Sanity-Saving Strategies for the ADHD Executive

You manage people, projects, and processes, and you're great at what you do — but are you managing your ADHD well enough to avoid stress and exhaustion?

There are thousands of adults with ADHD in executive and managerial positions in every profession. The challenge is to learn to manage ADHD well so that their jobs will be less stressful and exhausting.

Ami is a business development manager for a financial institution. She manages 30 people at branch locations in three cities. Her daily schedule consists of lots of meetings with clients, and taking individual and conference calls with the staff people who report to her. Her e-mail inbox is always full, mostly because it takes her too long to write replies. She struggles with completing reports on time. Ami stresses out over performance reviews because she hates giving negative feedback to employees.

Jim is a project manager in a large construction firm. He coordinates multiple projects and manages dozens of people. Half of his workday consists of planning meetings, the other half finds him bombarded with phone calls and e-mails that require his attention. His office is a mess, which makes it more challenging to keep track of all the paperwork, records, and tasks to get done. Despite working long hours and taking work home on weekends, he can't catch up.

Jim and Ami are successful executives who are good at their jobs. They have ADHD. They are hardly alone. There are thousands of adults with ADHD in executive and managerial positions in every profession. The challenge for Ami and Jim, and many others in their position, is to learn to manage their ADHD well, so that their jobs will be less stressful and exhausting. Below are some strategies they found helpful.

1. Write Your Own Job Description

Most employees have a clearly defined job with specific goals and structured routines. This is usually not the case with executive positions, where expectations and responsibilities are loosely defined and open-ended. If someone has not given you a clear, structured job description, write one yourself.

What are the most important responsibilities of your job? How much time do you need to devote to each of them? When do you allocate time for these priority tasks in your schedule, and how do you balance your schedule to ensure that priority tasks get done? What specific performance goals do you strive to meet, and how do you consistently monitor and assess your progress?

An unstructured executive is likely to be all over the place, distracted by small things and wasting time. An additional danger is that, without realistic expectations and healthy limits, an executive's job can easily take over his or her life. That, as Jim discovered, is a recipe for burnout.

2. Make Planning Your Top Priority

Take time to plan, long-term and short-term, and think through the whos, whats, and whens of a project. The problem for many executives with ADHD is that they get caught up in putting out fires, and don't take time to look ahead and plan effectively. The long-term result is often disaster.

Jim learned that the more effective he became at planning, the fewer fires he had to put out. "My most important task as an executive is not to put out fires, but rather to prevent fires from flaring up." Basic short-term tasks, such as meetings, are scheduled in his planner, with notices and reminders sent out to participants by his office assistant. Longer-term and more complex projects are planned out in detail with the help of a project management software program, such as Microsoft Project.

3. Minimize Distractions

The more distractible a person is, and the more details she needs to deal with, the greater the need for an organized work environment. Make it an ongoing mission to eliminate and reduce distractionson your desk and in your office.

For Ami, the biggest problem was the flood of e-mails. Every time she stopped to read one, she explained, "I had a terrible time getting back on track." The solution was to give herself dedicated e-mail times for reading and replying to e-mails, and to ignore them when she needed to focus on other scheduled tasks.

The problem for Jim was that his desk faced a glass wall, which looked out into the larger office complex. The solution was to turn his desk around, so that it faced an opaque wall.

NEXT: 4. Delegate Efficiently

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TAGS: Get Organized at Work, Focus at Work, ADHD Career Paths, Deadlines and Procrastination, ADHD Time Management

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