How to Manage ADHD in the Workplace: Tips and Strategies

Getting diagnosed with ADHD or navigating through undiagnosed ADHD challenges us in so many ways. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can pose unique challenges in the workplace, from difficulty staying focused and organized to navigating social interactions with colleagues. However, with the right strategies and support, individuals with ADHD can not only succeed but thrive in their careers.

From identifying your strengths and weaknesses to finding the right accommodations and seeking support, this guide offers valuable insights for anyone looking to improve their productivity, overcome obstacles, and achieve their career goals despite the challenges of ADHD. Whether you are a seasoned professional or just starting out in your career, this guide has something to offer for anyone seeking to manage their ADHD in the workplace.

ADHD in the workplace

An illustration about ADHD with arrows pointing towards all directions
Photo credits: Tara Winstead

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people of all ages, including adults in the workplace. Individuals with ADHD may struggle with attention, organization, time management, and other executive functioning skills that are essential for success in the workplace. However, with the right strategies and support, individuals with ADHD can not only succeed but thrive in their careers.

From my experience, it’s been quite a roller-coaster ride about managing ADHD in the workplace. Some companies or employers may not fully understand how diverse we are. There was a time when I felt comfortable with a team leader and shared my mental health diagnosis. He told me that he’ll educate himself about ADHD, and that was a green flag for me at work.

Consequently, there are other leaders who don’t lead but boss around people. From experience, these people may not be fully equipped or educated about how special or the reality of mental health.

Most adults with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) don’t realize how good they are. After a lifetime of struggles and criticism, they see themselves in a far less favorable light than the rest of the world sees them. It’s hard to put your best foot forward when you don’t think there’s all that much good about you!

Edward Hallowell, M.D.

ADHD in adulthood

The symptoms of ADHD in adulthood can present differently than in childhood and can have a negative impact on an adult’s ability to succeed in the workplace.

Those with an ADHD diagnosis can work with a counselor to develop strategies to target their symptoms, but adults who have not been diagnosed may feel like they are to blame for their workplace challenges. They may be unfairly labeled as lazy, unmotivated, or unreliable. Seeking a diagnosis and understanding how ADHD affects them can help adults find the support and strategies they need to succeed in their careers.

Here are some symptoms of adult ADHD that you may not be aware of:

  1. Difficulty with organization and time management: Adults with ADHD may struggle to stay on top of tasks and deadlines, and may have difficulty prioritizing their work.
  2. Poor attention and distractibility: Adults with ADHD may have difficulty sustaining attention and may become easily distracted by external stimuli.
  3. Impulsivity: Adults with ADHD may struggle with impulsive behavior, such as interrupting others or speaking before thinking.
  4. Hyperactivity or restlessness: While hyperactivity may be less obvious in adults with ADHD, they may still experience feelings of restlessness or a need to keep moving.
  5. Difficulty with multitasking: Adults with ADHD may struggle with multitasking and may need to focus on one task at a time.
  6. Forgetfulness: Adults with ADHD may forget appointments or deadlines, or misplace important items.
  7. Difficulty with social interactions: Adults with ADHD may struggle with social cues and may interrupt others, struggle to listen actively, or have difficulty maintaining eye contact.

You may notice either of these, or perhaps a number of these happenings. Believe me, searching for symptoms on the internet may not be the best thing to do. The best way to know if you have ADHD is to consult a psychiatrist.

If you feel scared or anxious about consulting a doctor, it’s okay. It’s best to consult when you’re ready. Some countries provide healthcare for their citizens, and I think you should grab that opportunity. If you’re someone in the Philippines, that may be tough, as it could get expensive. Nevertheless, you can try looking through NowServing app or KonsultaMD.

Here’s a free resource that can help you:

How to manage ADHD in the workplace?

Managing ADHD in the workplace can be a challenging process that requires patience and self-compassion. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you experiment with new coping skills and strategies.

The process of finding the right strategies may feel like a trial and error process at first, but it’s important to persist and keep trying new things until you find what works for you.

Here are some tips and strategies that may help you manage ADHD in the workplace:

(1) Create routines and habits that you can adhere to

Living with ADHD can make it difficult to arrive to work on time and meet deadlines. The symptoms of distractibility and difficulty focusing on tasks can create challenges in the workplace. To combat these challenges, creating more structure in your day can be helpful in regaining control and improving efficiency.

A 2019 study of 52 college students with ADHD found that having a structured morning routine was a key factor in improving efficiency. By doing the same things at the same time every day, individuals with ADHD can improve task completion and avoid procrastination.

In the workplace, you can implement this tip by blocking time on your calendar to do certain things at the same time every day.

For example:

  • Respond to emails during the first hour of your work.
  • Create time blocks that will help you focus throughout the day.
  • Connect your habits to objects that you frequently use.

(2) Write down notes

A recent study of Japanese university students and graduates discovered that writing information down manually over using digital tools can increase brain activity and improve information recall later on.

