody’s incorrect spelling, other than my own? I think that’s actually supposed to be against the commenting guidelines. But it’s certainly true that I’m not a great speller.

            Reply
      1. YarnOwl

        That’s true, and there are ALWAYS going to be people who don’t like you. Every office has people like that, where nobody can do anything right, nobody is as smart as them, and every little thing turns into a giant Situation with a capital S when they don’t get their way. So I think it’s good you’re getting to be okay with that! It’s definitely a part of working in an office that can be hard to adjust to.

        Reply
  63. Artemesia

    I have the same problem in old age. After decades of never even keeping a calendar as it was all in my head, I now find that I can’t keep track without a system. You know you have this issue — so you need to 1. develop a system to keep track of things especially at work but also in our social life and that includes a daily list of today’s tasks. AND 2. you need to keep your mouth shut; it was the spontaneous thoughtless response that got you on the time change. You know you are dense and therefore learn to not blurt. Everyone has different challenges; the trick is learning to manage whatever yours are. I now have lists for major projects like moving, or trips or volunteer projects or consulting gigs and keep a detailed paper calendar that I always consult before committing anew. The only times I fail on schedule issues now is if I don’t look at it that morning — so now it is built into my morning routine. And I also make use of phone or stove alarms to alert me when it is time to go or make a call.

    Lots of people have these issues; technology and a systemare your friend.

    Reply
  64. Adulting Gets Easier

    It sounds like maybe because this is a joke with your friends and whatnot, you have a reputation for being “the ditzy one” that has become part of your identity. That used to be me too. Frankly, everyone does this sort of thing sometimes, and while there are things that can make it better – as other people are pointing out with all kinds of great strategies – I would urge you not to get too caught up in thinking of this as *who you are* vs. something that you do sometimes, just like everyone else. While people may notice, if you don’t draw attention to it or claim it as an identity, others may not see occasionally saying something a little silly + forgetting you finished a report + spilling things as a pattern. And I guarantee that they are having less of an impact on others than they are on you.

    If you have someone who you know will be honest and has your best interests at heart at work, as them for feedback. Don’t prompt them about this specific topic, just ask about professionalism generally. See if this even comes up as something they notice. You may be surprised!

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      My family does to me HARD – I have to kind of be the ditsy screw up one so that everybody else can feel good about themselves (I’m the youngest). Sometimes you have to ask who is applying the label and how does it serve them. It might have surprisingly little to do with your actual character or achievements.

      Reply
      1. Lucille2

        I’m the ditzy one in my family as well. I was the butt of my family’s jokes for years for getting lost walking home from school. My sister used this incident as her basis that I had no sense of direction. I do have very poor sense of direction, but I manage as an adult just fine and travel to new places frequently. It wasn’t until I pointed out the facts of that incident some 20+ years later that we had recently moved into a new neighborhood and it was my first time walking home from school on my own in the new neighborhood. And I was a child. I haven’t heard the jokes since my sister’s perspective changed from harassing sister to adult with a child of her own. It can take some time for family to see you as the person you’ve grown into vs. the person you were before developing life skills.

        But I still need to figure out my own direction before absorbing it. If I rely on GPS or someone to take me somewhere, I’m not able to find my way unassisted. I have to make a conscience decision to pay attention to my surroundings.

        Reply
  65. Anne Elliot

    IMO, there’s a couple of separate issues identified in the question. The first is the issue of not remembering that you already did a task, or losing a folder on your own desk. I really relate to this, and I don’t think it means you’re an airhead so much as that you have limited bandwidth to recall things you’re not currently working on or addressing. That’s also true for me, and for me,the key to fixing this is to become as highly organized as you can. I can’t remember where I put anything, so I always put things in the same place. People think I’m super organized because I’m anal-retentive, but in fact if I don’t keep super organized I don’t know the status of anything or where anything is. So institute good calendar, task, and filing systems, and live by them. Color-coding is helpful.

    Reply
  66. Potato Girl

    I tend to be the same way; when I was diagnosed with what the psych called “pretty severe ADHD” it explained so much. A no-cost, no-pressure starting point might be researching work/life strategies for adults with ADHD and see what you can apply in your own life. You don’t need to have ADHD to try out new skills and strategies which also happen to help ADHDers!

    If you don’t already, you might also consider tracking your issues in a journal for a couple of months. I discovered a relationship between my ADHD symptoms and my menstrual cycle, so now I know to keep my lifehacks and self-talk on point during the luteal phase.

    Reply
  67. LQ

    I think Roscoe is right about the charming part.

    I have a coworker (who is a supervisor) who is entirely like this. (She’s gotten on the wrong bus and ended up in the wrong town, left her car running at the bus, and has lots of frequent things in meetings that are absolutely “airhead” kinds of things.) But she is very charming, is excellent at managing people, she’s one of the kindest people I know, always pleasant, never ever tries to blame the air head things on anyone else (this by the way is the thing that will paint you as a villain REALLY fast, because it is villainy), and always is happy to take it on the chin when she’s the one who did the airhead thing.

    Because of this she’s absolutely been promoted, is thought of very well, and is absolutely one of the best supervisors we have.
    (She’s not young, much closer to retirement than start of career, so I don’t know that it goes away with age.)

    Reply
  68. Shark Whisperer

    I have a good friend who is brilliant, a good manager, and well-respected in a male-dominated field, but is totally the type of person to say “has it really been two hours?!” when the clock is wrong. People generally love her and I think what really helps is that she doesn’t get embarrassed when she says stupid stuff without thinking. She usually actually the first one to laugh once she realizes she said something silly. Most people think its endearing, not a flaw.

    Reply
  69. Scarlet

    I’m with the folks who suggest it’s not going to make you look bad to have moments like that, in part because everyone sometimes has those moments! They always seem so much more prominent when it’s our own bit of daftness, but one of the things I’m most thankful for about getting older is the realisation that this stuff doesn’t matter us much as we think it does and is way more widespread than we think it is.

    My team’s ages range from 20s to late 50s, and we all have occasional nonsense moments. I’m certainly one who has it more than others, but these days I deal with it better by “lampshading” it rather than being stressed about Saying the Daft Thing. I have in this last week had to pause and say, “no, wait, because that’s not how numbers work” and also had to – in conversation – subtract my birth year from this year to get my age, because I had a genuine fail on remembering if I was 38 or 39.

    The vast majority of the time I’m Competent Adult Workperson who says sensible things, but just every now and then I just glitch, and that’s okay! People care that I get stuff done, not that I occasionally say something a bit odd. The lampshading works for me because my team has good relationships and we skew jokey, but honestly, if I can at least laugh at it myself it’s less likely to be embarrassing.

    (having said that, if there are things that are bothering you, and there are strategies that will help, there is absolutely no harm in giving things a shot – I’m not saying don’t look for things that might help you out if you’re worrying, just that socially and professionally it’s probably fine)

    Reply
    1. nonegiven

      DH went several months thinking he was a year older than he actually was and only found out because he had a birthday and someone mentioned his age.

      He also went over and changed all his mother’s clocks for the time change and had to go back the next day and change them all 2 hours in the other direction.

      Reply
  70. Zillah

    OP, I am a smart woman who does good work pretty quickly, but who also struggles with things like forgetfulness, not seeing things right in front of my face, losing things, etc. (Also punctuality.) Everyone has moments like that, but it seems like what you’re talking about extends beyond occasional moments. If that’s the case, I’m going to echo the chorus that you look into executive functioning issues (and ADHD, which is what I have) – whether or not you have the disorder, some of the coping mechanisms might be very helpful!

