Today we’re talking about ADHD strategies at work! I am so excited to welcome Skye Rapson to the podcast today.
You know how much I care about research-backed interventions when it comes to supporting neurodivergent folks, so it’s no surprise that I loved talking with Skye! Today, we’re discussing:
- Skye’s background and how she found out about her ADHD in the midst of her doctoral program
- how and why she started her ADHD coaching business
- Skye’s speciality: tips and tricks to help ADHDers stay organized and confident at work and school.
Before I introduce Skye, I’d like to thank all of my patrons for supporting this episode of Neurodiverging. I hope you’re enjoying all of the new neurodiversity resources that came out this month!
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🎧 Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 41 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
- Skye’s website: https://www.unconventionalorganisation.com/
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- How to ADHD on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-nPM1_kSZf91ZGkcgy_95Q
Let me introduce you to Founder, ADHD Coach, and Researcher Skye Rapson. Skye is an academic with over seven years of experience working in adult education. She has studied in various fields, including Psychology, Sociology, and Public Health, and is now a Doctoral Candidate in Population Health.
Skye was diagnosed with ADHD at the start of her doctorate. Since then, she has dedicated time to researching and disseminating ADHD studies, focusing on supporting others with strengths-based, neurodiverse-friendly tools and systems. Skye founded Unconventional Organisation (with an S in “organization”!) which provides strengths-based, research-backed, online coaching for clients with ADHD. Skye’s based in Australia but serves folks world-wide.
Transcript: ADHD Strategies at Work with Skye Rapson
(Thank you to Justice Ross for their beautiful transcription of this episode!)
SULLIVAN: Welcome, Skye, to Neurodiverging! It’s great to have you today, how are you doing?
RAPSON: Thanks, thanks, it’s good to be here. No, yeah, I’m good!
SULLIVAN: Skye, for those who are just catching up, is a neurodiverse academic and the founder of Unconventional Organisation. And you were a late-diagnosed or late-identified ADHDer, right?
What was the process of receiving a late ADHD diagnosis like?
SULLIVAN: And have started this business pretty recently to help other ADHD folks. So can you tell us a little bit about what made you seek the ADHD diagnosis, and what it changed for you?
RAPSON: Yeah, yeah, no worries.
So, I didn’t really seek an ADHD diagnosis. Which, in hindsight, I’m sure for lots of people feels like “why not,” but— Actually, I struggled with grammar throughout my master’s. You know, my responses were like, “Great, but like, the writing. Should probably do something about that.”
So I thought I might have dyslexia, and I went and got tested for that, or just for everything in general, with the university’s Inclusive Learning Center. And they came back and they said, “Nope! You have ADHD!” and I went “What?”
And so yeah, they were like, you have to go get diagnosed, and I did, and then I found out about it. And it was a big shift, actually, it was huge, because I think it really explained a lot of the things that I had been doing. You know, I had been… academic hopping around, if that makes sense?
SULLIVAN: Yes! I did that too.
RAPSON: Yeah, yeah! Everything is like, “Oh, I did that for a year, let me do something else!” and I tried a different department, and— It’s good to just gather lots of information from different departments, you know; that was my justification. And then when I got the diagnosis, I was like, “Oh, okay, this might be actually what’s going on.” And that made a huge difference.
And it also gave me something that I was interested in that was enduring. Because I’d been sort of struggling with that as well. Like, what am I going to do with my academic life? And that provided an answer and a question.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah.
SULLIVAN: So that’s really interesting. So you thought you had dyslexia and it turned out to be ADHD. Were you familiar with ADHD at all, before getting that information?
RAPSON: Not really. I didn’t know anything about it. I went and looked it up, “I found out I have ADHD” like so many other people, and watched everything about it, and then. Yeah, I just—
I didn’t really understand it. Especially with adults. I had somewhat of an understanding about it from… I had studied psychology in my post-graduate, and so I understood about ADHD what we were taught in human development, that kind of thing. But that’s very different from “As an adult, I have ADHD, what does that mean?” I had no idea what that meant.
How did you get started as an ADHD coach?
SULLIVAN: Yeah. So how did you get from there, and being somewhat unfamiliar with ADHD in adults, to becoming an executive— or, ADHD coach? (Right, that’s how you call yourself?)
SULLIVAN: Over here in the United States, sometimes they’re called “executive functioning coaches,” or sometimes “ADHD coaches” too.
So that’s a big leap! So how did you get there?
RAPSON: Basically, I started from pretty much, at that point, I started a, you know, a PhD alongside my PhD if that makes sense.
RAPSON: Because I had access—and I’m very, very lucky to have access—to all of the journals and articles to actually find the research. So I watched How to ADHD and everything that I could, and then I was like, “Okay, I’m an academic. One of the things we get taught is [that] you should— if you’re interested in something, you should write blogs about it, you should do things about it.”
I had actually been in adult education for about 8 years before that, and a youth line phone counselor before that. So when I started my doctorate, I was like “Ok, I’m just going to focus on this research.” And then when I got my diagnosis, I was like, “…You know what, I can do something on the side as well.”
And so I started doing the research myself, and I also started working with the Inclusive Learning Center. Because they said, when I got diagnosed, “You’ve got a lot of strategies,” and I had already worked with developing groups, so I developed a group for post-grads who were neurodiverse, and we sort of worked together. And then from there I started working with schools, and I started writing a blog, just to kind of get myself to… do the research? If that makes sense, having a deadline—
SULLIVAN: You have to have a reason to produce the thing, yeah.
RAPSON: Exactly. And I posted it on Facebook groups, because that was, you know, what I was doing, and people really liked it. And I thought okay, let’s try—
When lockdown came, I was working with schools, working with teacher aids, just sort of teaching them about ADHD and how it worked. Using my skills with psychology and sociology and adult education to talk about this area. But then lockdown happened, so I couldn’t do that anymore.
So I thought, okay, let’s try working online as a coach. I heard about it and I decided to try it, and I developed slowly, sort of one client at a time, into what we have now.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. That’s so exciting. Can you tell me more about— What do you have now? What do you guys do?
RAPSON: Yeah, yeah, sure! At the moment, we have— There’s myself, and there’s 3 other ADHD coaches. They all have similar backgrounds to where I came from; they have ADHD themselves, they have worked in various helping/community support jobs: social worker, teacher, health therapist, you know. And so they also worked with me in terms of adding that research element, so they work with me for a couple of months, and they’ll do the training and learn the research, and all of that stuff.
Yeah, so there’s those people, and they’re amazing, really awesome. I’m very lucky to be able to have people who are as enthusiastic about it as I am. We also have online coaching, online courses, and we have the same articles, pretty much, as we did at the beginning.
They’re called articles, now, not blogs, because eventually I was putting enough references in them that I was like, “This is an article.” And, just, everything that we talk about really is on those articles that you can read about. Different routines and combining research with what we work with every day, with people as well.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. That practical aspect is so important, but then I love that you’re evidence-based and research-based because, and that’s something I try to do too, because I feel like there’s so much bad information out there about neurodivergence, or old information sometimes, that it’s great to be able to recommend resources that are evidence-based, that are looking at the actual research out there. So that’s awesome.
RAPSON: Yeah. Yeah, well it was a really fun experience. I had been doing research for such a long time, it was sort of ingrained to add references to everything. I just couldn’t help it.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, you couldn’t do it! That’s what you learn when you go through a master’s.
RAPSON: Yes! And then it was interesting, people really appreciated it, which was great, because no one really cared when you were [I was] doing a master’s, they were like yeah, whatever, maybe I’ll read it, maybe I won’t. And then also just, yeah, having the ability to be like, “This is what the latest research is now.” Very lucky to have an actual researcher onboard with us who does literature reviews for different topics before we actually write about them, so we have a lot more confidence in what we’re (Inaudible).
