Top Ten ADHD Traps in the Workplace
Advice for ADHD adults whose symptoms and behaviors impact their job performance and the workplace.
How those adult ADHD symptoms - distractibility, impulsivity, hyperactivity, memory problems, and boredom - affect your job and what to do about them.
Many people with ADHD ask, "What are the best jobs for someone with ADHD?" If you talk to a number of ADHD experts, you will receive a jumble of responses. Some feel that entrepreneurial activities, allowing maximum freedom, are best for those with ADHD. Others will recommend stimulating, action-oriented jobs - pilot, fireman, rescue worker.
If you poll a large group of adults with ADHD who are successful in their work, however, you will discover that adults with ADHD are achieving positive results in a huge array of careers including teachers, computer scientists, attorneys, photojournalists, and almost any other type of career you can name.
A better question to ask, in seeking career advice, is what are the characteristics that make a particular job "ADD-friendly"? The truth is that almost every career path contains jobs which are very good for someone with ADHD, as well as those which could be disastrous for someone with ADHD. The key is to find or to create ADD-friendly jobs within your career track.
Step one is to find a career track which is a good match for you. To do this you need to consider your:
- Personality type
- Areas of strength
- Areas of weakness
- Level of training
Once you have honed in on a career track, and have received the type of training you need to pursue this career, then is the time to think about "ADHD Traps" at work, and how to minimize or avoid them in your job search. What are some of those typical traps? Not surprisingly, many of those "traps" read like a list of ADHD symptoms. Dealing with those potential traps requires careful consideration before you accept a job, but will also require that you become "ADD-savvy" once you are on the job. And remember, if at first you don't succeed, ..... Don't lose heart. You may need to go through a series of jobs, either within an organization, or among several organizations before you have learned enough about your own patterns and needs to make the very best choice.
The "Top Ten ADD Traps" at work and what to do about them:
Distractions can be "external" in the environment, or "internal", i.e., distracted by our own meandering train of thought. External distractions are rampant in the current open office environment, which is very ADHD-unfriendly. Here are a few ideas for coping with external distractions:
- Ask for flex-time in order to have some less-distracting time at work.
- Ask for permission to work at home part of the time.
- Use head phones or a white noise machine to muffle sounds.
- Face your desk away from the line of traffic.
Ask to use private offices or conference rooms for periods of time.
Internal distractions can be even tougher to avoid, but here are some tips.
- Write down your intrusive ideas so you can get back to task.
- Use a beeper to sound at regular intervals to remind you to come back "to task."
- Work at a particular task for briefer intervals, and shift to a new task when you find your attention wandering. This technique may work best at tasks which you find boring and repetitive.
Impulsivity can take a number of forms at work - but the common denominator is lack of thought before action!
- If you impulsively commit to projects and then can't follow through, develop the habit of saying, "I'd like to, but let me check my schedule."
- If you are an impulsive job-hopper, catch yourself before you "take this job and shove it." It may help to talk your dissatisfactions over with a friend or spouse, and look for less drastic solutions.
- If you impulsively blurt out comments in meetings which you later regret, learn to take notes, write down what you're thinking of saying. This will give you time to consider - is this a good thing to say? What is the best way to say it?
- If you impulsively jump into complex projects without a plan, which can lead to enormous inefficiency and increased cost, team up with someone who is better at planning an organizing. That way your energy and enthusiasm can be put to positive use!
Many jobs today are sedentary, and are poorly suited to ADHD adults on the hyperactive end of the continuum. If you tend to tap, pace or wander throughout the building aimlessly your hyperactivity may be misconstrued negatively as boredom or poor motivation. Here are some coping techniques.
- Engage in "intentional fidgeting" by taking notes during meetings - you'll look interested, not bored (but don't doodle!).
- Plan your day to include productive movement - picking up the mail, talking to a colleague, walking to a meeting the long way.
- Bring your lunch and exercise during your lunch break.
Look for work which requires movement - from one job site to another, multiple contract jobs, or work which is outdoors or on your feet.
"Forgetfulness" is often a daily problem for adults with ADHD. The more complex or high stress your day is, the more likely you are to forget. What to do???
- Live by the rule - "Do it now or write it down."
- Don't just write it on a scrap of paper - keep your agenda with you at all times.
- Learn to check your agenda often during the day.
Set beepers or timers to remind you of times to make a phone call or leave for a meeting.
Many adults with ADHD comment that they "can't stand to be bored" and that they are very prone to boredom. The first and most important step to avoid boredom is to select a career path which is of high interest to you. Even in the best chosen of careers, however, boredom can enter in. Here are some tips.
- Do the boring stuff at high energy times of the day. Don't wait until you are tired.
- Delegate boring tasks whenever possible. What is intolerable to you may seem like an easy task to someone else.
- Break boring tasks up into small bites.
- Recognize your need for change and stimulation and actively work to introduce more change or challenge into your work life.
Time management problems
There are several types of time management problems which are classic to adults with ADD. You may recognize yourself in some of these dilemmas.
