Managing A Career With Adult ADD (and ADHD)

Frustrated - career management with ADD or ADHDTomorrow is the huge international Personal Branding Summit. See the post from yesterday to see the schedule of speakers. There is no cost to you, just go register and then figure out what sessions you want to call into!

I’m no expert in this, but I thought I would present this e-mail I got from a friend of a friend and see what you think:

In September, I walked away from dissatisfying career in order to venture out on my own as a freelance web designer. Currently I have a full time contract with a company, but it ends in a few weeks and at that point I’ll have to find my own clients. I may get rehired in the spring, but that’s never a sure thing.

Six months ago, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Since then I have been taking medication and recently started seeing a therapist. She said a coach might be able to help me learn to cope with ADD in my life and in my career. I can see that many of the problems I’ve had in my career may have been caused or at least worsened by my ADD. Throughout my life, I have had trouble with time management and motivation. I get distracted easily and end up wasting a major part of my workday on meaningless things. In addition, I’ve always been a terrible procrastinator and a perfectionist, which ends up being an impossible combination. Estimating how long a task should take is also a huge stressor for me, but it’s a required skill for bidding on projects and billing. It’s imperative that I deal with these issues right away. Otherwise, I don’t stand a chance.

If you have any ideas on coaching and coping with ADD in the workplace or know of anyone that I might talk to, it would be much appreciated.

Do you know anything about Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)? Are you successfully managing a career (or your own business) with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? (yes, I know there is a difference between ADD and ADHD) What advice can you offer this person?

24 thoughts on “Managing A Career With Adult ADD (and ADHD)”

  1. I’m going to be following this conversation myself, since I, too am dealing with adult ADHD. Some scattered thoughts to contribute, based on my own background:

    1. I tend to gravitate toward high-stimulus environments.
    2. I have trouble with delayed gratification and also tend toward more immediate stimuli (e.g., instant messages, email notifications, and the like).
    3. I have difficulty in setting goals because I’m afraid of a deadline. I chuckle as I type that because the deadline would create in me the sense of urgency I thrive on.
    4. I was able to mask my ADHD growing up because I was intensely driven to excel in school.
    5. I struggle with having patience enough to read through a book and prefer smaller, bite-size chunks of content to consume.

    So while this post wasn’t specifically about me, I know I appreciate the feedback, too.

  2. Ah, the gifts of ADD / AD/HD… Yes THE GIFTS!

    I have ADD, my son has AD/HD, it runs in my family… AND, I am a Certified Career / Life Coach with special training in AD/HD Coaching.

    We are a creative bunch, full of energy, often too interested in the world to focus on just one thing at a time. We function at the speed of light and then crash. We get bored with routine and the mundane. We may set ambitious goals for ourselves but never quite define milestones or stick to a plan to achieve them. We want results now!

    Eons ago we were the quintessential survivors–ever vigilent about the most subtle changes in our environment and ready to react in the moment to protect ourselves and loved ones, and find sustainance so we could survive. But today our culture often demands a different set of skills and therein lies the problem.

    So we need to develop mechanisms to capitalize on our gifts while conforming to the demands of culturally mandated societal and business norms and protocols.

    Our best friends?…

    First of all a comprehensive planner that we tenaciously use and stick to. It is often said that a good planner is an AD/HD’ers best friend. Also, lists and tools to help us prioritze and stay on course.

    Secondly, we need to get in touch with our internal clocks and the ebb and flow of our individual energy highs and lows. Learning how to “harness our energy” and honor the valleys will help us maxmize our potential and not beat ourselves down when we seem lost in a fog.

    And thirdly we need an accountability partner, whether a coach, a family member (difficult) or friend who will partner with us to establish goals that are REASONABLE for us and who will gently but firmly prod us and encourage us to achieve them, and celebrate our successes.

    Oh, and one last thing… A hook to hang our keys on (or a basket to throw them in) so they’re always in the same place and easy to find when we need to!

