Jobs for people with ADHD: Try Project Management

Jobs for people with ADHD

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

If you have ADHD, you might find yourself wondering: what are the best jobs for people with ADHD? ADHD (or ADD) is a condition that impacts the way dopamine is dispersed in the brain.

Dopamine is often referred to as the “motivation” hormone or even a “feel good” hormone. The impacts of these shifts, for someone with ADHD, can affect your ability to focus, prioritize, and can impact time management.

Now, saying all that, if you’re trying to find a list of the best jobs for someone with ADHD, you might be surprised by the title on this article suggesting to try Project Management and I don’t blame you. Having now had more than one career, as someone with ADHD, I can confidently say that… having ADHD can make you the ideal project manager.

In this article, we’re going to discover why you may actually be a rock star project manager if you have ADHD.

One of the best jobs for people with ADHD

So struggling to focus, even prioritize, and bad time management may sound completely counterintuitive to being a successful project manager but in this article, I would counter this idea by saying that, for some of us, we have had to learn how to overcome a world that isn’t built for people like us.

This means that we’ve had to learn how to think out of the box, find creative ways to keep ourselves on track, think of new ways to stay motivated even when we can’t take it anymore, and our brains will help find the dopamine to get where we need to be.

And for some of us, that means that we’ve learned how to lean into the things that really interest us, that challenge our skills, and that support dopamine in our brains.

People with ADHD think creatively

People with ADHD are often creative and innovative thinkers. We often have a unique perspective on things and can come up with out-of-the-box solutions to problems. We’re thrill seekers; we like and some of us even thrive in change and ambiguity. We need the scenery to change and we seek adventure in a way that many people don’t.

How does this benefit being in project management? Well, project managers are the ultimate project firefighters; when there is a risk, a challenge, and uncertainty, project managers strive to be the gate keepers of all things and are responsible for guiding the team through the options.

While many project managers don’t necessarily do the official planning, you can support, guide and offer solutions. As a project manager, all of this can be a valuable asset, as you are constantly looking for ways to keep out the fires and even to improve processes and increase efficiency.

Even for myself, this way of thinking has often meant that I’m good at anticipating events, predicting when things may happen and putting the puzzle together. It is hard to hold together all the complexity that comes in project management but there’s many things that help our brains be built for it.

It’s one of the best jobs for people with ADHD because we hyperfocus

Another advantage of having ADHD as a project manager is the ability to hyperfocus.

Hyperfocus, as described by Ashinoff and Abu-Akel in a 2019 psychological research paper, “is a phenomenon that reflects one’s complete absorption in a task, to a point where a person appears to completely ignore or ‘tune out’ everything else. It is generally reported to occur when a person is engaged in an activity that is particularly fun or interesting.”

They go on, after a literary review and are able to pull out these 4 elements, or requirements, to what a hyperfocus is:

  1. Hyperfocus is characterized by an intense state of concentration/focus.
  2. When engaged in hyperfocus, unrelated external stimuli do not appear to be consciously perceived; sometimes reported as a diminished perception of the environment.
  3. To engage in hyperfocus, the task has to be fun or interesting.
  4. During a hyperfocus state, task performance improves.

When something interests us, it can be consuming.

For myself? I am both a science nerd and a problem solver. I love finding ways to strategize around complexities, asking “why?” times infinity and then I often find it fun when someone would tell me that something couldn’t be accomplished. Why? Because that moment was my “challenge accepted” moment.

I would find a way to prove the unrealistic and unreasonable thing as possible. As a child, this was hard – and sometimes as an adult too because I can get so into my work that I neglect basic human functions such as eating, sleeping, and even bathroom breaks.

As a project manager (and even in product management), this kind of eat, sleep, and breathe your projects can be incredibly useful because you know everything about them. You remember every detail.

