how can I tell my boss I work better when she’s not here?

A reader writes:

I’m a junior level employee in a small-ish business. I only have about a year of experience in full-time work, but worked a lot throughout college. I also have ADHD and was diagnosed almost two years ago.

My job is a lot of layered tasks—some things to be done ASAP, some to be spread out over time. I’ve been struggling with completing everything when it has to be done.

Last week, my boss went on vacation and … I had the easiest work week of my life. Not because I had less to do, but because I was so much less stressed about her asking me questions about the work I’m doing or giving me new small tasks.

I’m starting to realize that my ability to work effectively is stalled every time she sends me a new message because it pulls me out from what I’m doing and distracts me. For people like me with ADHD, it’s hard to refocus on a task once my attention is broken.

I work at a place that is adamant about making work possible and accessible for everyone, and my boss believes in that mission.

That being said, I feel like a junior employee telling their boss not to send them messages on slack isn’t going to be met with good feelings.

Is there a way to nicely ask my boss to leave me alone so I can do the work I’m supposed to do without stressing?

It’s pretty common to get more done on weeks when your manager is gone, because you’re able to just put your head down and crank through work without interruptions. (It’s one reason why some people love working on holiday weeks — their office is close to empty and it’s easier to focus.)

But it doesn’t necessarily follow that your boss shouldn’t be sending you stuff throughout the day when she’s there. It does mean that with some bosses — the ones who are scattered and don’t think things through and go stream of consciousness on you whenever they have a new thought. But for many managers, managing their team well means that they do need to send information and questions as you’re working. Sometimes those interruptions serve the interests of the team as a whole so that other (possibly higher priority) projects keep moving, even when it comes at a cost to your own work.

Because of that, it’s not always reasonable to ask your boss to, for example, save up everything she needs from you for one daily email or hold it all until you meet in a few days. Sometimes stuff needs to be asked or relayed now, either because the item is time-sensitive or because it would create an unreasonable burden on your boss to do it differently (and in the hierarchy of work, what makes your boss’s life easier is usually — although not always — going to trump what makes yours easier).

So in a lot of cases, you shouldn’t frame it — to yourself and definitely not to your boss — as “asking my boss to leave me alone so I can do the work I’m supposed to do” because your boss might rightly see those interruptions as part of the work you’re supposed to do.

That doesn’t mean that your work needs don’t matter, especially when you’ve got a neurodivergence like ADHD in the mix. But it does mean that you want to approach the situation with an awareness of all the other factors.

In your situation I’d look for a middle ground. Can you talk to your manager, explain that you’re finding that frequent interruptions make it hard to focus, and ask if she can help you with solutions? For example, maybe the two of you could agree that when you’re in the middle of a task you’ll only check email or Slack every few hours (and you’ll turn off your message-waiting indicators so they don’t pull you out of whatever you’re doing). Or maybe you can ask her to email rather than messaging you on Slack unless it’s urgent.

There might be legitimate work-related reasons your boss can’t do those things but it’s a reasonable conversation to have, as long as your approach is informed by an understanding that interruptions can often just be part of the job.

Also: You have the option of raising ADHD as part of this conversation and asking for official accommodations based on that. But I wouldn’t start there, because there can be a lot of downside to disclosing things like ADHD at work (like if your boss starts seeing your work through that lens and so when you have an off day she thinks it’s because you’re scattered and disorganized, rather than because everyone has off days). You might need to do that eventually if you can’t resolve it otherwise, but this is the kind of issue that can often be resolved through a less formal “here’s what would work better for me; can we try it?” conversation.

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    Hello fellow ADHDer. I wish I’d gotten my dx much earlier as it made a lot of sense.

    Anyway, I would think you might tell rather than ask your boss “hey, it helps me to check in with my email every (amount of time) and go into deep focus for a while to complete certain tasks. I’ll get to any requests as soon as I (etc etc).” You could even put up an email reply of some sort.

    IF you communicate this pattern and continue to thrive it should go fine. My job knows I have ADHD but that’s because I’m also a public writer so I can’t really hide it. Some jobs it’s fine but you never know. It wouldn’t have been at my last job.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Mind the email reply though, and tailor that to your office culture/expectations. Our expectations (per policy) are that on a work day you check your email at the beginning and end of your work day and once in between, and aim for a 48 hour turnaround time on replies. So the woman setting a customized out of office for the night every afternoon when she leaves for the day is excessive, and the other one who not only does that but also sets one for her half hour lunch break AND her two fifteen minute breaks (!!!! like, fully customized, “I will be on break from 2:12pm to 2:27pm and will respond to your email on my return”) is patently absurd. Don’t do an auto-reply unless it really is necessary.

      1. Justin*

        I mean yeah, it depends on a lot of things. I personally just throw “Focus time” on my calendar and people leave me alone but I’m a manager.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Right – where I was going was, if your office culture doesn’t expect an email reply within a very short time frame, it’s unlikely that anyone will bat an eyelash or even notice if you close Outlook for a couple hours. I inbox-zero and reply to emails as fast as I can to keep my inbox empty, and nobody would actually notice if I didn’t open Outlook at all for a day, but if I had an auto reply on then it suddenly becomes a Thing That I Am Making A Thing About.

      2. Stacey’s mom*

        It totally depends on your office. In mine, the expectation for replies is that if you receive it during working hours, you reply within 60 minutes. Because it’s such a short turn around, a lot of those replies are “I will look into that and get back to you within X amount of time”, and if we’re teaching or at an appointment etc and won’t be able to reply within that one hour time frame, we have to set an auto so no one thinks you’re just not checking emails.

    2. Siege*

      My boss has suggested that we put blocks of time on our calendar where we’re not available. I don’t do that, most of the time, but one coworker does regularly and calls it focus time. She doesn’t check email during that time. The caveat is that she found people were scheduling meetings then (when you’re trying to arrange a meeting for five busy people it can get tight) but how to handle scheduling could be part of the discussion.

      1. Justin*

        Hey look I said the same thing above. People don’t tend to interrupt my focus time but like I said I’m a higher level than the OP is.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I always suggest that to new hires. Head down uninterrupted worktime is useful to most people.

      3. ferrina*

        This is exactly what I was going to recommend. Let your boss know that you’re going to try out some time blocks to focus and you won’t check email/slack during those times. I recommend no more than 5 hours per week- more than that and it can turn into a scheduling nightmare for folks trying to meet with you (I saw one person who had every waking minute on her calendar scheduled with individual tasks- how was I supposed to meet with her??)

        1. Splendid Colors*

          This is a problem I’m running into in my occupational therapy for ADHD. If I have every hour blocked out for “focus on project A” or “cook dinner now before PG&E Peak Hours” and lots of recurring tasks on my calendar, how am I supposed to have any flexibility for meeting clients? I am not doing it yet, but I think that’s the platonic ideal of how to use a calendar and I’m not sure how it will actually work in the real world. Like, I can’t cook dinner at home if I’m at the studio actually doing work or I’m meeting with clients instead of doing bookkeeping in my home office 5 feet from the kitchen. (Even a Zoom client call means moving the computer so I have good lighting and not having dishwater on the front of my outfit.)

    3. I Wore Pants Today*

      I don’t have ADD, but I do this. I also have immediate tasks and planned tasks, so I’m often ignoring emails and Teams msgs until I have a natural break. My job is brainy, so most everyone knows I will respond as soon as I can.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Same here. The first thing I do with a new device is turn off almost all the things that beep or pop up to alert me about stuff, because I find it very distraction when something pops up in my vision to tell me I’ve got a non critical email message or there’s an update available for my browser, or weather is happening. My icon bar is normally hidden, and when I have a break in concentration, I move the mouse to bring it up, which reveals the new message dots on various apps.

        My supervisor and a few key coworkers do have access to a messaging app thread that will ding loudly, which is useful for the rare but occasional “I need your attention now” message.

    4. Nesprin*

      Yep, there’s a tech solution to this. Email pulls at 9/12/3 and slack/teams checkins at the same time. Email is an asynchronous platform for a reason- if your boss needs you urgently, she can always call. If you get a lot of dropins, scheduling frequent 1:1 checkins can also help.

  2. Erie*

    I’m a bit disappointed to hear that PTSD is something you can bring up at work without repercussions, per a previous letter, and ADHD isn’t. Both can lead to being scattered or overwhelmed at work, so it isn’t really a question of work impact (and in fact the letter writer with PTSD described having lost more than one job as fallout of her condition whereas this LW did not). It seems to be more about stigma – like PTSD has an external impetus and is therefore less likely to be interpreted as “oh, you’re just a mess”.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s definitely about stigma (which sucks) although there is still risk with PTSD. The LW with PTSD had specifically noted that her company and managers were good on mental health issues, in both word and action. That makes a big difference.

