How to Succeed at Work With ADHD

D.R. McElroy

Here are some tips I've discovered. · 4 min read by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

ADHD/ADD can be a real drag: forgetting where we put things, losing track of time, being easily distracted. All of these problems and more can make us want to throw up our hands and give up…or, if you’re like me, maybe pound your head on the wall until the endless clamor in the brain stops. No? Just me?

The thing is, there are a number of ways that those of us who suffer from this brain variation can cope with its less desirable aspects. I’ve written elsewhere about what it's like to have ADD as an adult. Now, I’ll show you how I’ve learned to succeed despite this diagnosis.

1. Identify your strengths.

You may not know this, but people who have ADD actually have advantages when it comes to certain types of skills. For example, our brains are highly adept at pattern recognition. You know, like being able to “find the difference” in puzzles that use similar images.

We also excel at isolating information from fast-moving images. Many of us are superb speed-readers (not me), while others are great at spotting the easter eggs in a movie (me.)

Because our brains move fast, we’re used to taking in a lot of information all at once, usually leaving the disseminating of it until later. Here are some skills that use pattern recognition:

  • sorting things (widgets, pages, sizes, colors, numbers, etc.)
  • filing/shelving/supply management
  • warehouse management
  • editing/proofing (this is me!)
  • scheduling
  • coding
  • reverse engineering
  • building

Other ADD brain skills include creative problem-solving, outside-the-box thinking, enthusiasm, hyperfocus, and others. Spend some time really identifying where your strengths lie; we all have them. Once you know a few of them, it’s time to apply them at work.

2. Do what you’re best at when your energy is LOW.

Did I just make you shout, “What!” Hear me out: It’s fine for neurotypical people to sit down at their desks and do what they do best when their energy is high. Doing this allows them to finish projects relatively quickly and move on to something else.

For us neurodiverse types, however, sitting down at our desks and slogging away at a project is pretty difficult. It takes half of my available energy to make myself work on something that bores me; this means that by the time I’m finished with it, I don’t have much energy left to do the work that should be easy for me.

In order for me to get what I need to do done, I have to save the work that I can do quickly and mindlessly (like editing/proofing, or weeding the garden) for the times when my energy is at its lowest.

Doing so allows my brain to enter the “flow state” that happens when I’m doing work that’s easy and fun for me. In flow, I get to re-energize my brain and clear the cobwebs that have taken root while I was doing the boring or stressful stuff (like writing proposals or teaching.)

3. Try to swap tasks that you’re good at for ones that you hate.

Ok, when you read that it seems obvious, right? But have you ever tried it? At my retail job, I really hated building displays: I constantly futzed with them, never satisfied with how they looked. Other people just loved doing this and were great at it. So, I often said to them, “I’ll shelve your cart if you’ll build my display.” BOOM! Problem solved.

Lots of people hate mindless office tasks like filing, or sorting papers, or counting widgets — tasks that our neurodiverse brains are uniquely adapted to. You don’t have to love filing to be a whiz at it, and having your coworker addressing your envelopes while you do their filing can work out well for both of you. They may even feel like you’re doing them a favor.

There’s something a lot of people don’t realize about doing “thankless” tasks: everyone else is thankful that you can do it! Leverage their gratitude to get some of your other work done while also becoming known as that person the boss can depend on to get shit done.

It’s a win-win.

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D.R. McElroy is a published author, writer, and copy editor with 15 years professional experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Masters in Environmental Resources. A conservationist, naturalist, and environmental advocate, she spends her time writing nonfiction articles on a variety of topics, as well as writing books on contract for publishers. D.R. wants to build a community of people who love nature and wildlife as much as she does, and who want to help protect our resources for public use.


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