How to Ask for Accommodations at Work (Without Coming Out About ADHD!)

The workplace has become a very challenging place, even for neurotypicals. Maybe it’s always been this way, but with the speed things happen today, increased expectations from bosses and clients and world-wide competition for your job, it certainly seems more stressful than ever. If you have adult ADHD, you add a big bunch of extra challenges to the mix:

  • Inattentiveness and lack of focus can lead to missed details, and make it challenging to accomplish work that requires concentration at the best of times,
  • Forgetfulness has very likely already led to more than one missed commitment and the resulting loss of credibility,
  • Disorganization has you feeling overwhelmed, distracted and jumping from one task to another,
  • Procrastination leads to last-minute, gun-to-the-head, high-stress production to meet deadlines, causing you great stress,
  • Or you play the hero, pitching in to put out other people’s fires while your own work goes undone,
  • and more.

These extra challenges make the workplace a veritable minefield of reprimands and disappointments, but what can you do about it?

The obvious answer, and the one most experts provide, is that “You should ask for accommodations at work.” That sounds simple, doesn’t it? Accommodations have been proven to help, and it’s likely they would help you, but there’s a little problem. How can you ask for and get accommodations unless you disclose your ADHD at work? And as we know, there are risks associated with that.

So what can you do? There are ways of asking for accommodations without disclosing your ADHD. If you don’t feel it’s safe to disclose your ADHD at work, or if you’d just rather not, you’ll be happy to hear there’s a “formula” that will help you to ask for “accommodations” without outing yourself. Use this model “script” to write down what you’d like to say, adapted to your specific circumstances, practice and use again and again with success:

Step 1. Describe your specific struggle and the circumstances surrounding it.

Step 2. Describe a possible solution you’ve thought of.

Step 3. Describe the benefits your boss, your co-workers and you will get from implementing this solution. WIIFY & M (What’s in it for you and me.)

For example, if there’s too much noise in your cubicle farm and you feel you’d be able do a better job preparing a particularly challenging report that you need to do regularly if you had a quiet place to do your work, you would apply the three steps as follows:

Step 1. Describe your specific struggle: Say something like, “I really struggle to stay focused on the XYZ reports because of all the noise in office.”

Step 2. Describe a possible solution: “I’ve thought of one possible solution: when I work on these reports, would it be possible for me to use a closed office, conference room, or to work from home?”

Step 3. Describe the benefits: “This will help me get it done much faster, so Joe can get started on his part sooner, and I’ll complete it with fewer or no mistakes so it’ll reduce the time you spend double-checking everything.”

You’ve done a good job of selling the solution by pointing out the benefits to all, it doesn’t sound like you’re whining… and no one mentioned ADHD!

So the formula is:

accommodations-ask-formula

 

“Job accommodation means modifying a job, job site, or the way in which a job is done so that the person with a disability can have equal access to all aspects of work.”1

Job accommodations may also include the use of tools such as headsets, assistive technology, training, job restructuring, job reassignments or even an administrative assistant.

One of my clients, an administrative assistant, had to review all of her supervisors’ direct reports’ expense reports once a week. This was tedious work that required a lot of focus and some quiet uninterrupted time. The challenge she faced was that she was expected to answer the phone at the same time, which led to numerous mistakes. Here’s the script she used:

Step 1. I’m really struggling with reviewing your direct reports’ expenses. The challenge is that each time I answer the phone, I lose track of where I was before the call. This leads to missing details or making mistakes.

Step 2. I know that I need two or three hours of uninterrupted time when I am most focused to ensure I don’t make these mistakes. I’ve found a possible solution: Could Carol take my phone calls on Tuesday mornings so that I can do the work uninterrupted?

Step 3. With this solution in place, I’ll be able to dramatically reduce mistakes and make sure all the receipts are there and accounted for. This will prevent you from getting calls from the Accounting Department or the company paying out more than allowed by receipts. With fewer interruptions, I may even be able to get it done faster.

Her supervisor thought it was an excellent idea and allowed the phone call transfers so my client was able to complete this work without mistakes. And they all lived happily ever after!

ADHD Adults Need to Focus to Thrive – a new group program

by Linda Walker

If you’re subscribed to my newsletter you know I’ve just launched a new program called Thrive! The Natural Approach to Optimal Focus and Effectiveness for Creative Geniuses.

In this video, I’ll cut to the chase to provide you with information so that you can decide if you want to know more.

