Getting a Handle on Executive Functions
For many ADHD adults, the biggest work-related challenge is handling and mastering the wide range of executive functions required of them. This includes organizing, prioritizing, delegating, planning, meeting deadlines, and conceptualizing long-range plans and goals.
Strategies to Improve Executive Functions
Staying focused is probably the biggest executive challenge for ADHD adults. That's because to get anything accomplished, you have to stay focused, concentrate, and stick with it until it's finished. Unfortunately, ADHD adults find it difficult to pay attention, especially when they find the subject boring, dull, repetitive, or uninteresting. Instead of focusing, their mind wanders.
The end result is that the project or task doesn't get done on time — or at all. ADHD adults have to work late or take work home on weekends to complete it. Others become so distracted that they eventually find they have no job at all to focus on.
Many ADHD adults struggle to find a healthy balance at work. Some hyperfocus on their work to the exclusion of everything else and become workaholics, while others can't focus at work and are forced to bring work home. While the second group may appear to be workaholics, they are actually compensating for the hours they spend daydreaming or idle at work.
Here are some tips and strategies to improve your executive functions.
Centralize your important information. Use a desk calendar, personal organization system, or computer calendar to keep all your essential dates, appointments, reminders, to-do lists, and deadlines in one central location.
Buy an easy-to-use filing system with color-coded three-sided folders to organize your important projects into separate tasks. Don't use manila envelopes, as materials may fall out of the sides and get lost in the shuffle.
Start each day by clearing the decks. De-clutter your desk, file important documents, and clear out and file materials in your in- and outboxes. If something is urgent, tackle it immediately before you forget about it or get distracted.
Avoid wasting time. Organize projects or tasks on your day calendar and give each task a specific length of time. Don't underestimate. Choose a few of the most essential tasks, prioritize them, and then tackle one at time. If you tend to forget appointments, set multiple alarms on your wristwatch, computer, or cell phone to remind you.
Develop a methodical system for big projects. To tackle large or long-term projects, develop a systematic approach. Outline the goal of the project and detail major considerations like interim deadlines. Then break the project down into smaller steps and determine how much time each will take, making sure your estimates are realistic and in line with those short-term deadlines. Tackle one task at a time, and give yourself small rewards when each task is completed. Periodically review your timeline to make sure you have enough time to get the project done on time. If it doesn't seem possible, delegate some tasks to others if you're in a position to do so, or approach your boss about getting an extension.
Do the things you least want to do first thing in the day, if only for a set amount of time each day. You'll find it satisfying and rewarding to move on to tasks you find more enjoyable.
Hire an organizing genie. If you have trouble organizing and prioritizing, consider hiring a professional organizer to help. For more information, visit the National Association of Professional Organizers.
Tune out distractions. If you work in a busy or noisy office, it may be difficult for you to focus. If you're distracted by noise or people talking, talk to your boss about using headsets or a white noise machine. If you tend to gaze out the window, pull the blinds. Use visual reminders to help yourself stay alert and focused on tasks. Shake off tension and stress that may disrupt your focus by taking a breather every hour or so. Stretch your arms and legs, shrug your shoulders, scrunch your neck, wiggle your fingers, take some deep breaths, or do some yoga.
Create a daily to-do list. To manage the many details of your job, write every one down, no matter how small or insignificant, and put the list somewhere you'll be able to see it. Do one at a time. Draw a line through each task as you complete it. You will feel some satisfaction each time you cross off a line, and you will also see that you are making progress. This reinforcement leads to further progress. Make sure to consult your to-do list throughout the day so you don't get sidetracked.
Remember that organizational strategies may periodically break down, so don't expect perfection. The good news is that once you've established an organizational technique or experienced an organizational success, it becomes easier to reintroduce it and come up with additional strategies for future projects. Expecting permanent or virtually perfect solutions can lead to frustration, recrimination, and loss of self-esteem. Sometimes it's better to accept a less-than-ideal solution and pat yourself on the back for progress you've made.
Learn to Be on Time
Whether it's being on time for work or getting a project done on time, many ADHD adults struggle with meeting deadlines. One reason is that ADHD adults tend to underestimate how long it actually takes to accomplish something. In addition, their chronic disorganization and clutter prevents them from acting efficiently.
It's not impossible to break the lateness habit, but it will take some effort and practice on your part. Make a deal with yourself to break bad habits. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you can finish just one more thing before you leave.
Until you break the lateness habit, double or even triple the amount of time you think something will take. To become more realistic about how long certain tasks take, write down time estimates in your calendar, and then compare them to actual times after you complete the task. Reset your estimation on your next project to include the extra time.
The more you record and correct how long it takes you to do something, the better you'll become at narrowing the gap between how long you think it will take to accomplish something and how long it actually takes.