A common reason that adults seek out an ADHD coach like myself is for support navigating focus and productivity in their career. Today I am talking about supporting focus in the workplace. I will create future posts considering the unique challenges of working at home or running your own business, but today let’s talk navigating ADHD life in a busy office environment. I am specifically describing an environment that involves spending time seated completing focused tasks. The biggest challenges that tend to come up in this environment, is balancing different kinds of tasks, prioritizing, focusing for extended periods, and avoiding distractions. If this sounds like your workplace, try some of these strategies out and let me know how it goes!
Create a Rhythm or Routine
Establish a daily rhythm that feels good and takes your preferences into consideration. Structure and predictability can help with focus and organization. The key here is a predictable flow. This reduces time spent analyzing and deciding what to do and summoning the energy to start. The key though is a rhythm that allows for some choice and variability. Think predictable times for focused work, not super rigid scheduled to the minute days. Make sure to schedule in time for eating and movement breaks.
Also consider creating schedules that carve out dedicated time for all of the different components of your job responsibilities. For example, schedule space for large project work that is carved out and sacred so that day to day reactive tasks don’t cut into your big picture tasks and goals.
Busy offices and workplaces can be very overwhelming and distracting. Try some of these options to reduce the distraction load.
- Find or request a quiet work space. If a door is not available, consider desk placement.
- Use noise-canceling headphones or headphones with music if you prefer.
- Set personal boundaries around cell phone use (eg. social media). Try strategies like using your settings to put time of day limits on certain apps.
- Communicate with your colleagues about when you are available to chat and when you need to focus. Following a predictable schedule can support this area as colleagues will start notice when you are and aren’t available to connect.
- Keep your workspace clear or at least manageable to reduce visible distractions.
This is a really challenging area for individuals with ADHD. A common pattern is to feel like everything is important, which makes it tricky to determine what to do when. I recommend creating a system that tracks “to do” items and their progress. A visual map that plans out a month at a time that includes all big projects, the component parts involved, and completion dates can be a helpful option. Using a system that is easy to access, visual, and simple to update is key.
If you are struggling to choose priorities even after creating a tracking system consider importance and urgency. This is an area that is great to communicate with your colleagues and supervisors about. Ask questions like, “I am tackling these action items this week, which would you like me to prioritize.”
Try Using a Visual Timer
I don’t think I could love a tool more than I love a visual timer for every age and stage of ADHD life. I love a timer that shows the passage of time visually. The Time Timer is an example of this style of timer. I recommend using them during distraction free work blocks: pick a task, set the time, put your phone on do not disturb, and then set the timer. I also recommend setting a timer to go off at set times as a check in to see if you are still focused on the intended task.
Sometimes the purpose of a timer is not to set a deadline, but simply to check in and see what you are doing and how you are feeling. ADHD work life can be a mix of going doing accidental rabbit holes and hyperfocused sprints. Having a reminder to check in and see if you are on the track you intended to be on can be valuable.
Regular breaks, such as taking a walk, going outside, doing a quick exercise, or grabbing a snack can help with recharging and refocusing. If you are struggling to focus I don’t recommend continuing to sit still, expending great energetic effort for little reward. Instead go move, come back and take a minute to dig into why you are struggling to focus. Planning predictable break times into your rhythm can give you moments to look forward to.
It can also increase the chance of you remembering to take them. If it is at all possible to take a break outside, this is the best.
Use Assistive Technology
Consider using technology to help with staying on task and managing time. Programs and tools that are intuitive and easy to maintain can be very supportive. BUT, technology can also be a source of great frustration and additional barriers. Look at productivity tools with curiosity by considering your needs, your technological skills, your preferences, ease of use, and compatibility with what you already use at work and home.
Just because something is a magical tool for a colleague doesn’t mean it will work for you. I do not recommend using multiple tools for similar things, this is too likely to lead to missed items. Pick a tech lane!
Consider seeking support from an ADHD coach or a therapist that specializes in ADHD. As an ADHD coach I work with adults as they navigate workplace challenges every day. We focus on productivity, prioritization, ongoing career goals, decision making, motivation, executive function supports, overwhelm, and more. There are helping professionals out there that you can access for help. Online communities, support groups, and social media accounts are also great resources.