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12 tips to survive ADD in the workplace

By: | January 8, 2013
Categories filed under: Business

man_with_addGrowing up, ADD wasn’t a widely known problem. It was mostly associated with young kids who bounced off walls and drove their parent’s nuts, but not so much for older children and adults. ADD is something I have struggled with my entire life and why even though my IQ is in the 140s, it was and still is extremely difficult for me to read a chapter in a book and have any clue about what I have read. My grades definitely showed that and a lot of my work history did as well.

It was hard enough coping with ADD in the workplace before with the Internet, IM and email, but now we have smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. There are also so many blogs and news sites out there now, that there is a crazy amount of content being produced per minute. In fact, I would guess that most of the people who are reading this article right now are actually at work.

Below are some tips that can really improve your work performance whether you have ADD or not because technology and social media have made the workplace a plethora of distractions.

  1. Realizing that you can lack focus: I knew I had both ADD and a lack of focus throughout the day, but not until I put some data behind it. I have always been a workaholic and 14-hour days are pretty norm for me. What I didn’t realize at the time though, was even though I was technically working 14 hours a day, I wasn’t really getting much done. Even though I was in front of my computer and doing work stuff, I was often distracted on Facebook or working on an idea. It was equivalent to an NFL football game. Sure I am on the field for 2.5 hours, but the actual time on a play is minutes. So first ask yourself and even write a journal on what you accomplished that day.
  2. Separating social media time with work time: Social media can just be for recreation, it can be part of your job and it can also be all of it. Regardless of the reason you are on it, it can be extremely distracting and I place it as probably the most distracting. This has helped me tremendously. Instead of working and popping in and out of Facebook and Twitter all day, I schedule it. The schedule will vary depending on how much your work is involved with social media. I schedule 5-10 (depending on the day) minutes every 1.5 hours for social media. That is all I do; I don’t check emails, I don’t do regular work, I don’t use the phone, this is social media time. I try to respond to all tweets and Facebook comments and create some of my own. Even for my personal stuff, it is like a treat. You work hard for this amount of time and you get to play for 5-10 minutes, etc. Be extremely careful with associating “work” with social media. Even if managing your social media accounts has to do with your job description and you use it for business development. There are other things to do like calling potential or old customers, creating proposals and so forth. The more you toggle, the more you end up being on Facebook for an hour. Get in and out; all with purpose. You will accomplish SO much more with both work AND on social media.
  3. Start of the day social media management: The trick to staying focused is to limit distractions. So one of the things I try to do every morning is take 20 minutes (or whatever amount of time as long as it is pre-scheduled) and schedule tweets (take advantage of being able to tweet all day without being there), create and schedule Facebook posts for work and myself. I try to hammer it all out before I start the workday, so even though it could appear I am on social media all day, it is all a mirage.
  4. CAFFEINE: We often associate coffee with waking you up if you are tired, etc. What it also does is trigger focus and it is a big component in some ADD medications because of it. That said, if you drink too much of it you will crash. Maybe try experimenting with a cup of coffee after lunch when your focus is going a bit haywire. My personal experience, soft drinks can sometimes have a negative effect because of the chemicals. That could just be me though.
  5. Work out before work: Sometimes I need to do way more of it, but working out charges your brain and puts you into a positive, focused frame of mind.
  6. Cell Phone in the drawer: I keep my iPhone in my desk drawer versus on the desk, because when it is on the desk I keep looking at it, thinking of who I need to call or email, get text messages. I will usually take a look at it during social media time.
  7. Scheduled email time: This is huge and one I need to constantly work on. I am so used to emailing a client back within 30 seconds that it is hard to give up. The truth is, a client can most likely wait 20 minutes for a response. This really depends on what is going on that day, but if I have a deadline or something I need to get finished, I just turn off my email and do a quick check every hour. Most times people aren’t waiting for an hour, because not everyone is emailing you the exact minute you turned off your email. Then you have 10 emails or more in your inbox, you can just bust them out and get back to work. Emails also can suck, because sometimes it can take you an hour just composing one and all sorts of stuff that can throw you off. So even though it is “technically” work, it doesn’t mean the other work you need to get done, suddenly stops.
  8. Refraining from alcohol: This is actually a big one for me because most of my adult life Happy Hour was what I looked forward to every day. Alcohol for someone with ADD and even someone without can kill your focus completely. Even if it is just one drink. Even when having drinks at night when the workday is over, it can carry over to the morning whether you “feel” it or not. I recently cut out ALL alcohol and my work performance has improved to the point where I am not sure if I will ever have a beer again. This will vary on a lot of things, but something to maybe give a try and see if it personally affects your workday.
  9. The healthy people have a point I guess: I have noticed recently my intake of vegetables and salads has really made my brain do awesome things. Try to not be full during lunchtime or ever if you can help it. If you feel lazy, if you aren’t alert and ready for action, you will turn into a space cadet and be back on Facebook again.
  10. Reading on a tablet device: If you are like me, you constantly have to learn new things for your job. One trick I have learned at night is that I comprehend a lot more when it is dark and I have my tablet in my hands. For three reasons. One, the darkness around me, helps me focus on the content. The lights help my brain focus, like watching television. It is easy to focus on a TV show, but this helps with reading to create the same effect. And three, your computer has email and everything right there. It was what you are normally on when using social media and everything else. Although a tablet has those things as well, there aren’t icons and browser tabs staring at you.
  11. Music tones: I normally have my headphones on when I am working and have noticed that when I am bouncing back from songs with a lot of energy to quieter songs, that lack of consistency triggers my brain to start wandering. This might just be me, but I think it is worth a try to have a consistent flow to a playlist versus all over the place.
  12. Reward yourself with less time working: Wait, what? Maybe you don’t need to work 12 hours or 14 hours a day. What if you spend 8 hours a day just killing it? No social media, no text messages, just pure work. You would be amazed at what might happen. You might end up doing more work in 8 hours than 12-14 hours. Not the same, but even more.


Even with these tips I myself can still struggle with ADD. It is something I will always have and will always have to deal with on a daily basis. But these things have helped me dramatically in surviving the workday.


Nick Harrison

Article written by

Nick Harrison is a creative director for the Chicago-based digital agency Dashal, a company with clients ranging from best-selling authors to major consumer brands.

Nick first started in the digital industry in 1999 as a web developer, and managing online advertising campaigns in the financial industry. Using that background, Nick later began working with companies on their social media and branding strategies.