can I ask my boss to check on me more regularly so I’ll get more done?

A reader writes:

I have a lot of qualities that should serve me well in the workforce: excellent pattern recognition, creativity, a desire to help others. But I struggle massively with organization, discipline, and focus.  (I do have ADHD and am medicating for it.)

Right now, given monthly check-ins with my supervisor, I feel like I’m a B- or C grade employee: I consistently get my work done before hard deadlines (when I have them), I step up when my teammates need a favor, I volunteer for unpleasant assignments fairly regularly (e.g., when one of us needs to jump on a call at 2 AM). I figure out a decent amount of stuff on my own, catch my own mistakes most of the time, and even catch the mistakes of more experienced teammates sometimes. But I sometimes spend entire days being minimally productive. Internal clients sometimes have to email me twice to get a response. And I’m failing miserably at completing certain administrative/communication tasks on time. For example, we’re supposed to document time spent on various projects each week, and I usually get around to doing it once a month or so; we’re supposed to communicate briefly about every priority project’s status to clients each week, even if nothing’s changed with that project – I’ll miss a week here and there.

Can I ask my boss to check in on me more regularly? If I had someone checking in with me daily – or even weekly – about my to-do list, I would probably be getting a LOT more done at work. But I’m afraid I may just call attention to my problems, and I don’t want him to feel like he has to hold my hand, either. I did mention my organizational difficulties briefly when we were talking about my reports being late and we discussed various tools and strategies for doing certain things daily, weekly, monthly, etc., but that’s been about it. Some of my problems may also stem from being heavily involved in volunteer activities outside work – my attention is split between work and my volunteer role (which I’ve heard others describe as being nearly a full-time job itself – but I’ve made a commitment to hold that position for at least the next year).

How worried should I be about something like this? Should I be asking for help holding myself accountable when it comes to things like client requests, most of which don’t come with hard deadlines? Maybe my boss could check with me on Fridays to make sure I’ve done certain things? Or do I just need to figure this out on my own? If the context helps, my team is small – my boss only has four direct reports, and the others are all much more experienced than I am (they all achieved the top paygrade for our position years ago, whereas I’m only a year in). We have weekly team meetings, but 1:1s only once a month.

You can’t ask your boss to check in on you daily — that’s making him responsible for you staying on top of your work in a way that you really need to do yourself, adds to his own workload, and risks communicating that you can’t handle those pieces of the job.

You might be able to ask for it weekly, but you’d need to frame it a little differently. It can’t be “Can you check up on me weekly to make sure I’m on top of my to-do list?” But it could be “Would you be open to moving our check-ins from monthly to weekly? I find them really helpful, and I’d love to be able to check in more often on progress on projects and prioritization, and to debrief recent work and get your feedback.” Well— hmmm. Now that I write that, it might be a big request of someone who’s currently only doing it monthly. (Personally I think monthly is too infrequent, but clearly your boss doesn’t.) Instead, you might leave it a little more open — like saying “weekly or every other week” — and see what he’s willing to do.

But would that solve it? I’m thinking that if you really want daily checks, every other week probably isn’t going to cut it. Plus, what’s going to happen when your boss is on vacation or busy with other things and has to cancel your check-ins? (Most managers do end up canceling sometimes because other things end up taking priority.)

I’d rather see you come up with systems that you can use independently of him (and I bet he’d rather see that too). So let’s break down what it is about your boss checking with you that would help. Is it that someone else would be tracking your to-do items and so you wouldn’t need to worry about being thorough there? If so, it might help to imagine that he’s asked you to report to him each day/week on what’s on your to-do list and the status of each item … but instead prepare that report for yourself (using the same document from week to week so it all lives in one place and everything stays on there until it’s done). Or, is it that him checking in would make you feel accountable in a way that you don’t now? If it’s that, one option is to tell him that you’ve found you do better when you’re updating on your work more often (you can even say it helps you hold yourself accountable) and so you’re going to send him a weekly update on where your projects stand. He can read/respond if he wants, but it’s fine if he doesn’t. That might make you feel like what you’re doing is more visible, even though you’ve initiated the system rather than him requiring it. Or if it’s about him spotting things you’ve forgotten and reminding you about them, make technology do the same thing for you — set up a system of electronic reminders that will keep nagging you until you mark the thing as done (and be religious about not marking anything as done until it really is, even if that means dealing with a reminder popping up every hour).

In other words, figure out what you’d be hoping to get from him checking in with you so frequently, and then figure out a way to replicate that without him.

That’s easier said than done, I know, especially with ADHD. But it can be done — and the ADHD makes it all the more important that you have systems outside of your own head, so that you’re not relying on memory to track things. (That makes life easier for everyone, but it’s especially true with ADHD.) The trick here is to figure out what those systems can be if they’re not your boss. It’s doable!

Speaking of which, don’t underestimate how much this is likely the ADHD at work. It’s not that you’re just unfocused and disorganized; it’s that ADHD makes this stuff really hard. So you might also talk to whoever’s treating you and let them know it’s not yet under control. It’s possible you can change something about your treatment that can help, or that they’ll have ADHD-specific strategies that I don’t have. Good luck!

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Agent J

    What if you frame documenting your weekly tasks as compiling data for your reviews? It’s a bit more detailed than what reviews normally need, but over time you can start to use that data for high level summaries and it’ll make it easier to pull out your accomplishments when you need to.

    It’s more about giving yourself a goal to work toward with light internal pressure than using external pressure to make sure you’re on top of things.

    1. OP Here

      I like this idea a lot! I don’t have a lot of work experience that really lent itself to that kind of reporting, but this job is a lot more project-based, and weekly documentation would probably serve me really well in terms of knowing what I’m doing, what I’ve done, etc. Especially when I’m juggling multiple projects each week.

      1. MiddleChild

        I like to document my work on a weekly basis in MS Word. I have a table of contents with sections for (1) current projects, (2) projects pending feedback, (3) projects on hold, (4) future projects, and (5) recently completed projects. Under current projects, I list all items which I’m in the middle of. Projects pending feedback are awaiting info from another source before I can proceed. The next section is reserved for projects on hold until further notice. Future projects are items which my manager has mentioned needing but which I have not yet started work on/don’t know the full details yet. Recently completed projects are all items finished within the past month (I delete older items as I enter a new month).

        As I progress on each item, I document in bullet points the date, what work was done/recommendations received/when drafts were submitted and to whom/where on the network drive I’m storing the work, etc. And as items move from one category to another, I can move items around as needed using drag/drop in the sidebar table of contents navigation in MS Word. Each week, I create a copy of last week’s list and save as the new week’s date so I have a running history.

        I find this system works really well for me. It serves as a quick and easy reference to see where I am with things, who I need to follow up with, reference for my annual review and resume, and so on. My manager likes to refer to it as well and helps me prioritize among multiple requests, where I can simply drag and drop higher priority items to the top of my current projects list.

        1. Blossom

          This is basically what Trello can do for you too! (Pardon my evangelism – not trying to convert you fom Word if it works for you, but wanted to let others know about a really user-friendly online tool you can use in a similar way, either for a personal to-do list or for a shared project).

          1. Blossom

            Well, actually, Trello can’t take snaphots from week to week (as far as I’m aware), so I retract a small percentage of that recommendation :-)

          2. AnonLib

            I love Trello! I am not a naturally super organized person, but am now in a managerial role that requires balancing multiple projects at once and I find that Trello is amazing for helping keep track of things. I love the ability to post updates to tasks and have multiple to-do lists at once. I’ve recommended it to several people since starting to use it.

      2. Goreygal

        I’d also ask your employer to let you complete a workplace neurodiversity profiler like DoIT profiler (UK based but still relevant) as it will advise on accommodations that should help you and your manager help you succeed at work.

      3. MS

        You sound just like me. I’m not diagnosed, but friends have assumed I am and your work behaviour sounds like me.

        Happily for me, my current role means I have multiple project managers checking on my work each day!

        In your situation, I’d say the suggestion of sending updates to your manager weekly on your progress would be wise. And book half an hour a day, every day, to write them. Start of day is good. You may never finish them each day, because you will be derailing and doing work instead, but that’s kind of the point. Pick the progress report up again after lunch as well.

    2. Elemeno P.

      I think this could help a lot. I also have trouble without hard deadlines, and my manager asked me to send an email every other week about the progress on those super long-term projects. I found it so helpful that I maintain an email list of those long-term items every day and send the results at the end of the week. Sometimes he reads it, sometimes he doesn’t, but I’m always on top of those long-term things now, and I set hard deadlines for myself in those emails so that I am accountable.

      In my case it started because my manager identified that I was having trouble and gave me a tool that really worked for me, but it would look really good on the LW to suggest a tool themselves.

    3. Ex-Teacher's Wife

      I felt unproductive a lot of days at work, so I started keeping a list of what I worked on for the day, organized by month. I’d list meetings and overall tasks I’d completed. I also kept my performance agreement in the document and would organize each day’s activity to whatever category it best fit in. It really helped when it came time to annotate my performance agreement because it was already there. Just add up numbers and list out specific things I’d added to procedures. I used word documents for a while, now it’s more of a modified bullet journal in OneNote. I also have started to love Trello for keeping me organized at home and large projects.

        1. Mockingjay

          Was just coming here to suggest OneNote, especially if your company uses the Office suite of tools. Everything flows into it and it is compatible with all the items you and your coworkers produce, whether email, documents, data, video, or diagrams. You can even share notebooks.

          When choosing a tracking tool, look for commonality and ease of use, especially if you are sharing or exporting data or if your timelines drive others.

        2. TardyTardis

          I use Excel for a lot of things day to day, but sometimes my work is number-crunchy and I love being able to add columns easily.

  2. Jedi Squirrel

    I use a kanboard approach. You can do this with sticky notes. It really helps keep things prioritized for me. And it’s very visual, so you can see where you are at all times.

    You can also use different color sticky notes to color code things, but don’t overthink things too much. The more simple it is, the more likely it is to work.

    1. stampysmom

      Yes! I second this. And also have a look at the pomodoro technique. You can get free apps on your phone. I’m easily distracted (Squirrel!) and I find that a godsend.

      1. Jedi Squirrel

        Seconded! Pomodoro technique is wonderful!

        I actually bought two digital timers at the dollar store and one is permanently set to 5 minutes and the other to 25 minutes just for this purpose.

        1. OP Here

          My husband (who also has ADD!) had great success with the Pomodoro method (and, I think, an associated app) at one of his previous jobs. I do like the idea of a technology-assist.

          1. Zillah

            I find technology to be really helpful in controlling my ADHD, but just a note of caution – when I see a lot of potentially helpful suggestions, I tend to try a lot of them all at once and then none end up working long term. So if it’s not already your plan, I’d suggest trying one or two of these suggestions first. (Sorry if that sounds patronizing! I just often need reminding of that.)

            1. OP Here

              Not patronizing at all — I appreciate everyone’s comments! I think I’m probably most interested in Trello, to start with (although my husband had great luck with Pomodoro, I’m a little worried it would just interrupt my hyperfocus once I’ve gotten started with something). Trello reminds me a little of the project management software I learned when I went back & got my MBA, and I loved that stuff.

        2. Jadelyn

          I found these cube shaped timers on Amazon, where each one of 4 of its sides is a different number of minutes, the top is neutral position, the bottom has a clock readout and some buttons. You just turn the cube so the length of time you want is on the top, and it starts the timer for that amount of time. When it goes off, just flip it back to “neutral” and it stops. I have the 5-10-20-30 minute one, but it comes in all kinds of combinations. Search for “Miracle TimeCube” on Amazon and you should find them.

      1. Betty

        There’s an extension called Pomello that integrates with Trello and a website called Kanban Flow (both free) that let you combine the kanban board with the Pomodoro timer mechanism. :-)

          1. ADHD Librarian

            I just used this for a while and I’m happy to report that I got TWO THINGS DONE. Now I’d better start it again so I can get more done, ha!

      2. peachie

        Also ADHD! We use this on my team — I think it was something that was implemented right before I started because the person in my role before me suggested using it, and I’m glad she did. In our case, it’s a bit more formal than you might need it to be (we have tags/labels we use, standard checklists, protocols of putting certain links on the cards, documenting all email interactions, etc.), but it does have a lot of nice integrations that can be helpful.

        The checklist feature (native to Trello, I think) might be a useful one for you. Once you build a checklist for one card, you can save it and copy it to any other card. This is good for tasks that will always have the same steps.

        There’s also an integration with TimeCamp, which is a time-tracking software. I’m not always great at using it, but it is very handy and not too fiddly — you just start a timer in the browser and it runs in the background until you turn it off. (But you do have to remember to turn it off! Once I was using it to complete my hours timesheet and found an entry for ’72 hours.’) I also have trouble remembering to put in task hours.

        Non-actionable advice — I think it’s common with ADHD folk to (a) try lots of methods for organization; and (b) to often not stick with those methods. I just want to validate that that’s okay! Your solution doesn’t have to be your forever solution. If a method/tool/system is helping you now, keep using it! If or when it doesn’t help anymore, try something new. For me, accepting this has freed up a lot of time and energy I used to spend on feeling guilty for not filling out my planner in four months. :)

        1. OP Here

          As far as timers go, I use an app that I love called “Talking Stopwatch & Timer.” You can set it so that it announces the time that’s passed in whatever interval you want for however many iterations you want. I current have mine set to announce the accrued time every 30 seconds (for up to 15 minutes, i.e. 30 iterations) to help me get ready in the morning. There’s just something about having a stopwatch announce, “Eight minutes and thirty seconds!” “Nine minutes!” “Nine minutes and thirty seconds!” that really keeps me moving. I haven’t used it for such, but I could set it to announce the time every 5 minutes for breaks, etc., too.

          1. Carolyn

            Thanks OP–I’m going to try this for my mornings. Your post sounds exactly like me, and these comments are so interesting and helpful!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      This is what I use the Sticky Note function on the computer for.

      I have them in long strips, color coded. Including just “forever notes” on a standard yellow for extensions for people I may need to call or formulas I use all the time, etc.

      1. Flash Bristow

        Trouble with sticky notes – real or virtual – is it can become like when you redesign your revision timetable.

        Spend an hour creating timetable. You’ve now lost an hour you were meant to be revising! Eek! Redesign timetable to new schedule. Repeat…

        1. Jedi Squirrel

          That’s true, and that’s why I try to keep things as simple as possible. (I have a tendency to overthink things and make them more complicated than they need to be.)

  3. Little Pig

    I struggle with this in grad school (lots of remote work and zero accountability). I couldn’t ask my advisor to check in more frequently, but I had great success finding accountability partners among my peers. One friend and I competed to see who had the most productive hours in a week [not a good idea for workaholics. great idea for slackers like moi.]. With another friend, I run down my daily plan most mornings. With another, I schedule monthly meetings to discuss our thesis progress.

    For me, just finding excuses to talk about my work and my progress, even little check-ins with peers, makes me feel less like I’m in a vacuum, and more like I’m in a dynamic environment where I can build momentum.

    1. KHB

      My postdoc adviser – who had probably a larger than average research group – actually did make time for formal weekly check-ins with each of us, and it was tremendously helpful for keeping my focus from slipping away completely.

      That doesn’t change the fact that if your particular adviser’s style isn’t to have regular check-ins, it’s hard to ask them to make an exception for just you. But some academics do take a more active approach to mentoring their underlings – and all can, and more should.

    2. Nelalvai

      This a great idea! I’m not a grad student but I work in a vacuum. Unless I’ve got a project already interesting enough to motivate me, I don’t talk about my work. At all. I’m gonna give this a try!

    3. OP Here

      I do have a colleague / mentor who I meet with more regularly than I meet with my boss (we have a standing meeting each week). I basically came on board to replace her as Internal Client X Lead so that she could work on other projects primarily (and continue to work on X only in a “side role”). She’s been extremely helpful thus far. I could easily restructure some of our time together to make sure I’ve got weekly accountability to someone else on certain projects. I think that would help a lot.

    4. epi

      I am a grad student too and my current strategy that helped a lot. My sister has ADHD and I recently went through a period of such bad productivity and focus that I strongly considered being evaluated myself. In the end I decided to get some other things under control first. I have trouble sticking to one system– I like switching it up, and sometimes a different system just lends itself better to what I need to get done (or what I am struggling with) at the time.

      Anyway, I started keeping a research diary. It takes the form of a folder full of documents, one document per week, one heading per day. Under that heading, I free-form write and plan about anything I need to get done, the challenges I foresee, etc. Often that turns into planning my next steps. At the end of each day I copy over my to-do list, reorganizing and rephrasing to reflect anything I got done that day. If I finished something important, I write that and I explain in words what was important about it. If I had a challenging day, I write that down, what I thought the problem was, and maybe problem solve a little. If I notice myself procrastinating and feeling stuck, I move over to the research diary and write about what is going on.

      It’s been about three weeks and it has already helped me meet some deadlines I previously thought were out of reach. It’s helped me by keeping my to-do list short and relevant (no out of date or weird items making the whole list seem like junk!), focus on successes, devote time to bigger-picture thinking and background work about my job, and actually problem solve bad days instead of just feeling like a time waster. I’d recommend it to anyone who has a lot of alone time they need to manage more effectively, especially if you will normally be in front of a computer when you’re supposed to be working.

    5. Anax

      Came in to say this, too. I’m in a part of IT where accountability is hard too – lots of big, complicated projects, lots of focus on creativity, and it’s SO easy to spend a day getting very little done.

      I spam my girlfriend, most of the time, and should get back to doing it more often; we debrief chores and errands in a chat, which helps us know that we’re taking on an equal share of the work and keep track of what’s getting done, but it’s helpful for work, too. Sometimes, I just need a rubberduck to get my brain unstuck.

  4. L.S. Cooper

    ADHD at work is SO rough. I have to schedule some of the tasks I find more onerous– literally, I have written down the days on which I need to check online reviews (my least favorite part of the job), as well as scheduling the days on which I will wash my hair in the shower. I also have had some good success with a to-do list that lives on my desk, which only recently transitioned to a planner.

    Essentially, I mapped out my tasks by what needed to be done monthly, weekly, and daily, with checkboxes for each task. That way, I can see what needs to be done AND I have a clear representation of what I’ve already accomplished, which is very helpful. Best of luck to you!

    1. OhNo

      As a person with ADHD, I find breaking these type of tasks up into different calendars really helps me. My colleagues all tease me (good-naturedly, of course) about my many calendars, but it works for me:

      1. I have a monthly calendar that I use to plan my high-level tasks, and with that one I set personal due dates. Even if things are just due “whenever”, I give myself a goal date. This is also the same date I give to my boss/coworker/other invested parties, because it helps keep me accountable to someone.
      2. Then I have a weekly checklist that I fill out every Monday, and list my goals for each day that week. The one I use only has 6 slots for each day, which keeps me from getting overwhelmed. This is also where I list my repeat tasks (entering time info, weekly reports, etc.) and break my high-level monthly tasks into more manageable pieces.
      3. To top it all off, I have a time tracking spreadsheet that allows me to list my goals for each day (broken down to even more granular pieces than the weekly checklist, if necessary), what I actually got accomplished, and enter the amount of time I spent on major areas of responsibility for my position.
      4. On top of those, I also have a monthly calendar on my wall for info on holidays and pay periods, and a shared Google calendar with the whole department for things like meetings, the schedule for staffing the front desk, seeing who’s out on PTO, and so on.

      For what it’s worth, it took me five solid years to arrive at this system, and a lot of training myself to use it regularly (it was so easy to forget to track my time at first). And many people would find it terribly confusing! But it’s a personal system that I built to work for me, and the system that works best for you OP, might take some time to develop, too. I cobbled this one together from ideas shared here on AAM, on ADHD discussion sites around the internet, and with some ideas from my boss.

      1. Natalie

        I use a similar system but with different lists. Ones that need reminders have them, and I’ve trained myself to be very responsive to the badge notifications on my phone. (And, as a result, I have them turned off for 95% of my apps)

      2. AngryOwl

        I’ve been attempting to create something like this for ages. It helps to know it took you a while!

      3. A Social Worker

        That’s what one of my staff who self-disclosed his ADHD to me does, too! His many calendars are baffling to me but they work beautifully for him!

    2. Anonym

      Yes!! Systems are essential, and scheduling and reminders are EVERYTHING. I’ve had the same problems as OP (and have ADHD, inattentive type) and here’s a text wall of what’s helped me:

      1. Recurring calendar appointments for the parts of my job I struggle with the most. For me, it includes checking in on people who owe me things, so that’s the first 2 hours of Mondays. I also block the last half hour of every day to respond to emails, which I might otherwise totally avoid. And I will send an acknowledgement even if I don’t have an answer, so they know I’m working on whatever it is.
      2. Blocking time for difficult projects, especially those that require concentration. For a task that should take an hour, I’ll block at least 2 2-hr slots in a week, because I may not be able to concentrate sufficiently on the first go. If I finish in the first slot, I just delete the future one.
      3. Turning off email and warning my team when I need to concentrate. Just, “hey, I’m working on X for the next hour, email will be off, but let me know if something urgent comes up.” Email is such an enormous distraction, and it feels like you’re doing something that matters when in reality it’s often less important than what you *should* be working on.
      4. Reminders, reminders, reminders! For every little thing. Once I’ve set a reminder, the thing stops floating around in the back of my head, making me worry that I might forget about it, so I actually have more mental resources available.
      5. I use MS Project to track everything I’m working on. I update statuses a few times a week (scheduled), and I break out all the steps of any project that’s stressing me out into little bite-sized tasks. Really helps make them manageable and me less likely to avoid them because I’m overwhelmed.
      6. Testing and paying attention to what works for me, from the above systems to what I need physically to focus better and manage my stress. It took a bunch of experimenting to figure out my systems. And realizing how badly both lack of sleep and too much caffeine were affecting me made a big difference, too.
      7. Being patient with myself and taking care of myself: you don’t have to get it right all the time, and it’ll take experimentation and a lot of trying to get where you want to be. And you need and deserve rest and care. The kinder you are to yourself, the more mental and emotional resources you’ll have to tackle your goals.

      There’s definitely more, but the above has helped me tremendously. I’m much less stressed, more productive, and have somehow become the most organized person on my team (so weird), and the one who tracks new ideas and the progress of our initiatives.

      Alison’s 100% right, OP, you can’t ask your boss to keep you on track, but you can definitely do this! Take good care of yourself, keep trying and you’ll get there. Three cheers for you!

    3. Librarianne

      I use my Outlook calendar for this purpose. I literally block off time for certain projects every week, as I’d either 1) get sucked into whatever I was currently doing and forget about everything else, or 2) only focus on “fun” projects and let routine tasks slide. This has helped me stay on track tremendously, and it has the added bonus of making it easy to see how much time I’ve devoted to a particular project.

      For things that I find boring or tedious, I set a 10-15 minute timer and take a 2-5 minute break between each chunk of time. I refill my water bottle, stretch, or take a quick walk around the floor to refresh my brain. When I follow this system, not only am I a lot more productive, but my work-related anxiety goes down.

    4. Malarkey01

      I do not have ADHD, but I schedule repeatable weekly/monthly tasks on my calendar just like I would any standing meeting. I allow myself a little flexibility (if my boss needs to meet with me during the time I normally update a reporting log obviously I’d do it), but I find it so helpful to plan tasks as dedicated blocks of time. It helps me do things I don’t like without procrastinating and helps me set dedicated work time that isn’t crowded out by interruptions or whatever fun new thing comes across my desk.

      1. The New Wanderer

        Same. Not ADHD but I have a weekly recurring To Do list on Outlook with all my big-picture tasks, and I keep various post-its with things to do in the next day or two and reminders to talk to various people about XYZ at our next meeting scattered around. I also use email flags to highlight the emails I have to respond to but haven’t yet.

        Incidentally I admitted here before to asking my grad school advisor to give me a series of artificial deadlines for things because external pressure always works better to keep me on track (on top of the already scheduled weekly lab meetings) – he gently declined and I learned how to do it myself. I still prefer tasks with clear and obvious deadlines because it shows someone other than me cares that work is getting done, but it’s mostly under control.

    5. Emma

      I hugely recommend SkedPal 2 for this! It’s an app, you give it your to-do list (including recurring tasks), estimate how long each task will take, input any hard deadline and then vaguely schedule it, like “Plan to do this next week”, “plan to do this this month” or “plan to do this someday”.

      Once your to do list is complete, you click “update schedule” and the app plans your entire week for you, automatically making sure that everything will fit in. You can define your working hours, including “core” working hours (green), hours you can work if needed (orange), and hours you will work only in direst straits (red); and you can connect it to your calendar so it knows to avoid scheduling tasks during meetings, annual leave etc.

      Then if your to-do list changes, or you don’t manage to get something done, or you get an unexpected diary surprise, you just hit “update schedule” again and everything shuffles round.

      I’ve found this makes me a lot more efficient, because I don’t spend time thinking about what work needs doing, or deciding what to do next, or getting distracted by a different task. I just open the app, it tells me what I should be doing, and I do that. If I have an “oh shoot, I need to do x!” moment, I just add it to the app and it sorts it for me.

      I don’t have ADHD, and nothing works for everyone, but it has been a real help for me.

  5. Oranges

    From another ADHD person I feel you. These are my strategies

    1)What works well for me is a post-it note with what I have to do that day. A post-it because then it’s not a “huge list” of tasks. It feels good to cross off the task.

    Second have a time that you do the “admin” tasks. Keep those on a separate list. Whenever you think of one put it on the list and forget it.

    Third. The procrastination. Our brains are wired to pro-rate the now and discount the future. This has… issues. Try to figure out what causes a “good” day or a “bad” day. Example: I have to start coding by 10:00. If I don’t, the “start work effort” will be beyond me for the rest of the day. I can try to work but I can never really get “into” it and I have to push myself to do the easiest tasks. On the flip side when I’m in my work I’m incredibly focused and can get an amazing amount done.

    PS. I think what you’re describing is actually common for people with ADHD. It’s why I can’t be a manager. I tried it. I suuuuuuucked.

    1. Thursday Next

      I have a similar system. I use a moleskine weekly planner that gives me my weekly schedule and space for a fresh to-do list each week. I find it helpful to have a physical reminder in front of me on the desk all day, and it’s satisfying to cross things off the list. I also use a digital to-list via Asana. It lets me plug in deadlines and sends reminders each week about what’s coming up.

      I also work in a fast-paced environment and struggle with procrastinating the boring stuff. I’ve tried setting up daily calendar reminders for certain tasks, but at some point they got too easy to ignore. So I’m back to writing things on my daily to-do list so I can at least cross them off when complete. Also, my manager shared with me that she has a new “one annoying task per day” strategy, and I’ve found that helpful. I often end up doing more than one annoying task, but framing it as “only one” makes it a bit easier to get over that procrastination hurdle.

      1. Anonym

        Your point about switching systems is a good one. I also tend to ignore certain things after a while, so I have a few different options I cycle through. My favorite is daily task sheets (look up Dave Seah – a great resource I learned about here), but lately I’ve kinda stopped using them, so now I have a Today’s Tasks calendar appointment that I update and move from day to day, adding and removing tasks.

      2. A Person

        I love Asana – I put in all my little tasks, even things like “follow up with A on project X” there, with specific deadlines. A possible downside: it’s really easy to move the “due date” out. For me that’s mostly a benefit since I can in the moment go “oh I’m really busy today it’s ok to do X tomorrow”, but sometimes it lets me procrastinate…

      3. Constance Lloyd

        I’m with you on the physical listlists- for some reason electronic calendars just don’t feel as real. I break my to-do lists into weekly, daily, and monthly lists and borrow some specifics from bullet journaling. Not the pretty Instagram bullet journals with over the top illustrations, but the sparse, utilitarian original concept. I don’t have ADHD but its creator does, so the method could be a useful jumping point.

    2. OhNo

      Trying to figure out what differs between a good day and a bad day was really a helpful step for me, although I think of it more as what triggers my brain to “flow”. For me, even when my day starts of as bad – or at least, unproductive – I can reliably trigger a flow state using a combination of outside triggers. For me, it’s hot drink + headphones with loud, fast music + setting up to allow the task to be repetitive (e.g.: opening all the pages I need to check in individual tabs, so I don’t have to interrupt my flow thinking “what’s next?”; I can just click into the next tab).

      I think in proper ADHD parlance, this is called hyperfocusing, and it can be just as bad as it is good in the wrong circumstances.

      1. OP Here

        Yeah, one thing I figured out about myself is that tabs are good for me & windows are bad. If I can open all my tasks in a single window with tabs so that I can see that I have A followed by B followed by C (closing each as I go), that helps. But anything that I have to actually minimize tends to lead to getting distracted. That’s why I like combining digital & manual solutions — a physical checklist has the advantage of never being hidden behind another window. (And I can’t thank my manager enough for making sure I got 2 monitors, both at the office and at home!)

      2. boo bot

        You know, this just made me realize that I pretty much measure whether I’ve had a good day based on how much time I spent hyperfocusing (um, hyperfocusing on work, that is) – if I still get work done, but I’m not so deeply sunk into what I’m doing, I tend to count that as a day where I didn’t do much work, because I feel so detached from what I’m doing and unable to, well, focus.

        Obviously it’s true that I get more done some days than others, but it’s probably psychologically useful for me to stop discounting the days where I just slog through. Thanks, OhNo! Your comment about looking for outside triggers to focus is also helpful; to me it often feels so hit or miss, and the ability to ADHD-focus is so valuable when it’s there, I would love to be able to control it a little better.

    3. Laoise

      I use the bullet journal system. If I dont finish a task the day I assign it to myself, I have to re-write it on the next day. If I let the list get too long, re-writing the carry over takes long enough that A) I have internal motivation to finish some things to avoid re-writing them and B) I can physically *feel* which tasks trip me up and analyze ways to tackle them better.

      For tasks I need to do daily, I have them in my outlook Tasks, set up to automatically reoccur and remind me.

    4. Lobsterp0t

      I have to say though, I actually loved managing people and the accountability that introduced for my own work. Holding them responsible for their work also helped me figure out what I needed to do to keep myself on top of stuff.

      1. OP Here

        I manage people in my volunteer role, actually, and I both kinda love it and kinda hate it. I love it because I’m comfortable making decisions (I hate working under someone who agonizes over things), I have a reasonable understanding of how much follow-up different people need (I can tell pretty easily who needs a reminder & when I should give it to them, so people tend to actually complete the tasks that have been delegated to them when I’m in charge), and I’m apparently pretty decent at visioning / speaking, so people are (I guess?) kinda inspired by my leadership (which is super embarrassing to type, but that’s what I’ve been told, so I guess I’m good at it!)

        But I hate it because sometimes I’m just too busy to remind people of stuff, so nothing gets done unless I do it myself, and being in charge means I’m aware of all the pieces falling to the floor, so I feel like I need to grab them all (at some point, it’s too late to reasonably expect anyone else to step up), and it’s just overwhelming, and I do feel like any criticism/complaint about the organization is a complaint about me (because I’m in charge, after all, although it’s not like we don’t have a board/committees/paid staff), so I just feel awful.

        Soooo, yeah… It’s amazing when it’s going great, but it’s a nightmare when it’s going poorly.

    5. Anax

      Slightly orthogonal, but maybe interesting – I’m autistic, and I also have trouble initiating tasks.

      I think the biggest barrier to productivity for me is unpredictability – if I don’t have A Plan For Today, or if that plan is disrupted, I have a lot of trouble focusing or starting tasks. My brain doesn’t handle unexpected things well, and it’s easy for me to burn through my day’s energy in an hour or two.

      I can’t stop emergencies from happening, and I haven’t found a way to quickly regain energy when it’s lost. My head is full of bees at that point; I can’t think straight, everything is just buzzing and handflapping.

      So… hm. I do to-do lists, and they help a lot – but I think for me, it’s less about not procrastinating (though that’s a thing!) and more about internalizing what my day will look like before my brain starts to panic. It also helps me to take a “breather” between tasks of 10-15 minutes, doing something a bit mechanical and mindless, until my hindbrain accepts that I will be doing a New Thing, there is a Plan, and there’s no need to panic.

      (“Can you wash the dishes real quick, right now?” is a terrible question to ask me. I might cry. Seriously. Spontaneity makes my poor brain melt.)

      So… I think my new end-of-day task is to write up the next day’s to-do list. We’ll see how well that works, I guess!

    6. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      Oh, gawd, the procrastination.

      If I have a thing on my plate that hasn’t “gelled” in my head, I will almost literally do the most boring of routine tasks to avoid it. Worse if I have to ask (my head says beg) someone else to help me set it up or understand it. Sure, when it gells I sit down and crank it out in a couple hours, but I will put it off for weeks until it does.

      Stress and lack of sleep make my focus go straight into the toilet.

  6. Anon4This

    I should never admit this, but I am at a relatively high-level on the org chart and struggle with the same issues (absent the responding to internal emails – that is non-negotiable where I work). I am great in a crisis, figuring out crazy complex stuff and hitting tight deadlines, but the more mundane day-to-day stuff bores me to tears and I sometimes do absolutely nothing during the day (I figure it comes out in the wash on the 16-hour days and the constant on-call status). No idea if there is a medical reason for it, but both of my kids have ADHD, which we’d assumed came from my easily-distracted/bored spouse.

    Anyway, I highly recommend having an external system – Outlook tasks/reminders, a teams/task management system, a visual board, t0-do list (but I work much better with one that reminds me until I complete instead of paper) – something that keeps me on track.

    1. Callie

      I totally identify. I thrive with challenges, urgency, putting out fires…but totally slack on the boring day-to-day stuff that no one is actively asking for.

      1. stampysmom

        Same – you’ve eloquently put into words my working life. It seems like it should be a no-brainer to get the rest of done but I’m almost overwhelmed by the trivial and can’t get on top of it.

      2. ursula

        Hard same. It is also reflected in my struggles to keep on top of housework. I’ve described this to my partner as “good with projects and problems, bad with maintenance tasks.”

        I use google calendar + a weekly-view moleskine, and put meetings/events/non-negotiables in the calendar, and use the moleskine to plan specific tasks by day/week. When I’m trying to build a new habit (like doing admin tasks weekly, my bane) I block out the time in my google cal for a while, because I know I treat that as sacrosanct. If I find I have been putting a task of (eg. because of phone anxiety), I will also schedule that in – eg. “I cannot get myself together to do this today so I am putting it in the calendar for 9am tomorrow. Thus I can stop worrying about it and also it will be over quickly in the morning.”

        I also keep an excel file with all of my projects in separate tabs, including small/weird ones, purely so I have a complete list of what my actual work is (including admin stuff in its own tabs). The excel doc then gets used as my next-to-do list.

        Also OP have you read Getting Things Done? The premise is about getting you not to store tasks/deadlines/reminders/etc in your head, but to get them out of your head and write everything down. The full version is a bit intense for me, but I have taken lots of bits and pieces from it and it really helped.

        1. Lynn Whitehat

          David Allen himself says you should just do the parts you need. For instance, there is a whole thing about how to remember to do things on the Xth of every month (like if you have to pay your credit card bill on the 20th every month.) I don’t have a lot of tasks like that, so I just don’t do that part.

          The 2-minute rule was LIFE CHANGING for me. (If a task will take less than 2 minutes, and you have all the stuff, just do it now, because you will spend more than 2 minutes tracking it otherwise.) I decided to try GTD for a week, and quit if I hated it. At first I didn’t like it because I was doing dozens of piddly little tasks. But at the end of a week, I had done about a hundred of them. It felt amazing not to have every object associated with guilt. “Oh yeah, I should clean out my backpack.” “Oh yeah, I should make a haircut appointment.” “Oh yeah, I should mend that seam.”

