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Working With ADHD

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Last Updated on September 19, 2022 by Daniella

I was first diagnosed with ADD/ADHD when I was in 4th grade.

I remember everyone treating it as a learning disability back then but to me, it wasn’t that I couldn’t learn — it was that I couldn’t stay interested in something long enough to care. It was hard for me to find and follow external motivation.

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? As folks with ADHD, the only sustainable way to manage our ADHD is with an external environment that caters to us. External motivation, breaking up tasks into smaller steps for lengthy actions, gamification for completing tasks, time blocking for work, etc.

According to Webmd, about half of adults that struggle with ADHD are able to hold down a full-time job. That isn’t surprising when you take into account how your ADHD affects you at work.

Normally, your environment in your personal life is a lot easier to manage than your work environment. You have more control on your home environment than your work environment, coworkers, boss, etc.

Many bosses and coworkers are often not understanding nor compassionate towards employees with ADHD. They are often seen as lazy which is far from true. This contributes to your overall work environment and experience. The worse your work environment is, the more active your ADHD symptoms might become.

If your work environment is so toxic that you feel like you need a change, use our guide for revamping your resume and making the switch to remote work. Remote work is a great option for folks with ADHD who enjoy working remotely.

Therapy and medication can also be effective but without some change in your everyday environment and process of how you work, it will be a struggle.

I will also say that even with incorporating environmental changes and doing “all the things”, it will still feel like a struggle sometimes. So, let’s talk about ways to manage working with ADHD so you can struggle as little as possible.

Disclaimer: ADHD varies from individual to individual and each individual’s experience can vary. I want to preface this article with that because I know reading the experience of one neurodivergent person’s perspective can get triggering. Keep in mind I also have PTSD and am bipolar, so my ADHD symptoms live among those 2 diagnoses as well.

Managing ADHD With Your Job

Depending on your job, managing your ADHD may be easier said than done. I love time blocking for managing what tasks I need to get done in a day but many folks don’t have the luxury of effectively time blocking at their job. Especially if they work with the general public.

The way I use time blocking that has been able to help are:

  • At the beginning of each week I go through and write out the top 5 most important things I need to complete then block out time on my outlook calendar to get those completed.
  • Then I write down secondary and other items down and make sure I get the time for those also scheduled out.
  • I block out buffer time in the beginning and the end of the day so I don’t get unwanted meeting put on my calendar by colleagues.
  • Finally, I reward myself at the end of time blocks with a break, tea, walk, or anything fun or calming.

Time blocking isn’t a 100% perfect fix. Even with multiple calendar reminders, I can get distracted and click to dismiss the reminders. There are times where something else will come up and I can’t stick to my time blocks. Or I feel drained and shift timeblocks to the next day. Sometimes you have to listen to the signs your body is telling you that you need rest.

I also like to use the timer app on my phone to time the tasks I think will take the longest to complete. That way the next time those tasks come up or a similar type of task comes up, I can better plan. 

Planning seems to be my biggest downfall with work. I lack planning so I either procrastinate or rush to get things done and feel burnt out so I don’t want to continue with that same energy. Sometimes I will even over plan and then get drained from planning. 

Managing ADHD With Your Side Hustle

I’ve tried and started so many different side hustles over the years. The biggest struggle with getting started was staying consistent. 

One week I would dive into my side hustle work, full of excitement and challenge. Then the next, I would feel drained and want to already start putting things off. It was extremely hard for me to set goals and stay on track towards the goals I DID end up setting. 

Since my side hustle was very different from my 9 to 5 day job, I could bring the same kind of energy with trying to control how I worked with external motivation. At my job, it was time blocking and rewarding myself at the end of my timeblocks. At my side hustle, I brough that same sort of gamification energy to my work.

I started time blocking out my side hustle work for the evenings I planned work. I would also set up zoom meetings with friends or use FocusMate for coworking to complete tasks that I desperately wanted to procrastinate. Anytime I wanted to procrastinate on something, that meant the tasks scared me in some way. I had to face the fear head on and the only way to not avoid that is make getting the tasks done so official I can’t flake on it. So, it had to be a formal meeting.

More Tips to Add “External Helpers” to Help You Work Better With ADHD

Finding anyway you can add little “external helpers” to your external work environment will be a game changer for your ADHD. You can add these little by little, one day or one week at a time. Add one to test out, see how it goes, and see how you feel. Then take it from there.

I also suggest keeping a daily ADHD journal to chart how you’re feeling day to day. It’s a great resource as you refer back to it to see what works the best for you.

The most common struggles that folks with ADHD experience are:

  • Overwhelm
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Impulsivity
  • Managing relationships
  • Managing emotions
  • Procrastination

To start with what “external helper” to add to your environment, see which of the above you struggle with most and start there. For example, I constantly struggle with time management so time blocking is something I am constantly using and tweaking.

Other “external helpers” you could try (but are not limited to):

  • Turn your phone off if you can while you work.
  • Use an app like Stay Focused to block site and app usage on your phone while you’re trying to complete tasks.
  • Break down larger complicated tasks into smaller steps with breaks.
  • Use visual timeline charts & visual checklists to stay on top of progress.
  • Record virtual meetings with an app like Otter.ai that auto transcribes your meetings for you.
  • Follow up on visual agreements from meetings with an email to clarify the conversation and deliverables.
  • Use notion templates for general organization and to take and keep notes.
  • Schedule frequent breaks throughout your work day and work hours.
  • Create a playlist of songs that you enjoy and aren’t as distracting that you can put in your ears to work with or use noise cancelling headphones.
  • If you work in an open concept office, see if you can use meeting rooms or negotiate for remote work.
  • If you work remotely, try to create an inviting workspace with little distractions from the rest of your household.
  • Create phone alerts for side hustle work and plan rest and activity in between your work day and your side hustle to find better balance.
  • Talkspace is a great place to start for therapy.

What strategies have you found and used that help you better manage working with ADHD? Let us know in the comments!

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