    Beyond that – try to cut yourself some slack, and try to find environments where this isn’t a huge deal. There are some workplaces that would absolutely judge you a lot for this, but those are workplaces that I strongly recommend you try to avoid if possible. Some habits cause huge problems, and those are definitely things you should try to address! Other habits, though, can really differ in consequences by the situation and degree – for example, while punctuality is a thing that I absolutely work to improve, I also know that a job where I need to punch in at exactly the same time every day is probably not one that will be a good fit for me long term.

    The things you’re describing may be significant problems for you, and if so, they’re worth addressing! I’m just saying that it can be helpful to re-frame stuff like this in your mind to “how can I make this happen less” rather than “how can I eliminate it entirely,” because the latter is far more overwhelming and it’s often not even necessary.

    Reply
    1. Zillah

      Also: this quirk of yours may well make some people like you less or respect you less. The occasional person judging you for this is not the end of the world – people will judge you for all sorts of things, and universal popularity isn’t a reasonable expectation of yourself. When we put all of our effort into not irritating anyone, we end up watering ourselves down so much that people don’t really like us, either.

      Reply
    2. KR

      This! Also something that helped me is to realize that even those people who seem to never have forgetful moments and always seem on top of things also forget things too – a lot! I had a super capable manager who I admired a lot who was really upfront with me when something slipped their mind or they made a mistake and it made me feel better when that happened to me and made me feel better about talking about difficulties I was having or mistakes I made.

      I am good at my job and I make stupid mistakes all the time or forget things. But I can fix it most of the time and if not, I can take steps to prevent it the next time.

      Reply
  71. sunshyne84

    If your work is good I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I’d just laugh it off and joke that I have my ditsy moments. If you acknowledge them, then your coworkers will know you do actually know better.

    Reply
  72. Suspendersarecool

    Are you me? I have ADHD and while strong performance has mostly shielded me from professional consequences, people do tend to think I’m much younger than I am (mid 30s) because of the ditziness, which leads to them taking me less seriously. In my technical field, that hasn’t held me back much so far, but it could be a problem for you as you progress in your career. Highly recommend getting evaluated for adhd and trying the coping strategies even if you aren’t diagnosed.

    Reply
  73. Recovering Journalist...

    Welcome to the human race! From the original post, I’d say the OP is doing fine and is just making the mistakes that are part of life.
    I’m very similar to what was described and I’ve found a couple of things that helped me:
    1. The various organization apps others have described. One that wasn’t that has really helped me is called Habitica. It’s different because it “gamifies” one’s to-do list. It’s stupid but somehow gives me an incentive to do the things on my list. It also has a portion in which I can work toward developing new habits. I’ve tried other time management apps but Habitica seems to give me the kick in the pants that I need.
    2. Sometimes, for whatever reason, I literally do feel a little spacey and out of focus. I’ve tried a few OTC supplements, like Prevagen and other less expensive versions, and they do seem to help.

    OP, you sound like you are doing your best. I know it’s embarrassing to make mistakes but try not to sweat it. Maybe when stuff happens, before you beat yourself up, ask yourself, “If Fergus or Sersei did that, would you be angry, upset or roll your eyes? No? Then let it go.”

    Best wishes.

    Reply
  74. The Happy Intern

    I find what really helps me is to set reminders on my phone for time-sensitive things as soon as I learn/think of them and put the reminder to go off an hour before the actual start time so that I can give myself time to prepare if I hadn’t already remembered earlier in the day. Making to-do lists and keeping a planner with you so you can go back and reference past tasks also helps so many people, as many have already mentioned.

    In terms of how it affects you professionally, try to keep yourself from asking too many questions that could be solved on your own – if you are unsure of the answer to something (that you should know because you were trained on it or are part of the project, etc.), always try to figure it out yourself before going to someone else even if it’s easier to ask someone. That way if you are able to answer it no one has to know you had a “ditzy” moment, and if you aren’t able to figure it out you can go to someone and show them all the effort you put in to trying yourself, which will reflect much better on you than had you just used the easy route. Overall your issues aren’t a huge deal, just maybe work on keeping things like airhead comments to yourself and limiting how much you ask others unless you have no reason to otherwise know the answer, and it shouldn’t be something that will limit you professionally!

    Reply
  75. HH

    I’m like this also. I can be really dense and sometimes have trouble grasping innuendos. I’ve also misheard things and that can really jam me up! One of the things that helps me when this happens is to laugh about it – don’t try to deny it because then people think something’s really wrong but laughing about it makes it an innocent “quirk”, not an eye-roll. Acknowledging it straight up can also enable others to help you out if they know you have trouble with something like keeping meetings running on time or remembering certain details. I’ve also found that people are a lot more patient with me. They know my brain works differently and it’s not wrong, just different.

    The advice from others on this is really good – I’m a crazy list maker and notes compiler. It’s helpful for me to type notes into OneNote after a meeting. It’s serachable and it gives me a chance to review what happened not just in the current meeting but in the last several meetings on a project and that helps me immensly. It’s like the studying you do in school – you review your classnotes often and that helps you retain the details.

    Reply
  76. Sarah Simpson

    Yes, it’s a problem and could become a big one. It can make you seem flaky and sometimes incompetent – like you can’t manage a variety of things, and it ends up wasting both your time and the time of others. I highly recommend finding a system – whether that means finding a pre-packaged solution like Getting Things Done or creating something on your own or with the help of someone you know who is organized. You might want to track the things that come up over a period of time to help you identify your most common issues so that you can target your plan to address them specifically. I do think it will impact your chances to get some of the best opportunities out there going forward, so addressing it and resolving it now is a great idea, and I think it’s great that you’re taking steps.

    Reply
    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      This comment sticks out like a sore thumb among the rest.

      So please take a moment, dear OP see how few are saying it’s a big problem? We’re a small AF sample group but the odds are in your favor. Remember that when the abrasive people pop up to tell you you’re in danger of turning into the Tasmanian Devil of the office.

      Reply
  77. mark132

    One possibility also is the “problem” isn’t as bad as you think it is. All your “airhead” moments stand out to you because you did it. But you may actually have about as many “airhead” moments as anyone else you work with.

    Reply
  78. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I also want to point out that you can be a total highly successful wheeler dealer charm-bot by embracing your short comings or limitations. I’ve known incredibly successful business owners who are ADHD, dyslexic and generally a mess if you know them like I do. They’re called Assistants and surrounding yourself with people who do the things you don’t do well :)

    Reply
  79. Hiring Mgr

    For what it’s worth, the best executive (she was a VP of Sales/Marketing) I’ve ever worked for was very much like you describe. She was both liked and respected, extremely knowledgeable, truly was an excellent manager and strategist, but she did have some of these quirks.

    Point being is that it’s not necessarily something that will derail your career or prevent you from hitting the heights you want to reach.

    Reply
    1. Anne Elliot

      My brilliant (former) boss once got into a conversation with me about Robin Hood and when I mentioned Friar Tuck, she asked me what he fried.

      Reply
      1. Bowserkitty

        This is a pun I am suddenly curious as to why I have never thought of this one before. I cannot wait to annoy my friend with it…

        Reply
  80. KillItWithFire

    All of the advice about organization and finding a planner/system that works for you is great. Please do that OP!

    But also, stop using the phrase “airhead” and don’t call it “dense”. That can creep into how you express yourself and ultimately impact how others see you. You are a little forgetful at times and misplace things, that’s it. It’s something everyone does to some degree, you are not “other’ because you might being doing it a little more than some. Know yourself, know your goals and set yourself up for success by working towards them in a the way that best works for you.

    Reply
  81. Ladybugger

    OP, I am the QUEEN of coffee disasters, so I wouldn’t worry about that. It hasn’t impacted my upward trajectory.

