ADD/ADHD in the workplace

I grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Since I was able to sit calmly in my seat, my teachers didn’t realize I couldn’t pay attention.  They just thought I didn’t get it.   Realistically I was thinking so many steps ahead of them I couldn’t extract a stimulating logic from their dialogue.

The label “Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder” is negative
but the characteristics offer a huge advantage in the workplace.

Using the word deficit  to describe one of my defining characteristics irritates me.   Even the word disorder isn’t necessary.

I have a fast, creative, passionate, flexible, curious and interesting mind.  My processing happens on a different level and at a different pace than others.  That’s not a disorder, it’s a unique set of characteristics and traits that is part of who I am.  We constantly interact with people having different characteristics than each other.  Does this mean I don’t have enough of something?

Does anyone have enough of everything they need? In terms of evolution, genetics and the way humanity evolves, isn’t there a primitive order that allows us to develop skills and patterns based on what is needed?  How do we know that people without the characteristics of ADD/ADHD aren’t the ones with a disorder?  Maybe they have a hyper-focus, imagination, passion, energy, intuition, flexibility and enthusiasm deficit.

Many people have symptoms of ADD without actually being diagnosed with it.  If you have never lived with it, I’d like to paint a picture of what it was like when I was in school.  I used to daydream a lot.  I counted a lot of things.  I looked for patterns in everything,  symmetry in structures and spent a lot of time wondering about tiny nuances like why my teachers’ stockings looked slightly different on each leg.  I used to wonder how the mechanism worked in the overhead projector screens she pulled down (the spring-loaded ones that retracted into the housing attached to the ceiling) or how many mirrors it took to project the image onto the wall.  I was interested in things that weren’t on the lesson plan.  The fact that schools still pull children out of the “traditional” classrooms for part of the day and house them in a “special” class means they don’t see it as “normal”.  I disagree.  I think it’s a developing part of our population.  I can only hope that our public schools begin to understand the quick, antsy nature of the current generation of children and respond to their need for different teaching methods.

As an adult, I can’t attend a lecture, class, service or meeting without doodling, taking notes, playing with an object or otherwise engaging in a passive activity.  Doodling allows me to hear and process the words being presented.  Without the ability to perform a simple activity, I develop instantaneous narcolepsy.  No amount of caffeine can make me stay alert if I am not doing something to occupy the part of my brain that must stay engaged.  When people come to my office to discuss something, I scramble for a blank piece of paper and a pen.  This one, little action allows me to hear what they are saying.  If I don’t doodle, I could get lost thinking about an inconsequential nuance.

Successful ADD/ADHD in the workplace is about being strategic and having the tools to thrive. Many companies are embracing the benefits of those with ADD/ADHD.  There is a learning curve for thriving in the workplace.  The more mature the employee, the greater they have developed  their personal strategies to harness their powers to excel.  If you or someone you work with needs help maximizing their production in the workplace, here are things to consider:

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 12.57.16 PM

  • Desk placement (avoid visually high-traffic areas, or noisy areas and have your desk facing something that will not distract you)
  • Ear phones/ear buds should always be available when a noise or conversation is close enough to draw your attention.
  • Experiment with the kind of music or white noise that will work for you.  Everyone is different.  On Spotify, I listen to a playlist called “Deep Focus”.  It makes a HUGE difference to be able to quickly put ear buds in my ears when I catch myself distracted by a noise or someone else’s conversation.
  • Calendars, lists, systems that allow you to see dates and deadlines.  Some people need rigid structure, others need check-in points with a lot of flexibility in between.  Ask for the schedule, the expectations, or time-frame that will best suit your methods.
  • Know your triggers and avoid them.
  • Know your downfalls.  Watch for them and know how to overcome them. If you see an unavoidable issue, ask for help, delegate or dig as deep as you can to make it to the other side.  Perseverance will do in a pinch.
  • Do more than you are expected to do.  A key quality to overcoming boredom is being able to keep your mind engaged.  Many ADD/ADHD employees excel at their jobs because they are never ok with status quo.  They are driven by an insatiable need to do more, discover more, and will often create something or some process that could only come from their minds.  Look at your projects and take on an additional project that is more exciting and engaging.
  • When things begin to feel monotonous, take inventory of your work space and re-organize it. I find that my daily processes have to evolve and change over time.  I can’t do things the exact same way indefinitely.
  • Ban piles. Don’t let yourself have them.  Piles can be a big issue if you don’t remember to go back to them.  Have a schedule in place that periodically requires every item to be accounted for.
  • If something isn’t working, change it.
  • Realize that your habits and processes will change more than the seasons.  Be aware that you get bored with having things in the same place and might even forget about items in a drawer you never open.  Find tricks to keep everyday items or timely things in a place that is impossible to miss.

People with ADD/ADHD are given a multitude of talents.  They are not disadvantaged.  They are different from people without the same label, but they are also different from one another.  No one has the exact same combination of characteristics.

ADD/ADHD isn’t bad.  It isn’t negative.  We have to find out the combinations to reap the benefits of individual characteristics.  Employers need to realize how much potential they have under their noses.  Learn how to tap into that resource, there’s just too much talent to waste.

A todo list ADD

This to-do list is an unnerving look at the challenges facing a struggling high school junior. This list was a haunting reminder of  my life before medication and developed coping skills.





2 thoughts

  1. Thank you for this post. When you’re ADD, it makes up a huge part of your personality, life, and overall being because it follows you everywhere you go and it’s not going to go away with a pill. There’s so much negativity towards ADD. Who wants to be considered DISORDERED just because you do things differently and think differently? I am glad that I am who I am and wouldn’t want to change that. It’s refreshing to see a post that focuses on all of the positive energy and creativity, a huge component often overlooked, what’s disordered about being able to think and live outside of the box. I don’t want a cookie-cutter mentality.

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