        2. MM

          “Good with projects and problems, bad with maintenance tasks” is very much me, especially cleaning/domestic chores. I periodically invite people to come over just to give myself a deadline by which I have to clean the apartment. (I mean, I also genuinely want to see them! But that doesn’t necessarily mean bringing them to my home. This way I, ah, invite them to express their supportive friendship by giving me an opportunity to accomplish a desired goal as an act of service to them, let’s say, because that sounds nicer than “kill two birds with one stone” or “confront myself with the possibility that someone I care about will witness the extent of my goblinhood”)

          1. Viva

            Ha! I also do that. =D Regularly inviting people over is the best motivation to clean the apartment from time to time.

      3. Anax

        I’m very grateful for you all, because I am the EXACT OPPOSITE. I love routine, mundane work – alphabetizing files, scrubbing sinks, sorting emails. Intellectual challenge is great, but recalibrating on the fly is the worst for me!

    2. Overeducated

      I’m like this too. It’s hard for me to be productive unless I have either a little *too much* to do or a really big project or problem that I can throw all my focus into, and I hate days full of small non-urgent tasks. It’s been tough for me trying to find the “right” job as a result.

      1. NotAnotherManager!

        Come work in a law firm, where everything is a hair-on-fire emergency!

      2. MM

        Me three. I eventually came to the conclusion that I simply cannot do a 9-5 office job that requires me to be physically present and “looking productive” all day. I inevitably become bored and miserable and sabotage myself, and sitting in one room all day makes me miserable no matter what I’m doing. My best fits have been 100% remote, project-based work, and academia.

    3. Lilysparrow

      The final “D” is for Disorder.

      Lots of people have ADH-ish traits, because those traits are normal aspects of human behavior. When it’s a disorder, those traits are so intense that they cause problems in your life.

      Distraction/short attention span are one side of the ADHD coin. Hyperfocus, losing track of time, losing track of things in space, not noticing your surroundings – these are the flip side.

      But if it’s not getting in your way, then they’re just traits. Maybe your traits + your spouse’s traits wound up being extra intense in your kids.

  7. ArchivesGremilin

    Not sure what email system the op is using but I know in Outlook, you can put in reminders. Maybe the Op could put in one that is recurring to pop up to check in with themselves? I have one that pops up to remind me to write my monthly reports because I like to have it read to go when it’s needed but sometimes when I get busy I forget to write stuff.

    1. Lucy

      Recurrent Tasks in Outlook must save me hours of planning every month, but also many more hours of worrying about missing stuff. Just put it on the list and forget about it until it reaches the top.

      You can set recurrence for “every Monday and Thursday” or “first Tuesday of the month” or “every August 12th”. You can also go for “two weeks from completion” so every time you check it off it creates a duplicate two weeks ahead. I must admit I have “wash bed sheets” on that kind of reminder because I can never remember when I last did them!

      People think I’m organised: I’m actually very good at using reminder tools and lists. Left to my own devices I achieve almost nothing.

      1. R2D2

        People think I’m organised: I’m actually very good at using reminder tools and lists. Left to my own devices I achieve almost nothing. I’m the same way, Lucy! I am only an awesome employee because I write EVERYTHING down (virtually, using the Outlook “Tasks” feature). Otherwise I have the memory of a goldfish.

      2. That Would be a Good Band Name

        I would never make it without my calendar! I put everything on there, including routine tasks. I actually have a reminder that pops up weekly on Fridays that says “Get Statements – REALLY DO IT”. Because there are statements that I have to review and submit a report at least quarterly. If I let them pile up, I’ll end up in a crunch at the end of the quarter. If I check to see if there are any to review every week, then I only spend a few minutes each week instead of a two day panic.

        We also have a shared family google calendar to track band, sports, appointments, etc. I have no idea how anyone could keep up otherwise!

    2. Emma

      Oy, Outlook! I also outsource the entire task tracking portion of my brain to Outlook, and recently came unstuck.

      I don’t know what happened, but I must have keyboard mashed while I was sorting papers on my desk. I looked back at my screen and one of my Outlook tasks now just said “#”, with a due date of 10/6/19.

      I could not for the life of me remember what it had previously said. There is no undo button, no restore option. The 10th came and went. Noone complained that I hadn’t done something I was supposed to do. I received no angry emails.

      This morning I was clearing out a binder and found a form that had not been processed, and immediately knew it was the mystery to do list item. Fortunately, it was one of the very rare things that can be done two months late without having any real negative impact. It is now done. I am a lucky sucker, and also, hand not changed my Outlook use at all!

      1. OP Here

        OMG, that sounds terrifying! I’m glad you found out what it was, and that it was okay in the end!

  8. Salamandrina

    Hey – fellow ADHD-er with similar issues – I’m great at keeping up with big projects and shiny stuff, and crummy at boring reporting tasks or anything that feels like bureaucratic nonsense, even when I see the importance of it. My solution is to make it an appointment for myself once a week, so that Outlook pings me, with appropriate reminders, to do the task, just like it would for a meeting. I find a lot of the systems that are set up to “get things done” don’t work well for my flavors of organization, and I needed to streamline, and calendar reminders seem to work well and simply for that – I can add an “appointment” for those little items that come up in calls or meetings in a few days or a week, plus recurring events like reporting functions.

    1. Salamandrina

      I would recommend trying to switch to bi-weekly quiet hours with your boss, too (mine are actually about a half hour, usually). Mine are usually pretty unstructured – a chance to catch up her up on what I’m working on, what I want to work on, etc., but it’s good accountability, and it doesn’t let anything fester for too long. If they’re used to formal once a month check-ins, it might even be worth just asking if you could have a quick call or IM session in between for a few months, while you instill your new habits and framework.

  9. OhGee

    Ahh, I totally understand this! I have a weekly check in with my boss and am able to be transparent with her about my ADHD (I was diagnosed after starting my current job, in part because it was a step up in my career and I was terrified I was going to fail). I think if weekly or daily check-ins aren’t possible, you could tell your boss that you plan to email your top to-dos to him at the beginning of the week, and a quick report on what you completed at the end of the week. I’m also a big fan of choosing just three things you’ll get done each day, and of using Trello/sticky notes/whatever works for you (the kanboard/kanban approach mentioned in a previous comment). When I’m really struggling with focus, I try the Pomodoro method (25 minutes of focused work followed by 5 minutes of down time to surf the internet, walk around the building, etc). You might also think about getting an ADHD coach who can help you identify what works for you, and keep you accountable — I haven’t gone that route yet, but know accomplished, interesting people who happen to deal with ADHD who swear by coaching. Good luck! You can do this.

  10. NothingIsLittle

    I’m just a bit disorganized, but I find it super helpful to set “Meetings” in my online calendar so that there’s a pop-up to remind me to do a task if I haven’t already. For example, I have a “meeting” from noon to noon o’1 on Fridays that just says “Enter Hours.” You might also want to make a list of those regular tasks you’re more likely to forget and post them to the side of your computer, so you can see them whenever you have downtime.

    Biweekly meetings aren’t a huge ask, but having little daily reminders for yourself that pop-up somewhere you can’t ignore them (the middle of your computer screen rather than your phone) are great for reminding you of tasks that often slip through the cracks.

    1. OrganizedChaos

      I do something similar – I have appointments for things like entering hours and expenses. The last thing I do on Friday is write a clean to-do list with anything I didn’t finish this week and anything I need to do to prepare for meetings next week. Having those appointments on the calendar means I include all of those little things my to-do list and I notice if they’re not crossed off by the next Friday. Often realizing I’m adding something to my list that will only take a couple of minutes makes me knock it out right then, but not always – sometimes it’s just going to be Monday’s problem :)

  11. Vicky Austin

    I have ADHD, too, and I wonder if asking your boss to regularly check on you could be considered an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    1. NothingIsLittle

      Not an expert, but I imagine that would either be considered an undue hardship for the employer or an inability to complete basic job functions. I think it might be better to pursue some sort of assistive technology, like a task tracking program or timer, than to ask for an accommodation of that sort.

  12. Yvette

    I thought there were some ASK THE READERS question either about organization techniques in general or ADHD specifically. I looked in the archives and found this:
    https://www.askamanager.org/2019/06/what-tools-help-you-focus-on-work-when-youre-in-a-loud-or-distracting-environment.html
    and this:
    https://www.askamanager.org/2019/03/ask-the-readers-how-to-succeed-at-work-when-youre-not-neurotypical.html
    This might be helpful as well:
    https://www.askamanager.org/2019/01/how-do-i-stop-my-desk-from-looking-like-a-tornado-hit-it.html
    The headline for this one might be considered a little insulting but it was about organizing and keeping on top of things:
    https://www.askamanager.org/2018/11/im-worried-im-an-airhead-and-itll-hurt-me-professionally.html

    1. Yvette

      And I just realized that one of them was in the recommended section. I swear I did not see it at first.

    2. Anonym

      Thank you for pulling these out! I was just thinking I had forgotten to save the links to a couple of these, and the discussions were so, so helpful.

    3. becca

      The one from March (how to succeed at work when you’re not neurotypical) was HUGELY helpful for me and one of the things that made me go, “Maybe I should get actually diagnosed instead of suspecting and feeling like a dumb all day at work.” So I did. I’ve been on meds for like 6 weeks and it’s been suuuuuuper helpful.

      Thanks to all the commenters on that thread, it took me like 3 days to read everything but I did.

      1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        How do you get diagnosed as an adult? I was diagnosed as a kid, but all those records are scattered to the four winds. I have mostly managed to adapt well enough to keep a job, but I’m not advancing and figure maybe medical intervention might help.

        1. Lilysparrow

          Start by talking to your GP. Depending where you live, it can be as simple as a single consult with a psychologist, or it may involve some neuropsychological testing.

          You don’t need your childhood records. Self-reporting history + symptoms (along with testing if required) is about how it’s affecting you now.

          Some kids get dxed, and then don’t need intervention when they grow up for a variety of reasons. Other folks coped just fine in school, but struggle with adulting. Same brain, different demands.

          Good luck!

        2. becca

          I have Kaiser, which doesn’t require a referral from your GP for a psych eval, so I called what I believe was the behavioral mental health phone number on KP’s website. I first had an intake phone interview with someone who I believe was a nurse practitioner, and we went over my history and symptoms and why I wanted thought I might have it/what I wanted to do about (take meds? Get counseling?), and then I met with a psych and talked with him a bit and he basically confirmed it.

          One piece of advice I’ll pass along (I don’t remember where I heard it, maybe Twitter, but it was helpful): When you’re talking to your GP or whoever about symptoms, answer them as you would on a bad day. Like, I don’t typically do the losing things part of ADHD, but that’s because I’m crazy vigilant about putting things in the same place literally every day. I’m 37 years old, I’ve developed a system to get around that particular symptom (but if I forget and put my keys down somewhere new, they are lost forever). I don’t forget to pay my bills, but that’s because they’re all on autopay except for rent. Before that particular technological development, I forgot bills every single month. I mean, be honest about whatever symptoms you have, but talking with the doc isn’t necessarily about how well you’re coping, it’s about how messed up everything is if your coping skills falter.

  13. Washi

    Can you put a recurring appointment on your calendar toward the beginning and/or end of each day for a check in with yourself?

    Something I’ve noticed is that sometimes people separate “organizational stuff” and “actual work.” But that organization stuff IS work. Part of what your boss is paying you for is organizing and thinking about things so he doesn’t have to. Which is why you can’t fully outsource time management to him BUT that’s also why it’s ok to take some time each day to get yourself settled and figure out what your goals and tasks are.

    I love my check ins with myself! I’m naturally scatterbrained and it removes a huge amount of stress for me to get out all my swirling thoughts about various tasks into paper and start the day with a plan.

    1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      I have an end of day reminder in Slack that I use to make sure I do all of mny dailies and get me home at a reasonable hour.

  14. Kiki

    Daily is definitely a huge ask, but weekly is pretty standard in a lot of fields. I think Alison’s wording is really good. I have weekly check-ins with my manager and I much prefer it to monthly. I tend to remember more about what specifically blocked me and what issues I had on a weekly basis than monthly. And the check-ins are short: generally 20 minutes and under.

    For personal tracking and management, I really like using JIRA’s burndown chart (it is a line graph that shows an idealized, steady progression through work that needs to be completed in a time period vs. what is actually being completed) . I tend to procrastinate and get everything done at the last minute; having a chart lets me see when I’m letting my procrastinating get too out of control. I also play a game to hit the line exactly. It’s also just very satisfying to move the task boxes around when something is completed.

    1. OP Here

      Yeah, I figured daily was probably too much. I think he would be open to weekly or biweekly, depending on how I framed it… I heard him chatting once with another manager and that manager mentioned doing weekly 1:1’s with her reports and he basically said, “I don’t do that — I don’t have to. My people are really good & don’t really need more than monthly check-ins.” But he didn’t sound like he thought it was a horrible waste of time, just unnecessary for his team (and admittedly, before I came on board, that was probably true! Everyone else is very experienced & generally all-around competent).

      1. Kiki

        Sometimes bosses praise employees for being “low maintenance” which is a good quality to have, but has the negative effect of dissuading employees from asking for help or more resources when it would help them grow. Based on the fact your manager hasn’t said anything about your work being subpar, I would imagine you don’t actually ~need~ weekly 1:1’s: they would help you get to the next level. Your manager should want you to achieve that. And because other managers in your company do 1:1’s with their employees, it makes the request all the more reasonable.

  15. Buttons

    OP, I would take look at tools designed to help with Executive Function Disorder. Everyone with ADHD has some form of it, and there are a lot of tools out there to help you stay on task. For example one of the things you do is set a timer, and for 15 minutes you do one thing you have scheduled, at the end of that 15 minutes you can stop. People with Executive Function and ADHD do you really well with small bursts of focused activity. If you look it up you will find tons of information and free tools to help you manage this. You can also work with an organizational coach or a therapist to help as well. These are skills you can learn. Good luck!

  16. JustDessert

    I find the flag and task functions in outlook extremely helpful. I set it to autoflag certain emails to my todo list so I do not lose track of anything.

  17. OP Here

    Really appreciate this advice — and the advice from the commenters so far! Will do my best to reply individually in just a bit — just about to sign off a conference call.

    1. CJM

      I have to say, OP, as an overachiever sort who was hard on herself at work and is now happily retired, that you sound like a really good employee to me — certainly better than B- or C! All of the big-picture, helpful stuff you listed at the top of your second paragraph is AWESOME and exactly what I most valued in myself and my colleagues. I hear that you want to do better and be more consistent, but I hope that you’ll pat yourself on the back for all of the truly good work you’re already doing.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        It’s true that there’s probably multiple overlapping things going on, including perhaps some perfectionism / misplaced effort that OP is beating themselves up about. Just as an example OP, you say you’re going to reply to every comment – but that’s not really necessary and I don’t think anybody expects that! So if you release yourself from that expectation, then you’re not disappointed with yourself if you end up failing to keep up with all the new comments over the next several days, and you’d still be an A plus letter writer by everybody else’s book :D

        1. OP Here

          I appreciate this, although I didn’t mean that I’d reply to *every* comment individually (omigosh, that’d be a lot!), just that I would do more individual replies once I had time (i.e., that I wasn’t just going to do one or two generic replies to the whole mass).

          I do know that I sometimes have skewed expectations about what “timely” looks like — my boss occasionally gives me feedback about things like how many projects I successfully completed vs. the rest of the team in a given month when I suggested I was worried about being slow (when he did, I was right in the middle). When giving me feedback about missing certain administrative deadlines, he’s also been clear that everyone on the team has missed at least one of these deadlines over the same period, so I know I’m not necessarily doing terribly. But I definitely *feel* like I’m just a step ahead of the hatchet man a lot of the time!

      2. R.D

        I mostly agree. I also got the impression that the OP was possibly being unnecessarily hard on his/herself, but it’s also hard to tell from the letter. Perhaps the OP is spot on here.

        OP – have you probed with your boss to see if your assessment matches his assessment? I know that my assessment of my own work does not actually match my boss’s assessment of my work, and that has been true at several jobs.

        Even if you boss would rate you higher than you rate yourself, the improvements you are trying to make here are worthwhile. It’s good info for him to know that you are actively trying to work on big picture issues.

    2. Anononon doo doo doo doo doo

      Fellow ADHD head here! I find that old fashioned task lists help me. I use a pad of paper and everytime a thought or a task pops in my head, I write it in the list. The only order is the order I think of it. When it’s done I scratch a line through it. Then I get happy about how much I have accomplished! It never ceases to amaze me how much it works! It’s been a life changer! I read through my list several times a day because I simply cannot remember everything when I am supposed to.

  18. Cat

    Don’t bring this to your boss’s doorstep – they need you to be independently productive, and adding to their plate is not in anyone’s best interest. This may be a problem better addressed by finding an accountability buddy outside of your workplace. Nothing motivates me more than how disappointed in myself I know I’ll feel if at the end of the day my husband asks how my day went and I respond, “I got nothing done.” “Too busy?” “No, just wasting time.”

    1. MissBliss

      I don’t really know about that… Yes, they need you to be independently productive, and you need to own that. But part of owning that can be asking your manager for assistance. The manager can’t fix problems if they don’t know they’re problems.

      In this case, it sounds like they’ve talked a little bit about it before, so I think OP has a good opening to talk to boss again. “Hey, that conversation we had was helpful. I’ve tried A, B, and C to stay better on track of my things, and the result has been [short description] but I keep coming back to that conversation in my mind. Do you think a quick check-in on a regular basis would be doable for you?”

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

        But this is not the manager’s responsibility to “fix”. A manager needs to be able to rely on their employees to do their jobs and only get involved when something gets to a certain level and needs intervention. Yes the manager can work with OP to figure this out, but the responsibility lies mainly on OP because everyone is different, and not all methods will work for everyone. And expecting manager to meet daily or even weekly is not realistic.

        1. MissBliss

          My wording wasn’t great there– I don’t think it’s the manager’s responsibility to fix the problem. But they certainly can’t do anything to help if they don’t have the information.

          And I have to disagree about expecting a manager to meet weekly being unrealistic– that depends entirely on your manager, your team, your organization, and probably the current location of the moon. We can’t know if it’s unrealistic for the OP, so the OP either needs to make that determination themselves or ask.

  19. Vimes

    OP as a person with ADHD myself I found your description of how you function at work very similar to myself – not great at all the administrative/repeating tasks but trying to make up for it by being really willing to pick up unpleasant tasks/be helpful to coworkers/work independently with out needing to ask a lot of questions. I haven’t found a perfect solution even on medication to not forgetting admin/repeating tasks/remembering to answer emails but here are some things I do that do help:

    1) I think this probably goes against a lot of ADHD advice but I find that if I do a lot of tasks ASAP instead of trying to wait that means they don’t get missed. If I get an email I read it as soon as possible and respond right then. If it’s a small task I pause my longer task and do it right then. Or if it’s something I really can’t do right then I respond that I got the email so they know then I right click the flag in Outlook to set a reminder for myself (I recently found this feature and it’s game changing!) either that or I put a reminder on my calendar to respond back/do that task. It means I don’t hyper focus often on any task because i’m always kind of flipping between tasks which is both a pro and a con but it does work for me. It makes it much less likely I forget to respond/do a quick task/miss a soft deadline.
    2) Ask for a deadlines! I never let people just send me requests with no hard deadline anymore because that’s the #1 guarantee it won’t get done until I’m reminded. I always reply back if there isn’t one with “Absolutely, I can help with this – when do you need it by?” or “I’ve got a couple things on my plate today would getting it to you by X day be too late or do you need it sooner?”. This is essential, essential, essential. ADHD is very deadline motivated. We need that squeeze of adrenaline when a deadline is looming to motivate. No deadline? Forget about it getting done.
    3) To do lists – I try to keep as best I can a running list of tasks going. It’s not perfect but it helps and you feel so good when you get to cross stuff off.
    4) For those repeating tasks like filling out /touching base with people set yourself reoccurring calendar reminders – full warning though if your ADHD is like mine after the first couple times I see a reoccurring reminder/sticky note on my computer screen- my eyes start glazing over it and it become useless. I make them but I also try to leave myself an regular hour when people are out of the office like on early on Monday morning or late Friday afternoons to follow up on those kind of tasks in general. It’s not perfect – I do need reminded sometimes anyways – but the combo helps.
    5) Communicate, communicate, communicate – I feel like I get cut a lot of slack if I go to a person before they can go to me and say “I haven’t forgotten that, I am working on it, other tasks ended up taking more time than I thought I will have it to you soon or insert specific time here”. People really appreciate it (and I also appreciate it the other way around to, if someone comes to me and let’s me know they’re working it I know it makes my life easier because I don’t have to run them down)

    Also, I say this as an ADHD person who’s really hard on themselves which I think is a common trait for us – do YOU think you’re a c+ employee or do you think you boss/coworkers do and have they ever actually said anything to imply that? From my experience yes you might need reminded about a meeting, or a repeating task, more often but being willing to do the things you described and also being great in a crisis (as ADHD people often are!) really makes up for a lot of that and most people will think well of you even if you’re a little more scatterbrained than most. I once got the feedback that overall I’m great but I sometimes seem distracted when talking to people and I felt so badly, like every positive thing anyone had ever said to me was completely forgotten over one slightly negative comment. If I have to be reminded about something I feel immensely physically sick about it. BUT I also know logically overall that everyone is generally pleased with my work. I’d definitely encourage you to speak to your health care professional about it. Being really sensitive to “rejection” (meaning anything from actual rejection to light constructive criticism) is a common trait for ADHD which you can get management advice for.

    1. Oranges

      Yeah, everyone says “just do it” or “no one likes to do x tasks” but… like how? How do you force yourself to do them? Like if someone said to me right now “Stop procrastinating and do your job or else you’re fired” I’d… still struggle to do my job.

      1. Vimes

        I agree! Nothing makes me more frustrated then “why don’t you just do it” comments or wild, wild management advice (I won’t say what book it was in case other people liked it but I got recommended a book about ADHD coping mechanisms the advice of which most often boiled down to “I have my personal assistant do that – you should too! Made my life so easy” Yup! I will get right on that because I totally have and can afford a PA)

        I think it’s hard for people to understands it’s not really task avoidance – I don’t go I hate that task ooooh “squirrel” aka more attractive task (at least not for me – your ADHD mileage my vary) my brain like eternal sunshine of the minds itself of those tasks and I will not physically remember their existence as my brain zips along connecting the dots on those more attractive or non-repetitive tasks. Then ten hours later as I’m falling asleep I jolt up like AH SH*T my weekly report (if I’m lucky sometimes it’s days sometimes I never remember). That’s I think one of the most frustrating things I find when talking to people with no ADHD experience it’s just really hard for them to understand. It’s not willful non-remembering. I truly do NOT remember their tasks.

        1. Bee

          Yeah, I can literally be in the middle of drafting an email, click into another tab to look something up, realize I can start work on another project, open three documents that relate to it, add a sentence into each, then wonder if I’ve gotten any new emails, click over to my email tab, and ONLY THEN, upon seeing the open draft, remember that I was working on an email an hour ago. It’s not that any of the other things were more fun, it’s that my brain completely dropped the thread as soon as I looked away.

          1. Vimes

            Yes! That’s exactly what I find myself doing oh about fifteen times a day on repeat, it’s not like I love those other tasks, maybe everyone really loves their job but I find most aspect of my job trying to a certain degree because at the end of the day I mean wouldn’t we all rather be somewhere doing something that isn’t our job, I just GO so fast and task hop so much.

            I think something else really important for people with ADHD to remember is at the end of the day we can do a lot of coping mechanism that work for us each individually, we CAN get ourselves organized and functional, but we’re never going to be perfect! Besides the impossibility of perfection in general, the world isn’t set up for people with ADHD because most people’s brains just don’t work like ours. Is that fair? Maybe not and someone with ADHD might have a great day, week, month or even year because their coping mechanisms and/or meds where you really cruise along with no issues but inevitably ADHD will often throw a wrench into the works even if it’s just a really small one like forgetting to put a doctor’s appointment on your calendar. That isn’t shameful. We’re just working with a different set of tools than most people! They’re not bad tools they’re just not meant for most of how the world is set up.

      2. OhNo

        I feel like the best strategy depends on the person. If it’s something I really need to get done, I usually convince myself that I’ll just do this terrible, onerous task for five minutes. At the end of the five minutes, I’ve usually managed to remember that this task isn’t all that bad, honestly. Surely five minutes more won’t kill me? Then just repeat until it’s done or I get interrupted.

        But, honestly, sometimes I still just look at my list of tasks for a given day, take stock of where I’m at mentally, and go “… Nah, this isn’t going to happen today.” When that happens, I try to have a stock of background projects that I can pick at to keep me busy, or go ask my coworkers if they have a task they want me to take over for a day. Or I go hunting for professional development reading to keep me entertained.

        1. Vimes

          100% absolutely! I see a lot of people recommending planners and calendars as being helpful to them but for me I tried that and I’d never remember to fill them out or I’d open it up go “oh this is going to take a lot of effort” and not do it so that doesn’t really work for me but for some people it does seem really helpful! I think you kind of have to kiss some frogs to find your prince when it comes ADHD coping mechanisms. Which is frustrating but at one point you do find something that works and when you do it’s so great!

          Your second paragraph is very true! There are days where I zip along fine but will forget tasks just cause I’m GOING and then there are days I look at my tasks list and go “I can’t, not today” and I think you’ve really got the good suggestion – try to find something you don’t normally do but can do so you’re still productive or find some training or professional development. Then you’ve at least got something to show as having been done related to work if someone does come to question you about it.

      3. Close Bracket

        Think of it as an emotional regulation problem (bc it is). How to start? I just start. I consciously make the decision that I am going to stop what I am doing and start working. Then I put my fingers on the keyboard and start to type.

        Sometimes it takes a verbal direction from myself to myself: “Self, open the TPS report and start typing in it.” I say it inside my head, not out loud, but I do think out the entire sentence in words.

        If I’m tempted to look at something else, or if I find that I am looking at something else without consciously having decided to do so, I use words to redirect myself: “Self, reading AAM might feel good, but it is not going to help you finish that TPS report. Shut it down and write the TPS report. You will feel soooo much better once that TPS report is done and you can read AAM guilt free.”

        It’s not really about doing my job without struggling. It’s about finding strategies to help me do my job even though I am struggling. It works with washing the dishes and folding the laundry, too.

    2. Anonomoose

      Also somewhat ADHD, and I’ve totally found “doing everything that takes less than 10 mins, immediately” to be an excellent strategy. I’m an IT person, so most of the time, people like the “stay here, I’ll do it now, and you can check it’s working right away” approach (because there’s nothing worse than those email chains to IT saying “does it work?” “No” “how about now” “still no” ……

      And, also, one less bit of cognative load

      1. Sloan Kittering

        Yeah I do have to remind myself to strike while the iron is hottest. I have this fallacy that I’m going to be in some better state of mind to do tasks later and it’s like … probably not.

        1. Close Bracket

          “I have this fallacy that I’m going to be in some better state of mind to do tasks later and it’s like … probably not.”

          That’s the root of procrastination, according to current models of procrastination. We are bad at evaluating what our future emotional state will be. It’s like Dunning Kruger of the emotions or something. I don’t know whether there is a special aspect of this for people with poor executive function, such as people with ADHD or autism.

          I think there is also the fallacy that you only should/can do something if you are in the mood for it. Frankly, I am pretty much never in the mood to do work. I am pretty much always in the mood to read a book, lay around in bed, or pet my cat. If I only did things I was in the mood for, I would not ever put on pants or leave the house. I have to remind myself that I will feel sooooooooo good at the end of the day when I have done work and can lounge pantless on the bed with a book and the cat.

          1. Sloan Kittering

            Plus often now is *literally* the best time to do something, because I have the most information as recently as possible! In most cases where I’m putting something off, there is no reason to believe I’ll be in a better position later (although then sometimes there are updates like, “oh never mind don’t do this after all.”)

    3. Working Mom Having It All

      That last point is key. I think I’m a B- employee because of stuff like “they all have no idea I went 2 months without updating the Teapot Option Grid and then did the whole thing in a single afternoon the day before the Teapot Deal Status Call so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot in the meeting”, but every performance review I’ve ever had has been stellar. As far as my boss and coworkers are concerned, I’m an A+ employee because they don’t see how I sometimes struggle to manage procrastination, etc. and get everything done on time without looking like the slacker I am. I’m starting to wonder if everyone does this to an extent, and “met deadlines, muddled through, never caused any actual problems due to not doing a task” is indeed the actual standard we are judged by rather than “most efficient person who could possibly exist”.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        Yeah plus sometimes the “should” kind of … has no reason? Like you SHOULD do something often because that’s best practice but it’s actually fine to do it all at the end and catch up, as long as you get it done that’s all that actually matters?

      2. Kiki

        Yeah, I know a lot of incredibly high-functioning procrastinators and if the system works, it works. In theory, it would be great to steadily work every day, but I don’t think that’s how most people’s minds work. I personally have been been trying to curb my procrastination because
        1) I have been burned by it– procrastinated too long
        2) It has caused me inordinate levels of stress
        3) I tend to procrastinate when I’m anxious and it just propels the anxiety forward

        1. Sloan Kittering

          These are really great insights and are probably a more helpful way to think about it – I WANT to get this stuff done for my own sake, versus I’m supposed to do it this way because of external forces beyond my control.

        2. EH

          “I tend to procrastinate when I’m anxious and it just propels the anxiety forward”

          You have articulated something I often really struggle with, thank you! This is really helpful.

  20. Sarah N

    These are all great suggestions. I would also add checking with your team to see if there’s someone in your group who may be up for a daily/weekly check-in. I work in academia, so my progress gets checked on by my department chair literally one time per year — any other time I want feedback or advice, I have to specifically seek it out. I have found it very helpful at various points to have a colleague that I check in with about writing/research progress on a periodic basis. I also track my research time using the Toggl app, which you also might find useful — the version for one person is free and I’ve found the free version does everything I need to keep on top of things.

  21. Ella

    I think one thing that’s hard for people who don’t struggle with ADHD to understand is just how big an impact the pressure of an external deadline can have. For me, external deadlines (ie times where there will be firm consequences if I miss the deadline) snap my brain into focus in a way I just can’t duplicate when it’s a more arbitrary or personally set deadline. Having a check in with a boss where they *will* notice if you haven’t accomplished anything that week and call you out on it is the kind of pressure it’s not really possible to recreate on your own, and ADHD can make finishing things without that specific pressure extremely difficult. The problem, of course, is that we can’t constantly make other people responsible for managing our work like that. I do think one of the best options is to go back to your doctor/therapist and discuss ways to get your ADHD under better control.

    Beyond that, when it comes to daily or ongoing tasks, like the weekly goals you mentioned here, I’ve had a lot of success with what I call “my kindergarten schedule.” I broke down the things I am supposed to do every day but often slack on, then divided my day in 1 to 2 hour increments and wrote out (in big, bright, kindergarten class-esque letters :P) exactly what task I should be working on during any given time slot. So now, when I find myself tempted to procrastinate or slack off I can look at my chart and say “it’s 10am. I am suppose to be updating spreadsheets from now until 11 am.” It breaks things down into less overwhelming sections, helps me get back on track when I’m procrastinating, and incentivizes finishing daily tasks efficiently, because if I finish it before the assigned time slot is up I have a good excuse to take a break or click around on the internet for a bit before my next scheduled time slot starts.

  22. Sally Forth

    It might be helpful to check out ways to deal with executive functioning disorder. This looks similar on the outside but is different than ADHD.

  23. Eloise

    I sympathize with the need for a hard deadline — I set up a lot of artificial ones for my own benefit. I rely on a combination of tools to keep up with work tasks — Outlook’s calendar reminder and flagging abilities, Trello for big-picture progress on projects and status notes that I can check quickly, and a plain old notebook on my desk with a handwritten daily to-do list (I incorporate a lot of Bullet Journal techniques here).

    1. Murphy

      I use some bullet journal techniques too. I use different shapes for things I need to do, or things I’m waiting on, etc.

    2. Gingerblue

      I’ll second the suggestion to try bullet journal methodology. If you haven’t looked at bullet journaling, OP, it’s basically a method of making your own lists and trackers for what’s important to you, with an emphasis on transferring tasks and reminders so everything stays current and useful; it’s like making your own custom planner that’s shaped to your needs. The person who came up with the method is Ryder Carroll, and I recommend his book and website on bullet journaling. (The website is enouh to get you started.) I use a heavily modified bullet journal, which I integrate with digital tools like Todoist and Trello.

      If tou go looking for info on bullet journals, be aware that a lot of people turn them into a sort of art/scrapbooking project, with elaborately drawn and decorated pages. That’s awesome but totally unnecessary, and I recommend Carroll’s website partly because it cuts all of that out and focuses on the core methodology. The fancy ones are fun to look at, though.

      1. OP Here

        I looked at bullet journaling once and basically swooned over how organized it all was! Spent a day or two doing it and then totally forgot about it & now I’m not sure where I put the journal… I really did love the idea, though. I may get another one & try again.

        1. Gingerblue

          What worked for me was to keep it really simple at first, until I was using it consistently, and only gradually change and add to my method. Personally, I also really like having a notebook I can add and remove pages from, because I get paranoid about not being able to rearrange stuff in a bound journal and “wasting” it with false starts. I use a discbound system, and being able to swap pages in and out was especially helpful in the early stages.

  24. Seifer

    I have trouble with anxiety and massive to do lists. The issue is, I’m the only one that does what I do, so my to do lists are generally massive, and the big bosses have far too many conflicting opinions on what needs to be done first, but I will get screamed at if I choose wrong. The perfect recipe for major agita and calling in to work because I hyperventilated so much that I threw up.

    So in order to solve this, I asked my boss to help me prioritize. I made sure he knew that I am perfectly capable of handling the work, I just needed him to tell me what I should work on first. We sectioned off a portion of his whiteboard and wrote up all my tasks and we meet once a week to either re-number, erase, add, whatever. It’s been working SO much better for me. I have less anxiety and I’m more on top of things. Maybe you could ask your boss to do something like that?

  25. Princess prissypants

    This is why writing/productivity groups are common among academics. You need a goal-setting partner, or a few. You meet once a week or so and say, “I did A, B, and C this week! D is still on my to do list because stupid thing E happened. For next week, I’m going to complete D and move forward on F and create a plan for project G.” or whatever. Create a reward system that works for your group, but having accountability to anyone outside of yourself is what you need – and you shouldn’t seek that in your boss.

  26. Colette

    OP, would sending yourself a daily email with what you’ve done, your number of outstanding emails to reply to, and what you’re going to do tomorrow help you focus on what you need to do?

  27. heatherskib

    For project tracking, look at a device like timeular. It’s a great visual reminder that you need to be working on something and it tracks the time you worked on a project and saves it for you.

  28. ENFP in Texas

    I don’t have ADHD (or if I do I was never diagnosed), but what I do have is a preferred work style that loves the “discovery and development” phase and hates the “maintenance and routine” part of a job. That thing about having to track where I’m spending my time (and not doing it)? That’s me to a T and it drove my manager NUTS.

    One thing I find that helps me is asking for specific due dates on things when I get them – I work much better if I know there’s a deadline and that expectation has been set.

    I also have a Project Board at my desk now. It’s a small whiteboard where I put headers of the projects I’m working on, and list tasks underneath them. I also put the routine, boring stuff on there so it STARES ME IN THE FACE until I get it done.

    It’s on my cubicle wall instead of on a computer program so I can’t just close the window and make it go away. It’s on a whiteboard so I can use colored markers that appeal to my visual, creative side, and is easily updated. It’s something that I look at every day, and when I’m having an unproductive day, I can look at it and pick something that needs to get done.

    It’s also something my manager can come by to see what I’m working on, which helps with the accountability aspect.

    Ultimately it’s on you to find a way to self-motivate and be accountable. You can’t ask someone else to do it for you. And while you may “get away” with letting things slide for a while, it WILL come back and bite you eventually.

  29. Willow

    I manage an employee with ADHD, and it’s taken a long while for us to get to a point where she’s doing really well at work. It took more hands-on management than I would have liked, but I think it was worth it in the end. Here’s where we are now: Employee has a daily to-do list (she uses a certain system–I don’t know which–that she came to the office with). She also has an Asana task list that keeps track of everything she is responsible for on an ongoing basis. I used to fill it out for her, but now she adds items and deadlines and I just have to go in from time to time and adjust. (She populates the Asana list from in-person and Slack discussions.) We used to have more formal check-ins but no longer need them. I think the daily and Asana lists are probably the most helpful things in keeping her on track.

  30. M from NY

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned is the demands of your volunteer position. Please don’t share with employer that you’re distracted because of an outside obligation. If the volunteer position is affecting your job you need to step back from that until you get handle on your priority which is your paying job.

    1. WellRed

      I didn’t quite understand what she meant by that. Are you doing volunteer work on the clock? Distracted by thinking about it?

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes! I meant to address that. Definitely don’t share that with your boss, and consider whether you’re willing to prioritize the volunteer job above your paying work, which may be happening now.

    3. OP Here

      Yeah, I know not to share that — any more than I’d share that a second job is distracting / interfering. (But it’s important to say, so thank you for saying it.)

      I do think I may be massively overcommitted to my volunteer position, but the work there is extremely important to me (and is time-limited — my term ends in a year), so it’s hard for me to step back. I am doing my best to get others there to step up, however, and take some of the burden off of me.

      As to what this issue looks like in relation to my “real” work… Well, I’m basically the president of the board of a non-profit that has very little in the way of paid staff, so I get calls, texts, & emails in the middle of the workday occasionally about things ranging from someone not getting paid properly, a problem with the alarm system, issues with contractors, staff behavioral issues. We do have an office person onsite most days, and a chief of staff onsite fairly frequently, but whenever they’re not reachable, it’s me that folks turn to. And I sometimes end up leaving work earlier than I would want to so that I can deal with an issue at the non-profit, or attend a staff meeting or board meeting there. I also think I’m a bit burned out & don’t stay late at the office even when I could because I so rarely have time to myself.

      1. WellRed

        Oh, this sounds like a much bigger piece of the overall problem then. It may be rewarding, but unless you can live without your paying job, you need to address this (we’d all like to do rewarding things, doesn’t mean it’s always doable). Have you clearly told the non-profit others need to step up? Can you make yourself less available to answer calls and texts during the work day? If they have an office person and chief of staff (presumably both paid), they should really be handling this stuff, not you. Is it typical for a board member to get get involved in minutiae, especially staff behavioral issues?

        1. One of the Sarahs

          Yes, I came here to say the same thing.

          I say this as someone who spent 5 years working for national charities with staff of 2 or 3, who needed to rely on our trustees, *but* that was in the context of trustees whose day job was giving them specific time out to do the job as the national charity work helped the local organisation work, and we understood that we would pretty much never be able to get immediate attention whenever wanted…. It seems like you are way too available for things that aren’t actually emergencies, and the organisation is being unfair on you.

          If you absolutely have to take calls during the workday, can you limit them to your lunch-hour? So, for example, set up your phone so the charity staff can only reach you during your lunch hour, and are diverted to voicemail otherwise? Instead of calling/texting, can they email you on a specific address they only use for this, which you only access at lunch/after work, or on specific days? (maybe with the help of one of the specific site blockers?) If you’re like me, you may need to physically separate yourself from your phone – I try to keep mine set to silent and in my bag outside my breaks, because I struggle with impulse control to keep checking it, otherwise, but having it locked in a drawer/zipped in a bag really helps.

          You are a volunteer, so it isn’t fair they’re putting you in a position that could jeopardise your employment like this. Plus, if you were sick, or out of the country on holiday, or in a meeting, presumably they’d be able to deal with this stuff without you, so I would strongly recommend limiting your availability.

          I think with this context, you need to be especially careful about how you word your requests for more support, and stick to Alison’s scripts. If your boss has picked up that you’re sometimes distracted at work because of the volunteering, and/or are missing deadlines but leaving early to do the volunteering/prioritising the outside calls/texts over your work, they may feel like they’d want you to stop that before they change their routines to help you.

          I genuinely feel for you, because burn out is horrible, and it sounds like you’re exhausted from all of this. I know it probably feels like if you don’t do all this stuff, the organisation will fail, but you will do a better job if you can re-boot, and get some space. I’m wondering if there are options in between quitting and doing everything – for example, going part-time in the volunteer post, taking 2 weeks off from any volunteer work (just as you would do if you were going on holiday). But ultimately, if nothing will change in the organisation, you might need to start thinking about quitting the post early – especially if it wasn’t clear how much of your time it would take up?

          Good luck – I hope you can re-balance, and get good tips to help you out. I’m rooting for you!

          1. OP Here

            Everyone they’ve had in this position before was retired (and so basically lived onsite), so they’re used to the president being there to “fix” every single thing. When I stepped up, they were in the midst of looking at these practices & said that they were committed to doing things differently, but the changes have been slow in coming (I do think they’re coming… but progress is slow). And then our old office person left & we got someone new, and I think she’s been leaning on me pretty heavily for support, since she doesn’t know who to call for a lot of things (which is something we can work on).

            We don’t usually have a lot of staff turnover, so it might not always be as bad as it was these last couple of months, though… and I’m getting more “in the swing of things” at my job, such that I’m not trying to do 2 very hard things at once. So I am hopeful that that will be enough.

          2. OP Here

            Taking a vacation from the volunteer work sounds like a great idea, btw! I may talk to the chief of staff about getting myself a break for a week or two, and who might be able to coordinate certain things if I was “gone” for a little while. (Along with the other things I mentioned below about trying to get better lines of communication set up between various groups of volunteers.)

            1. One of the Sarahs

              It sounds like taking a holiday from the post would be great for you, but also for the staff member/sorting out communication issues etc – after all, if you weren’t on call 24/7, they’d *have* to be able to take more initiative.

              If they try to come at you telling you it’s impossible, please don’t back down. After all, the previous retiree presidents must have had time away for holidays, or when they were sick. What would they do if you got sick and *couldn’t* be in contact? And if it really is an organisation that couldn’t cope with the volunteer-post President being accessible for a fortnight, then it’s very definitely not a sustainable organisation.

              I do get that you love it, and want to fulfil your promises, BUT it can’t be at the expense of your own health, mental or physical, or of your job. I would bet that if you could just have evenings and weekends free for 2 weeks, and could relax after work, you’d be in a much better position to be able to deal with work. (Of course, in an ideal world you’d take time off work too, and I do understand that’s not always possible, but if you can, give yourself a break, because it sounds like you need it).

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Ooooh. Honestly, that sounds like it would be really tough for anyone, but a total poison pill for someone with ADHD. It’s constantly taking you out of what you’re doing and into something else, and has got to be seriously messing with your focus. Plus, often with ADHD you have a certain amount of focus you’re going to get for the day, and there’s going to be a lot less for your paying job.

        I totally get charitable work being important to you, but is this one particular role important enough to potentially really hamstring you professionally?

        1. OP Here

          What I maybe can do is just set some serious boundaries with them, and maybe better lines of communication between different groups. Our office person is fairly new, so some of this may just be that she doesn’t know who else to call, but she could be calling the Building & Grounds committee for contractor issues, the Personnel committee for staff issues, etc. — but mostly, once the problem is in my lap, it’s fastest to just handle it myself. So, I guess I need to take some time out when we’re not in the middle of a crisis to make sure she’s got what she needs. (The chief of staff is rather disorganized, so the office staffer is the best person to loop in on what I need, probably.)

          I am really, really committed to this place, but when I accepted this role with them, I had been unemployed (I had been going back to school at the time). Now that I’m working, it’s much more difficult than I had realized it would be, but I think it’d be devastating for them if I stepped down mid-term.

          Summer is usually a slow time for the volunteer organization, though, so if I’m going to set up better systems, this is the time to do it, I guess.

          1. One of the Sarahs

            Could you get them to use a non-work email for the Qs, which you set to auto-reply to any queries from their address, with reminders of who else they contact? For example, something like this:

            “Thank you for your email. If it’s Monday-Friday, I am at work, and will only be able to reply between 12-1pm, or after 6pm.
            If your query is about contractors, please contact the Building & Grounds committee on XXX.
            If it’s a query about staff issues, please contact the Personnel Committee on XXX.
            For anything urgent, please contact the Chief of Staff on XXX”.

            I do know this isn’t ideal, OP, but it feels like you need to re-set the boundaries, and if the office staff member really doesn’t know who to call, this will help them as well as you. And you do need to just be mindful that it’s human nature for some people that if they know they can get a faster response from you, then they’ll keep coming to you, rather than going to the person they should be contacting.

            1. valentine

              OP, I think you’ll find not doing the volunteer job during your paid work time will (greatly?) improve your performance. I wouldn’t ask for more check-ins. What if you assign yourself the role you want your boss to fulfill, such as emailing yourself updates? Can you flag client emails and, every day, at whatever time you email best, respond, then clear the flag? I think your threshold for defining a hard deadline may be too high and perhaps your boss is being nice about you missing them, but they’re more important than he’s said.

            2. NerdyKris

              I agree, you shouldn’t be running volunteer emails through your work email. It could be a confidentiality issue with the non profit, since your employer can see all those emails. It also gives your employer a lovely record that you’re doing work for a different organization on company time. On top of that, if you do get let go without warning, you’ve lost access to all those emails, and your employer might not be feeling generous about giving them to you.

            3. OP Here

              They’re using a non-work email, but I get email notifications straight to my phone, so I end up seeing & responding to them throughout the day. One thing I could do is turn down the “urgency” of the notification setting for email, so that it doesn’t ping me or even pop up on the screen (and only shows in the notifications area when I check there).

              Auto-replies will unfortunately feel a little aggressive for an organization this small, but I can definitely sit down & talk with folks about what I need from them during the day. I have definitely tried too hard to be ultra-available to them in the past.

          2. M from NY

            Set up the precedent that you want and you don’t want a chief of staff getting a pass because they are disorganized. If one doesn’t exist ask your past presidents if they would be willing to help create a procedures guide for both positions. This should help those currently in position to think about what they are asking help for (is it really “I need to escalate to President”, chief of staff won’t prioritize and it’s affecting my work or is it I don’t know who is supposed to work on this??

            What you requested from your boss is what those in your volunteer life need from you. Weekly meetings/check ins should highlight what they are doing and give you opportunity to predict any possible issue or overlap before it results in calls to office. Make them do their jobs and communicate.

            It may be true that it’s faster for you to do but this mindset keeps correct person from ever learning with grace period to ask questions. So if at weekly (or monthly meeting) you know insurance renewal forms have to be done don’t wait for due date to get frantic call at work. Set side meeting time with office mgr to go over the specifics of how to complete that task with time to follow up. This is where you could possibly lean on past holders of position (if that was their expertise area). Put the responsibility of sorting out the “how” to the person that is suppossed to complete task so you can focus on when, timely completion and other managerial “oversight” duties. There will be pushback from those used to operating differently but things will never get better if you don’t change.

            I think doing this will also help you with daytime job as it seems you know what you have to do but have gotten used to operating in crisis mode. You already know your due dates for tasks, being routine doesn’t mean you get to blow them off until asked. You could ask to meet with your boss if there was external reason for you missing reports (VP turns in their part Friday at 3 and it take a 2 days to do your part so you’ll never meet Friday at 5 expectation). But you can’t and shouldn’t ask your boss to provide “external pressure” for tasks that are routine for your position. If you can’t be trusted with small items you’ll never be asked to do big ones.

            This is a lot which is why I initially stated you may need to step back from volunteer position. It’s one thing if you had to take time off to do face time with potential donors (President level task) but another to call repairman for copier because office manager doesn’t want to look for service contract.

      3. It Me

        Just wanted to say OP, that I could have honestly written this letter myself and I’m actually heading in the week of possibly ending my non-profit position that really is like a full time job in of itself because Im not paid enough, am not treated well enough and do not have the resources to do the job in the way that is expected on a part time basis. You can’t succeed long term in a part time job that requires full time focus and thats what’s happening to me right now. As much as I am absolutely in LOVE with our organization, our mission and the work we’re doing, after 2.5 years it truly has become unsustainable and unfortunately I’ve been slacking as a result. Just wanted to let you know that I understand the burn-out you are feeling.

        1. OP Here

          It’s different for paid vs. unpaid folks at a non-profit, but yeah — I tell my board all the time that our staffers will leave if we don’t pay them well and treat them right. Some people seem like they don’t want to do either of those; some seem to want to do one but not the other (“We can’t afford that!” — yes, well, THEY can’t afford to live on just loving our mission). Plus those volunteers who seem to think that our staff isn’t overworked because they themselves spend every waking hour at the org… sigh.

          I hope you have better luck wherever you end up next!

  31. cmdrspacebabe

    Great advice! I manage my ADHD at work with multiple physical tracking systems, so that all of my projects and priorities are in front of my face and I’m actively reviewing the lists on a daily basis (using calendar reminders in the mornings to set the habit). I would suggest looking into something like a work bullet journal for the kind of tracking system you’re talking about here (google Bullet Journal if unfamiliar – there’s a huge community of folks who use this kind of system!). Digital is more convenient, but writing things down by hand is very good for ADHD – the ‘dual input’ of writing it down helps cement the information in your memory as well as leaving a physical reminder you can stick somewhere visible, and you’re less likely to get distracted in the middle of it by a notification or an email popping up on your screen.

    Making a bullet journal is a long process – it’s self-designed to fit your needs, which makes it very trial-and-error; but it’s worth it. I’d suggest making a list of all the things that you need to track on a weekly basis and try playing with a physical system for it, trying new layouts each week until you figure out the balance: what’s convenient enough that you’ll actually use it, but detailed enough to actually be useful? My weekly setup includes:

    – Priorities: general list of my active files/projects
    – Deliverables: to-do list of specific tasks to complete, with due dates
    – Follow-ups: list of things I’m waiting for replies on so I don’t forget about them
    – Meetings: schedule of meetings and their subjects and locations
    – Tracking checklist: list of my other tracking tools (daily to-do list, calendar, email sorting) to make sure I go through them every day and don’t miss anything

    I keep these in a binder that I take everywhere at work so that all the info is always with me and I can add new tasks whenever they’re assigned.

  32. Cordelia Vorkosigan

    Bullet journaling is helpful for some people with ADHD. Don’t get sucked down the YouTube/Instagram rabbit hole, though — some of those bullet journals, gorgeous as they are, are less about organization and more about artistic expression. I mean a basic, Ryder Carol style bullet journal. Link to follow.

    1. Boba Feta

      I second this suggestion. I’ve never suspected myself as having ADHD, but the last few years have been really tough cognitively and Carroll’s very basic one-journal-to-rule-them-all method has worked wonders. Now, instead of anxiously puttering about for nearly an hour (!) about where to write down the random thought that passed my brain, I literally can just slap a quick note in my “month” or “week” page list and get right back to my current task. Knowing that I have one book in which I can record or plan literally anything without worrying whether it was in the “right” place or not has been utterly transformative.

    2. Working Mom Having It All

      I get too bogged down in the aesthetics of Bullet Journaling, so I started just using the basic format for my daily to-do lists. I keep a legal pad on my desk with my daily tasks on it. I rarely ever put down more than 6-10 tasks (basically we have to be completely in the weeds for me to hit the 10-15 mark). I x off each bullet point as I complete the task. If I decide not to do a task/it leaves my plate entirely, I cross it out. If I decide to do the task tomorrow, I use the bullet journal style “migrate” character of <, and then the next day when I flip the page to create my new list, that task will be migrated. I ALWAYS start a new page every day, and I NEVER put tasks on the list that I know I'm not going to get to that day. It's more of an agenda, and less of a "To Do List". I have a separate "back burner" list in a different notebook for less immediate tasks and judiciously check in with that list and bring a task or two over as I have the bandwidth for it.

      The only thing I found helpful about bullet journaling beyond this mini-journal system was the ability to add future tasks without too much complication, in the form of yearly and monthly spreads.

  33. AnotherAlison

    As a project manager, I have several weekly meetings with my team, higher ups, and clients. I have an agenda of things to discuss, such as open action items and weekly reporting, and I find that having to do these things or report on what I have/have not done each week is a motivator to get things done. Could you create a structure like that for yourself? For example, develop a weekly report you would send your manager. It’s not important if she reads it, but it forces you to review your work priorities and what you have accomplished. If she doesn’t want to see it, you can maintain it for yourself, but I think even a self-imposed sense of urgency can help.

  34. Lalitah28

    I would venture to get, if you haven’t done so already, outside professional help to develop real and scientifically tested self-management techniques for you ADHD with a qualified coach/therapist before this becomes a strike against you, performance-wise. If you attack this now, this will help you be prepared when new career opportunities open up to you and will enable you to have made habits out of the routines/tools/processes that help you manage your ADHD and not appear to be “incompetent.” Unfortunately, in the workplace, disorganization is deemed “incompetence” because missing deadlines, not answering inquiries, etc., is perceived to be that people who don’t know you don’t have ADHD.

  35. AKchic

    I have always done daily checklists. Every single day of the week, I had a set list of checklists that I had to complete. I would program them into my Outlook so I could have them pop up as a reminder before they were due (at the time I needed to work on them, or to start compiling the data to ensure the report I needed to run, which the report itself was another reminder/check box, could be gathered).
    I could print out my daily/weekly checklist every Monday and have it on a clipboard next to my computer. The hardcopy (which I absolutely love) gave me something tangible to hold, and gave me a way to make edits throughout the week, or gave me things to add if I needed to, which I *could* add to my digital list at the end of the day (never during the day) or the next morning, depending on workload, and how I was doing with life (I’ll be honest, if I’m having bad days, I cannot do lists in the morning otherwise I will focus on lists and spend all day on them, so it’s better to do them at the end of the day when I have a hard cut-off and have to leave it). I can always reprint portions of a list if I edit/add to it.

    I can check off my lists on my hardcopy as I complete the tasks, and I can check them off on my computer too. Or I can check them off on my computer as I finish them and not check off anything on my list until the end of the day until after I double check everything and make sure I’ve done it all and then check it all off (yep, a redundant system, but at least you’re making doubly sure you’ve done all of your tasks).

    It takes a bit to get into the habit of lists and writing everything down. I had to learn because even though I had ADHD, I could remember things, after a fashion, but I ended up with a major TBI that caused a lot of memory issues. Even as a kid, I could cope with my ADHD (in the 90s, with no health insurance and a family that didn’t believe in “that sort of thing”, even getting my PTSD and bipolar diagnosed was huge, but that was because the state required me to see someone for other trauma, and my family 100% blames the trauma for those issues, rather than the family history for my bipolar. To them, everything stems from the trauma, rather than anything being anything else), but add in that brain injury and forget it. I had to find a new way to cope and move forward. Lists work. Actually writing, not saving it digitally into my phone or on a computer (for me). But, I also grew up without electronics, so that may also play a huge factor into my own style.

  36. writelhd

    Hey OP, I think one thing to point out is that if you are getting things done before deadlines, catching your own and others’ mistakes, volunteering for hard tasks, etc…that’s actually pretty awesome, and falling behind on small administrative things sometimes, or spending entire days not feeling very productive…is probably pretty normal. It might be that your boss isn’t all *that* concerned with the stuff that you are missing and for that reason hasn’t really stepped in more about it. I DON’T have ADHD (at least, I never thought I did), but I have a job that is pretty scattered, deals with constant interceptions yet also has huge goals that are vast in scope, sometimes complete and conflict with each other, sometimes I deal with mixed-messages from my otherwise pretty great boss on what is more important…etc…so sometimes I think it drives me to react in similar ways to ADHD, and honestly…I feel like I could describe my own productivity and shortcomings in a similar way. I do great on lots of things, but I spend days just feeling like I’ve gone down total rabbit holes and I also drop the ball on or otherwise forget some small weekly administrative type things. So honestly, give yourself some slack, I think the odds are you’re quite great and normal at your job.

    Wanting to do it *even that much better* is still admirable too, and I get that too. I think there’s a tradeoff between the pursuit of some awesome system like the many suggested (and I looooove me a good system, I love it so hard) and just remembering that putting to much faith in a system to solve all of your problems is probably a fallacy.

    So that being said, my system is a complex, color-coded spreadsheet that tracks projects, hours spent on projects, and color codes them in relationship to their contribution to my three large overarching strategic objectives for the year.

    1. writelhd

      Wow the autocorrect on that last post. Constant “interruptions” not “interceptions”, “compete” not “complete”, and “too much faith” not “to much faith.” Too much talking, too fast!

    2. Sloan Kittering

      I did think OP might be suffering from some perfectionism – a lot of good employees who don’t have ADHD are going to fall down and need reminders on the daily background stuff that is boring and doesn’t get rewarded – look at fundraisers keeping the contacts database updated, case managers typing up case notes, medical people doing the insurance stuff. There are probably higher value things that are bad to miss – which are the ones your boss is pressing you about – and then a list of things you “should” do daily/weekly but the consequences are minor for missing them / not getting them done in as timely a manner as that, and it’s actually probably okay to just do them once a month as long as they’re getting done (and as long as you’re ready to scramble if they’re suddenly needed). True, the really A-plus conscientious employees have no trouble staying on top of that, but remember that you have other skillsets that they may not – we all have different strengths and weaknesses – so cut yourself some slack sometimes.

      Signed – the person who does not do her timesheet every day like she’s supposed to

  37. Gingerblue

    A tool I haven’t seen mentioned yet is Habitica, an online habit tracker which gamifies productivity in an RPG format. You set up daily/weekly/biweekly/whatever tasks to do, check them off, and get experience points and items which let you make progress on quests. I use it to remind myself to do a bunch of small daily tasks. I’ve even set my daily list up as schedule with times throughout the day. I like Habitica because it’s adorable without losing its focus on being a great productivity system; despite the RPG elements, the core functionality is really robust and flexible. There are groups which set up group challenges, and I like seeing how other people use it in ways I wouldn’t have thought of.

    1. Danae

      Seconding this suggestion. Habitica is really helpful for giving you a little bit of reinforcement for every task you complete. So you just input the things you need to do into Habitica and it will help you remember to do them and reward you for doing them. Especially if you’re someone who likes games, I think it can really help.

    2. CC

      I’ve been using this recently after a long hiatus! It honestly just helps to write things down sometimes so I don’t forget.

    3. Lilysparrow

      And see, I found Habitica way too complex and frustrating to use regularly. It was really overstimulating.

      Everybody’s got a different sweet spot. That’s part of what makes this stuff so tricky. There is just so much trial & error to find what works for you, because you can’t know unless you try.

      1. Gingerblue

        Yeah, absolutely. A customized bullet journal turned out well for me because I really needed a planner but pre-made ones never fit either the sort of work I do or the way my brain works. It’s all about finding what clicks.

        It’s amazing how small a thing can make a system unworkable for you. I mean, I find calendars which start the week on Sunday RAGE INDUCING. What the hell, brain.

  38. Rose's angel

    I have my outlook inbox organized by tasks. When a task has been completed I move it out of my inbox and into a project folder. I go throguh my emails first thing and then through out the day. For tasks that I need to complete on a regular basis I schedule time in my calendar and I make sure I turn the reminder function on. Tjese are the tasks that I need to complete daiky and weekly and monthly. For other tasks that I need to keep track of I use post its. I LOVE using post its

  39. AutisticInVT

    Op,

    There is a lot of advice here and I also wanted to offer a piece of advice that if your ADHD is documented then I’d suggest reaching out to the Vocational Rehab (which every state has through the government). I have found with my autism that they can be a great support and it’s not just for entry-level workers. They can give you some support, can provide suggestions and tips, give some funding if you need specialized equipment, work with you and your employer, help advocate etc.

  40. spaceygrl

    I know work isn’t specifically habit-related, but when I read this I thought of Gretchen Rubin’s framework for habits. It sounds like you need external accountability – perhaps you can take her quiz to see if that is the type you are and then read up on some tricks to help you…
    Here is the quiz
    https://quiz.gretchenrubin.com/

  41. JR

    If the issue is primarily about needing external accountability, check out Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework and specifically the Obliger tendency (readily meets external expectations, struggles with meeting internal expectations). She has lots of good ideas for creating external accountability. She also has an app that allows you to create accountability groups, though I haven’t explored it and don’t know how it works. There was a How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast about this issue recently, too – the interviewee was Stever Robbins, who I believe also has a podcast and other work on this topic.

  42. CM

    I 100% agree with the advice on this one, but I want to add: the specific examples the OP gives of forgetting stuff don’t sound super unusual to me (though obviously they would know if it’s a bigger pattern/problem for them). For example, I’ve never encountered a time tracking system that people reliably followed — most people at least sometimes forget about it, especially if it’s not super critical for their work. Everyone has days when they’re not super productive or they feel like they somehow wasted the whole day without doing anything.

    My point is that it’s possible that having ADHD can bias you toward seeing every single failure of attention or memory as an example of the disorder rather than normal slippage that happens for everyone. It might be interesting to talk to some coworkers and get a sense for how they’re doing with the time tracking system and stuff like that, just to verify whether you’re an outlier.

  43. From That Guy

    First off, great that you are recognizing some areas of your work that need improvement, that is the first step. Having been a student of time management for quite a while I have a recommendation that is simple and quick to implement. The classic to do list:

    1. In the evening write 3-5 things you want to get done the next day.
    2. In the morning, read the list.
    3. Do the list.
    4. At the end of the day do #1.
    5. Rinse and repeat.

    You can buy books on time management, spend a fortune on day planners, attend seminars ad nauseum, it all boils down to working the list. And don’t forget the red pencil! Crossing it off makes it all worth while. I’ve originated and managed global projects involving thousands of pieces parts, it all comes down to one task at a time. I wish you luck with it all.

  44. Working Mom Having It All

    I’ll start this by saying that I don’t have ADHD, but I have historically also had trouble staying on top of all the little “housekeeping” tasks that don’t have deadlines or direct oversight by anyone else. Because I also suck at time management, procrastinate like a mofo, etc.

    What I did to stay on top of it better is this: I assigned one of these type of tasks to every day of the work week. Mondays I double check that my tracking grids are still up to date, Tuesdays I vet background checks, Wednesdays are for expense reports, etc. Sometimes we get extremely busy and I don’t get to that day’s admin, but since these tasks aren’t usually so pressing that I absolutely have to do them every single week, it’s OK if I skip one week of backing up my files to the Dropbox or whatever. Instead of it building into a Shame Mountain of procrastination, I just remind myself that we can do it next week on the appointed day. Also, it keeps me out of the “days of inactivity” habit because, even if I’m not busy with anything pressing/nobody is breathing down my neck for a task to be completed there is a task on my list to take care of that day. This also helps me contextualize when I actually have down time vs. “nothing pressing is going on right now so I can coast for a bit”. If it’s Wednesday and we’re not completely slammed, I *will* be doing expense reports, period. I cannot get down into an internet rabbit hole about the cast of Cheers. (Or if I want to do that, I need to also carve out time for my admin task.)

    Obviously this is a habit that it takes time to build, and you have to be diligent enough about it not to just set your little mental system aside. But if you have the focus to make a plan and stick to it, you can definitely make this work.

    (I kept a little post-it at my desk with the days and their assigned tasks for the first couple of months to act as a reminder of what I was supposed to be working on, which also helped.)

    1. ENFP in Texas

      Ooh! I really like this idea to keep the routine tasks from falling off the radar!!

    2. zora

      Wow. I have researched productivity tips extensively, and I have never heard this one. It is pure genius.
      I LOVE IT, and am totally stealing right now.
      THANK YOU!!!

  45. A girl has no name

    I love Asana! I do not have ADHD so I cannot relate to that specific experience, but I would like to mention that Asana is a great online to-do list that has helped me immensely. Whenever I get an email request or come out of a meeting, I scan my notes for action items and put them in the todo list with deadlines attached. I often will add the same task twice ie ‘Start Project Bananas – July 9’ ‘Deadline for Project Bananas first draft – July 19’, or even ‘Follow up with Jane about Project Bananas – July 24’. You can also add notes and files to each task. It’s really useful for remembering some of those far-away or lower-priority tasks that always seem to get pushed back because of more pressing things. They also have an app and send you reminder emails.

    Good luck OP, I hope you find a system that works for you!

  46. Sara without an H

    Hi, OP,
    The commentariat has, as usual, come through with some good ideas for you to try. I’d like to look at your original question: Should you ask your manager to go from monthly to weekly check-in meetings?

    As Alison pointed out, you really can’t go to your manager and say, “I need to check in with you every week, or I won’t get routine work done.” That would NOT go down well. Since you’re still fairly new in the organization, you could possibly ask to move to a bi-weekly check in meeting temporarily — Alison’s script is good here — but you definitely don’t want to come across to your manager as an employee who needs extra oversight, especially since this doesn’t seem to be typical of your organization. There are good ways to stand out at work, but this isn’t one of them.

    You mentioned that you have weekly team meetings. Could you turn these into the kinds of external deadlines that help you focus? “OK, here’s my to do list for the week — I will have items A, B, and C done in time for Friday’s team meeting.” Since these meetings are already on the schedule, it might be easier to use them to provide structure, rather than asking your boss for more frequent check-in sessions.

    About the volunteer commitment: I wouldn’t mention that, either. Somehow, you need to build a fireproof, sound-proof, leak-proof wall between your work and the volunteer opportunity, because it sounds as though they’re interfering with each other. You said you’d committed to the volunteer project for a year, but can you find things there to delegate, or at least, stretch the schedule for a while until you get your work situation under better control?

    Is there a more senior employee there, other than your boss, who might be willing to mentor you occasionally? I sense from your letter that you’re tough with yourself — you need someone to give you a reality check on how you’re doing as perceived by others.

    Good luck!

  47. Tammy

    Another ADHDer checking in. What’s worked really well for me is the Bullet Journal (BulletJournal [dot] com). There’s something about writing stuff down on paper (and using a pretty fountain pen *smile*) which slows my brain down just enough to help me focus. Jessica McCabe’s YouTube channel, “How to ADHD”, has done some videos about the Bullet Journal for ADHDers, and her channel has a lot of good stuff generally.

    One thing I learned the hard way: There are lots of people who make their Bullet Journals into art projects with markers and washi tape and all kind of things. Resist this temptation. Do the simplest thing that could possibly work and only add other stuff after you’ve been doing the basic BuJo for a few months. Each thing you add is a point where friction gets introduced into the system, and friction is the enemy for neurodivergent people.

    Also, I keep my calendar in my phone (because my BuJo doesn’t have alarms). That’s one place I deviate from the basic BuJo. But writing stuff down on paper has been a real lifesaver for me.

    1. Keyboard Cowboy

      Every time I see someone’s beautiful art bujo I put my chin on my fist and wonder how long they spent on it instead of working. Ahahahaha, I get kind of jealous! Mine looks like chicken scratch!

  48. Ginger

    OP – if your volunteer activity is getting in the way of your job-job (the one that pays the bills), you really need to find a way to either reduce your time spent on that role or push it into a box that doesn’t get touched during working hours or only gets looked at during set period of time.

    I wouldn’t mention it your boss. It comes across like you have a second job that is taking priority, focus and time away from what your company is paying you for.

  49. Lobsterp0t

    I really recommend How to ADHD on YouTube, ADHD Essentials and ADHD Rewired (sister podcasts). I was diagnosed earlier this year and my friend – the rabbit hole goes deep. It was a relief but now anytime anything goes wrong at work I have a little paroxysm of impostor syndrome “was it ADHD or was it me”.

    You definitely need a system, and systems are built on habits!!!

    It helps me to visualise what I’m doing as a flowing river. If I’m not getting to the river delta, that’s because something upstream – often something small or silly – is blocking my path.

    Here’s some stuff I do
    Disable phone notifications
    Lock phone away if needed
    Totally clear all social media passwords and never ever log in at work – I imagine the humiliation of explaining that lost time to my boss in exact detail, to her face.

    You need some external accountability here, but maybe that shouldn’t be just your boss. Timers are my best bud.

    When a timer goes off, I ask myself – what am I doing, and is it what you intended to be doing? If they don’t match, I take stock, and usually close some tabs/programs/my email/clear my desk of anything but my goal task and then start again.

    When I’m struggling with a long stretch of task or time, and I’m not sure how to plan it (scary) I start by breaking up the time rather than the tasks. Hit it hard for fifteen minutes (I start with a bullet list of what I think I’ll need to do the job) and if I get through that then I draft some steps, starting with the final product at the top followed by “final proof read”. Sometimes it helps to go in reverse!!!! Sometimes I do first three/last three steps, because those are ALWAYS the hardest!!!

    By this point you’ll have gotten your brain on task (more or less) and you’ll be thinking about how to achieve the bigger job.

    This is a good time to look ahead at how much time you have to achieve it. I like to write down the number of working hours I have to achieve something, because that is useful when you review how long the thing actually took, since this is something we ADHDers struggle with a bunch. It will help to be able to communicate accurately, over time, about how long you need to accomplish stuff!

    Personally, a fresh to do list every day helps, I list EVERYTHING. I’m not trying to get it all done, I just need it written down. Then I pick three MUST DO things each day. If I do them then I pick another three and so on until I’m nearly finished with work. Then I set my three for the next day (on an ideal day).

    See how this isn’t about having a big complicated fixed plan? It’s about engaging with the effort of planning and building the habit of planning – the task is NOT “plan this” – it’s “have a systematic approach to this”.

    When it feels natural to do so, you will start to build on this.

    The other things I try to do with varying degrees of success: Do Now and OHIO. If I don’t have literally everything to hand when I sit down to begin, I’m SCREWED. If you hear yourself think “I can do that in the morning?” and it takes less than two minutes to do, DO IT NOW. RIGHT NOW. DO NOT DELAY.

    After meetings, go through your actions and do this. Then you can proudly tick them off.

    All reports can be broken into six sections. Plan, prep data, analyse data, draw conclusions, write narrative, REVIEW/PROOFREAD. Schedule time for each separately. Do not allow yourself or anyone else to unblock time that is far away from a deadline because you can “do it later” closer to the time. Because you need to get out of the habit of doing it last. Do it first, review it last.

    Routinise routinise routinise. Can you learn to automate any reports? You don’t need to know VBA – just record a macro for a lot of simple stuff. Develop small routines for regular tasks. Don’t just show up to meetings – before every meeting I schedule 20 minutes of prep time (I used to do this every Friday for the week following in my old job when I had a lot more responsibility). After, same – 20 minutes after the meeting are for meeting actions and follow up that can be done instantly, including scheduling actions in if needed! In my current job I have to screen applications, and I have a weekly target. It’s easy to let this slip, so every morning before I start any other tasks, I open the screening pot and screen whatever’s in there, up to fifteen in one go if I don’t have too busy a day, and then I change gears. It’s also the first thing I do when I get back from lunch. I also never open my emails first thing. I wait until about 11am so I can address my existing to do list, and feel like I have some capacity to add to it. Then I open my emails.

    In fact I have a routine for emails too! I read first, make a list of quick actions (or add to my to do list if not quick), then reply. At oldjob I also kept only one other folder and that was “awaiting response” – everything else gets archived ASAP. If it needs to be saved, I save it to sharepoint.

    Routine also applies in the rest of life. I have a launch pad next to my front door. My work bag, wallet, keys all live there. In the morning my lunch goes out on the counter when my wife takes hers out of the fridge. Out of sight, out of mind. Sleep is crucial with ADHD so I have to put myself on an electronics diet often. No phones after 8pm, no phones before 8am/leaving the house for work. I’m allowed to put alarms on and off and podcasts or music on and off, or answer personal calls, but that’s it. I fundraised £200 for a charity making this a challenge in April! It can be done!!!!