    On the “airheadness” of forgetting things, become a taker of EXCELLENT notes. I write down almost everything people say, and I bold action items. Use the Notes feature on Mac if you have that, as it’s incredibly easy to search through if you’re wondering what happened about something. Before you ask for an update on something, search your email/notes/etc. It’s not uncommon when you have a lot of things going on to lose track of some of them!

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      if there’s something you forget frequently (like the coffee filters), invent a touchstone or something that helps you remember–like, always tap twice on the top of the coffee ground can before you open it, and that tap is your reminder to put the filter into the coffee pot.

      (I have to run a spellcheck before I close every file, and I would always forget until I had already clicked the “close file” button. But…it would ask me to confirm, and so THEN I would go run the spellcheck. I used to feel bad about forgetting, until I decided that it was OK to use the confirmation request as my reminder.)

      Reply
  82. Renee

    You sound like my husband. :) He’s brilliant, and also ADD. He spent years beating himself up, but being hard on yourself isn’t a solution. It doesn’t work, and it’s demoralizing to boot. Please talk to your medical provider about being screened for ADD/ADHD, and a referral to someone who can help you. There are a variety of medications and tools that can help, and a good doc/therapist can help figure out the right combo of what will work best for you. Wishing you all the best!

    Reply
  83. puppies

    Hi OP – I’ve been there. Definitely do not ask your manager for feedback on this! I really agree with what others have advised about taking notes, to-do lists, and keeping records of your work. I wouldn’t worry about the coffee filter incident or the clock. I feel like those things are endearing funny human moments. When it comes to work like asking about something you already completed, what I do now (because I know how error prone I am) is double or triple check everything before I send something or ask a question. Over time you will get to know yourself better and develop coping mechanisms. I know that happened to me with age. A lot of work mistakes I made at 23 I would never make now in my late 30’s, just because I know myself better. Best of luck!

    Reply
  84. Yay commenting on AAM!

    I’m typically a very detail oriented person who remembers everything, and I’ve been in environments where there’s so much going on, I just *can’t* keep on top of it, because no matter how organized I try to keep things, the environment is just intrinsically chaotic and on a shoestring, so interruptions to my work are interrupted and now two things aren’t done instead of one because the third came up so suddenly.

    When I was younger and first in the workforce, I used to blame myself for dropping balls. How could I make that mistake? How could I forget this? There must be something wrong with me if I can’t keep on top of things. When really, it was that the work environment was poorly structured and I was expected to triple-multitask while doing the work of two people.

    A lot of the other posters have suggested evaluating yourself, which I think is worthy, but I think you should also look at your work environment with a really critical eye. A workplace that’s under-resourced, under-staffed, poorly organized, includes a lot of external stressors (punitive bosses with unreasonable expectations, for example) or features constant noise/interruptions is going to set everyone up for a high rate of errors. It might not be a you-problem, it might be a them-problem.

    Reply
  85. F

    Some things I find useful:

    Get into the habit of quickly searching your email before you chase people for things.

    For tasks where you have a batch of similar ones, put them on a spreadsheet with columns like “done”

    I have a to do list made of bookmark post its and remove them when the task is done

    Set aside times to go through and sort everything e.g. on your desk

    When I can’t find something, I tidy til I find it. This forces me to check everything, rather than leading through. Also keeps my office sort of tidy.

    Reply
  86. Ms. Minn

    First, a true “airhead” wouldn’t even notice that they are an airhead, so you’re not an airhead.
    Yes, speaking before you think, listening more, writing things down will help. But also, don’t point it out to others. I think women, especially young women early in their careers, downplay or make self-deprecating “jokes” as a way to acknowledge that they are aware of their weaknesses to others. (I’m speaking from my own experience here.) Yes, it’s important to have that awareness, but if you point it out to others, they’ll start believing and repeating those things about you. And most people are so worried about themselves that they may not even notice what you think are big flaws about yourself. So don’t give others ammunition. Just keep working on ways to improve your areas of opportunity.

    Reply
  87. Jess

    Oh, hello, 23-year-old me. It’s been awhile.
    Seriously – considering you’re fully functional intellectually and professionally, the trick is probably just embarrassing yourself a bunch until you figure out how not to embarrass yourself, or how not to feel embarrassed by the sort of micro-screwups that the people around you are probably also committing constantly (but you don’t notice them because they’re micro-screwups).

    Reply
  88. The flying piglet

    I had to chime in as soon as I saw the “you might have ADHD” comments. Please get a legitimate psychological test for this and don’t just go on a list of symptoms that align with the condition. I can be extremely absentminded and went for an initial evaluation. But the psychological testing revealed that I did NOT have it! In my case the testing showed that I have anxiety and mild depression, and when I got hooked up with a therapist who targeted these issues, I wasn’t able to control it by identifying patterns — for example, if I have a lot on my plate, I will often be more absentminded.

    This is INCREDIBLY important to know, because in many cases you can get a prescription for ADHD meds if you show the symptoms, without he testing, and those meds can, according to my therapist, actually exacerbate anxious feelings. Not good. So if you think there is an underlying issue, really get properly tested.

    One thing I will say is that therapy has helped immensely. It allowed me not only to identify patterns of when it happened, but I now have tools to deal with the issue in a constructive way. It will never totally go away – it is who I am. But I’ve also learned to stop beating myself up about it and not worry about being judged for it as much. You take steps to deal with it, you become self aware, you continue being your awesome self.

    Also, stop calling yourself an airhead, dense, etc. Those are negative names and you are none of those things. From your letter it sounds like you are smart, accomplished, and driven, and your brain – like mine and many others – sometimes prioritizes things in a different kind of way. You sound awesome! Don’t forget about that.

    Reply
    1. Ms. Minn

      Yes to this! I also suffer from anxiety and depression, which can make me absent-minded and forgetful. Which then compounds my anxiety. I had a psychologist also thought I may have ADD back when I was in my 20s, but the test was negative.

      Reply
  89. Zillah

    There are a lot of good suggestions here, but also, OP, if you’re reading many of these suggestions and are either thinking “But I’ve tried that!” or “I don’t think I can do that,” that’s okay, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Different coping mechanisms work for different people, and there are other things that you can try that will work better for you!

    Reply
  90. ALSO ADHD

    I have had an ADHD diagnosis most of my life and this is a significant symptom for me. I try really hard to make sure I’m writing everything down and trying to notice when it is particularly noticeable and significant so I can address it or try to get things under control. But the reality is that I am a human being, and occasionally I slip up. I’ve rarely offered the information about my diagnosis except occasionally to a close coworker or supervisor when explaining that I need assistance with something. If I mess up, which happens, I just own it and apologize and move on or problem solve a way to correct the situation. People tend to be more understanding when you own your mistakes and the correction process.

    Something that might help for project assistance is getting a way to track each project. I use the Kanban method with post-its on a white board. It helps me remember what files are where so I am not asking about updates on them and I can quickly track and check my progress. https://www.digite.com/kanban/what-is-kanban/ My whole team uses this now and it’s really helpful.

    Reply
  91. Circe

    Hello, I am your 35-year old self writing you from your future. Or recognizing myself from the past here. I was talking to a coworker recently and made a crack about my bad habit of being flaky and she was ASTONISHED. Because I recognized my spacey/flakey/airheaded/disorganized tendencies and fixed them! It took a lot of time and effort and trial and error, but now that muscle, that I worked on so diligently, is really strong.

    A few things that help me:
    – I have a blank sheet of printer paper that I wrote notes on and then put sticky notes on. Minimizes things I can lose. Every few days, I reorganize it and put action items/deadlines in my calendar.
    – a redundant paper calendar backing up my outlook. That way I can see everything and when my outlook alerts get screwy, I’m not second-guessing things.
    – my office space stays SUPER neat and clean. Every night before I leave, I put everything away.
    – same for my email inbox. The schedule function in the gmail/outlook apps are great for pushing something important to later.
    – I accept that sometimes I will lose track of time and forget that the clocks changed, but not the one in the conference room, and be surprised by how fast two hours passed. But sometimes that will be my boss. It’s ok. Time is a construct. And a flat circle.
    – I avoid jobs that are heavily details oriented.

