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7 Tips for Working with Your A.D.D. Boss

My CEO is one of the nicest people but has the WORST A.D.D I have ever witnessed. I have a very hard time getting her attention or getting her to answer something that is critical. Are there some tips you can give me to get her to pay attention?

I do admit it’s very challenging to work with a boss who is busy, but who then also has ADD isn’t helpful. Here are 7 tips for you:

1) Get her attention first.

Getting her attention first is very tricky. I feel for you. Whenever you need her, assure her you have no problem waiting for her to finish typing that email, texting that person, or whatever it is she is doing. Once she stops and looks at you, tell her how long you need her for. You can do this by saying, something along the lines of:

I know you are swamped. I just need to ask you one question and I will be out of your hair. OR

I need 2 minutes of your time and then you can go back to your project/to your next mtg/go to lunch.

Then ask her whatever you need to or have her sign whatever you need etc and keep your promise and leave. If you do this between meetings you can actually get a lot done. Alternately, do the walk and talk to her next meeting. Or ask her to call you from the car for 5 min etc.

2) With bosses who have ADD it’s best to stick to one topic or question at a time.

This is pretty self explanatory. Do not ask 3 related questions at once. Ask the first question, let her answer it, then ask the second, let her answer, then the third. For example:

John would like to have lunch with you. Do you want to do it Wed or Thursday?

Let’s assume she says Wed. You can reply, if you choose Wed you only get 1 hour with him, but if you pick Thursday you have 90 min with him.

Then ask her where she wants to go. Do not say all at once: John would like to have lunch with you this week. If you go Wed you have less time, if you go Thursday you have more time? Where do you want to eat – Spago, Capo, or The Daily Grill?

That’s just too much information and it may make her go off tangent even more. Bite size information, one step at a time.

3) Try to figure out her communication style and most productive hours.

Some executives love talking/the phone, other love emails/writing, and others love texts, etc. Figure out what works best for your boss and mirror them. Some bosses are more visual vs auditory. If your boss is more visual, print out a calendar so they can see their day when you ask them a question. If your boss is more aural, maybe read them the email in question instead of showing them the email. Sometimes it helps to have a folder just for your boss to answer stuff that is quick an easy – they can do a bunch of signatures at once, once a day whenever they feel like it. There can be a folder of invites in it with “yes no or maybe” check mark boxes so they can go thru that too.

Also keep in mind if your boss is a morning or afternoon worker. Then ask them all the hard or annoying stuff then. Or bring them some coffee or tea when they need it most to help them perk up or an afternoon snack. Do what you can to help them stay alert and focused.

4) Always be ready.

For a boss who has ADD you never know what they might ask of you. So always be ready with a notebook and pen. Also always have a list of questions you need them to answer whenever she beckons for you. Have all the accompanying emails or paperwork too. If you try to make her wait while you run back to your desk, she might lose interest and delve into something else. So if you find your boss being chatty and thinking out loud, if any of your questions are relevant, you can just look down at your notebook and ask her the question you needed answered.

5) Give only 3 choices.

Whenever you boss has to make a decision only offer 3 options when possible. The more options you give, the worse it is to make a decision. Too much information/too many choices doesn’t help. So give an inexpensive, normal cost, and expensive option. Or give one that is nearby, a little far, and really far, etc.

6) Give your boss a lot of heads up and deadlines.

If you need an answer from your boss, give her warnings to think about something. You can say something like:

The event is on July 10th. By June 30th we must RSVP so please think about it.

Then when June 15th comes, say: In about 2 weeks, we need to RSVP so just keep that in mind.

Then on June 25th say: We MUST RSVP by June 30th so I MUST have an answer by June 29th.

Then on June 28th say: Tomorrow is the last day to decide so I will remind you tomorrow.

Then on June 29th say: They need your answer by 6pm today, so I will ask you at 3pm.

Then you keep reminding them until 6pm and tell them it’s urgent.

7) Last resort.

If and only if you are very close with your boss and pretty much do everything for them AND you know they take medications for their ADD or etc. you can help remind them to take their medication if you know they won’t take any offense to it. I did have a boss that we would remind them by putting out a glass of water. That was their hint/reminder. Nothing had to be said. The glass of water at the same time every day was the reminder. If you need it to, you can put a post it note that says something like:

It’s 9:30am. :) Here is your glass of water as requested.

Read this blog post too for more info. Always feel free to ask more questions. Whatever you do, do not lose your cool. And if you have to ask her 5 different times in a day, every time you ask her, ask as if it’s the first time you’ve ever asked her in your tone of voice, your facial expression, and how curious you are for the answer. :)


  1. Why are you using a feminine pronouns? Please be generic in your explanations as this type of reference also promotes gender discrimination within our society.

  2. Does anyone wonder how people this disordered, chaotic, and dependent (can’t do ANYTHING -someone else has to do it for them always) became bosses and managers? Is it a trend that the least capable, least hardworking among us find themselves at the top? Is it that they also have narcissism and large egos? For example, are your bosses completely unaware that they are creating chaos and basically are ineffectual and get nothing done themselves? Are they cognizant of the fact that they don’t know what they’re doing? That they’re totally dependent on others? Are they aware of the irony of the positions they have, given their actual lack of skills and abilities to get things done?

    1. Having ADHD doesn’t make you totally dependent on others nor unqualified for a position. Some people with ADHD have worked very hard to compensate for weaknesses, take medication, and are successful. Intelligent people with ADHD are some of the most creative thinkers and best problem solvers.

    2. ADHD bosses are empathetic, generous and creative visionaries. Paperwork can be done by anyone. RSVPs and coffee dates are important but can be handled by someone else . Leading and innovating is what CEOs do and often times ADHD bosses do that with unmatched skill. That’s why they have the job.

  3. OMG! For the past year I have been trying to figure out what is the best way to work with my manager and only now realised he has every symptom of ADD. Since last week I grew suspicious of his inattention and forgetfulness and started reading up more on ADD and found this. I relate to every single comment made and some of the examples in the article are so helpful- now I see what I should have done in all of those circumstances where he was flummoxed. Problem is my boss’s ADD is undiagnosed so I shouldn’t really be classifying or speaking on it but surely will use the helpful tips on how to tackle the severe inattention.

  4. I am looking for suggestions. I have an ADD boss that does everything listed! My issue is that we reside in separate states so I have to rely on phone calls, email, text messages and IM to get answers, therefore, everything gets done at the last minute.

  5. I am a worrier and a little scatterbrained. Unfortunately, so is my employer. She has a hard time focusing and is constantly committing herself to somewhat unnecessary appointments and meetings. She is always thinking of new projects and beginning to pursue them without a solid plan. I used to have a hard time understanding WHY she did this to herself when she has so many other tasks she wants to tackle SO badly, but now I believe she has an attention disorder. My employer is a wonderful human being whom I love dearly and a lot of times, we work at a very close and personal level. I am her assistant with … well, EVERYthing. I work out of her home and deal with mainly her personal tasks. She really does have this fabulously kind and giving mind filled with amazing ideas. However, all of these thoughts and ideas are unloaded to me to make note of for “future projects”. I guess I don’t have to explain that I have a to-do list which haunts my dreams. As a worrier, these long lists of future project lists make me feel unaccomplished and not as useful as I want to be. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

    I have tried using timelines to manage projects but everything is constantly getting pushed back and back. Some projects have been on the list for years….

    1. A to-do list that haunts your dreams sounds quite terrifying! We completely understand how stressful this must be for you. However, it sounds like you have a very personal and authentic relationship with your boss, which is the positive side of this situation!

      Could you leverage that relationship and have an honest conversation with your boss about how you are feeling? At the same time you could propose some solutions that you can test out together to see if you can boost both your productivity level (and your boss’) AND that make you feel less stressed.

      In terms of potential solutions – have you tried any project management apps like Asana/Trello/Evernote? You could have 3 “Priority” projects laid out step-by-step with hard deadlines and reminders for your boss for each part of the way in Asana. As new project ideas pop up, you could throw them all into a “Future” folder in Evernote, and insist that they are not re-visited until the current 3 “Priority” projects have been completed. If your boss continues to miss deadlines on an important project, perhaps you could say something like “I see that you are more focused on project A, and we haven’t made much progress on project B lately, so why don’t we toss project B into the “Future” folder, so project A can have your full attention.” This is a soft reminder to your boss about the importance of focusing on one task at a time, and maybe with time the fear of having to drop a project because she is missing deadlines will inspire her to stick more closely to the schedule.

      Of course you don’t want to overstep your boundaries, and you know your boss best, so take some time to consider your best approach. But easing your stress levels and inspiring your boss to stick to the project at hand are in both of your best interests – you’ll both be much more productive, happy, and a better team overall!

  6. My boss comes up with all sorts of new ideas and they are always full of more work for me. He has all of these bright ideas but never wants to actually do the work. He delegates so he has time to move on to something else. Once it is done & I present to him, he can forget all about asking me to do it and never uses it after all of the time I put into the project. I tend to not want to do the next project and think, oh, he’ll forget about it anyway. I have my own work to keep up with.

    1. Karen – Ah, I feel you. I’ve heard of this and experienced it myself. It’s not fun. I totally sympathize with you. Hang in there!

    2. This is exactly what I’m dealing with! It is beyond frustrating especially because every day she creates a new fire that I have to put out and never gives me time to complete my task from the day before. I am so overwhelmed and there is never consistency or routine in my work, so I can’t settle in for feel peaceful at work. I like my boss because she is a really decent human being and does good for the world, but I don’t know how much longer I can work like this.

  7. What we have the most trouble with is what I call the ‘squirrel’ problem. We will be in the middle of something and it’s like when a dog sees a squirrel. Suddenly someone walks by or she sees something and boom she’s off to the next topic. Usually forgetting we were in the middle of something.

    1. Tamara – Thank you for reading my post! Eeeep! That IS very frustrating. It’s “comforting” to know other EAs have encountered this, but somehow manage, too. Your story reminds me of Pixar’s Up/Dug the Dog so forgive me as I laugh while writing this. I’ve noticed this problem with non-ADD execs who just go off on tangents as they think out loud and ponder. Getting side tracked happens even to the best of us! Hopefully letting them finish and then the old, “Going back to your earlier point… You were saying x, y, but I don’t think you were able to finish. What were you going to say next?” might have to done 3 times in a meeting, but should do the trick. At my blog and column, I offer advice and musings about being an EA, so please free to follow me there or on Twitter too! Have a great weekend!

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