How do I get my shit together?
August 19, 2019 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm a very late 20's female with ADHD, and it's kicking my ass. Im at risk of losing my job. Later this week my boss and I are going to meet and he expects me to have some strategies in place. Any and all advice welcome.

Firstly, this meeting is equally an evaluation of my efforts as well as my boss's interest in genuinely helping me combat this. I am actually "in trouble" with his boss, and he's admitted he likes me and values my presence at work, so we're coming together to nip this in the bud. As stated, I have ADHD. I am trying, so hard, to get in to see a psychiatrist. The ADHD obviously is making this difficult, but so is being poor and not having transportation.

My biggest problem is tardiness. It comes in waves. I'll go weeks without being late, and then I'm late 3 times in a week. I think, at that point, I'm suffering from burnout.

I also struggle with staying focused (you don't say) at work. The work is mostly on the phone. Without realizing it i'll be distracted by an article or text and minutes go by without me realizing. the days that i'm really engaged with my coworkers, I don't have this problem. I try to mitigate this by playing with office items, but they bore me on the moderate to severe days. Munching helps, but I need to cut that out for other health reasons.

I plan on getting a smart watch (look out for my next AskMe) to keep me on track with time and getting to work. A big part of ADHD for me is knowing the time, but not having any meaning attached to it. Alarms that say "you should be dressed by now" might help.

Are there any fidget toys you recommend? Other ways to keep me preoccupied while still being able to talk on the phone? Things like crochet and knitting that are just repetitive tasks don't hold my attention, but i'm willing to give it a shot if you think i'm doing it wrong.

Neurodiverse of metafilter, please assist!
posted by FirstMateKate to Human Relations (30 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
If you have been at your job for at least 1 year, you can qualify (with a doctor's signed recommendation) for the Family Medical Leave Act. It allows you to take unpaid leave, up to 12 weeks to address, "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job." It also allows the employee to continue receiving health insurance under the same terms as if you were currently doing paid work for your employer. It doesn't guarantee you your job when you return, but it does promise an equivalent job, "that is virtually identical to the original job in terms of pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions (including shift and location)."
posted by caveatz at 11:44 AM on August 19, 2019

Crap, forgot to mention - I already have FMLA set up through work for a separate mental health problem (PTSD). I'm more looking for how to handle working and being at work, rather than taking time away from working.
Also, I'm going to school at the same time. I have a lot on my plate.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:50 AM on August 19, 2019

Before you get a smart watch, can you just set up the reminders on your phone and change the alert settings to be loud?

How do you set up your to dos? Would creating a quick day list of the office tasks in the morning or the night before help with your completion of the day to day? Actively crossing off items on my lists tends to be a good reinforcement for me.
posted by vespertinism at 12:01 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

in terms of call or meeting-friendly fidget, I found drawing knotwork a pretty good one. It's absorbing enough to quiet me down but I can still listen and process.
Here's a starter link!
posted by Naib at 12:05 PM on August 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

Set your alarms and such with the aim of getting out of the house half an hour before you think you should need to--I had to do that a lot before I was medicated. But even now, I go through some periods where I struggle more, and the thing that has reliably helped is restricting my morning activities to getting ready and... nothing else. That's it. If I've been running late recently, then I have to have a point where it's no Metafilter before work, no cleaning before work, no Nintendo before work, not even if I'm up earlier than intended. Don't rely on being able to stop doing the thing; don't actually start doing the thing that is the potential distraction. Shower, dressed, breakfast, out the door. If you're early and you can't start work early, then read or something only when you're in the office parking lot or whatever, with an alarm set--but only if you literally can't go in early, because even that's a risk.

Caffeine can help some in a pinch to tide you over, if you can tolerate stimulants. Not just "drink more coffee", but actual tablets, they're cheap and you'll know how much you're actually consuming.

But seriously, I would put every dime towards getting to a psychiatrist before I'd spend anything on anything else. Not from a position of thinking that's easy--when I started seeing my first decent psychiatrist I was uninsured and had to pay cash while I was living on next to nothing and it was a huge part of my budget. It's just... it's the main thing that will dig you out of the hole and get you to where you can do better things later. Ask your friends/family for money if you have to, take Uber if you have to, there's lots of things that aren't things I'd normally want to do that I think are fine if they get you medical care you need.
posted by Sequence at 12:13 PM on August 19, 2019 [22 favorites]

For the lateness, I've found that scheduling something before you have to be in work (gym, a walk, a trip to the coffee shop, whatever) can sort of set the "next thing" in your calendar instead of the "first thing," which I've found can be a stumbling block for my punctuality.

When I worked a phone-heavy job, I used to color in those grown-up coloring books and it kept me focused while helping my busy mind stay occupied. It wasn't intrusive, could be put away at any time, and didn't take any real brain power to do.
posted by xingcat at 12:16 PM on August 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

This is threatening your long term prospects, and it is entirely legit to ask family and friends for money to help you get a psych sooner / get cabs to work / etc.
posted by Mistress at 12:55 PM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Origami is my go-to fidget while working activity.

As for being on time in the morning, how’s your sleep? I’ve found I have to go to bed WAY earlier than I like (around 9pm) if I’m really going to listen to an alarm clock.
posted by tinymegalo at 12:57 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fidget Cubes
Rubiks cubes
Number sliding puzzles
posted by soelo at 1:07 PM on August 19, 2019

Hi Kate, I was diagnosed and assigned medication by me regular GP doctor who usually sees me same day. Could you call yours and get in without having to wait for a psychiatrist? They have the power to prescribe things. If you don't have a regular doctor, you could still go see one though I do imagine they wouldn't want to just prescribe you a stimulant right away. Perhaps if you have a therapist who would talk to a doctor on your behalf?

While I certainly do thing there are many things you can focus on to work through it, it's still a medical condition that probably requires medication. I realize I was self medicating with 600-800mg of caffeine a day (though I think I have a weird almost immunity to it) and have heard people do that.

Time is very wonky for me too. I have to train myself that an alarm means a thing. In my case, when my alarm goes off, I get exactly one snooze then it goes off again and I get up within the next 30 seconds. I set an alarm when I go home from lunch (and am still 5 minutes late back to work but that's fine for me). For fidgeting I find it's best if it's a neutral or pleasant feeling so I often just am rubbing my palm with a thumb or the side of my left hand lightly. Or I draw geometric shapes or small faces on a pad of paper right next to my desk.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:12 PM on August 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

A few non-meds things that help:

1) Lateness: This is not about doing a long routine on time, or about being ready to work at a given time, it's about physically being at your workplace on time. Make it easy for yourself by cutting your pre-work necessities to the absolute necessities. Know when you need to leave for work and leave for work at that time no matter what state you're in. Go to work in any manner of shambolic circumstances, show up, say hi, sit down, then head to the bathroom to do things like brush your teeth and put on deodorant and brush your hair. (Showering at night is advisable.) Do I often go to work packed like I'm going on an overnight trip? Yes. Am I late? Rarely to never.

b) DO NOT use your smart phone before you leave the house if you can at all help it. Like, you might even want to store it in your car or something like that. It definitely should not be by your bed or anything like that.

c) DO put caffeine by your bed. I have been known to chug a Diet Red Bull while I am in bed! Oh ho ho, the luxury! But it works.

2) Inattention: Hide your smart phone in your car. Even being able to see it has been shown to have a deleterious effect on attention. Regardless of what you do with your hands (I suggest coloring, doodling, or taking "notes"), it should not be your smart phone.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2019 [16 favorites]

My smart watch has helped me so, so much in life. I set timers for everything. Apple Watch has timers for 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 30 minutes (plus custom settings) and it's become my default way of chunking out tasks, i.e. I reward myself for 1 minute of exercise or 3 minutes of laundry or 10 minutes of a project.

YMMV, but I actually devised a tally system whereby I get a reward if I score enough tallies by the end of the week (which ends up being equivalent to my assigned hours, but broken into 10-minute chunks and gamified). This has an added benefit of helping me think of doing the thing as being "for me" rather than "for my employer," so I feel more motivated to actually score the points.

Apart from the watch and the tally system, my ADHD medication makes everything work so much better than before. I agree that this should be a big priority.

Finally, when on the phone, I find that doodling is a good activity. Plus, many scientists agree that it's good for your brain.
posted by witchen at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Two things have helped me in this regard:

1. The Smarter Vitamins brand of caffeine + l-theanine. The latter ingredient helps take away the jitters and crashy feeling of caffeine. I've been using it for about 4 months now, and it makes me feel awake and alert without feeling speedy. There are other brands which offer differing amounts of caffeine (this one is 200mg, which is about the same as a cup of cold brew). I'm very pleased with this brand and will definitely be re-ordering it. If you are interested in medication, but know that there will be a significant time lapse before you can get a prescription, I would recommend a bottle of this.

I take one in the morning when I wake up, and it takes about half an hour to kick in. I take another serving of caffeine (either a pill or an actual coffee beverage) at about 2pm. This allows me to stay focused during the day without feeling hyper at night.

2. I use my Alexa devices to provide vocal reminders of things I have to do. You can create them in the app and make them repeating or not. So if you need someone to actually TELL YOU to "get in the shower", then a device like this might be of benefit. I also use it to set timers for everything from putting on makeup to remembering to take pills. It helps keep me on task, and provides the sense of urgency that I usually need to not get distracted. And the thing it does not have is a SCREEN, which might be of greater benefit to you than a smartwatch.

I also really like the suggestion to keep your screen device far, far away in the morning. Without fail, when I futz around and don't get my ducks in a row in the morning, it's because I picked up my stupid tablet "just to check one thing" and fell down a rabbit hole. Whatever it is, it can wait until you're at the office. That's something I should strive to implement for myself. I have a charging station, and maybe it would just be as simple as relocating it downstairs instead of keeping it in my bedroom.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:43 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hi Kate, I was diagnosed and assigned medication by me regular GP doctor who usually sees me same day. Could you call yours and get in without having to wait for a psychiatrist? They have the power to prescribe things. If you don't have a regular doctor, you could still go see one though I do imagine they wouldn't want to just prescribe you a stimulant right away. Perhaps if you have a therapist who would talk to a doctor on your behalf?

I came in to say this. I was also diagnosed and medicated by a (new to me) GP. She made me schedule a separate visit to get a diagnosis but if you already have a diagnosis in hand, it might be easier to get medication.

I found that, for me, "discipline" and systems could only do so much. I am still distractible but remarkably less so. My house is clean for the first time in my life. And I am not longer late for everything.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:05 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, yes, self-medication with caffeine (I was drinking 4-5 cups a day and taking a caffeine pill) or other substances (pseudoephedrine is one I tried while I was waiting for my diagnosis) are options but are really, really not advisable. I was having a ton of heart palpitations because of both habits, which made heart testing necessary before I was medicated and held up my diagnosis. I am now down to a low dose of a prescribed stimulant medication twice a day and a half cup of coffee a day if I remember to drink it and I no longer have palpitations.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:09 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Well, it's not advisable for you, but plenty of people tolerate caffeine just fine.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:16 PM on August 19, 2019

I think they mean caffeine is not going to be effective as a treatment long-term. It is not a substitute for the correct medication for your situation.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:18 PM on August 19, 2019

Hello everyone, thank you so much for your answers so far!!

I saw my GP two monthd ago and she made a referral for me to see a psychiatrist. I then lost my phone and havn't had one until today. but, thanks to all of the wonderful advice here, I finally sat down and did the thing! I called my GP to get the psych office info and made my appointment. It won't be until the 10th of next month.

Any advice about what I should bring to the meeting with my boss? this Saturday is The Discussion where I'm supposed to lay out ideas to make it apparent I'm "working on myself" and help him feel confident my behavior is going to change.
posted by FirstMateKate at 3:02 PM on August 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

I think letting your boss know it's a medical issue that you are addressing by having an appointment on September 10th, after which you can discuss any accommodations you might need, would be absolutely appropriate.

Basically, you ARE working on solving this -- the scheduled appointment is the appropriate way of solving it.
posted by lazuli at 3:07 PM on August 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

(And having the appointment scheduled means that he can tell his boss that there is a plan in the works and the first step (scheduling the appointment) has been taken.)
posted by lazuli at 3:09 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ugh, time is so hard. Two things:

1. Think about time in terms of when you have to stand up, not when you have to be wherever. I will ALWAYS be 3-4 minutes late to a 3pm meeting, because at 2:59 the meeting is still "soon" and so I'm still finishing my emails. But if it's a "grab my laptop at 2:55" meeting, that works better. I have to be walking out the door of the house at 8:22 to be at work by 9, even though "the drive" is only 25 minutes.

2. Stuff you can do anywhere, plan to do after you arrive at work. Leave as soon as you have clothes on and wait to check your email or internet or news at the office before work starts. If you really have time to check it before you leave then you will definitely have time to check it once you get there, but there won't be any uncertainty about your commute any more - you will know exactly how much time you have.
posted by Lady Li at 3:54 PM on August 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

If you've got the spare cash, Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD is an extremely helpful and humanely written book that has a lot of great strategies for designing your life so as to avoid situations that trigger your ADHD symptoms. It's very oriented towards organizing space, but I found that a lot of the things it suggests can be generalized pretty well. One example is storage: it recommends using storage solutions where you can see everything being stored at a glance (so, for example, opaque drawers are out). That way, when you go looking for something, you're much less likely to get sidelined into a distraction feedback loop where you find a bunch of other things that lead you on mental tangents in the process of searching for the thing you actually need at that moment. I've been trying to generalize this into helping myself by making sure that the things I need to do require as few "setup" steps as possible, so like for a todo list I might either keep a notepad and pen on my desk at all times so that the second I need to write something down I can just do it, or if I use an app I might keep a link to it as the very first bookmark in the favorites bar in my browser.

Of course, the perverse thing is that ADHD makes it difficult to do exactly the sort of bookkeeping that would help you deal with the symptoms of ADHD, so I also just want to emphasize along with these recommendations that being kind with yourself is really helpful when you slip up. It's so easy to believe in this binary between Being On Top of Things and Being a Total Failure and to feel like you're in the latter state when you make even a single mistake, but the reality is that neither state is something that ever applies in real life. There are things you want to improve about how you manage your time, and no single instance in which you'd maybe liked to have done better has much bearing on how on top of things you are in general. I know that, as nice as it sounds, it's not easy to cultivate the ability to forgive yourself, acknowledge the regret and put it behind you, but as with all of these strategies, I think that just having them as a goal that you take the time to actively reflect on puts you in a better position to implement them more consistently.

Some particular things I do for work: I set out my clothes the night before, because it's easier to think about then and even if it takes longer than I planned on to select an outfit it won't make me late. Giving future-you gifts like this is difficult to get in the habit of, but if you can manage it a few times, the sense of relief future-you gets from those gifts becomes kind of addictive in a good way.

Also, I can't tell if this applies to your work, since it sounds like it's kind of interrupt-driven in a way where you can't always plan ahead for things you need to do, but: I keep a todo list for the day, and for the week, with the rule that both cannot have more than three items on them. This helps to tamp down the panic impulse you might otherwise get when you're thinking about all the things you need to do: instead, you get to be nice to yourself by defaulting to choosing the three easiest things you can think of. If you cross off all three, great! The time you have left is basically extra time that you get for free, and you can take care of some other task if you've got the energy, or not, because you finished the list. If you don't cross off all three, no biggie, just keep all the ones you didn't on the list for the next time period and add the next easiest things you can think of to get back up to three items if you don't have three already. Inevitably there are going to be times when you have some sort of deadline that means that you have more than three things you need to do before the end of the day, and in that case you can add another item to the list after you cross one off, but, you know, if you're anything like me, missing deadlines happens. If you find a strategy that helps you finish 50% of the things you needed to get done by the deadline instead of 25%, that's a huge improvement. Everyone misses deadlines, so again, there's no binary between "I make my deadlines" and "I miss my deadlines."

Congrats on getting the appointment scheduled. That's a big step, and this is difficult stuff.
posted by invitapriore at 4:29 PM on August 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

I suggest you bring a notebook to your meeting to take notes of your discussion. Also, you could outline your thoughts in the notebook beforehand to share with your boss. Break it down into goals you want to achieve, and underneath each goal what specific steps you'll take to achieve it. List 2-4 goals, any more than this is too much. Ideally, goals should be measurable (google SMART goals.) Lists and simple notes help me stay organized and focused. Good luck!
posted by j810c at 6:35 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I got myself a book titled Never Be Late Again that was helpful. It’s also good to set yourself up so you have as little to do as possible in the morning. Do as much the night before as you can (pack bag, pick out clothes, shower) and reduce your morning routine to bare minimum (brush teeth, get dressed).

Have you identified what in particular contributes to your tardiness? For example, if you’re messing around on your phone, put it in airplane mode.

The pomodoro technique might help you get stuff done at work. Does music help?
posted by kat518 at 7:19 PM on August 19, 2019

Hi, I also have ADD and have struggled with tardiness my whole life.

Here are some strategies I've found helpful.
* Keep a consistent bedtime. I don't even know if I could have done that in my 20s - it's gotten a little easier over the past few years.
* Set multiple alarms. I have an alarm on my phone, a sunrise simulator alarm and a clock radio. It's good for at least one to be across the room, or require you to get out of bed.
* Thinking of my work start time as 15 or 30 minutes earlier is also helpful.
* Set an alarm for the time at which I need to be in the shower. I've identified that step as the one thing that is most likely to make or break my chances of punctuality. Think about your own make-or-break points in your morning schedule.
* If you have a tendency to browse the internet in the mornings or past bedtime, use apps such as Freedom. You can set a timer for those points in the day when you need to be off the internet.
* Committing to an accountability buddy "Today I will be at work by (time)" has been helpful.

From the answers here on the green, and any other brainstorming or research you've done, list out the ones that you want to use. From that least, decide which items you're comfortable telling your boss about. Those you'll bring to your meeting.

Intense exercise is another ADD remedy that some people use in lieu of medication.

Long term, I'd think about finding a job that requires less time on the phone. Meds will almost certainly help once you get them, but you'll probably be more effective and struggle less with a job that's a better fit.
posted by bunderful at 8:08 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can you use sticky notes? I use the big lined sticky notes (I have one right next to me now!) to make a daily list and then to keep random notes as well and stick it to my desk and carry around. At my old desk, I used to have tons of smaller sticky notes with single tasks on them so I could scrunch them up as I completed them for that day, or just line them up in groups, or sometimes pin them to a bulletin board for later. Physical notes worked better than a list because my electronic to-do list was so long, these were the immediate to-do right nows.

I write a random to-do list as the tasks occurs to me and then I go back through it and number the list in the order I have to do the tasks and force myself to go through them in that order.

I hate pomodoro but it is effective, especially if you have a coffee craving.

I got my kid a revibe watch but she's not allowed to wear it to school for Stupid Reasons. If you want, memail me and I can post it to you. Hers is plain black, regular wrist size.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:31 PM on August 19, 2019

Take a look at for work related ideas with PTSD and aDHD. While you are on the phone, can you organize your work space so your focus is better? Optimize a headset? And yes, park your smartphone so it rests and you build focus.
posted by childofTethys at 5:23 AM on August 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Caffeine is mostly a placebo for the core symptoms of ADHD, probably because it's not the same type of stimulant and has very little effect on dopamine. High doses can also make your problems worse by messing with the quality of your sleep. It is useful for getting yourself out of bed in the mornings, though; you can even do the thing where you set one alarm to wake up and slam some coffee or an energy drink and then snooze until your next alarm by which time the caffeine will have kicked in (people also do this with their meds sometimes). Consider also getting an outlet timer and shining bright light on yourself with a "daylight" bulb before your alarm goes off.

If the problem is getting to bed early enough you could try melatonin, but take a very small amount (0.5mg) several hours before bed time. It's not exactly a sleeping pill but you can use it to synch up a delayed internal clock. Try it on a day where there are low consequences in case it makes you groggy.

Nthing structured doodling or taking notes as a workplace-safe fidget activity.

If you have to use your own phone at work consider getting a flip phone without internet.

Also aim for getting there a full 30 minutes early and bringing a personal project with you that you only get to work on during that time (that way the time isn't wasted, and you get a reward if you're early, but if something happens you have built in a buffer).
posted by en forme de poire at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Re the clock radio: I have mine set to go off a half-hour or so before I need to wake up. I have the volume fairly low but unless I'm exhausted and in a really deep sleep, it's usually enough that I'm half awake or even actually awake before the alarms start to go off.
posted by bunderful at 5:44 AM on August 21, 2019

Most of the answers so far are focusing on solving the actual issues (lots of great ideas!). I also think it's worth thinking about how you present your proposed steps to your boss in the meeting.

In my experience of the workplace and being a manager what the boss in this situation will be looking for is a Plan.

For your boss this meeting is where they find out whether this currently minor issue with you is going to become a Problem. If it is then they will start having to think about speaking to HR, documenting any of your failings, formal performance improvement plans, how they're going to re-allocate your work when you end up being let go, recruiting to fill your role, will they need to budget more for your replacement etc etc. Most managers don't like doing this!

So you want to be very clear in your meeting that you understand what's going on and have a sensible Plan to stop it being a Problem that the boss needs to worry about. Even if in reality you perhaps aren't 100% sure, your boss doesn't need to know that. They are your boss not your therapist / friends / ask mefi.

Things that I've seen work well in this situation:
- bring a written bullet point Plan that you can refer to in the meeting, with clear sequential steps
- have a mix of short term and longer term steps
- commit to a couple of measurable goals (if you can)
- mention speaking to some professionals (shows you are taking it seriously)
- don't dwell on the causes, focus on your steps to make it ok
- state up front that you 'don't want it to be something that interferes with your work'
- schedule a check in with your boss after say a month so they can give you any feedback on your efforts
- if there are any steps the firm can take that would help then ask

You know your boss better than me so of course adapt the above as you see fit. What I'm essentially saying is be smart and think about the appearance of what you're say in the meeting - it's not necessarily how the world should work but it in my experience it's how it does work!
posted by Albondiga at 7:25 AM on August 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

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