I’d love to hear what you think of the video. Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

Routines and Habits: Yes You Can

Baby Steps and ADHDIn my article, “Decisions, One of the Hardest Things You Do,” I described the amazing power of routines, habits and systems to reduce the decisions you make.  Making decisions is hard work, and adults with ADHD struggle to make decisions more than most.  Replacing decisions with routines gives you more energy.  But, I often hear new clients (or people who’d love to be my clients, if they only believed it would work for them) say they can’t develop routines, systems or habits.

If You Think You Can’t

I choose my clients carefully.  If you can’t imagine at least a tiny light at the end of a long tunnel, even the best coach in the world can’t help.  You don’t need to believe in your unfailing ability to make your dreams come true.  As an adult with ADHD, you’ve faced too many setbacks and fruitless struggles to have absolute faith, either in yourself, or in anyone who says they can help you achieve what you haven’t been able to on your own.

When I first meet a client, I often hear a familiar story.  Imagine Stan calls to inquire about coaching for his ADHD.  Even though he’s not happy, Stan works in the same job he’s had for years (or if he’s lost his job, probably not for the first time, he works in the same career) and he doesn’t like it.  It takes all his time and energy.  He leaves the office late, so tired he can only collapse in front of the TV, lacking energy to engage with friends or family, and he crawls out of bed the next morning to do it again.

When I tell Stan I work with Creative Geniuses, adults with ADHD who are bright, creative and ambitious, I hear Stan snort and I know he’s checking if he dialed the right number.  Stan remembers being like that, but no longer.  I want to encourage Stan, but encouragement isn’t enough unless he can find at least a nugget of self-confidence, a belief in the possibility that things could get better.

What does this have to do with routines, habits and systems?

Duane, my husband, an adult with ADHD (and my guinea pig), felt trapped in his life too.  He believed he couldn’t develop routines or change his habits.  But our lives are controlled almost entirely by routines and habits.  Duane wanted to be an artist, but he didn’t have time to draw or paint.  His job took all his time and energy, condemning him to an unfulfilling life.

And although Stan is unhappy, he’ll stick to his routine.  If he loses his job, he’ll find a similar job.  He watches TV out of habit.  Though he’s convinced he cannot develop routines and habits, routines and habits (that he created!) gave him the life he wants to escape!

Ironically, routines and habits provide the fastest route to create the life you want.  Duane’s poor impulse control and attempts to self-medicate (common in ADHD adults) led to an unhealthy lifestyle.  Duane was more than 100 lbs. overweight, smoked two packs a day and never exercised on purpose!  Every attempt to change his life (quitting smoking, crash diets, joining a gym) ended in failure.

You create your new life, whether you change your health, your career, your relationships, or all of the above, by developing routines and habits that guide you gently in a new direction.  When you give your life a drastic makeover, you lose your existing routines and habits.  But since you actually do want to get rid of them, who’d suspect there’s anything wrong with that?  The problem is that without existing routine and habits, you have nowhere to anchor new ones.

Baby Steps Will Get You There

Rather than changing his lifestyle all at once, Duane took baby steps, anchoring new routines and habits to the existing ones.  True story; to begin exercising, Duane decided to walk around the block each time he went outside for a cigarette!  It’s far easier to develop a new habit by anchoring it to an existing one, even if you know the anchor habit will eventually disappear.  Today, Duane no longer smokes; he exercises regularly, and has lost over 100 lbs. (and has kept it off for more than 10 years.)

This approach is guaranteed to work, but when Duane goes from morbidly obese and smoking two packs a day to a healthy lifestyle within one paragraph, you might think the changes took as long to make as they do to describe.  It didn’t, and you can’t instantaneously duplicate those results in your own life.

You can take the first step, but it’s the beginning.  Beginning is fantastic, amazing, beautiful, even magical, but no matter how your beginning turns out, you need courage to take the next step once that first step works (or doesn’t.)  Some steps will fail.  Perseverance matters more than any one event.

I am picky choosing my clients because beginning is not a magic ticket to freedom.  That first step is the tip of the iceberg.  And unless you can imagine that light at the end of the tunnel, you probably won’t try.  And if you do try and it doesn’t work (and by “work,” I mean getting you 100% of the way there) you’ll quit.

Instead, you’ll keep your job (until you can’t anymore), you won’t have time and you won’t enjoy your life… but you’ll accept it because you everyone says you should be grateful for what you have.  You fall for, “You need to face reality.”  But “reality” is a lie.  If you don’t get what you want, it’s because you believe it’s impossible, and if you get what you want, it’s because you start, even though you know it’s impossible, and you keep at it even though you know it won’t work, until one day you look around and realize, you did it.  When I choose a client, it’s someone who’s ready to start even knowing it’s impossible.  When we work together, you’ll be surprised just how far we can get.