    Also, for procrastination – it’s hard right? Just reframe it a little. You’re not “gonna” – you are. You’re doing it now. You’re moving a leg, you’re closing that folder, you’re standing up, you’re locking your computer, you’re heading to that meeting, you’re pulling that report – make it active and present tense. Because ADHD has two types of time – now, and not now. And it seems like you need to feed your “now” engine work tasks and starve your “not now” engine of “not work tasks”.

    Basically – you gotta find what works for you. These things work for me and are a variation on recommendations from ADHD vlogs, blogs, communities and podcasts. And trial and error. Lots of error.

    Also, in regards to work – depending on where you live, more checking in might be considered a reasonable adjustment for your disability. I get a lot of support now (but it wasn’t easy to get it) and it makes such a difference.

    1. Lilysparrow

      “Was it ADHD or was it me?”

      That’s the thing – ADHD isn’t some disease that’s separate from us. It’s a description of the way we function. It’s a mode of existing in relation to the outside world.

      ADHD doesn’t do things to us. It is the way we do things.

  50. Shad

    It’s not clear to me from the letter how much of the difficulty is with remembering that these recurring tasks are on your to do list versus actually getting them done. However, to the degree that it’s remembering that they’re on the list to do, I find that keeping a hard copy to do list clearly visible on my desk helps keep things from slipping out of my mind. With recurring tasks, I’d suggest adding them to the list with the relevant date and then immediately adding the next iteration when you cross off this one. With recurring tasks like that, a lot of the apps and websites people are recommending should also have options so a recurring task will automatically re-add the next date once you check this date off.
    And a second suggestion: A lot of my tasks are sending out a request and then following up if needed to make sure I actually get what I asked for; I find these particularly easy to lose track of, so I have a list of just those pending requests (case, what I’m asking who for, date I sent the email/add dates I followed up) that sits on my desk beside the list of all my other tasks. Obviously, “list of emails I need to make sure I get a response to” is a me-specific version of this, but the replicable point is that, having identified what subset of my ongoing task list is easiest for me to lose track of, I find it helpful to make a second list of just that subset and keep that list extra visible and with a bit more detail than the general list to remind me where I am on each of those tasks.

  51. LizardOfOdds

    I once had an amazing employee who struggled with ADHD. When he shared how this impacted him, I was able to work through accommodations processes to get him what he needed to be successful. In his case, he needed schedule flexibility — the ability to do his work when it worked best for his brain, even if that wasn’t during our usual working hours. That was no big deal to accommodate for his particular job. We also hired a life coach to work with him for 3 sessions, and he found that to be very helpful in establishing a practice he could follow to keep himself on task.

    This obviously won’t work in every organization, but if you have a healthy group/manager with a supportive work culture, it could be worth a conversation.

  52. Keyboard Cowboy

    Agree definitely with Alison’s suggestion that this is likely the ADHD at work. Your physician would probably love to recommend you a therapist or coach to help work out a system for this stuff that works for you! Heck, it might even be as simple as your physician saying “you still feel scattered at work? I think your prescription must not be quite right, then.”

    Before I was diagnosed I tried asking my boss to keep a closer eye on me. It didn’t work – he told me it was my responsibility, not his, and I had to figure out how to stay on top of it myself. He was harsh about it, but I think he was right, too. Years later, when I suspected ADHD but hadn’t had an evaluation, I ended up with a boss who was a micromanager, and she wanted detailed weekly check-ins and a clear to-do list she could ask me about. And holy shit, it was terrible!! I realized that because I was spending so long working on the things I didn’t like doing, I never had time to do the things I loved about my job (also in part because the “required time distribution” she gave me didn’t reflect the workload at all).

    With all of that said, I’ll share that I rely most heavily on a bullet journal and have been using that system for about five years – I transfer my bullets weekly, not daily, include a short section at the top of each week with my event schedule, and take meeting notes inline with the daily tasks. That helps me remember what needs to be done by the end of the day or week, and I like that since it’s flexible (not a printed planner) I can adapt it depending on what the current need is. By the way, it’s also extremely useful to have a log of what I did when it comes time for semiannual review.

    I also use a second calendar in Google Calendar for time management when I have to have to get stuff done during the week. I can plan blocks of time to work on stuff, so that I have time to do the stuff I enjoy next to the drudge work that still has to happen. For us ADHD folks, that makes a big difference, since our attention is drawn so much more by the fun stuff!

    1. Lobsterp0t

      Oh god, I’ve had a micro managing experience recently because of performance issues, and it’s been painful. I don’t know how to change the dynamic to something that I can handle while also accepting that my boss, of course, needs closer oversight of my work output since she’s trying to support me to improve.

  53. LGC

    So…I actually disagree with the answer given – because I’m not sure if the LW’s disorganization is really that much of an issue for their job!

    I think the first question would be – what would a B employee look like, and what would an A employee look like? The LW sounds pretty good at staying on top of things in general – they meet (or even exceed) their key performance indicators, it seems, and although they’re not perfect, it hasn’t caused major problems. (The most major thing might be the task logging issues, but that’s just one thing to fix.)

    If you haven’t talked about your performance recently, that is the FIRST place I’d start! Because I have a feeling you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what your boss has to say.

    (On the flip side – look, I know everyone wants to be 100% on top of everything, and it feels like a disappointment when things slip through the cracks. So, yeah, I’m not saying that you’re fine just the way you are, LW – if you want to get more organized, definitely work on that! But it also sounds a little like you’re beating yourself up for not being perfect like NT people are – which 1) neurotypical people drop balls like the neurodiverse do and 2) honestly you sound on top of your game period!)

  54. Checkert

    Growing up doctors wanted to diagnose me but alas I was as stubborn then as I am now and found ways to ‘weaponize’ what is likely ADD. By that I mean I function better when I have more going on than when given a singular task. HOWEVER, my latest job has found the upward limit on how many strings I can manage at a time and my mind jumping back and forth makes things more easily missed. My workaround? An insane calendar with individual reminders set for tasks. I have to compile a report every week on the same day. Most weeks I do remember it without prompting but still, there’s my outlook *dinging* me into action. By doing this it also creates a ‘to do’ list of reminders. Only caveat: find a way to have this on a calendar that others CAN’T see or you’ll look like an insanely busy lunatic :P

  55. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope

    One thing that’s helped for me is scheduling time for myself to perform certain admin tasks – like, I literally create a meeting for myself called “answer voicemails” – twice a week. When the notification pops up, it reminds me to do it.

  56. Urdnot Bakara

    I don’t have an ADD/ADHD diagnosis but I have been finding it a lot harder over time to focus on work tasks. What really helps me are these two things:

    1. Calendar reminders. Not the Outlook reminder function, but literally scheduling reminders as events on my work calendar. If you use Outlook, this can make it look to other people like you’re in meetings all day, so you can set them to “Show As: Free” if you want to still be available for other stuff at that time.

    2. Literally sticking sticky notes on my computer monitor. Can’t forget about tasks when I’m staring at them all day!

    1. Jedi Squirrel

      Re #2:

      I also do this. As I get them done, I pull them off and move the others to the right. If something has stayed at the right end too long, I know that I need to get to work on that one.

  57. Been there, still there

    Consider finding a licensed therapist (or, better yet, a psychologist) who specializes in adult ADHD. They can help you figure out systems and methods for your work that are effective for you. Your weekly “check-in” can be with your clinician rather than you boss.

    In those appointments, the therapist can’t comment on work-specifics persay, but they can help walk you through prioritization, to do lists, and keeping organized. Asking questions E.g. What *must* you get done this coming week? Why is that important? What might block you from getting that done? Etc. And giving specific, actionable recommendations. E.g. Only check email twice a day and set a timer to get through you inbox and prioritize it really fast. Then attend first to only top priority emails.

    This kind of coaching can help you conscientiously create and build habits and systems that carry you forward. They are your wings. Medication will be your turboboost.

  58. Spreadsheet Ninja

    I struggled for a long time with being minimally productive at times, and then highly productive at others. Recently I implemented a system where I use a stop watch and “clock” my work time each hour. So if I’m on facebook or getting a cup of coffee, I stop it. Then I track my time on a spreadsheet. At the end of the day, I record my overall productivity for the day, and then also for the week. My goal is to be above 75 percent productive (though I aim for higher and am typically above 80). Sometimes I still have an unproductive day, but then I work to make up for it. Doing the measuring made me really own how much time I was wasting on stupid little things.

  59. Quinalla

    Some great suggestion already! I would set internal/self deadlines if deadlines help you get things done. There are many apps that would help with this or you can just use tasks in outlook if you have that or a planner or just lists on paper or in one note or word or excel.

    I’ve tried a lot of time management tools and the one I’ve graduated to now is GTD which has been really helpful as my workload and project load has increased a lot the last couple years. High level, it keeps lists of all the things you have committed to do (split into several lists as needed), the things you are waiting for from others (I LOVE this list), someday/maybe lists of things you might want to do, reference items and a list of things that you need to put on your lists (sounds weird, but think of it as your inbox). I mostly use one-note to track it as I can access it from work, home and my phone with some physical in-boxes.

    You don’t have to use GTD, but find something that will work for you to keep track. When you have multiple projects going on, you absolutely need some system to track deadlines and what you need to do.

    And yes, I would bring up your struggles with who is treating you to get a read on if you need to tweak something there as well. Hard to tell from the outside how much is typical challenges of working on lots of projects and what might be ADHD throwing you off more than typical.

  60. Flash Bristow

    OP, I know you said the team is small, but more experienced – could you ask your boss whether one of them might be able to mentor you? And then you could get a brief check in daily, or every few days, with someone who works a bit more closely with you than a manager? Might that work for your situation?

    Good luck in any case. Well done in recognising a weakness and trying to address it – that in itself is a valuable skill.

  61. Andrea

    Although I don’t have ADHD I can relate to this letter writer. I highly suggest using your email calendar. I prefer Google calendar because you can set notifications and their is the keep option so you can make notes and it can alert you at different times. This was a lifesaver for me at my work because I had weekly and biweekly tasks that I would forget until Friday afternoon where I was scrambling to get them done. Hopefully your work email has some way of doing this.

    I also recommend Asana it is a project management tool and you can put in tasks and set a time to get them done.

  62. peachie

    I’m so late on this, but another thing — I found a notepad that has columns for MONDAY, TUESDAY, etc. — not a full-on planner, just a sort of scratchpad for the week (and/or mousepad). I keep it on my desk and scribble things down intermittently. For some reason, this feels less stressful to me than a traditional planner — maybe it’s the ‘not having dates’ so if I don’t use it, it’s not a waste?

  63. learnedthehardway

    ADD here – no H, which may or may not be a good thing – I get things done if I have stress and adrenaline.
    It’s not ideal, but it’s the way I operate.

    You might find that setting self-deadlines works for you. Or creating lists of things you hold yourself accountable for getting done each day. This somewhat works for me.

    However, there are some things that I absolutely hate doing, and can only drag myself to get done if/when the alternative is even worse. (Taxes, invoicing. Ugh.) Those, I am resigned to knowing I will have major stress at some times, and that’s what it takes.

    (My coping mechanisms are not ideal, but medications didn’t work for me, so I have to make do).

  64. JSPA

    You may default to making your summary friday afternoon, but if that’s not a time that works well for the ADHD, early Friday morning (or Tuesday, or whenever) may work better. Notice when you’re doing most OK with routine, and document then.

    Alternatively, keep a text / notepad like document where you do running updates for each project. Spreadsheets can suck your brain for hours–simple text is great. Even stickies. Then copy-paste the bottom line for the weekly summary.

  65. Lyn By the River

    Get a coach (if you can afford it)! Others have mentioned this but I wanted to chime in because having an outside person to whom I can “report” about my progress and talk through what’s holding me up, and help me think through places where I get stuck has been life changing. I work pretty independently, so having this person to help me think through everything and be “responsible to” (i would be embarrassed to say I didn’t do the thing!) made a really big difference for me. Good luck, OP!
    I’m not sure where or how to find one; i asked around to some trust colleagues and got a referral.
    Sometimes you can get your company to pay for it — ask the coach and they may know a good way to frame it.

  66. You're Not Alone

    Hi OP! I have ADHD too and have struggled with this issue as well. I do really well with structure and external deadlines and am not so great at imposing it on myself. This became unfortunately obvious when I got a negative performance review that mentioned my follow through, specifically with letting projects that weren’t time sensitive drag on too long.

    I work in a small office with bosses who all assign me work independently and are regularly out of the office (we have clients all over our region), so setting up a regular in person meeting wasn’t a great option for us. Instead, I proposed that I send them a biweekly email digest updating them about the status of my projects. This has worked out really well so far– the process of updating the digest every two weeks encourages me to move things off the list that I otherwise might let languish, and it helps my bosses be aware of my workload, as well.

    I’ve also started using a physical kanban board (just postits on a wall) and I really enjoy the process of physically moving the assignments from “to do” to “in progress” to “waiting for feedback”, and the bright colors prevent me from ignoring it the way I’ve always ignored to do lists. You can figure this out, I promise! <3

  67. Mindovermoneychick

    OP if you can find a friend in a similar boat a buddy system of daily check in can be really helpful. When I started my own business I lost most of my external deadline and it killed my productivity. What saved me was daily checkin calls each morning with a friend where we would set daily goals, write down each other’s and ask about them specifically the next day. We do this 5 days a week barring scheduling conflicts. In fact 6 months ago she transitioned back to a full time office job but we have kept them up. It takes us about 10 minutes each day.

    A bonus is that over time we have learned each other’s rhythms and when one of us sees the other repeatedly pushing off a certain task we can suggest really useful strategies because we remember what has worked for the other person in the past, even when we forget what works for ourselves.

  68. Adhd in Senior role

    I have a couple of those Adhd / Aspergers thingies.. The only way I ever got things done is when I had deadlines .. so if I don’t have one, I created them by booking mtgs with ppl who need to collaborate with me to get the work done or if someone needed to review my work, then I book the review mtg first and then get cracking! there are instances when i need to move a mtg or two if I need time to figure out more things – but 3/4 of the work would be done by then so it’s not that mentally hard anymore. And ppl praise me for always meeting deadlines… If only they knew!

  69. Brownstag

    I have ADD. I haven’t read all the comments (duh). But I came here to say so much of this is ADD! I have a great therapist who is also like an ADD coach. She helped me realize that every system eventually becomes invisible/ineffective for me so I have to know to change up my systems periodically to keep some of the novelty.
    External accountability helps rev my engine to get things done. You can look at other mechanisms for creating external accountability. Even something like updating your status message on internal messaging systems can create that external accountability.
    I am also an excellent crisis manager. It can take a toll to rush from one crisis to the next but I find working in that type of environment works for me.
    Also I need very visual reminders so I often have reminders written on my mirror or on post it notes on my front door. I also use flip chart sized post it notes to help create external accountability visually. Don’t be afraid to use low-tech tools like this if it helps. A lot of technology solutions are too easy for me to ignore

    1. OP Here

      Lots of folks recommending a therapist/coach… I wish something like that was easier to find! I had a therapist who took my insurance, but it turned out that she had ADD, too, so she was more focused on making excuses for me whenever I articulated a problem (I guess trying to make me feel better?). When I tried to make it clear that I wanted support in finding systems to reduce my problems / find better ways to be held accountable, she just kept saying, “Sounds like you’re really accomplished, though! Sounds like you’re doing great! I don’t really see the problem!” (because I would talk about the things I was trying to accomplish (at work / school / volunteering, whatever was on my plate at the time) and she didn’t seem to notice that I was struggling with it all, and I had a hard time putting it into words).

      So I shopped around for another therapist, but it’s hard to find one that takes my insurance (even my insurance’s website isn’t all that accurate!) and I unfortunately don’t have a couple hundred right now to throw at a therapist each week who doesn’t take my insurance. :-/ I didn’t look at “life coaches,” though (I thought that was mostly a fake industry??), but it sounds like some folks here have had really positive experiences, so maybe that’s the way to go. Hm.

      1. animaniactoo

        I think it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re saying “My life is unsatisfying and I don’t know what I want to do about that”, you’re going to have varying levels of success (particularly if you’ve hooked up with someone who is a life coach because they haven’t gotten their own crap together (yes, I’ve known a couple of those, why do you ask?)). If you’re saying “I’m having a problem coming up with strategies to combat X problem that I keep having”, you’re probably going to have better success. It will be easier to identify the people who don’t have their own crap together because they’re the ones who will not answer you with questions like “Talk to me about what you’ve tried doing. Does it sound like Y would work for you?”, they’ll answer you with questions like “Hmm. I think you should stop trying to do X at all and go do Z. What do you like to do with your free time?”

  70. ADHD Fed

    I have ADHD. I am also a very high performer in my job with multiple consecutive years of the highest performance rating and a stellar reputation as a business operations expert. My bosses and colleagues think I am super organized and together.

    It is also true that I struggle to remember routine maintenance tasks, sometimes I forget to answer an email or return a message, and I am TERRIBLE at any routine thing that “has” to be done but that I don’t see immediate need for, and some days I just get very little accomplished.

    Sooooooo I am going to share with you some of the APPROACHES I use to handle what needs to be handled at work. There are a lot of recs in this thread for tactics like Trello and kanban and pomodoro and sticky notes, I’m going to talk about my STRATEGIES. I hope that you can find use from them.

    0) Make sure your medical situation is handled. Are you sure you are on the right medication/dosage of medication? Do you need to add/increase coaching or therapy visits? I see my psychologist every 2 weeks and sometimes I do stuff because I know she’s going to ask how it’s going. Also, being too tired/hungry/stressed/etc makes ADHD so much worse, so if you are having a difficult focus day, take a moment to do a self-check in to see if you need to address something. The acronym I use is SNAP: Sleep, Nutrition, Activity, and Personal Time – where Personal Time can mean anything from “introvert decompression hermit hours” to “lunch with a friend” to “went to see Spider-Man” – leisure and psychological self-care activities. One of my biggest ongoing struggles is sleep – ADHD is very frequently comorbid with sleep disorders (mine is) and also sleep deficit makes ADHD symptoms worse. It’s a vicious cycle.