      1. Justin*

        I think sadly a lot of it is the name and the stereotypes. We don’t really have a lack of attention, we can’t easily control our amount of attention. But you hear that at work and it’s, uh oh he’s gonna mess up. So.

      2. Ann Onymous*

        I have ADHD and I will forever be grateful that my parents (both have psych degrees and one has ADHD) always made sure I knew that my brain works different, not worse. I wish more people, neurodivergent or otherwise, would hear that message about ADHD.

        1. Justin*

          My son is only 2 but between my wife and I (we’re different flavors of divergent), we’re pretty sure he’ll turn out to be Something Like Us, and this message is one we are trying to build in.

          1. Chilipepper Attitude*

            My son noticed he was not reading on the same timetable as his friend and was not happy. Friend’s mom pushed hard for Reading Advanced Books at a Very Early Age and my son was a late reader (but did really well with audiobooks).

            I literally told him he could work hard like his friend or wait till his brain was ready. I think he was 5 at the time. It totally took all the pressure off him. Spoiler, he waited till his brain was ready!

            So being direct can work!

        2. PersephoneUnderground*

          My favorite metaphor for this is that if brains are cats, ours are shift-stick and neurotypical people’s brains are automatic. Our brains can do amazing things, and even do some things better, but we have to drive them entirely differently from neurotypical brains. And not get mad at ourselves when we’re struggling to learn to drive from people who don’t know what a clutch is. (…or who believe clutches are made up excuses for just driving too slow on purpose…sigh… Ok, done torturing the metaphor.)

        3. PersephoneUnderground*

          My favorite metaphor for this is that if brains are cars, ADHD brains are shift-stick and neurotypical people’s brains are automatic. Our brains can do amazing things, and even do some things better, but we have to drive them entirely differently from neurotypical brains. And not get mad at ourselves when we’re struggling to learn to drive from people who don’t know what a clutch is. (…or who believe clutches are made up excuses for just driving too slow on purpose…sigh… Ok, done torturing the metaphor.)

      3. to varying degrees*

        I wonder if the type of PTSD would make a difference here? While this might be more from personal experience (both my own and others), it seems like PTSD diagnosed as a first responder and/or military is treated very differently than PTSD from something like childhood trauma, etc.

        1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

          Absolutely. It’s hard because there have been a lot of conversations that frame it as “PTSD” and “non-combat PTSD”. That context is important in some situations, but those are usually limited to a medical provider and it’s frustrating that “non-combat PTSD” is often seen as less legitimate by the uninformed masses. And if someone does disclose a PTSD diagnosis and the audience knows they have never been in the military or served as a first responder, it’s not uncommon to hear “Oh, but it’s non-combat, so. . .” and then get awkward questions about what happened.

          Some people try to say that the division is helpful in assessing what may or may not trigger an individual, but in practice that’s a fantasy. I was never in a militarized combat zone, but I have had panic attacks triggered by fire alarms and trucks backfiring.

          1. Phryne*

            Fortunately I’ve never had to defend it, but imo PTSD from childhood trauma is something you never had a chance against. People who serve in the military or fire department have made a choice, at an adult age, to go into a profession that is known te be possibly violent, dangerous, deadly. I don’t wish trauma upon anyone, but mine have their roots back when I was less than 5 years old. I never made a choice to put myself in that situation. How could that possibly be less legitimate I wonder.

        2. EmKay*

          It makes a HUGE difference. There are jerks who tell me I can’t possible have PTSD because I never served in the military.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      There was no claim that bringing up PTSD would have no repercussions. Alison actually said

      There’s less risk with PTSD than with some other stuff, but there is risk

      This isn’t to say that that’s the way things should be, it’s just recognizing the peoples’ biases.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I mean there was a commenter on that letter who said they heard their boss gossiping about them being dramatic after disclosing, so in both cases it really is a know your audience issue.

      I am one of two people in my office with disclosed ADHD – the other person has asked for specific accommodations, I have not. It’s totally fine here. It might not be somewhere else.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      As a person with both PTSD and ADHD, I think the primary difference in the way neurotypical bosses perceive those disorders is that PTSD is a sometimes thing and ADHD is an always thing. That’s not what it feels like from inside my brain, but from the outside, the perception is that PTSD just sort of hangs out dormant until it’s activated, and when it’s not activated you’re fine. But ADHD means your brain “doesn’t work right” and never will. That’s not true, but it’s definitely how some of the bosses I’ve disclosed to have reacted.

      It doesn’t help that ADHD has been traditionally associated with elementary school boys, and a lot of people still don’t understand that there’s more to it than being a noisy, active 9 year old.

      I’ll say that over the years, the bosses I’ve disclosed to have had a mix of reactions. Some have been great, others not. It really comes down to how well you know the boss and whether or not your working relationship includes a solid base of trust; both that you can trust your boss to have your back and that your boss can trust you to know your limits and speak up when you need help. If you don’t have that kind of trust, I’d err on the side of not sharing if you don’t have to.

      1. Mid*

        I think that’s a huge part of it. As someone with ADHD, a lot of people still think that it’s something you have in childhood and grow out of as an adult, think it’s simply about being fidgety or unable to sit still and bad at listening and maybe disorganized or forgetful, or, especially if you’re AFAB, you’re ditzy/spacey. I’ve gotten all of these reactions personally. And a lot of backhanded “compliments” about how “I would have never guessed you have ADHD, you’re so good at your job/organized/smart.”

        I think that public perception of PTSD, while not universally accepted or understood yet, tends towards sympathy, because there’s a reason behind it, and one that people usually feel terrible about. PTSD is seen as something done to you, while ADHD is seen as a character flaw that you should have grown out of.

        1. Erie*

          “PTSD is seen as something done to you, while ADHD is seen as a character flaw that you should have grown out of.”

          Yes, this is exactly what I was getting at! Said much more eloquently than I said it; thank you. Our ideas about personal agency when it comes to mental disorders are so messed up.

        2. Suprisingly ADHD*

          I strongly suspect that several women in my family have undiagnosed ADHD. No one outside the family could possibly guess, because they’re aggressively organized as a coping skill. Like, hours of work to make a color-coded schedule so they’re not late to things, spent every spare minute in childhood practicing specific skills, always 2 minutes away from a full panic attack levels of extra work to mask how much effort it takes to seem “normal”.
          I worry that this sort of masking is common in afab ADHD-ers, because of the stigma as you mention.

        3. PersephoneUnderground*

          And this is why disclosing can sometimes be counterproductive. If you just present your work style, your boss or coworkers are learning just about you specifically. But once you add the ADHD label, all sorts of preconceptions can come in that often mean the person understands you *less well* than they did before they had a label to apply with all kinds of inaccurate associations attached. This isn’t always the case but it’s a real risk, like disclosing you’re a member of any other stereotyped group.

    5. anonymousity*

      Honestly, I think both diagnoses are likely to be stigmatized in the workplace- just in different ways. I have ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and PTSD. With the latter two, beyond the stigmas specifically associated with those diagnoses (especially Bipolar), part of why I wouldn’t disclose them at work is because I feel like both of those things risk being perceived as “oversharing” something not relevant to work. On the flip side, ADHD is perceived as being more related to how someone works on a day to day basis which is why I’ve felt nervous about disclosing it at jobs.
      I don’t agree with the stigma of course. I give tremendous credit to people who do choose to self disclose to seek accommodations or support. I am not at a point in my career where I feel comfortable taking that risk because I have seen it go sideways, but I appreciate people who pave the way for normalizing the existence of mental health diagnoses.

    6. Bee*

      In addition to what Alison said about the other writer’s office being good on mental health issues, it’s also really dependent on the severity of the issues they’re having and what needs to be done about them. “I have a panic attack when someone laughs loudly across the room and need a quieter space for myself” is an accommodation that can be much easier to get if the boss understands why you’re asking, so the risks of not disclosing are greater than the risks of disclosing. “Is it ok if I carve out a couple focus hours for myself every day where I’m not looking at Slack messages” is a really normal thing to ask for with or without ADHD, so it’s probably not worth turning what would be an “oh, yeah, that’s fine, just put up a status note so I know” answer into a whole personal discussion.

  3. Lacey*

    It is true that we all get more done when our bosses are out of town. In the future I hope you’re fortunate enough to get a really hands off boss like mine. I think I work better that way even though my day is still FULL of interruptions from other sources.

    1. sofar*

      I also came here to say, I’m 15 years into my career and a manager myself … and I ALSO get way more one when my boss is out.

      To the LW, as a manager, I HATE interrupting people because I know they have a lot of heads-down stuff to get done. Most of those interruptions are because someone two rungs above me is making it A Total Fire Drill. Remind yourself that juggling interruptions and time-sensitive stuff IS part of your job in many industries.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        “Remind yourself that juggling interruptions and time-sensitive stuff IS part of your job in many industries.”

        This is important to consider. That in some positions, doing your job well means figuring out a way to cope with those interruptions and emergencies. I’ve worked with some people who define “their job” as discrete tasks or as focused on A) Input > B) I DO MY WORK > C) Output, with anything that interrupts or slows down that A > B > C progression as “not my job to deal with” or out of bounds, etc. But in many roles, responding to, managing, getting back on track after those interruptions and fire drills is part of the core responsibilities of the job. And just re-framing it as such can reduce the emotional response (whether it’s stress, huffiness/annoyance, guarding of the main ABC process, etc) and makes managing both the interruption and “now, what was I working on again?” return to normal go more smoothly.

        For me, when I really came to grips that dealing with my boss’s last minute requests, or customer emergencies, what have you is PART of my REAL JOB, it made it a) easier for me to emotional cope with the interruption and b) easier for me to address how to juggle competing priorities with my boss. “Oh, of course, I’ll get started right away pulling together updated sales and finance info for the bank meeting that you just found out about. But that means the market segment reporting I’m scheduled to meet with you about tomorrow will need another day. I’ll reschedule that meeting til Wednesday, okay?” It became more a logical, matter of fact “if I stop doing this to do that, this won’t get done, how to we, together, adjust to that?” me having to figure out how to juggle and reset in my own brain.

        Another thing that I’ve found useful is when I have work that requires my full attention and uninterrupted focus, some combination of announcing it “I’m going into my dome of silence to finish the TPS reports everyone! ” or physically changing my workspace (either closing my door, or moving to a conference room) can head off some of the nuisance trivial stuff of someone approaching me in the moment because it’s the path of least resistance.

        Also, with the caveat that I don’t have an ADHD diagnosis even though a lot of what people describe resonates with me, another thing that helps is to maintain a pile of buffer tasks – mindless things that don’t take deep thought or concentration, that I can chip away at as needed. That way, if I’m working on Thing A and get interrupted for a customer fire drill, when I get back to my office, I spend a few minutes on a buffer task to reset my brain before diving back in to Thing A. It gives my brain a chance to come out of rush/panic mode and settle down instead of spending 20 minutes flitting in and out of various aspects of Thing A before I can hopefully get back into the groove. Of course there are times where I just have to put away Thing A for the rest of the day no matter what my To Do list says, and work on other things, because that 1 interruption derailed my brain enough that I’m not going to be able to find my way back to functional Thing A headspace any time soon and I’d be better off not bothering.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I always got way more done, and done well, when ToxicBoss1 wasn’t around too.
      Then when ToxicBoss2 bought him out, I was assigned a very hands-off manager, who was in another town. While I got a lot of work done, and was indeed the most productive in my role, I did not appreciate the fact that my manager forgot my existence, to the point of routinely leaving me off emails to all his reports (so I’d email him for something I needed an answer to quickly, not get a reply, then find out from someone else that he was away on holiday for three weeks) and only actually contacting me when there was a problem, so maybe twice in five years. Never a word of congratulations when I emailed my weekly report with a “I broke my productivity record this week”.
      I don’t know why it’s so hard to find a happy medium.
      Never been happier since I eliminated the boss by freelancing.

  4. Person from the Resume*

    From my perspective, this is in a large part a you problem. You can adjust the notifications on your computer so they won’t interrupt you. (I did that to the new email messages on my computer years ago and now barely even think of it.) You probably can put a message on Slack saying “Working head down on project. I won’t be responding right away” and turn it off or turn off new message notifications.

    I do wonder about being “less stressed about her asking me questions about the work I’m doing” though. Are you proactively stressing that your boss may ask you questions? That seems overly anxious and may require some further examination. Generally I’m not worried about my boss asking about things I’m working on/caught up on. The anxiety comes when I am behind and late. You can proactively head that off by giving her an update before she asks with the new completion date/time evening saying you’ll be focused on working on it for the next few hours.

    It sounds like to me, though, you need to work on your responses and stress levels and not ask your boss to change because you didn’t describe her as doing anything unreasonable in your letter. But I think most people are more relaxed when their boss is gone.

    1. top five???*

      “You can proactively head that off by giving her an update before she asks with the new completion date/time evening saying you’ll be focused on working on it for the next few hours.”
      This bears repeating. I hate doing it, but I’ve also definitely found that proactively giving updates, especially if I’m late or worried for some other reason, really helps me stay calm and helps the rest of the team as well.

      1. Ama*

        Yes — next week is actually my biggest “heads down” period of the year where I really need to spend all day for the next week focused on a very detailed, complex, and time sensitive task (that I am pretty much solely responsible for). When I do that I will put a busy message on our office chat that says “FYI, I’m working on X project this week so will only be responding to chat messages intermittently.” I quite often just close my email entirely during this task so I can’t even see that I have new messages without intentionally checking. When I need to take a break that’s when I’ll take a few minutes to check both chat and email and see if there’s anything that I need to respond to quickly.

        I’ve been here long enough that now even just saying “it’s X project week” will often prompt a “Oh! Well this isn’t that important, I can chat with you next week,” from some of my longer tenured coworkers, but we do have a lot of new staff here that don’t understand I’m basically not available next week, so I like to be clear about expectations up front.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        ah yes, I always gave a quick heads-up as I headed off home. Coat on, so they weren’t going to ask me to stay to finish one last thing, But they knew what I’d done and what I had left to do.

    2. Antilles*

      I agree that it’s largely a “you” problem in the sense that OP needs to to figure out ways to get those stretches of uninterrupted time. It may not be realistic to completely prevent all interruptions, but you can often figure out ways to modify things to get a couple hours to work in a straight line rather than interruptions every 10 minutes.
      One little trick I’ve used is to basically schedule “meetings” for myself – my status shows as a vague “In a Meeting”, I shut the door, and I minimize Teams…then I just crank out whatever I need.

      1. AnonToday*

        It’s a “you” problem in that it’s your ADHD, but this is something where a manager can really help or hinder the results without a lot of effort. Mine was just like “haha, too bad for you” every time I said something about not being able to focus. I didn’t have a diagnosis at the time, but regardless, if someone says certain factors are distracting, maybe help them manage that instead of shrugging.

        1. Antilles*

          Absolutely, a good manager can help this.
          But it’s still worth finding out your own little tricks to cut down on the impact – even if your manager themselves is great at it, you still presumably deal with others in your role and not all of whom will know about your ADHD.
          Also, your manager probably doesn’t know that much about ADHD themselves – so I think having specific ideas might really help to focus the discussion.

          1. AnonToday*

            My manager doesn’t have any idea about my adhd and never will, b/c they’re 100% the type of person who would write me off as a lost cause despite my actual work performance.

      2. Princess Xena*

        At my workplace it’s super common to block out time on the calendar as ‘focus time’. If I see it I might still send something if it’s reasonably urgent but it will be with the expectation that they might not see if for a few hours and that their notifications are turned off.

    3. notDCanymore*

      As someone else who was late Dx’d with ADHD, I respect what you’re saying here while also wanting to be clear that this comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about ADHD and the way it can impact us at work.

      I am stressed and anxious about questions from my boss *EVEN IF* I’m caught up or working on something. We are significantly more likely to suffer from anxiety, imposter syndrome, or RSD, never mind the conditioning we received (and which can go as far as CPTSD) as we grew up that was constantly negative about our work, our methods, or our “potential.” Never mind that ADHD brains tend to constantly tell us that we’re behind on things even if we aren’t, or that we should be doing moremoremore.

      While my stress levels are a me problem, I can still easily tell my boss “hey, these notifications are distracting, I need you to know I may not answer immediately,” or “scheduled check-ins are easier than surprise messages, since when working on other things I’m not thinking about other projects and need a moment to shift.”

