Productivity at Work

“Am I Going to Get Fired?” Self-Accommodations for ADHD Hazards at Work

You’ve missed a few deadlines. Lost a few things. Jumbled some instructions. And lost focus. These are common workplace hazards for people with ADHD. Now learn some easy accommodations to keep you on track and feeling confident in your career.

A messy desk of someone with ADHD wondering, "Am I going to get fired for being disorganized?"
messy desktop with mouse, part of keyboard and lamp, stacks of envelops and files, office supplies and small receipts, some pc equipment as well lying around, coffee, remains of food, coffee stains on papers, part of series,

You like your job, and you want to do it well. You don’t want to risk getting fired in this tough economy, by letting your ADHD symptoms get the best of you. The key to succeeding at the job is to adapt your work habits to take advantage of your strong points, while minimizing the negative impact of your weaknesses.

Here are some of the common challenges faced by adults with ADHD and learning disabilities, along with lots of recommended accommodations for each.

Remember that you can do the job as well as anyone else — you just need to do it in a different way.

Challenge: Struggle to Read Large Amounts of Material


  • Attend meetings that address the relevant topics.
  • Discuss material or assignments with coworkers.
  • Highlight key points with a magic marker.
  • Ask someone to tell you the key points.
  • Get information from drawings, diagrams, and flow charts. Your supervisor, team members, or subordinates may be able to organize some information in this way.
  • Use voice output on your computer.
  • Request shorter versions of reports and documents.

Challenge: Lose Things Frequently


  • Organize your work area — and keep it that way! Work with your supervisor and team to ensure that common areas, such as tool stations, files, and bookshelves, stay neat.
  • Put important objects, such as keys, in the same place each time you use them.
  • Color-code items.
  • Keep things visible on shelves and bulletin boards. Avoid storage in drawers or cupboards.
  • Attach objects you use a lot to the places they belong. For example, you might hang your scissors on a hook bolted to your desk, or place documents on your bulletin board, so they do not get lost.

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Challenge: Forget Deadlines


  • Use Web-based reminder systems, such as Remember the Milk, which sends you reminders via e-mail, instant message, or text message.
  • Use a voice organizer or a watch with an alarm to remind you of scheduled events. Some telephone voicemail systems have scheduling reminders that ring at a specific time and play a reminder message.
  • Use a tickler file, or another similar type of file, with a section for each month and a section for each day. Put follow-up notices in the file, and review the file each day.
  • Ask your supervisor (or a fellow team member) to remind you of important deadlines or to review priorities and deadlines on a regular basis.

Challenge: Lose Focus Working in an Open Space


  • Ask to move your work area to a more enclosed space.
  • Arrange to work at home.
  • Request to work in a quiet, secluded location that is away from noise and office traffic.
  • Identify alternative workspaces, such as file rooms, private offices, storage rooms, and other enclosed spaces.
  • Use a white noise machine to cover up background noise.

Challenge: Difficulty Following Oral Instructions


  • Ask coworkers and supervisors to tell you important information slowly and clearly, and in a quiet location.
  • Ask coworkers to write down key points or deadlines.
  • Request follow-ups from people. Ask for detailed e-mails.
  • Ask people to demonstrate tasks, then watch you do them.
  • Take notes and review with your boss, or write a memo summarizing the information.
  • Repeat instructions back to people, to verify that your interpretation is correct.
  • Tape-record important procedures and instructions, to play back and review as needed.
  • Ask several people for feedback about how to do a task.

Challenge: Trouble Managing Interruptions


  • Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you need to work without interruption.
  • Write down what you were doing when interruptions occur, so that you can resume your work seamlessly.
  • Do one task at a time. Do not start a new task until you finish your current project.
  • Initiate telephone calls, rather than wait for people to call you back.
  • Ask your supervisor to clarify priorities.
  • Work on major projects early, late, or on weekends, when the office is quiet.

[Get This Free Resource: 19 Ways to Meet Deadlines and Get Things Done]

Challenge: Forget Names and Numbers


  • Create charts (graphic organizers) that allow you to quickly find the information you want.
  • Use Web tools, such as Evernote, that allow you to copy and paste information from websites, create diagrams, record information, and add comments and tags to information that you find. You can send the material to your computer or smartphone and access it.
  • Obtain information ahead of time (such as a list of conference participants), so that you can review names and affiliations before the event starts.

Problem and Solutions

The following can help you determine what kind of accommodations may be useful to overcome difficulties at work:

  • Assess the task that is giving you difficulty. Be specific about the nature of the problem you encounter.
  • Determine the aspect of your disability that is contributing to the difficulty.
  • Find solutions. Consider changes in your work environment, work style, and communication style.

[Download This Guide to 8 Dream Jobs for Adults with ADHD]