Manage your time at work – tips for adults with ADHD

Many adults with ADHD struggle with staying focused, completing tasks on time and keeping track of time. This can make it challenging to keep up with work responsibilities and may even be a source of stress if not kept in check. If you’re living with ADHD and struggling to cope at work, it’s important to ask for help. 

Along with workplace modifications and employment coaching, there are a number of time management strategies you can put into practice yourself. Here are 7 strategies for managing your time at work and working to your strengths.

1. Set your priorities

Everyone has limited time. To make sure you’re using your time in a way that’s important to you, the first step is to figure out what your priorities are. Deciding what’s essential to you can help you channel your time and energy in a meaningful direction, instead of trying to get everything done.

2. Use lists to your advantage

Lists can be a helpful tool for remembering what needs to be done. However, lists can be confusing and overwhelming if they’re too long or if you have too many of them in different locations. One good strategy is to keep a master list for each major category you’re focusing on. That could be the different clients you handle, or a list for work and a separate household list. 

When a new task arises, write it down straight away. This ensures you won’t forget the task, but it also prevents you from being distracted by the new task. Once it’s on your list, you can deal with it when you have time. Revise your lists at least weekly, if not daily. Consider assigning due dates to help you manage the tasks that are most urgent first.

3. Build breaks into your work day

Breaks are not time wasted. They’re crucial for recharging your brain so you can be more proactive when you get back to work. Everyone has different limits when it comes to focus. If you can only focus for 20 minutes, then set yourself a 5 minute break every 20 minutes. The key is to work with your brain, not against it.

Consider building more active breaks into your day. Exercise isn’t just good for your physical fitness, it’s also great for your brain. When you exercise, your brain releases dopamine which helps ease stress, improves impulse control and can even boost your working memory. Try going for a walk during your lunch break, doing a set of jumping jacks every 30 minutes or pacing the room while you’re trying to solve a problem. 

4. Create a routine

Routines are sequences of activities that we do everyday and know by heart. Once you have an established routine, you don’t have to think hard about what to do next – it comes naturally. Routines can help you stay on track and on time, and may help you remember things you might otherwise forget. 

If you find yourself running late in the mornings, try following a morning routine such as getting up, having a shower, getting dressed, eating breakfast, then brushing your teeth. Some people also find it helpful to set timers and alarms to help them move onto the next task when they need to.

5. Give yourself buffer time

Many people with ADHD have trouble estimating how much time something will take. If you find yourself always running out of time, or scrambling to finish work tasks at the last minute, try giving yourself more buffer time when you schedule tasks. For example, you might think it will take you 20 minutes to reply to your emails in the morning before a meeting. Instead of scheduling 20 minutes, double the time. The extra minutes will make sure you can handle any unexpected interruptions that no doubt will arise.

6. Ask for workplace accommodations

Workplace accommodations can help you feel more confident and supported while you’re at work and may even reduce some of the stress surrounding time management. In Australia, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations in the workplace to help employees do their job safely and properly. 

Workplace accommodations are highly individual, depending on what you need and what works for you. If you get easily distracted by visual and auditory stimuli, your boss might allow you to face your desk to the wall and use noise cancelling headphones. If you work better with supervision, regular check-ins with your manager might help. Your employer may invest in time management software or scheduling apps that help you manage your tasks better.

7. Get support

If you’re struggling to cope at work, it’s important to reach out for help. If you’re comfortable speaking with your boss or supervisor, they may be willing to make changes in the workplace to help you manage better. 

If you’re living with ADHD unable to hold down a job or struggling to find work that’s right for you, you could be eligible for government-funded disability employment assistance. Participants get tailored support to find job opportunities and access workplace accommodations to succeed in their role.

What’s next?

Time management can be a challenge when you have ADHD. Self management techniques like creating a routine, using lists and giving yourself buffer time are all great first steps. Also try speaking with an employment coach or therapist to help you build skills and strategies that work for you.