ADHD and Workplace Organization
If you have adult ADHD, disorganization may plague you.
At work, you probably aren’t known for your stellar organizational skills. You were the kid with the overflowing cubby, the teenager whose room was a mess and whose car was filled with empty bottles and textbooks. And now, as a full-fledged grownup, you’re running late for another meeting because you can’t find your project file, phone, or coffee cup. (Check the microwave.)
At home, your disorganization is problematic, but at least it’s only affecting you and your immediate family.
In the workplace, however, disorganization kills your productivity, affects your professional reputation, and makes people wonder if you’re fit to do the job.
If your desk is a disaster, this post is for you!
The Science Behind Disorganization
The science behind effective organization relies on executive functioning skills – and good executive functioning skills are something that adult ADHDers generally don’t feel strongly about overall.
When these cognitive processes are glitchy, it becomes harder for people to regularly plan, prioritize, and complete tasks…all things that are necessary to get and stay organized.
Another executive functioning skill ‘working memory’ is also a factor. The inability to store and quickly retrieve small amounts of relevant information (like when a report is due or how to complete a certain task) makes it hard to keep everything straight.
But even though organization is more difficult for people with ADHD, it’s not impossible. There are plenty of systems and strategies you can use to keep yourself on the straight and narrow at work. Try starting with the TSSI to learn about your personal style preferences and winning approaches to overcoming disorganization.
3 Types of Disorganization (and how to overcome each type)
When someone talks about workplace disorganization, most people conjure up mental images of clutter. And while that’s certainly one factor, it’s not the only one. Here are the three main types of disorganization and some tips to help you deal with each.
Disorganization is defined as a lack of proper planning and control.
If your space feels disorganized and untidy, that energy resonates in that space. If you see piles of paperwork, overflowing desk drawers, cord and cable webs around, your space is resonating at a chaotic frequency. Look around. Is your workspace cluttered with used Tupperware you keep forgetting to take home, memos from past meetings, and unfinished project notes? Do you have multiples? Or perhaps you have no idea where your office tools even are, much less stocked. Disorganization exists when nothing is where it belongs, and you spend more time looking for things you’ve lost than actually working.
Tips to Combat Physical Disorganization
Remember the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” So, if you’re facing a mountain of disorganization, you can’t see beyond the chaos. Your brain quite literally needs you to split things up into smaller pieces so it can focus in. When it comes to organizing your workspace, start small and work your way up. You’re aiming for progress, not perfection. If all you can do today is organize one drawer, organize that drawer, and realize that it’s better than nothing.
Pare down your stuff.
This is age-old advice, and it was much easier prior to our over-consumerized living today. The fact is, most of us have too much stuff. If you do, you may need to start the arduous process of paring down your things first. See Story of Stuff for inspiration.
Create a home for items.
This is age-old advice and is essential when you feel disorganized and overwhelmed. It’s essential for you to know what you have, have what you need, and know where to find things, so you need to give everything you have an address. This helps your brain ‘locate’ items and find them in the future. So, if you’re desk is disorganized, your goal SHOULD NOT BE to get everything off of your desk into some minimal universe where you need nothing; instead, it’s to make sure all desk items serve a purpose and are returned to their address after each use. When you know where items belong, you can find them again when you need them. Save time at the end of every day to tidy up and put things where they go so you can start the next day fresh.
Corral physical items.
Deal with physical items as soon as they hit your desk. If you don’t need it, throw it away. If it’s something you need to keep, put it where it belongs. Don’t fall into the “I’ll do it later” trap. By dealing with things in real-time, you’re preventing new piles from developing.
Is it your partner who’s to blame? Check out these posts for more valuable information:
- Is your disorganized partner ruining your relationship?
- Partner problems
- Ways to help your disorganized partner
- Slacker organizing tips
Cognitive disorganization refers to disorganized thinking and planning. It’s forgetting about the Monday meeting, not being able to stick to a routine, and having problems breaking big projects down into smaller, more achievable chunks. You either hyperfocus on one task to the exclusion of everything else or you frog-hop from task to task so quickly that you end up accomplishing nothing at all. You frequently draw a blank when asked simple questions that you know you can answer, simply because your thoughts are racing too quickly to pull up the requested information on demand.
