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Dealing with ADHD boss?

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Question: My boss, I believe, has a problem with ADHD. Sometimes, he bounces off the walls and is very difficult to keep up with. I try to keep up with him, but lately, I am exhausted by mid-afternoon. I am at the point that I am so frustrated because I am running in circles most of the time.

My boss will tell me he needs to schedule a meeting or various meetings throughout the day. Then, two minutes after we have met regarding his files/meeting requests, etc., he asks me if I have set up the meeting regarding a topic that he never asked me to schedule. So, I continually have to check and re-check my notes for who the invitees are for meeting A or B; then, I have to ask him if his question relates to scheduling meeting A or B. His normal reply: "Oh, no. This is another meeting I am talking about."

Many times, he forgets to give me all of the details.

Are you aware of any books that would help administrative assistants who work with bosses with ADHD? I would like to know how to set up boundaries with my boss, who cannot seem to focus.

I have set up color-coded files; I print meetings from his calendar and attach to the top of a folder for each and every meeting; I arrange files on his credenza; I keep a large, orange "Please sign" file for signatures; and we meet daily to plan meetings, plan projects and to follow up regarding unfinished projects.

I need some help as to how I can become a more efficient assistant to my boss. Any suggestions?  -- Frustrated in Michigan


Let your Human Resources Department know how your supervisor is behaving and have them talk to him, suggesting that he may have ADHD, and suggesting that he get medication to help him stay focused. You can tell HR that he's driving you crazy; and they should take it from there.

Continue to document everything, so you don't feel you have lost your mind! Going to HR works if your boss is not the owner, but be careful how you phrase things so you don't get labeled a complainer.

Keep a list of likely questions you will need to ask when confronted with a request. Never let a request go by without either a question or confirmation, provided you sound extremely sure of yourself when asking. Don't sound forgetful so you don't sabotage your career, even if you can't possibly forget something you haven't heard in the first place.

Example: change a flight - what airline, what time, origin, destination, project or progress on meeting - which meeting, what day, project involved, what time, who with. If two out of the five are answered, you can track down what you need 80% of the time. Keep a list of secondary questions - Do you need a car reservation modified? Hotel? Anyone informed? - to ask next.

Also, if you can find a way to do it, have him make as many of his requests as possible done through email. This will help if the request is changed.

Some good suggestions, but I would NEVER tell HR or anyone at the firm about your idea he has ADHD. Even if he does, you are not qualified to diagnose him, nor is it a professional thing to do. HR would likely not do much, anyway, since they are not in the business of correcting managers' habits or suggesting medical intervention to their employees!! Instead, be as organized as you can (you sound very competent!), ask lots of questions when he introduces a new topic, and write everything down for him and for you. Getting info from him via email is a VERY good idea. If you're correct, you are essentially dealing with someone with childlike habits of inattention and disorganization, and a skittery mind, and you should treat him that way - not patronizing, but speaking slowly and repeating everything he says to not only make sure YOU have the info right, but so he hears it back from you, and can clarify in his mind that that is what he wants. A calm, confident, almost maternal manner will have a good effect on him, I think. Then, you have to let go of the frustration, and know you've done the best you can. Don't take it home with you, and if mistakes are made or crises happen, make sure that you repeat the instructions you were given, and in a nice way make sure he and everyone knows you only did as you were instructed. Good luck!

My office manager mentioned that maybe have 2 shorter meetings instead of one since attention is an issue.

Email I think would be wonderful too! You can also print those so sometimes you will have your instructions in black and white to not reflect on you. Email would also be a short attention span needed.

I would never go to HR either. I don't know what they could really do if anything. Could possibly affect his review but then your boss may wonder where that came from.

Good Luck!

I agree that you shouldn't mention your "diagnosis" to HR. It sounds like you are doing a great job. I think the big thing is to continue documenting your conversations for your sanity and then let it go. Don't take responsibility for his errors. Just keep good documentation to cover your behind.

I would not go to HR about this. You sound as if you are more than capable of handling your boss and I feel you could probably speak to him and maybe between the both of you can come up with solutions on this matter.

I would first ask him if he would have a problem with you using a voice recorder during your daily meetings with follow-up by email. I would also have an outline ready of everything you spoke about the day before, if you are not already doing so this will also refresh his memory and may help him stay more focus on the tasks he needs you to do. If you have an exchange server at your job then you both can view the schedules etc and each of you can make notes of any changes also.

One of the bosses I work for carries a small recorder with him so during the day he can make his notes. They are then downloaded into my voice editing software where I can type an outline from the recordings. From the outline I can go to him the next morning and confirm, clarify or add anything else he did not remember.

if your boss does have ADHD keep in mind that they are intelligent but need assistants that can give them structure so they can shine in the best light possible.

