Working through your ADD

Working when you have ADD can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. J.R. Reed gives you the lowdown on how to conquer your job.

Note: ADD and ADHD are two separate things but there are many similarities and for purposes of this post I’m calling it ADD.

If you think your job sucks you’re not alone. The person with ADD (of which I am one) can find it difficult if not impossible to hold down a job and enjoy their time at work. Tell me if this sounds familiar.

After a year of college I decided to take a semester off to work and save some money. That semester lasted nineteen years and during my sabbatical from academia I worked my way up from Hyundai sales guy to being a sales manager, finance manager and Internet Director, setting up successful Internet sales departments.

To be clear, “Hyundai sales guy”” was back when they were considered one step above a Yugo. Not very glamorous.

Auto dealerships are full of distractions and stress, two things that will kill the ADDer. It doesn’t matter if you’re the lot rookie and still fall for “Wanna go get me a Slurpee?  I’ll watch the lot while you’re gone” or if you’re the sales manager, your ADD will be super-charged in that environment.

Imagine the stress you feel when you lose a file or some paperwork you needed to turn in. Now imagine that file is someone’s car loan and the paperwork you didn’t turn was for the DMV and the only way they forgive the dealership is with a credit card over the phone. That money will absolutely be missing from your check next week because “We didn’t screw the pooch. You did.”

Now imagine how humiliated you feel when your boss is constantly in your face and makes sure everyone knows what a &*^%$# you are. It sucks to try your hardest and still fall short.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. I found ways to cope at work and you can too. Lets look at a few common problems for us.


As your tasks pile up you begin to feel overwhelmed. As soon as you start something your phone rings and you take care of the person on the phone so you can get it over with and not add it to the garbled list on a piece of random paper.

Before the call is complete there is someone hovering over your desk with a task you need to get done yesterday.

Maybe they just want to talk about the football game last night or how your boss must somehow be related to the owner. Either way it’s a distraction. To this day I firmly believe that one of my bosses had some sort of smoking gun on the owner of the dealership. He made the captain of the Titanic look like a genius.

When you finally finish up with your visitor you go back to the pile of papers on your desk and try to remember what you were working on. Eventually you stare at the wall or otherwise space out as you attempt to piece it together but you rarely piece it back the way it was. Wall staring is normally the cue for someone important to walk by and make a crappy remark about your laziness.


Is fifteen minutes late known as “Insert Your Name” time? Do people tell you the meeting is at 8:45 rather than 9:00 so that you don’t interrupt it with your delayed arrival? This is an easily remedied situation and all you need is to get into the habit of always putting your keys in the same place as soon as you walk in the door and set an alarm.

I keep my keys on a hook near the front door and I make it a policy to do hang them on it as soon as I walk in. If I have my hands full of groceries I don’t toss them on the counter to hang as soon as I put everything away; I do it as soon as I set the bags down.

I also make sure that I set an alarm for the morning.  If you have a schedule where you get up at the same time most days then re-set your alarm as soon as you turn it off. This way you know it’s on.

I use Google calendar for everything and it saves my life. I try and schedule my day in blocks of forty-five minutes or an hour and set alerts for three minutes before the task switches. I also schedule a fifteen-minute break in the morning and one in the afternoon. Our ADD brains need the rest. I also schedule an alarm for lunch because I can get focused on my work and next thing I know it’s 4:40 and I’m cranky because I’m starved.

When we get distracted we end up having to rush at the last moment in an attempt to possibly get the project turned on time. Ish. The work we turn in will probably be sloppy at best and chances are better than 50/50 that there are glaring errors. This can lead to reprimand, being mocked by coworkers or even termination.


Speaking of coworkers, those with ADD don’t play the office politics game very well. It’s partially because we don’t understand it and partially because we just can’t help ourselves.

Unwritten rules are the worst for us. We tend to be visual people and don’t always pick up on the unspoken. When we break the unwritten rule it adds to our low self–esteem which we were recently reminded of when we misplaced something important. Check out this prime example of how an unwritten rule can affect us. This actually happened to me and I’ve changed the name simply because I thought this one was better.

I needed to put in a vacation request and went to my office manager, Marge, with my request. Another coworker turned his in three days after I did but his was approved right away. When I saw his approved the same day and mine wasn’t I assumed that I did something to upset my office manager.

It turns out that Marge likes me but she has a thing for warm icing and grease. The unwritten rule is that if you bring her a warm dozen from Krispy Kreme she will get it done just as soon as the licks the last of the icing from the box.

If a dozen hot glazed from Krispy Kreme will get us the hook up we need to know about it.



When it comes right down to it, stress is the thing that does us in at work. Distractions, tardiness, forgetfulness and focus combine into one ugly monster. If we want to shank that monster we need to spend some time on this and write down the problems we have at work so we can figure out how we can work around them. Once we have a game plan we can take that to whoever can help you put that plan into action.

You need to find a way to get yourself in an environment as free of distractions as you possible can. If you have an office see if you can close the door for a bit in the morning and afternoon so that you can work without being disturbed. If you can set your phone to go straight to voicemail during that period it’s even better.

I have my workspace set up in the corner of my brother’s industrial building and don’t have a door to close so I keep headphones on. Sometimes I have music on and other times I don’t. Others just assume I can’t hear them and it’s easier to focus on my work when people don’t stop to talk.

If you can’t find a way to have an optimal work environment because your boss says no it may be time to look elsewhere. If you have the ability to go into business for yourself you might want to consider that. Many of our ADD brethren and sistern have done this with good results.


There are simply cost-effective ways to help you manage your ADD in the workplace. The first is one of the coolest free apps around, Evernote. Evernote allows you to make quick notes on whatever you need and stores them in notebooks. I have a notebook for Good Men Project, one for personal, and various others. You can also “Clip” online articles and web pages and store them in your notebook. This is great for when you come across something that would normally distract you. With one click of a button on your phone or computer you can save it and get back to what you were doing.

I would not get through the day without Google Calendar and Google Docs. There are other calendars that you can use and which are probably good but I use Google because it integrates with my Google account and because I can share events with others involved. Knowing that others are ready for appointments is a big help because it cuts down on worry and wondering if I told everyone about the meeting.

Google Docs allows me to always have what I need with me and ADDers know that forgetting things is how we roll. If we forget something it’s right at our fingertips.

If you have projects that you work on either solo or with a group I strongly suggest using Podio. It’s free for up to five members and can be used by you to schedule and plan your work even if none of your team members take advantage of it. With it I can budget my time, set deadlines and check the status of whatever I’m working on.

The one thing I would be absolutely lost with is my whiteboard. I use it to sketch out designs for websites I’m building, make notes about blog posts and to brainstorm. At four foot by six foot it’s easily the biggest tool in my shed.

What are the problems you face as an adult with ADD? Are there things you use as coping mechanisms to get through your day? Please share them with us.

Next week we look at how ADD affects your social life and friendships.


Photo of man with sign courtesy of Shutterstock.

About J.R. Reed

J.R is a full-time single dad attempting to raise a 14-year-old daughter without providing too many stories to relay to her future therapist. He is also the creator of the popular blog, Sex and the SIngle Dad. A former radio talk show host and color commentator, he’s also an off-the-hook cook, a bit of an argyle-loving dork and has a word in Urban Dictionary. J.R. has a serious guacamole addiction and a torta dealer named Danny.

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