“The world of work can be especially frustrating for adults with ADHD,” according to Abigail Levrini, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the book Succeeding with Adult ADHD with Frances Prevatt, Ph.D.
That’s because the symptoms of ADHD can make many tasks at work that much more difficult. For instance, inattention can lead to careless mistakes, incomplete projects, late arrivals and misplaced paperwork, she said.
Impulsivity can strain relationships with colleagues or supervisors and feed a short fuse. In fact, adults with ADHD tend to “report more conflict with supervisors and are more likely to receive disciplinary actions,” Levrini said. Adults also might impulsively say yes to projects they can’t accomplish, she said.
Overall, “adults with ADHD tend to earn less, are promoted less frequently, and are less likely to hold positions of authority.”
Fortunately, however, you can manage your symptoms and learn the skills to boost your job performance and thrive in your position. These nine tips can help.
1. Have designated spots for key items.
One of the reasons adults with ADHD run late to work – and other appointments – is because they can’t find important items such as their wallet and keys.
In Succeeding with ADHD, Levrini and Prevatt suggest hanging up key hooks under the light switch by the front door. This way, “…as your hand reaches for the switch, you only have to move inches to drop your keys into place.”
Also, on your entryway table, keep a basket or tray for your wallet, watch, cell phone and anything else you need for work. Keep similar baskets or trays on your bedroom dresser, kitchen counter or desk. “Then make a rule that these items are only allowed in one of these containers.”
2. Keep important information visible.
Put to-do lists, appointments and any other reminders in visible spots at your home and office. Think bathroom mirrors, computer screens and walls. If you keep something important on your desk, it’ll just get covered up.
3. Create a place for everything in your office.
That includes everything from paperwork to pens to unfinished projects to completed assignments, according to Levrini and Prevatt. Color-code file folders. Use bright colors, so they become more memorable.
Also, at the end of each day, take 10 to 15 minutes to clean up your office space. Return things to their homes, and toss anything you don’t need.
4. Have a quarter-hour planner.
A quarter-hour planner helps you break down larger projects and manage your time effectively. According to Levrini and Prevatt in their book, you can create this kind of planner in a notebook or with programs such as Google Calendar.
First, list all your weekly tasks and activities, in order of priority. Your list will include everything from showering to driving to work to attending meetings to checking email to grocery shopping to exercising to making dinner to eating dinner to going to sleep.
Then estimate how long each task or activity takes. When in doubt, overestimate.
It’s also helpful to observe a week or two before creating your schedule. Write down how long each task took after it’s completed. This will give you a more accurate picture of your days.
5. Keep a large calendar.
The authors also suggest keeping a large, desk-sized calendar at work. (But hang it up so you can see it.) Include long-term projects and big events to help you see the bigger picture.
6. Sharpen your focus.
In addition to taking medication, which helps with focus, there are many ways to minimize distractions and stay on task, Levrini said. For instance, Levrini and Prevatt suggest considering how you can improve your environment, or if you can work when there’s no one — or fewer people — in the office.
It’s also helpful to pinpoint the specific distractions that get in your way, according to the authors. Then find solutions that target each one. For instance, if you get easily distracted by thoughts of other tasks, keep a notebook beside you. Jot down the tasks, and wait until you’re done with your current task to tackle the ones on your list.
7. Figure out what will help you work better.
What kinds of changes will help you do your job better? “Sometimes just asking for extended time on tasks or a quiet office can cause drastic improvement in work productivity or workplace relationships,” Levrini said.
8. Change things up.
“While each person’s solutions will be different, sometimes just trying something different is the first step, then analyzing what worked and what didn’t work for you,” Levrini said.
For instance, if you end up losing many minutes when you pass a certain co-worker’s desk, she said, take a different route to the restroom. If you tend to misplace your cell phone often, use a paper planner, she said.
9. Work with a professional.
According to Levrini, “if you are having trouble figuring out what to do on your own, seek out an experienced ADHD coach or mental health professional that specializes in these issues.”
Work can be challenging for people with ADHD in many ways. But you can learn skills to help you survive and thrive in your position. Everyone is different, so experiment with various organizing and time management strategies, and stick with what works well for you.