Tips for Working Adults with ADD

These simple workplace tips can make a world of difference

Teacher helping students with test tubes & pipette. Credit: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Work can cause many frustrations for those with ADD / ADHD. Finding effective strategies to help you cope with areas of weakness can make a big difference in your work success and overall happiness. Here are some tips and strategies for making your work life easier and more productive.

Top Areas of Work Difficulty

Why is the workplace so tough for people ADD/ADHD? Here are some of the top challenges that may get between you and career success:

  • staying focused on tasks,
  • tuning out distractions,
  • disorganization,
  • taking on multiple tasks and not finishing them,
  • failure to meet deadlines,
  • paying attention in long meetings,
  • missing important details in conversations,
  • boredom,
  • forgetfulness,
  • communicating with others in an effective way,
  • feeling undervalued

1. Avoid Multitasking to Stay Focused

Staying focused and on task is necessary in order to get work completed. Some people find that this is when multitasking becomes a problem. Rather than staying focused on one task, an individual becomes distracted by multiple tasks yet none ever get completed. When one’s mind begins to wander and is distracted, not only does work not get done, many individuals find that they end up working late or taking work home at night or on the weekend in order to catch up. This often creates more stress and less downtime for fun. It also impedes on home life and makes it more difficult to keep a healthy work-life balance.

2. Break Down the Day into Small Blocks of Time to Work on Tasks

You can create a variation on this strategy for the office:

Schedule the full day in 4 2-hour blocks of 45 min, 45 min and 30 min. Then, power down on one project for 45 minutes, then change focus to a different project for 45 minutes, and then take a 30 minute break. This ensures variety and the opportunity to get up and move -- both great ways to complete tasks without too much pain!

3. Break Down the Work into Smaller, More Manageable Chunks

Breaking tasks down into smaller pieces can help you to feel less overwhelmed with all there is to do. When work feels insurmountable, procrastination can quickly take over and it can be hard to get started on any task at all. Chunking work into smaller, more manageable steps helps.

4. Use a Timer

There is more than one way to use a timer. For some people, setting a timer for 45 minutes of work followed by a 15-minute break can make it easier to get through the day.  Shorter work/break periods may work better for other people. The trick is to be sure that the amount of time you allow for work is significant enough to complete a portion of the task at hand -- and that break time is long enough to feel refreshed, but short enough to avoid getting involved in a new activity.

5. Use Visual Reminders

Here is a very creative and fun way to stay alert and focused on tasks: post personalized acronyms around the office to remind yourself of social and work rules that will help you manage your day.

 A few suggestions:

TTF - Time to Focus

LABP - Listen and Be Present

CTT -- Count to Ten

6. Connect with Positive Co-workers

A supportive co-worker who understands your issues with staying on task can be a great help at redirecting you. Some people have found that it has been helpful to share information about ADD / ADHD with their employers and together come up with simple accommodations to make work more successful. For others, however, this has been an area to avoid if possible.

7. Use a Hand-Held "Fidgit" to Help You Focus During Long Meetings

Bring an object with you into meetings - a small ball to roll in your hands, a tactile Koosh ball to squeeze, a pen to twirl through fingers, paper for doodling. A pen and paper are also helpful to use to take notes or jot down any thoughts, questions, or ideas that pop into your head during the meeting. 

8. Check in to Be Sure You Got the Message

If you tend to lose focus while someone is talking to you, try to paraphrase back what is said periodically during the conversation. This keeps you active and involved and helps assure that you are getting and understanding the important points the person is trying to convey.

You can do this by email or memo if it's easier and more effective. Alternatively, if you catch yourself drifting during a conversation and realize you have no idea what was just said, simply ask for it to be repeated.

9. Block Noise to Avoid Distractions

If possible, request a private office and shut the door to block out the distractions from others. If this isn’t possible, ask to be placed in a spot away from the hustle and bustle of the main work area. Of course, these options aren’t always available. Many have found ear plugs, white noise, and soft music to be helpful.

10. Use Planners to Avoid Disorganization and Forgetfulness

Get into the habit of actively using large calendars, day planners, PDAs, daily to-do lists, and routines. Stick with the strategy that works for you.

11. Use Calming Techniques to Keep Temper Under Control When Frustrated

Take a minute to slow down and gather your thoughts. If feelings become too intense, excuse yourself from the conversation until you have better control. Write things down to prepare yourself for what to say. Rehearse.

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