SULLIVAN: That’s so helpful.
RAPSON: It’s really good.
SULLIVAN: Maybe one day I will have a researcher on my team. That would be amazing.
RAPSON: Highly recommend it.
What are some of the most common issues that clients come to an ADHD coach with?
SULLIVAN: Thank you for that. So what are some of the most common issues that clients come to you with as an ADHD coach? Because there’s such a broad variety of ADHDers out there.
SULLIVAN: What do you find?
RAPSON: Initially, it felt like people coming for a whole bunch of different reasons. But after a while, especially because when they come to us, they write a little thing in the 20 minute consultation, you know, “Why are you here…” I went through and had a look at them, and a lot of people come for essentially what I would call overwhelm.
So they come because essentially, for whatever reason, they’ve been sort of trucking along, you know, doing well, and then something happens. And it’s just one thing too much.
It might be a jo- a new- Sometimes it’s good things. Sometimes it’s a promotion. Sometimes it’s job loss, sometimes it’s COVID, all of those kinds of things. And people just kind of go [“no” sound] mm-mm. This is it. I was at capacity, and then you added one more thing, and I can’t. Can’t handle it, I feel overwhelmed. My systems that I had in place, that were kind of there, but I didn’t really know, like, we sort of build our own systems, especially if we don’t know we have ADHD we build them somewhat… based on trial and error?
SULLIVAN: I’ve had that, yeah.
RAPSON: Like, “this works-“ Yeah. So that system isn’t working, and now I need help. Or sometimes people come because they’ve gotten diagnosed, and they’re like, “Oh, I got diagnosed, I’m on this diagnostic path, I want to learn more.” So, yeah, it’s kind of like whatever it is, it’s just one thing too much.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. That’s really interesting. That’s also, that’s a lot of— I’m autistic, so I work with ADHDers, and a lot of autistics are also ADHD. I know you kind of work that crossover too, in the population. And it’s so interesting, because a lot of autistics also just hit that overwhelm point, and something breaks, and they need to develop new routines, new systems, new everything around it. So, yeah.
And do you work mostly with ADHDers, or do you-? Because I know you work with ADHD, neurodivergence in general, but ADHD, autism, people who are crossed over… Are there any other groups that you specifically work with?
RAPSON: We work with ADHD, what we call ADHD+. So when you have ADHD as part of a spectrum, there’s a lot of other— We know the research has a lot of comorbidities around ADHD. We tend to work with the ADHD specifically, but then we have a lot of clients who have ADHD and autism, and they find that the strategies for ADHD are helpful for some of the autism as well. So it just depends. But yeah, we work with people who have a lot of different things, but focusing on our scope within that. Does that makes sense?
SULLIVAN: That makes sense, yeah, thank you. There’s a lot of crossover with ADHD and other co-occurring issues.
What strategies can ADHDers use to help them at work?
SULLIVAN: So, yeah. Cool! I wanted to talk to you today about ADHD at work. I know we talked about this a little bit before, but I know a lot of ADHD adults have trouble staying organized at work. There’s a lot of demands, there’s a lot of interruptions, with, like… people pop in while you’re doing a thing and ask you to do something else, that kind of stuff. So it can be hard to keep track of everything and prioritize optimally, I guess. So I wanted to ask if you had any strategies or advice for those people. What can we do to help them?
RAPSON: Yeah. Yeah! No, it’s a good question. I mean, we have lots of strategies because of the fact that this is a big area that people work with us on.
The number one, the first thing, if someone comes to us and they say “I’m struggling at work,” is we try and figure out the expectations of the job. Because sometimes it’s difficult to know. It might be a new job, or there might be expectations that are being set up that aren’t actually there, or there might be expectations that are not going to be working with ADHD accommodations and what you need.
So we try and talk to people about speaking to a colleague or a supervisor and just kind of getting a lay of the land a little bit. Like, “What am I supposed to do, like, actually?” (Laughs) How many emails, what’s the response time, how many errors do people generally make on this document before it’s sent through, all of those very practical things.
And then once we have that understanding, we can go, “Okay, this is what your expectations are, this is where you’re at.” Sometimes people are doing more than they’re expected to do and not realizing it, because we have a lot of self-criticism sometimes with ADHD, and that perfectionism of “I can do it in two days.” And everyone’s like, “Great! We don’t know why, but okay.”
So sometimes there’s that side as well, which we can always talk about, and sometimes it’s also being late, or forgetting things is a huge factor as well. And so we start to get closer to what the expectations of the workplace is and what the person is happier with, and then try and do accommodations. And that can be, say, setting up a planner that works for people, an ADHD-friendly planner. People are like, “I hate planners, I hate routines;” I’m like, “I know! I swear, this one’s neurodiverse friendly, we have reasons behind it and why it exists.” Things like that. So we try to do things that take into account time blindness and working memory. And then we work specifically.
And sometimes it’s very specific—if you have a workplace, for example, “Well I can’t carry a notebook,” or “I can’t do this,” “I can’t do that,” those are the ones that we really need to develop and test. We’re always testing strategies with people, about “Okay, let’s try this system, come back next week. Some of it will work, some of it won’t, and we’ll keep adjusting it until it does work for you perfectly.” And that’s what we do.
SULLIVAN: I love that you’re creating a measurable system for folks. Because I think, like you said, a lot of neurodivergent people are doing better than they think they are, and just haven’t kept a history of what they’ve been doing. So we can’t see that we’re doing better than we’ve been. So I love those measurable— And the testing is so important, because you don’t know what works. And sometimes you have to tweak a lot to get to somewhere that someone’s doing really well.
RAPSON: Yeah. So often, it’s not in the strategy. Sometimes it’s people like, “Oh, that’s great! I actually did that three months ago, and it worked, and then it didn’t, and I don’t know why,” you know? So it’s pulling those pieces and going, “You already had a lot of these things yourself, but we’re just giving you the link to the ‘why.’ This is based on research: This was supporting your working memory. Flexibility needed to be added, but it didn’t, and that’s why it fell down.” Putting those pieces together, giving that confidence.
And then at the same time being like, “Let’s just experiment.” You know, “Let’s just try it. If it doesn’t work, that’s totally fine! We’ll adjust. We have the systems, we have the ability.” Rather than: “Here’s the perfect system, it didn’t work, oh no, I guess we’ll just stop trying.” Which is so commonly how it feels sometimes.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, I think a lot of us get stuck in that black-white thinking of, “Oh, it’s either gonna work the first time or I have failed as a person.” And that permission to be flexible, and to try new things, and to fail, is such an important piece of coaching, I think—and for us to internalize as well. Because you’re gonna have to fail if you want to make it work the best way you can, you know? That can be hard, though.
RAPSON: It can be hard. We often talk about: “It’s okay to bring your worst self to coaching.” It’s great—
SULLIVAN: That’s wonderful! I love that!
RAPSON: Thanks. Yeah, it’s great on the days when you’re really motivated, those really high executive functioning weeks; you’ve got things done, they seem to work, that’s awesome—but there’s also those weeks where you just didn’t have bandwidth, nothing got done. And those are the weeks we can often do the most work, because that’s when the most troubleshooting occurs, and troubleshooting is such a huge part of what we do. It’s not just strategies, it’s about testing those strategies and experimenting with your life, specifically.
SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah. And when you need the most support is the perfect time to test how those supports are working, right?
RAPSON: Exactly. We’re much more like, “Nah, I couldn’t do that” on those weeks.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. You know right away if it’s too much.
What accommodations can ADHD employees ask for at work?
