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My question is about techniques that people with ADD use to manage working in the tech community.

I have ADD (the Attention Deficit Disorder and not the hyperactive type). I specifically picked the tech community because it's what I am in. In particular, it's a field that's not very tolerant or understanding of ADD issues (unlike something like art or creative writing), not because of any inherent flaws in the people but by its very nature.

In my case it means that I get very overwhelmed when first presented with a new problem and lots of information (documentation, notes from people, web links, papers, etc.)

It also means that even in an area I know well, my brain "misfires" and jumps to erroneous conclusions.

It is very easy for me to lose the thread of something, following along with verbal explanations is a bit of a challenge (e.g. something that the person said and even stressed, I can easily miss) and its very hard to switch tasks (partly because of the long "load" times of a previously "paged out" task).

I am also somewhat forgetful. My way of coping with this is to keep extensive notes, organize things such that conceptually close things are also physically close (for this reason lab notebooks with their fixed page ordering have never really worked for me), and generally keep my head down (don't volunteer for anything or take on any overly challenging assignments).

I get by and occasionally get good ideas, but I am considered something of a slowpoke.

As I progress in my career (read "get older") and with increasing demands on employees to deliver yesterday, matrix management encouraging multiple projects, and as time progresses my own notes accumulating and themselves needing some kind of management, needless to say this is becoming more challenging.

Q: What advice do others with similar issues in similar situations have?

PS: I have tried Adderall, it worked for a while but slowly began to lose effectiveness and I had trouble sleeping

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    Not completely sure from the context, are you currently employed in a 'tech' job just now? If so, are your superiors aware of your condition? – user34587 Jun 7 '18 at 6:56
  • You need a good team to work with. Have a chat with a superior that you feel most comfortable with, or speak to HR. No one is perfect, and the fact you're trying despite having difficulties, is something to be proud of. Never put yourself down, or give up because of what others may/might think of you. When people quit, you never see them again, and the ones you do see like you for who you are, so don't get put down. Don't forget that every diamond has a day to shine! – 3kstc Jun 7 '18 at 11:14
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    Hyperfocusing is a common tendency/side effect of ADD and ADHD. If you can figure out how or what can trigger it in your particular condition, ADD doesn't have to be a curse. On the contrary, it can actually become a strength and make you invaluable. – DanK Jun 7 '18 at 18:04
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    aside: there's no such thing as ADD, it's been ADHD for two DSMs now (~20 yrs). Also, if you haven't already, read "driven to distraction"; it changed my life for the better, and i can't imagine it wouldn't help you with the symptoms described. it's going to have far more info than even the best answers here can provide. – dandavis Jun 7 '18 at 20:30
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    I had similar experiences with ritalin and adderall. I'm of the opinion that, while they can certainly be performance enhancers, they don't really treat the symptoms of short attention span and disorganized thought patterns. They just make all your thoughts come 10 times faster, making you more productive. – AffableAmbler Jun 8 '18 at 0:54
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Working as a software developer and being diagnosed with ADHD should make me qualified to chime in on this.

ADHD (with or without the hyperactivity) can create problems in a very regulated workplace - but it can be highly valuable when it comes to problem solving. Creativity and thinking outside the box can be helpful when faced with a difficult or seemingly unsolvable problem. I have been recommended for my creative solutions more than once.
Try to find an area in which you can be creative (at work or in your free time) to achieve some balance. It will help with your mood and (maybe) your ability to focus.

Keeping notes is a good way to keep on top of things and should in no way be seen as a bad thing. In the tech industry documentation is key - so you keeping notes is a big plus. Maybe you can organize your notes electronically or scan them? You could create a folder structure to organize them.

Having extensive documentation can be hard to read. Try to find a way to relate to the material and create a fictional scenario (in your head/on paper) to understand the concept. This might help staying focused.

If you have trouble following the conversation in meetings or remembering key parts ask if you can record the meetings or make extensive notes (highlighting the key parts).
If you don't understand something ask the person to clarify. You can also ask the other person to send you an email summary or send a summary yourself to make sure you have understood them correctly ('As discussed in our meeting...').

There are lots of different medications that may or may not help you - but if you feel like Adderall has helped you for a while you might want to try another medication (talk to your doctor for that). I had similar experiences with a different medication.
Not everyone with ADHD needs medication, but it can help while learning techniques to cope with the symptoms. You could also look into behaviour therapy - it doesn't help immediately but it does help in the long run.

Structure is a key component for me - I have set times for my alarm, when to leave the house, take a break, eat dinner, go to bed. If I structure my day I can keep the chaos out (mostly).

Sometimes more is better - I have learned that I work best if I have 3-5 (smaller) projects on my plate. This gives me the oppurtunity to switch to a different task if I am stuck/bored or waiting for input and creates some pressure to finish a task. If I get stuck or my brain misfires I'll work on something else for a while to 'reset'. You could ask your manager for a smaller side project (preferably with a set, but reasonable time-frame) to try it out.

12

I'm a Controls Engineer with professionally diagnosed ADHD.

