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Work Tips from Adults With ADD

Work and ADD - Make Work More Productive

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Updated March 08, 2010

Work Tips from Adults With ADD

Simple accommodations and adjustments to your environment can often make work life more productive.

Photo © Microsoft

ADD and Work Tips
Work can cause many frustrations for those with ADD / ADHD. Finding effective strategies to help you cope with areas of weakness can make a big difference in your work success and overall happiness. Some readers of About.com's ADD/ADHD site were asked to send in their greatest struggles at work, as well as strategies they have found most helpful. Here are some tips based on their responses:

Top Areas of Work Difficulty Identified By Readers

Staying focused on tasks, tuning out distractions, disorganization, taking on multiple tasks and not finishing them, procrastinating, meeting deadlines, paying attention in long meetings, missing important details in conversations, boredom, forgetfulness, communicating with others in an effective way, feeling undervalued

Problem: Staying Focused Is at Heart of it All

Staying focused and on task is necessary in order to get work completed. Some people find that this is when multitasking becomes a problem. Rather than staying focused on one task, an individual becomes distracted by multiple tasks yet none ever get completed. When one’s mind begins to wander and is distracted, not only does work not get done, many individuals find that they end up working late or taking work home at night or on the weekend in order to catch up. This often creates more stress and less downtime for fun. It also impedes on home life and makes it more difficult to keep a healthy work-life balance.

Strategy: Break Down the Day into Small Blocks of Time to Work on Tasks

One reader shared a simple scheduling system that has significantly improved work productivity. Though this reader’s setting allowed him flexibility because he worked from home, you can create a variation on this strategy for the office.

“I have trouble putting in a good 8 hours a day and too often work nights and weekends. A scheduling trick that works for me is to schedule the full day in 4 2-hour blocks of 45 min, 45 min and 30 min. That is, power down on one project for 45 min and then, regardless of what I have gotten done, change to a second project for 45 minutes — then go for a walk or watch TV or do anything else I want to do for 30 minutes. When I first started this way of scheduling I felt guilty because I was actually planning not to work for 2 hours a day — then I figured that made me more productive than most people anyway.”

Strategy: Break Down the Work into Smaller, More Manageable Chunks

Breaking tasks down into smaller pieces helps you to feel less overwhelmed with all there is to do. When work feels insurmountable, procrastination can quickly take over and it can be hard to get started on any task at all. Chunking work into smaller, more manageable steps helps.

“If I have 100 reports to clear from the computer, I will break them down into categories. If I find that too difficult to concentrate on I again break each category down into dates returned and [supervisor] that returned it.”

Strategy: Use a Timer

Another reader shares a variation of this strategy using a timer.

“I have a timer that I can set with two alarms that it will continue to cycle through. I usually set one for 45 min and the other for 15 min. I attempt to work exclusively on the task for 45 min until the first timer sounds. I then do something that I enjoy more for the 15 min. The timer automatically goes back to the first timer and begins timing another 45 min period.

Sometimes I am unable to focus for 45 minutes, so I need to use a shorter period of time for the main task timer - maybe 40 minutes on unpleasant task and 20 minutes on enjoyable task. Each timer can be set for any period of time, but I keep the sum of the two timers at 60 min because I tend to plan my day in hours.

The timer also has a pause. If I get off-task during the task time I try to remember to pause the timer. The timer keeps a running tally of the number of cycles that it goes through, so I can see at the end of the day how many ‘hours’ I stayed on task. The timer I use is a NuLine stopwatch (Model JS-506). In some environments the timer beeping could draw unwanted attention to yourself, but it works for me.”

Strategy: Take Frequent Breaks

Other readers shared that the key to getting their work done is to take frequent breaks.

“Stand up, take a stroll around the office, stretch at least once an hour. This helps my brain reset and stay focused on my work.”

Strategy: Use Visual Reminders

Here is a very creative and fun way to stay alert and focused on tasks using acronyms.

“I have little acronyms placed in spots on my desk that have personal meaning for me. Some may seem a little harsh but they work to keep myself in check.

KYMSYTTM - Keep Your Mouth Shut, You Talk Too Much
TTF - Time to Focus
LABP - Listen and Be Present

These are the ones I mostly use. People can make them up according to what works for them. I will use sticky notes that I laminate or put tape over to avoid spills and ruining the edges or a label maker which I prefer the most because you can change fonts and make it look different so it catches your eye. I put them in prominent places like my phone at work, my pigeon hole and on my calendar (I have a big calendar that I place on my desk to write things in right away). It doesn't bother me to tell most people what they stand for but for those who do, I tell them it helps me to stay on task and leave it like that…or the ADD half of me will jump to another topic altogether!”

Strategy: Connect with Positive Co-workers

A supportive co-worker who understands your issues with staying on task can be a great help at redirecting you. Some readers have found that it has been helpful to share information about ADD / ADHD with their employers and together come up with simple accommodations to make work more successful. For other readers, however, this has been an area to tread lightly.

Strategy: Small Healthy Snacks Throughout the Day

“I have found that if I go too long without eating something my concentration seems to waiver.”

More Work Tips Continued on Page 2.

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