    I also echo the ADHD testing and seeing a job-oriented therapist. Knowing my problems weren’t ADHD related helped me move forward with the solutions that work for me, and seeing a job-oriented therapist helped me unpack a lot of feelings of failure that I was feeling because I move through the world seeing only forests with no concept of trees.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  92. AllAccountsAreNotCreatedEqual

    If this has been coming across as “cute” up to now, that will wear thin quickly if it affects your work, so everyone is right – find a system : bullet journal, an app, OneNote whatever … its important that you don’t get a reputation for being ditzy this early in your career, as that can be hard to shake.

    Once you’ve tried a system for a while, you can then go to your manager and ask whether this is working for them. It’ll seem more proactive if you put a plan in place and then ask for feedback, rather than going to your manager asking how you should address it.

    Form the tone of your letter, i don’t think this is your case, but I have seen people also use their “airhead” persona as a way of doing bad work or avoiding work … “Oh you know me, silly little me, I can never remember to purchase orders on time, why don’t you do it for me …”. Don’t be that person

    Reply
    1. Zillah

      It seems like the manager hasn’t even said that this is a problem, though – I might be inclined to agree if this had been clearly acknowledged as a problem but it hasn’t been.

      Also, I’m not sure that reinforcing the OP’s anxieties about being absent-minded by saying it’ll be hard to shake is really helpful. Most of us did many silly things when we were new to the work force, and most of those things have not haunted us in every job we’ve had since then. No one at work has even brought it up to her yet – there’s no evidence that this is hurting her reputation right now, let alone that it will continue to do so going forward.

      Reply
    2. LQ

      I do think being really careful about what happens when you have an airhead moment is important. Don’t ever use it to avoid work that is actually your job (or is just boring work everyone hates and wishes they could get rid of but you have to do it, unless you can automate that thing) and never throw anyone under the bus. If you miss meetings and your coworker jovially walks by your desk and says “Don’t be late” on the way to a meeting that you missed yesterday? Don’t get mad; laugh, gather your stuff and go. That coworker is helping you (and don’t rely on that help at all, but let it be help.)

      If your coworker is clearly attacking and undermining that’s different, but it sucks to be the reminding the airhead to go to the meeting person too, so lightheartedness will go a long way to being a person that a coworker or boss is going to not mind reminding/helping vs feeling like you have to be their unpaid personal assistant (which is the not evil form of this but the really dragging form of this).

      Reply
  93. Engineer

    Wow, I feel like I could’ve also sent this exact letter. I’m a 23 woman and I’ve been exactly like the letter writer my whole life. I’m famous among all my friends for being absent-minded, losing/forgetting everything and scrambling to fix problems that were caused by stupid mistakes or not paying attention.

    I’m also an engineer in an extremely male dominated industry. Sometimes I’m worried that my permanent reputation will be “the ditzy girl” or I’ll be used as a case study for why women don’t belong in STEM. I’m also extremely scared one day my ditziness will cause me to do something extremely stupid or that the small mistakes will add up enough to serious consequences like losing my job.

    I am trying. I carry around a small notebook and write down EVERYTHING (to do lists, meeting notes, instructions from my boss) and try to triple check any work or email. I was also recently diagnosed with ADHD and have started taking medication which has helped. But I still make mistakes sometimes, like yesterday I forgot to add a photo to a PowerPoint slide in an important presentation I had to give. The advice from the other commenters in this post has been useful.

    Reply
  94. Catwoman

    Lots of people have been saying develop organizational systems and get evaluated by a medical professional to make sure there are no underlying biological causes (I will add here that my boo has thyroid issues that can cause memory issues like the ones you’re describing so be sure to get evaluated for a broad range of possibilities, not just “I think I may have ADD/ADHD.” Describe the symptoms and let the docs do their thing.).

    As others have also said, you are new to this place and your brain is still working on developing patterns for you. Once you learn that the conference room clock is frequently off, you’ll subconsciously know not to trust it. Once you develop an organizational system for your files, you’ll go to it without thinking. Your brain will learn how to process the lower level stuff and that will start to run on autopilot, allowing you to focus on the bigger stuff that needs more active cognition. It’s all part of the learning curve. Your colleagues know that too!

    The new thing I will add is to try understand how you best retain information. To give an example, I’m a very strong visual learner, moderate kinetic/process learner (learn by doing), and poor auditory learner. I always had to take very detailed notes in college during lectures to better visualize the information to retain it. I know that if someone tells me something, I have to write it down or immediately take action or I’ll forget about it. It also helps me to take notes on how to do processes at work that I may only do a couple times a year. I can probably mostly remember the process when I start doing it, but taking notes helps me fill in the gaps. I don’t have to do as much compensation for visual items. If I see a chart or image, I can remember it very well and repeat the information easily. It really helps to know your strengths and learn how to compensate for your weaknesses.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      “try understand how you best retain information. To give an example, I’m a very strong visual learner, moderate kinetic/process learner (learn by doing), and poor auditory learner. I always had to take very detailed notes in college during lectures to better visualize the information to retain it.”

      Yes! Find your groove.

      I have to ask people to spell their names, or visualize the spelling, if I’m going to remember it later.

      Reply
  95. Riley

    That clock instance sounds like something I would do. I tend to be gullible because I take things literally. It isn’t enough that I have a reputation as being gullible, but I’m always very embarrassed because it makes me feel like I’m seen as less capable or intelligent. I have had to curb my natural instinct to ask more questions when I feel skeptical and instead read other people’s facial expressions to see if they’re just joking. It got easier over time.

    Reply
    1. Riley

      And this is a bit of a tangent, but – you know how people say that if you have to explain a joke, it isn’t funny? That’s me with sarcasm – every time I have to explain to myself why what someone said is funny, and I get the joke, but I often don’t laugh. I’m capable of using sarcasm too, it just trips me up when other people do it. This is part of what contributes to my very sarcastic family thinking I have no sense of humor.

      Reply
  96. ManderGimlet

    I feel that as long as it isn’t super frequent, doesn’t affect the work of others, that you first investigate your own actions before jumping to conclusions or accusations, and take responsibility for any minor affects it MAY cause, you’re fine. It seems like you already do all that, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it! Like others said, create systems and habits for yourself to lessen the frequency/severity and don’t beat yourself up! You’re not an airhead, most likely quite the opposite- you have so many thoughts going on that you lose track of a couple here and there.

    Reply
  97. Justin

    As mentioned – write it all down, pause before blurting.

    You’re not an airhead or else you wouldn’t be told you were a good employee. You just sort of have… foot-in-mouth and common-sense stuff going on, which many of us have. These remedies will address the problems.

    Reply
  98. alison

    As an ADHD sufferer, I would suggest scheduling an appointment with your doctor about what you’ve written here. What you’re describing sounds like the inattentiveness typical of ADHD.

    Reply
    1. ditzy in denver

      I agree–obviously can’t diagnose you through the internet! And maybe you don’t have ADD, but I do, and this letter sounds like it could have been written by me. Even if you don’t, it could help to look up tricks to dealing ADD and see if those help you.

      Reply
  99. lifesp

    My boss is the same way. I’m not sure how her professional journey went before I started working with her, but just know that she’s a woman of color who started her own successful tech startup!

    I know that she manages her calendar to the minute, and she has mentors/colleagues keeping her accountable and on track at all times. She does have “doh” moments like forgetting to add me to calendar invites or saying “good morning” when answering the phone at 4 pm, but I think she forgives/accepts herself and that kind of forces the rest of us to as well, considering she kicks ass. hope that helps.

