COVID-19 arrived and without warning or adequate preparation, you are now working from home. As if social distancing and constant hand washing aren’t enough. You could consider having ADHD and working from home a national emergency itself!
When you first heard you’d be working from home, did you let out a Yippee!? Have visions of working in your PJs and avoiding that annoying commute? Hope you enjoyed that for a bit. Because, to pull off your remote working gig, you’ll need to avoid some perils of working from home with ADHD.
After all, you’ve gotta stay productive. Life is chaotic enough right now without extra worries about your job performance. That’s why I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned from my 30 years living with ADHD while working from home. Consider it your headstart for avoiding the pitfalls that used to trap me before I figured out how to manage my ADHD.
Yes, the rest of the world finds suddenly working from home challenging, too. Why the focus on adult ADHD? (Other than that’s what I do?) Because if trying to have a productive workday is hard for the non-ADHD peeps, it’s triply hard for us. We struggle to be productive almost every day in our normal work environment, right?
The 5 Perils of Working from Home with ADHD
1. Getting Distracted
Avoiding distraction may be obvious, but it’s a biggie. People without ADHD know they have to avoid their phones and the internet. But, we have to have higher distraction guardrails. We need to guard against so much more than our phones and the internet!
When I first started working from home, I would often find myself doing the oddest things when I needed to work. I vividly remember how surprised I was one day to discover I was weeding my flower garden in the middle of the workday. I had no idea I’d even walked away from my desk. How ADHD is that?!?
The truth? Thinking you’ll never get distracted when you have ADHD is unrealistic. Distractions happen. Here’s a more realistic goal: Catch it fast when you’re distracted and quickly get back to work.
I call this approach Catch and Redirect. It’s one of the key ADHD skills I teach in my Foundations of ADHD Success online audio program. It’s that important.
How to Catch and Redirect? Use a timer for frequent check-ins to compare what you are doing with what you intended to be doing. When you’ve strayed into distractions, you can then get back on track. I can’t tell you how many lives this simple trick has helped change.
2. Being Unmotivated
Have you ever sat at your desk staring at the screen with a strong case of the “I don’t wannas?” What self-respecting ADHD adult hasn’t!
What you need to know is that one of the secrets about ADHD is that motivation is not the problem. Being unmotivated is merely a symptom. You’re unmotivated because you don’t have enough stimulation. Members of my ADHD Success Club know all about needing stimulation. Manipulating simulation is a key ADHD success skill.
Working alone at home is less stimulating than working in the office. Subtle as it may be the background noise and energy of your co-workers motivates you to focus. Knowing others might observe you is also motivating.
So, how do you get yourself motivated to work when you’re sitting alone at home? You take advantage of one of the big strengths of ADHD. Getting started. For most of us, once we get started on something we can keep going. And then, when we slip into hyperfocus, try and stop us from focusing!
How do you get started? Pull out your handy-dandy timer again. Set it for 10 minutes. Tell yourself that you can do anything for 10 minutes and get to work. When your timer dings say thank you and keep going.
Playing energizing music is another trick for boosting motivation. And, guess what? You’re working from home so you can play that music without disturbing your co-workers.
3. A Hazy Workspace
No, I don’t mean physical fog or haze. What I mean is not having a clearly designated workspace. I’m not talking about an office with a door that closes. Many people who go to work in an office each day don’t magically have that luxury.
What I do mean by a dedicated workspace is one that mentally prepares you to slip into work mode. Maybe it’s a card table in the corner of your living room. Or a section of the dining table. You’ll take work more seriously if it’s a place your whole family knows is your temporary office.
Let your ADHD brain know that you’re serious about getting to work. Remember, the Coronavirus shutdown is temporary. If you were working from home forever you’d need to find a different solution.
Experiment and notice where you’re most productive. Move around if you need to. Oh, and when you’re video-conferencing be aware of what’s in the background. Do your co-workers or clients need to see that pile of unfolded laundry in the background?
4. Struggling with Structure
Setting your structures for working from home can be challenging with ADHD. We resist structures but they can become our best friends.
There are two types of structures remote workers need to stay professional and productive: office hours and a dress code. Sound restrictive? Give it a try for a few days and see the results before you decide.
Let’s talk about your office hours first. There are three pieces of your office hours structure. What time you start working, eat lunch, and stop your workday. Get clear on these details. So if it’s 8 am and you’re lounging around watching morning TV, you’ll know it’s time to get to work.
Ending your workday on time is also important. Working from home means it’s tempting to work into the wee hours of the night. Don’t go there. It’s not good for you or your productivity.
Notice I didn’t mention taking breaks during the workday? Too tight a schedule isn’t helpful. Instead, take a break when you need one. Be aware of getting sucked into other things. I find the challenge with breaks is avoiding distractions so you can get back to work quickly.
What about this dress code structure thing? Trust me. Your productivity will rise if you get out of your PJs and sweats. I use the Embarrassment Code to determine my office dress standards. What’s the Embarrassment Code? It’s simple. How embarrassed would I be to answer the door in what I’m wearing? (I use the Embarrassment Code to help me determine how organized to keep my house, too. But, that’s a topic for a different blog.)
Oh, and remember to ditch your slippers and put shoes on, too. Again, trust me. As odd as it sounds, this simple structure helps you take yourself more seriously and boosts productivity.
5. Limiting Interruptions
I realize in these interesting times of Coronavirus and working from home with ADHD, there’s a good chance you’re not working from home all alone. All the people you live with are home, too. And some of them can be very distracting. And, they can be a huge source of interruptions.
I used to struggle with family interruptions. Being sweet and asking them politely not to interrupt me didn’t do the trick. They would still ask me to help them and solve their problems.
Finally, I realized that I had to get a bit scary to fend off the interruptions. No pleading, “honey, Mommy is working, can we talk about it later?” from me. Nope, it was “Are you bleeding or is the house on fire? Then save it for later.” This is why that office hours structure is so helpful. Tell your housemates when you’re working so they’ll know when you’ll turn back into the loving and helpful person you normally are.
Also, noise-cancelling headphones can be an excellent clue that you’re working and aren’t available to chat. I think the big thing with your family is to communicate what you need and listen to what they need. We’ve all got to work together on this!
6. The Chores Trap
Here’s another place where working from home with ADHD can get perilous. We’re tempted to do all those neglected chores. Have you noticed how interesting folding laundry becomes when you’ve got a proposal to write?
Like my Embarrassment Code for how I dress, I use a Would I Do This At The Office Code for chores. Would I fold laundry at the office? Nope. Then it happens after work. Would I wash the dishes; sweep the floor? Nope. Save it for lunchtime or after work.
When you’re working from home with ADHD, it’ll be tempting to think you can get a bunch of stuff done. This is a slippery slope. Trust me. This is why those office hours you set are so helpful. You’ll know when after work actually is!
My parting advice for having ADHD and working from home is to forgive yourself. This is tough. It took me years to learn how to stay focused and set my codes of conduct. Hopefully, Coronavirus will drift away soon and you’ll only be working from home for a few weeks. Until then be smart and stay healthy.