It is a pretty common misconception that people with ADHD are unable to pay attention or focus. After all, it is called “attention deficit” right? The reality is that adults with ADHD can focus. It’s just that we have a hard time staying attentive and focused. That’s especially true when the activity calling for our attention isn’t one that we find especially engaging. Ever struggled to pay attention to a boring lecture? Or stay involved in a business meeting that drags on? The struggle is real, therefore, the pain feels real as well.
That’s because the symptoms of ADHD can make many tasks at work that much more difficult. For instance, inattention can lead to late arrivals, careless mistakes, incomplete projects, and misplaced paperwork. Impulsivity can strain relationships with colleagues or supervisors and feed a short fuse. Adults with ADHD tend to report more conflict and are more likely to receive disciplinary actions including dismissals. They also might spontaneously say yes to projects they can’t accomplish. Generally, adults with ADHD tend to get promoted to a lesser extent, earn less, and are less likely to hold positions of influence. There are however ways you can manage your symptoms and learn the skills to boost your job performance.
1. Identify a Strategic Location
Surprisingly where you sit can be significant. You may find it easier to be attentive if you sit up front, facing the speaker. Arriving early will increase your chances of getting a seat far away from distractions, perhaps that noisy fan or a doorway that has lots of traffic.
What if the event is going to run for several hours? Try changing your seat after each break. A new perspective could allow you to refocus your attention and minimize the boredom. If you will need to work independently for some time, make it clear ahead of time you take occasional breaks and, possibly, change your work location. Let others know that standing up and walking around helps you stay fresh and focused.
2. Visibility is the Key for the Important
Keep the most important stuff for the day like your top three priorities, daily will do’s, appointments, and any other reminders in visible spots at your office. Think computer screens, whiteboards, and walls. Keeping those things on horizontal surfaces like your desk is asking for it to get covered up.
You should also consider a large, desk-sized calendar at work. But instead of putting it on the desk (nix on the horizontal surface), hang it up where you can easily see it. This is for your long-term projects and big events to laser your focus on the big picture for planning your week and days.
3. Pinpoint Your Focus
Say you’re going to attend a meeting, lecture, workshop, or another gathering that requires close attention — prepare ahead of time for the most successful use of your time. Ask for an advance copy of the pertinent materials (agenda, outline, key points, etc.) Take these materials with you to the meeting and use them to guide your active listening and your note taking. Writing as you listen will help you stay focused on what the speaker is saying and less likely to be tempted by the sirens of distraction.
4. Consider Partnering with a Professional
Have trouble figuring out what to do on your own? Then consider seeking out an experienced ADHD coach or mental health professional that specializes in these issues. Many times, they can help you cut through the process and try differently instead of working harder using the same old methods.
5. Focus by Fidgeting
The urge to fidget can be intense so what do you do? Grant yourself permission to go right ahead. If you are not a disturbance to others, then doodling, twirling your hair, folding origami, and so forth can help you pay attention. Other ideas can be chewing gum, spinning fidget rings, sucking on hard candy, or using something squishy or textured to manipulate in your hand might do the trick. Just be sure the fidget is acceptable for the context you will be using it in.
A good resource to explain the importance of fidgeting is the book Fidget to Focus, by Roland Rotz, Ph.D., and Sarah Wright.
6. Get a More Accurate Picture of Your Day
The planner you are using (and you should be using a planning system) should have the time broken down into half-hour segments or even quarter-hour segments. I see too many planners designed with these big open boxes for each day which looks like an endless blob of a day.
Time that has been segmented will give you a more accurate picture of how long each task or activity takes. And when in doubt at how long the task might take, overestimate by multiplying your time estimation by one and half times. So if I guess my research might take one hour, I will multiply one hour by 1.5 to come up with one hour and thirty minutes to slot into my plan.
Having your time segmented into quarter or half hours also gives you the opportunity to break down larger projects and tasks into smaller bites and manage those bites into portions of your day when your cognitive energy and willpower are stronger. Afterward, you have an opportunity to notate the actual amount of time it took and use this as a more accurate timeframe for the next planning session.
7. Ask for What You Need to Be Successful
You can be proactive and ask for adjustments that allow you to function at your best and get the job done. Some ideas might be getting deadlines in writing, working in a less distractible area, or having various places to work from, the use of technology such as noise-canceling headphones, walking meetings, standing desks, and scheduling frequent short meetings to confirm that you are on track will help enormously.
Work can be challenging in so many ways for people with ADHD. But you can develop strategies to help you thrive and excel in your position. Since everyone is different, I encourage you to experiment with various organizing and time management strategies that will boost your focus and then stick with what works well for you.
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach, Owner/Founder