    Reply
  100. SaffyTaffy

    I think that most people, over time, will see you as a whole person with strengths and quirks. This airheadedness thing sounds silly-but-harmless, so as long as you’re bringing actual good work to the table, I think it balances out.

    Reply
  101. Dust Bunny

    Slow down.

    My dad is like this: Smart, but very much the “absentminded professor” type. A big part of his problem is that he’s always in a hurry to go on to the next thing, so he only half listens to or pays attention to what he’s doing now/to instructions he’s given for (activity). Make sure you’re taking the time to pay attention to the process in front of you and not the dozen other things you’ll be doing next. You’re not being efficient if you lose files or have to redo stuff that didn’t get done correctly the first time.

    Reply
  102. Roja

    I don’t have exactly the same issue, but I can speak to the feeling “book smart, life stupid” as one of the above commenters phrased it. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling really, really stupid because everyone else seems to know what to do and I don’t, but I’ve noticed that lessening over the last few years as I’ve gotten more life experience under my belt. Like the other commenters have said, you might find some of this lessens naturally as you get older and wiser. I know it’s embarrassing, but it’s probably just a blip on the radar to everyone else even when it’s a big deal to you.

    Reply
  103. drpuma

    I agree with the commenters who’ve pointed out that the examples you give don’t all point to the same problem or solution. Asking for an update on a project you’ve completed sounds like the kind of garden-variety new-to-the-workforce adjustment that is amplified by what you call your “airhead” tendencies. I wonder if, in your prior school or family experiences, you had been able to “outsource” some of the details that you’re not as good at? Maybe things feel so much more challenging now because (as you’re already aware! which is half the battle) it’s not professional to lean on coworkers to that degree.
    Needing to remember to ask oneself “can I find the answer to this on my own?” before asking someone else to walk you through it is something everyone (including me!) has to learn at the beginning of their career.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      Needing to remember to ask oneself “can I find the answer to this on my own?” before asking someone else to walk you through it is something everyone (including me!) has to learn at the beginning of their career.

      agree!
      And if you say, “I need an update on this project, let me see what I can figure out before bothering someone else,” might help you see that you finished the project.

      (also note whether sometimes it’s a terminology problem; has something been called by two or three names? that can make it worse)

      Reply
  104. Lucille2

    I was the ditzy one throughout my youth. It didn’t help that I was raised among type-A personality siblings, so I didn’t have the best self-awareness for quite some time. It improved with age, but I believe I made some purposeful improvements here. For starters, I think you need a better system of organizing your work, your thoughts, and your schedule. Try different things to see what fits you best. And trust that you are wired a certain way and finding work that fits your wiring will help you thrive.

    1. I’m a creative person. I’ve always been prone to getting lost in my thoughts, even when they are productive to my work. As the nature of my work has required more creative problem-solving, this has changed from day-dreaming to thoughtfully crafting new ideas to apply to my work. This is a skill that takes years to hone and apply productively. And can also be seen as flaky from the outside.
    2. Prioritize your work in what can realistically be digested and accomplished. Maintain a system of keeping track of what needs to be done, what’s done, and how to find things later when needed. Keep your email and files organized in a way that will be easily searched by you later.
    3. Don’t be so hard on yourself. The thing with the clock? That can happen to anyone. We all have our gullible moments. If you make a big deal of it, or react a little too much to the embarrassment, some tone-deaf coworkers may jump on the chance to tease you with it which will get old really fast.
    4. It’s also possible you’re just in a bit over your head. I tend to get more frazzled and unorganized when I’m starting a new job, role, or challenge. It takes some time to hit your stride while your brain is working overtime trying to wrap around all the things you’re learning. Then it’s just a symptom of a learning curve.

    Reply
  105. Squeeble

    One tip I have is not to make your error more of a big deal to your colleagues than it is. Just say, “Oops, the file was on my desk the whole time, how silly of me!” (or whatever) and then drop it. If you make a big show of how ditzy it was of you to do a certain thing, and bring it up multiple times, it just makes the situation worse. I have no idea if you’re doing that, OP, but I’ve known people who really play it up when they make a simple error and it has the opposite of the effect they intended.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I agree–and I would even suggest you not say, “how silly of me.” (someone else makes this point further down–don’t throw yourself under the bus)

      Everybody does stuff like that sometimes; make THEM notice a pattern, don’t point it out for them.

      Stuff like the clock, which was unimportant–I would say, have a good sense of humor about it, and be good-natured if people rib you a little. That’ll keep them from noticing whether it happens often.

      Reply
  106. BatmansRobyn

    I’m a bit of a dip myself (no underlying medical issues) so I feel for you. If you can distinguish between “behavior that doesn’t impact anything” (absently forgetting that daylight savings time happened) and “things that make you look like you don’t know what’s going on” (asking someone else for an update on a report that had been updated and completed) it might help you figure out some strategies.

    Assuming you don’t make the office coffee, nobody at work is going to care that you sometimes forget to put the coffee filter in the pot, or that you sometimes get distracted in the middle of making a sandwich and use mustard instead of mayo.

    What they will care about is having to spend fifteen minutes helping you look for a file that was actually sitting on your desk the whole time, or having to deal with the momentary panic of being asked for an update on a completed, submitted assignment and thinking something went wrong.

    Reply
  107. lobsterp0t

    Well, this (and more) describes me. And I’m about to (finally after a two year wait) be assessed for Adult ADHD.

    So that’s a thing.

    Reply
    1. lobsterp0t

      LW you’re not an airhead. You might need to be conscious and slow down and acknowledge that you take things quite literally, and also just… don’t over-apologise for it. Demonstrate awareness of it, don’t chalk it up to stupidity. It’s OK that you put more of your brain energy toward actaully important stuff.

      If your performance reviews are glowing then tbh, if you forget the coffee filter… it’s a bit of a LOL. You might just need to work to be more conscious of the things you aren’t getting quite right, which sound more like “understanding and intuiting what people mean” and “background processes”.

      Reply
  108. theletter

    I”m in a similar position, having thought of myself (and having been regardly described) as a bit of a space cadet when I was younger.

    One thing to keep in mind with the clock – your ability to tell how much time has passed improves dramatically when you hit your thirties, but saying “I can’t believe two hours passed!” rings like a valid statement. You knew you were running late, but not that late – the clock was incorrect – you immediately sensed it. Ergo: You could not believe two hours passed. It’s not ditzy to say such a thing.

    Things that worked for me: I use the technology around me. Appointments go into my calendars with alerts. Project management systems are adhered to. Projects that depend on paper are transferred to digital tracking. Projects managed on random excel sheets are transferred to robust, official project management systems (Like Trello). Bills are automated, bank alerts are set up, inboxes are covered with rules.

    For my home life, projects with special equipment each have their own bag, and everything goes back in that bag when it’s done. Routines are set and then built on to increase efficiency. I refuse most social events on Sunday so I can relax/recharge/refocus and mealprep.

    I think what worked best was identifying job functions that caused me stress, and focusing on elements that I could do for long periods of time. I crafted my career around that, and have been very happy.

    Reply
  109. Alton

    I do stuff like this too, sometimes (and it was so much worse when I was younger), so you have my sympathy.

    One suggestion I have is to practice slowing down sometimes. Keep notes about what you’ve done or need to do. Try to get into a habit of reviewing your most recent correspondence with someone before asking them a question to make sure you’re not forgetting something you went over two days ago.

    I also think it can help to be able to show that you’ve made an effort. Personally, I’m more likely to feel annoyed about people asking me about things I already provided or explained if there’s zero indication that they’ve checked.

