The COVID-19 pandemic required many professionals to trade their offices and conference rooms for standing desks and Zoom calls. While some appreciated not having to embark on their morning commute, transitioning to remote work was a major adjustment – and for many, it still is. The routine of waking up, getting dressed, commuting, and working off-site provided the structure that many of us need to be productive. For adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who struggle with self-motivation, time management and organization skills, working from home posed unique challenges.
Two years later, remote work seems to be here to stay. This may seem like an uphill battle if you’re an adult with ADHD, and while it will have its difficulties, with the right routine and consistent habits you can thrive in this new reality. Adding structure to your day is one of the best ways to maintain productivity.
Here are some steps for creating your own working-from-home routine.
The first step is actually not specific to working-from-home or unique to ADHD. It is a technique for anyone looking to get organized, manage their anxiety or curb procrastination. It’s a brain dump.
Brain dumps are exactly what they sound like –dumping all the tasks, reminders, and ideas on your mind, onto paper. When you find yourself feeling anxious or stressed over all the things you must get done, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and then, do nothing or do something completely unrelated.
This is an especially beneficial tool for individuals with ADHD since they generally have deficits in working memory. Poor working memory explains difficulties recalling instructions, organizing information, planning steps, and starting/finishing tasks. Externalizing information via brain dumps lessens the burden on working memory to remember these thoughts and frees up space for other information.
- Brain dump.
Each morning, before jumping into the day, commit to doing a brain dump.
- Grab your supplies. This can be a paper and pen, a blank Google doc, a new journal entry, a whiteboard, whatever works for you.
Tip: It may be helpful to set a timer (15-20mins) if you’re someone who struggles with time blindness.
- Dump. Write down all the tasks, thoughts, ideas, appointments, shopping lists, etc. that come to mind.
- Organize. Create categories to plot each item. The categories you use will depend on your needs. For perspective, here are some examples: work, groceries, appointments, to call-email-text, household, project Ideas, cleaning, etc.
Optional: Distinguish each category by color coding them with post-its or highlighters.
- Create to-do lists.
You’ve done the hard part already with your brain dump! Now, you’ll need to pull the “work” items and schedule them accordingly. To-do lists are best when made at the beginning of each workday, updated at the end of each workday, each task is realistic, i.e., larger projects are broken down into small steps and they are in clear view.
- Stick to your office hours.
Starting and ending your day at the same time helps maintain a steady schedule and sets boundaries around your work/home life.
- Create a work area.
Whether it’s a home office, a desk, or a corner of the dining table, having a space designated for working is important. A space separating “work” from “home” helps signal to your brain that it is time to be productive.
- Keep your work area tidy.
At the end of the day, you’ll want to clean up your area for a fresh start the next day. Remove any clutter and keep only the items that you need to accomplish your tasks.
- Dress the part.
Just because you’re not expecting to see anyone for the day, doesn’t mean you don’t need to get ready for the day. Get out of your pajamas, put on your workwear, and do your personal grooming. Dressing for success will help put you in the mindset needed to conquer the day.
- Set aside time for movement.
Scheduling breaks throughout the day can be the perfect way to reset your focus. Maybe it’s 20 minutes in the morning for yoga, 5 minutes after a meeting to stretch your legs or 30 minutes after lunch for a short walk. Physical activity is known to improve some symptoms of ADHD. Exercise increases dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain which is essentially the same effect of some stimulant medications. It also improves attention and focus, relieves stress, and reduces impulsiveness and irritability.
- Connect with co-workers.
Working from home can be extremely isolating regardless of whether you have ADHD. Arranging Zoom lunches, scheduling regular status updates or hosting support calls are great ways to maintain contact and foster connection with co-workers.
- Prepare your lunch and snacks.
Doing this in the morning or night before ensures that you’re eating throughout the day and not getting lost trying to figure out what to eat or losing time making something to eat. Keeping healthy snacks and water nearby means you don’t risk getting distracted or need to regain focus every time you step away.
- Minimize distractions.
Put your phone on do not disturb. Let friends and family know to only contact you for emergencies. Tell others in the home to disrupt you. Use noise-cancelling headphones. Have white noise or meditation music as background sound.