My brain is weird.
Not broken, exactly. But it doesn’t work normally either.
I don’t have a formal diagnosis. What I do have is a lot of experience dealing with my own brain, and what people around me say about me. And although a doctor has never officially said so, I know I have this thing called ADHD.
And I also work in software engineering.
As such, I experience first hand the challenges that come with managing ADHD in the workplace. It can make it difficult to stay focused, to be organised and to meet deadlines.
But to me ADHD is also a strength.
The right strategies and support can (in my experience at least) help leverage the .. shall we say quirks.. of ADHD and use them to excel in the software engineering industry.
But what is ADHD? It’s a neurological condition that affects attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. It can impact your ability to concentrate, to complete tasks and to manage time. If you have ADHD, recognising the symptoms can help better understand how you function and set up the strategies you need to mitigate the difficulties and focus on your unique strengths.
These strategies include breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, using tools and apps to stay organised, and taking regular breaks to avoid burnout. Additionally, workplace adaptations and support can make a significant difference in helping individuals with ADHD succeed in their roles. With the right support and strategies, you can leverage your strengths and excel in the software engineering industry.
- Understanding ADHD in the workplace is crucial to managing the condition effectively.
- Strategies such as breaking down tasks and using tools to stay organised can help software engineers manage their ADHD symptoms.
- Workplace adaptations and support can help individuals with ADHD thrive in the software engineering industry.
Understanding ADHD in the Workplace
How does ADHD impact the workplace, for software engineers in particular?
What is ADHD? (and How Does It Impact Professionals?)
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodivergent condition that affects focus, attention, and impulsivity. It can make it difficult to concentrate on tasks, follow through on instructions, and stay organised.
ADHD can impact professionals in various ways, including difficulty in meeting deadlines, being easily distracted, and struggling to manage time effectively. This might lead to stress, anxiety, and burnout, affecting productivity and job satisfaction.
ADHD Symptoms Affecting Software Engineers
At work ADHD symptoms can impact how I feel and how I’m able to do my work. For example:
- Inattention & Distractions: I might be coding, and but if someone is talking in the room part of my brain listens in, and I’ll feel the need to intervene if they are struggling with an issue I have an answer to. This can make it difficult to focusing on the ask at hand. In the same way, notifications or colleagues asking questions can throw me off track. And of course I might start researching a solution to a problem and find going down a rabbit hole.
- Hyperfocus: Conversely, when I don’t have any distractions and have somethng interesting to do, I can become so absorbed in my work that I get lost in hyperfocus and loose track of time and of my surroundings. I mean I once forgot to go fetch my kids at school because I’d completely lost track of time while playing an MMO. (Thankfully someone else had taken care of them)
- Neurodivergence: I’ve heard it said that ADHD may change how you process information, which can lead to creative problem-solving and innovative ideas. I don’t really have a point of comparison, since all I know is my own brain. However I have noticed that I’m the one who tends to come up with novel approaches that others hadn’t imagined.
How can we manage these issues ?
Strategies for Managing ADHD
The following strategies have helped me to stay focused, organized, and productive:
Organisation is key when it comes to managing ADHD. I’ve found I need a clear and structured system for managing my tasks and projects. Here are some organisational techniques that have helped me:
- I use task tracking software to keep track of my tasks and deadlines.
- I break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones.
- I write down my day’s priorities (or highlight) on to a sheet of paper that stays by my computer all day in front of my eyes, so I see it when ever I look around.
Time Management and Meeting Deadlines
Meeting deadlines is crucial in the software engineering industry. To be honest I gravitate to jobs where there are not too many competing priorities, and I try to make sure I have the means to prioritise them (i.e. to delay lower priority deadlines).
Here’s what I do in practice:
- I try to set realistic deadlines for tasks and projects.
- Use a timer or app to help you stay focused and avoid distractions.
- Take regular breaks to recharge and refocus your mind.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to break your work into manageable chunks.
Coping with Distractions and Maintaining Focus
Distractions are a common challenge for people with ADHD. Here are some techniques that can help you stay focused:
- Use noise-cancelling headphones to block out distractions.
- Turn off notifications on your phone and computer.
- Use a website blocker to limit your access to distracting websites.
- Try meditation or mindfulness exercises to improve your focus and concentration.
Remember, everyone's experience with ADHD is different, and what works for me may not work for you. It's important to experiment with different strategies and find what works best for you. With the right techniques and mindset, it is possible to thrive as a software engineer with ADHD.
Workplace Adaptations and Support
As a software engineer with ADHD, it is important to have workplace adaptations and support to help manage symptoms and improve productivity. Here are some of the ways I have found helpful:
Communicating with Managers and Team Members
It is crucial to communicate with managers and team members about your ADHD and how it affects your work. This will help them understand your needs and work with you to find solutions. For example, you can let them know if you need more frequent check-ins or if you prefer to communicate via email rather than in-person meetings.
Creating an ADHD-friendly Work Environment
Creating an ADHD-friendly work environment can help you stay focused and minimise distractions. This can include things like noise-cancelling headphones, a clutter-free workspace, and a comfortable chair. It is also important to take regular breaks to avoid burnout and stay refreshed.
Utilising Technology and Tools for Productivity
Technology and tools can be a great way to improve productivity and manage ADHD symptoms. For example, using a task management tool like Jira can help you break down tasks into smaller steps and stay organised. You can also use timers to stay on track and take regular breaks to avoid burnout.
Overall, having workplace adaptations and support can make a big difference in managing ADHD as a software engineer. By communicating with managers and team members, creating an ADHD-friendly work environment, and utilising technology and tools, you can improve productivity and stay focused on your work.
Leveraging ADHD Strengths in Software Engineering
Living with ADHD is challenging, but it can also bring unique strengths to the table. In fact I believe my ADHD has given me advantages that I’ve used to excel in my work.
Hyperfocus and Intense Concentration
One of the most well-known traits of ADHD is hyperfocus - the ability to concentrate intensely on a task for an extended period. While this can be a double-edged sword, leading to difficulty in shifting focus away from a task, it can also be a valuable asset in software engineering. When I am in a state of hyperfocus, I can work for hours on a problem, diving deep into the details and finding creative solutions that I might not have thought of otherwise.
Creative Problem-Solving and Innovation
Another strength that I have found to be particularly useful in software engineering is my ability to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to problems. My brain tends to work in non-linear ways, allowing me to approach problems from different angles and come up with out-of-the-box solutions. This can be especially valuable in software engineering, where there is often no one "right" way to solve a problem.
Embracing Neurodiversity in Tech Teams
Finally, it’s my experience that embracing neurodiversity in tech teams can lead to more innovative and effective solutions. When a team is made up of people with different ways of thinking and problem-solving, it can lead to more creative solutions and a broader range of ideas. Tech companies that recognise the value of neurodiversity and actively seek out diverse perspectives are more likely to succeed in the long run.
Living with ADHD is challenging. But it can also bring unique strengths to the table. By leveraging these strengths, we can excel in our work as software engineers and contribute to more innovative and effective solutions.