Decisions, One of the Hardest Things You Do

One of the hardest activities you’ll undertake today is making decisions.  As our society becomes ever more crowded with options, and information about those options, the number of decisions we make, and complexity of the analysis required in making those decisions seems to grow daily.  Making decisions is hard work.  No wonder you’re tired at the end of the day.

Tim Ferriss, author of “The Four Hour Workweek,” theorizes that we all start the day with the ability to make a certain number of decisions, and that once you’ve reached your limit, whatever it is for you, the remaining decisions you make will be less than optimal.  You’ll be tired, less creative, cognitively impaired.  To use a modern metaphor, you have limited bandwidth, and each decision takes up some of that bandwidth.  Once it’s used up, you won’t have enough remaining bandwidth to pursue big dreams.

Some people have a greater-than-average capacity for decision making, just as some people have a natural advantage in certain sports.  Of course, others have a lower decision-making capacity.  Perhaps ADHD lowers your decision-limit.  You can still make decisions, but the more decisions you make, the more likely the quality of your decisions will suffer.

Save Your Decisions for Things That Are Important

If you have a limited number of decisions you can make easily and correctly each day, it makes sense to save your decisions for things that are important to you.  While eliminating frivolous decisions can benefit anyone, if you have ADHD, reducing the number of decisions you make unnecessarily gives a bigger pay-off.  This is why rituals, routines and systems are so powerful for adults with ADHD.

Develop Routines In Lieu of Decisions

Developing routines eliminates daily decisions by making them once rather than repeatedly.  Save your energy and your creative genius for decisions that count.  If each day you debate over going to the gym, you waste energy and some of those limited decisions you can make each day.  If instead, you decide (just once) you’ll go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you’ve eliminated three decisions per week.

Michael Phelps, the Olympic champion swimmer who happens to have ADHD, was born with bigger lungs than 99.9% of the population.  Some people are born better swimmers; perhaps some are born with more decision-making capacity.  But just as we are not all capable of Michael Phelps exploits in the water, we can’t all be gifted in decision making.

Systems Eliminate Unnecessary Decisions

Automating or systemizing activities to eliminate unnecessary decisions pays off big-time.  The rewards for adults with ADHD are extraordinary.  After all, if your goal was to cross the river but you could not swim, you would benefit far more from a canoe than Michael Phelps, who could dive in and be on the other side before you had your life jacket on!

If it can’t be automated, can you create a ritual or routine around it?  Do you decide each morning to brush your teeth?  Or do you do it automatically?  These are simple examples of an extremely powerful strategy, just one of the powerful strategies you’ll implement in your own life in the Maximum Productivity Makeover.

Eliminate Overwhelm

Many adults with ADHD overwhelmed by the decisions they need to make every day often despair because their efforts to create routines and systems have failed.  They tell me they’d love to become more productive by creating systems, routines and habits (and thus eliminating energy-draining decisions), but all their past efforts have come to naught.  In fact, they’re convinced this strategy can’t work for them.  Well, I have good news about that…

Stay tuned, because in my next article, “Routines and Habits: Yes You Can,” I’ll share some of the secrets adults with ADHD can use to establish routines and habits (even if you’re absolutely convinced it’s impossible for you!)

Taking Charge Creates Ripples

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Recently, I met someone for the first time, and as usual, I explained that I was a coach working with adults with ADHD. As happens so often (far more often that simple coincidence would account for, I’m convinced, but that’s another story!), he declared that he’d been diagnosed with ADHD. His biggest issue, he mentioned, was that he found it impossible to stick with any routine. He felt he simply didn’t have the necessary self-control.

Take Charge With Self-Control

I smiled, although somewhat sadly. His response, and his evaluation of his own abilities, is one I hear frequently. It can be hard for anyone to set and achieve goals, but one of the ways to make it easier is to create a structure using habits and routines that help you achieve goals almost on autopilot. If you’re convinced you don’t have the self-control necessary to create habits or to stick to routines, it becomes far more difficult to achieve your goals and realize your dreams.

You Think You Have No Self-Control

Recently, I had two participants in my group coaching program, each of whom swore they had never been successful reaching goals because they had no self-control. They both felt powerless, resigned and completely at the mercy of their adult ADHD. If you have no self-control, how can you take charge of your life? Without self-control, you must be at the mercy of some outside controlling force, and in this case, they were turning that power over to their ADHD.

