There are many more obvious impacts that ADHD can have on productivity:
Struggling to start, finish, or transition between tasks
Trouble planning and organizing
Periods of distractibility and periods of intense focus
Impulsivity, fidgeting, anxiety, etc
Other emotional regulation struggles (irritability, depression, etc)
Difficulties managing time, time blindness
Social struggles, including biases, stigmas, discrimination, and poorly informed (about ADHD) support networks or peers
However, there are LOTS of other ways that ADHD impacts our working styles that aren’t just about our struggles and “deficits.” Here are a few common themes in how ADHDers like to work.
People with ADHD often gravitate towards creative work. In fact, 52% of the people we asked said that creative work was very important to them (only 12% said creative work wasn’t important to them at all). We often prefer project-based work because it offers a high degree of novelty while including some predictable, routine work. Surprisingly, people with ADHD do prefer that there is some routine work in their days. Many of us rely on external support to sustain our routines, and repetitive tasks can help with that.
That being said, we often prefer that things like deadlines are flexible. External support help maintain routines, but our needs can change daily. So, deadlines can either be a source of motivation and focus, or they can contribute to overwhelm and avoidance. Plus, we often deal with days where no matter how hard we try, we simply won’t get anything done (see brain fog). Flexible supports allow us to complete projects without learning to rely on emergencies and stress states to be productive.
Our quiz results showed that people with ADHD tended to skew towards introversion, but many identified as at least a little extroverted as well. This is another reason project-based work can be so appealing to us, because projects lend themselves to group or collaborative work. ADHD folks often find it beneficial and energizing to work with others, even if only on a part-time basis.
Most ADHDers will want at least some time to work alone. Usually, this is to help eliminate distractions and to give us room for self-regulation (i.e. fidgeting to regulate symptoms of hyperactivity). However, having a group, mentor, or supervisor to check in with can work wonders to ease executive dysfunction symptoms. Likewise, you’ll often find people with ADHD who simply cannot focus unless they’re in a room with other people. Having another person beside you to help you focus is called body doubling and it’s surprisingly effective.
Our survey also found that most ADHDers wanted a combination of independent and external supervision. This could reflect the rotating, complex nature of our symptoms. There are likely times where only we are able to understand or meet our needs. However, it seems that informed, compassionate external support is a significant need in the ADHD community.
One of the main ways that we have for maintaining productivity with ADHD and executive dysfunction, is to externalize many of the ways we organize or motivate ourselves. External support can come in many forms. Here are just a few:
Having time lines or deadlines to follow
Making lists, or using planners or apps to map out tasks and/or projects
Setting reminders for time-sensitive events
Working with therapists, mentors, supervisors, assistants, or team members
Using focus aids, such as ASMR, study beats, the pomodoro method, and more
Anything that makes it so that the ADHD brain isn’t solely responsible for keeping it all straight. And like we said before, what works will vary from person to person.
Supporting productivity in ADHD is a kindness that allows us more control over our lives without labeling us as a “burden” or “bother.” People with ADHD can lean into their strengths and thrive when properly supported at work.
When External Support Harms Instead of Helps
It can be very helpful to have the support of the people around you. However, if the support is rigid and inflexible, then there’s a lot of room for shame and judgment to take hold. When there is no peer education about ADHD, or when supervisors lead with ableism, then the ADHD brain is set up to fail. As mentioned early, social discrimination is a very real threat to people with ADHD, and we carry a ton of emotional fallout from improper support throughout our lives.
ADHD Strengths at Work
ADHD is usually discussed in terms of symptoms, deficits, and dysfunction. However, there are many strengths that come from ADHD traits as well. These strengths will also impact productivity at work.
For example, there are a number of very talented carpenters, painters, and drywallers in my family who have ADHD. They’re good at what they do, in part, because their jobs allow them outlets for both their hyperactivity and hyper focus needs. They are good at dealing with setbacks and roadblocks because their impulsivity also makes them creative and adaptable. People with ADHD can be really good at brainstorming and pivoting.
Some people with ADHD say that their ADHD makes them especially good in emergencies because they can stay calm and focused during chaos. Others find that their coping skills make them especially good at things like project management, content creation, or event planning (even more so if there’s a team of some kind to support them).
Because ADHD brains tend to cycle through interests and hobbies — picking up an interest, hyperfocusing, and then pivoting to another — we’re also very good at learning new skills, adapting to shifting technologies, and generalizing our skills (i.e. becoming a “jack of all trades”). It should be noted that many of us seem to have a kinetic learning style, meaning traditional education can be challenging. We’ll thrive if we’re doing it in real time, though.
There are so many more strengths I could list, but you get the idea. Leave a comment below if you can think of something I left out. It’s time now to talk about some of the most common hacks that help with ADHD and productivity.