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ADD impacts success at work

Many people with ADHD have trouble with work. Executive functioning skills, such as planning, organization, task initiation, time management, and flexibility can be challenged in the work environment. People with ADD also don't like to be told what to do and can sometimes have issues with having a boss!

Employees with ADHD are 30% more likely to have chronic employment issues, 60% more likely to be fired from a job, and three times more likely to quit a job impulsively (Barkley, 2008).

ADHD at Work. Should you disclose?

If you have ADHD it's important to recognize how you are struggling at work and get the extra support and skills you need to be happy and successful. Unfortunately, many people still don't believe in or understand ADD, therefore, you may be taking a huge risk by disclosing it to anyone at work. Unless your work environment has clearly and explicitly stated that it is an ADD friendly one, you likely want to err on the side of not disclosing. For that reason, you may be on your own figuring out how to help yourself at work.

ADHD at Work: Know your Struggles

Being successful at work when you have ADHD

The best way to help yourself be successful at work when you have ADD is to have a good awareness of where your struggles and strengths are.

Common Struggles

Time management

The number one issue people with ADD have at work is time management. This can easily spiral into a pattern of avoidance, overwhelm, and shutting down. In my clients, I see this sometimes culminate in anxiety hopelessness, or depression. Don't let it get this far or it may be hard to climb out of.

Understand this is very common and something you need to address from the outset can be helpful. Depending on your particular issues there are many. Below are some common areas and solutions.


Getting projects done on time is a real challenge for people with ADHD. It can feel immediately overwhelming or you might have false confidence that you can do it easily because of your sense of time blindness. One simple solution we use to help people with ADD from childhood on to adulthood is chunking, or breaking it up into small steps.

You can use your boss to help you here or even a trusted colleague.

Often, we are more likely to keep promises to others than we are to ourselves.

A good way to chunk in the workplace might look like this:

  • Ask to schedule brief check-in appointments with your boss after being assigned a project.
  • You can have appointments where you present an outline, or rough draft or mini-meetings to share thoughts.
  • Be respectful of your boss's time, come prepared with notes, and keep yourself on track.
  • Often this external meeting is the push you need to meet these points on your calendar and get the project done.
  • Alternatively, you can do this with a trusted colleague.
  • Present this meeting as a time where you want to ensure you are are on the right track delivering the project in a way that it's meant to be done correctly and with excellence.

Daily tasks

You may have trouble getting things done because you are constantly interrupted and find you have difficulty getting focused once you get interrupted. People with ADD have difficulty minimizing interruptions.

Find the blocks of time that best work for you to be in an uninterrupted flow.

Does it help for you to come into the office early? Does it help for you to stay late?

Perhaps there is a conference room you can reserve and escape to where no one knows you are and you, therefore, complete more work.

You can share these ideas with your boss without letting your boss know you have an actual disability. For example " I find it I have difficulty concentrating so sometimes and it helps me to have quiet time. Can I come in early to do this? "

Time Estimation

Many people with ADHD have trouble estimating the number of time tasks take. This is often referred to as "time blindness". Click here to see a great video where Russell Barkley explains time blindness. One way to remedy this is to track the time your tasks take to know for sure. Make yourself a list of common tasks you need to complete weekly and set a timer to see how long each task takes you. Then use the actual time to plan this.

Prioritizing tasks

One idea to get help in this area is to ask for the boss's input on his priorities. Make sure to emphasize your desire to please your boss and emphasize what's important to him or her rather than your overwhelm or inability to do what's asked of you. Consider your current system of choosing how to do tasks. How do you prioritize what needs to be done? Do you have a system? Or do you choose based on something else? Here is a great video from "How to ADHD" on task prioritization.

Saying no

Do you have difficulty saying no and find yourself committing too many projects that are not your priority because you are impulsively saying yes? One solution is to you may need to implement a five-minute rule before you answer anyone on a request for your time. Or, you may need to learn some new assertiveness skills if you feel pressured to say yes to please people.

ADD at Work and Relationships

Meetings with Coworkers and Superiors

ADHDers may find themselves rambling during meetings. If you have a part during a meeting, and this is one of your issues it's important to practice and prepare. Remember while you are talking to stop periodically to check in with others facial expressions to see if they are following you, and to verbally ask if they are following you.

Write notes and do role plays with people you trust before meetings.

If you don't have a part in a meeting, but seem to take up time with rambling, practice not speaking during meetings but only after you have processed and had time to think about what you want to say and formulated your thoughts.

I attended a workshop with Abigail Wurf two years ago at the ADHD conference and found her very knowledgeable about the topic of ADHD at work. She has ADHD and later became a coach. Here is a link to her site and podcast.

Abigail Wurf suggests you use these guidelines to help you with rambling.

Ask yourself:

Does it need to be said?
Is it an appropriate time to say it?
Am I the appropriate person to say it?

Taking Feedback/Hearing Criticism at Work

Many people with ADHD have been criticized for all of their lives. The result is that they becoming defensive and come up with explanations rather than listening and learning from feedback. Practice hearing feedback without responding may be something that you can benefit from. Then, you can respond later to your boss or coworkers if you have questions but only after you have had time to process it. Feedback almost always leads to self-improvement if you can reflect on it and you are usually judged on how you receive it.

Boundaries with Colleagues

A workplace is a place where you should work, and not share your personal business. This boundary is important to keep. People with ADD can sometimes share too much and this can impact their professional reputation. Try and remember there are no secrets in the workplace. If you tell one person, it is the same as telling everyone.

Social Skills

Behaviors that result from your ADHD can impact the way you respond to others. Although you are not intending for them to be perceived this way, you can appear to be rude.

For example, listening during a conversation is perceived as polite and makes others feel like you are interested in them, but this may be challenging for ADHD'ers at work when you are distracted, stressed, or tired. If others don't feel like you are interested in them, they are less likely to be interested in you and may perceive you as rude or aloof. Finding someone you trust at work to help you understand what kinds of behaviors you may be engaging in if you are having trouble getting along with coworkers can help you set out to improve your behaviors and form more cohesive working alliances.

Issues with emotional regulation

Some people with ADD can easily become overwhelmed and can act on the emotional overwhelm thus damaging their professional credibility. Mindfulness activities such as yoga and meditation can help here, but so can a therapist!

The most important thing that you can do if you are struggling with ADD at work is to acknowledge it is an issue and be willing to look at and take stock of where and how. If you look at what is happening, you can start to generate solutions. There is plenty of help out there for you in the form of a coach, therapist, or strategy that you can implement. Things can get better if you make a change.

ADD at work references

Barkley, R. (2008) ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says UMASS Study. p. 279

Wurf, Abigail. (2018, November). Working and ADHD: Managing Your Boss, Co-workers, and Work. Workshop presented at the at the 2018 Annual International Conference on ADHD St Louis Missouri 

ADD and Work