Working with ADHD: Creating the Ideal Office Environment

Person wearing headphones sits alone in open office, smiling while working on laptopWhen many people with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) think about improving their productivity in the workplace, the main thing that comes to mind is creating and maintaining a to-do list. While keeping track of what you do is important, having your office set up in a way that suits your unique needs is vital to success in the workplace. This is true for anyone, but especially so for someone with ADHD, a condition that tends to make it difficult to concentrate and stay on task.

Here are four simple strategies to help those with ADHD create an optimal work environment:

  1. Get comfortable. To the extent you have control over the furniture and layout, think about your work space. Make certain you have a comfortable, ergonomic chair. In addition to a traditional desk chair, some people find sitting on an inflated exercise ball part of the time or a standing desk attachment to be helpful in reducing fidgetiness. Alternatively, if you don’t like sitting at a desk and aren’t required to, consider other options that may be available to you. For example, some office environments might allow for you to sit on a couch or comfortable reclining chair. In other environments, you may be permitted to mount a large television to the wall in front of you to use as a computer screen, and then use a tray table, lap desk, or similar support item to hold a keyboard and mouse. If you sit with a tray table that is free-standing, make sure the height of it is comfortably proportional to the height of the couch or chair.
  2. Set up stations for different tasks. Spending all day sitting at a desk can be difficult even for people who don’t have symptoms of ADHD. Varying your seating position during the day can be beneficial. If possible, have a chair or couch in the office that you can use to sit at when doing certain tasks (such as reading, organizing papers, making charts, etc.). In addition, if you have a job where you work on a few major projects and have physical materials for them, try to devote a different portion of the room to each one.
  3. Reduce clutter. Having papers piled up on your desk can be distracting and may take away from your productivity. If you need a place to pile papers, it may be helpful to place them on a shelf out of immediate view. Of course, setting up an organizational system where papers are filed regularly so they don’t pile up in the first place would be best. Unless you are using items regularly, keep them off your desk as much as possible. Limit the items on your desk to things you use daily—your computer, perhaps your office phone, and not much else. Having an area within arm’s reach for pens, a stapler, hole punch, etc., may be useful to reduce the frequency of having to get up for supplies.
  4. Stay active. In addition to taking regular breaks, consider small things you can do to stay active while working. For example, using a desk bicycle or elliptical while working may help harness fidgeting while having the added benefit of improving your physical health. Using exercise bands attached to your chair may also be helpful.

Having the optimal work environment, or at least making it as comfortable as possible, is crucial to being successful in the workplace. I hope these suggestions are helpful.

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • josephine

    October 7th, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    ONE would hope that by the time you are old enough to have a real job that you would have figured out the right kind of work environment for you and the things that you need to help you be successful. If you haven’t then that first job is going to be a great time to try out some new strategies and figure out what work environment is going to be the most comfortable to you and help you get the most accomplished. All of that is going to be very important as you continue to work throughout the years.

  • Peyton

    October 7th, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    Having things too cluttered at work or at home is always sure to stress me out the most. If things are not just so, then I have a hard time focusing on what has to be done. Crazy but true for me.

  • phillip

    October 10th, 2016 at 8:07 AM

    I don’t think that I would do too well changing from station to station

  • Trent Y

    October 10th, 2016 at 10:23 AM

    As long as I work somewhere that does not mind of I wear headphones so I can listen to some tunes and let go of the background noise then I am good, I can get everything done that needs to get done. If I have to contend with the conversation and stuff around me though, even if it does not involve me, I have a hard time concentrating and getting things accomplished.

  • Ginger

    October 11th, 2016 at 10:26 AM

    Ok so this is a little off track but I am thinking about the things that I do for my children at home to keep them focused when they really need to be working and getting homework done.
    No tv, just soft music, nothing that they necessarily love but just classical or anything like that that is a little soothing. I also float from desk to desk if they need me and I take that quiet time to get some things of my own done too.
    They always get a little down time when they come home from school before they have to get started on the work to be done at home. A nice little rest or pause in the day is good for them.

  • davey

    October 15th, 2016 at 6:33 AM

    wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had an employer who understood the difficulties and challenges that those of us with adhd face on a daily basis?

  • Leigh

    October 17th, 2016 at 10:23 AM

    The problem might not simply be the work environment in that one particular office
    but what if the whole career path that you have chosen is not the right one for your temperament?
    are you just supposed to up and change jobs or is it better to mold yourself to fit into this environment that you are in?

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D,

    October 19th, 2016 at 4:24 AM

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • HOW

    December 16th, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    Great post and tips. I agree that making different stations is a really beneficial way to keep on task and motivated. Thanks for sharing!

  • David

    August 20th, 2018 at 11:38 PM

    I suffer alot trying to settle to do work. To get focus feels impossible at times, i get bored of everything after 2 or 3 times of doing something. I’m constantly changing from macbook to computer hoping for some stimulation. I’m the owner of my company who has made the transition from being on the tools to office, and my role is now mostly office, but find it extremely difficult to adjust. Boredom / lack of motivation to work on mundane tasks such as quotes is just a real problem. Right now i’ve moved from my desk to the front office coffee table with my macbook for a change of scenery. To somehow inspire me. I’m supposed to be doing work, yet here i am on a website trying to cure my issues with lack of concentration and focus.

  • Liz

    November 7th, 2018 at 5:32 PM

    David, I know I’m commenting a few months late, but my thought is, if you own the company and prefer to be on the tools, set aside some time to be on the tools! It sounds like you hired someone to take over the job you prefer! You’re the boss! Hire someone else to do the office work. I have been in several partnership situations where I was the “creative” and my partner got the organizational part done because we each focused on our strengths.

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