Workplace supports: Trouble following instructions and managing deadlines

Following instructions and managing deadlines, man working on a computer calendar

At a glance

  • Free or low-cost workplace supports can help you know what to do and when to do it.

  • One simple support is to ask if you can take a video of a co-worker explaining how to do a new or complicated task.

  • There are lots of ways your manager can help you follow instructions and meet deadlines.

It can be hard for anyone to keep track of deadlines and follow complicated instructions. But it can be especially difficult if you have differences that affect your organization and time management skills. This is a common challenge for people with ADHD.

Finding the right workplace supports can help you follow instructions, prioritize your work, and meet your deadlines. Some supports are simple changes that you can set up on your own. Other changes may involve asking your manager for help. 

Many of these supports are free or low-cost. You may be able to get them informally. But some employers may ask you to fill out paperwork to formally request an accommodation.

Supports you can set up and use on your own

Instructional aids

  • Break instructions into short steps and write them down. Start each step on a new line and number them to quickly find the step you need.  

  • Use the camera on your phone or other devices to record how to do a new or complex task. If someone is taking you through the steps, ask if you can record the session so you can watch it again later.

Time management tools and apps 

  • Use a visual schedule that shows what you should be doing when. See if your workplace already has tools to build this kind of schedule. If not, you can build one on your own using time tracking software like HourStack.

  • Use task tracker apps like Remember the Milk or Todoist to get help listing every task you need to do in the order you need to do them.

  • Set up calendar reminders on your phone or other devices to alert you about upcoming deadlines or meetings. 

Low-tech ways to prioritize your work

  • Create a short checklist or use color-coding to prioritize a few tasks on a longer list. Mark off tasks as you complete them. 

  • Block off times on your calendar to work on specific tasks. For example, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., work on Task 1. Then from 10 a.m. to noon, work on Task 2.

  • Do the hardest task first. This will clear your day to complete your remaining tasks instead of worrying about that one thing you keep pushing off.

Supports you may want to ask your manager to provide 

Scheduling tasks

  • Ask for clarity on what needs to be done when. Ask your manager to help you know how soon you need to complete each task. For example, if new tasks are often assigned by email, suggest always including in the subject line when the work needs to be completed.

Providing instructions

  • Ask for instructions in more than one format. This may sound complicated, but it might just mean showing how to do a task and sharing written instructions.  

  • Ask for a flow chart or other visual instructions that show how different tasks relate to each other and in which order they need to be completed.

  • Ask for instructions to be broken down into short steps. If you’re working on a big project, ask for help breaking it down into smaller tasks with shorter deadlines.

  • Ask to confirm accuracy. If you’re writing down instructions or prioritizing a list of tasks, check with your manager that you’ve captured the information correctly.

  • Ask in advance about help. Clarify with your manager who to ask if you need help on a project and how to ask (by email, messenger, phone, etc.).

Giving feedback

  • Ask for feedback on completed work. This will help confirm that you’re following instructions and meeting expectations before moving on to your next task.

  • Ask for daily or weekly check-ins to review deadlines and priorities. Use this time to raise concerns and find out how to adjust your work if needed.

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