Will They Fire Me? ADHD in the Workplace
“Jeremy” got lost on his way to my office, and arrived 20 minutes late for our first appointment. He entered breathless, and looked a little scattered and disheveled. Sheepishly, he reported that he’d lost track of the time, had left his office way too late to possibly be on time, and had even gotten a speeding ticket on the way in! I felt badly for him, and encouraged him to take a few moments to catch his breath.
A few moments later, Jeremy began to tell me his story. Two recent events had prompted him to reach out for help. He had received a poor performance review and was put on probation at work, and his son had received another unsatisfactory performance evaluation at school. For the past two years, Jeremy had been struggling to complete complex projects at work and was frequently missing deadlines and milestones. He feared that he might lose his job. His son’s counselor sent Jeremy a note saying he believed that Jeremy’s son may have ADHD and recommended a formal evaluation. Jeremy kidded that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, since they both tended to procrastinate, and miss targets because of frequent Web-surfing and a preoccupation with Facebook postings. Jeremy told me it had always been hard for him to focus and stay on track – dating back to age ten. Sometimes it was difficult for him to remain seated at his desk for even 30 minutes. After taking a brief history (due to the time constraints caused by his late arrival), and quantifying his ADHD symptoms using a well-known rating scale, I recommended that both he and his son receive a more extensive evaluation since ADHD is known to be a hereditary condition.
When their evaluations were complete, the news that both Jeremy and his son both suffered with undiagnosed ADHD did not shock him. In fact, he felt relieved but was concerned about what he could do to both improve his work performance, and also help his son.
Together, we identified that his most pressing issue was how to successfully manage complex long-term projects. I advised him that this type of assignment is one of the hardest challenges for someone with ADHD. It includes effective use of time; organizing, planning, and faithfully executing on the plan; and a sustained focus on details, while tracking progress to be able to effectively report it to his superiors. These types of skills are often quite difficult for someone with ADHD, yet may be developed by working with an ADHD Coach.
I prescribed Ritalin to help him sustain his focus and improve the speed and efficiency of his brain’s information processing capabilities, and referred him to an ADHD Coach in our practice to build more effective workplace routines.
If, like Jeremy, you or someone you love may be suffering from symptoms of ADHD which are negatively affecting your work performance, begin to Untangle Your Brain™ by following these strategies:
Time Management and Memory Tools and Techniques
- Use time-line charts to break large projects into smaller pieces, with step-by-step due dates.
- Reward yourself for achieving each milestone on-time.
- Use watch devices with alarms, buzzers, day planners, or computer planning/project management software.
- Write out checklists for complicated tasks.
- Use a bulletin board or computer reminder list for announcements and other memory triggers.
Improve Focus and Minimize Distractions:
- Request a private office or quiet cubicle
- Use “white noise” earphones, classical music or other sounds to mask distracting office noises.
- Work in unused space, such as a conference room, where distractions are minimal.
- Stay on task. Perform one task at a time. Do not start a new task until the current one is complete.
Effectively Track Your Progress:
- Create weekly deadlines and, if necessary, daily ones. This way your progress can be realized in the short term, and you can begin to build confidence in your capabilities to get things done.
- Try to complete the task the day before it’s due. That way, when interruptions, complications and other obstacles arise, you will still be on track.
- Team-up with a co-worker who has strong organizational skills (you know, one of those anal compulsive types!) and meet with them frequently to help keep you on task and manage deliverables.
Symptoms and Signs You May Have ADHD
If you are struggling with problems of attention, impulsive behavior and hyperactivity that interfere with your daily life and work, you should consider seeking an evaluation for ADHD.
While each person is unique, and may not show all of these signs, the following are the most common.
- Makes careless mistakes
- Has trouble staying focused
- Does not seem to listen well
- Forgets daily activities or routine tasks
- Can’t seem to get organized
- Easily distracted
- Doesn’t follow instructions well
- Has trouble with complex or long-term projects
- Taps feet or fidgets
- Talks excessively
- Has trouble sitting still through meetings or lectures
- Frequently interrupts others
- Blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed
- Makes rash decisions
- Is too blunt at work
Through judicious use of stimulant medication, and by developing strategies with the help of his ADHD Coach to help him cope and function better, Jeremy was able to get his projects back on track and be more helpful to his son.
If you believe that you may be suffering from ADHD, you are not alone. In the U.S., approximately 10 million adults suffer from ADHD and even higher numbers of children.[I] If someone you love is struggling with symptoms of ADHD, encourage them to seek professional help for this very real brain disorder. With proper treatment 80% – 90% of patients substantially improve – a lifelong game-changing outcome for sure!