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ADHD at Work

Can't decide what to do, so don't do anything

I started my job two years ago. Not only was the position new to the (small) organization, so was the “department,” and I have basically designed the position and the “department” from the ground up over the course of the past two years. I put “department” in quotes because I am the whole “department”—I am the business manager, the project manager, the analyst, the administrator, etc. I also serve all these functions across a wide range of topics—they all go together, but in a larger organization there would perhaps be sub-managers for each, with their own analysts, admin, etc.—a team—working under them.

So at any point in time I have around 5 different projects/programs I’m working on and a bunch of different tasks under each. The tasks run the gamut from tedious research or data mining to quantitative analysis, to procuring outside consultants, to designing admin processes, to executing admin processes, to preparing presentations for board meetings, to writing up plans and budgets for next year, etc.

Most of these tasks require some level of time and focus, and most of the time, none of them are usually immediate priorities. Because I am both the boss and the underling of the department, I usually just have long term timelines, mostly of my design. All the programs/projects/tasks are usually of almost equal importance.

So when I come into work in the morning, I don’t know what to work on, and therefore waste most of the day doing nothing. When I do pick something and work on it, I feel like I chose wrong and I should switch to something else the next day. I have so many different things vying for my time, I feel like I can’t give anyone of them the undivided attention they each require. Sometimes I start working on something and hope to spend a chunk of time on it, but something else comes up that interrupts and by the time I get back to the original thing I was working on (days, weeks, even months later) I forget where I left off and pretty much have to start over.

To make matters worse, among all the functions I listed, there are some I am good at and find interesting and others I have no desire to do. I really don’t like the process design, admin, nitty gritty type of work—I prefer the more academic-type analysis type tasks. So when I feel like the priority is a process design task, I procrastinate on it and thus procrastinate on everything else in the process. Switching gears between all these different functions and topics and just really, really tough for me too. If I have to spend half a day doing program admin or data mining, it’s hard for me to pick up one of my “higher pay grade” thinking-type tasks for a few hours in the afternoon. I also sort of resent having to serve all these different functions, because no one person should ever be expected to have all these different positions at once.

So I just want to know if anyone can suggest anything for how to choose what to do every day and motivate myself to do it. I have a huge white board on my wall with all the different projects and what needs to be under each of them, but it’s hard to pick one and stick with it both mentally and logistically. Hiring people to work under me is not an option.


A wise man once said, “if everything is important, then nothing is.”

I’m in a similar position where I’m the “boss” as well as the one responsible for executing “the boss’s” plan. It’s difficult to wear so many different hats as you know. I utilize a concept called “time blocking” to help me stay on track.

Time blocking is a method of calendar organization where you block out chunks of time and only focus on what you’ve assigned that block. An oversimplified version of this would be if you used Mondays to accomish one aspect of your work, Tuesdays another aspect, etc.

That’s just to give you an idea. A more applicable time blocking system would be for you to block out your day in 2-3hr chunks and work on more than one area each day so nothing falls behind. The blocks don’t have to be equal size either. If you only need 1 hr a day to keep up one aspect, then only block 1 hr for it. Conversely, if an aspect of your job requires 4 hrs then block accordingly.

Also, I find it helps to have a different time blocking schedule each day. Or at least alternate them. So MWF would have the same order or content and Tues/Thurs would be different.

The beauty of this is that you get to create and mold/shape it however you want. It keeps things interesting and helps break up the monotony of the day. Also, for those dreaded tasks you can’t stand, it’s easier to jump in if you know you’ll only have to do it for 2 hrs or 1 hr etc.

One problem we ADDers have is hyper focus. Time blocking allows you to harness your ability to hyper focus if you let it which will turn a negative aspect of ADD into a positive skill that leads to success!

Hope this works for you!  grin

Posted by Yoder327 on Sep 02, 2014 at 10:51pm

ADHD experts often advise to work on one project to completion, then move on to the next ( If all your projects are equally important with no deadlines, maybe that could work for you.

My other thought is to plan out what type of task you’ll do when throughout the workday, much as the member above described, but the schedule would be the same every day. Maybe you accomplish one step in each project each day. If they are all equally important, do them in alphabetical order, then you’re not wasting time trying to decide where to start. Or maybe you have 5 projects and each weekday is devoted entirely to one project.

To be more productive, you need to create a system that decides what to work on for you.

Good luck!
ADDconnect Moderator, Author & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Sep 04, 2014 at 1:08pm

It sounds like you are in both a great position, and a difficult position at the same time, LLB!

