Adults With ADHD At Work

There are many adults with ADHD who come to me for a consultation because they are having difficulty performing at work. These problems occur if the affected person works for a company or owns his own business. In fact, there are many examples of people with ADHD losing their businesses because symptoms interfered. Among their difficulties are completing job tasks, staying organized, getting bored and restless at meetings, forgetting important appointments, and alienating superiors and co workers. Too many times their difficulties end in unemployment, depression and confusion about what went wrong.

Here is a partial list of some of the work related problems of adults with ADHD:

1. Time management
2. Organization
3. Listening and paying attention
4. Following directions
5. Procrastination
6. Completing assignments
7. Attending to details
8. Getting to work on time
9. Interrupting
10. Sitting still 
11. Angry confrontations with superiors and peers.

It should be clear that one result of all of this is that ADHD is accompanied by feelings of depression and low self esteem.

There is nothing inevitable about the outcome of having ADHD. Treatment with medication and the correct psychotherapy can help people drastically improve functioning at work and home. The proper type of psychotherapy includes very targeted skills building and Cognitive Behavioral techniques.

Here is a list of some suggestions about how to reduce ADHD symptoms at work:

1. Request a quiet space, such as an office, rather than in a cubicle, where there are fewer distractions.
2. Work with a manager or colleague who is well-organized and can help guide you through projects from start to completion.
3. Keep a day planner with a calendar and make a list of the priorities for that day. Keep the list short, maybe five items.

4. Set up the computer to send you electronic reminders for meetings and due dates.
5. Take notes at meetings and during phone conversations, and add all new tasks to your to-do list.

6. Set aside specific periods of time each day for answering voice mail and email so that they won't interrupt your other responsibilities.
7. Set realistic goals. Break up your days into a series of individual assignments, and only try to tackle one task at a time.

8. Use a timer to let you know when to move on to the next task.

9. Reward yourself for completing an assignment by going out for a special lunch or buying yourself something you've been wanting.
10. If you can, get an assistant or intern to take care of the small details to free you up so you can focus on the big picture.

11. To improve your concentration, practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation. Get up once an hour and take a walk, get a drink of water, or talk to a co-worker.

12. Daily physical exercise has been found to be very helpful in improving memory and concentration for people with ADHD.

Many people are unaware of the fact that ADHD is a disability and, therefore, comes under the protection of the Americans With Disabilities Act. In other words, if a person with ADHD or any disability suspects that they are being discriminated against they can take action and have the problem corrected.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.


  • jc

    Where is the line between a high-energy, talkative (nonstop), loud, wonderful, normally developing 9-year-old boy and an ADHD diagnosis? Thanks.

  • Kathleen

    ADHD involves a child's ability to focus their attention--they are easily distracted and forgetful, have difficulty completing almost ANYthing. Their thoughts race, they talk ,faster than you can listen, they lose and forget important things--like keys, his left shoe, school books or supplies, carefare--things that are critical to functioning. Can't organize anything, immediate short-term memory(i.e. where he set the keys 5 seconds ago, usually has extreme difficulty being "still" in any way.

    If this sounds like your son, please have him tested--It's usually an interview, or a written Questionaire--nothing scary. But NOT getting tested and not getting treatment is very dangerous. If he is having these problems and is getting criticized, bad behavior reports from school, for things he can't help, he will probably blame himself and accept other peoples' negative judgements about himself. This is a very bad state of mind--especially as he enters adolescence. There are effective medications available and at least one-- is quite cheap--Target, Walmart and others have generic Ritalin, for $4.00 to 12.00 for a 30 day supply.

    I have ADHD, and I was not diagnosed until I was an adult. Knowing that my symptoms have a name, aren't my fault, and can be treated, has turned my mental health around--I wish I had been treated as a child--I would have been spared a LOT of emotional pain and mental confusion. One more point--this disorder should be treated by a psychiatrist, not a family doctor or pediatrition. And beware of 'neighborhood mental health clinics'. Out-patient treatment at a reputable hospital is working well for me. I wish you success, if it turns out that your son has ADHD. Hopefully he's just one of those super"boy" boys--the football type! thank you for listening I hope this was helpful.

  • jc

    Thank you so much for responding to my question, Kathleen. I hesitate to have my son tested because I don't want a false positive and a push to medicate. I think there would be self-esteem issues with that scenario too. My gut feeling is that he is borderline. I will keep your post in mind as he continues to mature.

  • Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

    Kathleen, thank you for that response. You are correct and you are right on target. I hope the parent who posted the question will have their child tested for ADHD immediately.

    Dr. Schwartz

  • jc

    Thank you Kathleen and Dr. Schwartz.