  3. One of the BEST RESOURCES for a person with a disability (including ADD-ADHD) is the JOB ACCOMMODATION NETWORK (http://www.jan.wvu.edu/portals/individuals.htm) which provides tremendous tools, resources, and Q & A support by disability for the employment, including self-employment and small business ownership, of people with disabilities. I strongly recommend navigating the full JAN website.

    Additional resources include:

    National Attention Deficit Disorder Association (www.add.org) It is especially focused on the needs of ADDults and young adults with ADD. This site provides a wide range of information about Attention Deficit Disorder and its related challenges.

    Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder – C.H.A.D.D. (www.chadd.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Especially_For_Adults). C.H.A.D.D. is the nation’s largest ADD-related information organization.

    I spent 30 years in the diversity employment arena including on assignment with the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (now the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor). If I can be of some assistance, please contact me.

  4. I believe I can offer some perspective on this as someone with Adult ADD and who is a consultant, trainer and coach. I can identify and empathize with the comments above, and I think the combination of the appropriate medication and behavioral training is essential. I’ve seen people try one and not the other and never with results as good as doing both. So your web designer is on the right track. The one that I would add is working with a coach. Now I realize that may sound self-serving as I provide coaching services, but the point is this: medication and learning new behavior strategies are crucial, but accountability is lacking and if there is one thing ADD and ADHD sufferers need it’s accountability. Usually this is provided initially with the therapist who provides the initial diagnosis and teaches the behavior strategies, but coaching strategies are different. Without going into a long discussion of all that coaching provides, it’s the concept of planning and refining goals together and the person returning each week and reporting progress that makes the difference. Even with meds and new behavioral techniques, it’s still easy for an ADD/ADHD sufferer to be a procrastinator and a perfectionist. Knowing that you have to report your progress at a specific time to a coach lessens those tendencies, and knowing that in a time of extreme stress or when some reassurance is needed that the coach is only a phone call or email away also provides confidence that can hasten needed progress. It’s not about what the coach can do; it’s about what the coach can get the client to do and accomplish.

    I have done all this myself and I know others who have as well, and it works. Your web designer is right: if he/she doesn’t take care of this now, there is very little chance of business success. As a solo practitioner I can attest to that. Coaching is the third leg of the stool after meds and behavior strategies and it will make the difference. Find a suitable and compatible coach right now (don’t procrastinate!).

  5. Hello, I’m a Coach and Consultant working primarily with clients who want to start building their solo business while still in their job and I deal daily with ADD with my family members. I applaud you for seeking help with this and for having the courage to go out on your own.

    What I have seen that works best are concrete stratgies that are routine. For example, using a white board or several white boards that are placed directly in front of you so that you can see at all times what needs to be done. Work on your hardest (for you) work at your best time only. This may be an hour after medication or right after exercise. This might be when you handle detail work. Another option is to consider hiring a Virtual Assistant that you can dictate work too and let them get it into the proper format. Although you may not want to have the extra expense, that can be included in your indirect cost when you budget the project.
    On the positive side, your ADD is probably what allows you to get into this amazinging creative zone and not worry with details at times. Both of my ADD family members are very creative and amazing people.

    Best of luck,
    Elizabeth Partin
    http://www.trueoutcome.com

  6. This is a terrific topic to discuss safely online – thank you for posting this, Jason.

    As a career strategist, I work primarily with adults, many of whom exhibit the symptoms of ADD or ADHD that have never been diagnosed. While labels can have negative connotations, they also offer explanations for behavior that may have been a barrier to success. Younger people are more likely to have been diagnosed during their school years, and may have already learned the coping mechanisms necessary to live and thrive with this syndrome. So what to do about adults in career transition, perhaps exacerbated by ADD or ADHD?