      1. Emm*

        This! A large part of the anxiety around questions about projects (even if I’m 100% where I need to be) stems from my brain being ~somewhere else~ at the time. Meaning, if I’m in the zone for A, it’s going to take me a minute to remember all the details about B. A scheduled check-in is much more helpful, so I can manually switch gears and check my notes versus having to remember stuff on the spot.

        1. Haven’t Picked a Name Yet*


          It’s so validating seeing other people acknowledge this! I was only recently diagnosed with ADHD, and ironically I switched to a very ADHD-unfriendly job shortly thereafter. My new leadership team doesn’t understand that my brain can’t *instantly* access minute details about a project when they unexpectedly interrupt me working on an unrelated project. I’m very good at tracking lots of details despite my ADHD, but I’m a person not a computer, sheesh.

        2. starfox*

          Ugh yes! And if my boss were constantly checking in on me, my brain would totally be fixating on that and I couldn’t focus on anything else.

        3. Hannah Lee*

          Yes this!

          At any given moment I may have at my brain’s finger tips a million details about the thing I’m working on right that second, and could rattle them off no problem.
          If you ask me about something I was immersed in yesterday morning, or a detail from last week’s TPS reports, it’s going to take me a minute or so to even grasp what you’re asking about and orient myself (yesterday… was that Tuesday? no, wait, it was Thursday, the table you’re talking about … the physical table in the stock room? the table of contents on the annual report? the diagram of customer sales trends by month and reagion?) and then more time to either mentally pull up the answer or remember where to look it up (because my brain *may* keep some random info swirling around for ages, but it also may do a core dump of everything out of mid-term memory the second I shift attention to a different task)

          It’s not that I’m stupid or don’t know stuff or disorganized, it’s that my brain is always doing multiple things, my job has a myriad of different areas I’m responsible for, I’m not psychically in-tune with my coworkers so I don’t know what they’re focused on at any given moment, and oh yeah, also, I’m only human.

          1. PersephoneUnderground*

            Let me offer a phrase I have found useful: “let me research that”. It sounds like a big thing but it really just means “let me look up the written details quickly” because it’s a waste of time to guess and at a certain level of complexity it’s understood that looking it up is the conscientious thing to do. Accountants use it a ton because it’s a field where you juggle too much data to expect to remember details accurately off the top of one’s head.

            Neurotypical people have limits on their memory too, they’re just less afraid to admit it and this is a stock phrase I have seen used a lot. Close cousin to “hang on while I refresh my memory” but extra businessy and comes across very organized and professional.

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Having an “Ongoing Progress Report” in a shared folder might be helpful. I have a little table with a column each for the name of the project, the deadine, the client and what needs to be done. It acts as my to-do list, and if it’s in a shared folder, a boss would be able to see exactly where I am on each project. When the ball is in someone else’s court, I’ll have something like “look out for answer from X about Y”, and that will serve to remind me to chase them up again if they don’t get back to me within a reasonable time frame.
          Of course, the boss needs to be the type of person who is prepared to log into the file and read instead of just picking up the phone to say “how’s project Z coming along?”

    4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      This comment is why people with ADHD don’t like to disclose it. Because we get “it’s a you problem” and “oh, just do this whole list of things that NT people find easy and are the exact things that people with ADHD have trouble with.” And then don’t be stressed about it.

      1. Granger Chase*

        Yep, the type of comments we’re already seeing are a big reason I never send in questions (even on the open thread) that have to do with having ADHD, anxiety, etc. I usually avoid the comment section altogether on letters like this one too. People without ADHD do not always understand that our brains do not work the same way as theirs.

        As much as I would love my brain to listen when I don’t want to proactively stress or to not get distracted when I get pinged about four other projects while in the middle of one, it doesn’t work that way. There are coping strategies sure. And they can definitely help a lot once you find the right ones for you! But saying “this is a you problem” is fundamentally unhelpful.

          1. Granger Chase*

            Ahh yes, the ADHD equivalent of “have you tried just not being sad?”, which most definitely cured my depression /s

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            The way undiagnosed teenage me would start every semester with fancy binders and color coded tabs and end the semester with my Spanish notes crammed in the back of my math book…

            1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

              Are you me? It irritated my Spanish teacher to no end that I would be pulling notes or assignments for her class out of my math and physics textbooks. . .

            2. Nesprin*

              Omg yes. It took me to my thirties to find systems that work, and they do not look like other peoples systems.

              And its really important to emphasize that neurodivergence comes with some perks too- hyperfocus, being good in a crisis, being driven for novelty etc.

              But at the same time, I work at a different pace than other people and long for uninterrupted stretches to get work done.

            3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              Lol people: make a list me: list in work journal, several lists in my trello, lists in… lololol. I think its a missing step here.

              1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

                Oh, “make a list” is one of my favorites. Like, great, I made a list, now how am I supposed to remember to check the list?

                1. Baroness Schraeder*

                  Set a reminder to check the list, hunt for the list, eventually find the list, check the list, completely disregard the list, eat cheese instead, done.

            4. seps*

              I still get false hope every time I get a new notebook. Sometimes I get a new notebook SO I can feel false hope.

            5. Dobby is a free elf!*

              Isn’t that where the Spanish notes go? Blast. That’s what my problem was.

              I became ten times more likely to be able to find things when I just gave it all up and started keeping one single spiral notebook at a time somewhere on college. I swapped pen colors often enough to be able to track what I was looking for anyway. Drove many people around me insane. “Oh, here’s my notes…interspersed with wedding plans and the short story I was working on. Just skip those pages.”

          3. Alex (they/them)*

            What about CBD? /s

            (this is a thing someone suggested and then told me that’s how she treated her son’s adhd…)

          4. ADidgeridooForYou*

            LOL or my husband’s favorite, “just write it down!” Yes, and then I forget where I wrote it down or forget to look. Especially if it’s an event.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I used to write things directly on my hand, because if I write it on a piece of paper, I will lose that piece of paper. I have not yet misplaced my hand. But I stopped doing that because it’s not a great look for the workplace.

        1. notDCanymore*

          ABSOLUTELY. I normally ignore the letters about ADHD or that might even touch on it, because as much as I normally love the commentariat, the comment section on those letters HURT.

      2. The Reader In Question*

        Thanks for saying all this. I also live in a conservative state even if my job isn’t conservative, so I don’t think I’m protected or supported by the govt or anything. Makes it harder to disclose

      3. Threeve*

        Person isn’t saying “don’t find interruptions distracting or stressful.” It’s “there are ways to minimize or eliminate those interruptions that it seems like you haven’t tried.”

        ADHD isn’t the thing preventing you from using the ‘mute notifications’ button or talking to your boss about blocking off some focus time.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          What makes you think so? “Just mute notifications when you want focus time” is not a thing that I could ever do. I’d forget to mute going in, I’d forget to unmute coming out, I don’t know when I’m going to get sucked into the thing I need to focus on. I can’t schedule it in advance because that’s exactly the way ADHD brains don’t work. One aspect of ADHD is sensory rejection dysphoria, so it actually could be the thing preventing her from talking to her boss, or, if she’s like most people with ADHD, she’s gotten do much disparagement about it that she feels like saying anything in the general area makes her look like a flake or “lazy.”

          1. Tryingtobekind*

            That sounds very difficult.

            However, I’m going to push back gently and ask you to consider the impact on others on work. They now have the extra cognitive load of having to remember they can’t send you messages or contact you, and that you might appear available because you also are unable to turn off notifications. If someone said to me they couldn’t remember to mute notifications, I’d also be concerned about what they were forgetting.

            I do understand that living in a world not designed for you sucks, and I’m truly sorry for that. But at some point, some of what you’re asking for isn’t fair on others who work with you.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              And writing into an advice column that isn’t reserved for people with ADHD, you’re bound to get advice from NT people. Alison will sometimes ask that those not affected by the issue of the day refrain from answering, maybe she should have done so today? I don’t know.
              While our NT advice may be useless, it’s given in a spirit of generosity. OP can just say “ah no that won’t work because of X or Y” and we’ll all have learned something. We won’t necessarily be able to come up with anything else though,
              In meetings I lead for the NGO I volunteer at, I always start by saying that we’ll brainstorm everyone’s problems, the person with the problem can then take away what they want and leave behind the rest.
              And if you feel that the advice is useless, as per the commenting rules, you’re supposed to contribute other suggestions rather than just nitpick the suggestions made.
              Also, surely there are different degrees of ADHD just as with everything else? So some things might work for some people some of the time?

