Trying to get ahead in your career can feel like trying to cut in line at Disneyland.
That’s what it felt like to me several years ago when I started a new career at a large technology company.
The job was only part-time, but my financial situation required a full-time role. I needed a promotion, and fast.
How could I get ahead without looking like a jerk or sucking-up?
I wrote this ADHD career guide to help those in a similar place. But don’t worry, I also include strategies and tips for getting ahead even if:
- your current career has you feeling disillusioned
- you’re contemplating a new career path
- you’re in a pinch for extra cash and want to create extra side income
Here are some of the questions we will cover:
How do you get your employer’s attention, so you can get ahead?
How do you thrive in a job where you are floundering?
What if you want to change what you’re doing, or even start a new career?
How do you test something else out?
I will show you ways to leverage your ADHD superpowers so you can gain traction and advance in your career.
Are you ready? Let’s dive in.
ADHD Career Tips & Strategies For Advancement
Become an Idea Generator
The first ADHD career tip is this: write down 10 ideas everyday. This daily practice has helped my career immensely.
These can be big colossal ideas or simple ideas that help with productivity, marketing or even morale.
I stole this idea from James Altucher (and he goes in depth into this concept in this article).
With this activity, let your ADHD go free. You’ve heard it a million times, and it’s especially true here: there are no stupid ideas.
You aren’t sharing this with the world and in fact, you aren’t sharing this with anyone. You are just exercising your mind. Think of it like pushups for your brain.
Keep these ideas in a journal. When you have a couple of minutes, throw some ideas in there. It can look as simple as:
1. Get a Red Bull machine in here for the engineers who pull all nighters.
2. Discounts on gym membership for the gym down the street.
3. Simplify our reimbursement sheet for travel.
4. Celebrate people’s anniversaries for there 2, 5 and 10 and 20 year.
5. More post-it notes with different colors.
6. Ban Comics Sans on everything that ever is created in this company.
7. Steal one idea from Zappos.
8. Secret Santa in July.
9. Once a month have an outside speaker talk about tech skills.
10. Can we change the hold music into something that isn’t tear inducing?
It might seem arduous, to come up with ten ideas every single day on how to change the company, but once you start the practice, you are going to be able to generate more and more ideas.
Then when it comes to a meeting where people are “brainstorming” you are able to run laps around the people who haven’t done this exercise.
Also when you have discussions with your boss, you’re able to answer her when she asks, “What have you thought about X, Y and Z?”
When a colleague or higher up wants input on a project, this is your opportunity to shine.
Everybody wants the person who has fresh ideas.
Be that person.
Find What Gives Your Manager Pain and Solve It
When we hear someone complain, our instinct reaction is to ignore it. However, when it comes to your managers, this is where you want to dial in on the subject.
Listen for their pain points. Then, solve them.
Does your manager hate reminding the team about deadlines?
–Figure out a solution for that.
Does she hate planning the next volunteer project you are all tackling?
–Offer to take it on.
And remember, your ADHD will latch on to this as long as you put it all in your calendar with some clear tasks on how to get it done.
I used this ADHD career technique when I wanted a training position in the company I am working for now. Our company trains its employees around new technology and programs.
One day my boss said, “I want ideas for the next training-I want to know what employees want to know.”
So, that night I fired up an email that outlined not only the next training topics, but I wrote out the learning objectives, activities, and worksheets. (I googled about how to do all of this. A simple search saved me hours.)
My boss was over the moon about the work I’d done and he implemented that exact curriculum and gave me full credit. I kept doing it and eventually when the next training position opened, I aced the interview by highlighting the work I’d already done.
Here’s the takeaway: keep a list of what upsets your manager. Pay attention to what she or he is asking for. Then, solve that pain point.
Raise Your Hand First
Does your company volunteer? Do they have that as part of initiative? Dollars to donuts, they do.
This is where you dial in and dial in hard.
Find out the area of your company where they volunteer and rev that engine. Approach the person who is in charge of that and get on the board or committee or whatever. Use your strengths to help the committee have more of a volunteer impact.
Your ADHD allows you to generate some great ideas and think “outside the box” about how to get positive attention around your volunteering efforts.
For example, my company has a quarterly blood drive. Very few people like giving blood and I’m talking very few. So what we did was partner with a food truck that was pretty popular in the area. If you donated blood, you got a $3 coupon for the food truck. The food truck ate the costs of that coupon, but they also got featured in our local paper and scored some great publicity. I brought that idea to our committee and they were bowled over and it’s because I invested in generating ideas, as above.
Make Everyone Else Look Good
There seems to be this unspoken rule of corporate culture that you have to be cutthroat about things, you have to hog all the credit. As your ADHD career guide, I’m telling you to ignore this.
I find that the more you share the credit with people and let others shine, the more opportunities you’ll get.
I’m not talking about general kind courtesy like when you finish a project, you slip in last mminute, “Oh, and Mandy helped me edit the final report. She’s just a gem.”
I’m talking about going above the norm. Become proactive about giving credit to others.
One way to share credit is to send a handwritten note, thanking the person you want to highlight for what they’ve contributed. Another cool thing you can do is send that person a thank-you email and BCC-ing the boss on it (BCC so it doesn’t look like you’re sucking up.) A quick and easy idea is giving someone a Starbucks gift card, or something thoughtful for their office.
Personally, I will call my supervisor and let them know when someone does me a solid.
When we show appreciation it develops a team dynamic. It’s a way to show your employer that you care and you’re a team player.
Anything you can do to promote a “we’re all in this together” attitude is a win. Your employer wants people who understand a team dynamic, and who don’t wait to be promoted before they’ll start acting like a leader.
One of the cool things that happens when you start supporting your co-workers, is that they start supporting back. You’re able to call on them when you need help as well.
Speak at Conferences
A great ADHD career leverage technique is to start speaking at conferences. If your organization has an annual conference, you need to start presenting at that conference.
People who present get more exposure and are able to show off their expertise.
Now you might but thinking, “I’m not an expert; I just started this gig.”
But you are an expert at something. You have a skill-set that people need and want to hear about (and if you are still unconvinced, you might have something called Imposter Syndrome, and it’s ok, we all have it).
When I presented at my first conference my topic was, “How I Survived and Thrived my First Year as a Resident Director.” I offered all the programs, strategies and technology tidbits that everyone wanted.
Supervisors wanted to attend so they could help their new employees and new resident directors wanted to pick up all the tips they could get.
I presented to a packed room. I made sure to have a sign up sheet for collecting names and emails. When I cam back to my campus, I reached out and thanked everyone for attending.
Through those thank-you’s I gained forty-five other people to connect with. I used that as the foundation of my network for the next nine years, building on that list.
When you are going to present, you have a much more likely chance of actually attending because you are going in there with a plan and you are representing the company. The organization will have a “presenting outline” you’ll need to submit and it’s that simple.
Make sure you get your boss’s okay, and go in there with a plan.
Don’t go in there with an attitude like, “Hey, I want to present. Cool? Cool.”
Tell your boss, “I’m passionate about this topic and I think my presentation would be a great addition to this conference. Here’s the outline I’ve written, the slides I’d use and I’d love your input.”
You’ve done 97% of the work for your boss and you have a plan. It needs a tiny bit of input and a stamp of approval. Done. Enjoy your flight.
How To Go Into Your Evaluation And Come Out With A Raise
Most people go into their evaluation without a plan. They don’t show up with any proof of the work they accomplished that year. This is a rookie move. It’s bush league and it’s not you.
We are initiating Project Blue Arrow.
This is where you might need to reign in your ADHD a tad. It’s about organization, but if you can treat it like a game, your ADHD will follow suit.
Bust out a file folder. An empty one.
Label it: Project Blue Arrow.
Sounds official, doesn’t it?
Here’s what’s going into that folder:
Every time someone sends you a thank-you note, an acknowledgement or any kind of kudos, you are going to put it in that folder.
Now, in your email server, create a folder called “Project Blue Arrow“.
Any email you get that gives you any kind of credit, you’re going to put in that folder (I usually print them out or save them somewhere else to assure they do not disappear).
You are collecting the credit other people have given you. You are validating that you are a great and productive member of the team.
Another part of Project Blue Arrow is to review your calendar for the year and look out for the above and beyond projects you accomplished this year.
Make a list of what you did and how it impacted the team. Ask yourself if you can mathematically prove you’re both.
Can you show much you increased sales? Can you show some empirical data that you’ve moved some metric in a more positive direction? Gather your proof. Put it into the file.
The last part of Project Blue Arrow is this:
Write down three other projects you’d like to initiate and head up in the upcoming year.
Outline its impact on the company and how your specific strengths make you the perfect candidate to head them up.
Share this during your evaluation:
–Show them your value to the team (what people have said about you).
–Show your accomplishments in the past (by reviewing your calendar).
–Show them you are geared up to tackle the future goals and objectives your company (your project list).
Collect all of this in a (blue) binder and give that to your supervisor before your evaluation is determined, and say, “This is for your consideration for my evaluation.”
This way you aren’t dropping it on them at the last second, and it also helps you negotiate a raise and perhaps a promotion.
But start gathering this stuff today and make it part of your calendar.
If you don’t you’ll be waiting until the last minute and miss the boat on getting a higher raise or promotion.
Have something in your calendar that reminds you to “Initiate Project Blue Arrow” and you’re more likely to follow through.
How To Create A Side-Hustle
You might be looking at this list and saying:
“I just don’t like my job. It isn’t what I thought it to be.”
I find this can happen a lot to educators. They think their time is going to be spent simply teaching. After getting into it, they realize that a lot of their work is going to be administrative (i.e. meeting with parents and keeping up on all the policies).
Disillusionment starts to set in. They look at their college debt and become disheartened.
Maybe that’s you. Or maybe you’re a graphic designer, or a recruiter, or an engineer, or a mall Santa. Whatever job it is-maybe you are feeling stuck and you are starting to look for something else.
It’s time to focus in on that “something else”. Most people call that the “side hustle.” And it can rejuvenate you and help point you in the right direction. There are so many options when it comes to a side hustle, from offering tuition services if you’re disillusioned by the reality of teaching in a school, or even something as simple as selling old belongings on sites like LeoList. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, once it really takes off you can quit your job and do that full time instead.
The Ten-Hour Rule
The side hustle is simple. Let’s take a look at what I mean.
Say you’re a graphic designer and you are disappointed in how non-creative your job is. You want to see if you can freelance.
This is your opportunity to shine. If you want to write recipes or help people lose weight, this is where you test it out.
But here’s what you got to do first: set aside the time.
When people want to start a side hustle, I tell them to set aside 10 hours a week for the hustle.
“Ten hours?! You have to be kidding me. Who has ten hours to set aside?!”
Here’s what I did when I was (and still am) attacking my side hustle.
How To Find Time
1. Your Lunch Hour
I gave up my lunch hour. I simply packed my lunch, scarfed it down, and opened my laptop. That’s 5 extra hours a week. I didn’t chitchat. I didn’t join in on the gossip or the latest episode of Downton Abbey. Head down, earbuds in. I got to work.
I looked for customers, wrote my copy and figured out the next step. Yep, people labeled me as anti-social, the guy in the corner typing away. Eventually they stopped caring and I kept hustling.
2. I Killed My Television
A bit of a misnomer because I don’t actually own a television. My apartment looks a little strange because it’s crystal clear on where the television should go-but I don’t have one.
Yes, I watch some shows on Hulu and Netflix. But I found that the television has the greatest capacity to numb me out. If I’m a bit lonely, tired, or just need some stimulation due to my profound ADHD, I’d turn that baby on and just glare. But now I’m forced to not only choose shows that I want to watch (and I limit myself to an hour a day at most), but I can choose a book, writing, or even heading to bed early instead of turning on the television and it saves me hours.
Gain your life back and get some hours back into your side hustle. You can skip the news for awhile.
3. Pick Morning Or Evening
Get up earlier to work on your side hustle or stay up late after everyone has gone to bed. Either way, take your pick.
It doesn’t have to be every day, but if you can get 3-4 hours in by changing your routine slightly, you’ll thank yourself.
Other Ways to Advance the Side Hustle.
I’m a member of Fizzle (affiliate link), a great community of side hustlers and people who want to have their own businesses-they have a great podcast and a community to get the answers you need.
Also, a great podcast for the side hustle, different ways for people to make money is Side Hustle Nation with Nick Loper. He knows his stuff and interviews great people who find a specific niche and dive in. He could talk all day about the ways in which you can make money, so you can either listen to his podcast and keep up with the special guest appearances he has on there, or you can look into this investing 101 guide to see how this kind of career can make you some extra cash too. Whatever path you choose to go down, I still totally recommend listening to Side Hustle Nation with Nick Loper.
In addition to TV, I also killed the radio. I ONLY listen to podcasts around the side hustle I want to have (and the shows Radiolab and Serial. Let’s be real.)
The One-Hundred Dollar Rule
When you are attacking your side hustle, you have one goal:
Maybe you sell a one sheet of your best tactics for meeting people at a conference and you sell it for $10. Find 10 people who need that information and you hit your goal.
Whatever it is, make that you goal to validate that your idea is worth persuing. If you want to start a business around creating yarn dolls for cats, you might be in some trouble (but seriously, who knows?) but you need to validate your idea quickly and get started now on it.
For selling, I use gumroad. I’m able to sell about any digital product on that site from videos, MP3 and PDFs. I can’t recommend it highly enough. (And the Fizzle has a great course on how to get started on that.)
Conclusion: It’s All About the Hustle
When I started a new career two years ago I was surrounded by people who were 15 years younger and were more advanced than I was. I was the “old man” to them and I started at the very bottom rung of the ladder. But I made a decision early.
In the words of Steve Martin:
“I was going to be so good they couldn’t ignore me.”
I said yes to everything. I volunteered; I shot out emails on how we could improve systems. I participated and I wrote out a lot of thank you notes. I listened to my managers and implemented their advice immediately.
In six months I had a full time position with a promotion. I received a training position soon after that, and next May they’re sending me to China for three months to train for an elite position.
The working world is lacking hustle. It’s lacking people with initiative; it’s filled with people who want to be noticed and can’t figure out how to be noticed. This isn’t you.
You hustle. You get it done whether it’s at your desk or on the side.
The hustlers win.