Shelby L. Graves, MPH, CHES
ADHD & WFH: A Survival Guide
Working from home can actually be a #blessing for people living with ADHD.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders in the United States. It is often missed or misdiagnosed in childhood then later diagnosed in adulthood. This is especially true in women.
Those of us living with ADHD are familiar with the complications related to untreated ADHD in the workplace.
Examples of these complications include:
Stress induced illness
Struggles with productivity
Challenges with managing workplace relationships (e.g. unintentionally interjecting during conversations, difficulty controlling emotions)
… But wait – there’s more!
COVID-19 has thrust many of us into the new arena of working from home (WFH). For some people with ADHD, this newfound flexibility is ideal. For others, it places more obstacles (e.g. adorable dogs needing our attention) in the way of staying on the right track with projects and deadlines.
This article provides tips for balancing ADHD and the WFH life.
Choose Your Space (Wisely)
I tend to get distracted at home. If there are dishes in the sink or if my pup needs extra attention – I can let it completely derail my day. This is why it’s important for me to choose my workspace wisely.
You want to make sure your workspace is free of clutter, situated away from distractions, and pleasant enough to work within. You may want to take a little extra time to organize your space. You may also benefit from noise canceling headphones or a “focus playlist.”
Some of us are limited in our options for a workspace at home. This is where your ADHD-inspired creativity can really come in hand! For instance, if you and your partner share a desk space (or a kitchen table), you may need to branch out. My home has deep windowsills that can be used as a makeshift standing desk – and allow me to get a little sunlight. Try out new spaces and see if any fit.
It may take some time to find what works best for you. As for me? I love working in cafes, so I try to set my space up to reflect that. I put on café music, light a coffee or fall-scented candle, and try to let some natural light in. Set the work mood.
Stick to a Schedule
I’m an Enneagram Type 4 with ADHD, so routines and strict schedules don’t necessarily sound like my cup of tea. However, routines are important when balancing ADHD and work. This is because you can have a routine that honors flexibility.
So what type of schedule am I talking about? Mainly, your work hours and break times. You should select a window of time for beginning and ending your workday. You should also schedule breaks throughout your day for lunch, walks, stretches, or whatever fits your lifestyle. This will help you to set and maintain work boundaries.
Did you get to the office at 7:30AM before, but realize you aren’t really *ready* for work until 8:00? Then make 8:00 your new work time. Do you find yourself picking up steam around 3:00, leading you to work past the end of your workday? Then it might be time to adjust your work hours.
Find the schedule that works for you – and stick to it. You will be less likely to burn out this way.
P.S. Make sure you communicate this to your boss.
We’ve already established set work hours as a boundary, but there are other work boundaries you can set while working from home. The examples below can help you to keep with a consistent routine and minimize distractions.
Meeting times. Maybe your team has weekly calls or daily check-ins. Set a specific period of time that you are available for these to take place. The consistency and respect for your schedule will go a long way.
Personal calls. Do your parents assume you are available around the clock now that you work from home? Let them know you have set work hours and set availability for chats.
Lunch dates. Do you have a friend or partner who assumes you are available for outside lunches now that you’re at home full-time? Let them know you have specific times you can see them, outside of work hours. Have time for a lunch date? Pick specific days of the week that you are available to keep your routine more consistent.
“Emergency Calls.” Do you work in an office with a generation that prefers to call you immediately anytime something comes up? Are most of these calls things that could have waited or could have been an email? Gently let them know that you prefer to be emailed or text prior to being called, unless something is a true emergency. There’s nothing like a string of unexpected calls to unravel your entire work plan for the day.
Remember: If you don’t communicate these boundaries, then you won’t be able to stick to them. Boundaries are a way of maintaining healthy relationships with our loved ones, our colleagues, and ourselves.
You don’t need to grind all day. It’s actually quite terrible for your health. Taking breaks can help you to divide your tasks into bite-sized chunks. I consider breaks “sanity savers.”
I try to schedule my breaks around my dog’s walking schedule. But sometimes I get swamped and end up needed to adjust. It’s perfectly fine to be flexible with your breaks – just be sure to actually take them.
Need ideas for what to do on your break?
Take a walk
Stretch it out
Do a quick meditation exercise
Prep your favorite snacks
Try not to use every break to complete other tasks. By this, I mean to avoid using your breaks for errands, stressful phone calls, or playing catch up on other tasks. Yes, it’s great to get these things done. However, it doesn’t really feel like a break when you’re on hold with your bank for 17 minutes before hopping right back into work.
Experiment with different tools until you find the ones that fit your needs. This includes things like planners, printables, and Google calendars. I need to have an electronic calendar and a print planner to keep track of all my responsibilities.
You may find that setting reminders on your phone or calendar help you to stay on track. Or you might find that apps that help you to prioritize your tasks are better for your work style. You might even benefit from apps that alert you to your social media usage.
Whatever the tool, you need to use it consistently to really get the most bang for your buck. (I hope you’re using free tools when possible).
Examples of tools I use:
Google Calendar. This helps me to set all my meeting reminders to 10 minutes prior to each meeting. It also helps me to share my calendar with team members, which helps us to coordinate our meeting times.
Passion Planner. I’m new to passion planner, but let me tell you – I’m never going back. I can list my priority tasks, personal tasks, meeting times, and goals all in one beautifully organized little black book. (Visit @akriticallook for a discount code).
Headspace. The Headspace app has a variety of free meditations, focus activities, and short videos. I use these to take breaks, practice breathing, and refocus.
Time Timer. The Time Timer has changed my work and freelance life - that is not an exaggeration. I use the Mod Timer for writing sprints, the Pomodoro Technique, and general timed task focus.
Check In as Needed
Working from home does not mean the end of your social life. I recommend scheduling regular check-ins with your team and with your friends. Making time for socialization and accountability can help you to stay connected.
Feeling disconnected from your supervisor or team members? Ask about weekly check-ins via video chat. This can help everyone stay on the same page for projects and address any potential problems before they become emergencies.
Speak with Your Provider(s)
ADHD is complex, but it is treatable. Some people find that medication does the trick. Others prefer to talk things through with a therapist. I like to do both.
It can take time to find the right dosage for ADHD medications or the right therapist. It’s still worth the effort. If you have a workplace wellness package that includes counseling or prescription medication coverage, now is the time to take advantage.
At the End of the Day…
It’s really about finding what works for you. Our beautiful neurodivergent brains might take a little extra work to manage. And that’s okay. Working from home might bring you the flexibility to explore new adaptations to your work style.
Embrace it and try to make the most of it. And if you need a little extra help figuring out what your path in public health looks like – I’m here for you.
Necessary Disclaimer: I am not a clinician. I am not sponsored by any of the applications or companies mentioned in this article. I’m a public health professional with ADHD sharing my own experience and recommendations.
Peep my super professional set-up below ;)
Update, I have a new tiny workspace and I love it: