Tips for managing while ADHD?
September 25, 2012 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I have finally gotten myself promoted to manager -- sweet! I have ADHD -- crap! Have you been in this situation before? What worked for you? Help me figure out how to not just survive, but thrive!

I've been diagnosed for roughly 12 years, so I'm very well-acquainted with the challenges of living with ADHD. I've slowly, slowly been getting better at life, but I still have bad days (and weeks, sometimes months). I feel like I can barely manage myself at work, but I've also learned that I am my harshest critic, and overall people think that I'm pretty good at my job, and they tolerate the occasional missed deadline.

But now I'm a manager, and I'm responsible for managing the one person who reports to me, and also for looking to the future and growing the team and our capabilities. To make things more complicated, we're a user experience design team, and our role is relatively new, undefined, and poorly understood, and my manager doesn't have much experience in growing a UX team so while I have his support, he's really looking to me to tell him how we should grow the team. Which is awesome, dont' get me wrong -- I'm psyched for the opportunity and mostly I'm just afraid of screwing things up.

My biggest struggle right now is that the two of us are the only in-house designers in the entire company (approx. 160 people), so we get a lot of little one-off requests from all over the company. I'm really struggling to keep track of them, and I also struggle to have a good sense of what our full workload is because it feels like it's constantly in flux. I originally started this question to get suggestions for how to address that specific issue, but I'm also open to any advice you have for for managing while ADHD!
posted by roscopcoletrane to Work & Money (10 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to add that I really struggle with structure, like to the point that I think I actively resist it. I've tried so many times to develop routines that I know would help immensely, but somehow I just can't seem to follow through for more than a week at most. The idea of having the same schedule every day, even for just 15 minutes of every day, makes me feel claustrophobic. I'm currently trying the "change one very small thing at a time" method of self-improvement, but I keep changing my mind about what my one thing is before I can develop a new habit around it! So, any advice for increasing self-discipline (or perhaps, dealing with existential impatience?) would be much appreciated as well.
posted by roscopcoletrane at 9:53 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing that may help is putting into place a system to track all the requests you get - using either a CRM system or something closer to what is used by IT helpdesks. If it's too much of a shift for your colleagues to submit requests through such a system, you can still use it on the back end and input everything manually as it comes in.

This not only keeps track of everything for you, but can provide hard data on the volume of work when you are ready to petition to add headcount to your area. It will also help immensely on the management front, where you can see response time and completion time for all the requests your direct report will handle.
posted by trivia genius at 10:10 AM on September 25, 2012

Best answer: So I've got ADHD myself, and I've had managers with ADHD, but I've never been a manager myself. Take this with a grain of salt.

In my experience as an employee, though, the most frustrating thing someone in your position can do is decide they've got Something To Prove and refuse to delegate organizational/attention-requiring tasks. It's fine, for instance, to hand someone else an agenda before a meeting starts and say "Your job is to keep us on task and on schedule. Please speak up if we get off on a tangent." And if that's what it takes to keep you on task and on schedule during a meeting, then that's SO MUCH BETTER than just trying to run the show yourself in order to Demonstrate Organizational Ability and spending the whole meeting talking about what should have been a footnote to agenda item 1a(i).

Another thing I've seen my ADHD boss do to good effect is take each long-term deadline and assign someone on the relevant team to watch it. The boss is still ultimately responsible for meeting the deadline (this is important! don't just set someone else up as the fall guy to get thrown under a bus if things fall apart!) but the deadline-watcher has been asked to keep an eye on how things are progressing and occasionally speak up and say either "yeah, we're on schedule here" or "hey boss, here's a problem that's holding us up, we need you to step in and help us solve this."

And, I mean, it's not like these are weird remedial management techniques that will make you look like Crazy Special Needs Boss. These are things I've had neurotypical(-as-far-as-I-know) bosses do too, just as a way of reducing their own workload and getting their employees used to taking on a certain amount of responsibility for organizing shit. But with my current boss who really does have full-on ADHD, they seem to be really essential and not just like cute little convenient extras.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:13 AM on September 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

I don't have ADHD, nor am I a manager, but I do have the sort of job where there are always multiple projects going on at once (all with very similar schedules, but staggered), and it can be a struggle to keep track of them all. Honestly, a simple Excel sheet works best for me.

So, from what you've described, it might make sense to include some sort of project title, who it's for, who's working on it, when it's due and/or its priority, an estimate of how much time it will take, miscellaneous notes, etc. And then you can either mark them off as complete or delete them when they're done, depending on whether a record is necessary. (It can be nice to have a tangible record of what you and/or your department has done, when it comes time for raises, etc.) You can use an Excel chart that just you control, or you could open it up to your entire group, depending on what makes sense.

Anyway, I know that's not much, but it's a place to start. Good luck!
posted by divisjm at 10:33 AM on September 25, 2012

I am in a similar boat, in that I am a manager with ADD tendencies. I would HIGHLY second the above person's request of using a task-tracking system like Basecamp or Jira (or any other task management system). You can enforce the rule at your company that requests MUST be submitted through that system, as there are only 2 designers and you need an efficient way to keep track of things.

It sounds like you already have someone working below you, but if, as a manager, you have the power to hire people under you, do yourself a favor and hire a junior or an assistant who is extremely organized. Part of being a manager is knowing where your weaknesses are and hiring people who are smarter than you in those ways, so you can fill in the deficiencies on your team. Then make it their responsibility to "project manage" the department to a degree. That way, you can focus on what you're there to do - good UX design, and helping other, less experienced designers create good UX experiences.

One more thing - you sometimes just need to force discipline on yourself. I block "time-wasting" websites like Facebook and Huffington Post in my browser so they can't distract me during work time. I also constantly use a positive reward system with myself - for example, I can't have x (lunch, a chance to check my email, one of those delicious chocolates sitting in the company kitchen) until I get y done. Sometimes I even set a timer on my computer - I make a list of tasks that I can realistically get done in an hour, and then set the timer and focus for that period of time. If I get everything on the list done, I get a reward (a coffee across the street, or whatever.) I'm sure it sounds really micromanagey to non-ADD people, but for me it really works.
posted by emily37 at 10:39 AM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another manager with ADD here.

Yes to finding a solution to task tracking. This can be something simple which is just a list that you can cross things off of. This can even be something as low-tech as a spiral notebook. Whatever works for you and is easy enough that you actually use it. Anything too complicated and you won't, so try and keep it very easy.

Also yes to blocking timewasters if you can. I can't install anything on my work computer which is so frustrating because I would be twice as productive if I could block Metafilter or limit it to 15 minutes a day.

Sometimes, if you're really having trouble, I find it helps do just do SOMETHING work-related. It can be the easiest thing on your plate, deleting emails or talking to your coworker about something that needs taking care of. I find this policy helps me way more than anything else, because sometimes the highest priority thing is just something I can't handle right now, and I go do something not work-related, and then I get sucked into non-productivity. On the other hand, if I just start on some stupid little work task, I feel better because I'm getting something done, and that snowballs into more productivity.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:59 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, god, how true this is for me: I've just bookmarked this post to read it tonight, because it's making me nervous just thinking about this issue in me while at work...
posted by IAmBroom at 12:12 PM on September 25, 2012

Basecamp is saving my ass right now. If I could convince my horrible coworkers to make effective use of it as well my life would be a lot easier, but it's still better than nothing.
posted by elizardbits at 12:19 PM on September 25, 2012

Definitely need a system. The team-based web solutions are overkill for my small department. I use David Allen's Getting Things Done for organization (we do not use Outlook, so I use for task tracking). I track things at my individual level and also track assignments that I have given.

As rabbitrabbit said, it is good to develop some sort of attention-focusing habit so that at periodic times you can get back on track if you have drifted into non-work mode. Other general tips:

1. Have a department GANTT chart or something similar, so you know everything the department is doing and who is doing it.
2. One refocusing technique is to then check in on people and their projects. Even good employees might slow down when they feel off the radar.
3. Use your secretary and staff to make sure things keep running, do not be afraid to delegate.

I'll assume that you will succeed and your department will grow. Remember too that part of being a manager means that your reports rely on you to help lead things in a direction that allows them to work effectively and develop. I understand the existential impatience and I have been there, but remember that this is not just about doing your job well, but effective team building. Not wanting to hold back the people who work for me was very motivating when I was looking for a reason to make difficult and unpleasant changes.
posted by cgk at 1:12 PM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the suggestions. It's always helpful to hear that I'm not the only one in this boat! Having a system is clearly my #1 chance for success, so I'm working on implementing something.

In case anyone's interested, I'll share the idea that I implemented yesterday that I think has a fair chance of success: I built a team Kanban board on the wall next to our cubes. It's a bunch of post-it notes on the wall, each one representing a task to be done, and 4 columns that they are organized into -- backlog, in progress, blocked, and done. The idea is that whenever we get a new request or know of a task that we need/want to do in the near future, we write it on a post-it and stick it under Backlog. I've made a rule that we're only supposed to have 3 post-its each in the In Progress column. My plan is that first thing every morning we'll take two minutes to stand at the wall together and say what progress we made yesterday, move what we can out of In Progress to blocked or done, and add new post-its from the Backlog. I've also asked my designer to update the board during the day as he finishes one thing and starts another, and I'll do the same. He seems to be very on board with the idea.

I think this will work because I can now see at a glance how much work we have on our plate, and it's intentionally low-complexity so that it's not a burden to maintain. I'd love to figure out a way to chart our performance, but I think the physicality of the board is really important so I'm starting with this.

I'm also going to lean on my employee more, as you all suggested. He's young but he's extremely disciplined naturally, so I'm going to ask him to keep me on track if it seems like my priorities are veering off-course.

Again, thanks for all the advice -- I want to mark them all as best answer but that would probably look silly.
posted by roscopcoletrane at 10:38 AM on September 26, 2012

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