Managing ADHD symptoms at work can be incredibly difficult.
1. Keep a sand timer in your room if you’re constantly running late because you lose track of time.
People with ADHD have difficulty judging the passage of time, says Goodman, which leads to underestimating how long it takes to do something. The sand timer is a very conceptual, visual way to literally see time passing right in front of you.
2. Sort your email inbox so it prioritizes important unread emails at the top, and includes everything else below.
“If you tend to forget to respond to emails, you need to sort out the important work-related ones so they come into your inbox first,” says Ramsay. Find out how to sort your Gmail here.
3. Use an old-school cooking timer instead of your phone, which is full of distractions.
4. Keep a new to-do list on your desk every day.
“Any time someone tells you to do something, you agree to do something, or you have an immediate deadline, write it down on a new to-do list for that day,” says Ramsay. Then put it on your desk or tape it to your computer so it’s always in front of your face as a constant reminder of what you still need to get done.
5. Use sensory cues to remind you to focus if you tend to ~space out~.
Recognize your degree of distractibility, Goodman says — whether it’s every 10, 15, 30 minutes you tend to zone out. Make sure you have a cue, such as a vibration on your phone or watch, or a pop-up on the computer that can re-orient you and remind you to focus.
6. If you work in an office, try to make sure your desk isn’t in a high-traffic area.
“If you’re in an open office and your desk is in a high traffic area, you’ll constantly get distracted by people moving around you,” Goodman says. If you have the option, chose a corner desk where traffic is diminished. Otherwise, you can try to make a temporary cubicle around your desk to reduce the amount of sound and visuals.
7. Unload all your distracting thoughts, ideas, or questions onto paper.
The ADHD mind’s working memory is weak, which means a person often forgets what they’re doing or thinking. Writing things down in a ‘dump list’ is a way to externalize all those overwhelming thoughts swirling around in your head before they’re gone and you’ve moved on to the next thing, says Ramsay.
8. And keep it all in the same notebook.
“I keep a little spiral notebook with me at all times. If there’s something I need to get done, I’ll write it down so I don’t forget to go back to it. That notebook is full of song lyrics, vocabulary, movies I want to watch, grocery lists, etc. I feel lost without it.”
9. Prioritize your tasks according to importance and urgency.
People with ADHD often mis-prioritize and end up leaving important stuff for the last-minute, says Goodman. One way to help yourself prioritize is to create your own chart with four columns: the task, importance/urgency, time allocation, and where it fits in your daily schedule. “If you slot your tasks by importance into a schedule with a reasonable timeframe, you’ll be more likely to commit,” says Ramsay.
10. If you’re avoiding a task, find out how you can make the first step as easy as possible, then do it.
“Try to identify what you’re avoiding and how to make it into an action, or several small actions that I know I can do,” Ramsay says. If a goal is too big, you’ll give up easily. But breaking it down into actionable tasks, such as responding to just three emails or downloading a file, will get you started and more likely to work on something.
11. Make yourself mini-deadlines for a project that isn’t due for a long time.
Deadlines are difficult for people with ADHD, especially since their ability to plan ahead effectively can be impaired. Start by estimating how long each part of the project will take, and blocking out time throughout the weeks and weekends up until it’s due. “It’s not reminding you that the whole project is due, it’s reminding you what you need to work on at that moment,” says Goodman.
12. Maybe even create arbitrary deadlines, like finishing one task by the end of a playlist or album.
“I create arbitrary deadlines for myself (like: “I’m gonna finish this by the time Song XY comes up on my playlist” or “I’m gonna write X amount of words by…”) and try to stick to them.”
13. Set a timer for when you need to finish a task and move on.
Task-shifting can be very difficult for people with ADHD, says Goodman, especially because they can get hyper-focused on finishing something and it swallows the whole day. One option is to set a timer for when you should be halfway done and finished with a task, and force yourself to move on regardless of where you are in your work.
“When I start working on a task, I set an interval timer on my phone usually every 30 – 45 minutes. When the timer goes off, I self-evaluate how much progress I’ve made and ask myself if I still think I can make the deadline I made.”
14. Set calendar alerts for EVERYTHING. Make them aggressive if necessary.
You also need the discipline of trusting your plan and actually devoting the time to a task when it rolls around. This is where aggressive calendar alerts come in handy.
“Set calendar alerts on your phone (I have to do that for EVERYTHING, but it’s a huge relief not having to worry about forgetting something).”
15. Use a stress ball or grip-strengthener when you feel fidgety.
“People often have trouble sitting still during long meetings and become so fidgety, it distracts other people,” says Ramsay. Try something like this so you can move around without disrupting the meeting.
16. And if you sit at a desk all day, get a chair that allows you to move around.
If you have a desk job with ADHD, restlessness can become a huge issue. “Balance ball and other modified chairs allow you to bounce and fidget but it’s absorbed into the chair so you aren’t physically moving around as much and distracting desk neighbors,” says Goodman.
17. Block any non-work related websites.
“Blocking certain websites (i.e. Instagram, Twitter, online shopping etc.) off my computer for a stretch of time helps me to stay off of sites that tend to take my attention away.”
18. Take frequent stretch breaks or light exercise breaks.
“I take a break on the hour every hour for water/restroom/walk around building.”
19. Keep something to chew on.
“Gum. Chewing gum has helped me a lot.”
20. If you can, turn your phone on silent and keep it out of sight from your workspace.
21. Get some noise canceling headphones
“I will put on noise canceling ear buds and not listen to anything. It helps me focus and stay calm and concentrated.”
22. And play music that drowns out sound but doesn’t have distracting lyrics you can sing along to.
“Start with super chill music that you can basically ignore but drowns out all distracting noises. Then, when your brain wanders it wanders right into the chill music for a second then right back into work.”
23. Keep your workspace as organized as possible.
“Don’t allow your desk to become cluttered with papers and things unless you know exactly where everything is and you have a system,” says Goodman. Your best bet is to color code different projects or categories and file everything in a cabinet under your desk so you can keep it cleared off.
24. …Or keep absolutely nothing on your desk but the work you need to do.
“Make your work space a work space,” Barkley says.
25. Take a break to color an adult coloring book, so you keep busy but your mind can wander.
“I have found that taking 15-20 minute breaks to color a mandala picture really helps quiet my mind and arrange my thoughts.”
26. Reward yourself when you stay on track or reach your desired goal.
“Be proud of your accomplishments! For me half an hour of solid concentration is a big achievement! So if I feel I’ve done a good job, I reward myself with a little treat i.e. smoothie.”
27. If you’re comfortable doing so, communicate your needs to coworkers so you can be your most productive.
“I can’t sit still for a long time. So I was honest with myself and my peers and I now don’t try to force myself to do what I can’t, but take on other tasks that I’m better at. Staying moving is easier for me but others don’t like it, so we switched things up to fit everyone’s needs.”
28. When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a moment to pause and reset your mind.
“I stop everything I’m doing and focus on physical objects around me. For example, I’ll look at my phone and describe its characteristics until my mind has stilled and I’m only thinking about the phone. Then I decide what’s the most important task I need to complete first and start there.”
29. Don’t fight your natural process too hard — instead, learn how to improve it so you’re most productive and happy.
“Anxiety is a huge measure of whether you’ve extended your capacity and can’t do something,” says Goodman. If you become so overwhelmed you experience anxiety, just stop and re-prioritize what you’re working on to get some things off your plate so you can be productive and happy.