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Making Your ADHD Work in the Office

A smiling black woman with ADHD presents information to her colleagues during a meeting.
Getty Images /UberImages

ADHD is not an “occasional” disorder. From the time I wake up in the morning until I lay my very tired head down at night, it is with me.

No matter how much I want it to go away, it’s there, distracting me and causing me to do (or not do) things I’d like to, or have to, do. Because my ADHD is present all the time, I carry it with me everywhere, from my bedroom to the office.

In my experience, ADHD at work can be a big problem. In order to manage it, you need serious coping skills in place to ensure that you are being the best you can be. After all, poor work performance can lead to disciplinary action, less work satisfaction, or even termination. That’s not the life you want for yourself. If you find yourself struggling at work, check out a few tips and suggestions that have worked for me.

Managing deadlines

Deadlines are a challenge for people with ADHD. A friend once joked that I must enjoy the whooshing sound that deadlines make as they fly by. She wasn’t entirely wrong.

What happens in the case of deadlines is that us folks with ADHD love to procrastinate. It’s like a mental block when it comes to getting things done. We want to be productive, we want to do well, but we just can’t seem to.

One night, I found myself working at the office for so long that I saw the sun come up. I then had to go home to shower, just to come back to work my normal hours. From that day on, I swore that I’d never procrastinate on a deadline for that long ever again.

To fix this issue, I began to start projects earlier. For some reason, the deadline in my mind means that I don’t have to think about the project until that day. In order to counteract that thought, I have begun to start projects earlier than the deadline, and break them down into little pieces.

It doesn’t sound like a large step, but starting to think about the project earlier usually means that it gets done ahead of time, which is a big change from the norm.

Setting up your workspace

If you’ve ever seen the workspace of a person with ADHD, you already know that it can be described as scattered — if you’re being friendly. If you’re being honest, you might call it a disaster.

For some reason, we tend to pile work all over our desks. The result is that nobody else can find anything, even if we ourselves can. One time, I worked at a job where there were a great deal of sensitive files. If one of them went missing, you were surely able to find it on my desk, buried under piles of paper. Needless to say, I didn’t do well there for very long.

Here’s my suggestion if you also keep a pile on your desk: baskets. Color coordinate them so that you can tell what each pile means. This will allow you to keep everything on your desk without it looking like a trash heap or an eyesore.

Take what works for you, and refine it so that you aren’t disrupting anyone.

Avoiding distractions

Avoiding distractions at work can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. All that you need to do is follow a few simple guidelines to make it easier on yourself.

For instance, social media use is allowed at many workplaces, but not everything that is permissible is beneficial to you in the long run. Social media can be extremely distracting to everyone – not just those of us with ADHD.

Talking to coworkers can also be a huge distraction. I once found myself talking to a coworker, and before I knew it, an hour had passed! Part of the reason why this is such a challenge is because people with ADHD struggle with time blindness. This makes it more difficult to tell when time has passed, especially if we’re having a good time.

If you’re going to take the time to talk with a coworker, that’s fine, but keep the conversation to a minimum as much as possible. Doing so will help you stay on task and prevent you from getting carried away.

Dealing with lunchtime and breaks

Taking your lunch or a break is necessary during your workday, but this can also be troublesome for those living with ADHD. This is where time blindness comes into play again.

If you’re having a fantastic lunch with great conversation, it’s easy to lose track of time and come back late. The best tip that I can give you is to use timers. I use these any time that I have to be somewhere at a specific time and to keep track of how long I’ve been there.

When time is up, they’ll ring and alert me. This helps keep me on track and let me know how much time has elapsed. It really gives you a chance to enjoy yourself without worrying about lateness, while keeping you on track at the same time.

The takeaway

The workplace can have many trouble spots for a person with ADHD, but it doesn’t have to be hell to get through a day at the office. Give yourself the space you need to get everything done on time, set your desk up to be less of a distraction, and monitor your time using an external device. You won’t always be perfect, but nobody is. Soon you’ll be back to succeeding again at the office!

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

ADHD-US-NP-00024 JULY 2018

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