      4. Roland*

        Is “turn off notifications” really one of the things that “NT people find easy and are the exact things that people with ADHD have trouble with”? What you’re describing exists but I don’t think it’s fair to put that all on this comment just because it happens to list tips.

    5. The Reader In Question*

      Hi! Thanks for this feedback. You’re totally right that there’s a way around this. I like my boss a lot—she’s fair and really cool. One issue is that people with ADHD deal with something called rejection sensitivity. It can make us pre-emptively anxious or ashamed of feedback or how people perceive us. Because I’m a new and young woman working at a pretty male-predominant workplace that increases those feelings by a lot. That being said, it’s definitely something that is on me to solve. There’s some good feedback here that I appreciate.

      1. Justin*

        It’s within your power to address, but, RSD aside, it’s not ON us to solve the way the world doesn’t put us in a position to succeed. :)

      2. MPH Researcher*

        I used to have a boss who would do what my office called “Drive-Bys” – he’d randomly appear in our group of desks and fire off question after question about the status of various projects. Many questions would be things you’d need to look up, as we had a lot of projects going on and it was tough to keep the details straight, so it was definitely stressful and could make you “look bad” if you didn’t have an answer at your fingertips.

        Very shortly after I started there, I started a “Boss’s Weekly Newsletter” that I would print out and put on his desk every Monday morning (he was a paper person) with all of our current projects and any status updates for those projects. I kept one master file and just updated it throughout the week as projects changed, and then would print it Monday morning. It cut down on the Drive-Bys by about 90%. If your boss asks for lots of status updates, perhaps some sort of weekly e-mail or meeting or something else could help reduce that part at least? I do not have ADHD so can’t speak to all of your concerns, but this might help with at least part of the issue!

        1. Divergent*

          I did this at the beginning of every week: what I got done last week with any noteworthy details, what I plan to accomplish this week, action items I need from boss. It helped me orient myself every Monday and also meant fewer interruptions from my boss. Because I have a memory like swiss cheese, I’d actually open the doc for next week and leave it on my desktop, taking notes as I moved through the week. Then on Monday I’d look it over, edit if necessary, send, and open the next week’s one.

      3. Smitten By Juneau*

        Have a conversation with your boss to make sure this approach is OK — it sounds like it probably will be. Then disable your notifications in Slack for some period of time to allow you to be heads-down, and then hide/minimize Slack. Maybe even disable the ability for the icon to show the number of notifications awaiting you, so the fact that something is waiting isn’t a distraction itself. For really critical things, your boss can click ‘notify anyway’ when your notifications are off. This approach likely has the lowest impact on your boss’ workflow while clearing the distractions for you.

        While I don’t typically work this way, I’ve spent the last week or two doing a lot of heads-down development work. I’m using Pomodoro to make sure I come up for air, and disable Slack notifications for 30 minutes when I begin a session. My breaks are longer than five minutes (in addition to some time for myself, I also check in on Slack and email before diving in again.) This has worked well, and our office (higher ed help desk) is in our busiest time of the year, so Slack has been louder than normal when notifications are on.

      4. Somehow_I_Manage*

        Thanks for sharing that insight into “rejection sensitivity.” I had a former employee that I suspect had some form of this. As a supervisor, it was very unsettling for me as I could recognize shame and anxiety over very benign, impersonal feedback (e.g., “Thanks, looks good- my preference is this page be printed in blue ink- would you please reprint it for me?” would prompt an effusive apology). I am an empathetic person, and when the response was so far out of line from what I expected it really threw off my sense of self, wondering if I was somehow presenting myself as scary, aggressive, condescending, or mean.

      5. Tryingtobekind*

        You sound like a great employee, and I hope your manager is able to see that and work together with you so you can have a good working life.

    6. Octopus*

      Thank you for this. I could be the manager in the letter, and my staff person is legitimately stressed when I asked questions. That said, they are necessary questions and don’t usually have a asap requirement. This staff person is just a person who cannot handle any interruption to their planned day.

      1. notDCanymore*

        If they don’t have an asap requirement, can they not wait until a scheduled check-in? It sounds like it would get you the answers you need without causing stress or resent for either of you.

        1. Octopus*

          No. I mean, yes, if we had every other day check-ins, but if I place a scheduled check-in on their open calendar and it’s not what else they had planned for that day/time, the frustration and resentment grows.

          This person is truly not suited for work environment where they are expected to, as someone called out above “juggl[e] interruptions and time-sensitive stuff [as] part of [their] job”. Any attempt to ask them to is met with instant frustration and defensiveness, almost to the point of tears.

          Thanks to a government office, it’s also impossible to address, especially for me, a brand new manager trying to figure out what to do. Been to HR… it was not helpful.

          The staff person acknowledging that they also need to take their ownership of their work and their issues is going to be instrumental in a situation like this, especially when the staff person is asking. It’s not the manager acting irrationally or asking too much, it’s the person needing to figure out how works for them and how to communicate that in a respectful way.

        2. Octopus*

          Oh, I’ve already offered that they take advantage of muting notifications, checking messages or email at the beginning and end of day, etc. They say that it sounds good and will be a good option to help them focus, but then don’t follow through on that.

  5. I should really pick a name*

    If the boss’s messages don’t need a immediate responses, maybe try setting specific times during the day when you’ll check them so you don’t get distracted at other times.

  6. learnedthehardway*

    I don’t think you need to bring ADHD into the discussion – at that point, anyways. It’s very well documented that frequent interruptions are very detrimental to people being able to focus. Every time you are interrupted, you have to refocus. Refocusing takes time – usually, at least 5 minutes to get fully engaged in the new task.

    If you need to, look up some documentation about frequent work interruptions, show it to your manager, and say this really resonates with you. As a result, you’re going to check your Slack and email first think in the morning, at noon, and before you leave, but remain focused on your current to-dos at other times. (This is actually a strategy that was suggested in a presentation I attended on how to be more focused.)

  7. Sandy*

    Ugh. I have part of the same problem where my boss constantly interrupts my work. Sometimes it is work related, but often something that can wait. Other times it is “Oh so and so said this”, which is normal gossip. It can also be “So, what did you have for dinner last night?”

    I get this via email, IM, phone calls, and texts (on my work and personal cell). At times, it feels like a big part of my day is spent trying to flick a fly away. I would be so much more productive if she left me alone. I’ve tried the “I’m in the middle of X so can we chat later?” which is met with “this will only take a second”, and it never does.

    So I’ve learned to live with it to the best of my ability. Sometimes I know the company is only paying me to gossip and discuss ice cream flavors. She knows how I’m spending my time (which is talking to her) and the money shows up in my account every two weeks.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yes! My boss communicates with me via email, slack, calls, and text – there is no rhyme or reason to which one she picks. So I don’t really feel “caught up” unless I am constantly checking all three because I might have missed an important message. I wish this was not how it went, particularly because looking at my phone makes me prone to get distracted by all the other people texting me. I wish I could tell her that slack works best for me for quick things, email for longer, not-time-sensitive things.

    2. Rocky*

      Yes my boss is exactly the same. I’ve reframed it to myself deliberately as ‘endearing’ and ‘he’s seeking connection with me’. Also I mute all alerts and notifications on all platforms. I very deliberately check my emails only between other tasks, and I leave my cell phone in my bag during work hours. I hope some of this is helpful for you!

  8. Veronica Mars*

    Fellow ADHDer here, and I would not tell your boss that you have ADHD, the stigma is still just too strong. I was lucky enough to be diagnosed as a child, so I’ve built some really strong coping skills over the years, and that’s what you should focus on. My best advice for you is to figure out how you work best, and communicate that when you’re working on X, Y and Z activities that you need to put your head down and focus, so won’t be checking your email/messages quite as often. Most people, even neurotypicals, can understand needing to ignore interruptions to work well and won’t penalize you for it the way they would if you tell them it’s because you have ADHD. It sucks that this is the case, but it is reality.

    I also work in social media, so I know that sometimes interruptions are necessary if something comes up on the fly that you have to deal with. You might want to come up with a way for your boss to get in touch during your focus hours if she needs something ASAP. I think this conversation will go best if you can spell out what you need to do your best work and what the process should be if she needs an immediate response to something.

  9. notDCanymore*

    FWIW, while I understand Alison’s advice regarding not bringing ADHD up due to the stigma- this is also how stigmas stay in place.

