Living with ADHD can impact your job performance and confidence. But managing your symptoms at work is possible.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that can affect your behaviors, ability to focus, and memory.
Learning to manage the symptoms of adult ADHD is possible. Incorporating new strategies and seeking help can make a big difference when performing at work.
The first step toward managing ADHD in the workplace involves being kind to yourself as you experiment with new coping skills and strategies. At first, this may feel like a process of trial and error.
1. Regimented routines
When you live with ADHD symptoms, you may have trouble arriving to work on time and meeting deadlines. This is because you may get distracted easily and may have a difficult time completing and focusing on tasks.
Creating more structure in your day can help you be more efficient and regain some control.
A 2019 study that examined the strategies of 52 college students with ADHD found that having a structured morning routine was a key factor in improving efficiency.
For example, doing the same things at the same time every day can help with task completion and avoiding procrastination.
At work, you can implement this tip by blocking time on your calendar to do certain things at the same time every day. For example, responding to emails or doing inventories.
2. Pen and paper
It may seem tedious to you, but experts recommend writing down your tasks each day.
A recent study of Japanese university students and graduates found that physically writing something down (instead of using digital tools) increases brain activity and your ability to recall information later.
Checking an item off a list also releases dopamine, which can motivate you.
Try to have a notebook at hand where you jot down your to-do list or any important tasks you need to complete later on.
3. Space bubbles
This may not be possible in every job, but if you have the chance, try to create a bubble around you that limits distractions.
Many people with ADHD find that they’re more productive when there are minimal distractions.
You may not have full control of your work setting, but you can make the most of your work environment by:
- reducing clutter
- listening to calming music or white noise on noise-canceling headphones
- designating “focus time” and asking your coworkers to avoid interrupting you during this time
- limiting decorations, personal photos, and other items that may take your mind away
- posting notes around you with short statements to remind you of important tasks
- limiting access to cellphone during working hours or limiting phone notifications
4. Active communication
When you live with ADHD, you may tend to lose focus during conversations and have trouble remembering things. Perhaps you tend to interrupt others midsentence or get upset. This may lead to facing misunderstandings in your workplace.
It can help to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your manager and other teammates.
“Ask them about their thoughts on your performance. Setting expectations is the key here… It’s a way to catch any problems before they actually happen,” says Tamara Rosier, PhD and president of the ADHD Coaches Organization.
Taking notes on this feedback and reviewing it later may also help you stay on track. It’s possible you feel you won’t forget what others told you but having it written down may come in handy just in case.
5. Treats and rewards
According to a 2018 study, rewarding yourself often for completing small tasks promotes continued engagement.
The key is to wait until you have finished an assignment, says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a psychologist and leadership coach.
If you keep your to-do list at hand, try to check every completed task and then reward yourself immediately or later on for each one.
Rewards can vary depending on your work circumstances. You could try:
- having a snack
- taking a break
- making a quick phone call
- walking around
- checking social media
- drinking your favorite beverage
- picking up food on your way home
- petting your pet
- having lunch at the park
It may help to set a timer for each reward so that if you’re still at work, you can promptly go back to your tasks.
Rewarding yourself for completed steps can also help you with impulse control challenges.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), taking short breaks can also help reduce stress and boost productivity.
6. Coaching and therapy
Sometimes, you need an extra hand when it comes to managing your symptoms at work or in general.
ADHD coaching may support you in developing customized strategies that help you boost concentration and productivity at work.
ADHD treatment is also effective if you’re having a hard time coping with symptoms and everyday challenges. This often includes psychotherapy and medication.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH),
- implement new management techniques
- work through emotionally difficult events
- monitor your own behavior
- give yourself well-deserved praise
When you live with ADHD, looking for a job may feel intimidating and challenging. You may wonder if you should share your diagnosis or if you’ll be able to follow in the conversation during an interview. Feeling this way is natural.
A mental health professional or ADHD coach can support you in developing specific skills for finding a new job. These tips may also help:
You may face some challenges, but ADHD doesn’t prevent you from doing what you love.
When searching for a new job, consider spending some time identifying the kind of job you think will suit you best. This may mean evaluating your current and future career plans.
It may also be a good idea to research the company culture and inquire about its inclusion and diversity practices to figure out if psychological safety at work may be a challenge.
“You deserve a job where you will be able to succeed,” says Meg Leahy, a certified counselor who helps people with ADHD change careers. “This means taking an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses and matching the job you are searching for to your strengths.”
Fast-paced environments, creative roles, and jobs with some structure may be ideal jobs for people with ADHD.
Creating a storyboard can help you form a cohesive career narrative. For example, having an elevator pitch — a 1-minute self-promotion statement.
This may help you deliver your message concisely during interviews, and it’s often a great answer to “tell me about yourself.”
Memorizing this storyboard can also help you decrease the chance of rambling or going off-topic midsentence.
“[Creating a storyboard] can be [done] on a whiteboard, index cards, even post-it notes on the wall,” Leahy says. “This [method] builds confidence as it reduces anxiety.”
For this exercise, try to write down one experience per sheet or index card. For example, you can jot down your:
- first job
- major work accomplishments
- work philosophy
- reasons to want this job
When you’re done, consider laying the cards out in chronological order, and finding the bridge between one and the next. For example, your degree in advertising led you to your first job as a junior account manager.
Storyboards can help you draft a statement that sums up your education, experience, and goals.
Once you’ve researched and brainstormed, consider moving to roleplaying.
“Telling your story isn’t something that happens immediately and perfectly — it’s a process,” Leahy says.
Consider these steps to prepare:
- Google typical interview questions in your industry.
- Compose answers that illustrate your experience.
- Record a video delivering your answers in a conversational manner.
- Make revisions where improvement is needed.
Roleplaying may increase the fluidity of your answers and reduce stress during the interview process.
Finally, try not to talk yourself out of pursuing opportunities. Overthinking can get in your way when searching for a new job. Try to simplify your thought process when deciding to apply to a role or requesting an interview.
“Sometimes people with ADHD think to themselves, ‘I don’t want that job because of fears that this or that might happen,’ which can stall the process of job hunting,” Rosier says.
Typical worries include not being able to complete job duties or not fitting into the company culture.
Many people with ADHD live with an intense fear of rejection, known as rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD). If that’s your case, this can discourage you from applying to jobs even if you’re qualified.
“Go ahead and apply, wait for them to make an offer, go through this discovery process, and then make a decision,” Rosier advises.
Even if in the end you don’t get the job, that interview process has prepared you for your next one.
You can manage ADHD at work. And you can work anywhere if you have ADHD. Many people with ADHD have thriving careers.
“Once they have adjusted to their condition and developed coping mechanisms, adults who have ADHD often perform exceptionally well in the workplace,” Lombardo says.
Using tools and developing new ADHD management strategies may help you reach your full potential.