I often refer to ADHD as a double-edged sword. Parents of children (and the children themselves) haven’t typically been privy to both ends of the sword yet. They are seeking my therapeutic services and my ADHD professional speciality because the behaviors have become unmanageable. The hyperfocus is presenting as a child who shows aggression when asked to discontinue a specific activity, a child who “spaces out” in a learning environment and missing information because of this, a child who can talk for hours about a specific topic but cannot recall what they did in school a few hours prior, etc. Families affected by ADHD typically seek help to treat the behaviors and understand the shame cycle surrounding, “Why can’t I just try harder?” Instead, we begin the journey of understanding the ADHD brain and how to utilize self-regulation to quiet a stimulation-seek brain that is purely not happy when understimulated (BORED!).
One of the first things we begin is psychoeducation. I assure parents and kids that, in fact, the ADHD brain is a wonderful gift. However, we have to learn how to shape the symptoms so that they work with us, not against us. That, sometimes frustrating, hyperfocus and ability to “think outside the box,” (or not realize there even is a box!) results in individuals with ADHD more likely to be entrepreneurs, solving problems in the workplace that others neurotypical brain may have overlooked, high success rates in the workplace, and more. Individuals with ADHD are the innovative leaders of so many industries. This, my friends, is the other side to the sword.
“How is this possible?” Perhaps you are reading this and you have already begun asking yourself this question. Luckily, here are a few tips and tricks to harness ADHD power in the workplace.
Find a job you love. I know that this is not always possible, however, the ADHD brain MUST be engaged to focus. The ADHD brain is under-stimulated and over-aroused. Set yourself up for success by using that “hyperfocus super power” to shine in a position you’re interested in. A monotonous job that does not engage the brain results in various struggles for an individual with ADHD.
Make what you’re doing interesting to your brain! I understand that many of us are not in the position to leave a job that is paying the bills to pursue another career we possibly have no training in (yet!). Making a task interesting can involve using colors, small rewards throughout the day, working outside of a current job on training to pursue a career more passionate about, etc). Go for a walk, even if it’s just around the office, to assist in regulation throughout the day. Make sure you have snacks and drinks as well. Take your brain breaks!
HAVE A PLANNER! This might seem obvious, but it’s not that simple for a brain that LOVES ENGAGEMENT. Give yourself time to look for a planner that you really like (the format, set up, colors, etc). Just like anything else, the planner has to interest us or we will not use it. Can’t find a good fit? Check out Bullet Journaling or variations. Color coding tasks (don’t hesitate to label your pens!) is another helpful tool.
Ask for help. Be open and honest with your supervisor or coworkers if you need clarification about something. We quickly return to that shame-filled child who doesn’t understand what the teacher asked of us but are “too embarrassed to ask because they’ll think I’m dumb.” It’s okay to need something explained again or differently. Your supervisor, boss, etc. want you to do well and they should want to help, but realistically, they also want their company to excel (which means you understand what you’re supposed to be doing).
Don’t overload yourself. When we become super passionate about something (hello, hyperfocus!) we may find ourselves wanting to engage in ALL THE THINGS that excite us. We cannot do it all at once and in fact, being overwhelmed causes dysregulation which results in decreased productivity and functioning. The “you’ll never be enough” shame cycle born in childhood prior to a diagnosis and treatment can also fuel taking on too many tasks at once. You are enough and you do enough.
This is the tip of the ADHD iceberg that I can assist in navigating. ADHD symptoms can cause a lot of problems in the workplace resulting in mistakes and even loss of a job. It does not have to be this way. And this is not because you are not “trying hard enough” or “paying attention enough.” It is crucial to attain symptom management with behavioral modification (and medication management if necessary) to be who I know you can be. We will work collaboratively to develop a custom organization and regulation plan through ADHD coaching and therapeutic services. And remember – You are enough. You do enough.
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