    I think it is important to be respectful of the personality that is fully-formed. Counseling and medication may be helpful, but I am neither a physician nor a therapist and do not venture into those areas. As a strategist or coach, it may be wise to help adults find careers or fields of interest where their natural style is an asset. Fields such as web design may call for creativity, but it is also a field that requires huge attention to detail, a lot of routine work, and can demand long hours at a computer. Maybe that web designer can be encouraged to network with others to explore another related field, e.g. graphic design.
    I’m sure there are even better options; the point is, help the person to celebrate who they are while honing some effective coping strategies.

  7. My friend and colleague, Susan Lynch Gannon, is a career counselor and coach specializing in that adult population. Her email is SMLOD@aol.com, and phone is 914-833-2512. She is in the NY area but works by phone with clients all over the country. She has all the training in the ADD/ ADHD field, as well as coaching.

  8. Another great topic Jason! And one I have yet to see addressed anywhere else.

    All the tips offered by the coaches are wonderful, and these are great tools for coping with the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Matter of fact, those organizational tips should probably be implemented by everyone!

    I am going to offer advice from the perspective of a former mental health counselor. You BEST tool for dealing with the symptoms of ADD/ADHD is to STICK WITH your therapy and most importantly, your medication, NO MATTER WHAT. When you start feeling better, feel like you are getting your life together, you are going to be tempted to stop those time consuming trips to the therapist, and you will insist that those drugs are just not necessary. STICK WITH IT. The reason you are getting better is because of the attention you are giving the treatment of your illness through medication and counseling- accept this fact now. If you stop, you are headed down a slippery slope that will end at rock bottom again, and you will be starting all over again in your treatment. STICK WITH what has been proven to work. Of course, sticking with routines are notoriously difficult for those living with ADD/ADHD, but start now, at the beginning of your treatment, with the mindset that these treatments aren’t short-term. Tell yourself right now that these treatments are FOR A LIFETIME and that they will make you better, and help you live a more fulfilling life. Remind yourself of this every day!

    This is where those tools for keeping accountability play a role in supporting your treatment. Find someone who will “remind” you that you need to stay on course. Someone mentioned that family is not ideal- this is true as you may feel like they are nagging you. Do you have a supportive boss/co-worker? Letting them in on your diagnosis may initially be embarrassing, but can also create an environment of understanding, especially when they hold you to your “goals”. Oh, and STICK WITH YOUR TREATMENT. Did I mention that yet???

  9. One of my clients was recently diagnosed with ADHD. He read two helpful books and purchased them for me to enhance my coaching with him. The two books are “Driven to Distraction” and “Delivered from Distraction.” Also, he has started using a slow-release ADHD medication that is helping him to remain focused.

    I must say that the book “Driven to Distraction” has given me a much greater understanding of what my Mom and sister (who have ADD) have had to deal with.

  10. Drug-Free Treatment for ADD/ADHD and Mood Foods

    If you are interested in drug-free help for ADD/ADHD, consider googling the words: “neurofeedback“, auditory training”, and “sensory training”. Also, there is an organization in California called Attention & Achievement Center, that specializes in treating children and adults with ADD/ADHD and other learning differences. Their website is http://www.drugfreeadd.com and their phone number is 1-925-280-9100.

    Whatever you decide to do, consult your physician and/or therapist to ensure you’ve got the support and guidance you need.

    Okay, so we’ve got behavioral training, therapy, medication, accountability, and coaching. I’d like to offer a sixth suggestion: Mood Foods! I am NOT a therapist and WILL NOT suggest that anyone stop taking their mediation, but I tend to be holistic about my approach to health issues, using mostly natural ingredients and avoiding medications whenever possible. So I was very excited to see the article Saturday, November 3, 2007 in the November issue of the Southwest Airlines Magazine, Spirit. entitled Mood Food, by Jack Challem (to read it on line, go to http://www.spiritmag.com/2007_11/clickthis/11mood.php). Starting on page 63, he writes that there are several foods that will help your mood, provide mental clarity and focus, and help with ADD/ADHD symptoms. Following are four of his tasty ideas.

