Productivity at Work

DIY ADHD Accommodations for Your 9 to 5 Job

Access to reasonable accommodations often hinges on diagnosis disclosure. If you’re not ready to tell HR about your ADHD, use these creative workarounds to boost productivity.

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Have you tried Google Meet captions? Speech-to-text browser extensions like Read Aloud? How about asking your manager for a pre-meeting agenda, or putting a “Work in Progress” sign on your office door?

Job accommodations make it possible to perform professional responsibilities with a physical or mental disability.1 Documentation of a disability is often required to secure approval of formal accommodations, which can lead to real-life consequences, despite ADA protections. HR channels can also take time to negotiate.

Taking the first step toward workplace accommodations can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or risky. There are plenty of small adjustments you can make at work immediately, for free, and without disclosing a diagnosis.

We asked ADDitude readers: What are your most creative self-accommodations to stay organized, meet deadlines, communicate with coworkers, and satisfy job duties? Read on for reader suggestions, plus additional tips from ADDitude’s recent webinar on invisible disabilities at work.

DIY Workplace Accommodations

When I meet new co-workers, I tell them, ‘I need everything in writing.’ Due to an auditory processing disorder, verbal instructions don’t make sense to my ADHD brain. Being able to search requests in old emails… is crucial for me when working with a team.” — Nicole, Ohio

[Download: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule]

“[My biggest challenge is] staying focused in a therapy session without talking. It’s tough to be present when my brain moves so fast and jumps to the next question. I use a small bicycle chain fidget and I normalize using a fidget for focus and expending physical energy. A good amount of my clients have ADHD, so it helps with modeling. And writing things [down] from the session helps my memory [in the] long term.” — Christina, a clinical social worker in Massachusetts

I have recently developed a strategy where, at the end of each working day, I write a to-do list for the next day. I then take my to-do list to my calendar and time block each of those tasks into the day, leaving space for breaks. It sets me up for the next day and reduces the anxiety and overwhelm I so often experience in the mornings. It also helps to see if I have too much on my to do list and forces me to prioritize.” — Amy

I block out time in sections on Outlook, making myself switch to the next task and adding an extra slot for unfinished work later on in the day. I also draw boxes on a page and group jobs together. I make lists and then assign a number to order them by priority, not allowing myself to deviate — trusting that my previous decision was thought through more carefully, and only changing if new information says I should.” — Laura, U.K.

“I use Tasks in Outlook for everything. Many are recurring (weekly, monthly, yearly) and some are marked important. I have tried so many different approaches, but this gives me the best overview of my tasks by far.” — Maria, Iceland

[Read: How to Finish What You Start]

“I was not getting my post-session paperwork done because I hated doing it! But as a psychologist, notes are critical — especially to prevent liability — so my bosses are always on my back about it. Think of Monsters, Inc.: ‘Where’s your paperwork, Wizowsky?’” I followed a three-step hack. First, I created a contingency that I couldn’t go on any other website until I finished the note. Second, I timed myself to determine just how long it takes to complete a note, which was seven minutes. Third, now that I had a length of time, it was easier for me to focus on this micro-task and manufacture a sense of urgency. I did this by setting a seven-minute timer, and sometimes even racing myself to see if I could beat my average time. Score!” — Michael, a psychologist in New York

“Working memory is a big struggle for me. I’ve developed a system using Microsoft To Do that allows me to keep track of my tasks… One of the most helpful parts is a ‘Waiting for Response’ list. When I send out an email to someone, for instance, and I need a response from them, I’ll add that ‘task’ to the list and give it a due date a few days down the road. If that due date comes, they haven’t responded, and it’s urgent, I know to send a reminder (I then add that reminder email to the task so I know when I followed up). If it’s not urgent, I just extend the deadline a few more days out. This way, nothing falls through the cracks. This process has been instrumental for me to feel like I have a grasp on everything that’s going on. My non-ADHD boyfriend actually adopted the Waiting for Response list himself.” — Natalie, Pennsylvania

“Report writing is very challenging due to the enormous time involved (executive functioning issues, eh). It’s coming along, but there is still a lot of wasted ‘overcompensating time’… One professional writer gave me this tip: Use the ‘kitchen sink’ approach for the first draft. Instead of grinding out hours to compile a dreary first draft, just put down the thoughts in point form. Then go back to it and configure it for the second draft.” — Jonathan, a writer in Ontario

“Something really helpful for me that I haven’t seen anyone else talk about is narrating my activities on paper. I often write conversationally to myself in a notebook as I work through tasks. An actual example from yesterday: ‘Okay, first we’re going to check out that email we’ve been avoiding. He’s referencing drawing A102, let’s go open that up. Cool, done. So he’s talking about room 202, let’s find that room. Okay, I see what he’s saying; there’s no wall type called out. Where can we find that information for him?’ And so on. I’ll often use bullet points or highlight important bits so it doesn’t turn into one big, overwhelming block of paragraph. Narrating my steps like this helps me take what feels like an overwhelming task and slowly walk through it step by step. It also helps with my working memory struggles since my entire thought process is right there on paper whenever I need to look back at it.” — Natalie

“I used to work in a community mental health center and would get interrupted by a phone call multiple times a day. It was necessary for us to log the exact minutes we spent doing something. I found it helpful to keep a designated notebook… to keep track of all of the calls and work that was completed. I also wrote down and highlighted something that had to get finished that day. If it didn’t get finished, I was able to go through the previous pages and simply find the highlighted unfinished tasks. I also started wearing noise-canceling earbuds as the noise would disrupt me and I’d want to engage in random conversations around the office. Keeping the ear buds in limits the distraction and temptations to get off track.” — Leah, Arizona

Additional ADHD Accommodations:

  • Ask your manager if you can minimize marginal functions such as taking out the trash or making photocopies that break up the workday.
  • Put hyperfocus to work. Set aside uninterrupted time to work on a project or task. Be sure to block out meetings and other interruptions during this time.
  • Take advantage of potential coaching or mentorship services offered by your organization.
  • Purchase a white-noise machine.
  • Wear noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Ask about social interactions at work: whether they’re required, and if it’s frowned upon to decline workplace gatherings.
  • Request to receive pre-meeting agendas and post-meeting minutes over email.
  • Advocate for “do not disturb” signs on desks or office doors.
  • If you work better in a closed-off space, request to work in the corner of your office or in a low-traffic area.
  • Ask if an adjusted workday schedule is reasonable — including flexible start or end times.
  • If old office lighting bothers you, ask your office manager to order LED tubes.

Do It Yourself with ADHD: Next Steps

View Article Sources

1U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.) Job Accommodations.