Productivity at Work

Work Challenges: Common ADHD Pitfalls That Kill Productivity

ADHD symptoms and executive dysfunction can show up in the workplace in surprising ways. From inconsistent focus and time blindness to keeping overwhelm in check, here are the top work challenges cited by adults with ADHD, and steps to manage ADHD on the job.

Annie Spratt via Unsplash:
Annie Spratt via Unsplash:

ADHD brings creativity, hyperfocus, curiosity, and other benefits on the job. But ADHD symptoms and executive dysfunction can also cause a medley of workplace problems, from poor time management and focus to challenges with communication and prioritization.

In a recent ADDitude poll, we asked nearly 1,000 webinar attendees, “Which of the following is your biggest ADHD-related challenge at work?” Here are the answers they gave:

  • Focusing consistently: 29.27%
  • Determining and working toward priorities: 21.86%
  • Organizing time and/or documents: 19.42%
  • Tuning out distractions: 9.38%
  • Meeting deadlines: 7.32%
  • Getting to work on time: 6.66%
  • Communicating effectively: 6.1%

Comments and questions from poll respondents provide deeper insight into how ADHD impacts work and productivity:

ADHD Work Challenge #1: Prioritizing Tasks…When Everything Is Important

“I started my business and have too many competing important things, so nothing gets done. Ugh.”

How do I switch tasks without losing track of what I was doing before, and stay on top of immediate concerns as they come up, without failing to accomplish the longer-term planning?”

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #2: Intense Hyperfocus and Trouble Unplugging

“When I hyperfocus, nothing can get me to stop what I’m doing to take breaks or even to stop at the end of the day.

When I am working on a given project, I go down a rabbit hole. Instead of starting on the thing that was ask for first, my creative brain decides that I need to flesh out this other aspect of the bigger project to inform the one that I was supposed to focus on first.”

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #3: Focus and Energy Wax and Wane

“I often have a large energy dip in the middle of the day which can also be paired with a mini-depressive episode. It’s never certain if I’ll fully recover for the rest of the work day.”

“Do you have advice on how to identify your energy patterns? I have some idea but I feel like my energy is somewhat inconsistent.”

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #4: Perfectionism and Overworking

“I feel like perfectionism is my biggest problem. It always take me way longer to complete tasks than it should.

“How the heck to you allow yourself to do the standard and not overdo it by striving for excellence?”

“I am highly praised for my above and beyond skills. So, how do I now go about lowering that bar to stay within a healthy limit for myself and my energy without disappointing my employer?”

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #5: Communicating Needs and Expectations

How can I best articulate my ADHD to a potential co-worker or employer, to honestly map out what to expect, to reassure of the ADHD benefits, to hopefully outweigh their worries?”

When something isn’t possible, how do you say no? I’ve been put in situations at work where I’d said something isn’t possible and been told ‘figure it out’.”

When you work for yourself, how can you manage expectations of what is really achievable in a day?”

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #6: Time Blindness and Inconsistent Time Estimation

How do you negotiate timelines when you don’t know how long something will take? It’s not that it takes two hours – it could take two hours or it could take two weeks if I’m having bad brain time.”

“How do we realistically budget the amount of time needed for a task?”

“I would like to get a mainstream/corp job, but I think I’m unhireable because I can NEVER gauge things.

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #7: On-the-Spot Thinking

“I feel constantly behind the conversation and brushed off because I cannot get my thoughts out.

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #8: Procrastination and Task Initiation

“How to start a task that could be difficult or boring?”

“If something doesn’t feel abundantly clear, or it feels really hard, I push it away until the very last moment until there is no more time to sit on it. I then get hyperfocused and typically figure it out quickly and wish I had just started right away.”

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #9: Managing Emotions and Overwhelm

“How to I get my boss to understand? My rejection sensitive dysphoria is so bad I worry they think I’m exaggerating and making up my problems because I’m lazy – not having a developmental brain condition!”

“Can you talk about the frustration of getting overwhelmed and confused into a meltdown?

“For handling difficult conversations, (and this works well for remote working), I keep a grounding mantra and next steps within view on a sticky note: ‘You’re not in danger.'”

Next Steps:

ADHD Work Challenge #10: Putting Strategies and Tools to Action

“How does an ADHD brain make sure they’re checking their calendar? It’s not typically the adding to the calendar that’s the problem, it’s checking it!

“I’m great at making to-do lists, but I almost never follow through on them because there are distractions, or urgent things come up that I didn’t plan for. Deadlines come and go, and projects aren’t done. That’s the ADHD struggle — using all the tools and having them fail every time.

Next Steps:

To learn more about ADHD at work and to hear expert solutions for overcoming workplace problems, listen to the ADDitude Expert Webinar “GTD @ Work w/ ADHD: How to Set Expectations, Meet Deadlines & Increase Productivity” by Linda Walker, PCC, which was broadcast live on November 14, 2022.

Work Challenges with ADHD: Next Steps

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