ADHD and Project Management: The Good and Bad
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that is often stigmatized as something that impacts our ability to pay attention, control impulses, and regulate their behavior. I say ‘our’ because I also have ADHD. Now, while ADHD poses unique challenges in various aspects of life, including work, you should never call out the challenges without considering the distinct strengths that can be invaluable in many roles.
One such role that may seem counterintuitive at first glance is project management. In this article, we will explore how ADHD can both present challenges and offer advantages in the realm of project management, and how individuals with ADHD can effectively navigate and excel in this field.
Challenges for ADHD in project management
As mentioned, ADHD is often associated with difficulty paying attention, challenges in getting things done, and even in sitting still / paying attention. These things can cause challenges in any job but we’ll talk specifically to working in project management with ADHD in this article. Some of the common hurdles include:
Attention Difficulties – when you can’t focus
Individuals with ADHD may struggle with maintaining attention for extended periods, leading to missed deadlines, overlooked details, and reduced productivity. And yet… all these things are required for many jobs and even more as a project manager.
It’s important to find ways to create focus in any role that you may find yourself in. A lack of focus can lead to negative reviews, missed promotions and missed opportunities.
Effective project management requires impeccable time management skills. Individuals with ADHD may struggle with time perception; this can make it challenging to estimate project durations accurately and allocate resources accordingly. We’ll talk a little more about ways to support this farther below.
Organization and Planning
Efficient organization and planning are the cornerstones of successful project management. ADHD can make it harder to structure tasks, prioritize activities, and maintain a systematic approach, resulting in disorganized workflows and increased stress levels.
One thing, though, that you will see me say over and over again here… is that because of our challenges in organization and executive function, we are often experts at finding new ways to do things and to make them work for us.
This out of the box approach to organization and planning often allows us to see things that others may not and can really end up being a positive rather than a hinderance in project management.
The positives: embracing ADHD in project management
While ADHD may present challenges, it’s important to recognize the unique strengths individuals with ADHD bring to the table. Leveraging these strengths can lead to innovative problem-solving, enhanced creativity, and improved project outcomes. Here are some of the advantages:
Despite difficulties with attention span, individuals with ADHD often experience episodes of hyperfocus —an intense state of concentration on a desired endeavor and task. This hyper focus can be harnessed to achieve exceptional productivity as it becomes part of being deeply absorbed in our work.
Though often seen as a detriment, because it limits our productiveness and can be a distraction, the ability to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously can be advantageous for the person with ADHD.
Studies often show that people lose significant amount of time when they engage in multi-tasking. Those studies, however, do not typically differentiate between individuals with or without ADHD — where the multi-tasking can be a source of dopamine. In such an instance, individuals with ADHD may excel at handling complex projects with several moving parts; often switching between tasks with relative ease.
ADHD fosters creativity and divergent thinking; enabling project managers to generate unique solutions and identify innovative approaches. We can bring fresh perspectives to problem-solving.
You’ll also likely see me say that because we’ve had to live in a world that isn’t built for our brains, many of us ultimately end up having to create unique and interesting ways to squeeze into the boxes. It’s part of this ability that leads to more effective and efficient project outcomes.
Ways to stay successful in project management with ADHD + a few things managers should know
To overcome the challenges associated with ADHD and thrive as project managers, individuals (and their managers) can employ several strategies:
You should Capitalize on Hyperfocus
Recognize and harness the power of hyperfocus by strategically aligning tasks with your areas of interest. This is particularly useful for managers to recognize (and applies to employees without ADHD).
Working on something that interests you, that you excel at, and that you can bring impact by working on… that’s what results in an engaged employee. If your manager isn’t seeing your strengths and helping to put you in work situations that harness them, then the organization is doing your skill set a disservice.
Either way, it’s really important that you are taking the time to identify your strengths and the things that turn on your conquer-the-world mode and allow you to ride the dopamine wave.
Develop Effective Time Management Techniques
This may be stating the obvious as you are at a point where you are either 1. considering project management as a career, or 2. already in the business world. For you to get there, you’ve had to have some time management tricks but let’s touch on some others.
Our phones make for great personal reminders and timers. Setting and harnessing those features can be great at making sure you get things done on time. For myself, I find I’m often always running a few minutes behind and so setting both calendar and timer alerts can help make sure I’m not involved in something that I won’t be able to get my brain out of.
In the actual work, consider breaking the work down into achievable milestones. The smaller we break down the work, the more manageable it can become. There’s a limit to this, though, as you will have to find the balance between smaller tasks and “overwhelmed by all the small tasks.”
Always set deadlines. One of the hardest things for us to keep is an ambiguous deadline that may or may not ever happen. Many of us naturally use deadlines as a way to crash into some dopamine (putting everything off until the last minute).
You can read more ways to manage your time in this article about managing time and staying on track with ADHD.
Leverage project management tools for ADHD
One of the reasons I’m even here writing this article is because I could not find technology that thought of my brain when it came to organizing my work project management. Project management tools like Asana, Jira, and even Clickup and Notion often became too overwhelming for me to use.
Why were they so overwhelming? Well, often it was because of the work I had to do (on top of all the other work) to think about how to customize and set up my projects. I wasn’t really managing my work — if I could get it set up, I was managing the system.
So here’s Leantime — where we’re building a work management tool for ADHD and other neurodivergent conditions. Finding a tool that builds with you in mind allows you to be better at what you do best, better facilitate collaboration and task distribution and maintain visibility.
Looking for other project management tools for ADHD? Be sure to read this one.
Delegate and Collaborate
Part of working on the things that you enjoy, can hyperfocus, or are skilled at means that you’ll need to be able to identify and delegate. As a project manager, there may be more room for delegation and it’s important to be direct with your team and where you 1. either need the help and support, or 2. where your strong points are. Done well, collaborative environments can provide support, enhance accountability, and help manage project complexity effectively.
Lean into Structure
If I don’t put my keys in the same place every day, I won’t find my keys again. Develop rituals, routines, and structured steps that allow you to stay consistent.
Starting hard to do tasks can also get easier when you’ve created a pattern to follow; there comes a point where the act of the routine can push you into the hard work.
Ultimately, consistent work habits can provide a sense of stability and reduce distractions.
To summarize how ADHD works in favor of managing projects…
ADHD presents unique challenges in the field of project management but with the right strategies and mindset, it’s possible to not only overcome these hurdles but to even excel at work.
To succeed as project managers, individuals with ADHD should capitalize on their periods of hyperfocus, aligning tasks with their interests and break down projects into manageable chunks. Effective time management techniques, including the use of calendars, reminders, and project management tools, can help them stay organized, meet deadlines, and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Leveraging technology, such as project management software and automation tools, can streamline workflows, improve communication, and enhance overall project efficiency. Delegating tasks and collaborating with team members who possess complementary strengths can foster a supportive and productive work environment.
Lastly, fostering open communication with colleagues and stakeholders about ADHD can help raise awareness and create an environment of understanding and support. By sharing their unique perspectives and strengths, individuals with ADHD can contribute to more creative problem-solving, improved decision-making, and ultimately, project success.
In conclusion, while ADHD poses certain challenges in project management, it also includes distinct strengths that can be vital for success. By employing effective strategies, leveraging technology, embracing structure, and seeking support when needed, it’s possible to navigate the complexities of project management, overcome obstacles, and make significant contributions to the field. With the right mindset and a supportive environment, project managers with ADHD can excel and drive exceptional results in their professional endeavors.
Are you in project management? We’d love to hear your thoughts. How have you made project management work for you?
Some other articles you may be interested in: