How do I make my ADHD brain function in a very NT profession?

New here! Hoping I can get some advice or perspective on how to manage my work situation with my ADHD and other LD’s. I have pretty severe ADHD, Hyperactive, but been leaning a bit more to combined as I’m aging. I also have some other learning disabilities.

I work in a very analytical and strategic role and it’s very much geared to NT kind of mind sets and it moved in a very fast pace. It requires me to constantly have to take in a LOT of information often in areas that I’m not trained in, but have an indirect impact on what I do, and process it very quickly, sometimes in real time.

On the surface it basically is a nightmare for an ADHD brain like mine, but I’ve managed to do very well because I like things structured and am naturally very analytical even though I have to do it in ways that seem odd to other people. I’ve been successful because a lot of what I can do is independent and on a computer so I can work in my own weird ways and have access to the tools I know can help me. Plus I work a lot with people in other locations so I have the advantage of distance and time to get my stuff together.

However, as I’ve been moving up in my career I’m having to work more directly with people in real time, and my timelines are getting shorter and shorter. Recently I was in a training and it became really apparent to me how if I don’t have my computer with me or am in a live group setting with people all my coping strategies fall apart, I become overwhelmed and flustered, and can’t do parts of my job that I otherwise could do very well if I were back in my controlled environment.

My issue in working with others is partially a pressure thing, I get anxious about myself and panic. Same with time, even if it’s enough time to get something done, knowing there’s a limit causes panic and I just can’t think. Mostly though it’s that when I’m working with someone else to solve a problem the way they start talking about it and addressing it makes no sense to me. Then I try to explain my way and it makes even less sense to them and I have no way to explain it. So either it looks like I’m arguing with them on something they may be right about, or that I’m an idiot because I’m not explaining myself right so my contribution gets lost. That’s extra frustrating because verbal communication is a huge strength of mine when I’m feeling calm and in control.

Regarding input of information, I also can’t take notes while listening, while I do better with auditory input, I still miss things or forget, and reading alone takes me longer to process sometimes. Ideally I would have all lectures with a follow along book. This makes it a challenge in meetings and group work.

I’m wondering about what others who work in similar type of environments - heavy information input, lots of meetings and real time collaborations - do to be successful. Are there accommodations you ask for? Do you just openly control the agendas for meetings or ask directly for people to slow down or repeat in meetings, or to circle back on issues after the fact to have process time? Are you open about needing your tools (like your computer or reference information) with you and that if you’re asked for something and don’t have it that you’ll get back to them? How do you manage if that’s not possible?
If you advocate and ask for needed accommodations either formerly or informally, how do you do it so it doesn’t sound like an excuse or that you’re incapable of doing your job or handling more? Do you request these accommodations informally as needed or (for those in the US) get it formally documented through HR under the ADA? And if so, how has that worked and what do you ask for?

Thanks in advance for any support or advice on how I can address this and stay successful.

  1. I don’t ask for specific accommodations where I work. That being said, I have taken time to inform people I frequently interact with that I struggle with things like memory and will be distracted at times or get lost in thought. I do make adjustments to my work setting such as listening to music, closing my door, mitigating distractions, etc. I’m fortunate enough to have an office so I can do some of that. I will sometimes inform people when I’m closing my door so they know I’m working and not being antisocial.

  2. I don’t have much control of meeting agendas. At meetings I do usually take things with me to scribble or doodle on to stay engaged. I have always struggled paying attention to lectures or speakers, so having something like that helps me listen. That being said, it’s never a bad idea to use your phone to record meetings or lectures and listen to them later, possibly on the drive home in your car or when you have time in your work space later to then take notes. It can be useful because you can control how long you listen to it, and maybe do it in 10-15 minute chunks so you don’t completely burn out. I will also follow-up with people after the meeting either in person or via e-mail to make sure I got the information correct. I will even let them know that I may forget things that happen at meetings and encourage them to give me reminders or to help hold me accountable to tasks that are assigned.

  3. I mentioned taking things to meetings above. I don’t have a computer to take with me, and I don’t use my work phone very much at all. I do tell people when I don’t have answers or information and will have to get back to them.

  4. If advocating for accommodations, explain it like, “I work better when…” or “Sometimes it helps me be more productive and stay on task if…” Tell them what you need to best support you without directly asking for an “accommodation.” You don’t need to disclose a diagnosis or symptoms, but let them know that you are someone who may get distracted by external noises or phone calls, someone who needs to use different methods to commit things to memory, or someone who engages best when challenged and working on projects independently.

Not sure that answers the questions well, but those are some general thoughts.

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I think this can be an interesting challenge for us brains. When we have the mechanisms in place to help us function we can be unstoppable but when our careers progress sometimes we might have problems taking those tools along with us.

Without knowledge of your work it’s a little hard to provide any deeper advice but I have a few points that might make it easier.

Trust your experience in the short term. If in meetings you need to offer solutions or opinions do it based on your experience. But also point out that you need to confirm details before you would be happy for your ideas to be put into actions. I do this A LOT. And I make no apologies when I go back and change my stance. It’s better to review and get the best answer than it is to stand by an initial proposal that is either wrong or not the best option. People will learn to trust your judgment if your a willing to change your stance based on evidence. Taking time to work something out if presented the right way can be viewed as diligence rather than any sort of deficit.

I have the worst hand writing and spelling. So taking hand written notes is not an option for me. So I take my iPad and I am NEVER without it. I type notes I use the calendar and if need be I will make voice recordings or pictures. Some people are a bit funny with being recorded so make sure everyone is happy before you start. And read the situation if people say it’s fine but clearly they seem uncomfortable just let it go. That will build trust with the people you work with. Once you have all the information take it away process it arrange it and then SHARE IT with anyone involved. Just the facts of the meeting not your personal thoughts about anything just the facts. Trust me people will learn to love you for this.

If you need something repeated just ask for it. You just can’t do your job without the information you need.

And another very useful tool in my bag of tricks is that I have a loose policy of not discussing potential options in depth at meetings. I try set up meetings in a way that a problem is presented. The loose options are gone over and then tasks allocated. Everyone goes away has a think about what is needed for their piece of the problem gets a couple of options dose basic due diligence with anyone else involved and then everyone comes back together and puts forward what they have. This reduces the amount of non relevant information you have to deal with and saves heaps of time that would be wasted in meetings listening to people running ideas past a bunch of people that probably don’t care or don’t have anything valid to contribute but will chime in anyway.

And I think the best advice I can give is just do what you need to do your job. Your career is progressing because you are able to do your job and someone recognises this. You will develop skills and strategies to work through it. There is absolutely no point not putting tools into place if the other option is constant struggle or worse failure through inaction.