Working With ADHD: How to Increase Your Productivity and Focus

A time manager notepad on a white desk next to two dark grey pens.

In today’s busy world, it can be extremely challenging to keep distractions at bay and stay focused on the task at hand.

Adults with ADHD are acutely aware of this issue, and how stressful it can be to manage their time and productivity in the workplace. 

Approximately 8-9 million adults in the U.S. have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While having ADHD can present certain challenges in your work life, there are strategies available that have helped adults surmount these challenges and flourish in their roles.

Below, we’ve collected some time management and productivity strategies that may benefit people working with ADHD. Please consult your physician or a medical professional with experience treating ADHD to receive more guidance on this topic. 

Use time blocking to sustain focus 

Writer and career coach Jazmine Reed-Clark shares her experience in working with ADHD in this blog post and describes how she uses the time blocking technique to help her manage her workload. 

Reed-Clark likes to structure her day into morning, afternoon, and evening time blocks, and assign a specific task to each block. She writes:

“Though it’s far from a perfect science, having three distinct blocks encourages me to give my all to one specific area rather than trying to do ten assignments at once.”

For those of you who are new to time blocking, it’s a time management technique that organizes your day into three different sessions: morning, afternoon, and evening. So instead of relying on an hourly schedule, you would do x tasks in the morning, y tasks in the afternoon, and z tasks in the evening. 

Time blocking is a popular time management method because it adds more flexibility to your day and you’re not beholden to a strict schedule. For instance, with an hourly schedule, you would feel pressured to finish a task by a certain time, before moving onto the next task. But let’s face it, our days don’t exactly run with the efficiency of a train schedule. Emergencies arise and last minute changes are bound to occur.

With a time block schedule, you have extra time cushioned into your day. So if you designate your morning time block to focus on your writing tasks, you have a safety net in place should something come up. For example, maybe you’re delayed getting your kids ready for school or some urgent emails need your attention. You won’t get behind schedule, because you’ll have until the afternoon to get through your morning tasks.

And instead of trying to juggle multiple things and potentially getting nothing done, you have a single theme to focus on and execute during one time block. 

Here’s an example of how you can use the time blocking method.

Let’s say you want to accomplish the following activities in a day: 

  • Mindfulness exercises e.g. meditating or journaling
  • Draft a work presentation
  • Respond to work emails
  • Zoom calls with clients
  • Clean the house
  • Read a book

Here’s how you can use time blocking to organize your day and manage your tasks: 

Morning - Dedicate this time block to mindfulness activities

  • Morning routine
  • Journal
  • Meditate

Afternoon - Dedicate this time block to client work

  • Draft presentation
  • Conference calls
  • Send emails

Evening - Dedicate this time block to personal time

  • Clean house
  • Read book 
  • Make dinner

Avoid procrastination by breaking up tasks 

Another productivity strategy that may help when working with ADHD is to break up large tasks into smaller, actionable ones. 

A big project can seem overwhelming at first glance—we know we have to get it done, but where do we even start? And the more overwhelming a task, the more likely we’ll drag our heels on it.

The key to avoiding procrastination is to dismantle a big task and reduce it into the smallest pieces possible.

The smaller the task, the easier it will be. The easier the task, the more likely you’ll get started. And when you get started, the more likely you’ll build momentum and see it through to the end. 

So let’s say you have to create a powerpoint presentation for work. Instead of tackling it all at once, try to identify small pieces that you can do one at a time.

Big task: Create a presentation 

Small, bite-size tasks: 

  • Make a list of topics you want to address
  • Draft copy 
  • Choose images/assets for presentation
  • Choose colors/font 
  • Send presentation to colleague to get their feedback
  • Practice presentation for 20 minutes

Remember: the key is to break down your big task into micro pieces.

If the micro-task seems too easy and simple, that’s the point! Do a little at a time until you finish the entire project. 

To jumpstart your task, try telling yourself that you will do X task for 15 or 20 minutes. You can even use a timer to help you start and make sure that you finish.

Write it down

Another effective productivity technique is a good, old-fashioned to-do list. 

According to this article from the organization Children And Adults With ADD (CHADD), to-do lists can be particularly effective for adults with ADHD because it helps commit items to memory and makes tasks seem less overwhelming. 

If forgetfulness or distraction is an issue, writing things down can help you harness your thoughts and anchor them on paper. And if the idea of getting through tasks makes you feel overwhelmed, putting it to paper can help ease that feeling. Sometimes, seeing it on paper makes a task feel more tangible, and therefore more doable. 

So the next time you have a work deadline or an errand to run, record it in a notepad or planner, and be sure to place this to-do list in a prominent place so that you have a regular reminder of your responsibilities. 

Keeping your to-do lists in a central location like a paper planner may even help you stay organized and focused.

Create a supportive workspace

Here are some ways that you can create a workspace that supports you when you’re trying to stay focused. 

Manage clutter. If paper clutter is too distracting, try organizing them in a file folder or paper tray. 

Place your essential office tools where you can see them. Maybe this means putting your laptop, notepad, pen, and to-do list on your desk so that you can just hit the ground running and get to work. 

Add visual reminders. If you have trouble remembering deadlines, digital or visual reminders can be your friend. Have a desk calendar and write down important deadlines. Or have a dry-erase board to display tasks and reminders. Or use google calendar or your phone to send you notifications. 

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