Habits that Work


Keep Attention Deficit Disorder from Creating Workplace Disorder

Adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD) who struggle to perform in the office are often advised to get a support staff. But what do you do when you ARE the support staff? The work of administrative professionals is never easy. Throw ADD into the mix, and the challenges can seem insurmountable. Problems with organization and memory make an already difficult job seem impossible to perform successfully; but with a few creative tricks and some strategic planning, the worker with ADD can equal — even outshine — the performance of non-disabled peers.

One trap that the “organizationally challenged” often fall into is to take the work day as it comes, allowing events to decide the course of the day. Constant interruptions and other sources of distraction, combined with an innate tendency to procrastinate on tedious or otherwise distasteful tasks, lead to frustration as you look around at the end of the day and realize how little you have accomplished. Avoid this trap through careful planning. Set aside a block of time each morning to plot your course and set goals for the day.

First, prioritize your to-do list. Determine which tasks must be handled that day, which ones can be safely put off until later, and which ones have been put off for too long. In a separate area, create a new list, containing all items from the first category and, if it looks like you will have time for them, at least one item from each of the other categories. This will be your to-do list for the day.

Next, in your daily planner, schedule time to work on each task. Be realistic, and allow yourself time for inevitable distractions. A good rule of thumb is to pad the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a task by at least half. If you think a project will take 20 minutes, block 30. That way, if anything unexpected happens or if you catch yourself drifting off-task, you will still be on schedule, and will be less likely to become flustered and do a hurried job.

Remember, this schedule is only a blueprint for the day, a reminder of what you hope to accomplish, not a strict agenda of what must get done. Do not get upset with yourself if you find a task has taken longer than you had planned; simply move on to the next item on your schedule. At day’s end, just bump any unfinished items to the next day. Chances are, you will still get more done than you would have before you began scheduling your time.

Another issue often associated with ADD is insufficient short-term memory. Your boss calls to ask for something, and before you hang up the phone you forget the conversation even took place; or, you are taken completely by surprise when someone whom you had agreed earlier to meet calls you from the conference room, wondering where you are. Two basic rules have helped me to practically eliminate this nuisance from my work life.

First rule: Get it in writing! Never agree to verbal requests. Anytime someone stops by your desk to ask for something, politely ask him or her to request it via e-mail. If necessary, explain that you might become distracted and forget the request. Usually, this will prove no problem; but occasionally someone will insist on making a request on the spot. When this happens, ask them to wait while you jot down the request on paper. For routine requests, devise forms that can be filled out and submitted. Having task requests in writing will not only provide you with a visual cue to help you remember, but help you track your progress.

Rule number two: Never rely on your own memory! There are many options available to help you remember an event, from electronic calendars with alarm systems to on-line reminder services. With so many options available at little to no cost, there is no reason you should ever forget another meeting or deadline.

How ADD-friendly is your work environment? The likeliest answer is, not very. Constant interruptions and distractions caused by co-workers, telephone calls and urgent e-mail messages are inevitable. But they are not completely unavoidable.

If noisy co-workers keep you from being able to focus, filter them out with soothing music or white noise. Several devices are available that produce the latter. Even a radio turned to static provides a buffer between you and distracting noises. If allowed, listen to music through headphones. Avoid unnecessary interruptions by making it known that you only wear your headphones during “concentration time.”

Speaking of concentration time, if you have a project that requires a lot of concentration, schedule a time when you can roll your phone to voicemail, or ask a co-worker to catch your phones for a while, so you can work uninterrupted.

As for e-mail, turn off the new mail notification on your computer. Schedule blocks of time throughout the day for reading and answering e-mail. Do not read and respond to each message as it arrives.

These are only a few methods for keeping your disorder from hindering your job performance. If you learn to channel your unique way of processing information into coming up with creative solutions of your own, you may find that your ADD can even be an asset.

These methods have enabled me to rise above the challenges presented by my ADD to become an effective, efficient professional. It did not happen overnight. Developing these methods into productive habits took time; but it was time well spent, because these are habits that work.

(Jean Marie Cousins is a freelance writer living in Claremore, Oklahoma, U.S.A.)

Several services on the Internet are devoted to helping you manage your time effectively and remember important events. Here are a few such services that are convenient, easy to use and, best of all, free!

– Anyday (www.anyday.com)
Sign up here for a personal web-based calendar that looks and operates much like some of the most popular time management software programs, such as Microsoft Outlook. The best feature: By downloading a free program offered on this site, your calendar, to-do list and contacts all can be synchronized with just about any other electronic organizer, including the popular PalmPilot systems.

– E-Organizer (www.eorganizer.com)
Register with E-Organizer to receive e-mail reminders of appointments, classes, birthdays, to-do items or just about anything else you need help to remember. You can even leave electronic notes to yourself, which are indexed in a personal searchable database.

– Lifeminders (www.lifeminders.com)
Lifeminders is a service that helps you remember life’s more major (and often more forgettable) events, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Like the other services, it will send you an e-mail before the event. It will also send a reminder to your wireless phone if you so desire.

– Iping (www.iping.com)
Need reminding while away from the computer? The folks at Iping will phone at a time you specify, providing anything from a wakeup call to a medication reminder.


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