Managing Attention Deficit Disorder at Work and School, Part One

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My sister constantly describes herself as “a hamster running on an exercise wheel.” She swears that she has ADD. Whether she does or not, it’s not surprising that she feels that way. Many women, especially married women with children, are prone to feelings of disorganization, lack of focus, difficulty completing tasks, forgetting to pay bills on time, and missing appointments or deadlines.

The difference is that women with ADD do all these things to the degree that they can barely function. This creates real challenges not only at home, but also at work and in school.

A year ago I wrote the post “If You Have, or Think You Have, ADD.” I intended to write a series of posts about women with ADD, but as is typical for someone who has ADD herself, I forgot. However, I figure it’s better late than never (which is something that people with ADD tell themselves, and others, a lot).

The following are common challenges that women with ADD face at work and in school. (Note: These can apply to anyone who feels overwhelmed by their responsibilities, but they’re particularly troublesome for people with ADD.)

  • Finding it difficult to read large amounts of material.
  • Frequently losing things.
  • Forgetting deadlines.
  • Lack of focus when working in an open space.
  • Having trouble following oral instructions.
  • Managing interruptions.
  • Forgetting names and numbers.
  • Tackling boring tasks.
  • Restlessness (in meetings, in class, etc.).
  • Keeping track of paperwork and email.

To successfully combat these common problems, you have to know yourself. What kind of Attention Deficit Disorder do you have, for instance? There are basically two varieties: ADD with Hyperactivity and ADD, Inattentive. The first is the kind most commonly thought of when people think of ADD. It’s typified by physical restlessness and even acting out. The second is a quieter form of ADD, which means that many people with this type of ADD are not even diagnosed as having it. The person with ADD, Inattentive, is prone to daydreaming and not paying attention in class or meetings.

One of the hardest things for all people with ADD is to stay on task, mainly because they get either bored or distracted.

To keep yourself from being bored, break the task down into short segments and intertwine it with other tasks or activities. In other words, take frequent breaks. But not too frequent! Don’t use this advice as an excuse for giving up on a task before you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time on it.

Distraction is probably the most common problem for a person with ADD. That’s why it’s important to make yourself stick to a task for a set amount of time. Obviously in a class or meeting, the time period is pre-determined and usually feels too long no matter what you do. But somehow you have to make yourself pay attention to everything that’s being said. So how do you do that? I’ll cover some suggestions in “Managing ADD at Work and School, Part Two.”

I’m all for tricks and tips to help you concentrate, but I think it’s important to keep whatever you do simple. When a technique is too complicated, a person with ADD often gets lost in the process. There’s no point in using something that requires more concentration than the material you’re trying to master.

Being easily bored or distracted makes it difficult to get organized. Disorganization is the hallmark of a person with ADD. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be organized. But it’s important to find ways to organize yourself that work for you. Not all people are the same, even all people with ADD. For example, some people have to have complete silence in order to concentrate while others like some kind of  “white noise” to drown out other distractions.

For more background on ADD, especially in women, check out an old blog of mine, ADD Women.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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