I am what in english could be more closely described as a paid intern. I am happy with my position so far, a month in, it isn't perfect, but I don't need it to be.

In my software developer internship, I am sometimes addled with tasks, that, frankly, no one else wants to do, or has little time to, instead allocating that time in more important tasks, understandably.

I understand this, and "parametrize the entire application's strings so we can adapt localization functionality to our application" is necessary.

That doesn't make it engaging, satisfying, or compelling work. (Perhaps I'm wrong?)

Now, I am not here to complain about it, as I understand it's necessary, but rather, as an intern, who struggles a bit with ADHD, what are some techniques, exercises, or any possible solutions to at the very least, make myself more engaged with the work at hand, and way, way less distracted?

I can't complain about the work, as I know I'll find similar issues along the entire length of my professional career, and I'd like to learn how to deal with it as soon as possible. It's not like I don't want to work, it's just extremely hard.

I am aware of This question and also This one, as well as This other one

These are all good resources, but I am looking something more akin the lines of:

  • Answers based from experience of interns that had a similar struggle.

  • Answers based from other office workers who suffer from ADHD, be it light or severe.

  • Answers from seniors and experts offering solutions, or managers and the like that have dealt with people like me, or that have my issues, and what they reccomended them.

I've been checking the Stack Exchange for a while, and while new, I thought this question was, while similar to the ones linked, a bit different enough to warrant a new question. If that is not the case, I welcome feedback.

NOTE: When doing tasks that are moderately-to-highly engaging, I've developed a few mental tricks to bypass my ADHD on good days (unless it decides to be extremely rude any given day) I've taken medication before, and it's detrimental to my emotional health, so I'd like to avoid that, but I will, if I have to. I am open to mild substances, but I'd like to avoid caffeine as much as possible, as well.

  • Thank you for the insight, but that's a last resort. This only pops up when I need to work on very boring tasks, as I tend to deal with it pretty okayish for the most part. I'd like to resolve this without going to my doctor, or a support group. Just some tricks and tips would be enough, or so I hope. If it's not, I'll try that out.
    – Tarod
    Apr 8, 2019 at 20:42

3 Answers 3


ADHD software dev here. I read both the other replies, and they are good, I +1 all of their advice, but I'd like to throw in my two cents. This is the internet so I'm sure I'll get a lot of replies telling me how wrong I am, but these are all things that have helped me be successful in my personal life.

I am not a doctor (obviously) and ultimately you should listen to what your healthcare provider tells you to do, not a stranger on the internet. But I will say in my opinion medication can be helpful but is not necessarily mandatory for you to be cope and be functional. I tried quite a few ADHD meds and discovered the non-stimulant ones don't do very much, and the stimulants cause so many negative health side effects they outweigh the intended positive primary effect. The hypertension is ridiculous (who cares how productive you are if you're about to have a stroke in your 20s?), and the mood/social effects suck too. It's fine if I'm working in a vacuum but if I get quiet and introverted and inside my head and grumpy but I have to work collaboratively with other people, it's really tough and now it's an entirely different problem that needs to be addressed. So I decided to just go med-free and try to find other ways to deal.

Get good sleep. Ideally, you want 8 hours and a fixed bedtime every night. Sometimes this sucks because staying up all night can be fun but it throws off your rhythm and you'll be impacted for days. Once you get into a solid schedule and it starts feeling natural, you'll see how big a difference it can make. (This is also a part that can be very easily thrown out of whack by meds.)

Eat breakfast. You want to have a good meal to start your day, your brain needs it to function. Don't eat cereal, you'll kickstart your metabolism but without getting many nutrients and just end up hungry hours before lunchtime. I have had the best luck with foods high in protein and fat, like eggs and bacon and avocado for instance. You'll be full longer than usual and have more mental clarity.

