Published On: February 21, 2023
Reviewed On: February 21, 2023
Updated On: November 1, 2023
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental condition that affects millions worldwide. It’s characterized by difficulty focusing and controlling impulsive behavior.
In the workplace, adult ADHD can lead to decreased productivity and increased stress levels. Fortunately, there are ways to manage ADHD and work, so you can control symptoms and stay focused and productive.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) estimates that up to 2.5% of adults are living with some type of ADHD. For them, ADHD at work can present challenges in different ways, making many feel overwhelmed at work. Therefore, it’s vital to recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD so you can manage them at work.
Expert Insight“Having ADHD and a job can be an interesting balancing act. It may present as a messy office space, missed deadlines, difficulty being on time, forgetting to check or respond to emails, or losing important items (pens, notebooks, cellphones, keys, etc.). On the other hand, depending on the day and type of work, periods of hyperfocus may look like extreme productivity. If you’re concerned you have ADHD that’s interfering with your work, it’s important to speak with a mental health professional who can teach you organization, distraction reduction, and time management skills.”
One of the most common signs of ADHD at work is difficulty staying focused on tasks or conversations. You may find you’re easily distracted by things around you, like noise from other people talking or music playing in the background. This can make it challenging to stay on task and complete your work efficiently.
TIP: Discover your triggers so you can avoid them in the office. If white noise helps you drown out distraction, consider getting a sound machine or playing a white noise playlist.
For people with an ADHD diagnosis, work can mean having trouble remembering details or instructions given during meetings or in conversations with colleagues. This can lead to confusion and frustration when trying to recall important information later. ADHD-related memory issues can affect your performance at work if not appropriately managed.
TIP: Taking notes in meetings or making lists at the beginning of each day can help you avoid forgetting important tasks and discussions. Setting reminder alarms on your phone can also be helpful.
A common symptom of adult ADHD is feeling bored when doing repetitive tasks for long periods, which can affect work performance. A result can be a lack of motivation and productivity levels dropping significantly over time.
TIP: If you frequently find boredom interfering with your work, try taking breaks throughout the day or switching up tasks now and then.
People with untreated ADHD generally struggle with managing their time effectively. You can have difficulties focusing on one task for an extended period. You may often be distracted by something more exciting or appealing than your current task. Missed deadlines or unfinished projects can add to your stress.
TIP: Learn planning techniques — for example, setting time limits on tasks can be great for time management and it ensures you’ll move on to other things instead of getting stuck.
Procrastination is yet another common symptom associated with the ADHD work environment. Many people with ADHD put off tasks until the last minute — resulting in poor-quality output and missed deadlines.
TIP: To combat this issue, try setting small, achievable goals each day. This helps keep you motivated and allows for flexibility if distractions arise.
No one should ever be fired due to a diagnosis of any mental health condition, including ADHD. However, if an employee’s performance doesn’t meet expectations due to an inability to focus or complete tasks, it might lead to disciplinary action. Learning to manage your ADHD diagnosis can help ensure optimal achievement at work (and in other areas of life).
Fortunately, there are ways to manage ADHD and work so you can be both productive and successful.
Establishing a daily routine creates structure and organization, which can help manage symptoms of ADHD at work. This could include setting regular times for breaks throughout the day and planning out tasks ahead of time, so you know what needs to be done.
Large projects can seem overwhelming when dealing with attention issues due to ADHD. Breaking things down into smaller chunks makes them more manageable. It makes it easier to focus on one task at a time without feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. Try setting reminders or alarms for yourself throughout the day to help you stay on track and ensure that tasks are completed on time.
Ask your employer about any accommodations they might be willing to provide. For example, flexible scheduling or additional support staff who could help keep track of deadlines and other important information can be hugely beneficial. Knowing how to talk to your boss about mental health is important, and can be very empowering.
Invest in organizational tools like planners or apps that remind you of upcoming deadlines or meetings. These will help ensure nothing slips through the cracks while managing ADHD symptoms at work.
Expert Insight“As a clinician and office manager who also struggles with ADHD, my personal favorite skill is having a daily task list where I appropriately delegate items that don’t need to be completed by me. This tends to cut down on the feelings of overwhelm and panic. Additionally, ‘body doubling’ is also helpful at times. This is where you do your work near someone else who can help keep you on task. In an office setting, this might look like taking your laptop into a shared office space while you check emails or write reports. In retail, it might look like asking a coworker to help reorganize a section of the store with you.”
There are some very effective ADHD medications on the market today. If ADHD symptoms are interfering with your ability to do your job efficiently and appropriately, you might consider talking to your doctor to learn more about ADHD meds.
If you’re struggling with your ADHD and work, therapy for ADHD can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the gold standard for ADHD treatment. Through different types of CBT, you’ll learn effective coping tools that make your job — and your life — easier, more manageable, and much less stressful.
Your therapist can help you understand more about your condition. You’ll figure out your symptoms and triggers so you can find a successful way to get your ADHD at work under control and focus on what matters — your job.
Talkspace offers online therapy services tailored towards those with mental health conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Through virtual counseling sessions conducted via video chat, text message, or phone call, you can access experienced, skilled therapists who specialize in helping you learn how best to manage your condition both inside and outside the workplace environment — including providing strategies for improving concentration levels during working hours.
Psychiatry.org. Published June 2022. Accessed December 21, 2022.
Ashley Ertel, LCSW, is a Nationally Board Certified Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has over a decade of experience specializing in trauma and depression, working primarily with first responders, military personnel, and veterans, and sexual assault survivors.