8 Tools for Working from Home (with ADHD)

Some of you might find yourself working from home these days. I was asked for advice by a colleague who also has adult ADHD, so I wrote this blog post.  Whether you have ADHD (or a family member does) or not, it might come in handy.

Last year, I had the opportunity to start a new full-time salaried job… or work for myself, from home. I took the leap and I love it; I could never go back. However…

Working from home is an entirely different experience – mostly good… with some challenges.

Now that I work from home, I’ve had two huge epiphanies:

  • How much time working in an office is WASTED.  Commute is the obvious one.  Also, short interruptions, “emergency” interruptions, administrative bullshit, useless meetings, chatting in the hallways. I mean, literally 50% of the day. Of course, the social part is good time wasting.
  • How much an imposed schedule keeps someone on track – especially someone with ADHD.  When you have to be at the office a certain time; attend meetings at a certain time; people popping in to say, “Is that done yet?”; lunch at a certain time; needing to get something done before you walk out the door at the end of the day…. 

First, working from home lets me “waste” my time in a way that is enjoyable for me, whether it’s doing a puzzle, organizing something or playing a game on my phone. It doesn’t feel wasted because whatever I choose to do is my choice.  Doing chores makes me less stressed about all the stuff there is to do that you would typically have to cram into an evening or weekend.

On the other hand, with minimal imposed schedule, I’m a hot mess. The subject of which is the purpose of this post.

For my husband, an introvert and an engineer, who also works from home, it’s all upside. (His long commute crushed his soul and he arrived home exhausted each night after more interaction than ideal.)  Working at home, he is methodical in his schedule, getting up at a regular hour, eating breakfast, heading to his office and focusing intently until a set lunchtime, repeat…etc….   He’s a discipline machine!

For an extrovert with ADHD, working from home is so much “MESSIER”!

It has taken me a long time to figure out how to be both happy, relaxed AND productive and I’m still figuring it out. 

Here are some suggestions that work for me, keeping in mind that I’m no expert on Adult ADHD, working from home nor productivity, as anyone who knows me will tell you.  But here are some thought starters.

  1. Sound.  Silence is deafening. Find music that works for you. (I find lyrics distracting). This also keeps your brain from listening to what else is going on in the house that will distract you (e.g. my teens around these days, as school is shut down for coronavirus.)

  2. Lists. This might be a no-brainer but OVERUSE them – you need them now more than ever. Keep them simple and IN YOUR FACE. Separate them by work, personal tasks, personal rewards/treats.  STAR the “MUST DO’s” for today. Put critical items on your calendar to make sure it gets done, and you’ve allocated a specific time for it.

  3. Timers. Consider using a timer. A LOT. This is a HUGE one for me.  When I’m struggling to sit down and crank something out, I set a time for 15 minutes and “force” myself to do it.  Ideally, within 15 minutes, I’m “in the zone” and when the timer rings, I keep going and reset it for another 15.  

    If I’m NOT in the zone, I do something else (either at my desk or away from it), ideally, for 15 minutes – maybe even reward or shut my brain off by playing my stupid game addiction that I am too embarrased to name… Okay, Heart’s Medicine, Doctor’s Oath). Then come back and do another 15 minutes of whatever task I am struggling with until it’s done. Then I reward myself again.  Good Lord, I’m like a goddamn toddler!

    Incidentally, a timer is also great for reminding yourself that you have a meeting coming up.  I’m ashamed to say that I have OFTEN been late for a meeting because I got distracted by… anything other than the clock. (You know: You look at the clock and you’re like, “Oh, my meeting isn’t for 23 minutes.” Then you look again and you’re 5 minutes late! Set the timer at 23 minutes out.)

  4. Rewards:  Speaking of which, don’t underestimate the power of letting your amazing, busy, brilliant ADHD brain rest!  Expecting to be constantly productive all day is completely unrealistic and unfair.  Turn it off when you need to turn it off.  Know yourself.  (See Socializing, Exercise or “Stupid game addiction”.) I also recommend puzzles, knitting, TV or whatever does it for you.

  5. Socialize:  If you are an extrovert, this is going to be critical for you to work into your day.  It can be coffee out (or in, given COVID), a walk (with a friend, 6 feet apart), a phone call, Facetime, social media if that’s all you got. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. If a game with your kid does it for you – go for it. Importantly, set expectations on timing with whomever you are socializing with.
    “Hi, Mom! I’m really glad to chat with you, but just to warn you, I have a hard stop for a meeting in 30 minutes.” (It’s a white lie to keep you on track today. And “Hard Stop” sounds super important.)

  6. Know Your Body Clock. Pay attention to your typical productivity rhythms and take advantage of them!  It took me a long time to realize that there are times when my brain lets me really focus, and times when…not so much. I still haven’t figured it out but I am experimenting. (e.g. I know that my ADHD medication crashes around 3 p.m., so 3 pm is a great time for a 20-30 minute nap, yoga or walk. Conversely, a meeting can jolt your brain back into a good rhythm.)

    I know I can crank it out from 10-12 p.m. but that interferes with my sleep and sometimes 10 p.m. is the only time I have a real actual focused conversation with my husband, though he knows and respects this is truly peak productivity time for me, so usually he just goes to bed without me.

    Don’t schedule the socializing or errands or even meetings and appointments, if you can help it, during your peak productivity time. Save that time when you need individual work time! Alternately, work around important other obligations, like preparing dinner (when school is in, transporting kids) knowing that you will need to stop then. Use it to your advantage, e.g. “It’s 4 p.m.  I’m going to get THIS done by 5 p.m. so I can start making dinner.”

  7. Exercise. This is good on so many levels, but especially important for ADHDers. Make time for it ever day, however it works for you. (Basement workout equipment? Video exercise? DANCE PARTY! Ping Pong/Table tennis is surprisingly exhausting!) A double bonus is exercise AND a change of scenery. Explore nearby walking trails. There are so many and getting out of the neighborhood is psychologically uplifting.

  8. Patience.  Be patient with yourself. Don’t create a schedule for yourself and then berate yourself for not keeping it! Like I said, it’s been over a year and I’m still trying to figure myself out. Look at yourself as a unique project. You are AWESOME and your brain is a complex machine that needs practice, or trial and error, to use optimally! 

Other ideas?  Let me know what works for you and as I think of more things myself, I will add them here.

Working from home is a gift.   

ADHD is a gift.

2 thoughts on “8 Tools for Working from Home (with ADHD)

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