I have ADHD. Specifically, ADHD with a combination subtype, which means I have elements of inattention and hyperactivity. This is risky to post on my portfolio site because there are many people who think ADHD is fake and is an excuse for "lazy" behavior. Before my diagnosis, I felt lazy and stupid. I thought I was crazy and incapable of really succeeding in life. After many tests and interviews, two doctors diagnosed me. This diagnosis has changed my life for the better.
What does ADHD look like for me? I have a hard time staying task for more than 20 minutes, and I’m easily distracted. I lose everything, and forget important events. I have a hard time listening to people who are talking to me. I can’t sit in a seat without fidgeting and driving everyone around me crazy. I frequently blurt out funny comments, even if the setting is not appropriate. If a project is interesting, I can throw myself into it and hyper-focus, but the typical day-to-day work is excruciating. I used to rely on severe stress and pressure to get my work done. I would beat myself up for every mistake I made, and for every social faux pas I committed. None of these techniques work, and they are extremely unhealthy and toxic. If you think being around someone with ADHD is frustrating, please know it’s 1000x more frustrating to have it. I’ve had to learn how to hack my brain to make my day easier and get my work done. I know I’m not the only one who struggles with working with ADHD. So, I’m taking the time to share my tricks and techniques here.
(Note: ADHD is a neurological disorder that exists on a spectrum. Some people have severe ADHD. Others, like myself, have a milder diagnosis. What works for me won't necessarily work for others. If you don't have ADHD, please keep this in mind when you work with us.)
Pomodoro Technique 🍅
This is one of the best ways I’ve found to manage my time when I’m working on boring tasks. It’s a simple concept—you set a timer for 25 minutes. In that 25 minutes, you set out to do a specific task. At the end of the 25 minutes, you take a 5 minute break. You then repeat this as often as you need to until you get your work done. It’s so simple, but it’s effective. Knowing that I have time blocked later out to take a break lets my brain focus on the task at hand.
Forest App 🌲
The forest app isn’t free, but I use it as a timer for the Pomodoro Technique and as a way to stay off my phone. The app lets you set a timer, and in that time you plant a digital tree. If you close the app your tree dies. This can prevent you from checking email or goofing off on social media. Each tree that grow adds to your virtual forest, so the more you focus, the better your forest looks. Plus, the more trees you grow in the app, to more trees the company will plant in real life! You can also use this on your desktop browser if you get distracted while working on your computer.
Listening to music while you work is great for focusing, but I sometimes find music distracting. I prefer music that has few or no lyrics (or music in another language, thanks Sigur Ros!). Brain.FM is a service that claims to help your mind focus by using music designed by an AI machine. The “song” lasts as long as you need it to and you can select the mood you want. They have various moods for focusing, relaxing, and sleeping. I’ve enjoyed using it, and it’s been great for blocking out external distractions.
Planners & Calendars 📒
Some people with ADHD find planners to be useless. I get it—if you’re prone to losing stuff, you’re probably going to lose a planner. But, if you can keep track of it, a planner is an amazing tool to have. I live and die by my planner—it’s my brain’s external hard drive. Writing stuff down helps my brain better commit a task to memory. I use colored pens and stickers to make it fun and colorful. I also put every appointment, meeting, and social event into my phone calendar. I make sure I set alerts and reminders so I know I’ve got something coming up.
If you find that a planner or your phone calendar isn’t for you, I recommend getting one of those big desk calendars. You won’t lose it, it’s always right in front of you, and it’s gives you a high-level overview of your month. It’s especially helpful if you have long term projects. That way your deadlines (which seemed so far off) won’t sneak up on you.
Writing Down Passing Thoughts 💭
Being easily distracted is a hallmark of ADHD. Every passing thought in my brain demands immediate attention and action. Oh, I just thought about starting an organic garden? I should immediately do research online and make a Pinterest board of all my ideas and plans! Oh wait, that took up 3 hours?! How did that happen, I swear I was only doing it for 30 minutes!
If you have ADHD, you know this feeling all too well. I’ve found that writing down a passing thought and saying “I’ll get to that later” allows my brain to let go of it. There’s no way I’ll remember the thought later (which is why my brain demands I deal with it right now). Writing it down means I can check up on it later.
If you have ADHD, I hope something on this list helps you. I also hope this helps coworkers and mangers without ADHD understand what it’s like to work with the condition. It can be a huge struggle, especially if you aren’t diagnosed (like I was for 29 years). Most people can go in, get their work done, and not give it a second thought. Some of use aren't so lucky. Because of this, we have to “hack” our brains and our work strategies. I’ve been doing a lot of these things for a long time, even before I was diagnosed. If you have other tactics, please share them!