Four simple ways to work better with attention deficit disorder

ADD and a working Man

By Dan Hartman

ADHD/ADD is an attention deficit disorder characterised by impulsiveness, poor attention span, distractibility, restlessness and overactivity. It affects somewhere between five and 10 per cent of children, and symptoms usually become milder in adulthood. You almost definitely work with somebody with the disorder. I’ve developed strategies to manage my ADHD. In fact, I believe this ‘disorder’ has certain advantages, such as enhanced energy and creativity.

I was diagnosed with ADHD relatively late, at the age of 17, although I displayed symptoms for many years. While I never had major behavioural issues, I’ve struggled with my attention in both the academic and professional areas. Although it manifests itself in the form of personality quirks and behavioural traits, it does not negatively affect my work.

So what can you do to manage this condition at work? Here are four things that work for me.

First, play to your strengths. I know that I am not well suited to detail-oriented work, so I stopped studying accounting at university. I work in sales, where I am constantly exposed to dynamic, novel scenarios. I talk to clients about unique challenges and learning new things every day. And for a person with ADD, these types of tasks are much easier to focus the attention on.

Next, when I have to complete more static tasks like writing a business case, I use the Pomodoro Technique. This involves breaking work up into blocks of time – typically 25 minutes – and taking timed breaks of three to five minutes in between. Turn off notifications on computers or smartphones. The breaks can be used to check notifications, get a drink, have a chat, or perform any of the other activities the ADHD impulses are screaming out for. After four blocks, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. It is worth experimenting with different intervals of working time and break time in order to find what works best for you.

Over the last year I’ve noticed significant improvement in the management of my ADHD by becoming more aware of my thoughts and when I am distracted. I developed this awareness through mindfulness meditation. Though initially I found the idea of meditation strange (I’m not some new-age hippie!), I discovered that mindfulness meditation is essentially a mind exercise and doesn’t involve any incense, humming or wearing of robes. Mindfulness meditation allows you to become a spectator to your thoughts, which is very important to someone whose mind is constantly racing and jumping from idea to idea. I found the Headspace app to be a great starting point for learning mindfulness.

And finally, it helps to be in a supportive environment. What can managers do to help staff with ADHD? First, be compassionate. If someone on your team mentions their ADHD to you, it’s not just casual conversation. They have thought hard about whether to mention it at all, and most likely they want you to help manage it. They will be sensitive about the issue – traditional systems of education and employment may have put this person in some very challenging situations. At the same time, don’t be afraid to delve deeper and ask what you can do to help. It may be as simple as allowing them to use non-traditional working methods (like the Pomodoro Technique), or enabling a low-distraction workspace. Ask whether they’re comfortable sharing their diagnosis with others, then help facilitate whatever choice they make.

Living with ADHD does not need to be difficult. In fact, it can be a welcome quirk on the path to a fulfilling life and a productive career. All it takes is to ‘know thyself’ and strategise accordingly.

Dan Hartman is a salesperson working in the technology area who loves to write. You can read his story about coping with ADD here.