How to Keep a Job with ADHD

Two Methods:Keeping Your FocusGetting Help from Others

Many adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have difficulty finding and keeping work. ADHD symptoms like impulsiveness, forgetfulness, and inability to take social cues make it hard to keep up at work. They can make it challenging to develop effective relationships with coworkers and managers. People with adult ADHD have to take extra measures to perform their jobs and gain understanding from others.

Method 1
Keeping Your Focus

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    Minimize distractions. People with ADHD have a hard time staying focused and filtering out environmental stimuli.[1] Do your best to keep your work area distraction free.
    • Try to work in an area that is quiet. Good examples include a private office or a cubicle that is out of the way of foot traffic, water coolers or other distractions. Stay away from fans and other electronic noises, as these can be distracting, too.[2]
    • Consider buying some noise-cancelling headphones. If this is appropriate in your workplace, it can help filter out distracting sounds that might be hard to avoid otherwise.
    • If possible, control the lighting in your work area. Light that creates shadows or unusual patterns can be distracting to people with ADHD.[3]
    • If possible, control the scent in your work area, too. Strong smells can be distracting for people with ADHD.[4] Avoid using scented air fresheners. When possible, work away from coworkers who wear strong colognes or perfumes.
    • Find creative ways to get work done in a less distracting environment, if possible. Consider coming in early or staying late. You might also try bringing work home, or finding a quiet conference room to work in.
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    Keep your work area organized. People with ADHD often have a hard time remembering where they put things. If you have a place for each of your work supplies, however, you'll be able to find them more easily. This will save you time and stress.
    • Buy some file boxes to organize paper documents.[5] Get some small bins for pens, paperclips, and other supplies. Then, make a point of always putting things in the right place. If you do, you'll always be able to find what you are looking for.
    • Develop a habit of checking at the end of the day to make sure that your desk is clear and all your supplies are where they belong. This helps keep clutter from getting out of control and impeding your ability to work.[6]
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    Use a planner or calendar. Break projects into simple tasks, and record them in one place. Check and update your planner often.[7]
    • Use timers or programs with visible or audible reminders to make sure you don't forget appointments or scheduled tasks.
    • Schedule your day effectively. Avoid over scheduling, and allow enough time between appointments.
    • Try to schedule time to burn off energy with walks or exercise, even if it's just a walk to the copy machine. This can help you stay focused.
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    Take notes. Keep a notepad to write down details of phone conversations or meetings.[8] Confine your notes to one pad so that you don't have slips of paper all over the place that you can overlook or forget.
    • Review notes regularly. Transfer any notes about tasks that need to be done to a calendar or day planner.
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    Stay on task. Commit to finish up a current project before moving on to another. Try to avoid answering the phone or checking email before completing the current task.
    • It's a good idea to schedule time in your day for returning phone calls and answering emails.[9] This ensures that you reply to any communications in a reasonable period of time. It also prevents them from distracting you from larger tasks.
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    Reward yourself. When you successfully follow through on one of these organizational tricks, give yourself a little reward.[10] This will help cement the routine and promote future successes.
    • What works for you as a reward will be different for each individual. Maybe you'll take yourself out to lunch, or buy the new pair of shoes you've been wanting. If your work allows it, maybe you can take an unscheduled 10 minute break and go for a short walk.
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    Emphasize your strengths. It is a good idea to both acknowledge your limitations and emphasize your strengths at work. Where possible, volunteer for tasks that let you look at the big picture rather than the small details
    • Detail-oriented tasks like alphabetizing or counting things are often challenging for people with ADHD. If possible, delegate these tasks to someone else and volunteer for tasks with a lot of novelty and variety. These are tasks that are more likely to hold your interest. Your high levels of energy might even be asset for such work.[11]
    • Strengthen your skills so that you excel at tasks that suit you. If your current job doesn't allow for this, you may want to try to find a job that better suits the way your brain works. When you are successful in the important aspects of your work, the troublesome effects of your ADHD will not be as noticeable or intrusive.

Method 2
Getting Help from Others

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    Communicate with your boss. The law prohibits employers from asking employees or applicants to disclose disabilities. The decision rests on the person with ADHD to decide whether to notify the employer.[12] In general, it is a good idea to let you employer know about your condition.
    • Your first impulse might be not to tell your boss you have ADHD. Most people want to be treated like normal, productive members of their workplaces. However, your employer may show more compassion if she or he is aware that you have a disability and could benefit from accommodations.
    • Your boss may be more willing to work with you on problems with deadlines and time management if you are open about your limitations. This is especially true if you excel in other areas of the job. The alternative to disclosure might be finding a pink slip in the next paycheck.[13]
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    Communicate with coworkers. You shouldn't present your ADHD as an excuse. However, others need to know what they can and cannot expect of you. If you are open about about your condition, your coworkers may be less likely to take offense at some of your behaviors.
    • Explain the symptoms of ADHD like forgetfulness and impulsiveness. Let others know that your behaviors do not arise from lack of respect, selfishness, or a bad attitude. Be honest about your limitations, especially when asked to take on tasks you are likely to struggle with.[14]
    • Let others know that it is acceptable for them to correct you or remind you to do things. Don't overreact or get upset when someone reminds you of something or expresses frustration with your ADHD symptoms.[15]
    • Apologize when you slip up, react in a negative way, or hurt someone's feelings. Take responsibility and don't make excuses for mistakes, forgotten promises or missed deadlines.
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    Seek Vocational Rehabilitation. All U.S. states offer vocational rehabilitation (VR) services for persons with disabilities who need helping finding or maintaining employment.[16] Look on your state government's website for information about available services.
    • In the State of Washington, for instance, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation helps disabled job seekers. They help with independent living services, public transportation, time and money management, establishing daily routines and schedules, etc.[17]
    • VR counselors provide one-on-one help. This may include computer training, job skills training, or help with applying for jobs.[18]
  4. 4
    Seek job coaching. Job Coaching is an important service frequently underwritten by VR. It is also often available through non-profit community agencies. Job coaches provide individual attention with an eye toward making your work easier and more productive.
    • A job coach will walk with an employee through his or her workday. She or he will note potential problems and design solutions or provide helpful training. Some issues may be simple fixes that an employer will arrange. Others may require extensive training for the employee.
    • For instance, a supervisor who wants to meet with a particular staff member once a week may be used to asking, “Hey, is this a convenient time? Let’s meet in five….” This can be nerve-wracking if the staffer has ADHD and struggles with schedules and routines. A job coach might ask the supervisor to establish a regular day and time for meeting.[19]
    • A job coach might help an overwhelmed employee create a weekly schedule. It could include an approximation of how much time various tasks should take. Or, the coach might help break large projects into a series of smaller steps.[20]
    • Time management is a common issue for people with ADHD. Job coaches can help with tardiness issues by evaluating the employee’s morning routine or bus schedule.
    • The job coach may be hired for a matter of a few days or weeks, depending on the situation.


  • Try to find work that keeps you interested. Avoid taking a position that you know will be boring and repetitive.

Sources and Citations

  1. Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Symptoms and Diagnosis found at
  2. ADD/ADHD Behavior-Change Resource Kit by Grad L. Flick (1998).
  3. On Their Own: Creating an Independent Future for Your Child With Learning Disabilities and ADHD by Anne Ford (2007).
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Article Info

Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders | Job Strategies