Managing ADHD at Work

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is this your desk? 
October 15-22 is ADHD Awareness Week and we want to give voice to this condition and address some myths which exist about it. Today, we are going to talk about ADHD and it's impact in the workplace. Similar to other mental health conditions, there are numerous accommodations or ways to succeed at work when you are living with ADHD. 

Being aware of possible accommodations allows for us to avoid the trap of trying to find a job that is "perfect for people with ADHD". This is a trap we often see when discussing disabilities and employment, where there can be a tendency to try and match jobs to a specific disability. Choosing a career path according to your personality, interests and skills should always come first, and your ADHD is only a small part of this decision. For example, living with ADHD may mean that you want to stay away from a position where you are expected to do repetitive and mundane tasks every day. But you will never find a job that doesn't contain tasks like this in some shape or form. Knowing how to self-help or manage your ADHD is the key to not allowing the condition to create barriers in your career.

Adults living with ADHD typically struggle at work because of three things related to their condition: inattention, impulsivity and problems with time management. These symptoms manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Problems with attention can mean a person with ADHD may seem distracted or bored at times. This can be frustrating as part of ADHD includes a symptom called hyper-focus, where a person becomes so engrossed in a task that they lose track of time and other commitments. 

Impulsiveness may cause people with ADHD to take on tasks they don't have time for and also speak out of turn or abundantly at meetings. Both impulsivity and inattention can cause problems with time management, but a person with ADHD may also have a bigger than normal problem with procrastination. This combination of symptoms can definitely cause a person with ADHD to struggle with long term projects.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies and tips to help people with ADHD succeed in the workplace. It's important to note that medication can help with symptoms of ADHD, but they aren't a cure. Medication may be an option for some people with ADHD but should still be used along other options like therapy and self-help strategies. 

Here are some tips and strategies for succeeding in the workplace with ADHD:
  • Take care of yourself away from work. Exercising regularly, spending time outdoors, eating properly and getting enough sleep have all been shown to reduce stress and symptoms related to ADHD. 
  • Create space in your work environment. Keep your desk and office clutter free to avoid the sensation of everything piling up. Devoting just 10 minutes a day to filing properly and creating space in your office can go a long way. 
  • If you share an office, you can create space by using other environments to complete high priority work - like an unused conference or meeting room. Simple tasks like turning off your phone ringer, a do not disturb sign or closing your email inbox can also minimize distractions. 
  • Similarly, create the same space in your digital environment. Don't neglect your inbox - devote time every day to specifically file, de-clutter and respond to email. An inbox with dozens (or hundreds!) of unattended to emails can quickly become an overwhelming distraction and source of stress.
  • Use a day planner and lists to prioritize your activities, then single task. Focusing on one task at a time will keep your attention in one spot and has been shown to be better for your memory and overall mental performance.
  • Add more time than you think necessary to tasks and arrival times for meetings. People with ADHD are notorious for not giving themselves enough time to do what they need to do or get where they need to go. A simple trick is to automatically add ten minutes above your instincts to each task. For example, if you think it will take 30 minutes to get across town for a meeting then plan for 40 minutes. 
  • Using clocks and alarms can be a huge help to stay on time with projects and also to break hyper-focus. It's not unusual for a person with ADHD to miss a meeting because they lose track of time working on something. An alarm can break the attention and allow you to re-evaluate where you are and what you are doing. 
  • Do mundane tasks during the day when you are most attentive. Trying to complete them when you are tired or burned out from the day will cause stress and make an easy task seem much more difficult than it is. 
  • Have a way to file "big ideas" away for later. People with ADHD can become sidetracked when working on one thing by a non-related idea which excites them. Learn to jot them down and put them away to be addressed later.
  • Follow up discussions with written records or emails. The "do it now or write it down" rule is a great way to battle forgetfulness. 
  • Use progress reports on long term projects to beat procrastination. Have another person or boss follow up on these to keep you on task.
  • Consciously under-commit. People with ADHD have a tendency to impulsively sign up for tasks even when they don't have the time for them. Not feeling rushed allows you to feel less stressed and also be more effective in your work. 
  • Move around! Take a walk on your lunch or get up and stretch from your desk to combat restlessness. Feeling fidgety at a meeting? Take written notes to minimize these feelings and stay attentive. 


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