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Tips to Help You Succeed at Work

This is the first in our ongoing series on Tips for the Workplace. Check with us each week for more Life Tips.

Managing your ADHD symptoms at work—and managing to get work done despite those symptoms—can be a challenge. Regardless of your occupation, there are deadlines, meetings, and tasks that require attention to detail, utilizing your working memory, and time management skills. Identifying your personal difficulties and then developing workplace “hacks” to meet them can help ensure your success.

“The greatest misconception is that ADHD at work is all negative,” clinical psychologist and author Kathleen Nadeau, PhD, tells Psychology Today. “In fact, if adults with ADHD truly understand themselves and their brains, and plant themselves in the right spot, they can be extraordinarily successful at work.”

Workplace “hacks” to try

What can you do to make your work day go more smoothly? Try these tips:
  • Break all tasks or assignments into bite-size pieces.
    Use these tips to help develop organizational skills and to keep you from becoming overwhelmed:
    • Review your work to identify discrete subtasks, or ask a colleague or supervisor to help you break apart your tasks or assignments. Assign each piece a target date and time for completion. 
    • Before beginning work on each subtask, identify what you’ll need in order to accomplish it. Is the work dependent on the work of others? Talk with them to see when their contributions will be ready or available. If those “dependencies” will hold up your work, go on to another piece of your assignment, one that’s independent of other things that are unavailable or outside your control. 
    • Work through each piece, rather than attempting to tackle the entire task or assignment all at once.
  • Have a calendar with a to-do list that you can carry with you.
    Once you’ve broken those tasks or assignments apart, set them up in your calendar or day planner – either an electronic version or a paper or book version–and carry it with you. Enter the start date and end target date for each task. Start your day by reviewing your calendar and creating your daily to-do list. Carry your calendar with you and mark down important dates or upcoming meetings and any notes from your discussions with others. These tips will help supplement your working memory and reinforce your organizational skills! Don’t berate yourself if your progress is delayed or sidelined by other unplanned tasks that come up, or if unanticipated “dependencies” arise that push out your target completion date. Just adjust your schedule accordingly and move on.

  • Use your tendency toward hyperfocus – but don’t work too long.
    • When you’re into something, stay with it as long as you can. Don’t try to multitask. Use your energy towards your goal and reward yourself in a small way once you’ve reached it. Collect gold stars in your day planner and really reward yourself when you have a whole line of them!
    • At the same time, recognize your need to move around. Plan short breaks in your work and your daily schedule to get up, move, or visit with a colleague. If you can, plan a longer break in your day for exercise or a walk outside. The movement will help you maintain focus when you return to your task, and will also help channel any hyperactivity. 

  • Take notes with your smartphone.
    Instead of jotting down information, use your smart phone to record information. You can use voice-to-text features to send yourself information you need to remember. Or, find an app that makes an audio recording you can listen to at the end of the day to remind yourself of things you wanted to write down earlier. This is another way to help your working memory, while also paying attention to detail.

  • Color code your life.
    Use colors to help you visually organize your work. Assign colors to certain tasks or certain priorities and use sticky notes, pen inks, folders, and notebooks in those colors. That way, when it comes time to do the period-end report or make deliveries, you can gather everything in that color and have all your needed information in one place. This will help both your organizational skills as well as your working memory.
Use what works best for you

Understand that ADHD symptoms can change throughout the years and what worked for you at one time may need to be modified or switched out for a better workplace hack. Sometimes it takes trying out a few different ideas to find the one that will work best for you.

“There is a great deal that you can do to succeed in your career, through understanding your needs, interests, temperament, and abilities, and making smart choices,” Dr. Nadeau says.

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This article appeared in ADHD Weekly on April 13, 2017.

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