However, just as people have varying degrees of strength, there’s no one who doesn’t have any muscles. Some people have a naturally larger body frame and so are stronger initially, but regardless of your size, you have muscles, and a lack of strength does not mean you’re destined to always be weak. No matter how strong you are when you start, you can train and exercise your muscles and grow stronger. With the proper training, you can grow to be immensely strong.

There’s Some Good News

There’s some very good news about self-control. Research shows that self-control can be exercised and strengthened. Regardless of how much (or little) self-control you feel you have, you can train yourself to have better self-control. Some people may wonder why they would want to improve their self-control through training and exercises, but your level of self-control affects your level of success in your career, your relationships, your finances and your environment (would you like to live in a clutter-free home). Working out will build your muscles, but not everyone is interested in becoming a bodybuilder. However, building your strength will also let you lift your child in your arms, load your luggage in your car to head off on an adventure or move the couch to find the TV remote! So if you want to take charge of your life, you WILL need to develop your self-control.

And There’s Even Better News

The even better news about self-control is that just as working out in the gym to improve your strength has positive repercussions throughout your life, develop self-control in one area of your life and it will spill over into other areas. If you choose, for example, to abstain from eating sweets for a period of time, you’ll soon find you’ll begin to exercise more self-control in other aspects of your life as well. In his research on the effect of self-control training on overall self-control performance, psychologist Mark Muraven discovered that after two weeks of strengthening willpower (by abstaining from eating sweets or performing a challenging hand exercise), participants also tested higher in a difficult concentration task that required a large amount of self-control. Other studies show that starting and sticking with an exercise routine can help you improve your finances, your focus, control your temper, reduce clutter and more.

Look for Opportunities Instead of Problems

So, rather than focusing on the areas of your life where you lack self-control, consider where you do have self-control. We all have habits and routines (and they’re not all bad!), just as we all have muscles. Take charge of any aspect of your life that you can. Practicing self-control will build those muscles and you’ll soon be able to apply your new-found strength to other areas of your life, areas where, in the past, you may have felt completely out of control. You might just be surprised where the ripples spread.

Enjoy the Ripples!

Remember those two Maximum Productivity Makeover participants who swore they would never be able to get into a routine? Though they started small, as they worked through the program, they were able to successfully introduce routines in their lives. Building on that success, it wasn’t long before they also noticed that they were able to greatly improve their time management skills and have a significant positive impact on their performance at work. They’re enjoying the ripple-effect of taking charge of their lives, and you can too!

What You Can Do:
1. Work your self-control muscle by taking on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d rather not do. For example, cut out sweets, sit up straight, take the stairs, or whatever you choose that’s a little outside your comfort zone.

2. Plan for how you’ll deal with those times when you feel you want to give in, give up or just not bother. When Duane quit smoking, every time he felt like having a cigarette, he kissed me instead. I always made sure to comment on how nice it was to kiss him without his breath smelling like an ashtray.

3. Give yourself a self-control break. After challenging yourself, you sometimes feel depleted, so don’t try to do too much at once. Give yourself a chance to bounce back.

4. So now, go ahead and take charge!

Parenting Your Young ADHD Adult to Success

As a parent of a young adult with ADHD, I know just how much most parents must be involved in their ADHDer’s life to help them succeed. Throughout childhood and adolescence, your ADHD son or daughter has had to lean on you to make decisions, get organized and manage life’s complications.  As a result, when your child has ADHD, you continue to exercise a lot of influence in her life much longer than most parents, often far beyond her teen years.

Then They Pull Away

And then one day, she begins to pull away, wanting more autonomy.  Normal, yes, but this can be a very distressing time for you.  Every parent feels a twinge of rejection, but it may be worse when your child has ADHD.  Most parents worry about the decisions their adult child will make, and since your ADHDer has needed your involvement more than most, you worry even more.  How is she going to manage college or university on her own?

Normal, Not Easy

First, let me reassure you.  Your son or daughter’s desire for autonomy is normal and healthy; it’s not a reflection of their feelings for you.  They are not rejecting you, they are embracing their own independence, albeit sometimes awkwardly.  Of course, you struggle with your desire to protect them from that big bad world out there, while at the same time, wanting desperately for them to spread their wings and fly on their own.

Life Lessons by Any Other Name

However, despite your ADHDer’s desire to make her own decisions, she is not transformed into a good decision-maker, organizer or time manager overnight.  You fear she’ll make mistakes (News flash! She will!) as she learns to think for herself, or worse, rather than thinking for herself, she’ll seek “help” with her decisions, so that rather than thinking for herself, she’ll resort to the wrong help and potentially jeopardize her chances of success at school, at work, in life.