    I’m incredibly open and up front about my ADHD in ALL of my workplaces and with all of my clients- from the good, where they say they’re impressed with my ability to handle so much at once, to the bad, where I tell my boss I’m having a really bad brain day and need XYZ to manage it.

    I not only don’t feel like I have to hide or be ashamed of it if I’m open about it, and I’ve also had lots of co-workers over the years thank me for it – it’s helped them realize things about their own mental health, advoccate for themselves, and at times we share our ADHD coping methods and help each other.

    YMMV, but the blanket answer being “hide your ADHD” isn’t healthy long-term either.

    1. Justin*

      It’s a small sample size of 1 job, but it’s been good for me here to disclose.

      That said, this is chicken or egg, right? Supportive workplaces in general are good places to do most things that are affirming. Disclosing won’t work at places that will be unpleasant for others reasons, and it’s usually fairly easy to tell. I wasn’t open at my last job.

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Because of the stigma, though, the best time to do that is after you have the social capital. I’m pretty open about my ADHD, but I’m well thought of. I also bring up points about neurodivergence a lot (e.g. back when my boss’s boss thought people who had their doors closed were shady).

      1. Justin*

        Yeah the capital matters. And those of us with it ought to try to spend it. I’m glad I am doing so, and I try to do so in my public writing too.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. I’ve only ever disclosed after I feel like my reputation is cemented and people have judged me on my own merits. I am typically a high performer, I have bad brain days, I think NT people have those too. I also have chronic pain which is sometimes harder to hide or deal with so I tend to prioritize letting people get comfortable with that and disclosing the ADHD later.

        This is a personal comfort thing, this is the strategy that has worked best for me. No one answer for everyone.

      3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Ah, this is helpful to me. I’ve been reading this thread like…am I that naive? I’ve recently been diagnosed (quite late in life), and I have talked about ND stuff at work with little hesitation. But it’s true I have a ton of work capital AND the folks I work with are great AND I have a strong career track record. So yeah I’m in a particularly safe time/place. I’m coming from a place of major privilege so I don’t feel as vulnerable.

        1. Baroness Schraeder*

          Yup. I am recently diagnosed at 42 and I’ve had no problem telling anybody and everybody because they already know me and I’ve proven that I’m capable (or can at least appear capable enough on the surface to impress when necessary). I definitely will not be walking in the door of my next job announcing it straight off the bat.

      4. notDCanymore*

        Again, YMMV.

        I’ve brought it up in interviews and first client meetings. Often times, it’s my answer to the question: How do you organize and prioritize? My answer is VERY frequently “Well, I have severe ADHD, so I function extremely well with clear deadlines. If a request doesn’t include one, I’ll ask for one so we all have expectations set. And I don’t go anywhere without my planner *pulls out monstrosity that yes, came to the interview with me*,* so everything lives here.

        I’ve only ever not gotten one job I interviewed for. So. *shrug.*

        But I’m also not willing to work for somewhere that ISN’T inclusive, so if disclosing early weeds me out, I consider that a good thing. You have to accept that potential.

    3. Nesprin*

      There is absolutely stigma and as a neurodivergent woman in STEM, I’ve chosen largely not to disclose. I’m in a work situation where I can get the things I need to be successful (variable work schedule, ability to ignore administrivia, high novelty workplace) without disclosing and I do not want to be coping with any more othering than I already get.

    4. ADHDer*

      My worst-ever boss weaponised my disclosure of ADHD and used it to illegally performance manage me (based on easily-disproven lies) and have me illegally fired. She also forced my disclosure because she was trying to blame me (when I was still brand new at the time) for one of her own huge mistakes).

      My best-ever boss (who was one boss prior to the worst-ever above) was brilliant when I disclosed, though. So this bad experience was very scarring for me. My next boss I did not disclose to, partly because I had been so badly burned by my previous disclosure, and partly because I didn’t need to in that particular job.

      I am due to start another new job at the end of the month, though, and I am nervous as the bad experience is still relatively fresh. I am hoping that I will not need to disclose my ADHD, at least not for some time. We shall see.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    This kind of situation is perfect for a daily standup. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning, but it should be at a set time every day.

    You tell your boss what you got done yesterday, what you’re planning to do today, and anything that’s preventing you from making progress (new software license, not getting info from another department for a press release, etc.) Your boss tells you about anything new that needs to be done and any changes in priorities.

    Then you just go about your day.

    1. Thistle Pie*

      This is a great idea, or a shared digital to-do list where boss can add things throughout the day rather than pinging on slack every 20 minutes.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        In my organization, we often use OneNote this way for executives, just so they have a running list of everything on their plate and things that are coming. My team also uses it to track topics we need to talk to our Director or colleagues about at our regular touchpoints, then document any actions or decisions that come out of the discussion. Like, if I need to flag an issue for our Director or make sure to give him an update, I just write it down in our shared OneNote before I forget.

        1. J*

          Yes, we used to have alerts come in with new inquiries and it stressed everyone out. Now we only get alerts if the workflow determines its a high priority and the other tasks just get added to the list where we can check in at regular intervals. It’s been so much better and our response times improved.

  11. EMP*

    It’s not clear to me how long you’ve been at your current job, but if you’re new-ish as part of this discussion with your manager (I think Alison’s suggestions are excellent), I would include checking in on expectations/norms in the office. “Do people here generally expect a response right away for slack messages? I work better when I can turn notifications off for a few hours while I focus”. Just like some people send emails at 2am but don’t expect a response, some people send a lot of slack messages assuming you *won’t* respond until you’re ready.

    1. The Reader In Question*

      I’ve been here for about five months! So definitely within the timeframe of setting something new up together and getting a good idea of what the office standard is.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I like this option, exploring the question of the expectations your boss has and also working together to balance your productivity and responsiveness. Because the balance point isn’t always obvious and the “right” answer depends on the organization. So you can frame the conversation as wanting to make sure you’re meeting the boss’ expectations there.

    2. Budgie Buddy*

      This is good advice. It wasn’t clear from the original letter whether the boss actually expects an immediate response, or that’s just the pattern OP has gotten into. Boss may be fine with OP only checking messages every couple of hours or so, as long as assignments get done by the end of the day (or whatever the timeframe is).

  12. Katie*

    I also note that the LW has about 1 year in her current job. For myself, at 1 year post-college I didn’t have as cynical a view of my company’s implementation of it’s policies as I did at 3 years, 5 or 15 years (specifically around climate change – those glasses were dark rose).
    I think you did right by giving advice to be cautious about leading with asking for accomodations. Many companies have the right slogans, but most fall short of their ideals and it is hard to know that without seeing how your manager or the company reacts in a larger variety of situations than 1 year allows for.

  13. Green great dragon*

    Yeh, I agree with discussing with your boss what works for you both. There’s times when I do want a quick answer from my team but far more when I don’t, so I’d be happy to email non-urgent stuff and save slack for urgent requests, or agree that if you turn slack off I can phone if I really want an answer.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      That’s sort of how I do things with my manager, too. I don’t (and can’t) respond to all my e-mails immediately. Especially if I’m concentrating on something. If there is something urgent that one of us needs to attend to, we’ll IM the other, just so it doesn’t get lost in the pile of e-mails. But, obviously, YMMV on whether this is workable.

  14. AnotherSarah*

    I don’t think that “my boss interrupts me” is a helpful framework here. Your boss is doing her job, and it’s part of your job to manage the inflows of requests and information. I also hate email and IM at work, but (mostly) every message I get is someone doing their job. If you’re expected to keep an IM program open all day, then it’s reasonable to request that only urgent things be sent that way, but ultimately (I say this as a person with ADHD as well) it’s up to you to manage distractions. Can you close or minimize programs, check email every 90 minutes (or less frequently!), etc.? I think it might be helpful to think about what you’d do if it were hard-copy communication–would it be better for you to have one inbox for paper in your office, or down the hall so you’d check it on your own schedule? Analogies like that might help.

  15. SpecialSpecialist*

    It’s worth sitting down with your boss and staring a dialog about how best to manage your workflow/time around her expectations. I send my team random messages through out the day because something important came up that I need them to do or I just thought some of something that I want them to do at some point and if I don’t tell them in the moment, then I’ll forget. I do try communicate the urgency of whatever message I’m sending so they know what I’m expecting to come out of it.

    If your boss isn’t doing that, I would think it’d be perfectly reasonable to ask if she could start doing it. You could also talk about some way to signal an urgent message vs non-urgent one.

    I know I feel the unrealistic expectation that I have to immediately address every email and message as soon as they come in, but I really don’t. 9 times out of 10 the person on the other side isn’t expecting an immedate reponse even if they’re super glad when they get one. It’s an unrealistic expectation that so many of us have grabbed onto.

  16. Doctors Whom*

    I don’t think it’s an uncommon practice to say “I’m setting a calendar block to focus on X”. I think the LW has all the tools they need at their disposal:
    – control of status messages on whatever internal platforms – you can set how/if they even show up when you are busy/away
    – whatever calendaring tool they have (create a block that says “work on X” or “Update the website” and make it visible in the calendar – has added bonus of boss seeing your larger scale projects show on the calendar)
    – talk to the boss about using a status tool, kanban board, or even a regular status reporting email so she has the most up to date status on individual stuff. there are tons of free tools, but there may be something built in to existing infra that can be shared. (Teams has task lists; outlook has features that let you share task lists, etc.) . Ask the boss what format she prefers for statusing or share what you are already using to keep track and offer her access if possible.

    Not every message requires an immediate response – and it doesn’t sound from LW’s post that the boss is expecting that. So it may also help OP to develop some triage guidelines and routines around email, but certainly booking chunks of work into calendar spots and then logging out of email/setting status appropriately on collab tools would go a long way.

  17. The Reader In Question*

    Thank you all for your advice. My boss is not that much older than me so I’m hoping she will be receptive to me talking about taking one day a week to focus. We have no meetings on Wednesdays so I may just talk with her at our next meeting about my response time on those days. I don’t think I need to disclose my diagnosis but if I do I think it’ll be fine… If not I’ll reconsider working there :) There are things I can do to make this easier and work better. Thanks for giving a girl some solid advice.

  18. Goldenrod*

    I think at least a large part of this issue can be managed by the employee setting her own boundaries (without asking the boss to change her behavior).

    I don’t have ADHD, but I think MOST people find it easier to focus without being interrupted. But if you have any kind of support role, part of your job is to be receptive to the boss’ requests.

    Having said that…I had a boss who got up at 5am every morning and sent me a long list of rapid-fire requests. When I arrived at my start time at 8am, it would be totally overwhelming for me to be confronted with this giant task list.

    However, I eventually realized that she was just getting this stuff off her plate – but not expecting me to do all of the tasks immediately or even that day! That helped me relax a lot and prioritize my work.

    I think getting very clear about things like deadlines and prioritization can help a lot with this stuff….

    Good luck!

    1. Nesprin*

      There’s a pretty massive difference between working better uninterupted and needing a 30 min reset to task shift after every interruption (i.e. neurotypical vs. neurodivergent).

  19. Librarian of SHIELD*

    One of my previous bosses would send me 6-8 separate requests a day for similar activities and it was really throwing me off. I asked her if she could start an email draft with her questions and requests in it and then send everything to me all at once in the afternoon. She thought it was a great idea, and it ended up working really well for both of us. OP, does that seem like a suggestion your boss might be open to?

    1. The Reader In Question*

      It’s so frustrating because I know my boss is just doing her job but my focus is so limited and easy to lose.

      1. Alex (they/them)*

        I work in a lab too so I will be literally running around doing five tasks at once when she asks me to do something and I have no idea if she needs it done RIGHT NOW or sometime this week.

  20. Maxie's Mommy*

    “I’m just so proud that I kept my head down, kept focused, and did it!! I just kept my priorities like you always tell me to, and I just want to thank you! Couldn’t have done it without you (being six states away….)” This doesn’t bring up ADHD but it’s a lovely “take off the training wheels” speech. Just an option….

  21. Former GM*

    Disable outlook notifications. Turn off the pop ups for new messages, turn off the desktop icon, turn off literally everything. You can minimize Outlook and only check when you’re mentally ready to. Can’t comment about Slack as never used it. But. Again – any notifications you can turn off – do it. Schedule time to look every 2 hrs or whatever. This has significantly improved my work habits

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. In general, minimizing notifications, especially sounds, has helped me focus.

  22. Noelle*

    I’m autistic and my husband has ADHD. We have very different jobs, but we’ve both found that our best bosses have learned pretty early on that we do our work differently than our coworkers, but if they give us the latitude to work in our own ways, we will consistenly deliver high quality products on time. I agree with the people saying you need to be very direct and tell more than ask, as long as you remain polite and within reasonable bounds. My husband discloses his ADHD because it is obvious, while I do not disclose my autism, but we both have phrasing to make it work. (For me, I’ll say stuff like “I need time to process this meeting. Can I reach out to you later if I have questions?”) Most people will be respectful if you tell them you need some focus time unless there is some urgent issue.

  23. Phony Genius*

    Alison mentioned that some people like working during holiday weeks. On the day before a holiday weekend when most people take an extra day off, I’m cranking.

  24. Anonimal*

    I guess not wholly related but I had a boss who sent the stream of consciousness emails and it was my nightmare. I would show up on a Monday morning to literally 20+ one line emails full of typos sent at all hours. Obviously this was time consuming and things slipped through the cracks. I asked (begged) her to just keep one running draft and send it to me so I access all the information I needed in one place instead of shuffling through 20+ messages with various parts of the info needed for different projects. She did it for one glorious month then decided it was too hard and I needed to adapt to her style of working. (I do not work there any more).

    I think there’s something to this, I’m not sure what types of messages OP is getting but maybe discuss with boss about consolidating messages and email into fewer messages? Message immediately if it’s urgent but for non-urgent send them at once wt an agreed upon time.

  25. Audrey*

    I’m also a fellow ADHDer and I also work in an environment where a lot of workflow comes from my boss through interruptions (phone calls! Because he hates email ughh).

    Something that really helps me at work is using a to do list (I installed Microsoft To Do on my work computer, which works for me). I have sub-categories for my to do list so I know what type of work I’m doing, and I just write things on there I’m doing TODAY. (So like a long project, I’ll write what part of the project I’m getting done today).

    So where do the interruptions come in? Well when my boss calls me with a list of items, I put each item on my to do list then prioritize them, then go back to what I was doing OR pivot. It helps me keep my head straight so I can get back on track.

    I hope that helps!

  26. Be kind, rewind*

    I’ve found, at multiple jobs, that the higher level the person is, the more likely they are to use messaging as their primary method of communication, and NOT email. They get hundreds if not thousands of emails that are impossible for them to triage.

    Maybe you can work out a system with your boss where it’s OK for you to use Do Not Disturb on the messaging system for an agreed amount of time (eg, 2 consecutive hours) while you’re working on something that needs focus.

  27. Something something*

    One thing that may be useful for you and your manager is that slack has a feature that allows you to schedule messages. If you click on the arrow next to the send key, it’ll allow you to set the time that the message is sent. That would allow your manager to write down her thoughts while they’re fresh, but not interrupt you if it’s not urgent.

    My manager had a habit of sending me messages fairly late at night with “simple” things. I’d respond on my phone because it was easy, but then he’d start a discussion or a debate with me (because I responded, so I’m clearly available). I showed him this feature and asked him to take advantage of it and it was a great help to both of us!

    1. Anomie*

      Late at night messages on your off time are horrible. I told a manager to never message me on off time unless it’s a dire emergency. It ruins your night.

      1. Something something*

        To be fair to my manager, both he and I work odd hours, so it’s not unreasonable for him to send messages that late.

  28. Anomie*

    I love when I don’t see management the entire workday. My position in medicine is an avalanche every single day and it’s runs much smoother when they are not there.

  29. Me ... Just Me*

    As a boss/manager, I get constant interruptions throughout the day from my staff. Eighty percent of them are emergent issues that I need to address in the moment. Ten percent of the remaining, I tack onto my day and the remaining 10% can wait for a later day. Even for the neuro-typical, it can be overwhelming to have constant interruptions.

  30. Shamwow*

    Fellow ADHD-er (also diagnosed in adulthood) and it might help if you present solutions proactively. For example, when you explain that interruptions really derail your workflow, suggest that you send a summary of what you’re hoping to accomplish every morning, in order of priority. That way if your manager does have questions about what you’re working on, you both have a shared resource (and it gives your manager an opportunity to shift your priorities before you’ve already gotten started, which is a huge derailer for me).

  31. Curmudgeon in California*

    I have ADHD, diagnosed as a child.

    When I need to really put my head down and work I either A) Turn off the %@#^ Slack notifications, or B) sign out of chat completely. Does that mean people can’t contact me instantly? Yes, and that’s the point. Sure, I can’t leave it off, but I can set my status to “Away” or “Do Not Disturb” when I’d doing something that needs my full concentration.

