Strategies for managing with ADHD in a new and challenging job?
November 16, 2019 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I have ADHD for which I take regular medication. 2 months ago I relocated out of state to take a more challenging position at a larger and faster-paced company. I now feel completely overwhelmed. My distractability is very high and I am struggling with basic executive function—tracking and following through on tasks, synthesizing and retaining new information, proactively and regularly communicating. Unsurprisingly my anxiety level is now high also. It's like I've gone back to my pre-diagnosis state. I need strategies to keep the lid on my head, maintain focus, and restore good performance.

For the last 5 years I was a software engineer and then engineering manager at a 20-person startup. My work was well-regarded, I was productive, and I had a strong relationship with the CEO and my coworkers. I had established processes for tracking work, maintaining communication, and supporting my team members. I am now 3 months into a new job at a 2000-person unicorn. In theory I have the same job function and same number of people reporting up to me, but the organization has a very different shape and I am struggling to get traction.

The sheer volume of communication at NewCompany is immense—a constant flood of emails, long-winded proposals, project documents—all written like people are being paid by the word. Some of this involves complex product or technical concepts that I need to understand, some of it requires quick response, other parts are low-value or don't actually require my attention at all (but being new, I can't always tell which is which).

There are many different work-tracking tools and methods in use by different teams/projects so tasks and status can come from multiple sources. I'm working on consolidating them into one view for myself and regularly grooming the list. However, my level of distractability is so high right now that I am struggling to do even that consistently.

Some days I literally talk myself hoarse with meetings. Establishing and building relationships both within and outside my team is clearly important and something my manager has emphasized, but even when actively taking notes I find I have low retention of the actual content of discussions. I am concerned my team members think I don't care about and/or can't understand what they are working on and my introvert batteries are drained.

Additional challenges:
  • My team and I are in a different city from the main headquarters. The other two teams in our group plus the group manager are both at HQ, and this is my first time being managed remotely. My impression is that the entire group is not viewed as sufficiently productive by upper management, and my manager has expressed directly that she does not view my team as performing at full potential (presumably that's part of what they hired me to deal with). Making visible progress is important here.
  • I am part of a demographic minority in the industry and at NewCompany. In addition I have a less prestigious professional history than my manager and many other people in the organization. I feel secure in my own abilities in the long term, but in the short term both factors invite extra scrutiny.
  • It's a modern tech company so of course they have an open office plan with desks packed close together and a lot of ambient noise. Quiet work space is hard to come by. Noise-canceling headphones help a little. I am also able to work from home 1 day/week and do so if my schedule permits.
Things I'm doing now: asking my manager for guidance and regular checkpoints, defragging my calendar, aggressively filtering email, taking a lot of notes, starting to delegate a few things, trying to build a habit of immediately marking down tasks in a central view. My personal life is also going downhill (messy house, lots of aimless web browsing) but I have been keeping up the basics of a balanced diet, enough sleep, and some exercise. I am open to working with a psychiatrist on medication adjustment. However, due to moving out of state I don't yet have local medical support and probably won't get it in the next couple of weeks.
posted by 4rtemis to Work & Money (4 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a useful youtube channel.
posted by conrad53 at 4:01 PM on November 16, 2019

When my spouse with ADHD is overwhelmed, a stimulation detox seems to help. Goes into a dark room, eyes closed, no screens, not asleep just not taking in inputs. You can't do that at work but maybe if you do it more at home you'll have more bandwidth at work.
posted by crunchy potato at 10:08 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are many different work-tracking tools and methods in use by different teams/projects so tasks and status can come from multiple sources. I'm working on consolidating them into one view for myself and regularly grooming the list. However, my level of distractability is so high right now that I am struggling to do even that consistently.

This is the curse of modern worklife, all these systems that are similar but *just* different enough to mess with your cognition.

A few things that helped me when I last started a new gig and a few things I wished I knew back then:

What helped me:
  • A handwritten todo list. The handwriting part of this was the important part. Getting stuff on paper really helps your brain offload the cognitive load. My strategy is pretty simple: everything goes on the list, no matter how minor and even if you're going to check it off 10 minutes later. This really helps at the end of the day when you can look back and say "Damn, I did a lot of things today."
  • Blocking off time in my calendar to do the prioritizing stuff. I wish I did this one earlier, because it sounds so obvious in retrospect, but when I book a calendar event that is just for me, my teammates (usually) respect it as if it was a group meeting and will leave me alone. It gives me an "island" of time to deal with the onslaught of data. Most open offices have small meeting rooms, so if you can book one and use it, then do so.
  • Going for a short walk, once a day. My brain needs a change of scenery, the more hectic things are, the more critical it is that I give myself an escape hatch. This sounds counter-intuitive, but on my busiest days I try to leave my office and go for a walk around the block. Even if it's only 10 minutes, you're being mindful and resetting your brain.
The only other thing I'll say is that in a transition phase to a new job, the things that at the time seem like they're super urgent will be the things you look back on in retrospect and laugh. The problem, as you've noted, is right now you don't know what those are. You seem to be trying extra hard to listen to your colleagues and to be helpful, this will all be noticed by them, so go a little easy on yourself. You don't have to remember every detail of every project.

Finally, don't let that self-care slip. Your mental life seems to be centered around work and I get it, that is part of starting a new job, but it's important to give your brain a rest. Read a good book, go to a movie, start a new hobby, etc.
posted by jeremias at 6:26 AM on November 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

If your ADHD medication is a generic, did the drug manufacturer remain the same when you relocated?
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:32 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

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