    Raspberries and Blueberries for mental focus. Challem says these fruits are loaded with fiber, Vitamin C, and polyphenols, which are antioxidants that studies show help with ADHD and hyperactivity symptoms in children and adults. The polyphenols prevent distractions, even during multitasking and lets you accomplish tasks sequentially so you can complete more things, better and faster.

    Wild Alaskan Salmon: Contains chemicals that help regulate your mood. Good protein, B vitamins, and high in Omega 3s (good fats). Serving suggestion: the size of your palm, at least 3 times per week. Particularly good for depression and bipolar disorders.

    Green Tea: Along with black teas, contain theanine, stuff that calms the mind and helps you relax. Theanine helps regulate neurotransmitter activity, sending soothing signals to the brain within 30 to 40 minutes and lasts much longer. Challem suggests that you get the tea with the highest quality theanine. Unfortunately, he didn’t recommend a particular brand to try.

    Cauliflower and Broccoli: Two of my favorite vegetables. Mom was right. Eat your veggies! According to Challem, the high fiber stabilizes the blood sugar, which tends to go haywire when you are having an anxiety attack. They also have lots of vitamin C, which your brain uses to produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters.

    Apparently, these foods are listed in Challem’s book Food-Mood Solution. I hope these are helpful ideas. I already love salmon, cauliflower, and broccoli, and I like raspberries and blueberries. Gonna try the green tea. Hey, I wonder if those antioxidants will also work in a blueberry cobbler? Um-Um-Good!

    Thanks Jason for another excellent topic!

    Makini Theresa Harvey
    Career Abundance

  11. This is one reason why I love my blog…. it isn’t MY message, it’s the comments! Thanks to all who have added thoughtful insight and listed resources for those that are struggling with ADD and ADHD… you guys are great!

  12. There was some really great information presented here. My son was just diagnosed a couple of months ago with ADD/inattentive (he just turned 16). I was diagnosed shortly thereafter. I am looking for all the information I can find and this was really helpful. Thanks.

  13. Gail, I’m glad these comments were helpful – best wishes. Being diagnosed isn’t a horrible thing, at least now you know what you are up against, and there are resources available.

  14. One of the best people to consult when one has a problem is a person who has rich personal experience with the same or similar predicament you are facing. In your case, it is ADD ADHD related ones, so I recommend you give your ear to Ron Rougeaux who wrote the ebook “Take Control of Your ADHD” (the website link is included here). It reveals how an Airline Pilot with ADD and his two ADHD children took control of their lives by using ADD/ADHD to their advantage!”

  15. Jason thank you so much for posting this! My oldest son has a mom (me) and a biological father with ADD and ADHD respectively. To say he has ADHD is an understatement but that’s the diagnosis. I’ve told his teachers every year that he has ADHD and most years if he forgets to take his medication one day they are burning up my phone telling me something is wrong. He goes to therapy and cognitive training as well but he still is having trouble.

    His biological father is what I call “a hot mess”, he will get his life together for a bit and then it starts to all fall apart again. He lives a life that resembles building sandcastles in the tide zone and being surprised every time the tide rolls in and wipes them out. I am doing every thing I can to save my son from the same fate.

    I am also dealing with my ADD tendencies which do cause a bit of trouble at work, it can be hard to stay focused on boring things like proofreading, but I am working through it.

    This discussion gave me more information on ADHD coaches and now that I know a bit more about what they do I am going to look for one. However, I don’t know how to find one yet. I love researching these things so I’ll be fine but it would be helpful if someone could post information on how to find a good ADHD coach in a person’s local area.

  16. Michelle,

    Here are a couple of quick resources to find an ADD coach who can meet your needs.

    1. The ADD Coach Academy has a listing trained ADD coaches. Go to http://www.addcoachacademy.com/ to read more about the program then click on Find A Coach.

    2. The International Coach Federation has an online Coach referral Service at http://www.coachfederation.org/ICF/For+Coaching+Clients/Find+a+Coach/Coach+Referral+Service/

    Because or your specific needs, I would recommend that you email icfheadquarters@coachfederation.org explaining your situation and ask for some referrals.