- Hyperfocusing - Oh, no! It's what time? I should have left 20 minutes ago! If you get caught up in what you're doing and lose track of time, develop the habit of setting a beeper to go off when you should leave.
- Running late. Also often known as "just-one-more-thing-itis" Plan to be early, and take something to do when you get there (a book, paperwork) to counteract your "I-hate-to-wait-itis". Catch yourself answering the phone, or doing one last little task, stop, and remind yourself - "It's time to leave. I'll do that later."
- Over-commitment - Many ADD adults tend to cram far too many things into each day. This leads them to be highly stressed and usually late to each of the day's commitments. Try to consciously under-commit your time. There are always things you can do if you find free time on your hands, and you'll find you're doing things more effectively because you're not always rushed.
Procrastination can be a tremendous stumbling block for adults with ADD. Although everyone procrastinates to some extent, it is often a huge problem for those with ADD. Deadlines serve as starting points rather than finishing points - leading to huge time crunches, all-nighters, and projects and proposals turned in late, time after time - not a good way to promote yourself as an effective, responsible professional.
1- Look for work that requires more immediate responses by its very nature. This eliminates the possibility of procrastination.
- Build in rewards for completing undesirable tasks.
- Request closer supervision. Procrastination flourishes in secrecy!
- Difficulty with Long-term projects
Problems completing long-term projects are often related to a cluster of difficulties including poor time-management, procrastination tendencies, and difficulty with planning and organization. For adults with ADD, participation in long-term projects usually works best if you can:
- Team up with others to work in close-cooperation. Weekly or even daily team-meetings can help you stay on-track.
- Break the project down into stages, estimate the time required by each stage.
- In planning, start at the due-date and then work backwards in your calendar, setting dates for the completion of each part of the project.
- Review your progress regularly with your supervisor.
- Identify parts of the project that you are having trouble with - and actively identify a solution. Ask yourself - Do you have the knowledge or resources for this portion. Do you need the help of another team member?
Paperwork is typically the "black hole" in the workplace for adults with ADD. Paperwork requires organization, self-discipline to complete boring tasks, and attention to detail - all of which are typically difficult for those with ADHD.
- Look for work which minimizes paperwork.
- Look for ways to streamline your paperwork. Can you dictate and have someone else type your notes for you?
- Do your paperwork FIRST before you are tired and frustrated from other events of the day.
- Ask for help before you have created an insurmountable mountain of paperwork.
- Develop a filing system which is SIMPLE - then USE IT!
Many adults with ADHD engage in behaviors on the job which bother co-workers, and about which they are completely unaware! Feedback from a trusted friend or spouse can help build awareness. Here are some typical ADHD interpersonal patterns which you may need to monitor in order to minimize.
- Monologuing - Some individuals with ADHD become so engrossed when they are talking about a topic which interests them that they forget to monitor the reactions of their audience - are they interested in what I'm saying, or are they giving signs that they would like to shift the topic or leave the interaction?
- Interrupting - This is a widespread pattern, rarely meant to be rude, but which often results in irritation and resentment over time. In meetings write your comment down if you're afraid you'll forget. In conversation, monitor yourself, and apologize and stop talking if you catch yourself interrupting.
- Being blunt. This gets back to that old truism - "It's not what you say, but how you say it." Some adults with ADD blurt out a reaction without taking the time to phrase it in a sensitive fashion. If you are one of those adults who congratulates yourself on your "refreshing honesty", you may want to ask for a little feedback about how your comments are taken.
Now that we've covered the "top ten traps" at work, I hope that you come away with the message that these traps are manageable, both through careful job selection, and through honest self-assessment and self-management. If you are in a job where you are experiencing serious difficulties don't immediately assume that you are in the "wrong job." Try some of the coping tips mentioned in this article before deciding that you need to move on. Don't get caught in the biggest trap of all - that dream that somewhere the "perfect" job exists which won't require any efforts or adjustments on your part. Yes, you need to make an "ADD-savvy" job choice, but also you need to take charge of your ADHD - by understanding your needs, knowing your limits, knowing when to ask for help, and learning how to emphasize your strengths and talents! Good luck in staying out of the traps and heading for a hole in one!
About the author:
Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized expert on Attention Deficit Disorder in adults, and the author of several books on adult ADHD, including: ADD in the Workplace, Choices, Changes and Challenges. She is a frequent lecturer and consultant on issues relating to ADD in the workplace. Dr. Nadeau is co-editor of ADDvance Magazine
Top Ten Tips for Workplace Success with ADHD
Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D.
Author of ADD in the Workplace
- Minimize paperwork to maximize success
- De-stress to avoid distress
- Plan to be early to arrive on time
- Simplify your filing system
- Do it now or write it down
- Negotiate for tasks that call on your strengths
- Schedule interruption-free time blocks
- Focus on ADD solutions, not ADD problems
- Get everything in writing, don't depend on your memory.
- Focus on task completion - no loose strings!
This article was originally published in Attention!® Magazine, the bi monthly magazine of CHADD. http://www.chadd.org./ Reprinted with permission from the author.
Last Updated: 14 February 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD