ask the readers: better work habits when you have ADHD

I’m throwing this one out to readers to help with. A reader writes:

I was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago. I tried medication but found it wasn’t the answer for me. I’ve had five jobs in five years, and I’m pretty sure ADHD is a factor. I’m writing because I’m hoping you or your readers may have some tips on being organized and focused at work when dealing with ADHD. I’ve googled for an answer but there is just too many sites to sift through for my unfocused brain.

I started a new job this month and I really like what I’m doing and I don’t want to change jobs again. At some point, this job hopping is going to stop me from getting any more jobs and I can’t afford that.

Readers, what advice can you offer?

{ 133 comments… read them below }

  1. anon-2*

    Make a list of tasks every morning before you start work.

    I list seven things and prioritize – if I get through six, I’m happy.

  2. Bri*

    I use extensive notes to help me. I have a notebook and I make a checklist every day of what I need to get done. Even though I do many of the same things everyday, I’ve found that without notes I’ll let little things slide. If my bosses come up to me and ask me to do 3 things, all of those go directly onto my to do list. I’ve annoyed my bosses a few times at the beginning and had them say, “why’re you writing this down instead of doing it now?” and I just explain, “If I don’t write this down and someone asks me a question, I may get distracted and forget what you asked me to do for a few hours.”

    Since I started taking notes I’ve become a great and organized worker. I get more done than I ever would and more done than some people without ADD. My employers have embraced my approach and understand that I’m doing what I need to to work my best for them.

    1. A Bug!*

      Lots of great advice all over here, but I wanted to say that extensive note-taking and list-making has really helped me.

      It is part of a system whereby I have a consistent routine, all the time, every time, with built-in checks and balances to keep things from falling through the cracks.

      If something does fall through the cracks, I figure out why. Was it an anomaly caused by someone else’s unanticipated interference into my system? Or was there a crack in my system that can be fixed?

      So I keep a to-do list in a notebook on an ongoing basis. I carry the notebook with me so when I’m given verbal instructions it gets down in writing immediately. If it’s something I’m not needing to do now, but later, I put a task in my Outlook with a reminder on it, but it still goes into the to-do list first or else I’ll forget to put it into my Outlook when I get back to my desk.

      I keep multiple filing folders that help me keep track of client files. I don’t allow loose paper on my desk – if it’s paper, it’s in a folder, and that folder has the relevant file name on it, even if it’s just a sticky note.

      I also never mix stacks. If there’s a pile of stuff on my desk, every item in the pile relates to the same file. The problem there is when my boss comes and dumps a bunch of stuff on my desk, but I fix it right away when that happens.

      1. Julie*

        This is so helpful! I do some of these things, but I’m going to start implementing the rest. I don’t know if I have ADD or anything similar, but I always say, “If I don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist.” I’m always amazed that my partner can remember her schedule, including all appointments, without having to write it down.

      2. Bea W*

        Before meds I had a hard time keeping up with note taking. I could either listen or scribble but could barely do the two things at once which was frustrating because writing things dien helps me remember. If you look at my notes before and after meds the difference is obvious. They are even legible!

  3. Cruciatus*

    It may be unimportant, but how/why exactly is the job hopping happening? Does the OP leave jobs? Are they fired? The line that they “don’t want to change jobs again” suggests to me that they are leaving on their own accord. I get that this is about ADHD, but what is making the OP leave might be useful to know. Bored? Frustrated? Leaving before lack of focus catches up?

    1. A Bug!*

      I can’t speak for the OP, but for me, it’s not about leaving before the lack of focus catches up and gets me fired, although there’s certainly anxiety about that possibility. It’s because a part of the problem isn’t just short-term attention span. As I settle into my job and get used to doing the tasks, the job loses its novelty and over time, every day it becomes harder and harder to find the motivation to go into work, let alone do my job.

      Some work lends itself better to the daily grind, because the work is reactive and doesn’t require any independent motivation. Retail, fast food, and inbound call centers were all work that I didn’t have trouble doing while I was there, because I’m naturally pretty good at customer service, and while the work is repetitive it doesn’t require actual motivation to do. If you have even the most basic sense of work ethic, it’s not possible to procrastinate at jobs like those.

      But as time went on, I’d be more likely to volunteer to take unpaid time off when it was available, because the lure of “something else, anything else” became difficult to resist. So I’d be making less money, and I’d also dread more and more going into work for the day, to the point where alternatives became more and more attractive – changing careers, going back to school, moving to a new city, whatever. And doing that would just start the cycle over again. The more self-motivation a given occupation requires, the more quickly it becomes tiresome.

  4. O*

    I’ve found that working on a couple different things helps instead of doing the same task, project for hours, keeps me from getting bored when there are multiple parts to a project. But other than that medication is all I’ve found that helps me, sorry! Hope you find something that helps

  5. Anoners*

    If you have to use Outlook, make the reminder function your best friend. Set reminders for anything and everything that you really need to be done by a certain time. Maybe even set a reminder for times when you find you are the most distracted to get you back on track. Good luck!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Oh, God yes. I don’t have ADHD, but I do get scattered because stuff tends to drop on me all at once. Outlook’s task list, reminder functions, and flags are my buddies. The best part of this is that it’s all in one place. :)

  6. ScaredyCat*

    I have a somewhat mild case of ADHD, and found that what worked for me was making a list of tasks to do.

    If you don’t have several different tasks, just one larger task, try splitting that into multiple smaller ones. Things that wouldn’t take you very long… say 30 minutes/task. After that, make sure you stay committed to that task until you finish it. As time goes on, you’ll find that you will be able to move to longer tasks.
    If I’m not mistaken, this is called the pomodoro technique.

    Sure you will probably slip up a few times, but when you have a list of tasks in front of you, it’s much easier to stay focused. Also, don’t worry if you don’t manage to do everything. Just do your best to accomplish as much as possible from your list.

    1. Harriet*

      YMMV but I find the Pomodoro technique (which I know as twenty five minutes of work, five minute break) is useless for most ADHD people in most workplaces, because it relies on you hyperfocusing and that gets shattered so easily by any interruption – a coworker asking a question, the phone ringing. I’ll be reading this post with interest.

      1. ScaredyCat*

        Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it’s what helped me at succeed at first. I didn’t exactly work non-stop for 25 minutes.
        More like: I am sending a follow-up email to X in regards to Y. Until I finished that, I wouldn’t do anything else… or at least try not to.

        My main problem was, that even though I KNEW I had to do A, B, C etc I still somehow found myself with 3 unrelated browser windows open. So this helped me reduce those kinds of distractions.

        Having a list where I ticked/crossed out stuff, meant that even after a lengthy interruption, I could look back to jog my memory.

        The funniest thing I did related to this:
        I was about to go out the door (finished for the day), when an idea stuck me, so I quickly went back to my desk to jot down some notes (in a thick winter coat and all). My boss found it hilarious.

        1. Bea W*

          God yes. I don’t know how it happens. I know I have to do X and Y but somehow manage to end up finding myself 30 min later doing something totally unrelated and possibly not as important.

      2. Observer*

        Actually, if it’s being done right, it does not depend on hyper focus. The key for ADHD people is not the 25 minutes work 5 minutes break portion, although that helps, but the idea of breaking each large thing into specific tasks and replacing internal “working memory” with a *written* list. So, if someone gets distracted by a co-worker’s question, ringing phone or whatever, when that’s done you go back to the list rather than trying to remember what you were doing.

  7. AVP*

    First, check out the open thread from a few months about about organizational tips!

    I don’t have full-on ADHD but it runs in my family and I see those habits and inclinations in my own work often. What works for me is to keep one list with absolutely everything I should be doing on it. Work items, no matter how small, personal life stuff, errands – everything. I enjoy crossing things off, but more importantly, when I finish one item I immediately look down and pick another one to do before I open up the internet and get distracted or pulled into an online rabbit hole.

    Also, I used to get the urge to jump onto something new about 3 months in to anything – jobs, relationships. It helped to recognize what was happening and react to it as a phase, now an imperative. IE, “Oh, here’s that old urge again, it must be my 3-month mark” rather than “omg I need to get out NOWWWW.”

    1. Fran*

      YES! If you get bored easily because you’ve learned the basics now and are ready for a new challenge (maybe why you’re changing jobs a lot), come up with a project that needs doing or problem that needs solving and add that to what you already do. Get in the habit of doing this to keep yourself feeling challenged.

      1. ano*

        Or see if you can get a job where things are changing around quite often. For example something that has seasonal peaks and activities?

        1. purlgurly*

          Seasonal peaks and valleys FTW! I have self-selected for jobs that have strong seasonal rhythms and changes throughout the year, and it definitely helps me manage the “need change” feeling.

  8. GL*

    If you can afford it, find a therapist or life coach who specializes in or is well-familiar with ADHD. These suggestions are good, but you might be better served by someone who can access your particular strengths and weaknesses and give you tools accordingly. Good luck and congrats on the new job!

    1. Bryan*

      I agree. I understand how ADHD medication is not for everyone (it isn’t for me). But when it’s impacting your life to this extent it’s important to seek some method of treatment.

    2. LucyVP*


      But it is important to find someone with experience with adults who have ADHD.

      My brother (who always hated meds) was greatly helped by ABA therapy and now works as an ABA therapist,

    3. HR lady*

      I came here to say this, too. Managing your ADHD is not something that you’ll figure out in one day just by reading stuff on the internet. It’s a process that happens over time.

      I worked with an ADHD coach for a year (people don’t usually work with coaches for that long, but I had the money and the desire to keep working with her). It was very helpful but again, it’s a process.

      Also, since you aren’t using medication, I’d strongly recommend regular (almost daily) exercise. There’s a lot of scientific evidence about how it helps people with ADHD be able to focus better and manage their lives better. I, personally, can also attest to how much it helps.

    4. vvondervvoman*

      +1 If cost is an issue, there are lots of options for free/low-cost mental health care. Federally qualified health centers or community clinics may have sliding scale. Many university programs will have supervised interns getting their hours and can offer super low-cost sessions. Usually each state/city has a .gov page that will list local resources.

  9. Nikki J.*

    I’ll be coming back to this post for sure (if I remember) once more people post! Getting focused on any task is beyond a challenge for me whether it be personal, professional etc. My attention span is the size of a pea and it causes me a lot of stress and avoidance of things.

  10. Realistic*

    I find that I have to get to know my rhythms… and use them wisely. I can concentrate on mental stuff if I’ve taken care of something physical first (a walk at lunch), or I can take care of creative stuff if I have taken care to balance it with finite-tasks first (answer 3 emails, then do creative thing). I’m with everyone else here, in that I use a lot of notes and lists. I make a to-do list at the end of each work day. What do I need to start on first thing in the morning? At lunch, re-order the list if needed. Before closing up for the day, review list, and make a new one for the next day. If I start my day by making the list, I’m a goner — I start overwhelming myself with all of the tasks to get done, agonizing over priorities, adding stuff based on emails/voicemails from after-hours…

    1. Anonymous*

      Oh! This is a great tip! I do this, getting distracted with adding to my ToDo list first thing in the morning. No more! I’m going to try it your way.

  11. Bryan*

    Look at your work and see if you make mistakes in the same place. Create a list of specific things you need to double check when something is completed. Check things off as you go so that you know they are completed.

  12. LibrarianJ*

    I don’t have ADHD, but I do tend to struggle with staying focused, especially when I’m overwhelmed by the number of tasks on my plate.
    One tool I have found useful (which admittedly only works with an iOS device — which you may not have) is an app called 30/30. I set a list of tasks, including breaks, and give each a predefined amount of time, then set the list on loop. It’s much easier to stay with a task when I know I have a programmed break or jump to a different task in 30 (or 40, or whatever it is) minutes.

  13. AnotherAlison*

    Have any of you with ADHD tried a standing desk?
    Several people in our office have them for other reasons. Based on what I know of ADHD from my husband and son, it seems like it could help those with office jobs. Probably not with the organization, but maybe with focus?

    1. pgh_adventurer*

      A standing desk has done wonders for me and my productivity when I have a long, complex, thinking-based task like writing a report.

      When I’m in sitting mode, I loaf. When I’m in standing mode, I’m not interested in wasting time, I want to produce. Sadly, my standing desk is at home, not at the office!

    2. Bea W*

      I’m too distracted by aches and pains when standing. Then all I can think about is sitting. This is definitely one of those things where YMMV.

    3. Zillah*

      I haven’t tried an actual standing desk, but I do put my laptop on a shelf and type on it while standing up. I know it’s not for everyone, but I find it so, so helpful.

  14. Chrissi*

    I have ADHD and work in an office environment with lots of long term deadlines, so I feel your pain. Here are some of my favorite tips that I use.

    – Find a To-Do list that works for you. For some people, that means electronic – for me that means written. I keep one Master to-do list that I write absolutely everything on. That keeps me from forgetting things, but also keeps me from distracting myself mentally all the time with thoughts of “Oh! don’t forget to do XYZ”. I also keep one very short to-do list for just the day because if I have to look at the Master all the time, it’s too overwhelming.

    – In that same vein, I keep a notepad by my computer to write down things that I want to do as they occur to me. I do this so that I can keep focused on the task at hand. For instance, I’m writing up notes on a proposal and thought pops into my head “it would be nice if I had a template to follow for these notes (or whatever)”. Before, I used to then stop what I was doing and make the template because it was more interesting or whatever. Now I write it down on my notepad so that I don’t forget about it, but I can just go right back to the task I was already working on.

    – I keep my desk organized in a very simplistic matter. EVERYTHING has a place. That way, you never pick something up and have to think “what do I want to do with this?”, you just automatically know where it goes. My file folders have very straightforward categories and very specific ones so that there’s never too much in one folder.

    – I use the Pomodoro technique to get through things. It appeals to my need for adrenaline to get things done when there’s no impending deadline.

    – Some people set a timer on their watch to beep every 30 minutes or 60 minutes to keep them on task. If you find yourself getting sucked into tasks and not realizing how much time has passed, this might help.

    – If I’m trying to mentally plan out the day and how much time I’ll be spending on various tasks, I take my initial estimate of the time I think the task will take and double it or multiply by 1.5. Apparently people with ADHD are very bad at estimating how much time things take to complete.

    – When I’m procrastinating, I don’t just break tasks up into smaller tasks because that doesn’t work for me. No, I choose the next step for a task to be the absolutely tiniest thing possible, so much so that it would be impossible NOT to do it. For instance, if I wanted to write a chapter in a novel, standard advice is to break it up into manageable tasks like create an outline, write 3 pages, etc. My first step would be “open Microsoft Word”. My second step would be “write one sentence”. This is obviously just to get you going, but for this to work, you have to let yourself stop after that task (don’t worry, you almost never will). The hardest thing is to get going.

    – Color coding is your friend :)

    That’s all. Sorry it’s so long- you hit a nerve. I’ve always wanted to write an exhaustive list of extremely practical suggestions for overcoming ADHD and general procrastination. Not ways of thinking about it, but actual, specific actions that you can try.

    Also, some of this will work and some won’t, and some of it will work sometimes but not all the time. You have to try out a lot of stuff. Good luck!!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I had to Google “Pomodoro technique.” That sounds amazing. I’m going to try that at home; I get distracted MUCH more easily there when I’m supposed to be doing chores or whatever. And then nothing gets done.

      1. Chrissi*

        The other thing I do specifically for chores is to set a timer for 5 minutes, and say that I’m going to do chores for 5 minutes. I mean, you can’t really say no to that. Then, once the timer goes off, I’m usually so into it that I just keep going. It’s always starting that’s the hard part.

        I also just work with the ADHD when cleaning. I’ll pick up some stuff in the bedroom that needs to go in the bathroom, so I immediately take it there, then find something in the bathroom that needs to get done and flit to the next thing. It works much better for me than trying to sit and just do one room at a time or one big chore at a time.

        1. Zahra*

          Huh. When cleaning, I’ll finish a room before going to the next. I won’t physically go to the next room, not even to drop stuff before I’m done. I’ll make piles for bedroom, living room, kitchen and, when I’m done with the current room, I’ll go and put away all the stuff I accumulated. I try to hyperfocus on one room instead of flitting over from A to B to C.

          1. Chrissi*

            That’s what I always used to do too, but I guess it made it seem like a huge task “Clean the Living Room”. I know my version is weird, but it’s not hard to convince myself to just pick up the whatever and take it into the kitchen. I think that it is essentially breaking it up into a ton of tiny tasks and I get a little feeling of satisfaction from completing each one :)

            1. TL*

              that’s totally the way I clean! It drove my college roommate crazy. I also clean a lot better if I’m around people, especially if we’re all cleaning together.

              1. KJR*

                My husband thinks it’s pretty funny that I clean this way, he can’t figure out why I just don’t stay in one room. I’m getting it done, right? Each to his own I suppose.

                I also like the idea of setting time limits. I spend about 15 minutes in the morning after everyone has left for school/work, but before I have to leave, cleaning the kitchen, making my bed, and straightening the living room. Normally this would take forever because I’d be watching TV, etc. But at this lightning rate of speed, I can get all of it done, because I don’t want to be late for work. And I get to come home to a clean house. :)

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Tiny tasks is the way to go. I follow another blogger who is posting right now about de-cluttering her house, and she has set a goal of so many objects per day to get rid of.

              It’s an excellent idea–I’m going to try that too, because I need to paint my walls. And since I have to paint anyway, I decided to redecorate and go from Victorian cottage to a more modern, cleaner look to display my nerd stuff and all the art I have collected.

            3. Christine*

              I do the same thing. I actually make a game out of it. I will take a glass from the living room to the kitchen. I will then put out a fresh dish towel and take the old one to the laundry room. In the laundry room, I’ll find a watch that I took out of a jeans pocket, and take that to my bedroom. In my bedroom, I’ll find a book that belongs on the bookshelf in the living room. I’m allowed to take multiple things as long as they’re all going to/from the same rooms and I can put them all away quickly and easily. I am not allowed to do anything but picking up activies – so no stopping to dust a tabletop or start a load of laundry. The point is to keep moving. I stop when I get to a room where I can’t find anything that doesn’t belong there (or until I get distracted.)

          2. Bea W*

            I do this too. If I leave the room to put something away before I’m done cleaning I may not make it back.

        2. Bea W*

          If I go with the ADHD when I clean, at the end if the day I find myself still with a mess but with impeccably clean and oganized cabinets or a perfectly alphabetized DVD collection. Distraction and hyperfocus are not my friends when it comes to cleaning.

      2. tcookson*

        I learned about Pomodoro from the open thread where we discussed organization, and I now have an online Pomodoro app that I use at work to keep me motivated and on-task when I have a lot of paper-pushing work to do. My paper-pushing involves entering purchasing transactions into the university purchasing system, and without the Pomodoro timer, I tend to click on “read AAM” when I should be clicking on “submit requisition”.

    2. happycat*

      your list is AMAZING!! I find colour coding, lists, notepads, etc. all very good at keeping me on track and organized.

    3. Katmandusf*

      I would agree a lot with Chrissi.

      I have ADD and have found that keeping organized is one of the biggest things for me. People may think that I am a bit picky about how I keep my work area, but it is all about being as productive as I possibly can. It helps me feel like I have a handle on things even when my day gets crazy! Keeping a note pad with me at all times is so important, people will understand why you are always taking notes if you explain it to them as it is for their benefit.

      One thing that I have not seen mentioned yet is getting a daily workout. It can be a 10 minute walk in the morning or a spin class sometime in my day, but being active is very important for myself and my friends that have ADHD.

      I also take time, about 5-10 minutes, at the beginning of my day and again after lunch to look over my to-do list and prioritize. This is a great way to look at what you have to do, what you have accomplished and figure out how to break things down into more manageable tasks.

  15. Allison*

    This may be unorthodox, but I prefer to work with my ADHD rather than against it:

    I’ll take a short break and go for a walk if I start to feel restless.

    I try to take on a couple different tasks and cycle through them, working on each one for a short period of time, then switching gears and coming back later so I don’t get bored with any one task.

    I flag or star e-mails I can’t answer at the moment so I do remember to acknowledge, so nothing falls through the cracks.

    I meet with my manager every week or so to make sure I’m on the right track and focusing on the right things.

    OP, if you feel yourself getting bored or restless with a job, projects are key! A long-term project that you find meaningful will help hold your interest in a job, so either think of one or work with your manager to figure something out.

    1. Jamie*

      Me too.

      I have a job with a large variety of responsibilities and a mixture of long term projects and urgent stuff coming up all the time so hour no hour or day is like the last.

      It really helps because the variety keeps boredom at bay and the frequent shifts to using different parts of my brain keeps me from losing focus.

      The other thing that really works for me is having a job where I have autonomy to follow my internal schedule. Being able to engage my hyper focus and get stuff done when I’m in the zone is huge – so if I have those projects I shift my schedule so I am still available for most of the office hours, but I have plenty of time to focus after everyone has gone home.

      My boss doesn’t care if I get it done at my desk at work, desk at home, or in bed wearing jammies as long as the end result is good…being able to flex my schedule is huge. It’s great so that if I’m in the zone and making big progress on something I don’t have to stop and go to bed because I have to be at work at a set time.

      For me the distractability thing was never an issue – I’m not easily distracted at all. I’m easily bored and I hyperfocus – those are my main symptoms.

      And I know better than to trust my memory – ever. I always have a lot going on in my head so I’m a list maker…I prefer electronic (although sometimes my brain gets itchy and writing long hand is soothing) so I live and die by my calendar and task lists.

      And I take notes – copious detailed notes – because it helps and also helps me not drift out when people are boring me. :)

      My boss recently bought me a lightscribe pen, and it’s pretty awesome – I take notes in a notebook and it syncs via bluetooth with my iPad so i have an electronic copy which I convert to text and I don’t have to retype my notes to save them in a searchable electronic document.

      It’s not as useful to me as it will be once I get my handwriting under control – but it’s a pretty cool little invention.

  16. Ruthan*

    I’ve never been diagnosed with AD(H)D, but I do struggle to concentrate/stay on task/not procrastinate with some regularity.

    I think by far the most helpful thing for me has been making a daily schedule with fairly short increments in Google calendar. First, trying to find tasks that I can complete or at least make significant headway on in 30 or 60 minutes really helps me focus on next steps rather than just looking at the entire project, panicking, and deciding to do something unimportant instead. Second, my calendar is set up to pop up an alert five minutes before every event I make, and if my focus has wandered, the alert reminds me to wrap up whatever I’m doing and get on task.

    Some other things I’ve found that help at least some of the time:
    * having a routine written down with a few items that I check off first thing every day when I come to work. Oddly, I find that knowing I must check something off (like “morning email check”) makes me want to hurry up and get it done, so this keeps me from staring at my inbox and thinking it might be a good time to clean things out and oh look there’s that gif from my coworker that I wanted to send to my sister and oh hey now it’s lunchtime.
    * listening to music (it took a while to find exactly the right music though; for me it has to be something that’s basically ignorable)
    * minimizing what needs done before I can start on what I’m actually trying to do — opening up the documents I need to edit, making sure my references are somewhere handy — then when I get distracted I can return to task right away. (Making it easier to get to my work than to Facebook has also been handy as an anti-procrastination technique.)
    * practicing starting a new task and focusing on it. (There are some days when “stay focused on one thing for any amount of time” seems impossible; on those days I fall back to “just get back to what you’re supposed to be doing as quickly as you can”.) Here’s how I did it:
    — Get a timer (I notice that Google will actually give you one if you search for ‘timer’.) Set it to a time that’s just long enough for you to really start paying attention to something (I suggest two minutes.)
    — Pick one work task and one distraction task.
    — Start the timer and start the distraction task. When the timer goes off, put the distraction task aside as quickly as possible (minimize FB, flip the sudoku over) and start doing work.
    — Repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times a day.

    Good luck, and thanks for the question!

  17. S.K.*

    Speaking as someone who also has severe ADHD, i don’t think any one strategy is going to be a slam dunk. You have to do a lot of examining yourself and your habits, then plan around that: what time of day are you most productive, when do you usually find it toughest to focus? Do you respond better to external organization (ie someone telling you what your highest priority task is) or are you better when you can tackle the task that seems most interesting at the time? Etc etc

    Once you figure this out, you can start developing strategies to maximize your effectiveness when you’re “on” and redirect yourself when you’re not. I asked my boss to make priorities clear to me when we talk, since I have a habit of dropping a half-completed task if a new interesting one comes along.

    Above all, don’t try to be 100% organized/focused – it’s never going to happen, and you’ll only get frustrated with yourself. Just learn to manage it and take it day by day.

  18. Mike*

    I was offically diagnosed with ADHD about 4 years ago by my thearpist. As an engineer my therapist explained that there is nothing bad about ADHD, but it actually helps me out in my profession. One of the best things that helps me out is lists that have not only completion due dates but also what time of day it needs to be done. I also wear a wrist watch when im starting to lose focus or get distracted, taking a minute to look at my watch,it is a nice distraction that will not eat up much of your time.

    1. J*

      This. I don’t have ADHD, but even something as subtle as glancing at a watch does wonders. For myself, anyway…

      1. Zillah*

        It’s possible to set your computer (at least if it’s a mac) to tell you what time it is. You can set it to remind you every hour, half hour, or quarter hour. That’s always been something I find really useful – it helps me not get so wrapped up in something that I forget about what time it is.

        1. Mike*

          Half the battle is not getting hyper focused that you lose track of everything. The other is not being able to focus on one thing. Its a crazy disorder. Looking down at the watch is to clear your mind on something that requires thought but wont steal you away for a half hour

    2. Jamie*

      I like your therapist. Deficit my a**, it’s a gift as far as I’m concerned and it absolutely makes me better at my job.

      I’ve always told my kids to forget the label, harnessed and channeled correctly it’s an advantage in many situations. The key is putting yourself in the situations where it will help you excel rather than those which require other skills where it will work against you.

        1. Jamie*

          It’s a question of taking stock of how it impacts you, because as noted upthread it doesn’t manifest the same way in everyone.

          My ADD is very different than my one kid’s ADD and the others ADHD.

          For me distractability has never been an issue (with the exception of sensory issues), nor has impulsivity, and I’m not physically hyperactive. I have a huge tendency toward hyperfocus and I get very bored and cranky if I have to concentrate on things for long periods of time that aren’t mentally challenging.

          For a workplace that wants one position to have a range of widely discrepant duties the way my brain works is an advantage. A person who wanted clearly defined duties and scope would have a very difficult time in my job.

          Part of my ADD is hyperfocus – it’s a huge advantage in a job that sometimes requires working well into the night on a tight deadline, or holing up until a problem until it’s solved or at at least at a stopping point. It’s an advantage over people who mentally need to clock out at a certain time and resume later.

          My brain doesn’t shut off easily, so I think about work. A lot. I would be at a severe disadvantage in a job that wanted me to just perform rote tasks and shut off at the end of the day. Someone who wants to come in and give a full 8 hours of excellent work and then not think about it until morning wouldn’t last in my job. Plenty of positions where that would work for them, but being in a job that expects you to be super involved and invested on and off hours it’s a huge advantage to get credit for something you can’t help. They call it dedication – I call it not being able to power down. Potato Potahto.

          For those who are hyperactive they are at an advantage in jobs where a lot of physical energy is a bonus…if you have to move around an office all day it helps if you didn’t want to sit still anyway.

          For those who are hyper alert to stimuli would be at a advantage in positions where picking up on the minutia of your surroundings and noticing every little thing comes in handy.

          I’m not saying it’s all unicorns riding a rainbow and eating cupcakes…it’s not. A lot of us have issues with organization – so it makes me laugh when people who describe me as super organized think that’s just who I am…it’s totally a result of a finely tuned system that works for me. I accommodate my weaknesses in this area.

          And I have some sensory irritations often co-morbid (but not strictly ADD) which are a pita for me. I hate going through life intensely irritated because of how people eat, or how their food smells, or the sound of their laugh…but that’s my problem so I accommodate it by making my office as me friendly as possible and keeping my annoyance to myself.

          I have family members who have inattention to detail as a symptom and for me that falls into the organization category – it’s not a strength in any situation and you’re not going to find an area where missing details will be an advantage, so you find a job where it’s not as critical (like probably not on the bomb squad or anything) and develop habits to mitigate the weakness. Finding a way to proof that works for you, having a system of checking whatever.

          I have never considered it a disability or disorder or anything negative – it’s a particular set of characteristics of thinking and working which fall under an umbrella. And I think the stigma is ridiculous…I know it’s out there, but I don’t care. The image of ADD people running around, being annoying, going off topic, being sloppy and blaming it on ADD is crap. Some people are like that, even those without it. Some aren’t and most people with ADD you’d never even know they have it.

          I think I’ve done a good job in my life of mitigating the issues and finding a niche where my atypical way of thinking/working is considered an asset and I personally wouldn’t trade it.

          Meds don’t work for everyone – I do find they make things a little easier for me and make breaks in concentration less problematic…and they have a collateral benefit of making me less anxious about stuff and more friendly. I don’t know why, and I wouldn’t take meds for either of those things because I don’t consider them to be issues for me in a real way, but nice weird little side effect of being more relaxed and open.

  19. Bea W*

    It’s hard to know what advice to give without knowing what kind of problems the OP is trying to overcome. Is he chronically late? Flakey? Disorganized? Unable to finish tasks on time due to being distracted? It could be the problems are less due to ADHD than other things like poor job skills, poor interpersonal skills, or just not being well suited for a particular type of job. I wouldn’t know where to start.

    My biggest hurdles are a crappy sense of time, distraction, and perfectionism. The first one I handle with a lot of alarms, reminders, and visual cues. The second one involves a lot of list making, breaking things up into smaller chunks, mental breaks as needed, more alarms, and medication. The tendency to fall into a pattern of being to focused on eliminating flaws I just have to be mindful of when I’m doing that and talk myself down off the ledge.

  20. michele*

    I see it mentioned above in other ways, but lists are key. make lists of long-term goals in life, in career, and short term goals like.. “make sure you do this by friday.”

  21. kac*

    I was having trouble focusing on my job, because there are so many moving pieces, and I was afraid of things falling through the cracks. But after some thought I realized that my job (sales) is really the same few actions over and over again, in different contexts: phone calls, emails, and updating records.

    So I made myself a form that I print out each week to record how many phone calls I make, customer emails I send, and records I update for Monday-Friday. I have a daily goal for each category, and I track my progress this way. It’s really helpful for me to have a visual like this, because I can easily see, “Oh, I was barely on the phone on Monday and Tuesday, so I really need to pick that up for the rest of the week.” And when I’m on my game, it’s really rewarding to have so many check marks filling up my chart. I’ve been a lot more focused and productive since implementing this system.

    Whatever you do, aim for simplicity, and once you pick a system you really have to just stick with it. If you don’t stick with it, it won’t ever work. Good luck!

    1. kac*

      Also, there are so many books out there about Adult ADD/ADHD and I think it’s definitely worth looking at some, if you haven’t already.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        +1. Don’t make your system too complicated! Otherwise you’ll forget to update something.

        I definitely use visual clues. I keep a master to do list and also write my morning/afternoon priorities on stickies and put them on the wall in front of my laptop. That little priority list helps a lot. I

        Also if you have a job where you use the internet and you have multiple tabs open, see if you can get a two monitor set up. I requested this at my new job because I’m constantly switching between tabs on a 13″ MacBook and it’s difficult to remember which tab I had been using when I have 3 tabs with the same website up. Having that double view works really well.

  22. Stephanie*

    Lists help, but don’t use the list as a crutch! Sometimes I use planning or lists to procrastinate on actually doing the work…

    1. tcookson*

      Me too! I’ve had days where it’s taken me from 8:30 — noon just to perfect my to-do list. Very demotivating to reach the lunch hour and realize that 1) I haven’t accomplished anything and 2) I still don’t trust that I have everything on the list.

  23. Courtney*

    I agree with everything about making lists, taking breaks as needed, and most of all – a routine! I’d suggest speaking with your manager if you need help prioritizing. Sometimes what seems like a priority to one person isn’t the same for another. Also, if you have the option, take breaks away from your desk and don’t eat lunch at your desk (if you can.) This way, once you’re at your desk, you can associate that with “work time” only. Sounds silly but it helps me. I am not a fan of medicine so I’d also recommend natural therapies (supplements, eliminating wheat & gluten from your diet) to help with clarity. Look at Wheat Belly or Grain Brain or really any Dr. Oz show for info on that. Good luck!

  24. Meagan*

    I’m going to have to echo the lists. If I am told three things, I can almost guarantee that two will be done and I will completely forget about the third. I do my best to write everything down that I need/want to do. I don’t set time goals but I like being able to check everything off when it gets done and this way I know that I will do it.

    Organization is also key for me. I have a place for everything. I do my best to keep clutter to a minimum so that I can’t be distracted. If I see a messy desk I feel like I have to take care of everything that second and it can be overwhelming and kep me from what I actually have to do. The things I have on my wall (pictures, contacts, lists, etc) are also out of my field of vision.

    Good luck with your new job!

  25. LCL*

    Speaking as someone who is easily distracted, this is what works for me in the morning so I don’t take an hour to get ready. It is my secret to getting to work on time, with time for a coffee stop along the way.

    Make your work wardrobe completely separate from the rest of your clothes. Just the items that are visible to others: pants,skirts, shirts and footwear. Wash and store this stuff separately from your other clothes. It is more work to set up, but worth it because it eliminates having to think about what to wear to work. My elaborate storage system uses different color laundry baskets.

    1. Susan*

      LCL, that is a brilliant suggestion about visually separating the work clothes from everything else! I will implement it today. You are a genius. :D

  26. Jake*

    A few things that have worked for me:

    1) Use to manager your tasks. It’s good for collaborative work, but even just using it for myself I find makes it so much easier to keep on top of things

    2) To the extent that your schedule allows it, take frequent breaks. I break my days into 30-minute chunks. 25 minutes working, 5 minutes walking around, not sitting at my desk. After 3 chunks I spend 15 minutes walking around. It sounds like a lot of time off but I find that it keeps me able to focus and I get a lot more done. It’s important not to use the breaks for other things though. I don’t make phone calls, check facebook, or anything like that. I just walk and let my mind wander. It helps me refocus when I get back to my desk, and often a quicker solution to something that I’m working on will pop into my head during a break.

    3) If you’re having anxiety about your ADHD, get some therapy to deal with that. ADHD + anxiety = procrastination. The better you’re living with your brain, the more you can use it effectively.

  27. Marmite*

    I have ADHD with hyperactivity/impulse symptoms but not so much the distraction side. The big challenge for me at work is holding conversations appropriately – e.g. not butting in with whatever’s just come in to my head in the middle of someone else’s sentence. I also had to work on not getting overly excited and jumpy when I find something cool – it just doesn’t come across as professional!

    I’ve gotten better at this just with practice and really paying attention to when it is my turn to speak. I’ve also be able to, in my current job, ask people to tell me not to interrupt if they notice me doing it to them. I’ve just brought it up when I catch myself by saying something like; “Gah! Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, I’m terrible at doing that! In fact, I’m really trying to work on that. If I do it again, please do tell me.” and if they seem receptive then I’ve suggested just slightly raising a hand if they catch me starting to interrupt them. That visual clue works really well for me.

  28. Emily K*

    Lists, lists, lists.

    Break each task on your list down into bite-size small tasks to prevent that feeling where you see a big intimidating task on your list and then you just sort of find yourself…on Facebook…somehow.

    Stimulants, stimulants, stimulants. Preferably serotogenic ones.

  29. AR*

    Figure out what works for you to get all of your tasks done. I have a tendency to get very distracted myself, so I have a list of tasks that I use on a daily basis. I don’t go straight down the list, but jump around a lot. However, by the end of the day all of the tasks are done. Also keeping organized does help, but make it your organization…. A messy desk does not mean that you aren’t organized.

  30. Viv*

    If you are easily distracted, see if you can work with headphones on and white noise, such as Coffitivity, in the background.

    Work with a timer program and combine tasks/time slots to train yourself to work in small bursts.

    I totally agree with Jake’s advice about breaks. Plan exercise into your work time but “chunk” it so you aren’t seen as a fidgeter. Make sure you get up every 45 minutes or so and walk to the water cooler, copier, etc.

    Unless it’s required for your position, turn off notifications and don’t have distracting programs running in the background as you work.

    In meetings, no matter how exciting your insight might be, don’t be a blurter. Make a note and find a place to add your thoughts at the appropriate time.

    For some people with ADHD, proprioceptive and vestibular issues can be circumvented by making sure your feet are square on the ground and that you are well-hydrated. This literally “grounds” you and makes it easier to stay on task.

  31. Susan*

    I have ADD too. I actually found out because I was having trouble at my job (the first full-time job I had after college, which I still have now) and wanted help. I wish I’d been able to do that earlier in my life!

    One thing I’ve learned is that ADD isn’t the same for everyone who has it, so not all advice will be helpful for everyone. It helps to understand how you work, individually.

    For instance, long before I was diagnosed I had become very organized about certain things (personal finance, filing systems), possibly to compensate for the less controllable parts of my life! So a lot of advice for people with ADD — the “how to find your keys” advice — is totally redundant for me. On the other hand, I need all the help I can get with being on time. So, perhaps try figuring out what specifically are the things you struggle with, and look for advice about those — not simply “having ADD.”

    I see that medication didn’t work for you. I don’t like the idea of urging medication as a first resort, but if you keep having trouble, you might want to try again. I was lucky that the first prescription my general practitioner wrote for me worked well, but if it hadn’t, my psychologist had a psychiatrist colleague who could have helped me figure out a different medication or dosage.

    What I’ve found, in my own case, is that I can learn all kinds of techniques for focusing and getting things done and so on, but it’s extremely difficult for me to actually do them consistently without medication, even if I’m in therapy every week. Of course before I was diagnosed, I thought I just had poor willpower — but now I understand it’s that the part of my brain that does prioritization and motivation just works a lot slower than most people’s. At this point, I’m very efficient and keep getting better; but if I couldn’t have medication, I would have to hire somebody to follow me around and poke me every time I came to a transition between activities.

    Since I started taking medication, I’ve found that I’m getting better at all kinds of general life skills. I think this is because earlier, I wasn’t able to pay attention well enough to learn a lot of things that most people pick up simply by being exposed to them — driving directions, for example, or the clever way my coworker deals with a particularly difficult client. Now I am taking medication that stimulates the part of my brain that notices these things and realizes they might be important. It’s wonderful.

    Another thing to consider is that people with ADD often develop other problems alongside. One of mine is anxiety-fueled procrastination. In college, I had a lot of trouble getting started and following through on projects because of my undiagnosed ADD. I felt extremely guilty about this, but, as I said above, sheer willpower couldn’t fix the problem. The only thing that worked was to wait until, right before the deadline, I felt so awful that misery itself motivated me to finish. Now that I’m being treated, the getting-started motivation is much less of a problem. But I still have that old emotional habit: new obligation –> instant, pre-emptive guilt –> impulse to hide from obligation. This isn’t something that ADD medication can fix; I have to work on it separately. (But it would be enormously more difficult to fix it without medication.)

    I hope this is helpful. I didn’t give a lot of concrete advice, partly because there’s already a lot in the comment threads and partly because, as I said above, some things will be very useful to you and some will be redundant. I think it’s helpful to step back and think about the big picture, too — as a person with ADD, what specifically are your challenges? what behaviors or approaches are keeping you from what you need to do? And don’t forget to notice what you’re good at, too.

  32. Frieda*

    Everyone has great advice that doesn’t need to be repeated, so I want to go in a different direction. I have ADHD too (not so much of the H, though); I was diagnosed in my mid-twenties. In addition to most of the things already mentioned, it’s worth looking into meditation/mindfulness study. I know, I know, this seems crazy to some (including me) but there have been actual clinical studies showing that mindfulness training can help people with ADHD learn to manage their attention. For example, some core concepts of mindfulness practice are (1) to be aware of what you are thinking and what your mind is doing, and (2) to take a step back and nonjudgmentally recognize your thoughts and emotions, but not necessarily act on that impulse; instead just relax and be still for a moment. In my experience ADHD is most troublesome when I don’t even know that I’ve gotten distracted until I look up and it’s 2 hours later. So mindfulness practice can, over time, help you recognize when you are getting off track.

    Also, it sounds silly, but the idea of just acknowledging a thought/impulse and then letting it “float away like a cloud” is REALLY helpful. So when you are sitting at your desk at work, trying to wrap up a project and you get an impulse to go check your email or Facebook or the Ask a Manager open thread, rather than letting the impulse control you, you can learn to take a minute to stop and acknowledge to yourself that “Yup, I’m feeling distracted right now,” without any judgment. Like, it is OK that you are feeling the impulse, but just because you are feeling it doesn’t mean you have to follow it. Then just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and try to let the thoughts float away.

    I know for some people it sounds really silly (it did for me). But then my therapist pointed out to me that what I was currently doing wasn’t working, so I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss alternatives. And unlike medication, there aren’t really any negative side effects. You can try mindfulness and see if it helps, and worst case it doesn’t and you can stop. It’s not quick or easy, but the benefits can be great.

    Here’s some very basic info:

    1. Chrissi*

      I have been trying to get started on mindfulness for a while now, and I just can’t figure out how to start. I get the basic concept, but I can’t figure out how to practically apply it. Any resources you know of that could help? And can you just do it on your own or do you need a therapist or someone to help you along?

      1. Frieda*

        Well first of all it’s not easy, so don’t get discouraged (I’m by no means an expert or even really proficient; I’m just getting started myself). There are lots of options. I found this book ( The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen monk) to be useful, but there are plenty of guides that are more practical-based than spiritual. There are also mindfulness groups in a lot of places, you can probably find some just by Googling.

        I only know about her from reading, but the woman in the interview above is a psychiatrist who teaches mindfulness for ADHD specifically:

  33. Simonthegrey*

    I have had ADD my whole life. I was medicated for one period just after college, but chose to go off the medication because I didn’t like how it made me feel.

    I write everything down, constantly. I just started using Cozi as a calendar and tracker; and we have a wall calendar where we list events.

    I also help students deal with time management issues, and one thing that people find helpful is keeping a time log. Over a 24 hr period, write down literally everything you do (10am-10:27am, facebook; 10:27-10:30 googling cat pictures…5-5:45 shop for dinner, 5:46-6:30 cook dinner) so you can see where you are spending your time. This can help someone with ADD who feels like they are constantly out of time. Once you see it written down, it can be easier to identify what needs to be changed to keep up with tasks better.

    As for the job situation, it might help to think about the kind of jobs you are holding and the reasons why you leave them/are fired from them. Keep the time journal at work. If it’s boredom that makes you change jobs, identify what you could do to keep involved in your workplace. These are just off the top of my head….

  34. KayDay*

    A few things I have found that help me, but run a bit contrary to the advice I am usually given:

    Break up large projects into big chunks, not small tasks. I find both a huge project and a huge list of small tasks overwhelming, a few large-ish chunks is much more manageable for me.

    Avoid multi-tasking. It’s really tempting to try to get started on everything (or at least, it is for me), but forcing myself to finish item 1 before moving on to item 2 is really important (for me).

    Pick something to do at random. Set a timer for 30-45 minutes when you “just can’t” focus. (The random part is actually important for me, otherwise I spend 30 minutes trying to determine which is the most important thing to be doing at that time.)

    Lists. At my first job I made a daily to-do list. At my second job, I found a weekly to do list from which I pulled out some daily priorities was more helpful.

    Ignore people who seem confused about why you are writing things down. One boss used to seem annoyed when I needed to always write things down (she liked to give me tasks at fairly random times, like when she saw me in the hallway on my way to get water). I kinda just ignored this and did my own thing….maybe not a good idea for all bosses, but it worked in my case.

  35. Ajax*

    I don’t have ADHD, but someone close to me does who, like you, made the decision to go off medication for good. His medication helped his concentration and energy, but worsened his anxiety and caused him to lose weight. He chose to change his lifestyle and now his ADHD symptoms, while not perfect, are probably 80% improved. What might work for you:

    1) Look after yourself. Eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, and get enough sleep.

    2) Exercise. You don’t have to run marathons, but you probably should get some exercise everyday. Can you walk or bike to work? Can you run on your lunch break? If you don’t already work out, try walking for 1/2 hour everyday and build from there.

    3) I’m going to assume you work in an office at a computer. Take screen breaks. Everyone should do this anyway, but it’s essential if you have ADHD. Use an app or set an alarm, and for 10 minutes out of every hour do a task that doesn’t involve your computer. If you can stand up and move around, even better.

    4) No screens/limited screen time at home. This one is really hard, but try to limit your computer, TV, etc. use as much as possible when you’re not on the clock.

    5) You may be in the wrong job. I have another friend who struggled with terrible ADHD. He never finished high school and bounced from job to job for years. Finally he got a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant, and worked his way up to executive chef. It’s great for him because he’s on his feet, there’s always a million things to do, he can be creative and it’s social. He’s really thriving. Take a hard look at what you are trying to do – maybe those things which are a deficit to you now could be an asset in another situation.

    Best of luck to you!

  36. Harriet*

    This is a timely post! I realised today that my new job isn’t working as well for me as my last one because my ADD brain chemistry thrives on reacting to emergencies, whereas a functional workplace tries to have systems in place to avoid emergencies coming up. I’m not so good at day to day organisation tasks, keeping systems ticking along and having things ready in plenty of time; I’m great when the proverbial hits the fan and somebody needs to run triage and take control of the situation. Yesterday, we had a series of disasters and even once they’d been taken care of, I managed to work better once I got back, but I really can’t arrange an emergency to happen every morning!

    1. ano*

      Could you do something like Brain Training in the morning to get you started? Something that gives you the rush of a timer but isn’t a ‘real’ emergency.

  37. Hapax Legomenon*

    Some of these suggestions will help you out immensely; others just won’t work for you at all. So first and foremost, pare down. Organization doesn’t come naturally with ADHD, and having to deal with fewer elements when you’re trying to learn new habits helps immensely. You can add stuff back in when you find what works for you, but this will make it easier to see what works and feel like you’re making progress. Find out what you can cut out of your work environment that helps distract you–physical clutter like paper, sounds, visual elements, even computer programs with alerts that throw you off.
    What works for me is making a list of my job tasks. First I made the list by priority; then, when I’ve figured out what’s most important, I rewrite the list so that tasks I have difficulty with are alternating with tasks I enjoy. A schedule never worked well for me, because I stress about falling behind(even though I’m allowed to work at my own pace) and that just disrupts my concentration. But a list, the same list every day, I can follow. And if I find myself drifting off task, I start at the top of the list and go through each task to make sure it’s been fully completed. Checking my list serves as a break from whatever I was trying to do, so when I come back to the task I was struggling with I feel like my attention span for it has been reset.
    I CAN’T have more than one list, or at most a notepad. If I do I just start ignoring all of my lists.

  38. smallbutmighty*

    I don’t have ADHD, but I do have nonverbal learning disability, which shares some characteristics of ADHD.

    One really simple thing that’s helped me tremendously is to simply acknowledge that certain things that are not hard for other people are hard for me, and planning and pacing accordingly. Basically, I look at my workload and create a sort of IEP for myself. This means that I approach certain tasks and processes differently than my colleagues, and I acknowledge and accept those differences.

    For big projects (which paralyze me), for example, I actually build a deck, as though I’m going to give a presentation on the topic, even though I may be only a contributor. This helps me understand the scope of the project, my role, the timelines, and my specific tasks. (It’s also given me mad deck-building skills, which are good for all sorts of things.) As I’m calendaring it out, I set check-in reminders for myself at important intervals.

    For conference calls, which I find excruciating, I actually built myself a checklist I fill out while I’m on the call. Who was on the call? What got decided? What action items arose? Did anyone say anything funny or memorable? I actually write this stuff down, even though I’m not the note-taker.

    I know everyone loves folders for their email, but I hate them and have never found them useful, and I have really good search skills and never have problems finding things. So I’ve excused myself from the inbox-zero chest-beating competitions so popular in offices like mine, and I’ve accepted that if someone looks over my shoulder at my Outlook, it’s going to look way different from theirs. That’s OK. I have superior search kungfu and inferior folder management skills, and it’s MY inbox.

    tl; dr = get to know your strengths and weaknesses, develop processes that work for you (and possibly you alone), and cut yourself some slack.

    1. smallbutmighty*

      Oh, and one other thing (and this is a little hard to admit out loud): I had to get very intentional about where I prioritized my work in my life, and I chose to de-prioritize other things in order to be better at my job.

      I realized that many everyday tasks took a higher proportion of my energy and ability to concentrate than they would for other people, and that those capacities were finite.

      I decided to maintain fewer friendships and pursue fewer hobbies. I like people and I like hobbies, but giving my attention to these things was drawing down my reserves. If I’m honest, I find my job and my marriage and a couple of really beloved pursuits (distance running and writing) really satisfying, and friendship and hobbies not as much so. (Yes, I just admitted I like my job better than I like my friends. It’s true. I’m sorry.)

      Since making this conscious decision, I have a less cluttered calendar and feel less overwhelmed by my day-to-day life.

      If there are ways to make your life less crowded with stuff, people, or commitments, try it out. I’ll bet it will help.

    2. Kelly L.*

      This may be a dumb question, but what is “building a deck” in the context of presentations/projects? I’m stuck on patios or on Magic: The Gathering. ;)

      1. Emily K*

        A powerpoint presentation is often quaintly called a “slide deck” or just as “deck” as a throwback to the days when presentations were literal stacks of slides run through a projector.

      2. smallbutmighty*

        Sorry, I forget that there are people for whom corporate jargon is NOT a first language. :)

        A “deck” is the collection of slides (often but not always PowerPoint) used in a presentation. I don’t know why it’s called that or how the term originated. I know it’s a term a lot of my non-corporate friends like to mock.

    3. Susie*

      “For conference calls, which I find excruciating, I actually built myself a checklist I fill out while I’m on the call. Who was on the call? What got decided? What action items arose? Did anyone say anything funny or memorable? I actually write this stuff down, even though I’m not the note-taker.”


      As soon as I get off the phone with someone I’ve forgotten the entire conversation. It’ll randomly be triggered later but I don’t have the information when I need it.

  39. KJR*

    To share my own experience…I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called SLE, or Lupus. In addition to the other fun stuff that goes along with it, one of the issues that presents itself is something called “Lupus fog.” Before, I had an excellent memory, and concentration and focus that couldn’t be broken for anything. Now, not so much. It’s been a real adjustment for me, and really difficult to accept that this is my “new normal,” considering I’ve had to really change how I do things. I too use a lot of lists, and write EVERYTHING down. If it doesn’t get written down, it’s not going to happen. I also text myself from my phone to either my work or home e-mail constantly if I think of something that needs to be done in one place or the other. It’s just a matter of staying on top of things. All of the suggestions listed so far are right on target. Good luck!!

  40. the_scientist*

    I don’t have ADHD, but I do struggle with anxiety that ebbs and flows. It was particularly bad as I was finishing grad school and it led to MAJOR productivity fails. I’d have days where it would take me literally hours to get motivated to get dressed, get my stuff together and leave my apartment to go to campus, and I’m not that productive when it comes to working from home. My other forms of anxiety avoidance and procrastination include putzing around on the internet for excessive amounts of time and working out. Some things that I’ve found effective are:
    – I have some days where I wake up and just *know* that my anxiety is going to be bad. I find doing things like packing my lunch, organizing an outfit, and having my bags ready make it easier for me to get going in the mornings. Even this morning, I was all over the place and as a result I forgot to put on deodorant before leaving to get to work. Whoops. On worse days, spending 5-10 minutes on deep breathing exercises and using this hippy-dippy “rescue remedy” also help me get focused
    – make a to-do list, and for big or overwhelming tasks (say, a graduate thesis), break them into smaller, specific items
    – keep a notebook to write down ideas that fly into your head while you are working on something else so you don’t get distracted
    – take good notes during meetings and write down “action items” from any conversations
    -drink lots of water. Not only is it good for you generally, but it will make you get up to pee and refill your water bottle frequently. These little breaks are ideal to stretch and take a few deep breaths.
    – The self-control app for iOS will block the internet entirely, or specific websites for a set period of time
    -reward yourself: if you are really productive for X amount of time, take a short break to get some fresh air or coffee, or switch to a less-onerous task to give your mind a break.

  41. Sara M*

    I thought you would all like this story. I was reading through these suggestions and finding a ton of them really helpful for coping with my terrible distractibility problem. Halfway through, I got up to find my husband in the kitchen to tell him, “Gosh, I’m reading this great thread about how to be less distractible!” Then I saw the top of the fridge had to be cleared off, so I took care of that. Then I came back to the computer and realized I hadn’t finished reading this thread. Then I was going to go back to the kitchen to have a good laugh over how I hadn’t finished reading, but instead I made myself finish this post.

    I suppose I should go back to the other window and finish that post I started composing three hours ago.

  42. ND*

    I have had ADD forever it seems, and got off my medication about 6 months ago. It was very trying. I went to some counseling for it, and this is what has really worked for me:

    -Put like 5 projects on your desk (or tasks, or whatever)
    -Start working on one. When you get bored, float on over to another. When you get bored again, float on over to the next one.
    -Keep doing this. You’ll find that you’ve finished most of your tasks/projects in a timely fashion…you’re just not doing them in a ‘typical’ manner.

    Good luck, I know it’s really tough!

  43. T*

    OP, have you considered being open with your manager about your ADHD? I think it would be important for her to know what’s going on as you go through a trial-and-error period to figure out what works for you, especially if you need to take frequent breaks. You don’t want to appear like a slacker when you may really be more productive than many of your colleagues. She will probably appreciate your desire to stay at your company and continue doing good work. She may be a good source of feedback and support.

    1. Chrissi*

      That’s a tricky one. Many people have preconceived notions about ADHD including many that don’t think it exists. I thought I was doing the right thing by telling my manager, but she mostly just acted like she didn’t believe me and nothing changed and I don’t think it was worth it. Fortunately she didn’t treat me differently or anything, just made me feel terrible about something I was already insecure about. So if you choose to do this, be prepared for a reaction you weren’t expecting or only do it if you really trust your manager and think it will help.

  44. Christine*

    Does anyone have any stories about trying medication and finding it worked, and what that process was like? What got you to the point you decided it was necessary, how did you go about seeking help, and how did the meds help and how do you feel on them?

    I’ve struggled with ADD my whole life, never been formally diagnosed, but it’s getting to the point where my own coping strategies aren’t enough. I have control issues and anxiety issues too, though, so asking for help is hard for me if I can’t picture how it will go.

    1. Diane*

      Stress or anxiety will exacerbate ADD symptoms.

      I was diagnosed several years ago, and at the time I tried a few medications. One that worked was a small does of a tricyclic antidepressant. I actually stopped having vivid dreams, and during the day I felt much more calm, level, and focused. It did cause uncomfortable dry mouth, but that’s not common.

      Ritalin did not do anything for me. My stepson takes Adderall, and while it does help him focus, it also makes him feel uncomfortably alert at night. He takes it for a few days, takes a break for a day or two, then goes back on it.

    2. Jennifer*

      My issue isn’t ADD, but anxiety and severe depression. It took 2 years to get my medication right. My first mistake was starting with my PCP. I am severely depressed and she just did not have the expertise to help me, but wasn’t willing to say so. We had a great relationship, so when she said she could help me, I trusted that. After 6 months, I was still seeing no change and the frustration was compounding the problem. She prescribed what ended up being one of the correct medications, but the dose and instructions for how/when to take it were totally wrong. After talking to my OB/GYN at my annual exam, she referred me to a psychiatrist . I don’t know if there is a name for what he does specifically, but it is working with the patient to find the medicine(s) that work for them. As to the specifics of heat he did, he didn’t just say “oh, you’re depressed, here are some pills.” He asked me lots and lots of questions, about my health, my mood, my family, how I respond/feel in lots of different types of situations, my habits, etc. he then diagnosed specifically what was wrong and then we started with medication and over the course of a year and a half we got it right. For example, I have severe depression and anxiety, but not ADD, which can look similar. I do see someone else for therapy. Getting the medication right is tough. There are so many different ones, plus their combinations. In addition, it’s not like you know in two days if they’re working. I will say it was worth it for me. Not feeling like I’m drowning every day is the greatest feeling. Also, there are lots of different types of therapy. I did talk therapy for a while and it did resolve some issues, but the most helpful now is behavior therapy. It’s sort of like this thread…here is my challenge, what can I do to solve it, like eating right, exercise, organization and structure of my day, and my life, etc.

      God luck to you. It can be tough at first to seek help, and during actually. However, the end result is SO worth it!

  45. Diane*

    I have ADD and live with a houseful of ADD or ADHDers. I’ve found that routines, habits, and schedules are critical to ensuring I don’t lose or forget something.

    Keys are always hung up next to the door or in my right coat pocket when I’m out (unless I want to spend 20 minutes looking, only to discover them in a stupid place). TV remote always goes next to the TV. My favorite work pen always goes in the pen cup, not the drawer. I sound sort of OCD.

    I do mundane tasks in the same order every day, or I will forget them.

    I know I always underestimate how long a task takes, so I now build in extra time (we discussed something like this yesterday).

    I make lists of tasks, then break down the tasks into tiny details so I know what I need to do and don’t get overwhelmed by a big hairy process.

    For big projects, I make a timeline of each task with due dates (I have an Excel version I can share). I also share this with people who are participating so they understand that I need their pieces to move forward.

    Use one calendar/task system for everything and update it religiously. My work Google calendar is synced to my iPhone, so I can update from anywhere and include appointments, errands, and project time.

    I block out time on my calendar to focus on projects. So I may need two or three hours to shut my office door, turn on music, and get in the groove to research, write, build spreadsheets, or whatever.

    For tasks I really don’t like, I use some version of the pomodoro technique mentioned above. I check in with a friends after 20 minutes, then I get five minutes to do something else.

    If I’m overwhelmed, I pick something small that I can control (clean my desk drawer, file a few things) so I feel in control and competent and orderly, then I can go on to the next thing. It can be meditative to clean or file, so it’s a way to calm the hyper brain.

    Exercise, meditation, yoga or some combo really help. If I’m stuck (can’t seem to focus, can’t figure out where to start, can’t get out of a negative mood), I walk the dog or otherwise change scenery.

    Read up on ADHD so you understand what your brain is doing–and give yourself permission to accept that it’s okay and has advantages. Your ADHD ancestors didn’t get eaten by saber-toothed tigers because their constant shifts in attention helped them spot something stalking them. Your ability to hyperfocus lets you become immersed in a task or idea.

    If you can, look at jobs that play to your strengths. What can you do that has enough variety and also a support system in place to help you manage details?

  46. Jennifer*

    One tip for those who are perpetually late and can’t figure out why. It can be a combo of underestimating how long it really takes to do something and distractability.

    If you’re always late to work, for example…

    Time yourself doing what it takes to get ready for work. On one day or even a Saturday, go through the steps to shower and dress and whatever you do to get ready. Also time your commute. Then, working backward, plan what time you need to get started.

    I helped one of my friends with this because she was always late. She had it in her head that it took her 30 minutes to get ready for work. We clocked it and it really took an hour. For some reason she was only including her shower time, but not her dawdle and make coffee time too. Plus she was estimating her commute on it’s best day, not the average.

    Another part to this, that has been mentioned before, is to get clothes picked out, lunch made, keys found, etc the night before. That way you don’t get sidetracked while looking for your keys or picking out your shoes.

  47. Rachel*

    I have adult ADHD, and found the following helped me:

    – Having regular check-ins with my boss. Running through my To Do List (And speaking up when I need more tasks to stay motivated) helps.

    – Summarizing next steps after a meeting aloud or by email. This helps me to make sure that I “got” all of the important action items.

    – Cleaning my desk every day. I can live with dirty dishes and multiple pairs of shoes, but I know that doesn’t help me keep track of my belongings or make a good first impression. Plus, cleaning is a good physical task that helps me re-focus.

    – Learning to apologize appropriately at work. Early in my career, I think I came off as overly defensive or scattered when I forgot to complete a task. Learning how to say “I’m sorry, and I think we can fix x by doing y,” has helped me to develop much more positive relationships with my coworkers.

    Don’t get down on yourself for job hopping Sometimes it takes several years (and jobs) to figure out the best place for yourself. I went through several unhappy years before I found my current job (Ironically, with a boss who has ADHD, too!)

  48. Book Lover*

    I use lots of lists, stacks and stacks of legal pads, when I get something done, I cross it off.

    I also stream NPR so I always have 2 things to focus on–which helps. If that makes any sense. Sometimes the trick for me was finding the right environment, a very busy one where I had to answer the phone, while talking to a live person and sending an email kept me focused.

  49. Janna*

    The answer is going to need to be personalized, as a number of people have said here. A lot depends on why you’re changing jobs so often and the kinds of supports you have access to.

    I run Actually ADHD on Tumblr, and we have a bunch of ideas over there. I’m (slowly) working on fixing the tagging system so it’s easier to use, but one that could help is work; another one is tips and tricks. And the Ask box is always open over there (including for anonymous questions), so if anyone needs help with something we will give it a go!

  50. doctorex*

    I manage projects, and some of this definitely depends on the content of the work you’re doing. Here are some organizational tips that help me:

    You have to keep a list (yes, one, single list) of everything you are responsible for. You can spend a very delimited amount of time restructuring the list once a day, or if an emergency project comes up.

    I find it also helps to keep lists of what I have done each day, including the task I am currently working on. That way, if somebody asks me what I am up to, whether to gauge whether they want me to reprioritize or to decide whether to give me a new project or just because they are curious, I have a clear, non-rambling way to answer.

    Also, if I have a meeting about a document or a project, I make notes of what needs to be done and who is responsible for what moving piece– especially for the pieces that I am responsible for. Where appropriate, I make sure the whole team sees it, so that any miscommunications are nipped in the bud.

    I also keep files with feedback on my work and a list of accomplishments, which come in very handy when I need to have an evaluation meeting or talk about what I do to people who don’t know or understand.

    On really bad days, I set timers to get work done. I am very efficient at producing work when I focus and set my mind to it, so I set a timer for fifty minutes and then get ten minutes at the end of that to check email, etc., and do other distracting tasks. I also time-delimit tasks so that I don’t get lost in the weeds.

  51. ADE*

    I don’t have an ADD diagnosis, but I absolutely have periods of intensity followed by periods in which my mind is mushy. And I keep my cell phone on silent and have periods where I literally can’t talk to people or have any distractions.

    I am enough in sync with the rest of my life and have enough strengths that I’ve been able to drop a career that depended on long-term planning and organizing details (no! no! no! no!) and pick up a field that’s much more a fit for me and all my personality squiggles. I’m so happy I found work that fits my personality and not the other way around.

  52. FRRibs*

    This sounds silly but…

    When you wake up for work, no matter how much time you have before you have to go in, DO NOT turn on the TV, look at the computer, the iphone, play with the pets, talk to people on the phone, etc. Shower, dress, breakfast, leave. If you have extra time, it’s much better to spend it in the parking lot at work than get trapped by things like spending 20 minutes trying to decide what radio station you want to listen to for 5 minutes…and now you’re 15 minutes late.

    1. Kerry*

      Yes, totally agree with this! I tell myself I can get in early and do exactly the same things I was about to do (check personal email, whatever), just safely in the office instead of risking being late.

  53. ano*

    Another option which I actually use at home for my meds but can easily be adapted to a file on a desk: Use a ‘per day box’. In the case of my meds its a 7 day interlocking set with the days marked. Once I take them I can move the box for today to the other end of the row. Then I can look and *know* I’ve taken them.

    Same could be used for days of the week with a file: Have a sheet for each task that needs doing with the crucial info on it and then extras for one offs. Once the regulars have been done move them to the next ‘due’ day (If you need to you can run 2 weeks worth of days in the file depending on your job). The one offs can either be refiled for when they next need looking at or ‘closed’ if they are finished.

  54. Kerry*

    I have very mild ADHD and my biggest help has been just a notebook where I write down every. single. thing. that I have to do. Even “Get my round of coffee in” and “Email Lisa on the fourth floor to see if she wants to go for lunch”.

    Also getting up and moving around during the day, like walking all the way around the office to get tea or just going for a long walk during lunch, helps me stay more focused when I’m sitting at my desk.

  55. Mende*

    Boy can I ever relate to that question I have the same diagnosis and I get overly excited a lot when I find a job that I think I can do and ends up I can’t learn fast enough, it got me discouraged. I see it as a challenge I’d want to overcome. But I found that when it’s something I really love to do and know it well, it’s easier to stay in focus anything that’s outside our interest area it’s always harder for us ADDers and ADHDers. So I’d say stick with what you love to do.

  56. Alyssa*

    I have skimmed over some replies – not many – and most are about ways to work better. I just wanted to throw out some suggestions on diet and supplements. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune last year and “brain fog” was one symptom I was dealing with, as well as arthritis pain that prevented me from tying my shoes, it really affected my job. I found an awesome health and wellness Doctor who helped me with my diet and supplementation – I cut out gluten and most sugars and added Vitamin D, magnesium among many others. Now a year later I am taking zero pharmaceuticals and I am pain free and “fog” free.
    I just want to encourage you not to give in to accepting ADHD as a diagnoses. MOST things like that can be managed with diet.

  57. Mende*

    I agree with Alyssa many conditions can be managed by with what you eat cut out sugars, eat more veggies, good fats and proteins helps with the fog

  58. Janna*


    Some symptoms of ADHD may be helped by diet and supplements.

    However, considering the fact that ADHD is a result of how the brain actually functions (specifically, the frontal lobe and dopamine use), most people who have ADHD will not see any real, lasting improvement.

    By all means, give it a shot. Probably won’t hurt (do talk to a doctor and nutritionist to ensure that you’re not going to do harm to yourself) and could help.

    But in general, people who have ADHD need to implement a ton of strategies to help them manage their symptoms, and many of us require medication to make that work better.

  59. Tiff*

    I doubt I would have gotten out of the same cycle you are in without taking medication. Find a job you’re so interested in it that it BECOMES your distraction during other activities. I have yet to meet a person with ADHD who didn’t become hyper focused on things they love, so the answer for you, if you don’t want medication, to find something you love doing.

  60. Rachel*

    I have ADD and can empathize. For me, the key was finding a job that meshed well with my ADD and took advantage of the strengths ADD gives me. For example, the idea of sitting at a desk all day doing the same monotonous tasks all day long is enough to make me want to hurl myself out of a window. So, I found a job that A) I’m passionate about, and B) keeps me working on different tasks each week that take me out of the office occasionally.

    After getting an iPhone several years ago, I found that the calendar and reminder features are a lifeline — no more missed assignments or deadlines.

    When I’m working on a project, I tend to get distracted by email, phone, etc… so I make sure that I turn my phone off and do not check email unless necessary. Having a quiet work environment also helps. If you are bothered by noise and can’t help the environment, investing in a good set of headphones might help.

    I’ve tried several different medications to better manage my ADD and found that Adderall works best for me with very minimal side effects. I wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood, so by that time I had already developed a lot of coping strategies and find that I don’t need to take medication every day. Now, I mostly take it on days that I know will require extra focus to details.

    CHADD offers a lot of support groups in different areas for adults with ADD. You can find if there’s one local to you at

    Good luck, OP!

  61. Melanie*

    I have severe ADHD as well and through trial and error have found a few things that work for me. First I love using Microsoft One Note. I create a few tables on one page where I can list my current projects, random to-dos, and a third where I write out what I need to do each day that week. This allows me to keep everything in front of me and in one spot. The next thing I do is actually block time on my calendar for desk work and I title it by whatever I need to work on at that time. Then I will get a reminder on my computer that I am supposed to be working on the next task.
    Another thing that has really helped me is listening to classical music while working. I find that if I have one other stimulant to my senses, that it helps me to focus…kind of like doodling while you are listening. Music with words tends to distract me as does the noise of the other workers around me. I have a ‘classical study station’ set up on Pandora that really helps.
    And one of the final things that helps is reminders…whether it’s post it notes or whatever, I put a reminder to ‘Focus’ somewhere where I can see it so when I begin to wander, it draws me back.
    It can definitely be hard when you have ADHD to find things that work for you. At least it helps to know that you have it so you can catch yourself when you realize you are doing something such as interrupting someone, etc.
    Good luck! :)

  62. Melanie*

    One more thing, Lol I know people with ADHD probably won’t read through all the comments this far (even I scrolled through quickly…reading is painful with ADHD…unless you are really fascinated by the topic ;) ) I should have mentioned in my previous post that I am also on an ADHD med and have noticed a world of difference. It’s still a struggle though. And I agree with a previous poster that working with your ADHD is the ideal route. ADHD is a pain but we have traits that other people don’t… ADHD folks are awesome at being able to see the big picture and be able to pick out how perhaps a change to A would affect H down the road. There are many other things that we are great at and it can really be a benefit sometimes rather than a detractor! :)

  63. WRM*

    I have adult ADHD. I have been fired from many jobs. I am 48 years old. I am in the mortgage finance industry. If I start in another field I will not be able to pay my bills. I have taken the medicine but in time it does not work anymore. Also the doctor tells me the medicine I take for ADHD will give me a heart attack because it is actually speed I am taking for ADHD. I have tried just black coffee and got off the medication for 3 years and boy do I see a difference. I do the lists and that helps. The one thing that is very hard for me is when my boss gives me instruction on a new project it takes me a long time to comprehend what she is saying. Even if someone is telling me instruction slow it takes me a while to comprehend what they are saying. This drives them crazy….if I tell anyone I have ADHD they treat me like I have some terrible horribe disease. If they walk away after instruction–I think about it and get it. If I write down everything they are saying during instruction they cannot believe I have to write it down–they think they are just giving me a simple project to do. Antother issue I have is in social situations I always get what they are saying a lot later then most. I will laugh at a joke a lot later too. They have given/branded me the “socially awkward” person of the office. Whenever I see the “socially awkward” person I always think they must have severe ADHD too. I am thinking I may have to just file for disability due to this problem as I keep getting fired over “she is not a good fit”, “she has social issues” and she is inconsistant in her good work. I am a Loan Processor for mortgage loans and need to close about 20 loans a month. The WRONG business to be in if you have ADHD. It pays about 55k a year. If I get into something I can do due to my ADHD it pays about 25K a year. That is my issue…….

    1. smallbutmighty*

      This sounds rough.

      I can relate quite a bit to the difficulties you have in understanding a new project when it’s first presented. I’ve often struggled with this kind of thing, too.

      I’ve found, through trial and error, that it helps me a lot to explain the project to someone else. It forces me to slow down and think through what I have been told, what the overarching goal is, how the sub-tasks fit into that goal, and what the related roles and responsibilities are. In some cases there isn’t someone else who wants or needs an explanation, so I wind up explaining it to myself, instead.

      Sometimes when I am having a lot of trouble making sense of my role in a project, I actually compose an email to myself with very detailed instructions. Not only does it help me wrap my head around what’s been asked of me, but it serves as a resource for me if the project gets bogged down or interrupted and I find I need a refresher on what it is we’re doing. (This happens to me a lot.)

      If it’s a really critical project and I’m not sure I totally understand, I’ll even summarize my role and tasks, email them to my manager, and ask, “Can you confirm that this is what you’d like me to do?”

      I’ve also created a sort of niche for myself in relaying project roles and tasks to others. I’m good at it because I am, by necessity, so detailed in my breakdown of projects. So when it’s time to give my counterpart in Japan instructions on completing a complex project, or when it’s time to document a highly technical process our new hires need to learn, I’m the go-to person.

      I hope you can find your way to something that’s a better fit. I so enjoy being on a team that leverages my oddities, rather than judges me for them.

  64. Andrew M. Farrell*

    If you have a mac, install which lets you block a list of websites for a certain period of time. Unlike a browser plugin, which you can disable from the browser settings, this can’t be undone until the time you set us over.

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