It is no secret that I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I was diagnosed when I was about 10 years old and was on Ritalin from 14 years old until I started attending University.
After starting University, I gradually stopped taking medication, as I had developed enough coping strategies to get by.
A few weeks ago, Debs G put me in contact with a woman who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and wanted to know more about living with it. Since we at Owls Well believe in sharing information, I’ve decided to share with everyone what I told her about how I manage my ADHD behaviour as an adult.
That being said, while the tips below work extremely well for myself, they may not necessarily apply to everyone with ADHD. What I do works well for me because of various factors including personality, learning style and what I can get away with at the office.
I would recommend using these tips as a vague guide for a starting baseline. How you eventually manage your ADHD will evolve over time and depends strongly on what you feel comfortable with.
Debs G’s Note: The tips below are not a guide to behaving “normally”, they are methods used in order to focus the mind and function at an optimal level in order to improve work performance. If you do not have ADHD, these tips will not help you in the slightest.
1. Practise Careful Medication Management
If you are taking medication, I would strongly urge you to take it regularly as per your prescription and NOT as and when it is needed. It takes a while for your body to get used to the medicine, so taking it randomly tends to leave you with weird moodswings and periods of highs and lows. Set an alarm on your phone or a reminder in your Outlook or fancy gadget watch to make sure that you take it on time everyday.
On the flip side, if you miss ONE dose, don’t be tempted to “make it up” by taking it outside of the normal time you would take it, especially if it’s afternoon or evening. I once took a Ritalin pill in the afternoon instead of the morning and became unable to sleep for the whole night!
Also, don’t cut the pills, even if you have a fancy pill cutter. The ADHD medications often have slow-release coatings that prevent your body from metabolising the medicine too quickly. When I was in boarding school, I had difficulty swallowing one of my Ritalin pills due to a sore throat. The nurse cut the pill in half to help me get it down. I then spent the rest of the day in the sick bay high as a kite, with a splitting migrane as my body processed 20mg of Ritalin in one go. I could have ended up in the hospital.
2. If Your Mind Wanders, Do Something with Your Hands
Let’s face it, meetings are the bane of people with ADHD. The very thought of having to sit still for more than 5 minutes is enough to drive me up the wall. Unfortunately, Meetings are a necessary part of the corporate world and there aren’t many workplaces that won’t have some.
If you find your mind wandering during a meeting, give your hands something to do. I find that if you’ve got something tactile to deal with, you’ll often focus a little better. I live in Australia, where strange behaviour at meetings is pretty much the norm, so my boss doesn’t care if I’m knitting during meetings. However, if you have a stricter boss, consider bringing a notepad to doodle on, or one of those squishy stress ball things to squeeze (and possibly destroy).
3. Whistle While You Work
Okay, don’t literally whistle while you work. I used to whistle during Secondary School when I did Math. It disrupted everyone else’s work, but helped me focus on the task at hand.
That being said, Snow White is correct in one aspect. Having a song helps you set the pace, especially when you’re doing something mundane or boring. I find that listening to something like a podcast, audio book or even some good music helps to engage any extra mental energy I have and helps distract me from the mundanity of what I’m doing.
4. Post-it Notes and Stickers are Your Best Friend
I have post-it notes EVERYWHERE in my office. They’re on my desk, on my drawers, on my paperwork and on my monitors. I use bright coloured notes to help me keep track of what I have and don’t have to do. And when tasks are done, I simply toss them into the wastepaper basket. Easy peasy.
Little animal stickers work well for me to. I put them on things that need daily attention, like my toothbrush.
5. E-Numbers are NOT your Friend
I once wrote about how red cordial makes you crazy. Well, it does and so will all sorts of artificial food colourings. This goes double if you’re on medication. I don’t know why this is, but every time I ate or drank something that had food colouring in it, I became crazy hyperactive. Don’t do it. Don’t drink the cordial.
6. Eat What You Want, but Live Healthy
That being said, there’s a lot of dietary guides out there claiming that one food or another can help with your ADHD. With the exception of artificial food colourings (as documented above), I’ve found that my attention span is the same whether I eat chocolates, sweets, fatty or fried foods, or anything classified as junk, or whether I eat healthy salads and low-fat foods.
It’s the same with fish oils. People used to give me all sorts of fish oil or vitamin supplements to help me with my “concentration issues” and honestly, I didn’t see any difference between my behaviour when I was taking them regularly and when I didn’t. The only vitamin supplement that I do take regularly is Vitamin D, which is for reasons entirely unrelated to my ADHD. But hey, if you feel that there’s a difference, by all means, go ahead and take them, it’s unlikely to do any harm.
One thing I do highly recommend is regular exercise, though. Keeping healthy is always important and exercising works off extra energy. If you have difficulty concentrating at the gym, I find that doing unconventional exercises and sports like pole dancing, yoga, trapeze, ballroom dancing or fencing tends to be more interesting!
7. You do You! Confidence is Key!
One of the most important things to remember with ADHD is not to let yourself feel shame for anything that’s unimportant to the overall quality of your work. I used to feel super-bad about my messy desk at work, which caused me no end of distress.
However, over time, I’ve realised that having a messy desk is more useful to me than having a neat one, since everything I need is within arm’s reach. As long as my desk never gets unhygenic and the overall quality of my work is good, then I’m fine.
Don’t sweat the small things. When you make mistakes, look into how you can deal with the mistake immediately, and prevent it in the future. If you beat yourself up over every careless mistake, you’ll end up so distracted looking for mistakes that you’ll overcompensate for them and end up in a worse situation than the one you began with. Go easy on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.
Be proud of who you are. ADHD is not a failure on your part. It’s just a part of you.
8. If You’re Good at What You Do, You can Get Away with ANYTHING.
A lot of things in ADHD come down to discipline and feeling comfortable in your own skin. In many ways, it’s easier once you have your diagnosis because knowing that you have ADHD allows you can build tools to deal with your problems. I’ve found that the most irritating aspects of the condition lessened a lot as I became more confident and comfortable with myself.
At the end of the day, if you consistently produce good work at work, you’ll find that your managers and coworkers will give you more space to practise your coping mechanisms. Heck, when I was doing my Masters, my lecturers and tutors turned a blind eye to the fact that I was constantly playing video games during class because I was always well prepared and actively participated in discussions!