How to thrive in the workplace with ADHD

You can live with ADHD and successfully find and retain satisfying work.

For many people living with ADHD, challenges with organisation, impulsivity and boredom can have a negative impact on their working life and workplace relationships. But ADHD brains also have a lot to offer, such as lightning fast creativity, hyperfocus and innovative problem solving. 

The key to succeeding at work is finding ways to let your strengths shine and setting up strategies to manage your challenges. 

Check out these tips on how to thrive in the workplace with ADHD:

Finding the right job

For those who aren’t working at the moment or want to apply for a different role, it’s important to consider what types of jobs will work with your strengths and play down your challenges.

Workplace culture also plays a role in your experience in a job. Look for workplaces that are supportive and willing to make accommodations to help you thrive in your job. 

Find out if you’re eligible for support programs like Disability Employment Services. Knowing how to access the right supports and services can make all the difference.

Don’t forget that many ADHD ways of functioning are an asset in many workplaces – there are employers out there who want you to be part of their team because of what you can offer.

Organisation and time management

When your mind is racing, it can be hard to stay organised and on top of things. Impulsivity may also lead to making more commitments than you can handle. When you understand your tendencies, you can adopt organisation strategies and tools that work in your favour.

Try these ADHD-friendly organisation tips:

  • Set time limits for decisions you have to make
  • Order your to-do list by priority
  • Take notes at meetings
  • Use a planner or organisation app
  • Overestimate how long it will take to do things
  • Write down ideas that come to you so you can deal with them later

Managing hyperactivity

Feeling restless and edgy at work is common for adults with ADHD, especially if your job has limited movement throughout the day. 

Great jobs for people with ADHD who struggle to sit still include hairdressing, fitness training, real estate and plumbing – anything that has plenty of movement and freedom. But even if you’re working in a desk job, there are things you can do to cope.

Try these tips for managing hyperactivity:

  • Schedule regular breaks throughout the day
  • Use a standing desk or an exercise ball as a chair
  • Take brief walks around the office to release tension
  • Visit your co-worker face to face rather than emailing them
  • Do some exercise during your lunch break

Dealing with distractions

Distractions can be a real challenge in the workplace, especially if you’re sharing an office with others. You might not be able to control your environment fully, but there are many smart ways to reduce distractions and help yourself focus better.

Here are some ideas:

  • Use noise cancelling headphones
  • Face your desk towards the wall
  • Turn off notifications – check your messages at a specific time
  • Set a timer and work for 10 minutes on one task
  • Start earlier when there are less people in the office
  • Keep only one tab open in your browser

Overcoming boredom

Boredom at work can lead to poor work performance, impulsive decision making and dissatisfaction in your job. 

Having a keen interest in your work is one of the best ways to stay motivated and attentive. If your job isn’t interesting to you, think of ways you can bring your interests into the work.

Consider fast pace, high intensity career pathways which will keep your brain active. Examples include emergency response officer, barista or bartender, sales representative and teacher.

To keep boredom at bay, try these tips:

  • Add a sense of urgency – set deadlines or have an accountability buddy
  • Look for ways to be more hands-on – doing tasks with your body can help you be more engaged
  • Work on one task for 30 minutes, then change to a new task
  • Pair up with another colleague to get the work done
  • Add a challenge – test yourself to see how well you can do

Tackling procrastination

Many people with ADHD are great at focusing on immediate tasks and pressures, but have trouble working towards more long term goals or deadlines. This can lead to procrastination and scrambling to finish work on time.

Try these tips to help with procrastination:

  • Ask your boss to set you clear deadlines
  • Get moving – run up a flight of stairs or do some jumping jacks before tackling a task you find boring
  • Pair a dreaded task with something fun – for example, have a walking meeting with your colleague instead of sitting in the meeting room
  • Reward yourself for ticking off goals

Workplace relationships

When other people don’t understand how your brain works, it can cause conflict. But working on your relationships with your co-workers is important for your satisfaction and sense of belonging at work. Plus, teams that get on well perform better.

Try these social skills to grow your relationships at work:

  • Repeat what someone says back to them in you in your own words to help you stay focused
  • Write down notes after an important conversation
  • Avoid making impulsive decisions that affect the team – try discussing your ideas first
  • Take time out if you feel overwhelmed – come back to a conversation when you are calm
  • Use “I feel” statements rather than “You made me feel…” statements
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques to help with your emotions

Practice self compassion

Managing your ADHD challenges at work can be exhausting, so don’t forget to take time to look after yourself and recharge. If you’re not meeting your own expectations, or expectations from your boss, try talking to yourself with compassion like you would a friend. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or professional advice if you need it.

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