At a glance
ADHD symptoms can cause challenges at work.
Focus, organization, and managing emotions are common trouble spots.
Understanding how ADHD impacts you is key to finding solutions.
You couldn’t find your left shoe this morning. Has it really always taken 30 minutes to get to work? Now you’re late, and this isn't the first time. You sit down to work on a project that’s due tomorrow, but your brain just will. Not. Cooperate. Now you’re racing and worried it won’t be finished on time. You’re so frustrated you’re struggling not to cry.
The symptoms of ADHD can cause trouble at work. That’s because people with ADHD (like me) often struggle with executive function. This is a set of mental skills that help us stay on track, manage our time and emotions, and get things done.
ADHD can also make it hard to concentrate at work, especially when you’re bored, distracted, or feeling overwhelmed. Many of the struggles that we experience during school years can carry over into the workplace. Here are five ways ADHD might affect you at work.
1. Difficulty getting — and staying — organized
Struggling to stay organized can have a big impact on work. Difficulty getting organized — and staying organized — can make it hard to keep track of important items or documents. A messy desk or bag can make it hard to complete projects, stay on track, and get things done.
Trouble with organization at home can also have a big impact. A messy house can make it hard to get ready on time. Trouble finding things you need, like items of clothing, work tools, or even your house keys, can lead to lateness and stress. And that can lead to lower productivity and performance.
2. Time management troubles
Time management issues can make it hard to stay on schedule throughout the day. (I’m late AGAIN?!) Trouble managing time also makes it hard to judge how much time you’ll need for tasks, like getting ready in the morning, or traveling to work.
But it’s not just about being on time. Time management issues can also make it hard to tell how long something will take. You may not give yourself enough time to clean up at the end of the day. Or you may not know how much time it’ll take to complete a project without having to rush.
3. Trouble managing emotions
Lots of people with ADHD struggle with managing emotions. We often experience emotions more intensely. The symptoms of ADHD can also lead to lower self-esteem and feelings of shame. And that can make feedback or criticism especially hard to take.
At work this might come out in ways that can feel inappropriate or embarrassing. For example, crying or getting angry when a manager gives feedback. We can also get overwhelmed or frustrated more easily, and then give up on challenging tasks or projects.
Some people with ADHD are also extremely sensitive to rejection, or struggle to connect with peers or co-workers. This can make work feel extra stressful. Or it may lead to avoidance of situations, people, or tasks that trigger negative feelings.
4. Focus challenges
Trouble with attention can be a big problem at work, and it tends to snowball. Spacing out when your boss is talking can mean missing key information. Not paying attention to detail can lead to misunderstandings with colleagues. Trouble focusing can also make projects feel overwhelming. This can make it harder to get started and to get things done on time.
Without the proper supports of accommodations, our workplace setting might make it hard to concentrate. Chatty co-workers, noises in the office, and even overhead lights or distracting windows can make it harder to focus and complete tasks.
5. Trouble switching gears
Starting new tasks or switching from one task to another can be a big challenge when you have ADHD. Jumping from an orientation session to an assignment or switching gears from solo work to a team project can be stressful. So can quick transitions, like moving from one job to another without time to adjust.
ADHD can also make it difficult to start a task or job. That’s especially true if you’re working independently. Getting yourself motivated, and sticking with it until the work is done, can be hard.
The bottom line is that ADHD can make work challenging in lots of ways — sometimes ways you don’t expect. But there are strategies and supports that can help. Understanding how ADHD affects you can help you find the support that are right for you.
Get information and tips on:
People with ADHD struggle with key skills known as executive function.
These mental skills let us stay on track and get things done.
There are workplace supports that can help with ADHD and executive function challenges.
About the author
About the author
Rae Jacobson, MS is a writer who focuses on ADHD and learning disabilities in women and girls.
Andrew Kahn, PsyD is a licensed psychologist who focuses on ADHD, learning differences, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, behavior challenges, executive function, and emotional regulation.