ADHD at Work

How to Help Your Boss Help You

Stay focused and boost productivity at work by communicating your ADHD needs to your supervisor. From working in teams to complimenting success, here are Dr. Hallowell’s best tips.

A man with adult ADHD in a meeting at work, holding a planner and gesturing, asking for accommodation
A man with adult ADHD in a meeting at work, holding a planner and gesturing, asking for accommodation

You know firsthand how ADHD symptoms can trip you up at work. Daydreaming about the movie you’re going to see on Friday, losing your to-do list in a sea of papers on your desk, forgetting deadlines, and avoiding boring tasks can limit your success in the workplace. Managers, bosses, and coworkers can make it even tougher. Giving instructions on the go, not presenting projects and goals clearly, and being impatient can stop you in your tracks.

Help your boss help you by sharing these 12 simple tips with him. If you have told your boss about your ADHD, discuss implementing these approaches. If you haven’t come out, ask him if he could institute a few of these strategies anyway. Tell him that doing so will make you more productive.

1. Provide opportunities for questions and clarification. The ADHD brain is less hierarchical than the non-ADHD brain. It may take a few questions to make sure that the details are understood and organized in a way that will improve performance.

2. Make written communications or e-mails clear and to the point. This minimizes confusion about what is most important and aids in the discussion of potential conflicts.

3. Take notes, and ask others to follow up their verbal instructions with a brief written recap of the most important points. Both serve as handy reminders, and clarify priorities.

4. Recap expectations and agreements at the end of meetings. A final recap allows everyone to check their notes against what you said.

5. Keep phone calls to the point and discuss only one or two topics.

6. Compliment success. Everyone works better when their work is appreciated.

7. Break larger projects into shorter “sub-projects” with interim deadlines. This both clarifies priorities and keeps projects on track. Since people with ADHD often work well under deadline, this plays to an ADHD strength.

8. If possible, allow your employees to work in teams, pairing those with complementary skills. Many projects can be handled by more than one person, optimizing each person’s strengths while downplaying their weaknesses. One person may be good at conceptualizing a new idea, while another might be great at thinking through the details.

9. Make it office policy that it’s OK to put up a “do not disturb” sign when needed and/or to ignore e-mail for an hour or two. Research shows that it takes time for anyone to refocus on the task at hand when they are interrupted. This is particularly true for those with ADHD.

10. Have regular progress checks. If the deadline is a month away, do a scheduled weekly check-in to make sure work is progressing at the necessary pace.

11. Encourage the use of alarms and reminders. People with ADHD work well when they have prompts to help them stay on track.

12. Allow employees to get up and move. Those with ADHD will thank you by getting more work done on time. Doing a few jumping jacks or pushups, or taking a brisk five-minute walk, will get an ADHD mind going during the “down” part of their day.