This finding suggests that using handwritten notes or planners may be a more effective strategy for individuals with ADHD who struggle with attention and memory. Incorporating handwritten notes into your workday may help you retain information better and improve your overall productivity.

So, you may practice this by having a jot pad or a handy notebook and pen in your workspace. This will help you write down important notes that you need to remember, especially if you’re attending meetings. But, it’s not all bad to keep a digital notebook.

To be honest, I have a digital notebook and a paper notebook for quick notes. I organize my written notes in my digital notebook (OneNote) so I tick them off when I accomplish the pending items. There’s that boost you feel or get when you check items on your to-do list or even on your goals list. Isn’t it satisfying? 😏

(3) Organizing and improving your memory

If you’re an adult with ADHD, you may struggle with poor organizational skills and memory problems. These symptoms can make it difficult to manage your time effectively, which can impact your success in the workplace. It might be hard to remember things during meetings or instructions if all of those are given verbally.

There are times that you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks you have on your plate. In the end, you may succumb to what we call “ADHD paralysis.” I’ve experienced this wherein I would spend hours in my bed or my recliner thinking about how to start or even where to start. Then, I hate myself for spending so much time lounging, and I feel unproductive.

So, how do you slowly strategize over this paralysis?

  • Planning out your day. You can use a project management app like Asana or Trello to help you list down your priorities for the day. I recently moved my digital planner to Asana to help me quickly see a calendar view of my tasks, errands, and reminders. It helps me get a dopamine boost when I check the task cards.
  • Recording meetings with consent. Instead of trying to absorb the information given verbally, recording meetings can help you remember if you play back the crucial details of the meetings you have. Though, remember to ask permission or inform your colleagues that you’ll be recording the session, so they would know.
  • Create alarms and reminders to remember appointments and meetings. There are times that we fall into deep focus and become time blind. So, we miss meetings or events that we previously agreed to. To prevent that from happening, you can create alarms when you get the calendar invite to remind yourself.
  • Write down notes. As previously mentioned, writing down notes helps us remember things. It helps us find a way to remember what we are supposed to do. If you’re leaning toward a more digital system, try using the native notes app on your phone or a digital journal and planner.
  • Break down big tasks into smaller tasks. Creating smaller tasks helps reduce feeling overwhelmed. It helps you see the tasks as something that’s easier to do. Once you get the groove of it, it will feel natural as time goes by.

(4) Taking breaks to outsmart hyperactivity

Adults with hyperactive ADHD need to take breaks to cope, or it may cause restlessness or boredom, or feeling a bit stressed. It might be difficult to become productive when you feel like doing something else than what you’re supposed to do.

In my case, I use a Pomodoro timer that helps me set focus times and breaks. The breaks help me recharge and recenter, so I can focus and accomplish my tasks. Every time that I am on break, I get up and walk around my flat. It helps to refresh my eyes too since I work in front of my PC. Since I have plants in my flat, it helps my eyes too.

Try these tips to help you with hyperactivity:

  • Take breaks after you accomplish a task.
  • Walk around the office or your home if you work remotely.
  • Keep a stress ball or any fidget toy in your workspace.
  • Try meditation or other mindfulness practices.

(5) Managing distractions

For individuals with ADHD, managing distractions in the workplace can be a significant challenge. The symptoms of distractibility and difficulty focusing on tasks can make it difficult to stay on task and complete work efficiently.

However, with the right strategies and support, individuals with ADHD can learn to manage distractions in the workplace and achieve success in their careers.

Here are some tips to help you reduce distractions in the workplace:

  • Use noise-canceling headphones during your focus time. It helps you reduce distractions if you’re working in the office.
  • Decluttering your desks. Reorganizing your desk will help you clear your mind and also remove potential distractions that will put you out of focus. Only put the items that you need the most when you work.
  • Set boundaries for your colleagues at work. If it’s time for you to focus, tell them that you need to step away from socializing.
  • Stay away from your phones or create a phone routine that will silence them during focus time. Limiting your access to certain apps that may distract you, like social media apps. Whenever you see notifications popping in and out of your phone, that will disrupt your focus and pull you into a rabbit hole. There are certain phones that let you create routines to block notifications or access to specific apps during certain times.

Final thoughts

Managing distractions in the workplace can be a significant challenge for individuals with ADHD, but it’s not impossible. By identifying specific distractions, setting boundaries with colleagues, using a task management system, taking breaks, and limiting technology use, individuals with ADHD can improve their focus, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.

It’s important to remember that managing distractions is a process that may require patience and persistence. What works for one person may not work for another, so it’s significant to experiment with different strategies and find what works best for you.

Overall, by seeking support and implementing effective strategies, individuals with ADHD can manage distractions in the workplace and achieve success in their careers. With the right tools and a supportive work environment, individuals with ADHD can thrive and reach their full potential in their chosen field.

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