Memo to ADDers: Fix Your Workplace, Revive Your Career

How to get organized at work, focus on the job, and maximize your effectiveness with adult ADHD.

ADD at Work, Part 2

Dr. Silver says it's not enough simply to find the right ADD drug. "Be sure your dosage schedule covers you for the full time you're on the job," he says. "The medication comes in four-, eight- and twelve-hour doses. If you leave for work at 7:30 in the morning and don't finish until 6:30 in the evening, the eight-hour pill you take before going to work will wear off around 3:30—which means you'll need to take a four-hour pill at 3:30. If you plan to work at home, you may need coverage in the evening, as well."

Ending distractions

The next step is to develop a workplace strategy that will enable you to work at peak efficiency. Minimizing distractions is a top priority. "One of my clients worked out a schedule where he came in early to work, when it was quiet," says Novotni. "That way, he could focus and get his work done."

If you have a flexible schedule or a private office, terrific. If not, you may be able to take your work to an empty office or conference room. Don't answer the phone. Let your voicemail take messages, and return calls later. To discourage interruptions, you might even want to hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign. To minimize visual distractions, face your desk toward a wall. Keep your workplace free of clutter.

Of course, not all distractions are external. Nadeau identifies three types of "internal" distractions:

  • "Ah-ha!" distractions are creative ideas that pop up in the middle of unrelated work. To avoid getting sidetracked, jot them down on a pad for later review, then return at once to the job at hand.
  • "Oh no!" distractions involve suddenly remembering you've forgotten to do something. To prevent these, use a planning system in which you write down all appointments, phone calls, meetings, and so on.
  • "Ho-hum" distractions involve daydreaming as a way to avoid the work at hand—a sign that you need to make your work more interesting, or to find more interesting work.

Try tailoring your solutions to particular problems. One of Novotni's patients was a scientist who had trouble with long sets of instructions. In the work he did, it was important that he not miss a single step, or the whole experiment would be ruined, she recalls. "So we came up with a double-checklist system: He would check off each item on the list, then have someone else quickly double-check the time. The system took just a couple of extra minutes a day, but it saved untold amounts of wasted time and money."

If you're prone to hyperfocus—to work on something so intently that you lose track of time—it may be helpful to "cue" yourself. Try Post-it notes, a watch alarm, a box that pops up on your computer screen—anything that makes you aware of the time and of what you should be doing.

If your symptoms include hyperactivity, take every opportunity to move around at work. Pace while talking on the phone. If you need to talk to a colleague, walk over instead of calling. Take a break every hour or so for some calisthenics or a stroll through the halls.

Staying on schedule

Many workers with ADD find it helpful to draw up a detailed work schedule with the assistance of a co-worker or supervisor, and then to check back with this individual periodically to make sure everything is on track.

"Keeping your day well-structured is key," says Novotni. "I've a number of patients who now meet with their managers every morning to prioritize the day.

Making impulsive commitments can disrupt your schedule, so make it a point to think twice before agreeing to any offer or request. Instead of automatically saying "yes," Nadeau suggests using a catchphrase, such as "I'd like to, but let me take a look at my calendar."

Next: ADD at Work, Part 3

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