Having taken Adderall (2004-2007) for my ADHD, and having been un-medicated since, I can tell you that debugging/programming is much easier while on Adderall (though you do lose sleep).

Things that help me in day-to-day work tasks (particularly programming) generally involve me choosing what distracts me.

  • If possible, work on more than one project at once. When you feel your attention slipping, switch to another project. If sufficiently different, this lets your attention "refresh" for the initial project.
  • The so called Pomodoro Technique is surprisingly effective, though I don't strictly follow what it prescribes. As a break, I tend to choose to walk to someone's desk rather than email them, or I will research an aspect of the job I am not as familiar with.
  • I schedule out blocks (2-3 Hours) at work for programming time. Much of my lost productivity comes when someone interrupts me with a question. It takes longer for me to get back on task in part because of my ADHD.
  • Do not skip meals. This seems like common sense, but it's surprising how easy it is to forget to eat when you're doing a million little things. I find it's easier to get distracted when I don't get enough food or sleep. This is particularly hard to do while on Adderall, as it suppresses appetite and is a stimulant.

I hope this helps.

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    +1 for the food mention. for me that's two-fold. 1. food slows down the absorbing of medication, making for a smoother and flatter mg/dl over time concentration curve. Stimulant spikes cause machine-gun thinking, jitters and talking like a coked-up comic. Food lets you maintain a stable level, which can then be adjusted via dosage. 2. Food itself helps memory and concentration, or at least, being hungry (even if you don't feel hungry) will cause your body to seek out food instead of your task, and those impulses may not present as cravings, but they will be distractions. – dandavis Jun 8 '18 at 6:39
  • @dandavis exactly my point. I don't get hungry, my performance at work just suffers, then I get the shakes and I go "oh, I must need to eat". By the time it gets to that point, I've already missed at least one meal. – GOATNine Jun 8 '18 at 11:50
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I have ADD, ADHD, and it's been suggested that I may be somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum though I haven't received an official diagnosis for that. I also happen to work in the tech industry. I've had every issue you've described and then some. The good news is you're not making the mistake of being stubborn and denying that you have a problem like I did. The bad news is you have an up hill battle ahead of you if you really want to remain successful and competitive within the industry. Here's what I've found helped me.

1) Diet matters. You don't need to calorie count or micromanage your macros or anything to that extreme but things like carbs, caffeine and sugar will make actively harm your ability to slow down and think through things. I stopped drinking coffee, soda and tea completely and mostly removed sweets and junk food from my diet.

You should also be eating breakfast in the morning, ideally you want something high in protein so that you get a slow steady release of energy.

2) Stress management is key. When you start getting stressed out or frustrated your mind starts to race. The more stressed out you are the more mistakes you make and the more confrontational you become (at least in my experience). If you want to you be successful, or hell, if you want to keep your job in most places this needs to stay under control. Learn to recognize when you are getting wound up or frustrated or whatever and how to bring yourself back down. It helps if you're in a work environment where you have some leeway to take frequent brakes.

3) Take notes. Take lots of notes. I got a handheld notebook from Walmart. Best 80 cents I've ever spent. During meetings, one one ones, whatever you want to write everything you can down. If you use software to track bugs and features then fill free to leave frequent comments and keep the descriptions as up to date as possible.

4) Stay in shape. No seriously. Frequent exercise is a key to managing all that excess energy. I personally have found that going to the gym just to go to the gym gets boring so if it helps you find a hobby that keeps you in shape.

5) Get a good night's sleep. Make this a priority.

6) Meditate. Even if it's just for 10 minutes a day, it will help you focus and concentrate. I highly recommend looking into mindfulness meditation.

7) Read more and reduce electronics. I don't know if you play a lot of video games or watch a lot of movies but if you do I recommend cutting back on those and reading more. Find something enjoyable to read. This will help improve your attention span, attention to detail and help you sleep better.

8) Talk to a professional. I can't recommend this enough. Talk to a professional who specializes in adults with ADD/ADHD. They will be able to recommend specific solutions to your specific problems. If anything they tell you contradicts anything I told you then listen to them instead.

9) If all else fails consider taking medication. However if you do this I recommend talking to psychiatrist who specializes in ADD/ADHD regularly to make sure you get on the right doses of the right stuff. There may be some trial and error involved but keep working with your psychiatrist and be open about any issues you may be having regarding the medication.

  • +1. Wish I could up-vote again for the advice, "If anything [a professional] tells you contradicts [my advice] listen to them instead." – J. Chris Compton Jan 22 at 15:49
1

I have ADHD too.

To add a fresh approach to what has already been suggested - here's a point I would consider:

Don't change yourself to fit your job - change your job to fit yourself.

Now, this isn't to say that you shouldn't do any self-improvement at all. Basically all the advice around diet, exercise, sleep etc is stuff you should be doing.

But, IMO, that's not going to be the magic bullet. The fact is - your brain is different to others, and is going to be more suited to some tasks, and less suited to others.

