Monday, June 17, 2013

7 Tips for Working with Your ADD Boss

Hello, new readers from all over the world!  If you didn't know, I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.  Here is the latest question...

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. I answered a similar question on my blog so I provided that link below, but here are 7 tips for you. I am not sure how helpful my answers will be, but here’s a try.

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 930am. :) Here is your glass of water as requested.

Read this blog post too for more info:

I hope my answers were of help.  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.  :)

Next week I will answer a question on how to hire a 2nd assistant/the screening process.

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the post?  You can just write “Thx!” or something!  :)

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 5-6 days to answer.

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.


  1. I didn't post the question, but it was the question on my mind tonight. Thank you very much for your thoughtful post. I'm going to jump over to your blog now!

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.March 20, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Glad you enjoyed this post! Enjoy the old posts here and at under Hollywood Executive Assistant! Thank you for the comment, new reader! Have a great weekend.