Journo Resources Fellow

February 27, 2024 (Updated )

A diagnosis with ADHD – or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – could appear disheartening to a journalist. At the time, it certainly was for me — though in reality, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me.

ADHD is a condition that causes those living with it to experience symptoms including restlessness and difficulty in concentration. Knowing that I had the condition meant that I gained a better understanding of myself and was able to improve my working habits. But it wasn’t until I decided to pursue journalism that I realised how transformative my new habits were for me.

In some ways, journalism is the perfect pursuit for people with ADHD. The ability to think creatively and work well under pressure comes naturally — either that or we’ve had a lot of self-inflicted practice.

Yes, Journalism Is A Good Career For Those With ADHD

For Ben Moore, a senior investigative reporter at the BBC, it can also be an advantage within hectic schedules and the final push to meet deadlines. “You might get a government minister saying yes to an interview last minute, but you’re used to being adaptable and good in a crisis,” he says. “I can [also] get a full day’s editing done in just a few hours!”

Yet, while in many ways the industry can play to the strengths of people with ADHD, it is important to also understand the unique challenges it can bring.

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“ADHD comes down to two things: executive functions and emotions: organising, prioritising, planning, inhibiting ourselves, etc. They can make any day-to-day activity difficult."
Professor James Brown, founder of charity ADHD Adult UK

“ADHD comes down to two things; executive functions and emotions,” says Professor James Brown, an ADHD coach and the founder of the charity ADHD Adult UK. He also has ADHD himself. This, says Prof. James, means it can affect a whole list of things from organising, prioritising, and planning, to feeling self-conscious.

On this practical side, for journalists, this could look like struggling with internal deadlines. Often, if we set a deadline that is too far away, it fails to motivate us. This perception of available time is often optimistic, to say the least. Last-minute revision, all-night essay writing, and perpetual tardiness typify the ADHD experience.

ADHD’s impact on emotions is less commonly known. According to the NHS, it can cause mood swings, irritability, and a quick temper. It can also manifest in the form of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD), an “extreme sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception – real or imagined – of being rejected.”

Within journalism, this can prove problematic; we are constantly networking, reaching out to people, and wanting to bring attention to important topics.

“I can get a little involved in stories. If someone won’t do an interview with me after I’ve put so much work in, I can get really upset. I’ll feel really injured and hurt and take it to heart,” agrees Ben.

Strategies For Managing ADHD As A Journalist

• If you struggle to process information visually on a laptop or monitor, invest in a second screen so you can reduce distraction time when switching between tabs and apps — as recommended by ADHD UK.

• Find an activity that precedes or succeeds work that triggers a sense of reward: co-working with a friend, working from a library or coffee shop, or even a quick gym session, can work wonders.

• Create a spreadsheet or use software like Trello so you have an organised way of tracking your deadlines. If you’re a visual learner, colour coding can help!

• Synchronise your technological devices and apps. This way ideas written in one should appear in the other — meaning less of your good ideas will get lost.

• Do you find social media distracting? Trust us, we hear you! Use an app blocker such as AppBlock and set designated time limits for completing social media tasks.

Prof. James also cautions that these emotional responses can lead to practical issues. “People with ADHD are generally givers,” he explains. This means that they tend to “say yes to everything” and leave themselves with “unmanageable workloads.”

Identify Strengths And Weaknesses — And Then Strategise

Journalists with ADHD, whether accomplished or early-careers, all encounter such difficulties. The key is being able to identify, understand, and work around them — as well as organisations providing supportive and adaptable working environments.

“When your boss says: ‘Why don’t you try setting your alarm a bit earlier?’, what they don’t understand is that would just leave you with more time to get lost in something and leave you more likely to be late,” explains Henry Shelford, founder of the charity ADHD UK.

He adds: “People with ADHD have to play to their strengths more than anyone else. Otherwise, we get stuck down rabbit holes and end up spending 80 per cent of our time on what we’re not good at. That leaves us with only 20 per cent to be brilliant.”

Instead, leaders need to look deeper. According to Ebony Montague, an HR expert who previously spoke to Journo Resources about neurodiversity, it’s essential for employers to “create and ensure a psychologically safe environment for employees to share their needs”. She emphasises that the most important part of this process is that “anything that is raised is welcomed and without retribution.”

This could mean several different things, such as “extra time for completing tasks, having a later start time, [and] adjustments in the surrounding workplace in respect to lighting and noise.”

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Ben Moore (L) and Ebony Montague (R)

In Ben’s case, that’s meant carving out a role where he can focus on one story at a time, looking at it with greater depth.

He explains: “I’ve gone through TV and radio news in my 20s. Now I’m in a job where I bring in the stories. I don’t have to deal with calls from editors telling me to do this and that. Instead, I can go off and create eclectic, hard-hitting pieces that register with digital audiences.”

