If you’ve been blessed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you likely find it difficult to stay on task. From racing thoughts to chatty coworkers, there’s always going to be something or someone leaving you wondering how to focus with ADHD at work.
But you’re an ADHDer. You’ve spent a lifetime overcoming obstacles and worrying about what to do. It’s time to adjust your perspective. Here’s five things not to do if you’re working with ADHD.
Don’t psych yourself out.
When you have a lot on your plate, getting started is the hardest part. But you can’t let the scope of your work intimidate you.
As an ADHDer, you must divide and conquer. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you shouldn’t expect your proposal to be either.
That said, Rome was eventually built—one brick at a time. And that’s exactly how you should go about any project when working with ADHD.
Before you get started, identify the endgame of the task at hand. Then consider all the smaller things that need doing to achieve that endgame.
There’s a myriad of productivity tips you can try: mind maps, outlines, and to-do lists, to name a few. Embrace what works best for you to complete the task at hand. The satisfaction of completing big tasks in small chunks will motivate you to keep going, and soon you’ll wonder why you were so scared to get started in the first place.
Don’t try to multitask.
While sometimes viewed as a desirable skill, multitasking spells trouble for an ADHDer. The desire (or compulsion) to do multiple things at once is like a devil on your shoulder, beckoning you to find something new as soon as your current task gets dull.
And let’s be real: People with ADHD are easily distracted. The temptation to jump from task to task will leave you with a pile of half completed projects and nothing to show for it.
Don’t listen to the devil of distraction.
Your number one priority as an ADHDer is to stay focused on the task at hand. It may not always be fun—or even interesting—but no matter what, it will always still be there when the distractions fade away.
Don’t neglect your physical health.
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Proper rest helps improve cognitive function. Fueling your brain and body with complex carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats will keep you going and limit stomach growls and snack cravings that can pull your focus away from work.
Also remember to get up and move throughout the workday. Exercise is fantastic way to burn off the excessive energy (and anxiety) that impedes productivity.
Don’t be afraid to speak up.
The open office is the bane of many an ADHDer’s professional existence.
Carol from accounting is a sweetheart, but man does she love to gossip. And why does John from HR always microwave leftover brussels sprouts on Tuesdays? Doesn’t he know you’ve got work to do?!
Your ADHDer brain doesn’t work like your neurotypical colleagues’. You need to take the initiative and remove yourself from the business casual chaos as best you can.
Talk to your manager or HR about setting up an isolated workspace. Using earplugs or headphones with instrumental music will help you block out the noise and stay zoned in. Mute notifications and keep your phone away from your desk.
If you find it difficult to sit still during meetings, bring a discrete fidget toy to fiddle with. Use analog visual reminders like sticky notes on your monitor to remember important deadlines and other to-dos. Timers or methods like the Pomodoro Technique can also help keep you focused and thriving.
Try out different options and find the toolset that works best for you. Pay attention to what feels right and what feels wrong. When everything “clicks,” you’ll know you’re set for success.
Have an honest and respectful conversation with your manager about your condition and how it’s affecting your work life. Explain how executive function doesn’t necessarily come naturally to you. You may be surprised how open they are to helping you manage ADHD at work.
Don’t forget that you’re not alone.
If working with ADHD is leaving you feeling frustrated, exasperated, or even misunderstood, know that you’re not alone. There’s an entire community of children and adults out there dealing with the same distraction demons that you are.
Negative self-talk is one of the many hallmark symptoms of ADHD. Don’t let it get the best of you.
Minding your physical and mental health is especially important if you’re working with adult ADHD. Figure out what you can do to work with your brain, not against it.
Take responsibility (and control) of your situation, and you’ll be astonished by what you accomplish.