Productivity at Work

How to Reclaim Your Edge at Work: ADHD Advice

ADHD can get in the way of a promotion and raise — unless you stay two steps ahead of troubling symptoms. Here’s your game plan for winning at work.

A man with ADHD climbing the job ladder and succeeding in the workplace
Wooden man climbing wooden stairs hand holding

Research has found that adults with ADHD change jobs more often than those without attention deficit and have more trouble meeting the demands of their jobs, working independently, finishing tasks, and getting along with the boss. They also are fired or laid off more than their non-ADHD counterparts.

Hyperactive adults have the biggest problems with ADHD in the workplace. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Teachers might cut you some slack for being fidgety and restless at school because you’re a growing little kid or a hormone-fired teenager. Once you’re in the workplace, those who are paying you to be there expect you to stay at your desk to get your work done.

Tools to Succeed

Many of the tools and preparation for doing well at work parallel those for doing well at school. Here’s a quick rundown of what you can do to give yourself the best possible foundation for performing at work:

[Free Handout: How to Manage Your Time at Work]

Consider medication if you aren’t already taking it. This may be especially helpful if you’re making the transition from the less demanding jobs of adolescence to the adult jobs that require a lot more responsibility, and involve using a lot more skills. As with school, the long-acting forms of medication (sometimes with a single dose of the immediate-release medicine added) will help keep you going through most of the workday.

Find a coach or mentor at work. This can be a coworker, friend, or supportive supervisor — anyone you can make yourself accountable to every day for the work that you believe needs to get done. As with school, it helps to meet twice a day for five minutes at a time — which is why it’s useful to have your supervisor or other coach in close proximity. Set goals during your first meeting and then review what you’ve accomplished during the second meeting.

Identify the disability specialist in the human resources department at your company. This is the person you will provide with documentation of your ADHD and the person who will explain the available workplace accommodations. This person may also work with your supervisor to make sure you get the accommodations you choose. If you need therapy or medication, the disability specialist will be able to refer you to psychologists, counselors, and physicians (usually psychiatrists) who have contracts with the employer for providing employee mental health services.

Gather whatever tools will help you keep track of tasks, goals, deadlines, promises, appointments, and any other time-related information you need to remember: Day Planner, smartphone, journal, calendar on your e-mail system, a tactile cueing device such as the MotivAider (, which can be set to vibrate at certain intervals. You can set your smartphone to do the same thing.

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Get a recorder such as the Livescribe 3 Smartpen ( to record important meetings (with the permission of your supervisor).

Reclaiming Your Edge

There’s no denying that it’s a competitive world. If you don’t do well at your job, you won’t get a raise or promotion. You might not even get to keep the job. And there’s always someone waiting in line to claim it. It’s also human nature to want to achieve and excel and be respected by our peers. So do everything you can to be at the top of your game at work despite ADHD.

Find out if there is a company library or online information center that contains resources for further learning on the job. If so, you’ll want to make a habit of using it to give yourself the informational edge that ADHD dulls. Also attend any extra information sessions offered after hours. If a seminar or workshop is offered on a volunteer basis, try to attend. It may sound boring, but a change of scene will probably be more beneficial to you than to most adults.

Take notes throughout meetings that threaten to bore you to tears. Note-taking may remind you of some of your least favorite moments in school, but a laptop makes it easier to record what’s being said, especially if you load it with handwriting recognition software. Plus the physical motion of taking notes will keep you focused.

[The Get-More-Done-at-Work Guide]

Use the SQ4R method when you have lots of reading to do before a meeting or other event. Here’s how it works:

  1. Survey the material to be read — just leaf through it quickly to get some idea of how much is to be read, how it is broken up, and so forth.
  2. Draft some questions that need to be answered from the reading material.
  3. Now use the 4Rs: read just one paragraph, recite out loud in a soft voice or whisper what was important in the material, write that material down in your notebook, then review what you just wrote.
  4. Do this for each paragraph.

This not only makes you review what you’re reading four times, but also gives you frequent mental breaks as you shift your concentration at the end of each paragraph from reading to reciting to writing to reviewing the assignment.

Before a long meeting or another quiet activity in which you will have to stay seated and be attentive, walk around the block or the halls, or come up with an excuse to go down to the convenience store in the lobby or around the corner. The activity will improve your focus during the meeting.

Excerpted from Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, by Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., and Christine M. Benton. Copyright 2010.

Cultivate Allies at Work

Faulty working memory can make it hard to learn to read people’s feelings, understand social cues, or figure out customs at the workplace. Leaping before you look, talking when you shouldn’t, and other impulsive behavior may result in disapproval from your coworkers. Here are tips to avoid potential negative fallout:

  1. Try some cooperative coworker tutoring when you need to learn something substantial on the job: new software, new regulatory codes, new technology. Take turns teaching each other something you or your coworker doesn’t understand.
  2. If your department doesn’t already operate using teams, set one up on your own. Be on the lookout for the coworkers who have the skills and interests you lack.
  3. Find a coworker who will have your back — and do the same for that person. If either of you forgets materials, information, or anything else you need while away from the office, the other will be there to supply it.
  4. Schedule supervisor review meetings more often than at annual or semiannual salary review meetings. Every three to six weeks is a good interval. Meet with a person other than your direct supervisor to get a different perspective on your performance.