Your Memory – at Work, with ADHD in the Mix

by Sue West

You’ve probably been there.

Your sales manager asked how a certain prospect meeting went, but the meeting was 2 weeks ago. You couldn’t remember and didn’t know what to say.

Or you’re learning a new software package and your supervisor is teaching you, doing a walk through. It’s fast. You’re not at the keyboard. You didn’t get the big picture first. No good notes because it’s hard to listen, watch, pay attention, absorb and understand its newness, and figure out what questions. So back at your desk you keep forgetting how to do things. It looks bad to keep asking and asking and asking.

After all that hard work, paying attention, focusing … and you have nothing to say in the first example and too much to ask in the second one.

If anxiety is in the mix, there’s that brain freeze, too. And not the kind that happens from eating ice cream too fast unfortunately.

ADHD working memory and emotions (anxiety if present) play into how we are perceived at work.  They can also affect how we think of our own performance. This can be managed differently.

Two Ways to Manage These Types of Situations Differently

Professionally, these suggestions will improve your chances of moving up or onto the role you want. Personally, you will feel better about yourself, the kind of person you want to be.

In the prospect meeting example, here is what we did:

The system and the habits: We created an excel spreadsheet – later using a CRM app – to keep track of prospects, last meeting date, and a few keywords which would help recall more detail.

The sales person brought the information right into the meeting, so that all details were right there to answer any questions.

The emotional part: The sales person was embarrassed that his ADHD would not allow for the memory recall required for this role. He didn’t want to have to (make and bring into the meeting a crutch. He wanted to use his memory, but the ADHD got in the way. So, some resistance, not accepting the ADHD, and so forth. But when he realized he could answer the questions, using his memory support, he felt differently, more confident, and he could see that he was creating a different reputation for himself, judging from the manager’s more positive comments.

In the software learning example, here is what we did:

The system and advocating for herself: We decided it was key to take back some control into the employee’s own hands, and first, explain how she best learned to the supervisor. That meant, to her, the following: Meeting in the employee’s office (more confidence inspiring); let her be the one on the keyboard trying the software (a hands-on learner); request that they stop at certain points so she could and take notes while the supervisor was quiet; and confirm verbally what she’d written down, that it was accurate.

The emotional part: By taking responsibility for her own learning and controlling her environment, the employee was more confident in her capabilities, which helped with learning, and she was more engaged. She also learned more quickly because the supervisor became a better teacher, with the feedback and explanations offered by the employee. And the notes were her safety net, her first line of support, before needing to ask the supervisor a question, so their relationship improved. And the supervisor’s opinion improved in terms of how well the employee understood the new software.

The Two Keys to Take Away and Practice Yourself

So your systems and habits are your “safety net.” But they also can improve your confidence in your abilities, allowing you to make your strengths stronger, and not draw unnecessary attention to ADHD’s working memory issues. That’s the nature of ADHD for many, but it’s the ADHD; it’s not you, the person.

Using more positive self-talk we know is important. Just as important is using positive language with those around you and advocating, learning to ask for what you need, to be successful.


Susan Fay West offers Personal Productivity & ADHD Coaching. Sue is a Certified Organizer Coach® and Certified Professional Organizer-Chronic Disorganization® as well as an ADHD Specialist. Reach her by email or find more resources at her Website: Sue is the author of the workbook: Change Your Habits: ADHD Style.


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