Constant stimuli = good for ADHD

Even while I was a product manager, in a more traditional role, there were times when I was managing up to 15 projects in a cycle. It was never the same thing — I had a goal, I knew the direction I was heading but I never knew what fire would pop up, who might be frustrated with xyz team, what delays would get in the way.

It becomes a sort of… never ending doom scroll of Facebook, Tiktok, or lately LinkedIn for me. There is always something new to work through — and this is also what worked for me as an emergency room nurse. It was the constant variety that kept my brain stimulated. I always had something new to jump to and it tied in with…

The ADHD tendency to multi-task

I don’t know if it’s an accurate way to assess things but the majority of people I know who have ADHD… they also have two million web browser tabs open. Or if you’re like me, Google has done away with the count on my Chrome mobile browser of tabs and converted to a smiley face.

It isn’t true for everyone with ADHD, clearly — as none of these things will be, but many of us like to be doing multiple things at the same time and we do well with shifting environments, requirements, and new demands that may take us in and out of the thing we’re working on.

Being a project manager with ADHD isn’t all easy…

Of course, being a project manager with ADHD also comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest struggles can be staying organized and managing time effectively. Even things like a task being so mundane can create task paralysis. In cases like this, I rely on team accountability, body doubling, and telling someone else the deadline.

Read More: Navigating ADHD as a Project Manager

My task paralysis items include things like extensive data entry, phone calls to strangers, external vendor sales calls, and some types of document writing are just hard to overcome. It’s important to pay attention to what your triggers are in order to find ways to cope with them.

Don’t forget the details

One common symptom of ADHD is related to memory challenges. It is easy to forget, nearly immediately, what we were doing or what we needed to do. I have to make effort to write things down immediately and this makes it important to develop strategies to help you stay on top of the details.

Other things you may do for this might include setting reminders and alarms, breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks, and using tools like calendars and to-do lists.

Communicate, communicate, communicate as a project manager

Communication is an ADHD mixed bag. For some of us, this may mean that we over communicate. In my case, I’m awkwardly thorough because I often felt misunderstood growing up. This is likely because I overshare because all the details of things run through my brain quickly enough and learning to filter growing up has taken work. Other times, it could be that we thought we communicated and we didn’t.

For others with hyperactive type, you may end up talking over others and missing important details. It’s important to be aware of this and to work on developing strong communication skills, both with your team and with stakeholders. This might include practicing active listening, taking notes during meetings, and summarizing key points to ensure everyone is on the same page.

You can work well with ADHD; it just may take some work

One of the most important things to remember as a project manager with ADHD is to be kind to yourself. Recognize that your brain works differently than others, and that’s okay. Instead of beating yourself up for your challenges, focus on your strengths and find ways to work with your unique perspective to be the best project manager you can be. Find your bright spots and use them to your advantage.

Whether or not you disclose your ADHD to your manager, HR, or the team… know that you do have the ability to take what might feel like disadvantages at times and really turn them into your advantages.

Lastly, in being kind to yourself, please remember that the world is not set up for people like us and we are often having to find ways to make our brains work in a very different world. There are tools and solutions, though, to help us get through the work more easily and quickly.

For example, if you’re looking for a tool to manage your work and your projects, Leantime is a open source work management tool that we are building in order to decrease the ADHD task paralysis and we’re looking for people to help test new features as we find new ways to make some of the hurdles easier.

In conclusion… one of the best jobs for people with ADHD…

In conclusion, being a project manager with ADHD can be both an opportunity and at times a challenge. While it requires extra effort and planning to manage the symptoms of ADHD, people with this condition can also bring valuable skills and perspectives to the job. With the right strategies and mindset, you can succeed as a project manager with ADHD and make a big impact to your team and organization.

Some other articles you might be interested in:

Gloria Folaron is the CEO and founder of Leantime. A Nurse first, she describes herself as an original non-project manager. Being diagnosed with ADHD later in life, she has hands on experience in navigating the world of project and product management and staying organized with ADHD.

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