SULLIVAN: Well that makes total sense. And what about— I know this is a very broad question. But is there anything that employers could be doing better for ADHDers in the workplace? From your perspective as a coach working with employees, do you see any patterns in terms of what workplaces should be doing to offer more support? Or maybe, to flip it, what ADHDers could be asking for in the workplace to help them more?
RAPSON: It’s a really interesting question. A lot of times, people come to us because they say “Hey, I got diagnosed. I told my employer, or maybe my employer already knew because they were part of the process, and then they said, ‘I really want to help you, what do you want to do?’ and you [I] went, ‘I dunno!’”
So a lot of it’s about accessing that information. I think if an employer wants to work with their ADHD clients [employees], it’s a case of going, “Okay, what does that actually mean for them, specifically? For them as an adult.” One of the things that can happen is that they’ll go, “Okay, well none of your deadlines matter anymore. Don’t worry about them. Just get to it when you get to it.” That can be really hard with ADHD. Some of my clients are like, “That’s great, it helps with my anxiety, I can just set my own goals,” and some clients are like, “That was the worst decision.”
SULLIVAN: “I will never, ever complete this work now, if I don’t have a deadline.”
RAPSON: Yeah. I don’t have a deadline, dopamine’s gone, you know. So it’s really about understanding the research, understanding what’s going on. Like, “Okay, I have ADHD, which means I struggle with executive function, which means that I am particularly struggling with working memory.” Or, “Meetings are boring because I need that two-minute break to go get some dopamine stimulation between meetings,” that kind of thing. But also, “I’m still myself, and I’m still a person with my own experiences and my own life, so while other people may need a quiet place to work in, I want the flexibility to work in a coffee shop.” It’s a combination of communicating just as you would with anybody, and understanding that this person has a brain that works slightly differently. And getting this into that.
SULLIVAN: Even just the employer acknowledging that somebody might need something that’s a little bit off the wall compared to the rest of the group can be a big help to an individual, yeah.
RAPSON: And that they might need it, they might say, “Hey, can I try a coffee shop” and they’ll come back and they’ll be like, “Actually, you know what, the coffee shop didn’t work as well as I thought it did.” Having that open communication about, “Okay, let’s try something and see if it works, and have a bit of that flexibility.” It’s complicated.
SULLIVAN: And I’m sure it’s highly individualized, which is why coaches exist, right? Because not everything works for everybody.
RAPSON: Or in every workplace! Sometimes people are like “I really wish I could do that, but I can’t, specifically in this workplace.” Then we have to work in additional accommodations.
What do you with everyone knew about ADHD?
SULLIVAN: That makes sense, thank you. Is there anything that you wish was more widely known about ADHD, or about working with ADHD? I know, again, it’s different for every person, but just from the folks you work with and talk to: Are there any re-occurring themes or patterns?
RAPSON: I think I wish that people with ADHD, and people who knew people with ADHD, knew that people with ADHD are often trying really hard, a lot. And there’s a sense of, “Oh, people with ADHD aren’t trying,” but often the most hardworking people that I meet and talk to are people who have ADHD, because they have a work to do, and a home to run, and then they also have all of these executive functioning things that they’re trying to figure out, and trying to fix, and trying to keep up with.
And things like taking a break on the weekend—we talk about taking a No Should Day, where you just take all your executive function and put it in a box, and you go, “Today, I’m just gonna be, and not worry about time, just get lost in things.” And for a lot of people, they’re like—I don’t have time for that, I have so many things. I have chores. And so a lot of it is just putting down a lot of that. Figuring out some of the expectations.
I wish people knew that you’re trying really, really hard, and you’re actually doing a lot of work, it just doesn’t always show up. Because sometimes, we can work in ways that just aren’t as helpful to us, or trying to do neurotypical ways of organizing. And working on these things at the same time, and we’re not getting the same dopamine from that in the same way that neurotypicals are anyway, so we’re just constantly working. You know?
