ADHD and Work

Tips on juggling the demands of your job

The workplace can be tough to navigate for people with ADHD. Sometimes literally so, as piles of papers and files turn your office into an obstacle course. Meanwhile, struggles with time management can lead to frustration, stress, and in the worst-case scenarios, a history of job-hopping and dismissals. Below, we look at the top three concerns and solutions to keep your career on track.

Organization. What’s behind the stacks of stuff? Your desk, yes, but also some common ADHD issues. ADHD may make you forgetful, and, as a result, you organize “linearly.” “You want to stay on top of everything so you keep it in front of you,” explains Nancy A. Ratey, Ed.M., author of The Disorganized Mind: Coaching Your ADHD Brain to Take Control of Your Time, Tasks, and Talents. You also may print lots of documents and online articles and hesitate to toss anything away (after all, you might need it). Both behaviors quickly get out of hand.

How to clean up your act? The first step, says Ratey, is to accept that your brain does not think in an orderly way (and you’re not to blame); the second is to get help. Enlist a "neat-freak" friend or relative to assist with putting systems in place. Or hire a professional. Check out the website for the National Association of Professional Organizers (; you can search for organizers who specialize in working with ADHD clients. 

Deadlines. People with ADHD typically excel under pressure, says Ratey. However, they may wrestle with managing their time and priorities in the time leading up to the due date. The outcome: A frenzied rush to finish and sometimes, a less-than-stellar job.

Ratey recommends ways to even out the workload. Give yourself extra time to finish and set mini-deadlines with built-in accountability. For example, tell your boss that you’ll deliver a draft of the report a week before it’s due. Also, invest in a large calendar so that you “see” time passing. Morning and evening routines (e.g., scanning for important email only, clearing your desk, reviewing your to-do list) help with focus.

Communication. ADHD can affect how you interact with your co-workers. You may zone out during meetings, interrupt others, speak too bluntly, or tell higher-ups where they can, um, stick their Post-its. Ratey advises becoming aware of your behaviors and to prepare—and even practice—for “trigger” situations. 

If your attention wanders in meetings, try to learn as much as you can beforehand (who’s attending, the purpose, etc.) so you won’t get lost. Take notes to engage your mind and reduce fidgeting, or write down your ideas and questions instead of blurting them out. Likewise, if you tend to isolate, keep your door open for part of the day, or ask a colleague to lunch a couple of times a week. And if your impulsivity prompts you to say things you later regret, practice an exit strategy for intense moments (“I need to take a break and get back to you”).

Another tricky situation is being asked to take on a new task when you are not at your desk. The temptation is to say, “sure” and then promptly forget all or part of the request, or only later realize that you have several other projects due the same day. Avoid this by carrying a small notebook with you at all times. Make notes about what you are asked to do, and then say “I would like to help, and I think I can do this, but I want to check my calendar to make sure I can accommodate you.” Then put the notebook in a different pocket or devise a reminder to address this request immediately when you get back to your workspace. Supervisors and colleagues appreciate care and planning, and you will be much happier and less stressed!

“Prepare for the scenarios that take you off-course,” says Ratey, “and you’ll be a lot more productive.”


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