    When it comes to stuff like feeling slow on the uptake when people are joking, do you often feel like you have a hard time reading people’s tone or intentions? Do you feel like you’ve had plenty of experience practicing social skills, or have you been a loner in the past? I mention that because sometimes not reading people correctly or not getting jokes/knowing how to respond to jokes can just be social awkwardness that can get better with experience. And sometimes you just have a tough time reading someone’s sense of humor, and can get better at it over time. But this is also something that people on the autism spectrum sometimes struggle with.

    I agree with the advice to be evaluated for ADHD, too. You may not have it, but if you do, it would help to know.

    Reply
  110. Coffee Owl

    LW, you are honestly doing fine! In my experience, the only times I ever remember being the slightest bit irritated with other people’s ditziness was when it was accompanied by either serious amounts of shirking or actual unaddressed ineptitude. You specifically are doing well at your job and being commended on your work; that counts for A WHOLE LOT. People are not machines. It’s totally within normal human parameters to not see a folder on your desk or to forget about daylight savings time. I do not believe that your airheadedness as you’ve described it will be a detriment if you continue to do excellent work and develop a reputation as a competent, reliable coworker. It’s highly likely that your coworkers and bosses don’t notice these tendencies nearly as much as YOU do.

    That being said, I’ll echo the other commentators who have suggested screening for ADHD (I don’t have it but your descriptions have a familiar feel to the behaviors of friends who do). Even just looking into the possibility that you might be neural atypical is good information and many of the coping strategies for people with ADHD might be helpful to you. Something else that might help you is to begin practicing mindfulness, both at work and outside it. The process of forcing yourself to slow down and be fully aware of whatever is happening to you and around you, in all your senses, right at this moment, could help you learn to combat the times when your brain chemicals go wonky and you lose ten minutes to that squirrel outside your window.

    Reply
  111. Jenny

    You sound more disorganized than anything. I have learned from my past and learned to take specific notes and make todo lists. I use an app so I can have access to it any time. Research more methods for organization!

    Reply
  112. Brett

    We have someone like that here. Comes across as an airhead, but over time it has becoming clear that he is absolutely brilliant.
    Some of the things he does to combat his airheadedness:
    uses a lot of reminder systems
    asks other people he trusts to give him reminders or help him with distractions and faux pas
    finds people on other teams who he interacts well with and “get” him, and channels a lot of interactions through them

    (I’ll add that he is fantastic when dealing with other highly technical people like him, to the point that I could see him being a great people manager for those particular types of workers even though I think he prefers staying on the technical side.)

    Reply
    1. Jenny

      I recently downloaded a to-do list app (I think Wunderlist) that I put all my tasks for work in. It has multiple reminders so I won’t forget what to do. It’s very portable, so I don’t have to worry about keeping up with a piece of paper. It has been helpful so far!

      I am also the type of person who needs visual reminders–sometimes I have to have, like, my medicine sitting out on the counter for me to remember to take it. Family tries to put it away, but I really will forget otherwise.

      Reply
  113. Working Mom Having It All

    I think this might be something that gets easier or fades away over time as you become more used to workplace norms. You will develop organizational systems (writing everything down is key — I’m still liable to forget that a deal got closed out the Thursday before a holiday weekend, so I actually keep a log of approvals/signatures so I can easily refresh my memory), figure out everyone’s senses of humor, and be able to be on autopilot a bit more in terms of basic office life stuff.

    However, of course, you might not have “over time” to dispel the notion that you are an airhead, especially if you are in a career where there’s a lot of quick turnover and you’re expected to prove yourself quickly. Here, honestly I think the way to keep control over your workplace reputation is just to stay quiet. Instead of idle comments like “wow, two hours slipped by!” just don’t pipe up about the clock in the first place. I try to be in the habit of solving problems like a lost file myself before I involve others or even tell anyone about it. You can be an airhead deep down without being known as the office airhead by keeping that stuff to yourself. Also avoid “omigod I swear I thought that meeting was Thursday!” “I’d lose my own head if it weren’t permanently attached”, etc idle self deprecating comments. Don’t throw yourself under the bus. This is only a problem if other people notice it, and honestly most people aren’t paying enough attention to you to notice without you bringing it up.

    Reply
  114. MarfisaTheLibrarian

    I sometimes suck at details and….a lot of people are giving good advice about systems one can put in place. My problem is that, inevitably, I will have a day that I forget to put something on the list, or forget to set up the reminder, or whatever. The same thing that makes me NEED the reminders or lists or organizational systems…makes me slip up using them.

    Reply
  115. Former Retail Manager

    Just wanted to say thanks to the OP for writing in and the commenters….I’ll be bookmarking this to read all of the comments this evening. You and my daughter are one and the same. She is only 19, but has all of the challenges you describe and is aware that she needs to get a good handle on it before stepping into the professional world. She works now, but not in a professional environment, but regardless, the issue are there all the same. Thus far, she has found that lists and automating calendar reminders, as much as possible, really help her. She has also realized that, whenever possible, one-on-one, in person (not electronic) contact really helps her get things done and prioritize better. And when she realizes something needs to be done, she does it right then. Waiting to do something later seems to never end well for her. I wish you all the best and it’s great that you’re self aware enough to realize your challenges and want to correct them.

    P.S. My daughter was diagnosed with ADD, and I believe it’s an accurate diagnosis, but after 5 years of various types of medication when she was an adolescent/teen, the vast majority of which are just variants of legal speed (amphetamines) we opted to forego meds and help her learn to cope with it without medication. Not saying that to “medicine shame” anyone, but to let you know it’s a potential diagnosis, and there are plenty of other options beyond medicine, despite what some doctors may say. They were all very keen to just throw meds at us. Not sure if that’s because she was a kid or what, but I know plenty of adults who had every medicine under the sun suggested to them until they made it known that they didn’t want to immediately consider that type of treatment.

    Reply
    1. Jenny

      Yes, I wanted to suggest ADD eval by a doc, but was worried others might shun me for saying so since it had a bad rap for a while. But I took an ADD med throughout grad school and it really improved my focus and work. I feel I need to resume taking it due to my slip-ups at work!

      Reply
      1. Jenny

        Oh man you’re one of those people… I should have read the whole thing. ADD is a real thing and some people actually need meds because nothing else works. Medication is not evil and it’s not “legal speed.” Many of us need “that type of treatment.” Sigh.

        Reply
        1. Jenny

          Coming from someone who takes anti-depressants, which are also for emotional issues and prescribed by psychiatrists, and they saved my life.

          I’ll never stop hearing about how medication for emotional disorders are the lesser of treatment in my (lifetime anyway). True, some children are diagnosed incorrectly, but you did medicine shame by a) putting it in quotes, and b) saying “Not to medicine shame” since you knew what you were doing. Very disturbing and sad.

          Reply
          1. Former Retail Manager

            That was not my intent at all. If medicine has worked for you in past and you think it can again, that’s great. You should definitely do what works for you. As with all medications, the results and side effects vary from person to person. My daughter did have some improvement, but it was outweighed by the side effects which is why we discussed it with her and decided jointly to forego medication. She has also taken an anti-depressant which is working well for her. I absolutely believe that some people require medication for emotional/mental issues. Again, if it works for you and you experience no/minimal side effects that’s great. She has kept her anti-depressant, but not the ADD meds. My comment was intending to convey that medication may or may not work for you and there are other options. That’s all. If you’ve found one that works, by all means, get to a doc.

            As for legal speed, we will have to agree to disagree. There is a reason that you have to see a doctor every single month, in person, to get your prescription and it’s a regulated drug at the pharmacy. The generic for Aderall, a commonly prescribed ADD medication, is amphetamine. There are obviously many more variants, but they’re all regulated and work in the same way. I’m not saying they’re bad for everyone or shouldn’t exist. They certainly work…that isn’t in dispute. The issue my daughter was having was the requirement to continue to increase her dose every year or so to ensure the same outcome. She developed a tolerance, as many people do, and the doctor told us point blank that is normal and happens to a lot of people. Again, there are those pesky side effects. For her, it wasn’t a good fit. If it works for you, that’s fantastic. I wish you all the best.