SULLIVAN: You’re doing twice the work for 70% of the results sometimes.
RAPSON: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes. And people just don’t realize that, and people around them don’t realize that, and so a lot times, when people come to us, they’re just completely exhausted.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. That makes sense, thank you. Good advice. To be flexible with people, keep that open mind. Don’t always expect things to be done exactly the way that you would do them, because, yeah.
RAPSON: Yeah. And recognize if you’re trying really hard, that that’s what you’re doing. Even if you’re not seeing success yet, you know, I am, really—
SULLIVAN: Give yourself that credit of working really hard, yeah. Well thank you for that. Can you tell us more about Unconventional Organisation and where people can find you?
Where to Find Skye Rapson
RAPSON: Yeah, sure! So you can find us at www.unconventionalorganisation.com; you can also find us on Unconventional Organisation across social media, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Unconventional Organisation with an “s”—
SULLIVAN: I was just going to say, for American listeners, “organisation” has an “s” in it, so notice that please.
RAPSON: But other than that: We’re an international organization, so we have coaches based in the US, based in Australia, that work with people around the world. We’ve worked with people from Japan, UK, all kinds of places. We also have online courses that you can take, developing ADHD-specific strategies for teens. We’ve got a getting focused routine that works really well in the workplace, actually, to help you just kind of use research behind ADHD to go through a 5 step process to actually focus at work—
SULLIVAN: Oh! That sounds awesome!
RAPSON: Yeah! It works pretty well. It’s been tried throughout the year with good results, but I always say, bend it and break it as you will. These are all, you know, for you.
And we also have the articles. They’re available for free, they have a lot of the strategies themselves in them, so feel free to browse. We have them in categories now, so you can search “the workplace,” or “overwhelm,” or “routines,” and find a bunch of research-based strategies just there if you want them.
SULLIVAN: That’s wonderful. Thank you! And do you have any last advice for any ADHD folks listening who are feeling overwhelmed in their own lives? Besides “come talk to Skye and consider coaching?”
RAPSON: Yeah, I think if you’re feeling overwhelmed in your own life, it’s a case of understanding… What we talk about a lot is this idea of strong strengths and strong weaknesses. With ADHD we have strong strengths, we have that creativity, that problem-solving skills, we’re great with coming up with new ideas—and we have strong weaknesses, there are executive functioning difficulties that are very evident. And so it’s a case of understanding, “Hey, I have these weaknesses, I’m gonna work on them. But I also have these strengths.” And coming with that balanced sense of self. And being, you know, positive and aware at the same time. And taking that into the world and knowing that you have things that people really value, as well as things that you want to work on and develop as you go.
SULLIVAN: Thank you, yeah. The strengths-based approaches to coaching are just so important. And to recognize that even if you are struggling in the moment right now, there are lots of things about you, that you can do, that other people cannot do, that bring value. That you’ve got to keep in sight, even when you’re struggling.
RAPSON: It’s good to have them both in mind. I often say, imagine you’re a neurodiverse person, often we’re great at coming up with three new ideas a day. Imagine if that was somebody else’s job. They might struggle more with it. But often our jobs are executive functioning, and not so much that. But we do definitely have things that we bring to the table, and once you work on your struggles, you can start to really focus and hone in on those strengths, and showcase them much more as well.
SULLIVAN: Thank you Skye, I appreciate it!
RAPSON: No worries. It’s great to be here, great to talk to you.
Thank you for being here with me today. If you’ve enjoyed the podcast, please consider leaving a rating on Apple Podcasts, Podchaser, or anywhere else you review podcasts. Show notes and links for Skye and Unconventional Organisation, with an S, are at neurodiverging.com and also in the show notes above. Thank you again to my Patrons for supporting this podcast and everything we do at Neurodiverging, you are all wonderful and I really appreciate it. Join us for more at patreon.com/neurodiverging, and I hope to see you there. Please remember we are all in this together.