30 July 2019

5 ways to cope with adult ADHD at work

While there are several effective ways to treat and manage adult ADHD, work could still be a major challenge.

While we tend to associate ADHD with young children, the condition is also quite prevalent in adults.

According to research published in the South African Medical Journal, up to 65% of children with ADHD will carry on displaying symptoms into adulthood. 

And although the condition can be successfully managed through a variety of methods, such as medication, lifestyle factors and therapy, it can still be difficult to cope with ADHD in a work environment.  

Poor organisational and productivity skills are often associated with adult ADHD and can have a negative impact on one's career. Because adult ADHD is often misdiagnosed and the symptoms may differ from childhood ADHD, it will show up in a way that others might view as laziness or an inability to do one’s work properly.

Besides seeing a psychiatrist with experience in the field and taking the correct medication, here are a number of coping strategies that may help at work:

1. Minimise your main distractions

Open-plan offices can be a challenge to productivity for everyone, not only those with adult ADHD.

Unfortunately, large, noisy environments are the reality for many employees. Minimise distractions by asking if you could be moved to a quieter section of the floor, de-clutter your desk regularly and turn off all email and social media alerts while you focus on the task in front of you.

Allocate yourself a certain amount of time for a task – and when the time is up, take a couple of minutes to check emails or social media. Invest in a good pair of headphones to drown out the noise around you.

2. Learn how to plan and organise

Nowadays, email software and mobile phones have all the functions necessary to help you organise your day. Make lists; set up a daily planner; send yourself reminders; make notes on your phone; and set an alarm if you need to remember commitments.

3. Make lifestyle changes

Healthy eating habits and exercise are a vital part of ADHD management. A low-GI diet as well as omega-3 supplements are recommended. Half the battle is won once you're informed about your condition.

“There’s no reason why a person with ADHD shouldn’t lead a normal life,” sufferer Kim Coppen said in a previous Health24 article. “But you must understand the condition. Then you’ll also understand the patterns, recognise the symptoms and manage them on the spot.”

You can incorporate healthy lifestyle choices at work with a little bit of planning. Pack healthy meals and snacks to stay energised and enhance your concentration – avoid highly processed meals and snacks full of saturated fat and sugar.

You can also make the most of lunch breaks by going for a walk around the block and getting away from your desk.

4. Be mindful of your interpersonal skills

Learning skills such as conflict management, anger management and organisation may be helpful in an office environment where you need to cope with a variety of conflicts and difficult scenarios.

Therapy may help you deal better with stress and anxiety. Your self-image may also need rehabilitation as many people with ADHD blame themselves instead of their condition for failures.

It is also helpful to learn coping techniques when dealing with a difficult situation at work – learn how to breathe and meditate before confronting someone, and allow yourself to leave your desk and first go somewhere where you can clear your head.

If you are diagnosed with ADHD, it may also help to disclose your condition to colleagues. Explain the situation and educate them so that they can be better equipped to understand you.

5. Do what you can, one day at a time

Those with ADHD tend to aim for perfection and may want to do everything all at once. But psychologist Peter Collins says it’s fine to aim for second best and to scale down perfectionism.

Make big tasks less daunting by breaking them into smaller pieces and by focusing on one segment at a time. Ticking smaller tasks off a list can also be mentally rewarding and help you to focus on what’s in front of you, instead of constantly worrying about the bigger picture.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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