Published on ADDitudeMag.com

19 Ways to Succeed on the Job with Adult ADHD

Staying organized at the job can be challenging for many ADHDers, but these workplace tips will help you get more done in less time.


Focus on One Thing Only

When sitting at your desk, keep only what you're working on in front of you. Place paper and future assignments in an inbox, drawer, or the credenza behind you, out of your line of sight. If your eyes keep jumping around when reading long documents, use a folder or a piece of construction paper to block out everything but the line you’re reading.

Silence Your Inner Critic

Don't let perfectionism thwart your ability to get things done. Ask yourself how to make things quick and simple. Try bulleting items in memos or calling a coworker instead of e-mailing him.

Download Tasks to Paper

If a swarm of concerns is keeping you from attending to the task at hand, take five minutes to get things out of your head and on paper.  Once these tasks are on paper and you no longer have to worry about remembering everything, you'll find it easier to focus on your current assignment.

Stay Focused in Meetings

> Confide in a friend who sits near you in business meetings. Ask him or her to tap you lightly on the shoulder if you appear to be zoning out.

> To fight off boredom in meetings, take a lot of notes. This not only helps you focus, but also provides an outlet for restlessness. 

Activate Your Attention

Before tackling a boring task, do some physical exercise or a favorite activity. Walking up and down a few flights of stairs, doing a crossword puzzle, or listening to music for 15 minutes enhances your executive functioning, priming you for the work ahead. 

Stick to a Game Plan

> Color-code papers and projects according to their priority. Place projects with impending deadlines in red folders, for example. 

> Go through your in-basket several times a day. This keeps you from being sidetracked every time a new piece of information crosses your desk. 

Put Time on Your Side

> People with ADD often have a poor sense of time. Instead of giving yourself all day to finish that report, give yourself two hours. Set an alarm or a computer alert to go off when time's up.

> Figure out the time of day when you are most productive and schedule your hardest tasks for that period. 

Arrange—and Rearrange—Your Priorities

Each morning list your top 10 "to-do" items. This keeps you on track during the day. Write them on a white erasable board. If your priorities shift, you can re-juggle the list with the swipe of a paper towel.

Keep Your Work Space Tidy

Take 20 minutes every day to straighten up your work space, placing unwanted papers and junk mail in the shredding bin. This is the best way to avoid "buried desk" syndrome. If you wait to get organized later in the week, it will seem too overwhelming to tackle.

Start the Day Strong

If you have trouble getting to work on time or getting organized in the morning, start getting ready the night before. Lay out your clothes, fill the coffee pot, and prepare lunch before you go to bed. Create a “launch pad” by the door to place important items you will need, such as your car keys, cell phone, and purse.

Take Notes

> People with ADD often have trouble remembering spoken instructions, so keep a written record of all requests. Write down any assignments your boss gives you.

> Keep a carbonless message pad by your office phone. File one copy of the message with relevant project materials. The remaining pad becomes a "master list" of numbers and contacts. 

Don't Let E-mail Control You

Do not check your e-mail first thing; it puts you in a "reactive" mode — allowing others to set your priorities. Instead, set your own priorities by scheduling all your tasks for the day. Schedule regular times for checking your e-mail, rather than allowing it to interrupt and drive the focus of your day.

Block Out Noise and Limit Interruptions

ADHDers are often distracted by the smallest sound. If you are taken off task by office conversations or noise around the office, use a white noise machine, noise-canceling headphones, or listen to music to block it out. Limit interruptions by hanging a small sign on your door or cubicle that says "Busy working on a big project. Will be available at 2."

Get on the Same Page

If you have trouble remembering details from conversations with your boss about projects, ask her to send a detailed follow-up e-mail. After being given instructions, repeat them back to make sure you are both on the same page. Ask for specific deadlines, so you know what is being asked is really doable. 

Manage Distractions

Work on major projects early, late, or on weekends when the office is quiet. If you work in an open office, or if your office has too many distractions, see if you can arrange for a quieter workspace—a file or storage room, say—or ask about working from home.

Get Ahead of Things

ADHDers often have trouble keeping track of details and oral instructions. For big events, such as conferences, find out as much as you can ahead of time. Ask for a list of conference participants, a schedule of events, and any resources pages that will be given out during presentations. Review these before the event starts.

Ask -- Discreetly -- for Help

You can ask for assistance without bringing up your ADHD. If you do ask for help, be prepared to give a business justification for it. “By working from home one day a week, I’ll be able to finish those reports two weeks before the deadline” is preferable to “There are too many distractions in the office, so I need to work from home.”

Seek Outside Help

Get an ADHD coach to help you develop a weekly to-do list, or to call you at work to make sure you stay on task. Have a professional organizer sort your office papers and files on a weekend when no one else is in the office.

Pump Up Flagging Attention

> Feel the urge to fidget at your desk? Clicking a pen, playing with your hair, or sucking on a hard candy will help you pay attention. 

> If you have the need to move, find a place to stand or walk while you work. Take your work to an empty conference room or stand at the counter in the office kitchen. 

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