By keeping a list of questions ready when you go into your meetings you will have less stress on your self also. if you are like me I know about the different projects yet to come, etc. I would go ahead and when I go into my meetings ask about them also even though he did not bring them up especially if you know of things that may be coming up in the near future.

I have a son who is ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and a daughter who is ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I have read multiple books about these conditions.

What I have found with my kids is they both have times in their day in which they are more focused than others. This is the time I try to talk to them about the things that are going on with them i.e. school functions. I suggest you figure out what is the best time for your boss.

I have also noticed that after consumption of sugar and caffeine - they bounce of the walls. While I can control this (somewhat), you probably don't have that luxury. I say this because if your boss is a coffee drinker, late afternoon may be the time to discuss upcoming events etc.

The book that I would suggest is "ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life" by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau, PH.D. While this book is written for the ADD person, I think you would find it very valuable and insightful.

I admire you for taking this approach! Good luck!!!!

When I read your posting I thought that you were someone that worked in my office. We have the same exact problem here and it sounds like you are doing the same thing that we are with the colored folders, meeting once a day, etc. We also cannot go to HR with this problem so I just wanted to say that it sounds like you are doing a very good job with this and that you are not the only person with this problem. Hang in there.

You are doing a marvelous job! There are all kinds of people in the world. Your boss is lucky to have you. Just being understanding of the situation is the answer. And keep your notes to keep you covered!

DO NOT GO TO HR with this problem. You are not qualified to diagnose and they will not want to hear your complaint. I would suggest using checklists to help both you & the boss keep on track. You could even make him an e-mail form. Also, you should repeat everything he tells you about his requests/requirements because he may not always know what he has said to you (with his lack of focus). Do not let his problems upset you. Keep on doing the best job you can and keep extensive documentation. You never know when you might need it.

i had that problem recently yeah the distracted and disorganized boss. until i asked for a transfer because i could not take it any more -yeah four years-of the screaming, waiting in front of me until i finish what he asked for, blaming me for stuff not done-because he never told me, making mettings and not telling me about it,and what i got was reception, well what can you expect of a small company- not to worry i am receiving the same pay.
what i suggest is exactly that keep a journal of anything and everything you hear, see, calls, info from meetings with dates and times, then organize it by project in some type of binder so you always know the last thing done or said and of course by whom.
this will cover your back if he makes an evaluation, then you will have writen back up on your side.
hope this helps

First, I want to say that I have one son that is ADHD and one son that is ADD. My oldest will turn 18 in two months and it is apparent that he will take his disorder into his adult life. There are many adults that are ADD or ADHD. Many do not even know it. By the way, persons do not HAVE ADD or ADHD (like it is a disease); they are ADD or ADHD. The majority of persons with ADHD or ADD are extremely intelligent. If you truly feel that your boss could be ADD or ADHD, educate yourself on the disorder. Having this ensight will help you. It will help you help him. I think you have already received some very good suggestions. I agree that you should not disclose to ANYONE (stay professional) especially the HR dept. that you feel he may be ADD or ADHD. Handle all aspects of your job with as much organization as possible (even if it seems anal). In the end, it will benefit both of you. Use everything at your disposal to organize. Having him email you is an excellent suggestion, using a recorder for your meetings is also an excellent suggestion. (You can initiate that practice by stating that it is for your benefit) He doesn't have to know that is because of him. I don't know how open your boss is, but you could suggest that BOTH of you attend a seminar on becoming better organized. Then you can take that information and help him apply it to his needs and practices as well as yourself. You know how most people are fired up about implementing changes right after a seminar. You sound like you are more than capable of seeing this through. You just need to discover every resource there is and utilize as many as possible. Again, read up on the disorders so you can have a better understanding. It will also help to keep you from feeling resentful or overwhelmed on those tough days that come along. Your boss is very blessed to have such an observant and caring assistant. Many employees would just get frustrated, resentful and allow the situation to deteriorate. Hang in there and keep up the good work!

I have not one but two bosses w ADHD and each night I come home I want to inject lye in my veins, that's how they make me feel all day. They assign me dozens and dozens of frontal cortex tasks they can't handle and can't manage any of them as projects. I get conflicting answers from each on the same topic by e-mail, then no action. They are ruining my reputation and my career. Nothing is being done to address this in the workplace; all sympathy and support seems to be with the person w/ ADD. Years ago they would have been told to straighten up and fly right. I'm bitter. Very bitter.

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