ADHD-Friendly Technology in the Workplace

By Jay Carter

Technology is an essential tool in today’s society. In fact, advances in technology have paid off big time for adults with ADHD who benefit from the wealth of new programs and applications offering help with planning, time management, reminders, note-taking, and the like. But the sparkle of technology can be a double-edged sword – navigating this complex world of new technology can be confusing.

Some adults with ADHD are drawn to technology and have a strong affinity for it – technology works well with the way their brains are built and provides mental stimulation and enjoyment. Others simply don’t feel comfortable with technology at all – they feel lost, as if in a foreign land where they don’t speak the language or understand the customs any time they use a computer or try a new program. With a little know-how and planning, there is hope for everyone!

Oftentimes, people choose a certain program or application based on popularity or positive reviews from friends. Just because a program works for one person, doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for everyone, and that’s where many people go wrong in choosing devices and applications. My own experiences and discussions with numerous adults with ADHD over the years have allowed me to develop a framework for determining if technology is ADHD-friendly. Make sure you’re making technology choices that work with your unique brain.

Ask these five questions to determine whether an application is ADHD-friendly:

  1. Does the application have a single purpose? Applications that cover many different types of activities can be distracting, whereas single-purpose applications can help you focus.
  2. Does the application offer an organized, attractive interface? It’s important that the systems in your life draw you toward them rather than repel you. An organized and attractive interface that leads you logically through the task helps to engage you.
  3. Does the application promote prioritization? Though this doesn’t apply to all types of software, programs that promote prioritization help to provide clarity and decrease overwhelm.
  4. Does the application promote automation? Applications that help us automate processes or activities can reduce our overall workload. A good example is TextExpander for the Mac, or PhraseExpress for the PC. These applications expand keystrokes or abbreviations to full words, sentences, or paragraphs.
  5. Finally, does the application promote consistency? Consistency in anything can be a major challenge for many of us with ADHD. Applications that remind us stick to a daily or weekly task can be invaluable.

Once you’ve determined whether an application is ADHD friendly, you can go a step further to decide whether an application is right for you. One major deciding factor is personal learning modality – the senses we prefer to use when working or learning, and how a program meets that need (or doesn’t).

Ask if the application or program matches your preferred modality.

  • For visual processors, mind -mapping is a great invention. Several companies offer mind-mapping software. The one most often used in business setting sis MindManager from MindJet, which you’ll find at http://www.mindjet.com. On the other hand, linear thinkers may prefer a more traditional outlining tool.
  • For verbal processors, a speech-to-text application like Dragon Naturally Speaking can be a great tool for moving information and ideas out of your minds and into your computer. With this type of application, you can reply to emails, write documents and perform many other computer tasks that typically require a keyboard and mouse. You’ll find this one at http://www.nuance.com.
  • For a kinesthetic thinker, having a mechanical keyboard can help to incorporate touch into the work processes. Mobile devices with vibrate settings for reminders can also be helpful for kinaesthetic thinkers.
  • The primary goal is to choose a system that naturally draws you in. Any system that you feel is something you “should” use, rather than something you “want” to use, is probably not right for you. Often, finding an application that works well for you synergistically produces results far beyond what you would normally expect. For example, a visual person might stare at a blank page on the computer monitor for hours trying to come up with a presentation or report, but can easily and freely link and develop ideas when using a mind-mapping tool, reducing time spent on the project by hours!

Use technology as an “external brain.”

Another way technology can help us deal with ADHD challenges is by serving as what I call an “external brain” – another place to store information. The application that I use most often for storing and collecting information (audio, Websites, articles, pictures, videos, pdf’s, etc.) is Evernote (http://www.evernote.com). It is certainly the most popular program among the ADHDers I have spoken to. OneNote by Microsoft is a similar application.

Using Evernote (or a similar program) as your external brain simplifies the process of collecting, storing, and searching for information. Evernote allows you to paste (or “clip” using the program’s cut and paste browser button) important information such as copies of appliance or software manuals, airline receipts and confirmations, and the like. You can take pictures of colleagues’ business cards and store them in a virtual notebook, collect recipes found on the Web and write notes to yourself. You can then label or “tag” each note or piece of information with a keyword. This makes it easy to search for a particular note later using the program’s search function.

The greatest thing about these applications is that they are ubiquitous – you can access them on your phone, tablet, and computer, or from someone else’s computer with Web access – anywhere you go. No more losing receipts!

Make the most of what technology has to offer by choosing ADHD-friendly applications and systems. Ask yourself: Is this application ADHD friendly? What type of modality for learning or working is best for me? Does this application support my preferred modality? Do I have a program that can function as an external brain?

Many of the programs and applications mentioned in this article have been proven to be so effective in boosting productivity that they are regularly provided by companies as official accommodations for employees with ADHD. Don’t be afraid to try new things and use technology to your advantage. Choose ADHD friendly technology tools to support your life and see how much easier those ADHD obstacles can be!

Jay Carter is an ADHD Coach and a Microsoft Certified Professional. He coaches executive clients in the area of technology, personal productivity, and workplace accommodations. He also produces the ADHD Weekly Podcast. Learn more at http://www.hyperfocusedcoaching.com/tech for more information on ADHD and technology.

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