What makes certain careers a good fit for adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? What separates people who feel fulfilled from those who suffer regret? There are five steps to igniting peak performance in the workplace, which I outline in my latest book, Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Review Press; 2011). The first and most important step is "select" — to make sure that you are in a job well-suited to you and your ADHD.
Are you in the right job? You can figure that out by answering the 10 questions below. Your answers will help you think clearly about your skills and preferences, where you fit best in the organization, and under what circumstances you feel most comfortable and motivated.
What do you do best? You should be spending the majority of your workday doing what you do best. Many people spend too much time trying to get good at what they're bad at, instead of getting better at what they're good at.
What do you like to do the most? This does not always have the same answer as #1. Ideally, you can make your favorite activities your career.
What do you wish you were better at? Your answer may suggest that you need a mentor, need to delegate, or need to get training. Many adults with ADHD have difficulty figuring out office politics — a mentor or a coworker could help. Others have difficulty organizing, in which case an ADHD coach can work with you on tidy-up strategies.
What do others say are your greatest strengths? Friends, coworkers, and performance reviews can identify skills you have but may not value because they seem easy to you.
What are you most proud of in your work life? The answer could be another tip off about what you should be doing.
What have you gotten better at? This will give you an idea of where applying additional effort will pay off.
What are you not getting better at, no matter how hard you try? It's good to know where not to expend effort.
What do you most dislike doing? You might be good enough at something, but still hate it. I know a lawyer with ADHD who hated to do billing. He would procrastinate and then feel guilty because he was always behind. By admitting his dislike of billing, and hiring an assistant to do it, he improved his cash flow and decreased his stress.
Which skills prevent you from excelling in your job? If you lack a skill required for your job and can't delegate it, consider taking a course, finding a mentor, reading a book, or working with a coach.
What regrets do you have about your career? Could you make changes based on those regrets?
What one lesson would you want to pass along to your children about how to manage their careers? Another way to get at your most important views about work.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your mother and father (one each) relating to work? Reflecting on this helps you understand attitudes that have been passed along and how your mind works.
What lesson did your best boss teach you about yourself? Tapping into the insight of others is helpful. Others often know us better than we do.
In what way(s) do you think your time could be better used in your current job to add value to your organization? This may provide valuable insight to your manager and your own perspective about your job.
What sort of people do you work best/worst with? Do you hate to work with highly organized, analytic types, or do you love it? Do creative types drive you crazy, or do you work well with them? Make up your own categories.
What kind of company culture brings out the best in you? Chances are, you will get excited about your job if you feel connected to the company's culture. Are you a top-down person, who thrives with a specific hierarchy, or do you work best in a "no walls allowed" atmosphere?
What are your hopes for the future, in terms of your career? Knowing that fear is the only true learning disability, what stands in your way of reaching those hopes?
What were you doing when you were happiest in your work life? Can you do something like that again? Perhaps you enjoyed the excitement and deadlines in sales work, but are unhappy in the management position you were promoted to. Is it time to move back into sales? That could be the key to career happiness.
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