That “ADD Quicksand” you’re describing is something I hear a lot about (and can relate to myself as well)!  Overwhelmed, don’t know where to start, and we get stuck—often until some outside force creates some kind of stimulation like a deadline or some kind of “fire” to be dealt with.

There are so many different ways to help ourselves through that, but one thing that I picked up on from your post that may be of help is to think about your “stuck” place of inertia in terms of Executive Function (EF) , and use that as a reason to start to do things a little bit differently. 

Without going too far down an EF rabbit hole here, it’s important to understand that planning (determining priorities, deciding what to do, etc) is a very EF-intensive activity.  It requires a lot of mental processing and energy (sometimes both physical and mental energy).  Getting started on something and doing it (which EF theorists call “Activation”) is also a very EF-intensive activity.  When we try to do the deciding and the doing in the same span of time, we often get overwhelmed and shut down—frozen—and inertia sets in.

Any time you can separate the “planning” (deciding) from the “doing” (or Activation),  you’re going to need a whole lot less energy/processing to accomplish what you need to accomplish.  I always recommend my clients create the habit of setting their intentions for the next day, at some point later in the work day.  Pick just a few (reasonable!) things that you absolutely intend to accomplish tomorrow, and set them apart from the rest of the stuff on the white board. (Of course, you’re a grown-up and “the boss of you”, so you can change your mind if you really, really want/need to!  So don’t let your mind play tricks on you and tell you it’s too confining or restrictive to decide today what you intend to do tomorrow!)

When tomorrow comes,  you don’t have to get caught up in deciding and choosing priorities, you just have to start doing.  And if you need to change what you’re going to do, try to separate the “planning/deciding” from the “doing/activation” by some kind of real break in attention—taking an actual break to refresh/recharge, or doing some “easier” tasks that don’t tax you so much.

Also, how you record/think about the tasks you intend to do is also really important. Try to focus on next steps in a project, rather than looking at the entire project.

I hope something in there helps!  It’s kind of hard to explain in this forum!

Best of luck,

Lynne Edris, ACG
Life & ADHD Coach

Posted by ADD_Coach_Lynne on Sep 10, 2014 at 6:46pm

I could have written almost every word on this post. That’s me and my job exactly. I wish I had answers for you—but wanted to let you know you’re not alone.

Posted by Windowfriend on Oct 07, 2014 at 5:59pm

Thank you Lynne! Actually many of the things you mention are the things that I have learned to do naturally. Since I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 30, I came up with a lot of “executive function” techniques on my own. They may not be sleek and pretty, but usually, I’m not that bad at this type of thing.

My current process is the white board is the big picture. It shows each project I am working on in a column, and then then rows are the next steps for each project. Each column is a different color. At the end of the day, I write the priorities for the next day on a small dry erase pad on my desk. On fridays I write the major tasks for next week so I don’t forget over the weekend. The problem is I’ll have all this lined up, but I’ll come in in the morning and there will be an email from a consultant I’m working with asking me to review something that they want to get out by the end of the day, or there will be questions from my boss that he needs for a meeting, etc.

My natural inclination is to finish one thing before moving to the next. Most of my career before this was in research consulting, and this was probably the one thing about the consulting atmosphere that worked for me. I am a big fan of “clearing” things and crossing them off lists. I have a problem focusing on the more in depth, time consuming analysis and writing when I have the little annoying tasks that pop up waiting in my inbox. I feel like I have to address those, and then I never get back to the larger stuff.

The other problem is I do have a lot of control over my schedule, but not enough. We have this very active board that doesn’t really follow a schedule. So I’ll be working on a major project that has to be done by the end of the year, and I’ll really get going on it, and my boss will come over and say that the board wants to discuss something else next week, and can I do a “quick” analysis for their meeting. I work in the public sector, so I also have a bunch of busy bodies asking pulling away my focus all the time. Over the past two years I have worked very hard to quell the outside requests for my attention, but they’re always going to be there.

I don’t mean to just keep complaining. I’m really not ignoring any of these suggestions. I just feel like all my best attempts to use the usual techniques just fail due to outside forces. The thing is, I really shouldn’t be stressed about any of this. My job should be relatively low stress, and it’s not really hard to impress my boss. But I come from a background where it is imperative to be a professional and to be productive and meet deadlines, and that’s really hard to shake once you’ve been indoctrinated to it.

Posted by LLB827 on Nov 14, 2014 at 3:52pm

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