    I tend to turn off notifications for 90% of my apps anyway, because I don’t need bingles and beeps every day, all day for stupid things like games, weather, chat and other non-critical “stuff”. I also decline ALL website notifications, because the last thing I need is some oddball recipe site popping up with “Try this new recipe for fried pig balls” in the middle of a screen share session or something. (Seriously, web developers, why do you think your site is so darn important that people should allow you to pop up notifications even when they are not browsing your site? Get over yourselves!!)

  32. DD*

    Sometimes, the interruptions ARE the job, or at least a significant part of it. Once I looked at it that way, managing them got easier.

  33. A non*

    I haven’t read all the comments so not sure if this has already been suggested, but I once received the advice to turn off my email notifications popping up on the screen as it breaks your focus and can allow you to doomsday hop and stress to each incoming request vs focusing on the task you’re currently doing.

    Same thing can be done for IM messages. It requires you to check more regularly (e.g. once an hour) but I find it really helps me stay on track and focused on what I am doing if I just don’t know about whatever request has come in till I am ready to look at it.

  34. sb51*

    If you (either the LW or the generic you) need biz-speak resources, the thing to look for are articles etc about the business costs of “context switching”. (Yes, they’ll all be framed in a neurotypical way but you don’t have to disclose to say something like “I’ve found reducing context switching to really improve my productivity” with examples/requests (like permission to turn off or ignore notifications or to have Boss email rather than IM and you check that less often or whatever.

  35. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    OP, This is a great letter and an issue that many people struggle with. You explain things really well. Alison, as usual, your answer was very thoughtful.
    I like the word zone which is also a word that is not going to have people jump right to ADHD like the word focus may. I would say to people that for me, when I’m working I get in this zon And I’m jamming. If I get pulled out of the zone, it can be hard to get back.
    I work out of my home office and always have. I’m project based with little supervision supervision as long as I meet my goals, which I do. I tend to check in with my boss more than she checks in with me. By the way I’m working on X, Y and Z and here are the deadlines.
    I do work with other staff a lot, mostly requesting information from their area to use in my projects. I now send out separate emails with good subject lines for each question rather than sticking half a dozen questions in one email. It makes it easier for people to deal with things one at a time and delete when done. I learned to let new staff know that I work really weird hours and I don’t expect other people to do the same so if I send an email at 2 o’clock in the morning or on a Saturday I don’t expect to get a response until they are back at work. Whenever that might be. We are a 24/7 facility. My draft folder is a black hole. Once something goes in there, I forget about it so I like to email the question or iissue as soon as comes up and get it.
    I’m sort of high up, my deadlines are all time relevant, sometimes fairly urgent, and even before COVID a lot of new staff a lot of new staff hadn’t met me, so it’s important that I give them that information.
    I am wondering if the pressure to respond to questions and tasks is coming from you or your boss. Does she want things answered or done right away or is it more like she sends it out when she thinks of it? If the pressure is internal, then maybe you could turn off all your indicators and sounds, stay in the zone and check your messages when you come up for air. Even if something would take 5 minutes, it may not need to be done now. Maybe some kind of calendar or to-do list or schedule would help.
    My final thought is if you have control over your time, take linch at a different time than your boss does, and if you know she’s out of the office for meetings, schedule yourself to be in office so you get the maximum amount of alone time. I think part of the challenge is that you are new at this job, newish to working in general and your boss is not your enemy, hopefully. We’re so used to media images of the work relationship being adversarial but often times it’s not. My boss appreciates the work I do and we’ve been working together for a long times so when there’s an issue she lets it slide.

  36. prudencep*

    As a fellow ADHD-er, only diagnosed in the past 12 months, I’d already found some success before diagnosis with things like switching off my notifications for email, turning Teams to do not disturb when I have to concentrate and then checking those around every 30/60/90 mins (depending on the day, what I’m working on). I know that might not be possible for you to do in a junior role, in case you are expected to respond to things ASAP, but it’s something I found that was within my control to manage where I couldn’t change the behaviour of people around me.

  37. Esmeralda*

    I wonder if you could ask your boss to put a priority in the email header/first word of text etc. High medium low. Important. Do today. For Later.

    Or whatever works in your office / for your boss. Especially since you’re relatively new — you could pitch it as helping you learn prioritizing for your office/position.

  38. anonforthis*

    I have ADHD and your layered workflow situation sounds very similar to my job!

    My general advice is to lead with solutions rather than “don’t do this” or “I can’t do this”. Every time my boss gives me a task (whether it’s verbally, via email, or chat) I put it on my to do list, respond with “When do you need this by?” and prioritize accordingly. If it seems like two very time consuming tasks are a little too close together, address it “hey it looks like there are a lot of competing deadlines, is it possible to push back one of the deliverables/what should I prioritize?” You may be denied the accommodation but in my experience it’s worth asking to make your life easier.

    I totally sympathize. I also get more done when my boss is on vacation. But unfortunately you have limited freedom as an employee but there is room for compromise and reasonable accommodations.

  39. Tuba*

    Nooo Alison don’t disclose my number one life hack of not taking PTO around holidays so I can have it all to myself!!! ;P

    Honestly? Work for most people is hard and can at times be a drag. I’m not Christian so have no reason to take time off around Christmas. So I don’t. It’s utterly silent. No email chimes. No panic. No bad bosses. No feeling underwater. No rude colleagues. No microaggressions. Just me and my work. Productivity goes up times 10. I roll out of bed and chip away at to-do lists and all of a sudden it’s 5 and I log off. I kind of want to cry in joy just thinking about it. Merry Christmas indeed!

    I make sure to take my time off when my boss is in. This means I get the benefit of being in on his PTO to make that time easier, and having 2+ weeks of great recharge time on busy periods that aren’t holidays. He’s a pretty good boss so it’s not even about that. It’s about having time to yourself to actually get the work done and having stress free time to propel you.

    And everyone is thankful for it because I have holiday coverage.

    It takes what would be 12 stressful months and makes it 10 stressful with ~two beautiful months that are just for me, and makes working bearable. Of course the real answer would be to give everyone more PTO. It’s sad that we as humans with this limited lifespan only get 2-3 weeks off all year. Many get less. My way makes it bearable.

    1. what's in a name*

      I stopped celebrating Christmas a couple of years ago, and I thought I would feel a bit melancholy working through the holiday, but actually, it was great for all the reasons you mentioned. So I’m in on the secret now! I’m actually looking forward to it this year.

    2. anonforthis*

      I also work during Christmas as a non-Christian. It’s actually more satisfying to take holidays during normal work months because you’re missing the actual work. Also, I’ve never been denied a vacation request since I’m not competing with anyone.

    3. gmg22*

      I’m planning to work part of the last week of December this year for similar reasons. My office culture is to take tons of time off at the end of the year, but I just don’t find it’s the right fit — because I usually host my mom and (pre-covid) sometimes other family members, and because I make and gift a lot of baked goods as part of my prep, Christmas for me mostly ends up feeling like a whirlwind of preparation and then a slow grind of putting my house back together/finding places to put newly gifted items. Frankly, that’s not the ingredients for a restful vacation — I’d rather do those things after a work day and save my PTO for a time when I can truly 100% recharge. Then as you say, there’s the benefit of being able to check things off my list when no one is around to bother me, and when everyone swoops back in after the new year and has a million requests, I’ll be more prepared to dive back in.

      (In process of receiving an ADHD diagnosis at age 47, btw!)

  40. ADHDer*

    OP, I can totally relate – I also have ADHD.

    My work involves a lot of deep focus concentration, and beyond conferring with key stakeholders and getting some peer feedback at the end of drafting certain types of documents, the essence of my work is not really collaborative. I work best at home. Open offices are extremely distracting, and not conducive to productivity. I would highly recommend working from home, if and whenever possible.

  41. Beth*

    Definitely have a talk with your manager about their expectations of you. I had an employee once who assumed I expected an immediate response to every email or instant message I sent even though that was not my expectation at all. When something was actually time sensitive, I would mark that at the front of the email subject line or at the front of the instant message and depending on how time sensitive might also send a text or call to help ensure the person saw the item. Because I was their manager, they assumed an instant response was required 100% of the time which truly wasn’t the case. The only reason I found out they made this assumption was that they shared with someone else about how stressed out they were and that person came to me knowing the employee would not. I’d have never imagined that they were putting this level of pressure on themselves and a quick conversation helped significantly.

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