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How to Manage ADHD Symptoms at Work

Discover effective strategies for staying focused and productive in the workplace.

Dr Helen Read 15 Apr 2024 5 min Read

Know your ADHD brain and get the best out of it

We’re a funny lot, we high functioning ADHD-ers

Brilliant but stupid!!

Amazing but rubbish!!

Super hyperfocused for hours but procrastinating all day on our admin!!

What to do? How to harness all those amazing superpowers and live your best life when your brain is set up so that as soon as you try to do something, the dopamine ebbs away

Firstly, know your ADHD brain. It’s brilliant, but it doesn’t work like non ADHD brains. It won’t be told what to do. If you have ADHD you can’t hyperfocus on command. If you could, ADHD wouldn’t be something people need treatment for. And since our ability to process language is linked to hyperfocus, without treatment you are going to struggle.

A struggling ADHD brain craves dopamine to make it work better. And in the absence of ADHD medication it can get it by :-

  • Moving around restlessly
  • Changing to a new job
  • Breaking the rules
  • Being annoying
  • Arguing
  • Bingeing on drugs, alcohol, biscuits, porn, shopping etc.

Amazingly, none of these are on the list of top employee behaviours, although they WILL get you noticed at work…for all the wrong reasons..

Don’t despair, these problems are fixable. Here’s what to do :-

Firstly, choose the right job. ADHD people tend to be amazing in a crisis. Although it’s not on the list for emergency service employees, it should be. You really, really want your paramedic or heart surgeon to have ADHD, there is truly nothing like the incredible hyperfocus of ADHD.

Conversely, a boring office job with constant admin is a guaranteed procrastination generator for most ADHD-ers — unless we can bring our passion to do something important and to be recognised and appreciated for our skills. So if you are an amazing organiser or administrator, or someone who actually has a passion for detail and processes, you may find your best career in these areas

Use your reasonable adjustments. I’m in UK, so not fully up to speed on how these might work in other places, but here you can ask for them. You might not get them, but are more likely to if you ask nicely and let your boss know what’s in it for them — you being far more productive. These can include :-

  • Sitting in a quiet corner away from windows
  • Better still, your own office
  • Working from home where possible
  • A standing desk — perfect for restless ADHD-ers
  • Flexible hours — most ADHD-ers are NOT morning people
  • Help with admin
  • Help to break down complex projects and set mini deadlines
  • Avoiding meetings — sending your views and getting an emailed summary after
  • Wearing noise cancelling headphones — visible if you need to be no-chatting

In UK, you can get Access to Work funding for ADHD, which can buy some of this stuff, provide software such as text to speech or recorders, or even provide PA support hours. Don’t be shy, you deserve it and our motto in ADHD is “No prizes for doing it the hard way”

Also remember that while neurotypical colleagues have group social behaviour including understanding how the hierarchy works and how not to get your head ripped off by the boss hard wired in, we don’t. So any time you feel the urge to say what you REALLY think about the boss’s new idea…grab the nearest ice bucket and put your head in it for a long time…

And I have to tell you, we don’t want to take it, but truly getting ADHD medication is the single most effective thing you can do to power up your career and teach your wandering, amazing brain how to get the success it deserves.

Remember when it comes to leaving for work on time, getting your head down, finishing the project most ADHD brains WILL pretty much always want to do something else…..