    It is always a good idea to shop around for the coach with the experience, qualities and rapport you are looking for.

    Best wishes,

    Murray A. Mann

  17. Lots of good comments. I just wanted to add the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) as another resource for information about Adult ADHD, including list of coaches who specialize in working with ADHD adults in business and other settings (www.add.org).

  18. 2 years ago to the day I woke up in the hospital after having had an epileptic seizure. After reading some of the comments I wonder if one thing (ADD, ADHD) wouldn’t possibly lead to another. Mood swings, periods of being very bright by becoming almost drunken are not that unusual since the seizure. Any comments? Maybe I’m looking down the wrong path with phenobarbital.

  19. David,

    I’m not sure what you mean. Are you suggesting that ADHD, not phenobarbitol you are taking to prevent seizures, may be the reason you are having mood swings, etc.? Or are you suggesting that whatever caused your seizures may also result in ADHD? [Have you been diagnosed with ADHD?] Or are you thinking something else?

    If you have–or suspect you have–ADHD, I suggest starting your search for information or support at:

    http://www.adhdsupport.com/adhd-resources.aspx

    [Disclosure: This site is managed by Shire, which produces medication to treat ADHD, so keep that in mind if you surf the rest of the site. However, this page has links to other independent resources, some of which have been noted earlier in this thread.]

    If you want detailed, current medical information–written for non-specialist physicians and intelligent laypersons alike–and you are willing to spend $25-35 to get it, the MedFocus series recently updated its guidebook for ADHD:

    http://www.medifocus.com/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-guidebook.php

    Because you may have multiple medical issues [the docs like to use the term “co-morbid,” which always gives me the willies], ultimately don’t try to figure this out on your own–you won’t be able to. But armed with enough knowledge, you should be able to help experienced medical personnel in coming up with reasonable explanations and treatments.

    Good luck in sorting it all out.

  20. My son is still having problems. I tried taking him off dairy for a while and when he was sticking to it, that helped a lot. But he loves dairy and trying to force him to give it up didn’t work, he’d just go to school and get milk. So we are trying medication again. In the mean time, he continues to struggle with school.

    I am currently unemployed. I was in an abusive relationship and moved out of state to get away but couldn’t stand being so far from friends and family so I moved back home. My husband and I are still seperated but the move made me a less desirable choice for employment and the current economy means hundreds of applicants for every job. It may turn out to be a blessing though, I am considering changing careers.

    My son’s biological father fell apart again this month. I don’t know if he will ever be okay. It seems every January he has problems. I can only pray for him at this point as we aren’t currently speaking.

    I never found a coach in my area and now that I don’t have a job, I couldn’t afford one anyway.

  21. I’ve always joked about being ADD, especially when I couldn’t wrap my mind around something; but its no laughing matter and we all seem to take being able to focus for granted.

    For those of you who truly have the condition and are struggling with it, I wish you the best in your treatments and hope that there is someday a cure…

    Now, I have to get back to what it was that I’m just not into today.

    Best wishes.

  22. Working at home has its own special set of challenges.

    * You don’t have a boss telling you what to do. It’s easy to let things go.

    * Generally, you have to make decisions by yourself for your business.

    * It’s totally up to you to make things happen. Nobody else is going to do it.

    * Being on your own much of the time, you can feel isolated and bored.

    You can be in control of your business (rather than your business running you), but you need to have the right tools in place so you’re not spinning your wheels.

    I have a blog with tips to help at-home business owners get focused and stay in action. Here’s an example:

    On Task Alerts

    During your work day, set a computer alert or your PDA alarm to go off every 15, 30, or 60 minutes. Use the longest time that you can work before going off task. When it goes off, look at what you’re doing and make sure you are on task. If you find you are ignoring the alert, use an alarm clock (the more obnoxious the better) that doesn’t shut off by itself and put it across the room from you.

    There’s more tips like this at http://www.FocusedBusinessAction.com.

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