Exercise regularly. Building up your body also builds up your mind. If you can run, swim, bike, lift, yoga, soccer, [insert exercise you enjoy here], this will help a lot. You need to do this regularly, I'd suggest 3-6 days a week, usually, you want to have a day off for body to recover. This burns off a lot of your excess energy. Exercising after work gives you something to look forward to, but can be hard to do when you're mentally tired from working and just want to chill. Exercise before work is hard to make yourself do because waking up early sucks, but you'll feel SO much better the whole day, and you start your day off right and feeling accomplished and proud right from the start.

Make calendar/lists/kanban for yourself. This has been mentioned by others already so I won't harp on it too much. You can experiment and find what style works best for you. I use a personal Trello board and have it broken down into Backlog, Doing Today, Current Task, and Done. Each task is color-coded based on how hard/time consuming it is. When you finish a task and drag it over to Done, it feels good. Nice little dopamine burst. Dopamine bursts will keep you going.

Gameify your work. I take regular legally required breaks (2x 15mins and 1x 30min lunch) during my day but when I finish something or make significant progress, I reward myself. This doesn't work well for me if I do it based on time, because then I'm just clock watching, but if I do it based on amount of progress within a given task then I find I'll work a little harder and longer if I know I can go play Switch or read a book in the breakroom for 15 mins after hitting a milestone. It's all about that dopamine reward cycle, keep a carrot on the stick for yourself.

If you need to fidget, then fidget. If I am reading or sitting in a meeting I think best and retain information when I have something to do with my hands. There are lots of ways you can do this without being distracting to others. Twirl a pencil, get a fidget spinner (the quiet one) or a fidget cube (these are awesome), silly putty, legos, something like that. I have a set of building block looking things (they're actually surplus equipment from our lab, but they look kind of sort of like legos) I keep in our meeting room and every morning huddle I make a different pattern or building with them. (Don't make noise!) My boss is aware of my situation and 100% cool with it, and even though I might not look like I'm paying attention, when it's my turn to participate in the conversation I can perfectly repeat everything that was said up to that point and then give my part too. Ironically, if I was sitting there motionless and trying to pay attention, I'd probably be thinking about video games and dinner and not mentally engaged at all.

Take a step back, walk around. Closely related to fidgeting. If you're sitting there and just not accomplishing anything, go take a trip to the bathroom, water fountain, window, courtyard, whatever. Just get up and move for 5 mins. Having a change of scenery forces your brain to reset, and you're still thinking about things even when you're not thinking about things. I've solved a number of bugs while I was on the crapper.

Procrastinating can be a good thing. Got a complex task and you're having trouble staying focused? It's REAL easy for muscle memory to kick in and you open a new browser tab and now you're looking at cats on Reddit and before you know it it's been 20 mins and you don't even remember how you got off track. Don't do that. You may want to try a browser plugin like StayFocused in order to help you break the muscle memory. You can still disable it and go to Reddit like normal, but it can be nice to have a screen pop up and say "hey, you should be working!" and have it jolt you back to focus.

Here's the cool thing though: you can harness this. Don't want to work on your big hard task? That's fine, you can procrastinate into lateral productivity. Quit working on your big hard thing, and do something easy and short. Maybe the easy short thing isn't the priority you "should" be working on, but you can take a breather from whatever is daunting to you and still make 100% use of your time. Then when you finish your big scary thing, there's no more wounded soldier to finish off!

These have been game changers for me, some were tips I got from more experienced ADHD kids and some were trial and error on my part. Hope this helps. If I truly sat and wracked my brain a while I could probably come up with more, but I need to get back to work too. ;)

The last thing I'll mention, look up How To ADHD on Youtube, it's a great channel. (I can't link it, it gets flagged as spam for some reason...? >:( ) While you're on that channel you should look into making your own calming/focus jar, it's helpful for a quick mental reset and also makes a neat desk item conversation starter. :)

Bottom line: Once you get your arms around this, it's hard to view ADHD as a disability, it's more of a character attribute. Not good, not bad, you're just different. You have a different set of strengths and weaknesses than a neurotypical person. You can harness this. You need more structure and planning in your life, but you can work faster and more creatively, juggle many tasks, and approach problems in a manner different than most others will.

