ADHD at Work

Ned Hallowell on… Climbing the Ladder at Work

The complete game plan for excelling at work: career advice for adult ADHD.

Climb the ladder at work with ADHD
Climb the ladder at work with ADHD

Adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD ADD) are all looking for career advice to help us excel at the workplace. Yet managing rigorous deadlines, demanding bosses, and constant distractions — perennials of the office — are the bane of ADHD adults. Here are valuable tips to help us meet the challenges and rise above them.

Find the right boss.

As Freud said, if you can find happiness in love and work, you will be a happy person. Yet many adults with ADHD mistakenly believe they need to be scolded or reprimanded because they have been scolded their entire lives, and wind up working for controlling people who fail to recognize their talents and strengths. Is this you? If so, reassess. You need to work with, and for, people who find and support the best in you.

Before accepting a job offer, check out the boss. Ask former and current employees whether she has a solid record of promoting people. Is she supportive? Do people respect her? How did she get to where she is? Trust your intuition. An associate of mine turned down an exciting job offer when her prospective boss said, “Of course, you’ll have to learn steno with the other girls!” Neither the steno nor “with the other girls” sat well with her.

If you work for someone who demeans you and your performance, and you can’t find a way to resolve it, try to move to another department within the company-or to another company.

Do what you’re good at.

You probably spent your childhood trying to get better at what you were bad at. The time for that is over! If you can’t assess your strengths, talk with close friends or a career coach to help you list them. A supportive boss can help you with this; ask whether part of your periodic review can be spent discussing your strengths.

Get well-enough organized.

By “well-enough,” I mean organized to the point that disorganization doesn’t impact your work. The devil is indeed in the details. Details may be boring, but you can find ways to manage them.

Take care of your brain.

Your brain is your biggest asset at the workplace. First, you need to feed it right. Meals that maintain steady insulin levels — plenty of protein and fiber — will help you avoid periods of low mental performance. Taking omega-3 fatty acids may also improve focus.

Regular aerobic exercise elevates levels of our favorite brain chemicals — dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Engaging in physical activity is like taking a little Prozac and Ritalin. And make sleep a priority, rethinking your morning and evening routines, if necessary.

Find a “closer.”

Just as baseball teams have a closer — a pitcher who’s brought in to win the game in the eighth or ninth inning — so should you. How many projects are lying idle on your desk? If you can’t count them all, ask your boss if you can enlist a coworker with closing skills to help out. Think of this strategy as a way to help both your job performance and your job satisfaction.

Last but not least, have a full evaluation of your ADHD. Treating the condition appropriately can lead to improved self-confidence and a better understanding of your strengths. Also, look into career counseling. Some medical centers offer programs designed for those with learning disabilities or ADHD. Take advantage of the advice — and start climbing the ladder at work.