    1) Prioritization is the first priority.
    You won’t do everything on your to-do list every day. You just won’t. The solution is to make a much smaller to-do list that has only the most important things on it. I usually identify three things per week and three per day. The question I ask myself is “What three things would make this day feel productive and successful if they were the only things I did?” And I vet my priorities with my boss during a regular check-in. (Since you don’t currently have weeklies, one option is to ask for a weekly or biweekly touchbase via email or phone around priorities, where you say “I think that A, B, and C are the highest priority for next week, do you agree or should I focus on R or G instead?” Also: this is where you need to take a really hard look at your volunteer work and draw hard lines. You are trying to do too much and that just sets you up to fail.

    Spend your limited executive function on the things that will have the biggest impact.

    2) Externalize your memory and make it easy to access.
    You won’t remember stuff. So write it down. I have found that what works best for me is a large general capture system where I put everything, because if I try to do filing I will just forget where I put things, and also stop filing within a week because it’s too much effort. Have one work notebook. Carry that notebook everywhere. To every meeting. On every call. Whenever you get an action item, write it down in the notebook. When you make a key decision, write it down in the notebook. Ideally you will then migrate the tasks to one long list of stuff to do (from which you will choose your Three Things), but even if you don’t, you can still flip back in your notebook and find it.
    My other tool is The Basket. I have a big in-basket. When I obtain a piece of work paper (handouts from a meeting that I’ve taken notes on, drafts I’ve marked up, articles to read) I put it in The Basket. On top. When I need a thing, I take it out of The Basket, use it, then put it back on the top of the pile. This means that things I need will naturally stay on top and things I don’t will gradually migrate toward the bottom. When The Basket is full, I throw out the BOTTOM half of The Basket. Anything there I haven’t needed to refer to in long enough that I don’t need it any more.

    3) Pre-think as much as possible.
    So, let’s say you have a problem – for instance, you are supposed to send those weekly status reports and you really struggle to remember to do it. Pretend you are a high-priced business consultant that you have hired for yourself, and make yourself a meeting for a strategy session. If possible, literally take your computer or notebook into another physical room to do this session, to reinforce that this is Important Meeting Time. Make sure your strategy session happens at a time when you are well medicated and feeling focused. Then sit down and do a root cause analysis on your problem (Google for tools to do this sort of work.) Write down: how do I feel when I think of this task? What are the barriers that keep me from doing it? Do I forget to do it, do I procrastinate, do I really not think it’s necessary/think it’s a waste of my time so I’m subconsciously digging in my heels? Next, brainstorm things you could do to address each of the barriers that you identified. If you have negative emotions about the task, bring that to therapy and talk about it, or do some work on your own examining why you feel that way. If it feels like a hassle to do the report, are there ways you could automate parts of it, like making a template and an email list that you could re-use each time? If you just forget, could you make an Outlook appointment? If you just find it tedious to do, could you do something pleasant at the same time, like sip a fancy coffee or listen to favorite music? Then, put these things together and make a checklist. This is every step you need to do in order to do this task. Include stuff you brainstormed, like “go get fancy coffee” or “put on headphones”. Make each step be short, concrete, and unambiguous. Your goal is that after doing this session, you can do the task with no additional cognitive heavy lifting – you just have to do each step exactly as written, like a robot, every time. If there are decision points, include those like a flowchart. Include things like standard language for items you’ll need to write often, so you can just copy and paste.
    What you’ve essentially done is made all your decisions AHEAD of time, at a time when your brain is feeling sharp, and as part of a NEW SHINY PROJECT (being the Business Consultant). That way, you don’t need much gas in the tank to actually do the thing – if you can trigger yourself to START it, you can sort of mindlessly do it while your brain takes a fun vacation.
    Note: you will need the checklist every time. Use the checklist every time. You can update the checklist but don’t abandon it.
    This sounds like it would take forever but the thing is, you only have to do the thinking part once. Every time afterward, you just do the checklist and don’t have to think or make decisions. You pre-made the decisions.

    4) Interventions must happen at the point of performance.
    ADHD isn’t a disorder of knowing, it’s a disorder of doing. You may know five thousand ways to stop procrastinating and seventeen different time management books off by heart and still never file your expenses on time, because the problem is in the execution. This means that simple reminders AT THE PLACE WHERE YOU NEED TO DO THE THING are what you need. I keep a small whiteboard at eye level above my desk where I write my Three Things. I have one on the back of my front door where I write stuff I need to remember to bring with me when I leave the house. I have a physical note where my eyes fall when I approach my kitchen sink that says “NO, dishes in dishwasher!” I have hooks and bins to store things AT THE PLACE where I stop using them, because I know I will not walk over anywhere else to put them away.

    5) Routine is your friend. The less you have to think and make decisions the more likely it is you’ll do something. That’s why we pre-think and have simple, universal systems like The Notebook and The Basket.

    6) Work around who you are and what you do, not who you “should” be and what you “should” do.
    I find it’s really useful to time myself doing something and write it down, because ADHDers are terrible at time – both guessing how long we’ve been doing something and how long a thing will take. But this is also true for everything else. Make things easy on yourself by not defining success as “be neurotypical” but as “achieve these high-priority, concrete goals, using whatever method works for me, no matter how goofy or kindergarten-y my inner critic tries to say they are.”

    7) Use external cues to trigger internal states.
    I find it can be helpful to get my mind in gear by doing physical things. For instance, going to a different room, listening to a certain playlist, having a drink or snack, standing up and walking around during a call, anything like that. If I do the SAME thing for the SAME task, after a while I condition myself so that when I do the THING it makes my brain go “oh, okay, it must be Report Time, that’s the Legend of Zelda music” or whatever. This strategy goes really well with the checklist approach.

    So this was really long but I hope it is helpful?

    1. Lobsterp0t

      This is super useful. I think my systems are similar, but I love what you’ve said about a disorder of doing rather than knowing.

    2. OP Here

      This is amazing. You’ve done an excellent job of laying it all out. I’ve done little bits & pieces of things like that over the years, but it sounds like you’ve got it down to a science. I’m going to print this comment out — hopefully, I can build some things around it!

      1. ADHD Fed

        I am so glad it’s helpful!

        One of the ironies of my life is that people consider me someone who is super organized and has it all together – which, well, I don’t consider that to be true, but also one of the things I’m working on in therapy is my tendency to judge myself by idealized neurotypical standards rather by results. I may have this complicated web of strategies to not drop major balls, but the result is that I don’t drop them – so does it really matter that I need prosthetics to accomplish it? It shouldn’t. Our memory systems and timers and sticky notes and Kanban boards are prosthetics for our brains. They take training to use, sometimes it takes a while to find the ones that work for you, and they don’t make your brain the same as one that doesn’t need that sort of support, but there is no weakness or flaw in needing them. And sometimes having them and knowing how to use them actually gets you ahead.

        Executive function is a spectrum like so many other parts of the human experience. Everybody is going to struggle with executive function under certain circumstances- if they are sick/tired/burned out, if the stress is just too high, if everything is in crisis and now there are just Too Many Things. I have found that a lot of neurotypical people who “just remember” stuff and “just do the thing” actually drop balls and fall apart in a crisis much more than I do, and I have a theory as to why. I think that every person has a range of “can function under these parameters” and when their situation goes above that level, they can’t manage unassisted anymore. ADHD people have a much narrower range of “can function” than neurotypical people do, so we have to develop coping strategies for our everyday life. Neurotypical people usually live most of their lives within their “can function” band, so they never have to learn how to cope outside of it. So when we get a massive pile of work dumped on us unexpectedly and my neurotypical colleagues are scrambling and missing things, I can just… add it to my existing systems and keep going like normal. Add that to the way that unexpected challenges are like catnip to the stimulation-deprived ADHD brain, and you get a reputation as someone who can roll with the punches and keep everything together. A rock in times of trouble.

        The other thing I would encourage you to do, is to actively work on canceling out the negative self-talk that so many of us acquire. A lifetime of being told “if we’d just apply ourselves” or “being late means you don’t respect people” or “you’re too smart to be this dumb” takes a toll on us. I’ve taken to actually, literally interrupting myself when I start to say stuff like this and correcting it (if I’m somewhere I can, I do it out loud, otherwise I write it down or at least say it in my head.)

        When I start to say “I was super lazy this week so I didn’t do X” I stop and say “Actually, what I should say is that my medical condition makes it exhausting to do that, and I haven’t had the energy to tackle it this week.” Or “I know it’s dumb, but” gets replaced with “It’s unusual but it works for me”.

        And when I worked hard and did a thing, I tell someone, even if it’s just myself. “It was hard, but I did my Three Things today.” “I remembered to put my dishes in the dishwasher.” “I ran the Roomba today!” “My boss just told me that we couldn’t have made it through the spring without me. I do a good job at work and I’m valuable.”

        It makes such a difference.

  71. undiagnosed

    This is a timely post for me. I got a pretty bad report today from my internal evaluations. I’ve been in my position a year and still feel like I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. Nearly all of the negative feedback was that I needed better time management, needed to produce more cost-effective work, and needed to work on deadlines. In my last job, I succeeded as an EA in a high-pressure industry. Almost all my to-do’s were both immediate and very important, and I usually felt highly productive. In this job, I’m dealing with long-term projects and lots of ambiguity. My only updates with the boss are in quarterly reviews, and I absolutely dread them. I thought I was hiding my weaknesses because I have great external relationships and haven’t had anyone raise issues. I feel like I can’t live up to the Director title, and that this can’t be salvaged. Like I’m exposed as a lazy fraud. I don’t think this job suits my talents and definitely want a change, but I’d like to have some “wins” before I make an exit. Has anyone been here and turned it around?

  72. Curmudgeon in Califormia

    I feel you. I have ADHD, and our new offices don’t give me any whiteboard space. I pilfered a small one, but it isn’t the same. Paperless is BS. Plus, I now WFH twice a week, so I always hunt for transportable/electronic stuff.

    What I try to make work is taskwarrior (https://taskwarrior.org/). It’s a command line tool that I can use to make tasks and record when they are done. Not perfect, because the TODOs sort of blur into a wall of text.

    I’ve tried Trello, and it failed. When I get very busy I sometimes do a physical Kanban board, but that gets messed up on days I work from home. In the end, I end up writing my stuff onsome sort of a todo list, assign priorities on a weekly basis (and shift them sometimes) and check them off when they are done. It works ok as long as I break up the tasks into small cohesive parts, and don’t lose the list…

    What I have found useful is the Slack “remind” function for dealing with upcoming deadlines. I can even do daily reminders, which helps with the daily drudgework.

    But it gets very hard to do the stuff that is… no fun… when the net is full of “Oooh shiny!”

  73. Lilysparrow

    Have ADHD. One difficulty with our brains is that our “must focus/ must remember/ must finish” mode does not connect to logical, abstract priorities. It’s triggered by emotion.

    So you can know that something is important, believe & be fully committed to its value, but if you don’t have any feelings about it (or only bad, aversive feelings), the brain just blips over it.

    That’s why we procrastinate (creates panic, excitement, adrenaline) and get fixated on random stuff (curiosity) or spend all our time on the fun bits (fun, success, flow state).

    So it’s really important to make your external memory system emotionally rewarding, even in a small way. Having that reward completes the circuit that keeps your “must do” brain online.

    For me, it made all the difference in the world when I discovered my recurring reminders in Google Calendar could be imported as scheduled items in Tasks.

    Getting a calendar reminder is an annoying interruption that must be dismissed ASAP so I can finish what I’m doing (consigning it to oblivion).

    A task with a checkbox next to it is an opportunity to get a reward. (I like checking the box).

    It’s silly and illogical. That’s because ADHD brains are silly & illogical.

    Your desire for personal check-ins is probably connected to wanting a little booster of human social contact. Talking to people is rewarding (for a lot if us).

    So if your boss can’t or won’t upgrade to weekly 1-1s, or if weekly isn’t enough, experiment with different ways to add a “buddy system”, or you can find a different type of reward that’s more autonomous but still works for you.

  74. Brownstag

    I came back to say a few more things:
    1. The volunteer job is helping keep you in constant crisis mode which activates your ADD brain.
    2. Consider employing a strategy of much delayed action on most volunteer requests. It’s amazing how much urgent stuff sorts itself out when you aren’t constantly coming in to the superhero to the rescue.
    3. Don’t beat yourself up over misses are work. Having to be reminded of something that has fallen through the cracks isn’t necessarily a big deal. I work in a high pressure job where the to-do list literally can not be completely checked off at the end of the day. And priorities are constantly in flux. My organization largely trusts be to judge the ever shifting priorities hour by hour. And not doing something can be a great test to determine how much of a priority it is to the organization. If you go a month between meetings with your manager, it sounds like they trust your judgment on what can fall through the cracks temporarily.
    4. Folks with ADD can be great managers and leaders. Being great at mundane routine things and having a checked off to-do list at the end of each day doesn’t necessarily qualify someone as management material. I find sales managers to be particularly bad at the routine management tasks (and sales people in general). I think me and my manager are typically about 6 months behind on claiming expense reimbursements but we are both great at the most important aspects of our jobs.

    1. OP Here

      Interesting… I hadn’t thought about how the volunteer gig might be enticing because of it helping me stay in “crisis mode.” I do know that I have a lot of psychological “stuff” tied up in it, though — I graduated college during the recession (with a liberal arts degree, to boot) and couldn’t get hired for the life of me except to “throwaway” jobs like sales at the kind of place where almost the entire department turned over every year (a terrible fit for me to start with, as I’m Aspie, in addition to having ADHD, and I can’t imagine any Aspie being good at cold-calling). The volunteer gig was willing to put me in charge of stuff and let me do the kinds of things I was enjoyed and was skilled at (analyzation, design, policy writing, even public speaking and event planning) that my paid employment would’ve scorned to let me do. And I got *so* much praise for doing them. And I know it’s mostly just because they’re small and were probably desperate for someone to do those things, but I feel really indebted to them (in addition to still feeling like they’re a place where I can feel particularly useful & fulfilled).

      But now that I’m in a job that really will let me do a lot of these things, if I just put my focus on it (my boss has said as much, that he’d love to see me grow into this & that), maybe it is time to pull back a little & not make my volunteer gig my life… That’s going to be hard, though.

  75. SleepyKitten

    You’re doing fine! Very few people track their time on time (there’s a mad scramble in our office every month as we all try to get our time tracking in before that month is closed off in the system), I’ve never worked with anybody who doesn’t sometimes need emailing twice, and everybody has days where they just feel like they’re spinning wheels.

    As far as systems go, calendar reminders are your friend for recurring tasks. Outlook will let you set up an appointment as “free”, so people will be able to see that they can book over it, but you’ll still get a notification every time. I also use trello to keep track of all my tasks, and whenever I get a reminder the task goes on my list for that day.

    At one point I did have weekly check-ins as a temporary measure to prioritise my tasks, and after a few months I had enough systems in place. You could suggest something similar and make it clear that you plan to go back to monthly meetings in a few months

  76. shinychariot

    I don’t have ADHD but I do have generalised anxiety which can affect my focus and ability to set priorities. A helpful tool I’ve been using is the Todoist chrome extension, as I can set recurring daily tasks, tasks in advance, alarms and it also builds up a score for me the more tasks I complete!

  77. animaniactoo

    OP, having read through some of your comments about the volunteer gig and particularly drawing boundaries in order to keep THEM from being able to interrupt you 800 times a day, I have a suggestion.

    What if you had a couple of your own check-in calls during the day? So that you call at say 10:30 and 3:30 and are then available to help long-distance train the staff member at your convenience?

    Doing it this way would have the additional benefit of allowing you to do the thing that takes more time – training them to take care of it, instead of you doing it because you’re pressed for time and it’s quicker to do it yourself. Because it is true that it is quicker to do it yourself – but it’s ALSO true that it’s only true in the short term. In the longterm it means that you’re always stuck taking up time to do it because you haven’t invested the time in getting it off your plate completely. But if you have a set amount of time that you’ve already set aside for the near future, you won’t feel as pressed to get it done right that second and solve the org’s problem so you can get back to work. Additional benefit is that you’ll be pushing the staff person to be more organized in their own right and curating a list of stuff to go over with you at those check-in call and more mindful about what they’re putting on that list if they can’t just pick up the phone to call you.

    What do you think? Does that have potential for you?

  78. Mainely Professional

    I just wanted to point out that in many jobs in the tech world especially, it’s entirely reasonable to have daily check ins. It’s called “stand-up,” meaning a meeting so short that you don’t even sit down. My company has it every morning. You say what you did yesterday and what you plan to accomplish today.

  79. Oranges

    PS. I love how many “Fellow ADHD sufferer here. These are my tips” that are here. Because I have the exact same issues and finding something that works for non-shiney/interesting work will be good.

  80. mmppgh

    A few thoughts:
    Create a monthly milestone chart with deadlines (Even if they are self selected.) Highlight things as they get done. That always in front of you visual reminder can be helpful. While I too love tech like OneNote or Trello having that piece of paper front and center can help keep you on task.

    Email yourself a daily status report. Set a rule so it just goes into a folder. Take a few moments before you meet with your boss to review these and summarize key accomplishments / project status notes for discussion. (Try for every other week meetings. I think weekly will not go over well.)

    Check into an ADHD coach. You will pay out of pocket most likely but he or she could really help you develop some effective strategies.

    There are some really highly regarded books about managing ADHD that may be beneficial. Unfortunately I can’t think of specific ones but they are occasionally mentioned in a FB group I belong to.

  81. KC without the sunshine band

    I had an employee two levels down from me tell me and his direct supervisor that he needed someone checking up on him regularly or he wouldn’t get his work done. We send an email everyday to everyone showing where they are production-wise, and compared to their counterparts. That’s all the “checking up” I’m willing to do. He knows how to do his job well, and we aren’t babysitters. We told him when he doesn’t meet his goals (which he set) then he was done. This motivated him for a few months, but eventually he slid into old habits. He came close to getting fired one month and quit instead.
    Find a way to self-manage. There are lots of good recommendations on here for that. Without that, long-term success and possibly promotions will be difficult or impossible.

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