This is especially true if your child is pursuing higher education.  As they prepare to begin their post-secondary education, this is often the first time young adults face decisions that can significantly alter their life path.  Here are seven strategies to help your ADHD adult child on the road to independence.

Seven Strategies to Help Your ADHD Child Succeed

Strategy #1:  Keep the lines of communication open.  Make her understand she can discuss anything with you, and the best way you can make sure they understand this is by demonstrating that you are a good listener (not a lecturer!)  Ask non-leading, non-judgmental questions that help her clarify her decision.

Strategy #2: Declare (and demonstrate) your intent to encourage and respect her independence. Be available to discuss things with her if she needs to, and when you are discussing things, also understand that you are NOT always right.  Your beliefs may not be her beliefs.

Strategy #3: Treat her like the adult she is becoming. Have adult conversations with her, ask her opinion about current events or other topics she is interested in, and engage in activities together as two adults rather than parent and child.  Children with ADHD often lag behind their peers in maturity and suffer rejection because of it.  However, this often leaves them with fewer mature roles models whose behavior they can emulate.  You can provide that example.

Strategy #4: Help her make decisions without trying to influence them. When she does come to you for help making decisions, don’t step in to make the decision for them, don’t even try to influence their decision.  Ask questions that allow her to notice blind spots she may have in her thinking.  And unless the object of the decision is illegal, unethical, immoral, support it.  If it is a decision where you KNOW the outcome will have a HUGE impact on her life, ask if you can present your views, and then, with permission, make your case and then support her, regardless of the decision she makes.

Strategy # 5: Seek out specialized ADHD help and training. ADHDers usually need a different approach to things like managing time and getting organized.  ADHD coaches are trained to help ADHDers effectively plan their lives, get organized, manage their finances, use effective study skills and learning strategies, become better at self-advocacy and make better decisions.  Unlike you, a coach is not emotionally attached to the results and so won’t force a decision one way or the other. Coaching is meant to empower your ADHD son or daughter, not make them more dependent.

Strategy #6: Help your ADHD adult become their own advocate. Speaking of empowerment, give your ADHD adult the information she needs and encourage her to make her own calls for appointments, make her own requests for accommodations and so on.  Yes, you may need to sit beside her on her first call, but with practice, she’ll be able to make it on her own.

Strategy #7: Celebrate every success! Celebrate each step toward independence, each happy result, each effort made toward her goals.  Be on the lookout for and notice anything she does well.  Helping your ADHD son or daughter make it on his or her own is an important part of your role as a parent.  When a decision does not provide the desired results, help her see the lessons learned.

Challenges… and Rewards

Being a parent has its challenges, but being the parent of an adult with ADHD can make it even more challenging. Remember that regardless the direction she takes in life, you want to come out the other side of this period of transition with your relationship intact, changed, yes, but strong and loving.

If your relationship is strained because you don’t see eye to eye, it may be time to bring in an ADHD-trained neutral third party, leaving you to play a (perhaps more comfortable) supportive role in her quest for autonomy.  The reward, and your ultimate objective (the objective of every parent), is for your child to have a happy life doing something they love.

Make Like a GPS… Recalculating!

This week while coaching one of my Maximum Productivity Makeover groups, one participant mentioned that she felt ashamed that she had not completed something she had committed to the previous session.  It is common for adults with ADHD to feel this way.  After all, they have been punished, embarrassed, and put down for making mistakes all their lives.  They’ve been subjected to this for so long that they’ve now taken over the job and beat up on themselves!

I would like to propose a different option: pretend you’re a GPS, just say, “Recalculating!”  When you’ve made a commitment and have tried your absolute best (and remember that your best is “everything possible given what you knew at the time”) but you just weren’t able to pull it off, there is no shame in failing.  Instead of putting yourself down, consider what you have to learn.  Examine what went wrong; maybe you need a new system or you tried to tackle more than you could handle.  Whatever it is, you gain nothing from throwing your hands up in defeat, hanging your head in shame, or resorting to blame and finger-pointing.

If instead, when you get lost you react like your GPS does, and “recalculate”, that is, allow your “mistake” or missed goal to become an opportunity to learn and to readjust how you do things, you need never feel that shame again.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t keep your promises and honor your commitments.  Instead, adopt a new “learning approach” to making mistakes.  Ask yourself, “What have I learned from this experience?”, “How can I make this work next time?”, “What do I need to do before I attempt this?” and “Do I need some help?”

And then simply recalculate… uh, recommit.