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Navigating Adult ADHD and Executive Function Challenges in the Workplace: Strategies for Success

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Adulting is hard. In the fast-paced world of adult life, juggling responsibilities at work can often feel like an uphill battle.


Do you ever feel:

  • Unmotivated?

  • So disorganized that you can’t even think straight?

  • Excessively distracted?

  • Like procrastination is your biggest enemy?

For individuals with ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction, these challenges can be even more daunting. From managing time effectively to handling social and emotional impacts, the hurdles can seem insurmountable or lead to serious consequences. However, hundreds of adults with ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction have discovered ways to thrive at work.


This article explains common issues adults with ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction face in the workplace and provides practical solutions that can help you thrive in the professional arena.


Is it normal to not feel motivated at work?

Almost everyone wants to do well and feel a sense of purpose. But, for some, the spark of motivation, especially when it comes to work-related tasks, is rarely ignited.


We cannot sit around and wait for motivation to strike us. Instead, we need to develop tools that will help us get started and complete tasks no matter how interesting they may be:


  1. Break the task down into its smallest parts, then, just do the first part. Oftentimes times once we get started, momentum builds and we can keep going

  2. Set short-term rewards using if, then language: If I do “X”, then I get to do “Y”

  3. Find a body double: Working near someone else who is engaged in focused work can help us get started. You can read more about this technique below (see the task initiation section)

  4. Use pairing to your advantage. If you are struggling to read that new MOU, do it while you enjoy your favorite hot beverage.

When you feel motivated, use it to your advantage! Grab your board and ride that wave for as long as you can


What to do if you are easily distracted?

One of the hallmark challenges for individuals with ADHD is difficulty in directing attention for extended periods. This often leads to distractions and trouble staying focused on a single task.


If you find yourself constantly jumping from one thing to another, here's what you can do:

  • Set a timer to stay on task.

  • Use the Pomodoro method - check out this video

  • Break up long tasks into shorter, manageable ones.

  • Take regular breaks - get up from your workspace, drink water, and stretch.

  • Seek a job with stimulating responsibilities and minimal routine tasks.


How do I stop struggling with time management?

Are you constantly running late or misjudging how long tasks will take? Poor time management can be a real issue causing you to upset members of your team.


If you are consistently late or struggle with time wisdom, consider these solutions:

  • Request your supervisor to establish deadlines for tasks

  • Divide projects into smaller, manageable parts

  • Time yourself - learn how long it takes to complete tasks

    • How long does it take for you to walk out of the door of your house and arrive at your desk?

    • How long do recurring tasks take?

    • This is data for you in the future!

  • Use apps like Google Calendar or Reminders to notify you when it is time to leave the house or of an upcoming deadline


How do you initiate a task with ADHD?

Starting tasks can be an overwhelming challenge, leading to paralysis or procrastination. This is a hallmark trait of the ADHD brain. Sometimes, the thought of starting a task is so unappealing that our brain cannot see past the short-term “pain”.


This causes people to procrastinate, causing further stress and possibly other consequences. Here are a few simple techniques to help you get started on any task:

  • Make your bed: by doing a simple task before you leave the house, you are already building momentum for the day and training your brain to do unappealing things

  • Eat the Frog: look at your to-do list, determine the hardest tasks, and do that one first

    • While this is not easy, getting your worst task done first will build momentum for the rest of your day

  • Establish an accountability partner at work

    • Tell someone what your “frog” is today, and when you will complete it by

    • Body doubling - sitting close to someone who is engaged in focused work can help you get started

      • You can also use apps like Deepwrk, to find a virtual body double!

  • Break projects down into smaller, achievable steps

    • Find the smallest, easiest step and start there. The goal is to make the task feel as easy as possible at the start.


What is working memory in ADHD?

ADHD can sometimes result in forgetfulness. Establishing a reliable system to remind yourself of important deadlines, quick to-dos mentioned on the go, or tasks that were written in an email is key.


Try this:

  • Utilize digital tools!

    • Reminders App (iPhone)

    • Google Calendar for events, appointments, and meetings

    • Todoist for streamlined to-do lists

    • Evernote for note-taking in meetings


How does ADHD impact you emotionally?

Dealing with ADHD can lead to feelings of isolation, rejection, and sensitivity to criticism. This is extremely impactful and detrimental to your current and future self.


Remember:

  • Seek support from peers or mentors who understand your challenges

  • Past failures do not define you - you can learn and grow from them

  • Take breaks to manage stress during the workday

    • Get outside!


How do you calm ADHD impulsivity?

Impulsivity can manifest as temper outbursts, speaking without thinking, and making hasty decisions.


This can lead to damaged relationships with colleagues, poor performance reviews, or even loss of employment. Controlling one's impulses is a skill that can be taught and honed.


Try these strategies to learn how to manage impulsivities:

  • Practice mindfulness to pause before reacting

  • Proofread emails and documents before sending

  • Cultivate self-awareness and emotional regulation techniques


Can ADHD cause disorganization?

Whether it's physical papers or digital files, ADHD and/or Executive Dysfunction can lead to organizational chaos. If you are late to work because you cannot find your keys, lose papers when you need them most, or waste time searching for digital files, consider these tips:

  • Create an organized workspace with labeled storage

    • Clear bins are best for the ADHD brain!

  • Give your belongings a “home” and always put them there

    • Example: keys go on a hook next to the front door

  • Develop digital filing systems

    • Google Drive makes it easy to create folders and share documents or photos with others

  • Invest in tools and apps designed to improve organization

    • Sumsana is a powerful tool that connects to your email, calendar, and other project management platforms allowing you to organize your to-dps and get the most out of your day


Conclusion

While ADHD and Executive Dysfunction present unique challenges for working adults, there are practical, evidence-based strategies and tools to succeed and excel in the workplace. Play to your strengths and fill in the gaps. If you are tech-savvy, consider trying one or two of the apps recommended above. If you are social, find an accountability partner and start body doubling.


Remember, you're not alone on this journey. Seek support, stay proactive, and embrace your strengths as you navigate the world of work with ADHD. You've got this!


At UpSkills Specialists, we guide adults, with and without ADHD, to live more productive and balanced lives. Interested in learning more about working with UpSkill Specialists? Click here to schedule a free strategy session.


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About the Author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.


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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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