You have value and worth, your contributions matter and your organization would be missing out if they didn't have you on board. Never forget that.

  • 1
    Thank you very much! I'll make a small list with these contributions and see what works for me. I already do a few of these, actually, but the rest could definitely help!
    – Tarod
    Apr 9, 2019 at 7:07
  • Glad to help. I had to endure many years of being told by peers, professors, bosses and others that I don't have what it takes, I'm not smart enough, I'm not good enough, I'll never make it. Then I got diagnosed and began my journey of coping. You just have to figure out what works for you. Success will be your revenge.
    – DealWithIt
    Apr 9, 2019 at 16:28
  • 1
    I immediatelly got a Trello following your answer and made it colorful as per @Pyrotechnical 's, too. I completely forgot about figeting, and I noticed I constantly touch my hair, my nose, my ears, etc. This isn't probably good, so I'll need to get something. Exercise is going to be tough but I'll give it some thought. I'm not sure how to Gamify my work, though, I can't do large 15-min breaks willy-nilly (at least not pull out my console. I could browse Stack Exchange or similar for a bit, been mulling about that) Also, thank you so much for the last line <3
    – Tarod
    Apr 9, 2019 at 16:50
  • Making incremental changes, baby steps, can be helpful to introduce new habits. You don't have to be a triathlete overnight. Maybe just start going to gym on Friday afternoon when you don't have to worry about being late to something or not in bed on time. When you get used to that, or find a day/time that works better, add on from there. You'll be surprised how much you can fit in your schedule when you MAKE time for it.
    – DealWithIt
    Apr 9, 2019 at 16:59
  • 1
    I'll do my best! I'll check this answer, later today, I think, it was the one with the most tips. C:
    – Tarod
    Apr 10, 2019 at 7:07

As someone else who struggles with ADHD, the correct answer to your question sits within the realm of what's going to work for you and appropriate coping techniques. As you've indicated that medication is something you're avoiding, I'd defer to whatever your other coping techniques are.

For myself personally, I find it extremely helpful to use to-do checklists on a regular basis. This includes when the work is interesting as well as boring. The former makes sure I don't wander too far away from the actual scope of work, while the latter helps to make sure I do all the things I'm actually supposed to do.

I find the creation of the to-do lists forces me to fully think about what I'm trying to do and makes me break things down into small, achievable goals. Medication or not, I find I often can't think wholly about the entirety of a design without getting mentally sidetracked, so to-do lists help me break the job into easy little bits with the periodic satisfaction associated with crossing something off.

A warning about to-do lists is that colors are a HUGE help. If everything is all black ink, I will just ignore it. But if each job I'm working is red, the tasks are in blue, and the subtasks green, and the responsible party in purple, I do a lot better.

Periodically I find I'm having trouble keeping to my lists and when that happens I change the medium. If my lists were in my notebook, I'll move them to a whiteboard, then to OneNote, and then back to my notebook. It's dumb, but it's what works for me. It may not look terribly professional, but I'd rather concede that minimal bit of professional appearance to avoid the error of doing the wrong job, blowing a budget, or forgetting something important.

  • This is an excellent tip, I NEVER would've come up with flashy colors, and changing mediums. Thank you! This is exactly the kind of answers I was hoping for.
    – Tarod
    Apr 8, 2019 at 20:47
  • I thought this was a good response with good tips. An interesting article also came out on NYTimes recently that looked at organizational psychology from a time vs attention management perspective. IMO it's worth a read. nytimes.com/2019/03/28/smarter-living/…
    – CKM
    Apr 9, 2019 at 3:09

I also struggle with ADHD and have a hard time starting or maintaining tasks that I don't want to do. In order to keep myself from being distracted, I generally end up breaking a large tasks down into more discrete chunks, and I tell myself as I start a chunk that I have to complete it before I can look at anything distracting. These can be chunks that take between ten minutes and an hour, depending on how out of it I am that day and how boring the task is. When I have a goal in sight, and it's not too far away, it's easier to power through and complete it.

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