Skip to Content

What does ADHD feel like at work?

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a neurological disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that impairs a person’s ability to function at school, work and in relationships.

Some key symptoms of ADHD include:

  • Difficulty paying attention and staying focused
  • Being easily distracted
  • Having a hard time organizing tasks and activities
  • Being forgetful about daily tasks
  • Fidgeting and having trouble sitting still
  • Talking excessively
  • Having difficulty waiting your turn
  • Interrupting others frequently

ADHD makes it challenging to manage time, stay organized, get started on tasks, remember details, and control impulses and emotions. This can significantly impact a person’s ability to perform and thrive in the workplace.

ADHD and the Workplace

For adults with ADHD, the modern workplace can present many challenges:

  • Open office environments with lots of distractions
  • Juggling multiple projects and priorities
  • Administrative tasks like managing paperwork and emails
  • Staying focused during long meetings
  • Working independently without supervision
  • Meeting deadlines and finishing tasks
  • Remembering details and instructions
  • Organization and time management

Many of these workplace demands tap into the very executive functions that are impaired in people with ADHD. As a result, ADHD symptoms can take a major toll on job performance and success.

Here is a look at some of the common challenges adults with ADHD face at work:

Staying Focused

People with ADHD often have difficulty maintaining attention and concentration, especially on tedious or boring tasks. They may struggle with:

  • Tuning out distractions like phones ringing, coworkers chatting, emails popping up
  • Wandering mind and going down rabbit holes
  • Daydreaming during meetings or while working
  • Working for long stretches without taking breaks

This makes it hard to stay on-task, follow through, and avoid careless mistakes.

Organization & Time Management

ADHD can make it hard to organize your work, manage your time, and meet deadlines. Common issues include:

  • Messy desk and workflow
  • Chronic lateness
  • Missing deadlines
  • Forgetting about meetings
  • Poor planning and prioritization
  • Leaving tasks unfinished
  • Trouble estimating how long tasks will take

People with ADHD often feel like they are scrambling to catch up and putting out fires rather than working proactively.

Impulse Control

ADHD involves deficits with inhibitory control, which can lead to impulsive behaviors like:

  • Interrupting colleagues frequently
  • Blurting things out
  • Difficulty waiting your turn to speak
  • Acting hastily without thinking through consequences
  • Having emotional outbursts

This lack of impulse control can damage work relationships and credibility.

Memory & Task Completion

People with ADHD commonly struggle with:

  • Forgetting tasks, commitments and deadlines
  • Losing track of details and instructions
  • Misplacing objects
  • Leaving tasks unfinished and losing focus

These memory issues and difficulty completing tasks can lead to errors, missed deadlines, and incomplete work.


While hyperactivity tends to decline with age, adults with ADHD may still struggle with:

  • Restlessness and fidgeting
  • Difficulty sitting still for long periods
  • Pacing, tapping, or other disruptive movements
  • Constant snacking or craving stimulation

Excessive movement can make it hard to fit into quiet, sedentary workplaces.

Emotional Impact

In addition to job performance challenges, ADHD can take a heavy toll on mental health and self-esteem:

  • Frustration and discouragement from daily struggles
  • Embarrassment from making mistakes or poor decisions
  • Low morale and lack of confidence in abilities
  • Anxiety from inability to focus or control behavior
  • Fatigue and stress from extra effort to compensate

Adults with ADHD often feel ashamed or like a failure due to their symptoms and struggles. Known as “time blindness,” they feel like they can “see” what needs to be done but can’t make themselves “do” it properly or fast enough. This can severely damage self-worth.

Untreated ADHD is linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, low self-esteem, anger control problems, and emotional dysregulation. The daily difficulties of ADHD in the workplace can exacerbate these issues.

Tips for Managing ADHD at Work

If you have ADHD, here are some strategies to better manage symptoms and thrive at work:

Seek Treatment

Medication and therapy are very effective for many people with ADHD. They can improve focus, organization, emotional control, and skills. Explore medication options and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tailored to ADHD.

Modify Your Time

Struggle with time blindness? Try estimating time in minutes, breaking large tasks into mini-deadlines, using timers and alarms, or working backwards from deadlines. Give yourself more time so you don’t feel rushed and panicked.

Reduce Distractions

Find a quiet workspace away from foot traffic and noise. Wear noise-cancelling headphones or listen to ambient music. Turn off pop-up notifications and limit social media. Close tabs not in use.

Improve Organization

Use planners, sticky notes, and reminders. Organize and declutter your workspace regularly. Make to-do lists with high priorities marked. File paperwork and documents immediately. Schedule and track everything.

Boost Focus

Take regular breaks to recharge mental focus. Exercise and eat protein-rich snacks to increase alertness. Assign tedious tasks at high focus times. Alternate highly creative work with rote work. Move around occasionally.

Minimize Meetings

Long meetings can be kryptonite. Explain attention issues and request standing or walking meetings when possible. Take detailed notes and summarise key decisions. Ask for an agenda beforehand so you can prepare.

Improve Time Management

Block time throughout your day and protect it ruthlessly. Handle each piece of paper only once. Break big projects down into stages with mini-deadlines. Give yourself lead time on assignments and book tasks in your calendar.

Create a Routine

Follow set morning and evening routines so you never wonder “What do I need to do now?” Standardize and streamline repetitive tasks. This frees up mental bandwidth for big picture work.

Disclosing Your ADHD

Should you tell your employer about your ADHD diagnosis? Here are some pros and cons:

Potential Benefits of Disclosing

  • Explain challenges and struggle with certain tasks
  • Request workplace accommodations
  • Get support and resources to improve performance
  • Increase understanding around behaviors
  • Prevent misconceptions that you are careless, lazy or unintelligent

Potential Risks of Disclosing

  • Discrimination or stigma around mental health
  • Labelled as less capable or unreliable
  • Denied opportunities or advancement
  • Treated differently than colleagues
  • Private medical info exposed

Consider your workplace culture, degree of struggles, and potential allies before deciding. Disclosing may provide support and accommodations or it may open you to bias. Seek legal counsel if assistance is denied after disclosing a disability.

Reasonable Accommodations

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees with ADHD are entitled to reasonable accommodations that enable them to perform essential job functions. Typical accommodations may include:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Access to quiet workspace or private office
  • Instructions provided in writing not just verbally
  • More frequent reminders and check-ins
  • Flexible work hours
  • Modified break schedule
  • Permission to work from home
  • Speech-to-text software
  • Screen-reading software
  • Digital organizers and reminders

Explore options that set you up for success and approach your employer or HR department to formally request accommodations. Keep the conversation positive – explain how you want to improve your performance, reduce errors, and contribute more to the company.

Coping Strategies for Coworkers

If you work alongside someone with ADHD, these tips can promote harmony:

  • Educate yourself about ADHD
  • Show empathy, patience and support
  • Speak directly, provide written instructions
  • Break down large assignments into steps
  • Offer praise and positive feedback
  • Listen without judgement
  • Gently redirect tangents
  • Allow methods that work for them
  • Check in frequently on progress
  • Help minimize distractions

With mutual understanding and creativity, teams can find ways to allow everyone’s strengths to shine while minimizing challenges. Focus on talents, not limitations.


ADHD presents daily hurdles for many adults in the workplace. Challenges with focus, organization, memory, and impulse control can significantly impact performance. But a variety of strategies and professional support allows the neurodiversity of ADHD minds to thrive and excel at work. Understanding how ADHD shows up in the workplace leads to more inclusive and effective teams.