But, even in his position, there are still adjustments that can be helpful. “My boss acts as a buffer for me,” he adds. “Otherwise, I get calls from Channel, 5 Live, the News at Six, and I [then] say yes to everyone. Then, I realise I cannot possibly fulfil this workload. So now he does it all for me and it’s really helpful.”

This support is vital, he says, as when he’s juggling a bit too much things can slip. He recalls reaching out to sources for a story he had been working on, to which they replied: “We haven’t heard from you for two weeks. We thought the story had gone away.”

It’s worth stressing here that as a form of neurodivergence, ADHD is recognised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010, meaning that people with ADHD are entitled to reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Reporters may also be able to lean on the UK government’s ‘Access to Work Scheme’, which grants individuals up to £66,000 a year to support access needs at work.

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“People with ADHD have to play to their strengths more than anyone else. Otherwise, we get stuck down rabbit holes and end up spending 80% of our time on what we’re not good at. That leaves us with only 20% to be brilliant.”
Henry Shelford, founder of ADHD UK

This support can be used to pay for things like one-to-one ADHD coaching, which Henry recommends as a vital tool in discovering which strategies work best for you.

He says: “We are all unique individuals, plus ADHD. So whilst there are huge commonalities, the actual collection of strategies is going to be unique to you. Being able to work through that on a one-to-one basis is really valuable.”

Small Changes Can Lead To Big Rewards

To manage my own productivity, I have developed methods to trick my mind into better engaging with information. If I go to the gym in the morning, the rest of my day is always more productive. Similarly, if I go to work in the library, I get a lot more work done. The challenge, in both cases, is getting myself up and out of the house.

Dr Maria Jalmbrant, a clinical psychologist at Sloane Court Clinic, explains: “The received wisdom is, you eat your dinner, then you have your dessert, right? With ADHD, you have your dessert first, then you have your dinner.”

How that looks for you could vary — it could be a gym or study partner who can hold you accountable and make the task more sociable, or a coffee on the way to the library. It depends on how strong of a reinforcement you need. In my case, I need all of the above.

For freelancers, the pressure to stay organised can often feel more intense — reputations depend on being reliable. If that is compromised, editors may be less likely to commission your work.

Need More Advice? Here's Some Useful Resources On ADHD

• Did you know that the government’s ‘Access to Work Scheme‘ can provide monetary grants to support those with ADHD? As a form of neurodivergence recognised under the Equality Act 2010, individuals with ADHD meet the criteria.

ADHD Adult UK is the UK’s leading ADHD charity for adults and has resources such as tools to help manage ADHD on a daily basis and advice for managing ADHD in the workplace.

• Do you think you may have ADHD? Charity ADHD UK have a useful screening survey for adults who feel they potentially be living with the condition – as well as other resources and tools.

• ADHD is more common than we may think, and there are many well known and successful people who have thrived in their careers, including journalists Owen Jones and Nicky Campbell.

That’s why Eleanor Noyce, a freelance journalist specialising in lifestyle, health, and LGBTQIA+ culture, has also developed some simple (but effective) strategies to help her stay organised.

“I have a pitching spreadsheet so I can track everything that is going on and stay on top of my deadlines,” she tells me. “It’s colour-coded, so I can see what stage I’m at with each one.”

Eleanor also says she found synchronising all of her devices useful: “It removed those extra hurdles. I’d think of a pitch whilst I was on the bus and type it down on my notes on my phone. Then, when I open my laptop to work it will be right there.”

Prof. James shares similar strategies that he recommends to his clients, including using app blockers, to suppress the distraction of social media.

However, he does recognise that journalists today have to stay connected — and suggests a compromise might be scheduling in specific times to use social media. “You go in with a specific plan of what you’re going to do. That will stop you from going down rabbit holes.”

Be Patient — It Takes Time To Learn What Works For You

Dr Maria sums up her advice almost as if she had this very conclusion in mind: “We know what to do and the strategies are all very well and good. But some of it is about trial and error to find out what works for you.”

And when giving strategies a try, keep in mind some parting advice from Prof. Brown: “It’s about putting barriers in place to the things that you don’t want to do and removing barriers to the things you do want to do.”

Dominic Plaskota
Dominic Plaskota

Dom found his passion for journalism when he set up a student news organisation called Summed Up Student whilst studying Law at the University of Nottingham. Summed Up Student sought to break down complex issues in current affairs through concise and captivating infographics on social media platforms like Instagram. This experience led him to pursue his passion and apply for the Journo  Resources Fellowship, which, in turn, gave him the confidence and skills to apply for an MA in International Journalism at City, University of London, where he is currently studying.

Header image courtesy of Christin Hume via Unsplash