            Reply
  116. B'Elanna

    I’ve always been very organized, and able to stay on task, but things like the clock comment… that’s me 100%. That is something I would totally do. And I don’t always pick up when people are being sarcastic or joking, which leads me to say embarrassing things.
    When people chuckle or catch me in these moments, I feel embarrassed and want to be defensive. Instead I try to stay humble. I don’t want to lash out on myself or others, when more often than not, it’s not a big deal. Despite that, I’ve always been encouraged to enter management. I’m still on the fence about that piece.

    I think it depends on the job, as to how much “common-sense” is necessary.
    I’m in a technical field where I don’t have to think on my feet in a moments notice, so it hasn’t been a big deal. Can I fix code, or troubleshoot a server in a moment’s notice? Yes. That’s all they care about.

    Reply
  117. TootsNYC

    Enough people have mentioned medically linked brain fog, forgetfulness, etc., that it might be worth having a talk with a psychiatrist (because they deal with the link between brain and body) to see if there’s sense in pursuing any biochemical links, or even physical-health links (like fibromyalgia, thyroid deficiency, whatever).

    Reply
  118. Someone Else

    The examples provided seem to suggest a few different unrelated problems.
    The clock thing? Could’ve happened to anyone. You missed the joke and took it literally. Not a big deal.
    Asking for an update on something YOU completed two days earlier? Unless you’re super overloaded with work, that’s not a good look. I wouldn’t even classify this in the “airhead” bucket. If you were my coworker I’d think you weren’t on top of what you were doing if this happened with any regularity.
    Forgetting to use a coffee filter or spacing out while assembling something mindless would strike me as more of a lack of focus issue. Losing a file that’s right in front of you could go into that bucket too, although might just seem like more general disorganization.

    All of those things combined, yeah, probably not great for your reputation.

    However, unless part of your job is making coffee (or you’re damaging the equipment by using it wrong), I wouldn’t be concerned about that one. And spacing during repetitive tasks can happen to anyone. So if your current role doesn’t regularly require that sort of thing, you probably don’t need to focus too much on trying to fix that. If your current job does include that sort of thing, be it envelope stuffing or making packets, then you should buckle down and try to come up with some ways to trick yourself into remaining engaged: because that’s the job. If you find that you simply can’t make yourself focus on that sort of work, then you’re probably not a good fit for jobs that require that.

    The asking about something that’s already done (specifically when you’re the one who did it) and the losing the file are the types of things I’d focus on trying to improve. You need either lists, or color-coding, or physical filing system, or something, but you need structure and lots of it to keep better tabs on these things. That’s the thing to improve on first. If you develop the habit, it may also have knock-on effects on some of the other stuff as well.

    Reply
  119. Charlotte

    Honestly, what you’re describing sounds common and a little endearing. Think absent-minded professor. If I were in your shoes, I’d just own it and learn to laugh at yourself.

    Reply
  120. matcha123

    This may have already been said but everyone forgets things or has off days or ditzy moments.
    It’s a problem if the attitude is “well, that’s just me lol.” Because then other people are expected to pick up the slack.
    I saw people mention notes, that’s a great thing to do. Also taking a moment to slow down before jumping into a task. Don’t make assumptions and make a habit of getting the information you need first and writing it down.

    Reply
  121. Jennifer Juniper

    This sounds like me. I graduated 4th in my high school class and was in the National Honor Society. I also once arrived to a church meeting an hour early, waking up the pastor and his wife due to daylight savings time ending. I also take things literally to the point of ridiculousness.

    I am also autistic.

    The point of all this? The OP should get a medical checkup to rule out autism/ADHD/anything else that can cause executive dysfunction. Autism in women is often missed until adulthood.

    Reply
  122. Lynn Whitehat

    Greetings, LW! I am you, 20 years later. Good news–it gets better! I don’t have ADD. In my case, “spaciness” was caused by a chaotic and crappy upbringing. I retreated into books, school, daydreams, anything but the chaos in front of me. Result: book-smart and creative, but absolute poo at “common sense” or organization. Some thoughts:

    1. Don’t think of yourself as “ditzy” or “spacey” or whatever, definitely do not describe yourself that way to others, definitely x1000 do not embrace it as an identity. Because yeah, “ditzes” are not entrusted with responsibility, and it does wear thin. My MIL is still trying to pull off an adorable ingenue kind of thing, and it… is not a good look on an 80-year-old.

    2. Get some organizational systems that work for you. David Allen’s Getting Things Done is my Bible. (Pro tip: Allen himself says only do the parts you need. For instance, he has a whole thing about how to keep track of tasks that need to happen on the Xth date of every month. I don’t have a lot of that in my life, so I just don’t do that part.) This will take some trial and error! All the “organized people” in your life don’t just magically remember everything. They have systems that work for them.

    3. A place for everything and everything in its place. For instance, my car keys are in their spot in my purse, in my hand, or in my car ignition, PERIOD. Otherwise I will def lose them, which will be a whole cascading thing of not being able to drive to my next destination, having to take the bus to the dealership and pay $$$ for new keys, etc.

    4. Iterate steps 2-3 as things go well or go poorly, so you can see how your system is or isn’t working for you. Good news: you can get a pretty darn good thing going. Bad news: it never ends. Last month, I bought a plane ticket to a work conference. I chose Sunday night so I could hit it bright and early Monday morning. Completely forgetting that that was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and therefore I was hosting my parents! I realized my mistake SATURDAY NIGHT, getting the email to check in online for my flight. Good: I booked the flight on Southwest, which is very generous about changing flights. Keep doing that. Bad: not putting the guests or the conference in my calendar, assuming I would surely “just remember” huge, life-hijacking events. Lesson: EVERYTHING goes in the calendar, no matter how unforgettable it may seem.

    5. Goofing up things like the coffee pot gets a lot better as you get older and gain experience in the world. “Common sense” is mostly experience. I did a lot of things a roundabout or misguided way at 23 because I was dealing with them for the first time. As you get more experience dealing with coffee pots, airport security, package shipping, etc, you will be better at them.

    6. Get a medical work up. Lots and lots of physical things can result in “flakiness”. Low B vitamins, low D, low iron, hypothyroid, sleep apnea, just for starters. In addition to ADD and depression. If you are already prone to inattentive kind of mistakes, physical issues can really magnify them. I found I was low on vitamin D last summer, and holy cow, the difference has been night and day!

    Reply
    1. Tim C.

      I will second this. You are 23 years old. I am guessing you spent the last 4 to 6 years in academic isolation and became proficient at what you were supposed to, be a good student. I was the same way except I did not get sarcasm, at all. It lead to some cringe worthy anecdotes I would like to forget.
      Also at age 23 you should not be in such a hurry to be looking at management. After a few years of seasoning and experience, these incidents will not even be a distant memory in anyone’s mind.

      Reply
  123. Cassie the First

    My suggestions would be:

    1) Standardize the steps for routine tasks / use a checklist (mental or otherwise). For example, if I make coffee at work – I follow specific steps so I don’t forget anything. It may seem silly but for something so “routine”, it’s easy to miss something. I ALWAYS check that the coffee basket has a new filter and fresh ground coffee in it before pouring water in. If the machine was already turned on by someone else, because I can’t guarantee that that person emptied the basket. I even check the coffee basket when I *just* filled it 5 minutes earlier, because who knows – I might have forgotten.