Something I've found perplexing at times is how I can be super engaged with some kind of problem, and seem like a really motivated and talented programmer, who is super focused and getting to the bottom of the problems, and then othertimes, just seem like a lazy, bad work-ethic developer who is slacking off.

But the difference I've found - is it's the kind of work I'm that makes the difference. If the work is genuinely interesting to me, then it creates a feedback loop that keeps me interested.

In particular - I've found that I'm much more productive when there is a really solid bit of work ahead of when, that I can get head down and plow through and solve. Where I'm less engaged is when it piecemeal work with unclear requirements that goes around and around in circles.

My advice then is:

a) Have an honest conversation with yourself (and friends that you trust and/or a therapist) about what kind of work actually engages you.

Perhaps you really enjoy talking to people and nailing down requirements and would suit a job towards being a business analyst. Perhaps you enjoy debugging bleeding edge frameworks and discovering obscure technical issues. Perhaps you like clearly defined work and plowing through tickets.

It's up to you to know what works for you.

Your job might not always resemble what ideally suits you, so:

b) Trick your job into looking what more suits you

For example - say you've been given some really vague and broad ticket. Break it down into some small steps that you define so at least you are getting the satisfaction of what looks like clearly defined work. That's also likely to look good in the eyes of management/your colleagues.

However, these little tricks shouldn't be used as the primary way of surviving your job. It's more important that at a larger level your job suits you. Personally I've found going freelancing good - as I have a high level engagement with a fresh project and learning new things, whereas I feel like things plateau in permanent roles.

A few other things

  • Do see a psychiatrist with an ADHD speciality - In my experience - GPs are not particularly experienced or comfortable adjusting medication - psychiatrists are.

Should you tell your colleagues that you have ADHD?

  • I lean towards 'yes'. In my experience a lot of the difficulties I experience are social - where people are offended that it seems like I'm not paying attention - and I think if people know that you have a condition, then they are going to be a bit more forgiving.
  • Thanks, in some sense I recently did (1) - I am in a different job which is a much closer fit for my situation - as you mention there are on days and off days, on times and off times, and I like the more "researchy" environment I"m in now which takes some of that pressure off. – S.N. Jan 24 at 7:23
-5

Neither I have or deal with ADD, nor am I much knowledgeable of the organic/physiological aspects of the brain. But here are some thoughts.

To the extent possible, you should avoid intake of medications. Your experience with Adderall is typical of many other drugs, not to mention their side effects.

You should also make sure that you sleep as many hours as you can on a regular basis. People embrace the mistaken position that adulthood and sleeping 5, 6, or 7 hours necessarily go hand-in-hand, but it is during sleep time where regenerative processes (including those of the brain) take place.

Games like chess or bridge help improving persistence and intellectual faculties such as focusing, planning, and reasoning.

Note: I'm aware that family situations (like children or taking care of the elderly) can make it hard to follow these two recommendations.

You accurately point out that the industry is not tolerant to ADD. This will sound harsh, but the industry simply cannot be tolerant to that. This applies to fields other than the tech industry, and neither competition nor job complexity is going to get any easier.

Staying sharp is vital for tasks like business analysis, programming, and production support. For example, the latter two often involve debugging code, which I can imagine seems insurmountable for any person dealing with the issues you describe. That is why I suggest you try these meds-free recommendations.

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    I don't think we should so strongly be dissuading the use of medication for the treatment of medical disorders. Of course it would be better if you can get the same effect by just living a healthy lifestyle, but plenty of people need medication. – Dukeling Jun 7 '18 at 12:40
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    I think if you are not knowledgeable about a certain subject, it is to everyone's benefit that you refrain from chiming in and instead let people who are knowledgeable about the subject give their answers. – TheSoundDefense Jun 7 '18 at 16:00
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    Your answer and the most voted answer could not be farther apart. That answer offered "some people don't need medication" as one suggestion out of many, while you refused to entertain the idea of medication at all. The top answer contains thoughtful and considered advice from a place of experience, while your answer, to be blunt, pushes an agenda from a place of ignorance. I don't believe you have any ill intent, but you need to recognize when your lack of experience will lead to advice that does more harm than good. I say this as someone with ADHD who has to deal with bad advice like this. – TheSoundDefense Jun 22 '18 at 16:07
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    @IñakiViggers That distinction does not meaningfully change the message of your answer, and it does not address all of my other issues. It certainly does not change my opinion that your answer comes from a place of ignorance and does more harm than good. Considering how many downvotes it received, it seems like the Workplace community agrees. – TheSoundDefense Jun 22 '18 at 17:19
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    @IñakiViggers This is what irks me: "To the extent possible, you should avoid intake of medications." This is not advice that you should be giving when you have as little knowledge about ADHD as you admit to having. This is advice that, really, you should only be giving if you are the original poster's psychologist or otherwise have intimate knowledge of their personal ADHD experience. It is extremely inappropriate as generic ADHD advice and potentially harmful, and you should have thought a lot more about it before posting this answer. – TheSoundDefense Jun 22 '18 at 18:20

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