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Adult ADD/ADHD Limits Financial Success

This article was written by in Career and Work, Health. 9 comments.


As a kid, I might have had attention deficit disorder (ADD). I was never diagnosed as far as I know, but I had many of the symptoms of the “inattentive” type of ADD, and some of those symptoms continued into adulthood. An actual diagnosis of ADD as an adult would require exhibiting at least six recognized symptoms since childhood and for those symptoms to often interfere with one’s functioning in life, work, and relationships. I don’t think I’d qualify as having ADD, but the symptoms I do have do affect my life and my finances.

There has been some criticism of the ADD diagnosis. There’s been some concern that, at least for a period of time, the condition had been overdiagnosed. The symptoms of ADD and ADHD (ADD with hyperactivity) can come from other causes than the disorder. An inability to focus, for example, could be a symptom of ADD or could just stem from a lack of experience focusing on tasks. In adults, procrastination could be a manifestation of ADD or it could be a conscious choice to avoid responsibility until the last moment possible.

Doctors believe, however, that ADD/ADHD is underdiagnosed. Three to five percent of the United States population might have adult ADD/ADHD, but only 15 percent of those who could be diagnosed are aware that they have a disorder.

Self-diagnosis of adult ADD or ADHD is not possible, at least not without a medical degree. Besides just an observation of the required number of symptoms and an analysis of the effect those symptoms have on one’s life, there are several tests that are required to rule out other causes of behavior. You should check with a doctor if you suspect you might have ADD to receive tools that can help control the symptoms.

With a diagnosis or not, the symptoms of ADD can be harmful to one’s financial life. ADD/ADHD and its symptoms can prevent financial independence or slow down the approach towards wealth or stability:

Adults with ADD/ADHD often experience career difficulties and feel a strong sense of underachievement. You may have trouble keeping a job, following corporate rules, meeting deadlines, and sticking to a 9-to-5 routine. Managing finances may also be a problem: you may struggle with unpaid bills, lost paperwork, late fees, or debt due to impulsive spending. Melinda Smith, M.A. and Robert Segal, M.A.

Rather than fighting the tendencies described above resulting from ADD or its symptoms, one approach would be to use these effects to one’s advantage. Here are a few suggestions that take ADD traits and turn them into advantages. Wouldn’t you know it, as I was writing this article, I got distracted by reading the testimonials on the Ted Mosby Is Not a Jerk website. I’m easily distracted.

Leave the corporate world behind in favor of working for yourself. This isn’t exactly a simple proposal. In fact, for someone struggling with ADD symptoms, succeeding as an entrepreneur can be that much more difficult. And in some cases, the decision to start your own business if made because of a desire to get away from corporate mentality can be a big mistake.

You never work for yourself, even if you own a business; you have to answer to customers, clients, stakeholders, employees; in fact, owning your own business greatly complicates the structure of responsibility. In some cases, though, the increased responsibility of owning a business can have the same effect as procrastination: when the stakes are higher, those who procrastinate might operate at their most efficient and effective levels.

Build systems to keep you organized.

When I was in the corporate world, companies offered educational programs designed to help employees learn the skills that assist with organization and time management. Corporations are willing to spend money on this type of education for one simple reason: organized employees work more efficiently, and efficient work saves the company money. Corporate culture is not designed to invest in the personal development beyond what is good for the company’s bottom line. Unfortunately, ADD or its symptoms make it difficult for those employees to make permanent improvements based on the skills taught in these educational programs.

Have you experienced this? After hearing some great suggestions for keeping some part of your workday organized, you put the system into action. After a week, maybe two, you get bored of the system and revert to old habits. What you need is a meta-system. A meta-system is a system, but it’s a system that helps you manage the systems you put into use. It may not be enough to organize your email inbox using incoming folders, archive folders, color-coded priority ranking, and a policy of clearing your inbox every day. This is a good system, but if you have the tendency of letting chaos creep into your email behavior, you need another system that raises the stakes to keep your system in check.

An example of a meta-system that keeps this inbox system in check might involve measuring your success once a week and rewarding yourself for your level of effectiveness.

Paying bills is one of the most important financial responsibilities one can have because the disastrous consequences of not doing so. One system often suggested for maintaining bill payments is to make them automated. You can set up recurring payments from a checking account sent automatically from your bank to the company that bills you on the same date each month. Sometimes you can set up an automated electronic transfer.

Automated bill payment is a classic example of what someone who struggles with paying attention to details can do to alleviate the potential consequences of unpaid bills. The system of automation requires oversight. If a company keeps increasing the amount charged and knows that you are automatically paying bills without review, it makes it easy to be overcharged for services. That could damage your financial condition over the long term.

Fight boredom by adding randomness into your day.

Boredom might come from ADD or ADHD. It could be a result of a lack of a challenging environment. Boredom might also be the result of settling into a behavioral pattern.

One thing that has worked for me while I was bored in my corporate environment was to take time out of the day to do some things that gave me energy. Sometimes I would go to the roof of the parking deck and jog a mile in a loop. Exercise is great if you experience the restlessness symptom of adult ADHD, because channeling that restlessness into a physical exercise satisfies the need for activity while also being beneficial to your health.

In order to fight boredom and tediousness, sometimes I would put my work away for a few minutes and work on a personal project. The boss might not have been happy about my using some time for personal endeavors, but taking a break to work on something fulfilling helped me perform my job-related assignments better.

Even visiting co-workers at different times during the day, being careful not to interrupt anyone who wouldn’t appreciate a quick social visit, help keep the boredom away.

Use focus and passion to your advantage.

ADD/ADHD can manifest as difficulty with mutli-tasking or task switching. First of all, attempting to multi-task can be damaging. According to a recent study, the more you try to multi-task “the less you’re able to learn, concentrate, or be nice to people… The less you’re able to filter out irrelevant information.” Other studies show that humans can’t multi-task at all; what we think of multi-tasking is actually task switching.

The difficulty with task switching among those with ADD can sometimes take the form of an exceptional ability to focus intently on one thing. While it’s true that some with ADD/ADHD have difficulty maintaining focus, the opposite, hyperfocus, may manifest itself in other activities — usually not the activities others want you to attend to, but personal activities that inspire some kind of passion.

You can’t always design your life and work around what you’re passionate about, but some of the creativity and restlessness that can come from ADD can help you discover life paths that incorporate those passions.

Be aware of the ADD/ADHD income deficit.

A study has determined that those with adult ADD/ADHD earn significantly less income than those without. Here are some of the pertinent economic results from the study, with figures from 2005:

  • Adults with ADHD are less likely to be employed full-time.
  • High school graduates with ADHD earn $10,791 less annually than their non-ADHD counterparts.
  • College graduates with ADHD earn $4,334 less annually than college graduates without ADHD.
  • Because of the tendency for adults with ADD/ADHD to be more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, the cost of the disorder $180 billion a year, plus $77 billion due to lower annual income.

The economic disadvantage for adults with ADD/ADHD or its symptoms is significant, so it’s important to find ways to counter that disadvantage. Working harder or more isn’t always an option. Sometimes life prevents you from getting a second job. But you can look to overcome difficulty with negotiations to make sure you’re getting the most out of your day job income. You can consider how quantum jumps can boost your wealth. You can use some of the above tips to counter ADD tendencies, reducing the deleterious economic effects of those symptoms.

How do you deal with your adult ADD/ADHD symptoms? Have you interacted with children with ADD/ADHD or its symptoms? What behaviors have you seen among those with ADD/ADHD that helped them succeed?

Photo: Flickr/adreson

Updated October 12, 2013 and originally published October 11, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar DonnaFreedman ♦65 (Newbie)

My nephew has it. His mom, who is a teacher, works to build those systems and keep him on task and focused. Her firsthand experience helps her understand those of her students who have the disorder.
A relative’s husband has it. One thing I’ve noticed is that when he focuses, he focuses VERY intently. The rest of the world goes away. This could be both an advantage and a disadvantage in the business world; I expect the trick would be to make sure you have good co-workers who make sure you aren’t neglecting other aspects of the business.

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avatar Kylie Ofiu

I have/had borderline personality disorder with ADHD, but my psychologist downgraded my diagnosis earlier this year to “an ADHD brain”. He didn’t want to label me straight out ADHD as I have come so far and improved so much, plus some of my personality traits from the BPD override ADHD traits strongly, but I no longer really have either, but have some left over symptoms of both if that makes sense?

Anyway, your advice here is so good. Honestly, without the override from my BPD, I would be a financial mess. I ave systems in place now, automated what I can, definitely throw randomness in my day and as I work for myself I have a few people I am accountable to.

Your tips are spot on.

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avatar Lance @ Money Life and More

I definitely have problems concentrating on anything for more than 5 minutes, but I don’t know if that is me growing up in the era I have or an actual problem. I think I just need to close out all distractions and focus on what I want to achieve.

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avatar Kostas

It could be a connection to the era in which you grew up. I know that for myself, I have to shut out all distractions because if there is even one, my productivity goes down.

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avatar Abigail

My husband has pretty severe ADD. Well, probably ADHD, but that diagnosis wasn’t around at the time. He was only 7 or so when they diagnosed him. His was bad enough to the point that he couldn’t shut out the noises of other kids in class. They actually put him in special Ed for a year, and that’s where teachers taught him to hyper focus to shut everything out. It has its drawbacks — don’t try to have a conversation while he’s absorbed because he won’t have any memory of it – but it helps him function. The impulsivity drove me crazy, especially when it came to finances. Over time (and lots of rants from me) he’s actually gotten much better about it. He had to shift his thinking, so he decided we’re poor. We’re not anymore but it helps him avoid rash purchases, so whatever works.

I can’t recommended Thom Hartmann’s stuff enough. He reminds folks with ADD that it comes with benefits by having a brain that works differently than other people’s. He also poo- poos it as a disorder, just a brain that fubctions differently. The same way left-handed people were once considered wrong.

He also wrote a book about how people with ADD can get organized in ways that work for them. Another one is about how ADDers have leveraged their “condition” into great success.

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avatar Ivan Widjaya

Sorry to barge in with this comment. But I don’t really get all this branding. If you lack attention, you have ADD/ADHD. If you’re too organized, then you’re OC. Then there are also other “problems” like alcoholism and others. Why cannot we just accept that some people do something in a certain way without branding them? That is, you see them for who they are without judging them. Don’t get me wrong. I used to believe all these until I stop having expectations of other people and accepting them for who they are.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,465 (Platinum)

Branding? I don’t get it. A diagnosis of a medical condition isn’t a brand, and it’s isn’t a judgment on who someone is. You are not whatever it is that afflicts you, but what afflicts you does have consequences.

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avatar Miranda

One of the things that I really like about your post is how it addresses the fact that those with some degree of ADD/ADHD can also be uber-focused on certain things. Many people have this idea of the stereotype of fidgeting and being completely unable to focus. This isn’t true. I can be extremely focused at times (I have mild ADD), if it’s something that I have an interest in. Additionally, those with ADD/ADHD can gain pleasure in the same thing over and over again. My very ADHD brother used to watch one movie endlessly. Things and people I like are things and people that I almost never get tired of.

Another thing to add to your post might be the challenges that come with the social ineptness that sometimes characterizes ADD. It can make it difficult to network and interact with others, including getting along with bosses and coworkers. Sometimes, my social interactions are a little bit “off.” I make a joke that others don’t get, I say seemingly random things that make sense only to me, I laugh at something going on inside my head, or I miss some social cue that others find natural. And sometimes the filter, that I’ve developed over the years, disappears.

I actually work quite hard in social settings. (This happens on two levels, since I tend toward introversion on top of the ADD.) My mom worked hard with brother to help him learn systems and focus, since she was wary of using medication — especially considering the alternatives at the time. She wanted him to be able to make that medication choice on his own, after growing up, rather than starting him on something that he might never be rid of. That has caused some to believe that she ignored the situation, but I have never seen anyone work with someone so much as my mom worked with my brother. (But I digress; to medicate or not to medicate is a completely different question, and deeply personal, depending on circumstances.)

At any rate, I can see how managing the ADD can be difficult for many, especially those who are more affected than I am. Thanks for this interesting piece. Once you understand your challenges, it makes it possible for you to begin to compensate. The ideas you offer are similar to those I employ. I also suggest (if you can) looking for a job or career that you can be passionate about so that when you are ready to focus you can REALLY focus and get as much done as possible. I try to hit it hard when I feel that focus, so that I can take advantage of the fact that sometimes ADD/ADHD manifests itself with extreme focus.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,465 (Platinum)

Thanks for the thoughtful comment! Social ineptness is a huge topic. Whether it’s ADD/ADHD or other issues that present symptoms of social awkwardness or just social awkwardness itself, there can be far-reaching effects in the financial aspect of one’s life. Even when there’s no underlying condition — just one personality trait over another.

Great thoughts. I wonder if there’s a way for any individual to analyze their own patterns of focus and develop a way to create circumstances that make focusing on important items natural.

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