Tips to Develop Cognitive Disorganization
Here are four simple strategies to combat cognitive disorganization.
Make things visual.
Use calendars, reminders, alerts, and alarms for meetings, appointments, etc. Make sure they’re both visible (wall calendars or whiteboards are fantastic things) and audible. If you know you’re the type who needs time to transition from one thing to the next, set an alarm for your alarm. The first will tell you that it’s time to start transitioning; the second will tell you it’s time to stop what you’re doing and go on to the next thing.
Like it or not, you need to get your $#*! together by starting each day right – A daily plan will help you get your thoughts together and identify what’s ahead, and a review of what didn’t happen yesterday. ADHD adults who are successful and feel most organized are those who plan daily.
Create a schedule at the beginning of each day dictating what you’ll do and when. Then, hold yourself accountable to it or enlist a colleague willing to help you stay on task. This prevents both hyperfocus and task-hopping and allows you to build a predictable routine.
If you’re ambitious – you can really help yourself by focusing on a 90-day action plan with this free printable download!
Write it down.
Whenever you can, find a way to write things down. Whether you carry a small notebook in your pocket or have another way to capture thoughts during the day your brain is organized to visually remember things. It DOES NOT WORK when you take pictures in the same way as it does when you write things down. That’s why it’s critical to make peace with this reality.
Your brain works best when you support it with what it needs to function better. That’s why you need to figure out how to take notes you can refer back to later. If you have a conversation with a colleague about a project you’re working on, jot down the important points so you don’t forget. You might even consider following up with an email recapping the conversation to confirm that you’re both on the same page and clear up any miscommunications before they occur.
Practice organizing strategies.
Make getting and staying organized a game! Try these 13 tips.
Verbal disorganization is a phenomenon that occurs when your speech can’t quite keep pace with your thoughts. Have you ever felt like you had to ‘slow your brain down’ to put ideas to words? This is indicative of a fast brain. It’s likely that your ‘knowing’, sometimes referred to as intuition, thoughts, and perceptions, move at a faster rate than your organizing or sense-making parts of your consciousness. This can result in any number of idiosyncracies, but most often evokes internal frustration and a feeling of being overwhelmed or unclear.
If this impacts you, a simple recounting of events easily turns into an epic novel before fizzling out at the end forgetting the point altogether. You often forget what you were about to say or jump around in conversations, unable to maintain a constant narrative from beginning to end. When called upon to speak in meetings or other high-pressure situations, you either freeze up entirely or head off on so many different tangents that it makes it hard for people to follow what you’re saying. If you feel disorganized internally, practicing slowing down and syncing up by intentionally pausing will be a great skill to practice.
Tips to Combat Verbal Disorganization
Here are three simple strategies to combat verbal disorganization:
Take a few deep breaths before you speak. Think about what you want to say before you say it. This pause will probably go unnoticed by everyone else, but it will help you ground yourself and ensure that you’re speaking with clarity.
Use an outline.
If you’re called upon to speak in a more formal capacity, write down your talking points and read them over a few times in advance. Make sure you’re not adding in unimportant information and that you have a solid point to make.
Lay your cards on the table.
It’s OK to speak up and tell people that you have ADHD, and even if you don’t want to do that, you can still disclose that you’re a bit of a talker. “Sometimes I tend to ramble, so if I go off on a tangent or start talking your ear off, feel free to let me know that we’re getting off track.”
Yes, You CAN Get Organized at Work – Even With Adult ADHD!
Disorganization in the workplace can cost you plenty – from lost time and missed professional opportunities to write-ups, performance improvement plans, and even termination. You won’t get organized overnight, but by consistently employing simple tips and strategies, you’re taking the control away from ADHD and putting it back where it belongs…with you!
As a certified ADHD Coach, I can help you lean into challenges, explore creative solutions, and make better decisions. Click here to schedule your FREE Discovery Call. I can’t wait to hear from you!