    2) Take the time to write good, clear, and concise notes on your tasks or projects – not only will it help you keep track of your projects, it’ll be a godsend to your boss and coworkers if they need information and you happen to be out of the office. Don’t write a novel, but also don’t try to save characters either. I’m training a coworker in a new role and it’s such a pain to figure out why her predecessor did some things the way she did because notes/files are either undecipherable or non-existent. Your boss or coworker should be able to understand what you did, and why you did it (if it was a deviation from regular practice).

    Reply
  124. The Wiggle

    You’ve only been at your job for two months! It takes time to get used to a new job. Just keep a positive attitude and you’ll be fine! I can relate to your story; when I was your age, I was the same way! I work in a very email- and document-heavy field, where you’ve got to stay organized. I found that two things in particular have saved my behind: 1) OneNote! It’s amazing! And 2) organizing Outlook emails into folders.

    Reply
  125. Family Business

    I don’t have time to read all the comments so maybe this has been said, but: OneNote!!!

    I have some (secret) cognitive problems due to a chronic progressive disease. I can hear something today and won’t remember it tomorrow. I take bazillions of notes, add pictures and emails right on the page. I try to include key words in notes.

    If someone asks me something, I’ll have s vague recollection of it. I just say “hmm. Let me verify my notes.” Then I search for it. I can literally look up what I was working on a year ago.

    Seriously, it changed my professional life! Somehow, I now have a reputation as the organized one with the great memory. Ha!! In reality, I have memory loss, cognitive decline, and limited “executive function.”

    Reply
  126. Indie

    I despise unfinished work (can’t do traditional style teaching because there’s no finish line) and am always misplacing objects. I was considered an airhead when I was young. Not any more.
    My strategies are: 1) Colourful labels or binders. I will never see a grey folder, an important or current folder is red, the next task is amber, then green and so on.
    2) Clean desk policy. I can work well in some cultures with a messy desk but in tighter office structures there’s really no substitute for an end of day revision of what’s still on my desk, and clearing it or prioritising what’s left. This works well with a to do list habit.
    3) Get into a habit of checking any space before you leave it. Like the train announcement to check your belongings. Check before you leave your meetup at bosses desk that you have everything. Check before you leave a meeting room. Clear desks help with this.
    4) To do lists. Make notes in a diary style planner you treat as your bible of stuff done or use stickies (god I miss stickies).

    Reply
  127. New-ish Manager

    I haven’t read all of the comments but a lot of them seem to be about suggestions to keep you organized, and that’s definitely something to consider (+1 for Trello which has helped me to become way more organized).

    I think a big part of your concern is that you can’t seem to avoid saying things that are ditsy. You and I have that in common. I also run an entire department.

    I can’t seem to avoid seeming like an airhead from time to time, so I’ve just had to let it go and accept that it will happen. I think people find it charming for the most part, possibly because I make up for it by producing high quality work otherwise.

    Reply
  128. Candy Cane

    Lots of great suggestions here! I didn’t see many “coworker of airhead” perspectives so thought I’d add mine.

    I have a coworker who drives me insane with her absentmindedness and complete lack of self-awareness. She really does not seem to see how her actions impact others and it makes her very challenging to work with. If she would ever demonstrate some ownership of her mistakes, I might be more patient with her. Instead she acts like it’s cute or quirky, but never acknowledges that she is causing problems. It sounds like OP is cognizant of this in their own situation.

    I am going to research strategies for how to work with someone with ADHD and see if that helps with my coworker.

    Reply
  129. Vancouver

    Welcome to my life! My colleagues all know that I’m likely to misplace my glasses, a notebook, or any other physical object they give me (electronic files are fine, thanks to search functions and beautifully optimized folders). If you’re worried and have a good relationship with your boss, I would absolutely ask about it! Say that you have noticed you’re doing X and you wanted to check if it’s having a major impact on your colleagues and work, or if it comes more under the category of understandable quirks. If your boss isn’t the one you feel comfortable asking, is there a colleague who could answer? You might find out that no one minds these little slip ups, or that it is an issue but one that you can work on.
    And if you do decide that it’s something worth working on, just take it one piece at a time. Pick one thing that you can do (like an end-of-day checklist, or a start-if-week to-do list, or whatever seems easiest to you) and start with that. I suspect you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can change a habit if you take some time to really focus on one thing at a time.

    Reply
  130. Also_Airy

    There’s nothing wrong with you! I also have difficulty sometimes processing the context of certain remarks (like the meeting reservation comment you mentioned), remembering dates, etc. I think of myself as a very intelligent, but sometimes rather dense person. YOU are perceiving this to be a big part of who you are because the times when it happens stress you out. But believe me, it’s a minor quirk in anyone else’s eyes.

    You have all of your faculties. You’re capable of performing at a high level and relating to people no matter what. If you’re a good team player and effective in your role, people will just laugh this off. It’s really not a big deal! As you progress in your career you can learn productivity strategies and little social responses to smooth the way. I know it can feel frustrating as a woman to have airhead moments because we often get treated as airheads as a matter of course (rage!), but it can also be empowering to be unapologetically yourself in all your complexity and not worry about appearing smart and perfect in every situation. Over time the results of your work and your character will speak for themselves!

    Reply
  131. Anon today

    As someone recently diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, who was definitely a very “book smart” successful student, I say check out a screening tool or two and see if it sounds familiar.

    Reply
  132. Sakura

    I’ve had this concern myself! I’m a teacher, and therefore usually busy teaching, prepping, getting supplies, grading, heading to the office, or running to the bathroom. It never fails that someone will interrupt me to ask a question or request that I do something and I give an answer, only to realize that it’s the wrong answer and I now need to go back to the questioner and change my response, which is super embarrassing. An example – walking in the hallway, my principal will stop me and ask if I received the pencils. My brain goes “pencils…pencils…yes I have lots of pencils, I just bought some, don’t know why she’s asking about pencils…” and I say yes I have pencils and continue on my way. Then a few seconds later I realize she meant have I received the special anti-bullying pencils that I need to distribute to the kids later that day and I actually don’t have them, and then I have to go back and tell her that whoops, I misheard and I DON’T have those pencils.

    I’ve actually realized that I may have trouble with audio processing when I’m stressed or focused on something else. I hear what someone has said to me, but I don’t fully understand it right away. I’m still not sure if that’s the reason or not, but it’s caused me no end of embarrassment and I’m sure I’ve looked like an idiot to many people. I’d love to hear if anyone else experiences this and what they do to seem more ‘on the ball’.

    Reply
  133. K8te

    Well, it’s not “cute” at any age, that’s the first thing. The second thing is that this is completely within your control and responsibility.

    If you don’t want to be perceived as a flaky airhead, then you need to put many crutches in place to counteract your behavior. If forget simple things like putting a coffee filter in or whether you completed a report, then you might need to set up reminders for every task you do. Make a checklist and when you complete something, check it off with the date/time and location of the file noted. If you can’t find something on your desk, then spend half a day reorganizing your desk and institute a “clean desk policy” for yourself so things don’t get lost. Only work on one thing at a time if you’re having trouble multitasking. Try not blurting things out before considering what’s going on and making sure you completely understand the situation. Maybe even consider getting checked to see if you have ADD.

    You really need to meet this head on with fervor because this is difficult to break. If you’re having problems with auditory processing, that is just a fancy word for not listening. Practice, practice, practice your listening skills. I can’t overemphasize the value and benefit of checklists and work journals. I write down a summary of each task as I complete it, even if it’s something minor. Who I spoke to/emailed, a brief description and what I did regarding it. 15 minutes before the end of the day, I write out a checklist of the things I need to do, follow up with, meetings, etc and then I make sure to add reminder alarms to pop up so I don’t forget.

    As a manager, having an employee who is disorganized, unable to complete simple tasks, forgetful and confused is exhausting.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS