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How Does ADHD Affect You at Work?

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

✎ Written by: Dubravka Rebic

By neurotypical standards, a good employee is usually someone who shows up on time, is consistent, and does their job without complaining. But is that the only truth?

Yes, traits like being punctual and well-organized are prized, but so is out-of-the-box thinking, coming up with innovative ideas, and creative solutions. Believe it or not, these are the qualities attributed to many people who have ADHD. However, because they struggle with things like organization and planning, they tend to overlook the great attributes they have to offer and, instead, focus on what they’re lacking.

That’s why it’s important to understand that ADHD brains are wired differently; people with ADHD aren’t lazy, lacking motivation, or unorganized. They simply need different tools to help them cope with the day-to-day tasks expected from a neurotypical “good employee” so they can thrive in the areas where they have the option to be more creative and innovative.

This will help them feel more empowered and shake off the negative labels ascribed to them as a result of their ADHD symptoms.

In this article, we’ll go over:

1. ADHD Burnout and Exhaustion

People with ADHD can have a compulsive tendency to bite off more than they can chew when it comes to taking on extra tasks and commitments. Often this is due to an internalized idea that they're lazy, careless, or not competent enough, so this is their attempt at making up for what they perceive as their “shortcomings”.

But this tendency may actually lead to feelings of burnout and exhaustion. If this is something you struggle with, try relieving tension and stress by:

  • Affirming your self-worth: Remind yourself that you're inherently valuable, regardless of how productive or helpful you are to others.

  • Committing to rest: Ignore nagging feelings of guilt and take time for yourself to relax and recharge. You wouldn’t go multiple days without sleep because you felt guilty, would you? Taking time off will only foster more creativity and productivity in the long run. Try setting a time and place to disconnect and do something that brings you joy or helps you reset.

  • Dropping the mask: Even though it might be difficult to admit that you're struggling because you don't want to let others down, the effort to appear neurotypical can be a source of fatigue. Try to be open and honest about your struggles. When you camouflage your feelings, you push aside opportunities to receive support.

2. ADHD's Impact on Productivity

Some of the common symptoms of ADHD involve trouble concentrating, inability to focus, and difficulty sustaining attention. And these symptoms may cause challenges with organizing, prioritizing, and planning, affecting your productivity at work.

Here are a few tricks you can use to check off tasks on your to-do list:

  • Break large tasks into smaller steps: If you think a task will take more than an hour to complete, break it down into up to five smaller sub-tasks. This way, the work can be more manageable and less intimidating.

  • Do the easiest thing first: Susan C. Pinsky, the author of Organizing Solutions for People With ADHD, recommends structuring your workday, so you do the easiest thing first. According to Pinsky, crossing something off your to-do list will give you a bit of buzz and help you move on to the next task.

  • Use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused: The Pomodoro technique can help you stay focused on the task by giving you a visual and audible signal to pause for a few minutes in order to rest, recharge, and refresh.

    1. Set a timer to 25 minutes and plan on spending uninterrupted time working on the task. It doesn’t have to be 25 minutes exactly, the trick is identifying when your attention usually starts to wane and setting the timer to stop just before that point.

    2. When the timer stops, pause the task, and place a checkmark on a piece of paper to indicate you've completed one Pomodoro cycle.

    3. Take a short 5-minute break from the task. You can use this time to stretch or do some mindfulness exercises.

    4. After the 5-minute break, set the timer for another 25 minutes, and continue working.

    5. After 4 Pomodoro cycles, take a longer 20- to 30-minute break and use this time to rest and recharge.

  • Avoid multitasking: When you set a timer to spend time working on a task, focus on one task only and don’t try to multitask. When you think you're multitasking, you're not actually working on two tasks, but you're rapidly switching from one task to another. You're doing something called context switching, and it's draining your cognitive resources. Try monotasking instead. Monotasking is an approach where you focus on only one task at a time to cut down on mental errors and unleash your creativity and production. Here's how you can monotask effectively.

3. Teamwork Challenges and ADHD

Being a good team member requires a heightened awareness of others and excellent listening skills. When experiencing trouble concentrating, it might be challenging to engage in conversations, contribute ideas, and provide task support.

In order to improve your listening skills, try the following strategies:

  • Engage others in the discussion. Ask more about other peoples' ideas and opinions before sharing your own.

  • Talk about what you hear. When your coworker is talking, focus on finding a key point to comment on. This lets others know you're listening and helps you follow along.

  • Ask for permission before interrupting: Sharing your opinions or observations can be a great way to show you're engaged in the conversation. However, it's important to ask for the go-ahead before interjecting. Try saying something along the lines of, "Do you mind if I interrupt for a minute?" or “Do you mind if I share my thoughts?"

  • ​​Avoid focusing on your following sentence. It might seem counterintuitive, but the more you let go of what you think you need to say, the better prepared you will be to say the right thing.

  • Visualize the story: In order to focus on something that your coworker is saying, try visualizing their story in your mind. Many people with ADHD are visual thinkers and learners. Use this to your advantage.

Good Jobs for People With ADHD: Utilize Your Strengths

Studies show employees with ADHD can be highly creative, curious, innovative, and inventive. They tend to be out-of-the-box thinkers, which is a trait that is highly appreciated in the workplace.

And while there isn't a one-size-fits-all career that works for every person, certain positions are widely considered good jobs for people with ADHD. These jobs usually rely on a dynamic personality and thoughtful creativity:

  • Writer

  • Musician

  • Designer

  • Teacher

  • Journalist

  • Chef

  • Small business owner

  • Nurse

  • Firefighter

  • Sales representative

However, many people have found careers they love different from those said to be "right" for someone with ADHD. So, before applying for a job, try making three lists:

  • What you're good at

  • What you like to do

  • What someone else will find valuable

The ideal job should hit all three categories. But make sure to choose the one that sparks the most interest. Choosing something that sparks interest will coax the positive traits of working with ADHD, like creativity, innovation, and curiosity, to the surface and help one excel at what they do.

However your ADHD presents, by fostering awareness about ADHD, harnessing one’s strengths, and acquiring a toolkit of coping mechanisms, thriving in your place of work is achievable and can allow you to reach your full potential!

Multiple Myndlift users report monthly about changes in their behavior and lifestyle. Get matched with a Myndlift Provider, either by finding one in your area or by enrolling in our Total Remote program.


About the author:

Dubravka Rebic puts a lot of time and energy into researching and writing in order to help create awareness and positive change in the mental health space. From poring over scientific studies to reading entire books in order to write a single content piece, she puts in the hard work to ensure her content is of the highest quality and provides maximum value.


Reference list:

Boot N, Nevicka B, Baas M. Creativity in ADHD: Goal-Directed Motivation and Domain Specificity. J Atten Disord. 2020 Nov;24(13):1857-1866. doi: 10.1177/1087054717727352. Epub 2017 Aug 28. PMID: 28845720; PMCID: PMC7543022.


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