You don’t need to have ADHD to experience stressful days with crossing tasks off your to-do list. Busy and overwhelming days happen to everyone. Truth be told there will always be occasions when there is far more work to be done than is possible or reasonable.
At the Center we have worked with many who struggle in the workplace. They come to coaching with questions like…Am I in the right job? Why is this so hard for me? Do I need to change careers? What can I do to save my job? The answers to these questions will vary based on individual situations.
The first step is figuring out the crux with the struggles:
- Poor job fit – Does the work align to your strengths? Is there a disconnect in your work with your values, interests, and passion to contribute?
- Unhealthy work culture and environment – Is there a lot of pressure to do more than reasonable? Are you weighed down by excessive stress or overloaded by work-place drama?
- Challenges with weaker executive function skills – Are you finding it difficult to manage time, stay organized, get started with work, figure out where to start, stay on top of what’s important with deadlines in ways that interfere with your productivity?
- Overcommitted – Have you taken on too many projects and responsibilities leading to overwhelm and burnout?
- Neurodiverse-friendly strategies – Have you figured out best ways to approach your work in ways that support your unique brain wiring?
With each of these, there are different solutions. For any of the reasons above, our ADHD may get the best of us. Our work and contributions should give us the opportunity to leverage our strengths as much as possible. Connecting to what we do on a deeper level and feeling acknowledged and rewarded in our work adds to our happiness and fulfillment. The first two struggles above may require working with an ADHD Career Coach and evaluating the options of a different path in your career. The latter three, weaker executive function skills, overcommitment and lack of neurodiverse-friendly strategies can be addressed with an ADHD Productivity Coach or our Productive Days Program. Bottom line, busy work days rely on self-awareness and strong executive function skills and strategies. Learning how to leverage strengths and bridge on executive function skills can make a big difference in what you experience. Below are eight executive function skills needed most in a complex and demanding work environment:
- Focus – to be able to identify what to focus on and sustain that attention.
- Working memory – to be able to recall and work with fluid information while working on tasks.
- Emotional regulation – to manage feelings of frustration and overwhelm that send emotions reeling so we can keep working.
- Organization – to find what we need, when we need it, and approach our work in an organized fashion.
- Time Management – to plan our time, be aware of time passing, and estimate how long things take fairly accurately.
- Planning and Prioritization – to plan actions and prioritize our work based on urgency and importance.
- Task Initiation – to be able to get started with what we intend to do
- Goal-directed persistence and follow-through – to remember, persist and complete a task or project
Some of these executive function skills are strengths, while others are less developed with having ADHD. Less developed skills lead to struggling with overwhelm, dread and shutdown, falling behind, missing deadlines, forgetting important details, finding ourselves off track as time continues to flow by. The secret is using more of your strengths to offset them.
Until we work on bridging the gaps, we will continue to struggle. Enough days like this and it’s easy to begin questioning the ability to do the work or even worse fearing the loss of our job. We dread starting the day and struggle with burnout.
Here are a few quick ideas to help with executive function skills to get started:
- Focus: Pick up what you need to work on and go somewhere there are no distractions or piles of work calling out to you for your attention.
- Working Memory: Ditch the sticky notes and switch to a spiral bound notebook as a tool to help you track what you need to remember in the moment.
- Emotional Regulation: Get to know your triggers and try to strategize ways to avoid them. When you are triggered, stop, take a break and calm down to help you get back on track.
- Organization: Work with someone to help you arrange your paperwork, emails, work supplies and such in a way that are easily retrievable and in a system that is easy to maintain
- Time Management: Create a map of your day with scheduled commitments and open time blocks to follow along as you go. That way if you get derailed, you can return to the map and restart where you need to be.
- Task Initiation: Stage all you need for what is hard to start the night before and have it waiting for you as the first or second task of your day.
- Planning and prioritization: Pick your top three priorities for the day – two being urgent and important, and one being not-urgent but important.
- Goal-directed persistence and follow-through: If you find yourself in situations where you can’t act on or finish what you start, set an alert on when you will pick it up next and make a note of next steps to make it easier to begin again.
The good news is there is a way forward to better days. Before you switch jobs or throw in the towel consider how ADHD coaching or Executive function skills coaching can help. We work with clients to help them with career planning and leveraging their strengths and building new skills and strategies that can help.
What rings true in this article for you? How does it inform what you want to do next to create happier days on the job? How might a coach help you do that?
Robin Nordmeyer, PCAC
Owner, Founder | ADHD & Executive Functions Coach